12 Catholic Novels to Read in 2024
One of my personal goals for this year is to read more. I have found it difficult to find time to read for leisure since becoming a mother three years ago, but I know plenty of mothers to young children who pick up books in the little in-between moments that are strewn throughout the day in order to make their way steadily through a good book. There are many Catholic novels that I own that I desire to read and add to my library of treasured tomes dancing around in my head. This post will provide 12 works of fiction, Catholic in content if not actually written by a Catholic, to consider reading for each of the 12 months of the year. Some of these I have read myself and others are on my to-read list. There is no offence intended for any other works of Catholic fiction that did not make this list. This is not my list of must-read Catholic novels or my favorites in any particular order, but rather a list for consideration based on the months of the year. I hope you will join me in my endeavors to spend more time building your Catholic imagination in 2024.
January: Father Brown stories by G. K. Chesterton
As this post comes midway through January, let us start out with any of the charming Father Brown stories by Chesterton. These stories are largely in the public domain and easy to access and quick to read. Some personal favorites are “The Blue Cross,” “The Flying Stars,” “The Eye of Apollo,” and “The Curse of the Golden Cross.”
February: The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
I read this book in college under the tutelage of a most wonderful professor. It was my first introduction to Walker Percy. It captures the malaise of modernity eloquently but ends with a hopeful note, appropriate to the beginning of the Lenten season.
March: Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson
Robert Hugh Benson was an English priest who wrote this book at the turn of the twentieth century although it reads like it was written yesterday save for the funny predictions of the advancement of technology. This book wrestles with a totalitarian state and a Church that is on its last legs, hurtling towards the end of all things as the anti-Christ makes his appearance in the world. It feels appropriate for Lent and the joyful conclusion of Easter when we contemplate Christ’s resurrection but also the General Resurrection that we anticipate someday.
April: The Divine Comedy by Dante
If not willing to attempt the entire Divine Comedy (which is rather long and somewhat intimidating), the Paridisio, in which the pilgrim Dante at last rises to the Heavens, feels appropriate to the Easter season and the contemplation of all things beautiful and divine, the things that we are striving towards in living a life of faithfulness and virtue. We can be inspired by Dante’s appreciation for the beauty of the saints and angels, all praising the One who is Love itself.
May: Joan of Arc by Mark Twain
I have had multiple people tell me this is their favorite Catholic novel. Although Twain was certainly not Catholic, this book is widely regarded as a masterpiece and moving tribute to the young French saint. It seems to capture her life and death with great beauty and truth. We named a daughter after St. Joan of Arc and I have this book on my to-be-read shelf for this year!
June: Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz
This work of historical fiction was written in the late 1800s by a Polish Catholic. It is a love story set during the early days of Christianity in the Roman Empire. It seems a fitting read for summer when weddings abound and we take for granted the ease with which Christians are able to marry in today’s day and age.
July: The Song at the Scaffold by Gertrud von le Fort
This book, set during the French Revolution, tells the story of the Carmelite martyrs of Compiegne. Their feast day, as well as the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, falls in the month of July. This novel is a testament to the glory that can be found in martyrdom, and showcases the great love that we all ought to have for Our Lord.
August: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene
Widely considered Graham Greene’s masterpiece, this novel follows a police officer in West Africa. He demonstrates both virtue and vice, and the story follows his moral quandaries in such a way that pierces to the heart of the human experience and the struggles most of us find ourselves in over sin, whether the circumstances be similar or not.
September: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
This book follows the memory of Charles Ryder as he reflects on his youth after encountering Sebastian Flyte and his strange, disparate, Catholic family. It is a story of the slow workings of grace and the profound depths of joy and sorrow that penetrate the heart of man. It is a bit of a behemoth of a book, but one of my personal favorites.
October: The Violent Bear it Away by Flannery O’Connor
During the season when the world obsesses over horror and spookiness and good Catholics ought to especially contemplate the order of their souls and the reality of sin, Flannery O’Connor is a fitting choice. She is well-known for her use of dark themes and rather shocking depictions of the depths of human depravity, but in this story she delves deep into the images of the spirit of modernity where spiritual truths have been stripped bare from both believers and non-believers.
November: In this House of Brede by Rumer Godden
An English Benedictine monastery is the scene for this novel in which an ambitious woman of the world seeks the peace that only a nun’s life can afford. Philippa Talbot was well-known and highly regarded but leaves all behind in pursuit of Christ. What she finds in her life in the monastery is something surprising and beautiful. This book follows the lives and liturgical rhythms of a monastery full of Benedictine nuns with beauty, poignancy, and charm.
December: Shadows on the Rock by Willa Cather
Though Cather was not a Catholic, her ability to pierce into the heart of Catholic culture is astonishing. This book tells the story of an apothecary and his daughter in the French colony of Quebec at the tail-end of the seventeenth century. It follows them through the long, cold, lonely Canadian winter to demonstrate what life was like during such a stark time. It is a portrait of human friendship, little catechized but sincere devotion, and the bravery and hardiness needed by those who went forth from the “Old World” into the “New World.”