We are terribly proud of our Core. We talk about it a lot – even if complaining – and derive serious enjoyment and pride from being able to whip out various references to “The Iliad” or “The Republic” in the midst of a conversation on a modern issue or current event.
Yet, the Core is not all-powerful, or even all-inclusive. While it covers many essential texts, it cannot hope to cover every book the University of Dallas student should read. Thus the “unofficial” core has developed – those great works you either read before UD or should read before graduating. While these have not necessarily shaped Western Civilization, their influence on UD culture has been profound.
1. “Orthodoxy” – Chesterton brings all of the historical and theological traditions of Western Civilization into a cocktail conversation. There is, perhaps, no more-quoted, non-required reading source on campus. His hilarious and poignant one-liners are guaranteed to succinctly sum up whatever idea you are trying to convey.
2. “The Lord of the Rings” – The UD student can best understand the worth of this trilogy through Neil Gaiman’s paraphrase of the words of Chesterton (see #1): “Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” To love “The Lord of the Rings” (books or movies) is to appreciate a world that is both foreign and familiar, where bad things happen to good people and great things come from small players. In one of these stories, we are asked to ponder along with Sam, “how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing … this shadow. Even darkness must pass.” Good reminder.
3. “Brideshead Revisited” – Literally a mixture of both the sacred and profane and so entirely and gloriously human and catholic. If you are pressed for time, read “Letters to a Young Catholic” by George Weigel; it has an excellent summary and commentary on both Chesterton and Waugh, and it is written by one of UD’s biggest fans. But “Brideshead Revisited” contains a beautiful, gentle irony that merits a full reading. Entirely quotable and profoundly simple, Waugh makes us love, once again, the beautiful and flaw-filled soul and body composite that we call a human person.
4. Lives of the Saints – You can’t build a good relationship solely on the dry, incidental kind of saint biographies that tend to read “he/she was born, he/she was holy, he/she suffered, he/she died.” Saints were real humans too, which means that they had real thoughts and real problems and real faults between their first miracles and their heroic martyrdoms. Ignatius Press has beautiful and simple books on the lives of a wide assortment of saints, as does the author, Mary Windeatt, and the UD library. In becoming familiar with the saints in heaven, we might recognize the saints who walk among us, even on campus.
The Core is, in its essence, only a core. You must develop outer layers for the seeds at the center to bear any fruit. For, as Oscar Wilde puts it, “it is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”