The following are specific books Servant of God Dorothy Day mentions having read in her diary entries from the 1950s. 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. For each decade of her life, we’ll be posting a blog with a new list of titles.
Click here for Part 1
Click here for Part 2
All page references are from The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg (2008: Image Books).
1. The first book Dorothy mentions is one of Peter Maurin’s (the co-founder of The Catholic Worker), received in the mail, called Godly Prayers. While I can't seem to find this book in print, you might like to read more about Peter Maurin and his "Easy Essays" online here.
2. Paths in Utopia (1940) – Martin Buber
3. The Drama of Atheist Humanism (1950) – Henri de Lubac, S.J.
4. Life of St. Anthony (4th century AD) – St. Athanasius
5. The Book of the Foundations (1610) – St. Teresa of Avila
6. Tales of the Hasidim (1947) – Martin Buber
7. Three Who Made a Revolution (1948) – Bertram Wolfe
8. Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist (1912) – Alexander Berkman
9. Victory (1915) – Joseph Conrad
10. The “Genius” (1915) – Theodore Dreiser
11. Mao Tse Tung: Red Ruler of China (1950) – Robert Payne
12. The Story of a Soul (1898) – St. Therese of Lisieux. “One could write a whole chapter [Day was in the research phase of her attempt to write a biography of The Little Flower] on her being patroness of the mentally afflicted. Her illness. Her samples [sic]. It is a most amazing story. Its frankness, truth, what a family” (p. 182).
13. The Path of Eternal Wisdom: A Mystical Commentary on the Way of the Cross (1911) – Evelyn Underhill
14. Murder in the Cathedral (1935) - T.S. Eliot. Not a book but rather a verse drama.
15. To the Finland Station (1940) – Edmund Wilson
16. On January 16, 1955, Day wrote, “Strange to be reading Jung now between St. Paul and St. Anthony. Desert and beasts. Dark night. Could not get to sleep until 2 what with it” (p. 211).
17. Letters to A Niece (1928) – Friedrich von Hugel. “Live all you can, as complete and full a life as you can find – do as much as you can for others. Read, work, enjoy – love and help as many souls, do all this. Yes, but remember, be alone, be remote, be away from the world, be desolate. Then you will be near God!” (p. 212).
18. The Trial (1925) – Franz Kafka. “…we are beginning to feel like the character in The Trial by Kafka, an author whom, by the way, Charlie is very fond of” (p. 215).
19. Abandonment to Divine Providence (1861) – Jean-Pierre de Caussade
20. The Malefactors (1956) – Caroline Gordon. “Della [Day’s sister] showed me the review of Caroline Gordon’s book appearing in the NY Times book section this Sunday. That book The Malefactors and the Nation article and all this disgrace of court [among other experience with the law the summer she wrote this passage, Day had been summoned before the Worker's Compensation Board] certainly makes you feel guilty. I do not feel injured, but guilty and doing penance” (p. 218-219).
21. Prayer in Practice (1957) – Romano Guardini
22. “The Wreck of the Deutschland” (1938) - Gerald Manley Hopkins, SJ. Not a book but a poem.
23. Requiem For a Nun (1951) – William Faulkner
24. Confessions (late 4th century AD) - St. Augustine
25. Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) – Nathanael West
26. Part of a Long Story: Eugene O’Neill as a Young Man in Love (1958) – Agnes O’Neill (Boulton). Day was evidently mortified at her inclusion in the memoir (she and Eugene O'Neill had been close friends in the literary scene of 1920s Greenwich Village).
27. Exile’s Return (1951) – Malcolm Crowley. Another embarrassment for Dorothy, who was mentioned in the book as, in her early 20s, being able to drink New York gangsters under the table.
28. Nonviolence and the Christian Conscience – Fr. Pie-Raymond Regamy, OP. This book was dedicated to Day, “in very profound communication in the heart of the Prince of Peace and in hope against all hope” (p. 237).
29. Seeds of the Desert: The Legacy of Charles de Foucauld (1955) – Rene Voillaume. Day writes that this book is “the greatest help” in living out the Mass and Daily Office, and that it is an “inspiration” (p. 243).
30. The Imitation of Christ (early 15th century) – Thomas à Kempis. A perennial favourite of Day’s, which she turned to often throughout her life.
31. Liturgical Piety (1955) – Rev. Louis Bouyer. “…my greatest help in understanding the Mass and Office” (p. 243).
32. Nicholas Nickleby (1839) – Charles Dickens. “What a help Dickens is in time of trouble” (p. 246).
33. Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1911 edition. Dorothy writes that she and another Catholic Worker member are reading the entry about anarchism.
34. A Touch of the Poet (1958) – Eugene O’Neill. A play by Day’s old friend.
35. Life of Samuel Johnson (1791) – James Boswell
36. Darby and Joan (1935) – Maurice Baring. “A strange Victorian novel, where people are ‘poor’ but manage to live in the country and winter in Malta, etc” (p. 252). Baring was a convert to Catholicism, and this was his final novel.
37. Lolita (1955) – Vladimir Nabokov. “A truly terrible tale, a horrible picture of American life, a vicious tale, reminding me of Notes from the Underground [Dostoyevsky]” (p. 254).
38. The Hidden Face (1944) – Ida Goerres. A book on St. Therese of Lisieux, which caused Day’s publishers to recant on their decision to publish her own work on The Little Flower (Therese). Day notes that Gorres' book is “marvelous”.
39. On the Road (1957) – Jack Kerouac. “Somewhat suitable while traveling by bus. A most unhappy book and showing the poor at their desperate worst, the occasional wild outbreak, the reckless search for joy through liquor and sex” (p. 257).
40. Marjorie Morningstar (1955) – Herman Woulk
41. The Seven Storey Mountain ( 1948) – Thomas Merton. “He has plunged himself so deeply in religion that his view of the world and its problems is superficial and scornful” (p. 258). Despite her criticism of his famous story of conversion, Day and Merton later began a friendship conducted by letter.
42. The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (likely 1957 or 1958) – Alan Burgess. “About a small woman, a household worker, who went to China as a missionary and learned the language and trudged through the hills and mountains alone, lived with muleteers and peasants and children and with her Bible” (p. 272).
43. Day refers to reading J.D. Salinger’s latest story in 1959, likely Seymour: An Introduction
44. War and Peace (1869) – Leo Tolstoy