Thursday, February 25, 2010

Which Pier Giorgio book is the best?

I promised to give my two cents on the books available about Pier Giorgio, so I will attempt it here. First, I should say that my favorite books have not yet been published in English. As for those that have, it would be hard for me to not recommend any of them because I have enjoyed them all for different reasons. So, I suppose a better approach would be to answer the question often asked me -- "Which one would you read first?" I usually respond by asking how much you already know about Pier Giorgio and how much you enjoy reading.

Without a doubt, the quickest read and one that will bring tears to your eyes is the book by Luciana Frassati called "My Brother Pier Giorgio: His Last Days." It is a recounting of the last week of Pier Giorgio's short life. It is such a compelling story that it is hard to not feel some connection to Pier Giorgio when you are finished. Even if you are not an avid reader or if you are a slow reader, I think you will be surprised at how much you like this book and how fast you get through it. You will then want to know his whole story which brings us to the biographies.

There are two biographies that are easily obtained here in the U.S. The one that is written by his sister Luciana is "A Man of the Beatitudes: Pier Giorgio Frassati." This is a much longer and detailed account of Pier Giorgio's life by the person who grew up with him and was devoted to him her entire life. I appreciate Luciana's honesty in her books. She never presents herself in the same light as Pier Giorgio. In fact, she is very candid about how much she was not like him from a spiritual standpoint. Because the book was written in the 1950s and geared toward the Italian audience, it has an historical feel to it. A later biography was written by Maria Di Lorenzo. This book, "Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati: An Ordinary Christian," although a bit more contemporary in its writing style, draws largely on the books by Luciana Frassati. The final chapter contains interesting information about the beatification process (which obviously was not available at the time that Luciana Frassati wrote her books.)

Two excellent biographies that are now out of print can occasionally be found online and are well worth purchasing: "The Soul of Pier Giorgio Frassati" by Robert Claude, S.J., and "Pier Giorgio Frassati" by H.L. Hughes. (I bought both of them through Each one adds a little more to the complete story of Pier Giorgio. As is the case in many of the books, there is a particular tendency in these two books to make Pier Giorgio too perfect and his life too easy. His sister tried to address that over-simplification of his spirituality when she wrote her biography discussed above, "Man of the Beatitudes."

Perhaps it would not be the best book to begin learning about Pier Giorgio, but after you know his story, it is compelling and necessary to read his own words. "Pier Giorgio Frassati: Letters to His Friends and Family," provides an opportunity to see Pier Giorgio through his own eyes. I suppose, for that reason, it is one of my favorites. Also, it was my privilege to edit this book -- letter by letter, word by word -- with Pier Giorgio's niece Wanda Gawronska. During that process, Wanda would provide me with background stories and anecdotes that really brought those letters to life. Ironically, it disappoints some readers, I think, to learn that Pier Giorgio really was a normal guy. This is what you find in his letters. And yet, for me, that is the appeal. He will probably never be declared a Doctor of the Church. But he is the most exemplary model for those striving to live out the lay vocation in these extremely challenging times.

For young people around middle-school age, there is a shorter biography called "Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati: Journey to the Summit" by Ana Maria Vazquez and Jennings Dean. There is also a very well done comic book called "Pier Giorgio Frassati." It was created by the current superior of the Bridgittine Monks who happens to be a big Pier Giorgio fan. The comic book has a typo on the date of Pier Giorgio's beatification but does a great job of conveying what the bigger biographies take hundreds of pages to relate. It is not easy to get your hands on, but you can contact their gift shop for details. They support their Order by selling delicious fudge, so you might satisfy your sweet tooth at the same time!

Lastly, there are two small booklets that are great evangelization tools. "Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati: From Prayer to the Apostolate" is the life of Pier Giorgio in a 42-page nutshell. It is a great introduction to his spirituality. I think every friend of Pier Giorgio should have a copy of "A Book of Prayers in honor of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati." This booklet contains the novena, among other prayers, and is a good companion on the journey verso l'alto!

Many of you have read several of the above and would probably be able to provide more interesting reviews and feedback than me. I will look forward to reading your responses to this post.

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