As a new Catholic I look for things to read that inspire me and help me to grow in my faith. Since I didn’t grow up Catholic I had high hopes that “The American Catholic Almanac” by Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson would satisfy the hunger that I have to learn even more about how Catholicism encourages, inspires and fulfills others.
I hate to admit it, but I was disappointed. This book reads like a dry history text book without any kind of hook to grab you and pull you into each little story. I realize that this isn’t supposed to be a long and involved tale as you only get one page to tell each story. However, if you’re a good story teller you can capture a person’s interest with just a few sentences. I kept waiting for this to happen and it never did. The writing itself is fine, it’s just that I never felt pulled into any of the stories.
For instance, I am a HUGE fan of the American Civil War so I was excited when I realized that the entry on January 2nd was all about General James Longstreet. I read a biography about him many years ago and I had forgotten that he had converted to Catholicism. This entry, though, left me feeling like I was missing something. Perhaps it’s because the entry jumped around a bit. They begin by talking about how the Episcopalians in New Orleans would have nothing to do with him, even in church. They discuss a few reasons why the people of New Orleans felt as if Longstreet had betrayed the Confederate cause, then they jump to the Catholic priest who extends an invitation to join the Catholic church. Longstreet took him up on it and all we learn is that Longstreet “remained a devout communicant to the end of his life.” They go on by listing the positions that Longstreet went on to hold with the Federal Government, and then a quick explanation of how history would clear Longstreet’s reputation. The last piece of the entry is that Longstreet died on January 2, 1904 before he had a chance to see his name cleared.
Okay. Fair enough. All of it is true (mostly – there’s still a huge portion of the South who will never ever forgive Longstreet for his betrayals), and since Longstreet did convert to Catholicism then it does count as a story about a Catholic. I guess that I was just looking for entries that wouldn’t say that this person became a Catholic after he did all of this other stuff. I had hoped that this book would give stories about people of the Catholic faith and how that faith propelled them to act. We learn that Longstreet became Catholic, but how did that impact the rest of his life?
Perhaps the issue is squarely on me. The book says that it’s “A Daily Reader of Patriots, Saints, Rogues, and Ordinary People Who Changed the United States.” Which is true because it tells lots of stories about people, and then mentions that they were Catholic or that they walked by a Catholic Church one time. Again, I think that my expectations for this book were different than what the book was really intended to be.
It is interesting to learn just who was Catholic, or converted, such as John Wayne. Or to read about how the United States has really had a huge prejudice against Catholics for a good portion of our history. There were things that I had forgotten that I had learned about in history class, so it was a good reminder in that fashion. I will keep this book more as a reference book rather than one that I pull off of the shelf when I need a bolstering of my faith.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.