Fr. Thomas Esposito’s rhapsodic reading recommendations

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Any University of Dallas student or alum will agree that it is an honor to be able to be taught and work alongside the legendary and brilliant UD faculty, especially those that guide us through the Core texts and teach us how to wrestle with difficult topics.

While I was listening to a lecture in a Principles of Catholic Biblical Interpretations class — shortened to Princ-Cath-Bib-Inter — this semester, I took note of a book by St. Irenaeus that the professor, Father Thomas Esposito, O.Cist., said was one of his favorite books of all time. The possibility of what his other recommendations piqued my interest, so I sat down with him to find out.

I was first given a packet titled “A Rhapsodic, Random, and Hopefully Helpful Reading List for Fr. Thomas’ Under the Bible Students,” which, according to Esposito, contains well over 100 titles. I didn’t attempt to count, but I trust his word.

The list is categorized into “biblical stuff,” theology, spiritual reading, autobiographies, biographies of saints and literature, featuring titles from G. K. Chesterton to Johnny Cash to shameless self-promotion.

One book that didn’t make his list but made him laugh throughout was “The Diaries of Adam and Eve” by Mark Twain. 

Esposito explained, “[Twain] writes these diary entries from the perspective of Adam and Eve when they’re first created, and Adam at first is afraid of this moving blob that he thinks is just a piece of dirt and then thinks it’s a gorilla — it ultimately is the first woman — and it’s just the story of how they learn to love each other and then sin and then go from there.”

The book that made him almost cry, however, was “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, in which he points to the ending that displays the “no greater love” Gospel message.

When asked about a book that changed his life, two works came to mind. The first is T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets,” and the second is “Introduction to Christianity” by Cardinal Jozef Ratzinger.

“I read [“Introduction to Christianity”] just before I decided to join the monastery. He’s absolutely a hero of mine. Anything he writes is worth reading, without a doubt,” Esposito said.

Another book he recommends for any student to read is “Joan of Arc” by Twain.

“Very few people know that Mark Twain wrote a book about Joan of Arc because he was just this hilarious comic writer of the American novel, but he devoted ten years of research to this novel about her, and he called her ‘the greatest human being that ever lived after Jesus.’ He had no interest in the Christian faith as far as we can tell, but something about Joan just riveted him and it’s a beautiful book, it’s also a tearjerker,” Esposito said.

As for his current reading list, Esposito said: “I try to read a couple of novels every semester just to keep my imagination fresh because as a biblical scholar you can really get bogged down in tedious details. I’m currently reading “Kristin Lavransdatter” by Sigrid Undset. [It’s a] long name [and a] long book too. Good grief. It’s 1,100 pages and I’m about halfway through, but it’s a wonderful book.”

He also enjoys reading works by Cormac McCarthy and Franz Werfel. Werfel, a Jewish man, wrote three books on his extensive recommendations list including “The Song of Bernadette” about St. Bernadette of Lourdes and “Hearken Unto the Voice” about the prophet Jeremiah. 

A trend to be observed in several of the recommendations seems to be full of surprises — a person indifferent to religion writing about a well-renowned saint — who some might call a “girlboss” nowadays — or a Jewish author writing about yet another great saint or important Marian apparition for Catholics? Sign Esposito up.

Esposito, who graduated UD in 2005, shared that “Moby Dick” was his favorite book in the Lit Trad sequence.

“I have re-read [‘Moby Dick’] every two to three years since I graduated. I think it’s immensely beautiful and profound and disturbing and wonderful. It just gets at the infinite depths of the human heart in a way that very few other books do. I mean you’ve got to get through all the whale blubber and whatnot, but some of the insights of the nature of evil and the corruption of Ahab; and Ishmael being such a distant and yet alluring character at the same time [are incredible].”

Esposito hopes that these recommendations will lead one’s heart closer to God and encourage people to dive into books that they wouldn’t have otherwise thought to pick up before. My Goodreads reading list has certainly received an update since our interview.

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