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The Dorothy Day Reading List Challenge – Part 1

Allyson Kenny

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

It’s no secret that some of the best-loved saints in Catholic history had their spiritual lives deeply shaped by books. From well-known classics - like St. Augustine’s City of God that was beloved by St. Thomas More - to more obscure examples - like St. Therese of Lisieux and The End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life by Fr. Charles Arminjon - there are countless examples of saints being formed through wise literary counsel.
As I’ve been working my way through The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day (Penguin Random House, 2011; edited by Robert Ellsberg), I couldn’t help but notice that Dorothy Day was a voracious reader like me. As she chronicles the day in, day out of her life, diary entries abound commenting on what novel, prayer collection, or book of spiritual direction she’s immersed in, and her opinion of their merits.
Here, I present the first part of an authoritative list of all the books Dorothy Day mentioned reading during her lifetime. Many are considered “modern” masterpieces, though Day didn’t shy away from loving classics of Catholic literature, as you’ll see both below and in the lists to come.
This summer, I challenge you to read at least three books – one per month in June, July, and August - that formed this remarkable “saint of the poor” in modern times.
And as an added bonus, check out the Salt + Light TV interviews with two of Dorothy’s granddaughters below.
Below are specific books (or book excerpts) mentioned by Dorothy in diary entries from 1934-1939.
Stay tuned: For each decade of her life, we’ll be posting a blog with a new list of titles.

1. Crime and Punishment (1866) - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

2. The Idiot (1869) – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

3. The Spiritual Life: A Treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology (1930) - Adolphe Tanqueray

4. Hunger (1890) – Knut Hamsun

5. “The Grand Inquisitor”, a poem inside The Brothers Karamazov (1879) – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

6. Resurrection (1899) – Leo Tolstoy

7. Not a book, exactly, but Day mentions praying Abbott [now Blessed] Columba Marmion’s Way of the Crossyou can read it online here

8. The Craft of Prayer (1936) - Vincent McNabb, OP

9. In September 1938, Day mentions she had stayed up until 2 am reading a book on modern German mystic and stigmatist Therese Neumann. You might consider reading Therese Neumann: Mystic & Stigmatist (1987) by Adalbert A. Vogl.

10. Pope Pius XI and World Peace (1938) – Lord Clonmore. But beware: Day noted bluntly that “it did not impress me”!

11. City of God (426 AD) – St. Augustine

12. Memories of Lenin (1930) - Nadezhda Krupskaya (Lenin’s wife)

13. The Public Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ (1930) – Bishop Alban Goodier

14. The last book Day mentions in her diaries during the 1930s is In Footsteps of St. Francis, a book I haven’t been able to trace. For a modern-day, lyrical journey through the life of the Saint of Assisi, you might try Francis: The Journey and the Dream (1972) by Murray Bodo, OFM.


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