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Saturday, April 6, 2013

"Happy Catholic: Glimpses of God in Everyday Life" by Julie Davis. Book Review.

When you purchase your copy of Julie Davis' "Happy Catholic," be sure to buy multiple copies. This is a book you are going to want to distribute as gifts. "Happy Catholic" is accessible, likable, friendly, no-fuss, in places, surprisingly challenging, even prickly, laugh-out-loud funny, and thought-provoking.

"Happy Catholic" is a genuine reflection of what a real, live Catholic thinks and feels. It is the voice of a modern, American, Catholic woman. Julie Davis is very like people I know. She is a loving wife, mother, and businesswoman. She is steeped in modern American popular culture. I love Mother Teresa and Dorothy Day, a couple of rather rarified saints. Julie Davis is not a nun; she does not live in a place or a time distant from the average American reader. She is you and me and she is a church-going, Bible quoting, lives-of-the-saints reading Catholic.

I want to buy this book for several internet friends. I want to buy "Happy Catholic" for Sandy and David, two facebook friends who devote a heck of a lot of keystrokes to mocking Christians. I want to buy this book for Sue, a Jehovah's Witness who is convinced that Catholics must be converted. I want to buy this book for Oriana, who depicts Catholics as a cross between Torquemada and Gomer Pyle. I want to buy this book for the hiring committees at "Christian" universities who have told me that they don't hire Catholic professors.

I want to hold this book in front of their eyes and say, "This is what a Catholic is. A delightful dinner companion. An ethical and professional businesswoman. A good neighbor. A loving mother. Someone you'd want very much to get to know. Someone you'd benefit from knowing." In short, Julie Davis is very much like many Catholics I know, and she is nothing like the caricatures of Catholics the non-Catholics I know promulgate.

"Happy Catholic" is a book of very brief essays. Each essay covers, at most, a page and a half. Many are only half a page or so in length. Each essay offers reflections on a quote. She quotes a fair amount of sci fi, horror, and fantasy, such as Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Madeleine L'Engle, and Susanna Clarke. She also quotes TV sitcoms, Winston Churchill, and the Edward Bulwer Lytton bad writing contest.

"I am suddenly nostalgic for the good old days," Davis remarks, "when you could smoke a cigarette, have a burger, or sip a cocktail without fear of getting a dirty look." What's that got to do with Catholicism, you ask? Davis doesn't hammer her point home in this essay, or in any of the others. She sketches out the main points, and leaves it to the reader to fill in the blanks, to connect the dots. In this essay, she is commenting on British jockey and crime writer Dick Francis' observation that in America, people think that one can fend off death indefinitely by jogging or adopting other healthy habits.

Davis could have produced a thousand-word essay supporting her points with exacting details; she doesn't. Her comments are trenchant and brief, as if you were seated next to a very witty and provocative dinner companion. Americans worship health and equate death with guilt, she remarks. It's almost like we've turned healthy living into a secular religion. And then you realize, oh, that's right. I'm reading a book by a Catholic about being Catholic. You put two plus two together, and before you realize it, you are asking big questions and thinking profound thoughts. You didn't need the thousand-word essay. You just needed a few inspirational bon mots from this erudite, sophisticated, literate Catholic woman.

Julie Davis' parents were the "good, old-fashioned sort of atheists." She was not a believer. "Religion was silly superstition, so why argue about it?...Most of the 'proof' seemed like simple coincidence to me." Through a series of events, Davis came to accept God on faith. Everything changed. "Books I read, movies I watched, songs I heard were reflecting bits of the Truth that was God. I realized that this reality had been there all along. I just couldn't see it before. It made everyday things glow."

In "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek," author Annie Dillard talks about the "tree with the lights in it" that newly sighted people saw. Davis is like the newly sighted, once she accepts God.

In "Happy Catholic," Davis explores big issues: why does God allow suffering? Why aren't believers' lives easier? What about church teaching on abortion and the death penalty? And she meditates on day-to-day matters, as well. Why are some families unhappy, while others are happy? She quotes Tolstoy and Pope John Paul II before offering her own answer. She comments in everyday speech about everyday matters, "I always try to remember that for every person driving me crazy, there may be two others that I am driving crazy." She points out that the phrase, "Wherever you go, there you are" is from Thomas a Kempis' "Imitation of Christ."

I must add that I love the design of this book. The cover is that bright yellow of the "smile" button. The word "Catholic" forms a smile, echoing the smile on the button. The words "Glimpses of God in everyday life" swim into focus from un-highlighted background text, in the same way that Davis' faith allows her to see God's hand in what would otherwise be the meaningless background static of day-to-day human existence. The intelligence and visual appeal of the cover's design is reflective of the quality of the text inside.

You can buy "Happy Catholic" at Amazon here.

Julie Davis' "Happy Catholic" blog is here.


  1. Hello Danusha, I was of a Catholic - a sincere believing one - until my twenties, and was a Catholic Convent schoolgirl from the ages of 4 to 18. And I remain grateful to this day for the excellent education the Church gave me.

    What I would want is for every Catholic to know what the Inspired Scriptures say, as I wish I had known. I was nearly 40 years old when I was finally taught, and I wish I had known right from the start.


  2. Holy moly! What a really fantastic review! Thank you very much! :-)