A Few of His Favorite Books
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
A satirical novel about the misadventures of a young academic in his first teaching position.
Neenan: I read Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis when I was a young assistant professor at Michigan just starting out. Lucky Jim is this young academic in a red brick university in England so I identified with him. He was very anxious about whether he was going to receive a permanent appointment or not and it is a laugh out loud, hilarious academic novel so I associated that with my own anxieties at the time.
Diary of a Country Priest by George Bernanos
The fictional diary of a young French village cleric who struggles to understand both the local society and his own faith in his first parish assignment.
Neenan: He [Bernanos] was one of those, like Mauriac, Catholic French authors in the 1920s and 30s that wrote very profoundly about the mystery of Catholicism as a countervailing power over [and] against prevailing culture. I guess maybe as a young Jesuit priest that affected me much the same as Lucky Jim did as a young academic economist.
A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt
The 1954 play about the personal and political conflict of Sir Thomas More in his opposition to King Henry VIII’s plan to change the law in order to annul his childless marriage and take a new queen.
Neenan: It was a play in the early 1960s -- that’s another era in political life. We were all young then and we were all optimistic; it was before Vietnam, it was before the assassinations, and Thomas More was this very rational, principled person. I think I personally identified him in my exuberance at that time with John Kennedy, so that [A Man for All Seasons] has a personal resonance with my own history.
Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset
An epic trilogy of fourteenth-century Norway that brings to life, through one woman’s story, the romance, politics, and spirituality of medieval times.
Neenan: Undset, the second woman to receive a Nobel Prize for literature, has in Kristin Lavransdatter recreated for us a society distinct in many ways from ours, yet inhabited by men and women with loves, fears and hopes that are hauntingly similar to ours. By immersing oneself in this magnificent trilogy one comes to realize that despite dramatic external changes in ways of life, at its core the being human has remained strikingly constant – both a liberating and sobering reflection.