Books

Dr. Jessica Hooten Wilson, Ph.D. & Dr. Jacob Stratman, Ph.D.

Zondervan Academic May 3, 2022

Discover the Good Life as You Learn from the Wise Voices of the Past We’ve lost ourselves.

Disconnected from the past and uncertain about the future, we are anxious about what our lives will be and troubled by a nagging sense of meaninglessness. Adrift in the world, many Christians have their identity completely wrapped up in work and their definition of the “good life” is financial success. Fewer are staying committed to the Christian faith, finding it difficult to reconcile their experience with their longings and desires. With so much uncertainty, where can we find a true vision of “the Good Life”? Learning the Good Life speaks to this malaise with trusted and assured voices from the past, inviting Christians into an age-old conversation with some of history’s wisest hearts and minds as their dialogue companions. Featuring classic writings from a diverse lineup of over 35 writers and thinkers including Confucius, Augustine, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, W.E.B. DuBois, Flannery O’Connor, and Wendell Berry. Together these sages of the past address important issues such as: Vocation Calling Meaning Suffering Beauty Virtue Learning Wisdom Critical Thinking Community Wonder Reflection And more Each of these texts are introduced by experts who are teachers, from a variety of Christian colleges and universities, to help provide a broader, richer, and more cohesive narrative in which Christians may participate. In addition to a substantive introduction, each text is accompanied by discussion questions to provoke further thought and contemplation and also to facilitate discussion when used in groups. Ideal for any Christian seeking a deeper connection to the wisdom of the past and wanting a more cohesive and beautiful vision of the good life. All the writers have a message for you. All of them are calling you to die to yourself, to your habits of indulgence, to your pride and ambition, and instead, dedicate your time to learning, thinking, and loving.

Writers and writings featured in Learning the Good Life include Lao Tzu, From Tao Te Ching Confucius, Selections Plato, The Allegory of the Cave Seneca the Younger, “On the Shortness of Life” Athanasius, On the Incarnation Gregory of Nazianzus, On My Own Verses Augustine, On the Teacher Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, Book I. Pope Gregory the Great, Life of Saint Benedict, Dialogues, Book 2 Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Inferno 1 Nezahualcoyotl, “A Flower Song of Nezahualcoyotl” Margery Kempe, From “The Book of Margery Kempe” William Shakespeare, King Lear John Amos Comenius, From The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart George Herbert, Five Poems Blaise Pascal, Selections Matsuo Basho, Three Haiku Poems Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, “Respuesta a Sor Filotea de la Cruz” John Milton, Areopagitica Jonathan Edwards, “Personal Narrative” Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France Lord Alfred Tennyson, “Ulysses” Frederick Douglass, Narrative Life Elizabeth Barrett Browning, from Aurora Leigh Henry David Thoreau, “Life Without Principle” Gerard Manley Hopkins, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” Fredrich Nietzsche, Use and Abuse of History (section IV) Anna Julia Cooper, From Womanhood: A Vital Element in the Regeneration and Progress of a Race W. E. B. DuBois, From The Souls of Black Folk Jarena Lee, From her autobiography Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together Simone Weil, “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies” Flannery O’Connor, “Enduring Chill” Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture and Only the Lover Sings David Foster Wallace, “This is Water” Marilynne Robinson, “Reclaiming a Sense of the Sacred” Wendell Berry, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”

Brazos Press, March 2022

How do we become better people, the best possible versions of ourselves? We know that self-help books do not seem to help us (or else we wouldn’t have to buy a new one so often). And, no matter how hard we try to set new guidelines for our lives—with New Year’s resolutions, vision boards, thirty-day plans—these initiatives fail to compel us to live differently. We are unaware of who we are, how we have been made, for what purpose, and how change actually occurs. We settle for small goals such as frugal spending, less yelling at the kids, or more time in the gym, when we’ve been called to something far greater. We’ve been created to become saints. 

Walking through classic works of literature such as Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop; cult favorites like Kristin Lavransdatter; popular Protestant novels such as C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength; canonically Catholic novels like The Diary of a Country Priest; lesser appreciated works such as Zora Neale Hurston’s Moses, Man of the Mountain, and others, Hooten Wilson draws from our multivalent Christian tradition to see holiness in the diverse array of saints. The characters in these novels replace the false heroes and idols handed to us by our culture and become the holy company we need to answer faithfully the Lord’s call to reform us into saints ourselves.

University of Notre Dame Press, October 2020

For many Americans of both right and left political persuasions, the Russian bear is more of a bugbear. On the right, the country is still mentally represented by Soviet domination. For those on the left, it is a harbor for reactionary values and neo-imperial visions. The reality, however, is that, despite Russia’s political failures, its rich history of culture, religion, and philosophical reflection–even during the darkest days of the Gulag–have been a deposit of wisdom for American artists, religious thinkers, and political philosophers probing what it means to be human in America.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn stands out as the key figure in this conversation, as both a Russian literary giant and an exile from Russia living in America for two decades. This anthology reconsiders Solzhenitsyn’s work from a variety of perspectives–his faith, his politics, and the influences and context of his literature–to provide a prophetic vision for our current national confusion over universal ideals. In Solzhenitsyn and American Culture: The Russian Soul in the West, David P. Deavel and Jessica Hooten Wilson have collected essays from the foremost scholars and thinkers of comparative studies who have been tracking what Americans have borrowed and learned from Solzhenitsyn as well as his fellow Russians. The book offers a consideration of what we have in common–the truth, goodness, and beauty America has drawn from Russian culture and from masters such as Solzhenitsyn–and will suggest to readers what we can still learn and what we must preserve. The book will interest fans of Solzhenitsyn and scholars across the disciplines, and it can be used in courses on Solzhenitsyn or Russian literature more broadly.

Louisiana State University Press, May 2018

Walker Percy (1916–1990) considered novels the strongest tool with which to popularize great ideas among a broad audience, and, more than half a century after they first appeared in print, his works of fiction continue to fascinate contemporary readers. Despite their lasting appeal, however, Percy’s engaging narratives also contain intellectual elements that demand further explication. Philosophical themes, including existentialism, language acquisition theory, and modern Catholic theology, provide a deeper layer of meaning in Percy’s writings.

Jessica Hooten Wilson’s Reading Walker Percy’s Novels serves as a companion guide for readers who enjoy Percy’s novels but may be less familiar with the works of Sartre, Camus, Kierkegaard, and Dante. In addition to clarifying Percy’s philosophies, Wilson highlights allusions to other writers within his narratives, addresses historical and political contexts, and provides insight into the creation and reception of The Moviegoer, The Last Gentleman, Love in the Ruins, Lancelot, The Second Coming, and The Thanatos Syndrome. An introduction covers aspects of Percy’s biography that influenced his writing, including his deep southern roots, faith, and search for meaning in life. An appendix offers an explanation of Percy’s satirical parody Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book.

Written in an accessible and conversational style, this primer will appeal to everyone who appreciates the nuances of Walker Percy’s fiction.

Ohio State University Press, October 2017

Although Walker Percy named many influences on his work and critics have zeroed in on Kierkegaard in particular, no one has considered his intentional influence: the nineteenth-century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky. In a study that revives and complicates notions of adaptation and influence, Jessica Hooten Wilson details the long career of Walker Percy. Walker Percy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and the Search for Influence demonstrates—through close reading of both writers’ works, examination of archival materials, and biographical criticism—not only how pervasive and inescapable Dostoevsky’s influence was but also how necessary it was to the distinctive strengths of Percy’s fiction.

From Dostoevsky, Percy learned how to captivate his non-Christian readership with fiction saturated by a Christian vision of reality. Not only was his method of imitation in line with this Christian faith but also the aesthetic mode and very content of his narratives centered on his knowledge of Christ. The influence of Dostoevsky on Percy, then, becomes significant as a modern case study for showing the illusion of artistic autonomy and long-held, Romantic assumptions about artistic originality. Ultimately, Wilson suggests, only by studying the good that came before can one translate it in a new voice for the here and now.

Cascade Books, February 2017

Flannery O’Connor and Fyodor Dostoevsky shared a deep faith in Christ, which compelled them to tell stories that force readers to choose between eternal life and demonic possession. Their either-or extremism has not become more popular in the last fifty to a hundred years since these stories were first published, but it has become more relevant to a twenty-first-century culture in which the lukewarm middle ground seems the most comfortable place to dwell. Giving the Devil His Due walks through all of O’Connor’s stories and looks closely at Dostoevsky’s magnum opus The Brothers Karamazov to show that when the devil rules, all hell breaks loose. Instead of this kingdom of violence, O’Connor and Dostoevsky propose a kingdom of love, one that is only possible when the Lord again is king.

Book Chapters

Introduction

Divine Providence Press, May 2019

The human community is never more endangered than when totalitarianism appears to be benevolent. The new totalitarian’s idealism, his “humanitarianism,” his public image, may all communicate to us many good things, and thus our imagination is captured to the detriment of real discernment. We soon find ourselves succumbing to a magnetic attraction, and voting for leaders whose agendas mix admirable elements and fatal flaws. We then discover that we have elevated to positions of maximum influence men who would sacrifice human lives for the sake of “peace” or a thriving economy or some other value. Our guilt is denied, our sense of personal responsibility is numbed, to the degree that we perceive the sacrificed lives as statistical abstractions and our personal comforts as more real. By such choices we are revealed to ourselves. Where our treasure is, there is our heart. By and large, in the once-Christian democracies of the West we have been measured in the scales and found wanting.

“How to Teach O’Connor as a Catholic Novelist”

The Modern Language Association of America, September 2019

Known for her violent, startling stories that culminate in moments of grace, Flannery O’Connor depicted the postwar segregated South from a unique perspective. This volume proposes strategies for introducing students to her Roman Catholic aesthetic, which draws on concepts such as incarnation and original sin, and offers alternative contexts for reading her work.

Part 1, “Materials,” describes resources that provide a grounding in O’Connor’s work and life. The essays in part 2, “Approaches,” discuss her beliefs about writing and her distinctive approach to fiction and religion; introduce fresh perspectives, including those of race, class, gender, and interdisciplinary approaches; highlight her craft as a creative writer; and suggest pairings of her works with other texts. Alice Walker’s short story “Convergence” is included as an appendix.

“The Influence of Saints’ Lives on Flannery O’Connor’s Unpublished Novel”

The Catholic University of America Press, February 2017

Did Flannery O’Connor really write the way she did because and―not in spite of―her Catholicism?

Revelation & Convergence brings together professors of literature, theology, and history to help both critics and readers better understand O’Connor’s religious imagination.

The contributors focus on many of the Catholic thinkers central to O’Connor’s creative development, especially those that O’Connor mentioned in the recently discovered and published A Prayer Journal (2013), or in her many letters to friends and admirers. Some, such as Leon Bloy or Baron von Hügel, remain relatively obscure to contemporary readers. Other figures, such as Augustine of Hippo or St. John of the Cross, are well-known, but their connection to O’Connor’s stories has received little attention.

Revelation & Convergence provides a much-needed hermeneutical lens that is often missing from contemporary criticism, representing O’Connor’s ongoing conversation with her Catholic theological and literary heritage, and provide a glimpse into the rich Catholic texture of her life and work.

“From the Underground Man to Alyosha Karamazov: The Trajectory of Binx Bolling in The Moviegoer

LSU Press, April 2016

More than fifty years after its publication, Walker Percy’s National Book Award Winner, The Moviegoer, still confronts, comforts, and enlightens generations of readers. This collection of twelve new essays, edited and introduced by Jennifer Levasseur and Mary A. McCay, emphasize the evolving significance of this seminal, New Orleans novel. Authors’ consider the text with diverse perspectives, drawing from philosophy, theology, disability theory, contemporary music and literature, social media, and film studies.

Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer at Fifty is the first critical work devoted solely to the author’s debut novel. Coinciding with the centenary of Percy’s birth, this collection invites both new and veteran readers to enjoy The Moviegoer with fresh perspectives that underscore its lasting relevance.

“After Modernity, After Theory: Reading Humbly”

Palgrave Macmillan, October 2010

Dealing with the historical and thematic intersections of Christianity and critical theory, this collection brings together a diversity of specialist scholars in the area. Building on recent discourses in theology as well as their knowledge of hermeneutic and critical traditions, they examine major themes in contemporary critical theory.