The following are specific books Servant of God Dorothy Day mentions having read in her diary entries from the 1940s. 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. You can check out Part 1 – the books Day read in the 1930s – by clicking here.
All page references are from The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, edited by Robert Ellsberg (2008: Image Books).
1. Anna Karenina (1877) – Leo Tolstoy
2. The Power and the Glory (1940) – Graham Greene
3. The Diary of a Country Priest (1935) – Georges Bernanos
4. The Little Flowers of St. Francis (circa late 1300s) – attributed to Fr. Ugolino Brunforte. Widely known to many Catholics, this work is available in the public domain. You can read it in formats online, including by PDF here.
5. To The End of the World – this reference is unclear. Day may have been referring to The End of the World (1930), the Hawthornden Prize-winning work by Geoffrey Dennis.
6. Kristin Lavransdottir (1920) - Sigrid Undset
7. Master of Hestviken (1925-27) – Sigrid Undset. A favourite author of Day’s, she was lucky enough to meet Undset in person; Day mentions in May of 1941 that she would soon be coming to the Catholic Worker house for dinner.
8. The “Studs Lonigan” Triology: Young Lonigan (1932), The Young Manhood of Studs Lonigan (1934), and Judgment Day (1935) – James T. Farrell. Succinctly described by Day as a “terrible indictment of Catholic education”.
9. The Spiritual Doctrine (1781) – Fr. Louis Lallement. During a time when Day considered leaving the Catholic Worker for a more solitary life, she mentions this book as capturing that idea of “going off to be a desert father”.
10. The Soul of the Apostolate (1912) – Jean-Baptiste Chautard, OCSO. The full text of this short work is available in the public domain. You can read it here. Day mentions long being terrified she is living out the “heresy of works” detailed by Chautard.
11. Bleak House (1853) – Charles Dickens. “I am in danger of becoming like that woman in Bleak House who worked so hard for foreign missions and neglected her family” (p. 74).
12. The Possessed (1872) – Fyodor Dostoyevsky. After the sentence above, Day writes, “Or like that woman in The Possessed, the Governor’s wife, who had a finger in every pie and felt important” (ibid.).
13. Introduction to the Devout Life (1609) – St. Francis de Sales
14. Daniel: Man of Desires (1940) – Hubert Van Zeller
15. Autobiography with Letters (1939) – William Lyons Phelps
16. Laws of Life (1935) – Dr. Halliday Sutherland. While it's unclear if Day read this book herself (the reference in her diary is to happening upon her daughter Tamar working through it while sitting in her mother's room), it's likely that the book Tamar borrowed did indeed belong to Dorothy.
17. The Way of Perfection (1577) – St. Teresa of Avila. Day mentions having worked her way through some of St. Teresa’s treatises on prayer during October of 1943; we can assume she was referring to this classic volume on advancing in contemplation.
18. The Desert Fathers (1936) – translated by Helen Waddell
19. The Public Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ (1930) - Alban Goodier, SJ. Day mentions she spent two hours daily reading from Goodier’s books (it is unclear whether she also read his companion volume, The Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ ) while on her six-month “desert father” sabbatical from the Catholic Worker.
20. The Jungle (1905) - Upton Sinclair. In an entry from 1945, Day mentions having read this in her youth and “being converted to the poor, to a love for and a desire to be always with the poor – the workers of the world” (p. 98).
21. The Road (1907) - Jack London. Day cites The Road alongside The Jungle, above.
22. Brothers Karamazov (1880) – Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The first mention of this book, often cited as one of Day’s favourites, is in her quoting the character Father Zossima: “Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”
23. Darkness at Noon (1940) – Arthur Koestler. “Like the character in Koestler’s Darkness at Noon I can see how I have been guilty and am suffering only for my sins, past and present” (p. 101).
24. Adventures in Grace (1945) – Raissa Maritain
25. Brideshead Revisited (1945) – Evelyn Waugh. Day: “not a satire; a search for God thru creatures. Hound of Heaven” (p. 110).
26. The Idea of a University (1852) – John Henry Cardinal Newman. Shortly after the birth of her daughter Tamar’s first child, Dorothy writes that she and Tamar are reading The Idea of a University at meals.
27. My Antonia (1918) – Willa Cather. “Letter from Tamar – loneliness there. I must send her My Antonia – stories of pioneers will give her courage” (p. 122).
28. Gone With the Wind (1936) - Margaret Mitchell
29. Soul of a Woman – likely a reference to Paul Jordan Smith’s The Soul of Woman: An Interpretation of the Philosophy of Feminism (1916)