Skip to main content
The Catholic Reading Challenge

The Catholic Reading Challenge

By Mike and Jess Ptomey
A bi-weekly podcast to enrich your reading life that feels more like a book club! We’re your hosts, Mike and Jess Ptomey, and the only thing we like better than reading is talking about what we are reading with friends. In 2020 we’ll be reading short stories: two stories by a different author each month. So listen in and read along! Be sure to share your comments for each story on social media with the hashtag #thecatholicreadingchallenge.
Where to listen
Apple Podcasts Logo

Apple Podcasts

Google Podcasts Logo

Google Podcasts

Overcast Logo


Pocket Casts Logo

Pocket Casts

RadioPublic Logo


Spotify Logo


Stitcher Logo


Evelyn Waugh
This was our first time reading Waugh's short stories, and we really enjoyed them. Our discussion of these brief tales went in a lot of interesting directions, as we found that Waugh has a lot to say to use folk living in a world steeped in modern sentiments and philosophy. 
November 02, 2020
Kate Chopin
On this episode we are talking about our September stories written by late 19th century author, Kate Chopin. Chopin's stories involve themes that challenged many social conventions of her time, but they also remain themes of significance for our time as well. We talk about marital relationships in "The Story of an Hour" and racial prejudice in "Desiree's Baby."
October 19, 2020
Edgar Allan Poe
We're talking about the stories of a master in this episode: Edgar Allan Poe. We selected "The Masque of Red Death" and "The Black Cat" for our reading community this month. They are entertaining stories to read, especially if you don't mind the darker bent of his themes and style. But they are also quite relevant to culture and times that we are currently living through. (By the way, we mention on this episode that we will go to one podcast episode per month for the rest of the year. We are still keeping to two story selections.)
September 04, 2020
Guy de Maupassant: "Ball-of-Fat"
While our first story this month was more lighthearted, with an emphasis on plot twist, this second one illumines heavier themes of human nature common to all times and all peoples. Our discussion of "Ball-of-Fat" invites us to consider how we overlook the darkness within our own souls and our justification of injustice to others in our lives.
August 06, 2020
Guy de Maupassant: "The Necklace"
This month we are reading stories by the French, prolific short story author Guy de Maupassant. In this episode we are talking about "The Necklace." Listeners may very well have read this story back during high school English class. If not, or if you don't remember it, then you will get a good sample of Maupassant's mastery at plot structure and twist. This story also includes one of his common theme of social class differences and distinctions. 
July 17, 2020
Edward P. Jones
This month we read two stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edward P. Jones: "An Orange Line Train to Ballston" and "Gospel". Both share some common themes, and in this podcast episode we talk about how those themes reveal truth about the human experience, particularly truth about the human experience in Southeast DC. Jones is writing about his hometown and the people who call it home along with him; and for many readers, it may be a view of the city and its people they have never witnessed or acknowledged. 
July 03, 2020
Eudora Welty
For May we decided to discuss both Eudora Welty stories in the same episode. So here is our chat about her style of southern writing in the two stories we read this month: "Old Mr. Marblehall" and "Why I Live at the P.O." 
June 03, 2020
James Joyce: "The Boarding House"
We are continuing our literary stay in Dublin, as we discuss "The Boarding House" and all that lives in this story: a meat cleaver, a "big imposing woman", and a young boarder given only one option for restitution. 
May 02, 2020
James Joyce: "Araby"
We are talking about James Joyce stories in the month of April. Join us as we are transported to Dublin and get a peek into the lives of some people who live here. In this episode we are discussing "Araby," a coming of age type of story that deals with romanticized expectations and the disillusion that often comes when reality falls short of them.
April 20, 2020
Ernest Hemingway: "In Another Country"
We are finishing up our March Hemingway selections with his short story "In Another Country." We talk about Hemingway's economy with words and his open door for redemption, despite what many perceive to be dark in his stories. We also draw some comparisons to this unique Lent and Holy Week that God is inviting us to walk during this unprecedented time in our country and the world. 
April 09, 2020
Ernest Hemingway: "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber"
We have all been thrown out of our normal routines with the presence of the coronavirus. As we adjust to a change of life rhythms during this pandemic quarantine, we find ourselves in a Lent we didn't choose for ourselves. We are talking a little about that and a lot about Hemingway on this episode. We are thankful that we have time with stories and books, as well as this medium to continue and share about them during an unprecedented time of social isolation. 
March 29, 2020
E. M. Forster: "The Machine Stops"
Did you know that this amazingly prophetic dystopia was first published in 1909? On this episode we are discussing the masterful insight that Forster had regarding the trajectory of technology and the modern notion of progress. Join us as we touch on just some of the symbols in this story that might actually make you think of a few current conventions and social norms at which we don't even blink an eye. 
March 10, 2020
E. M. Forster: "The Celestial Omnibus"
Our short story author for the month of February is E. M. Forster, and in this episode we are discussing his masterful "The Celestial Omnibus." Listen along as we contemplate what this story means for how we are to live as human beings, how we are to respond to beauty in the arts, and what it means to look with wonder at the world. Are we living like the boy or Mr. Bons?
February 18, 2020
Flannery O'Connor: "Parker's Back"
We are rounding out our discussion of Flannery O'Connor's short story themes and talking about a story that is a favorite for a lot of people: "Parker's Back." Tattoos, traveling evangelists, burning bushes, icons and religious images, the Christ-haunted South -- lots of good stuff gets covered in this one!
February 02, 2020
Flannery O'Connor: "The Displaced Person"
We kick off the first podcast of 2020 with our discussion of the first Flannery O'Connor story selection for January: "The Displaced Person". We talk about the characters and symbolism in this story that is indicative of O'Connor's writing and why her crafting of people and place is so "real." Among various other themes, we discuss how this short story master portrays "grace" and how such literary images can impact our lives and faith. 
January 18, 2020
A "Great" Book: Gorgias
Mike and Jess close out the first season of the podcast, and 2019, with a great discussion of Plato's dialogue, Gorgias. They touch on topics related to goodness, justice, rhetoric, and the ultimate condition of the soul. It's a conversation about an ancient book that couldn't be more relevant to our current times.
January 01, 2020
Great Books and a Great 2020
So what happened to the podcast in November??? Mike and Jess talk about that, great books, and the great list of short story selections that they are working on for 2020 on The Catholic Reading Challenge. They share some of C. S. Lewis's *fantastic* words of wisdom on reading the classics, and chat about their vision for reading (and talking about) nothing but short stories in the podcast community in the new year.
December 19, 2019
Episode 20: Church Doc St. Athanasius
Mike and Jess talk about the book they both read this month: On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius. They share why these early Church fathers gave such good homilies and why the truth they spoke is what we really need to hear today.
November 10, 2019
Episode 19: Church Docs
In the month of October we are reading "a book by a doctor of the Church." Do you know all 36 doctors of the Church?? Neither do we. Jess is even trying to make some up. Here's a list; so you don't make the same mistake. Also, we are previewing the podcast season for 2020 -- it's going to be good!
October 14, 2019
Episode 18: Re-reads Wrap-up
Mike and Jess share fall happenings...including the exciting pre-release of Jessica's book, Home in the Church: Living an Embodied Catholic Faith. Then they get into what they learned from their re-reads, and how to approach them in the future. 
October 04, 2019
Episode 17: September's Re-Reads Category
Are you a re-reader, or do you feel like your TBR stack is too long to read a book again? Mike and Jess make the case for re-reading books, especially when you know that the book has more to give than you got the first time. They discuss why great books are living things and good friends to be revisited over again. 
September 06, 2019
Episode 16: Brontes & Berry
Mike and Jess chat a bit more about love of poetry and argue for its primacy in education and human formation. They also share some of the poems they read this month from the Bronte siblings and Wendell Berry. 
September 06, 2019
Episode 15: A Book of Poetry
For the month of August we are reading a book of poetry. Mike and Jess talk about why poetry is a language all its own. Get ready! They have lots of suggestions for this favorite genre. __________ Books mentioned: Vita Nuova The Divine Comedy (or this one) The Iliad & The Odyssey (or this one that Jess scored at a recent used book sale haul!) Picnic, Lightning Beowulf A Small Porch Favorite Poems Old & New A Child's Garden of Verses A Child's Book of Poems The Classic Hundred Poems Poems Every Catholic Should Know Waiting on the Word (Guite) Word in the Wilderness (Guide) The Brontes: Selected Poems
August 13, 2019
Episode 14: Biography Recap
Mike and Jess share about the biographies they read for the month of July...and thoroughly enjoyed! If you share a love of Thomas Aquinas or Sigrid Undset, then you'll want to hear about these books. 
August 04, 2019
Episode 13: Biographies -- Getting Lost in a Good Story
Mike and Jess talk about July's reading category: biographies. What makes a great biography and a great biographer? They share some tips for picking a biography and a couple of recommendations. They also chat about Jess's recent opportunity to share their family's story of coming into the Catholic Church. __________________________ On this episode: St. Thomas Aquinas Inside the Gate: Sigrid Undset's Life at Bjerkebæk Love is the Measure: A Biography of Dorothy Day St. Catherine of Siena Unbroken Jess's Interview on The Journey Home
July 13, 2019
Episode 12: Travel Writing Let-Downs
Mike and Jess talk about the books they read in June. As it turns out, their travel writing selections were not what they thought they would be. They open the episode with a reading tip that applied to their experiences this month and might help you as well. Also...this episode debuts the podcast's  new theme music--have a listen!
July 02, 2019
Episode 11: A Book That Takes You Somewhere
Mike and Jess talk about traveling anywhere at any time with the right book. They share some of their favorite selections for June's category and the authors that have inspired their travels -- in mind or body. Books mentioned in this episode: The Great Gatsby  The Return of the King  The Way of Kings  Console Wars  Crossing to Safety  How We Crossed the West: The Adventures of Lewis and Clark  Balkan Ghosts  Eastward to Tartary  The Coming Anarchy  An Empire Wilderness  The Ends of the Earth  Into the Wild  Into Thin Air  Eiger Dreams  At Home in the World  The Lost Continent   Neither Here nor There  Turn Right at Machu Picchu
June 10, 2019
Episode 10: Sci-Fi Wrap Up
Mike and Jess chat about their picks for the May category of science/speculative fiction. Jess went with a book by one of her favorite authors that's been on her TBR list for a while, and Mike chose the sequel to an acclaimed classic. They share common themes of the genre and and their personal selections. Perhaps you noticed similar themes in your book!
June 03, 2019
Episode 9: Why SCI-FI?
Mike and Jess talk about the importance of speculative fiction and science fiction in our reading lives and collective culture. If these genres are new to you or out of your comfort zone, then take a listen for a whole host of recommendations! Mike shares why this is one of his favorite genres and how he is handling his indecision for this category. Jess is going with a pick from one of her favorite authors. ___________________________________________ Books mentioned in this episode: The Road by Cormac McCarthy The Giver by Lois Lowry A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle The Hunger Games series The Maze Runner by James Dashner World War Z by Max Brooks The Children of Men P. D. James Ready Player One by Ernest Cline Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card Dune by Frank Herbert A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Quin Brave New World by Aldous Huxley 1984 by George Orwell Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis Dune Messiah by Frank Herbert __________________________________________ *For some reason, Anchor won't let us hyperlink anymore titles. :(
May 13, 2019
Episode 8 - Essays: Wallace & Chesterton
Did you know that essays make great bathroom reading? Well, opinions differ, apparently. After settling that important matter, Mike and Jess discuss the essays they read in April by their respective authors: David Foster Wallace and G. K. Chesterton.  _______________________________________________________ Books mentioned on this episode: A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace Quack This Way by David Foster Wallace and Bryan A. Garner In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G. K. Chesterton
May 04, 2019
Episode 7: A Collection of Essays
Mike and Jess discuss the neglected, yet brilliant, genre of the essay and why we should be reading more of them.  Books mentioned on this episode: ------------------------------------------------------------- Mystery and Manners God in the Dock The Givenness of Things What are we doing here? In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G. K. Chesterton A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments Consider the Lobster and Other Essays Self-Reliance and Other Essays Signposts in a Strange Land The Message in the Bottle Essays of Four Decades Essays of a Catholic Kierkegaard on Faith and the Self: Collected Essays Disarming Beauty: Essays on Faith, Truth, and Freedom The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays
April 15, 2019
Episode 6: History Books About Wars
Mike and Jess share their picks for March...a little late...but there's a good reason. As it happens, they both picked war histories. 
April 07, 2019
Episode 5: Perspectives on History & Lenten Reading
Did you hate studying history in school? Maybe you weren't reading the right books. Mike and Jess talk about the value of reading histories and why perspective makes a difference. They also share what they are reading for Lent. ________________________________________________ Books mentioned on this episode: 1776 by David McCullough Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam HIgginbotham The Great Heresies by Hilaire Belloc The Crusades by Hilaire Belloc Robert Kaplan The Civil War (series) by Shelby Foote Thomas Cahill Above All by Elizabeth Foss (Take Up & Read) Word in the Wilderness: A poem a day for Lent and Easter by Malcolm Guite Purgatory by Dante (Anthony Esolen, trans.)
March 13, 2019
Episode 4: Southern Picks and the Author's Metaphysic
Mike and Jess discuss the books they read in February, and they find that their authors, and books, share some interesting things in common. Plus...Flannery O'Connor's thoughts on the author's view of reality spark an interesting discussion of the importance of a distinct metaphysic in the novel.  __________________________________ Books mentioned in this episode: Mystery and Manners by Flannery O'Connor The Second Coming by Walker Percy Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy The Women on the Porch by Caroline Gordon
February 26, 2019
Episode 3: The Southern Greats
Mike and Jess kick of the episode with a tip for your reading life: using "lead measures" to meet your reading goals. Then they dive into one of their favorite categories of this year's reading challenge: novels by Southern American authors!  _____________________________ Books, authors & resources mentioned on this episode: Deep Work, by Cal Newport Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole The Women on the Porch, by Caroline Gordon The Moviegoer, The Last Gentleman, The Second Coming, The Thanatos Syndrome, by Walker Percy Wise Blood, by Flannery O'Conner William Faulkner Mark Twain To Kill a Mocking Bird, by Harper Lee The Road, by Cormac McCarthy The Best Southern Novels of All Time
February 07, 2019
Episode 2: Conversion Stories & Poetic Authors
Mike and Jess discuss their book picks for January's category, "a faith memoir." Interestingly, we picked books/authors with a lot of similarities, though the books are quite distinct themselves. Have a listen as we talk about Tyler Blanski's An Immovable Feast and Sheldon Vanauken's A Severe Mercy. And don't forget to share picks with us on social media. #thecatholicreadingchallenge
January 27, 2019
Episode 1: The Challenge Begins!
Mike and Jess introduce the podcast and book categories for the year. We discuss some possible selections for our first category: "a faith memoir". ----------- For a free printable of the 2019 reading categories visit Jessica's blog.  ---------- Book and authors mentioned on this episode: Shelby Foote's The Civil War (3 volumes) Thomas Cahill Christopher Dawson Robert Kaplan, Balkan Ghosts Doctors of the church: Edith Stein, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, St. Therese  The Two Towers  A Severe Mercy  An Immovable Feast
January 10, 2019