Father, you told us many times to throw out that devil’s instrument, the TV and you were only too right. Apart from the TV there are the magazines, mostly as dirty as the TV. We have thrown them all out. What peace; suddenly we have time to spare. But, Father, we need something for relaxation. The Radio? Sometimes for classical music; but most of it is rubbish as well. In any case, we have most of the music of our taste on tapes. However, we cannot listen to music day after day. We need something else to relax. After a hard day’s work we want to forget this nerve wrecking world around us. All what remains to us is reading books; but even that requires a certain technique. There are many excellent books available in the public libraries. Satan however has foreseen this situation and much dirty literature has been pushed into this field as well. Now, how to select; how do we know which writers are good and which not, Father, please could you not give us the names of a few reliable authors? Father replies: “Yes my child, why don’t you try G.K. Chesterton he was a Catholic writer of distinction”. Oh yes Father, I know, I have read his entire Father Brown stories, but I cannot go on rereading the same stories over and over again. Can’t you give us some more names? Dead silence! Father’s repertoire did not go any further. With the result that we were on our own again.
The above introduction is just an imaginary talk which may have happened many times all over the world. In the beginning of this century there was relatively little trouble for Catholics regarding good literature. Priests were appointed by the bishops or their religious congregation (typical the Jesuits and Dominicans) to judge, approve or condemn literature (and films). The very bad ones went on the Index and were taboo for any Catholic. One even needed permission from one’s a confessor if, professionally, you had to read one. No one can expect from the few and overworked priests we have to undertake this most horrible of duties as well. All we can do now is to do this work as good as possible under their guidance.
Between us, my wife and I have been reading well over 900 books by about 200 authors during a period of some 20 odd years; selecting, approving and condemning, making notes about our findings. Simply by experience a technique for selection developed itself. The main questions arising are: 1. How to select from the public libraries for the best chance of a good book. 2. What are the norms to be applied for the judgment of a book’s merits or demerits?
1. If the picture on the cover is questionable or suggestive, leave the book alone. The author has most likely been forced to put in some sex in order to enhance the commercial value. If you see a series of books by the same writer, check on the dates of the copyright and take the earliest date. If that book is no good the chances are high that the rest is rotten as well. This brings us to a kind of golden rule. Again check the earliest copy-right; if that is before approximately 1965 there is a reasonable chance for a good book. It is indeed remarkable that the date of the closing of the Vatican II council is also the start of the fast deterioration of all forms of art, including that of writing. A warning is here in its place: The golden rule as mentioned is definitely not fool-proof. Before 1965 books were written which the Church put on the Index. After 1965 quite a few writers withstood the general tendency towards decadence; God bless them. We will deal with some of those later. The last selection technique is to make a note, of those writers you condemn for your own future use and protection.
2. What reasonable norms should we apply; strict norms yes, but not scrupulous. One cannot expect an author to describe a cruel war scene in drawing-room language. On the other hand, sailor’s language in polite circles is intolerable. Descriptive sex, even if it is two pages in a whole book, is utterly condemnable. Suggestive sex could be tolerated if the morale of the book clearly sees it as one of the evils of the world we are living in. Especially in the more serious works a proper Christian morality is essential. The defense of non-Christian behaviour or principles and their consideration as normal should be condemned outright. Coarse language can be permitted if the writer uses it exceptionally to show his dis-satisfaction about a certain situation; the same goes for swearing. Blasphemy however can never be permitted. One finds writers today who seem to think that they are really “in” and “he-men” if they use intolerable language right through their books. Burn those books. Apart from that, those “authors” usually prove that they have a limited vocabulary combined with a dirty outlook. People are often scandalized by the use of God’s name. We noticed many times that they do not tolerate God’s name in any context, at the same time permitting the most vulgar sex. Here is a typical example again of today’s twisted minds. There seems to be nothing wrong if expressions such as “for God’s sake”, “I wish to God”, “Oh my God”, “God Help me” or similar are used in their proper place. However if they are used on every single page as a kind of replacement for swearing words, that is quite a different story.
Notwithstanding all these precautions it could still happen that one selects a book which after some 10 pages reading gives you a kind of uneasy feeling. After a bit of experience you will see that this feeling can be well-grounded. Slightly further in the book and: “goodness gracious me, here we go again”. Boom!— Have the guts to close the book there and then! It can also happen that there seems to be nothing wrong with a given book, and then suddenly …. A whole chapter with nothing but sex. Skip the chapter and you will find that you missed nothing of the story. A typical example of a weak author forced to put in some sex for better selling value. Yes, Satan is clever.
Two remarks before starting with the discussion of writers and books. For those with weak eyes many of the books mentioned here-under are available in large print editions. Most of the books are of the thriller detective – and western – types whether or not combined with romances. We cannot help with pure romances (perhaps somebody else can) simply because we do not like them. The players are usually doing all kind of silly things which remind us too much about our own courting time. And do not forget that what we like does not mean that you will like as well; there is no accounting for tastes.
Let us start with some books for the whole family. Ellis Peters is one of those writers you can rely on right from the start with one of her earlier books “Never pick up hitch-hikers” to one of her last “The summer of the Danes”, (l99l). If you like a “medieval who dunn it” story, placed in a 12th century setting in old England with brother Cadfail a monk and amateur detective in close co-operation with the local sheriff, you have a whole series of books everybody will enjoy. A Quotation of one of her books: “To have faith in Divine protection is good, but even beter if backed by the pratical assistance heaven has a right to expect from sensible mortals.” Much better than the rather dubius English expression.
Ellis Peters is a pen-name; her own is Edith Pargeter. Several books written under her own name are as good as the others. Another one for the whole family is Georgette Heyer with whole series of books set in Victorian England. Romantic settings with drawing-room gossip, blackguards, highwaymen and rescues of damsels in distress. In quite a few books she needs a sometimes rather lengthy preamble but then she really goes to town. Try her, you will like her. Next one of a totally different genre is P. G. Wodehouse. This is a more humoristic type of books ranging from 1923 – 1974. I always enjoy it when my wife reads one; she keeps on giggling all the time. Then there is Agatha Christie with a whole string of books from the early 1930’s to the late 1970’s, “soft crime” with her never failing woman-detective Miss Marple and the Belgian police inspector Hercule Poirot. These are the detective stories the ladies just love. But gents don’t be ashamed to try her as well. Read “Death on the Nile”, (1937) for a start and you will agree with us. Now there are those who like the older books, then Edgar Wallace is your man from the 1920’s. Don’t forget to try him, he is good. Catherine Cookson is one we cannot recommend except for her “Mary-Ann” series which can be read by the whole family. Here are the titles: “A Grand Man”, (1954). “The Lord and Mary-Ann” (1956), “The devil and Mary-Ann” (1958), “Life and Mary-Ann” (1962), “Love and Mary-Ann” and “Marriage and Mary-Ann” (1964). If you want to try other books by Cookson read her well-written autobiography “Our Kate”. It gives a good background knowledge of this Catholic-born writer specializing in the hard life of the poor and of slum conditions. Keep those books away from the children. We must definitely not forget Patricia Wentworth with her forever knitting but clever Miss Maud Silver solving all problems by simply talking to people and getting at their innermost secrets. One field where the police is about powerless. We quote from one of her books: “Miss … (an elderly spinster) spent her days in an enjoyable contemplation of ill health”. Nice detectives for the whole family.
Anthony Hope has written some very nice books about the romantic past. His “Prisoner of Zenda” is well known, partly through that most horrible of films which tries to picture the story as a farce which the book is definitely not. Hope however has written more books, amongst them “Rupert of Hentzau” sequence to the above mentioned. Try them; we are sure you will like them. lf you like nature try Joyce Stranger with her charmingly written books on animals. Read “Chia, the Wildcat” (1971) or “The running foxes”, (1965). The girls will love them. If you can get hold of a book by Oven Francis Dudley grab it. This is another writer of detective stories with a monk as the clever genius. His books are practically off the market. Something for TAN to reprint. Another one to grab if you see it is “Saint Catherine of Sienna” by Sigrid Unsted. She wrote this book after her conversion to Catholicism not long before her death. Unsted was one of the top writers of the beginning of the 20th century and even before her conversion was a great admirer of St. Catherine. One last writer of Catholic books is Margaret Trouncer Read her “A Grain of Wheat”, (1958), the beautiful story of St. Bernadette of Lourdes. We think you have enough books for now (it must be altogether some two hundred).
Now a chance for daddy and the boys. Alistair Maclean is clean right through and an excellent story-teller. His thrillers are thrillers indeed and maintain the tension from beginning to end. One warning: Daddy don’t take those books to Work, you may get fired and boys don’t read one of these during examination time. What we mean to say is that it requires real self-control to interrupt MacLean’s books. After this author’s death notes were found for some more books. Alistair MacNeill finished those books in the MacLean style, all of them clean notwithstanding they were written in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Would you like to know more about the Australian out-back and the Aborigines? Arthur Upfield has written a whole series of detectives with a half-caste police detective inspector with a good understanding of both whites and aborigines. We quote from his “Bony and the Mouse”, (1959): “It is said that Australia rides on the sheep’s back. All trash ofcourse, because it floats on beer; …. And (after a beer-drought of eight days) Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte proceeded to re-float Australia on beer”.
Do you like marine stories complete with schooners and frigates from. the old sailing-ships time then Alexander Kent has written a whole series of books about his Richard Bolitho starting as a midshipman until he finely becomes a commodore. A Warning: In the last book where Bolitho becomes commodore there are a few pages of sex. Tear them out and you have a nice series of books.
Talking about naval war reminds us about the long battle between England and Spain in the West Indies. There are several good writers on this subject. Standing out however is Rafael Sabatini. Apart from his well known “Captain Blood”, (l922) and sequences there are more of his books worth reading. Try his “Fortune’s Fool”, (1923), a “Magnificent historical romance of London in the year of the Great Plague” (Publisher’s note), only too true. Regarding somewhat older books try John Buchan with many excellent stories. I am sure that daddy will like him but the boys might find him a bit old-fashioned.
Something else for both daddy and the boys: Westerns. The well known stories about the “goodies and the baddies” in a land expanding so fast that the law could not follow it and the people had to take the law into their own hands. There are many good writers of Westerns but also bad ones who make use of today’s demand for sensuality. An author you can trust right through is Louis L’ Amour. He knows his Wild West, people as well as nature. If you never read Westerns before, L’ Amour is your ideal introduction to this often exciting subject. Some consider him a bit slow as he does not hesitate to give a good description of a mountain, a desert or the plains, places he visited himself. Those people want at least ten killings in the first dozen pages of a book. That is not the real kind of Western; it is only directed at the sensational. Try L’Amour, you will not be disappointed. Another writer of excellent Westerns is Max Brand (pen-name for Frederick Faust). He is a very versatile author with hundreds of works on his name, Westerns being only part of these. He as well likes Western nature and its animals. His “White Wolf” (1926) is an example. We should not mention Max Brand without noting maybe the master-piece of this master story teller. Even if you have seen the film, read “Dr. Kildare’s Trial”, (1944), it is more, than worth it.
War and espionage are some rather harsh subjects. Although some good books have been written, the subject lends itself for immorality and great discretion is required in choosing them. With some reservation we can recommend Colin Forbes for daddy, but his “Target 5″ (l973) can be read by the boys as well. An excellently written book and instructive about conditions at the North Pole at the same time. A thrilling espionage story. Two other good books for daddy are “Appointment with Venus” and “Odette” by Jerrard Tickel. As far as we have seen, all other books by this writer are no good. Regarding war stories we want to return again to our favourite Alistair MacLean His “The guns of Navarone” (l957) and “South of Java Head” (1958) are thrillers of the first water suitable for all. Two more books about World War II: “Storm force to Narvik” (1979) and “Last lift from Crete”, (1980) by Alexander Fullerton. Careful with this writer; we have condemned several of his books.
“What about science-fiction?” I like to read good science—fiction, but I found most of today’s writings just rubbish. All one reads about is fighting, warfare, jealousy, sex and every single vice imaginable. This tendency is not so difficult to understand if we realize that writing about fictive alien societies gives the liberal author opportunities and excuses. God does not seem to exist anymore when planet Earth is left behind. We once were given a proof for a proposed book to read and judge. The subject was one we never saw before. An imaginary planet with a population not suffering from the consequences of Original Sin. Quite an interesting and partly religious subject. We enjoyed reading the proof as it was very well written. But do you think the publishers wanted it? No chance; they do not want that kind if literature.
There are however a few books and authours we could recommend. Some books by Anne McCaffrey are suitable for the whole family. Even the girls will like them. “Dragon Flight”, “Dragon Drums” (1979) “Dragon Song” and “Dragon Singer” (1977) are excellent romantic fictions on another planet, complete with tame lizards and dragons. Unfortunately McCaffrey turns sensual in some later books. After reading part of “Dragons Dawn” (1988), which we condemned, we stopped reading her. It is quite possible that she has written other good books amongst the many she wrote.
There are some writers of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century which, as science-fiction authours should not be ignored. Jules Verne is one of them. It is amazing that this author foresaw about technical inventions which, totally unheard of in his own time, are today part of our lives. If you did not yet read his “20000 Leagues under the sea” then do so. It is only one example of his many quasi scientific fictions.
The same goes for “The Time Machine” (1895) by H.G. Wells which could be considered to be past our time. Good books for the boys (and for daddy as well) are those written by Edgar Burroughs, the well know author of “Tarzan”. His books about Mars and other planets are good and clean fiction. Let us now consider some other subjects.
Earlier we mentioned that we did not like romances. We started reading “The Way of an eagle” (1912) by Ethel M. Dell thinking it was a thriller; but it turned out to be a romance. It was however so well written that we finished it. We are sure you will like it.
Do you perhaps have a tendency towards communism? Then you must read “Animal Farm” (1941) by George Orwell After reading it, you will be cured for life.
Another book with a lesson is “The Mercy of Allah” (1922) by Hilaire Belloc We all know about our beloved writer of Catholic history. If you never read his books before, you better start doing so. It is refreshing to read the Truth about the history of our Faith. Not so well known is that he has written other books beside his histories. “The Modern Traveller” (1898) and “Cautionary Verses” (1940) are two examples.
Another book we could consider to be a lesson is A.J. Cronin “Adventures in two Worlds” (1952). This is an autobiography by a medical doctor. Exceptionally well written.
Before we sign off, a few more reliable authors:
Westerns: Al Cody, Ernest Haycox and Peter Dawson are good clean authors.
Detectives: Rex Stout.
Thrillers: Hammond Innes (not after 1965!) and Nevil Shute.
Finally, one more book “The Lost Ship of Noah”, (l987) by Charles Berlitz. A book for the whole family and … for our priests. There seems to be very little doubt that Noah’s Ark still lies on Mount Ararat partly buried in a glacier. This of course the world tries to ignore as it is a tangible proof of the literal truth of the “Genesis” and gives the final death-blow to the evolution theory.
Authors We Condemned Outright
H. E. Bates
Loren Zane Grey
Lewis B. Patten
Janwillem van de Wetering
Authors Which Require Great Discretion
(They have written good, even excellent books, but also bad ones).
Steven C. Lawrence
JJ Marric (London Police stories)
John Creasey (Detective and Science Fiction)
The books and authors we have mentioned are only a tiny fraction of what is available even in good books, but let us hope that it will be a start for many. Many of the above mentioned books are available in Large Print editions.