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Winter Books

Readers’ favorite books

Rose Mary Meyer

Gardens In The Dunes by Leslie Marmon Silko (Simon & Schuster, 1999, $25) takes us on a journey. From the safety and peace of a home, a caring and wise mother and grandmother, and cherished gardens in the dunes to displacement and lack of rootedness, we travel with Sister Salt and Indigo and those they encounter. Interwoven with their adventures are great joy and profound sadness, risk and learning, history and search for meaning. Silko, of the Laguna Pueblo tradition, portrays the interconnectedness of humans with all in the family of creation. She provides insights and challenges about how to live in the new millennium.

Martha Gies
Portland, Ore.

I am reading with interest and admiration Ron Hansen’s Hitler’s Niece (HarperCollins, 1999, $25 in hardback), a novel about Geli Raubal, who was the daughter of Hitler’s half-sister. On a book tour to Portland, Ore., Hansen, said he became interested in personified evil and how it exerts power over us when, in one of the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, he substituted Hitler for Satan. Hitler’s Niece is written with the same elegance and precision as Hansen’s earlier novels, which include Mariette in Ecstasy.

Patricia A. Goeltz
Vista, Calif.

Jesus Before Christianity by Dominican Albert Nolan (Orbis Books, the 8th printing in 1999, originally published in 1976) cuts through the layers of insulation that have enveloped the message that Jesus proclaimed in his lifetime and lays bear the true meaning of what Christ preached. Reading this book changed my understanding of what I must do to be a follower of Christ.

Rebecca Shaw
Potomac, Md.

Although published several years ago, Walking In Two Worlds, edited by Kay Vander Vort, Joan H. Timmerman, Eleanor Lincoln (North Star Press of St. Cloud, Minn. Inc., 1994) is a book ahead of its time. These writers touch upon and tap into the widespread hunger for deeply rooted spirituality that our world is experiencing as we approach the millennial shift. This material also feeds from the essence of the Feminine Divine -- a side of human spirituality that cries out to be rediscovered and integrated into our rational, masculine way of being in the world that has become so predominant over the past several millennia. The contributors come from a wide range of life experience and of religious commitment. The result is a broad spectrum of lived faith search and experience.

James E. O’Leary
Corpus Christi, Texas

What Prize Awaits Us by Maryknoll Sr. Bernice Kita (Maryknoll Sisters, 1998, $14.95): When I finished What Prize Awaits Us, I ran out into the street yelling, “Read this! Read this!” Then I went back inside and started all over again from the very beginning.

When Sr. Bernice Kita began writing letters home from Guatemala, she never dreamed she was writing a book. She never dreamed she would be living in the middle of genocide, with martyrs all around her -- people killed because the teachings of Jesus are still “subversive.” Only gradually did the horror become apparent and that is part of the book’s fascination. In addition to her letters to her parents, she wrote parallel accounts to her friend, Gerry, a nun who had worked with her in Guatemala. She didn’t want her parents to worry so she was more graphic in her descriptions for Gerry. There is no preaching in this book, no self-pity, no politics. It is a straightforward account of day-to-day life in which a hardworking Sr. Bernice dealt with the practical needs of the people with whom she chose to live -- and almost die.

Fr. Gregory Corrigan
Wilmington, Del.

Everything Belongs by Franciscan Fr. Richard Rohr (Crossroad Publishing, 1999, $14.95): Here is an intimate witness, one whose ability to point the way comes from the knowledge and wisdom of real experience. Rohr’s Everything Belongs is nothing less than mystical. Clear and to the point, yet with the depth and challenge of a parable, Everything Belongs invites us to a gospel prayer that is authentically radical and accessible. The reader will return to it again and again.

Ron Crowley-Koch
Mount Prospect, Ill.

I’m suggesting One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus (St. Martin’s Press, 1998), a great novel blending history with fiction concerning a woman who is abandoned by her family and risks joining a program suggested by an Indian tribe to President Grant. It’s actually a diary account of this Chicago woman telling of her adventures and of the innocence and compassion of the American Indian.

Barbara Patla
Southington, Conn.

The Long Walk: A True story of a Trek to Freedom by Slavomir Rawicz (Lyons Press, 1997, $14.95) is a story of a Polish soldier who, under Russian communism, was sentenced on a bogus charge to Siberia. He walked, chained to fellow prisoners, most of the way. He managed to escape with a few comrades and walked southeast through Siberia, over the mountains of Tibet, to freedom. Their persistence, courage and mutual devotion are inspiring. This is truly a “tribute to the human spirit.”

Capuchin Fr. Werner Wolf
Appleton, Wis.

Journey to the Center: A Lenten Passage by Thomas Keating (Crossroad Publishing, 1999, 118 pages, $14.95) helped me walk through the 40 days of Lent. The book includes a portion of scripture from the liturgical cycle of the day; a reflection chosen from one of the books of Thomas Keating; and a prayer written especially for this volume. Each selection was rich for reflection and expanded the theme of the daily readings.

William F. Powers
Chapel Hill, N.C.

Voting for Peace: Post Conflict Elections in Liberia by Terrence Lyons (Brookings Institute, 1999, $14.95). This 100-page book, one in a series of studies in foreign policy, examines the decade-long civil war that wreaked havoc in the tiny West African country of Liberia. Finally, in 1997, the war-weary survivors held an election that overwhelmingly selected the most powerful factional warlord as president. Voting for Peace analyzes that less than completely free election. Terrence Lyons was a member of the team that monitored the election. The points made may be applicable to Kosovo, East Timor, Sierra Leone and other incendiary areas of the world.

Vernon R. Steffens
Wayzata, Minn.

Reluctant Dissenter by James P. Shannon (The Crossroads Publishing Company, New York, $19.95): Jim Shannon was the rising star in the archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He went from priest to monsignor to bishop so fast it was hard to keep track of his title. At the time he was the youngest college president in the country. He was also the first bishop to resign from his office over the matter of following one’s own conscience, when he felt like a hypocrite trying to defend Humanae Vitae, which he saw as harmful to people’s lives.

Shannon articulates his great love for the Catholic church and continues to worship the same God in the same church as I do. I’ve waited patiently for 30 years for this book to be published and find it to be most inspirational and motivational -- a must for every believer’s library.

Msgr. Harry J. Byrne
New York

My favorite: Caravaggio: A Life by Helen Langdon (Ferrar, Straus, and Giroux, $30) is an absorbing biography of the personality of the artist who moved the art world into a new spirit of naturalism at the end of the 16th century and the early years of the 17th century. His career is followed from Milan, Rome, Naples, Malta and Sicily in the complex world of art and politics in which the church was heavily involved. The author offers penetrating analyses of Caravaggio’s paintings with quotations from the gospel accounts of their subject matter and how the devotional currents ran through the artist’s life and the spirit of the times. This scholarly and richly detailed work situates the artist in the colorful and turbulent world of his times.

Bill deHaas

Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson (Crown Publishers, 1999, $25) is a classic medieval morality play or Greek tragedy that occurred 99 years ago in Galveston, Texas. The book gets its name from the chief weather forecaster, Isaac Cline, who lived and worked in Galveston for the fledging U.S. Weather Bureau. As U.S. society approached 1900, scientists, like Isaac Cline, were comfortable in the knowledge that they had figured out all the rules of the physical universe and their technology would always be right. This story and its parallels to 1999 and the approaching millennium are haunting. Similar to the beginning science of weather forecasting, we have the new science of the Internet and e-commerce. There are many Americans today who could easily be the “Isaac Cline” of 1999. Erik Larson gives a glimpse of a Cline at the peak of his career and the price he paid because his faith was misplaced. It is a tale of tragedy and irony and speaks to us today.

Sr. Caroleen Hensgen, SSND

Rome Has Spoken by Maureen Fiedler and Linda Rabben (Crossroad Publishing Co., 1998, $19.20): As we all become more conscious, day after day, that there are two distinct aspects of our church, the divine and the human, it is the better part of faith to immerse ourselves in the divine and endure the human. The results of Fiedler and Rabben’s scholarly research and the excellent summarizations of the various burning issues by experts teaches us to appreciate that the institutional church is the human element with all its warts and weaknesses, whereas the divine element certainly transcends the totality, thank God!

Sr. Teresa Rigel, CSJ
Concordia, Kan.

Great Political Wit: Laughing (Almost) All the Way to the White House, edited by Bob Dole (Doubleday, 1998, $16.95) is a completely bipartisan selection of jokes and stories in the political world. Refreshing and fun to read. You don’t have to be a Republican to enjoy it! This book gets my vote.

Mari M. Castrovilla
Yonkers, N.Y.

You are My Beloved: Meditations on God’s Steadfast Love by Mitch Finley (Resurrection Press, 1999, $10.95): If you are depressed, lonely, alone; anxious, angry, afraid; frantic, distressed or stressed to the max; have lost your job, or your house, or the one with the waggly tail or wet nose that used to greet your homecoming; when you’re carrying the weight and worries of the world on your shoulders; when you’re hurting, in pain -- then come to know that “you are my beloved,” come to know the love that is completely reliable, predictable, trustworthy, steadfast.

Bob Maxwell

My favorite read of the summer was a new novel, Millennium Pope by Frederick Luhmann (Whispering Wind Publishing Co., $16). To keep the Vatican from becoming totally irrelevant, the next pope must make some major changes. Luhmann’s successor to John Paul II sets about this so courageously (and credibly) that my wife read the book in one day. I, with nerves of steel, was able to put it down halfway through, but finished it the next morning. The book is well researched, highly believable. It will make you think. It will make you pray that the next pope is on his knees today preparing for this struggle. Don’t start this book if you have to go somewhere soon.

Linae Frei
Sedona, Ariz.

Search for the Meaning of Life: Essays and Reflections on the Mystical Experience by Willigis Jäger, a Benedictine monk and lecturer at the Benedikt Haus in Wurzburg, Germany, (Triumph Books, 1995, $14.95) is thought provoking, stimulating and meditative. One senses the universal experience of the mystical life though his discussions of both the eastern esoteric paths and our historical Christian tradition. The author speaks to all who consciously search for the ultimate reality in life. To find God in oneself and in all things is not reserved to a special few; the path is open to everyone.

John B. Lounibos
Blauvelt, N.Y.

Garry Wills, in his recent biography, Saint Augustine (Penguin, 1999), brings fresh life to Augustine in these 148 pages, and divides his 70 years into three very readable parts: Africa, Italy, and Africa. The artistic portrayal of Augustine from his literary output of 90-plus books, almost 300 letters and over 400 sermons allows the reader to hear his voice from the past. Wills allows us to hear the English echo of Augustine’s classical humanistic Latin in a North African accent, sounded with diplomatic sensitivity, rhetorical eloquence, theological acumen and a marvelous mastery of scriptural symbols. This short book may become a theological classic on one of the most important African personalities to rise with the Christian movement in a time of declining paganism.

Joseph M. Carter

The Long Road of War: A Marine’s Story of Pacific Combat by James W. Johnston (University of Nebraska Press, 1998, $24.50): This book’s author makes no claim to any artistry as a writer, but he doesn’t need to: He has written a classic using the language of the heart and a healthy smattering of that of the Marine Corps. The most remarkable is that Johnston is able to relate his experiences with such nitty-gritty detail. Most Marines of that time can’t or simply don’t.

Br. Patrick Hart
Trappist, Ky.

If I were given only one book to read this year, I would opt for And Now I See: A Theology of Transformation by Fr. Robert Barron (Crossroad, 1998, $19.95, 231 pages). Barron, who teaches theology at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago, reminds us that Christianity is above all a way of seeing. He speaks to the heart about the transformative power of the scriptures through the Word of God made flesh, and illuminates his vision of the Christian tradition with examples from contemporary writers as diverse as William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Merton, Teilhard de Chardin and Paul Tillich.

Lalor Cadley Ferrari
Decatur, Ga.

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott (Pantheon Books, 1999) is a raw, wise, radiant book, the story of one woman’s struggle to stand and sing in the face of heavy burdens and staggering losses. Lamott is a wonderful writer -- blunt, moving, profane, hilarious -- who opens her life wide and invites us inside. She talks candidly about her alcoholism, her abortion, her lovers and friends, her beloved son Sam, her flabby thighs and frizzy hair, her abiding love for St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in California where she was quite literally saved. Throughout there is a growing awareness of God’s presence in the midst of it all -- not a mighty king enthroned on high, but a God who sits on his haunches in the corner of her life, watching and waiting, calling her to come home to love.

Peggy Kuhn

In A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines (Vintage Contemporaries of Random House, 1993, $12), Grant Wiggins, the teacher in a one-room Cajun school, at the insistence of Jefferson’s godmother, reluctantly undertakes helping this young black man to die with dignity for a crime he did not commit. In the process Jefferson becomes a hero, and both black and white members of the community are touched in a way they will never forget. Simply told without a word of preaching, this book is a quiet indictment not only of capital punishment, but of man’s inhumanity to man. A work of fiction, it never seems contrived or out of the ordinary, but has the unmistakable ring of truth.

Frances Schena
Warren, Mich.

Fr. Lawrence Ventline continues to organize the notes, wisdom and insights of the late Fr. Edward Popielarz into this peppy, compact book, A Pearl A Day: Wise Sayings for Living Well (Jeremiah Press, Inc., 1998, suggested donation $6). It is the latest effort by Ventline to create a culmination of guidelines to live well based on the teachings from the wise master, “Fr. Pops.” The layout of the book provides 365 short snippets, a year’s worth of thought provoking, soulful rules for spiritual living. All are easy reading. This book allows the reader to feel good about him or herself, to be at peace by accepting God into the ordinary daily confusion of life. The reader may find it hard to resist rereading daily passages often, as a means for focusing on God and allowing love into his or her life. This book can be a wonderful gift to those grieving, finding life lonely or suffering spiritually.

Shirley Bianchi
Cambria, Calif.

Still Following Christ In A Consumer Society by John F. Kavanaugh (Orbis Books): For several years I had seen this book in catalogs, but the name sort of turned me off, unfortunately. This rather small paperback packs more of an analysis of our culture of “greed-is-good” and worship of “things” than I have read anywhere. It is well written, holds one’s attention very well, proves its points superbly and I have read it several times -- just in case I missed something the first few times. A beautifully written and concise tome on how to follow Christ in America -- a very difficult task for some of us.

Sr. Rosemary Flanigan, CSJ
Sr. Patricia Lorenz, CSJ
Kansas City, Mo.

Two Kansas Citians have co-authored the best book we have read this year. Spirited Lives by Sr. Carol Coburn, CSJ, and Sr. Martha Smith, CSJ, (University of North Carolina Press, 1999) traces the impact made by American nuns on this country’s life and culture from 1836 to 1920. Using the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet as their paradigm, the authors trace how religious women educated, nursed and cared for generations of working-class Americans, both Catholic and non-Catholic, thereby impacting the larger society through shaping Catholic culture and American life. Social history buffs and feminists will find a treasure here.

Ted and Marge Lelwica
Staples, Minn.

Starving for Salvation is written by Michelle Lelwica, who holds a doctorate in theology. It discusses the serious subject regarding the image that girls and women have with their bodies. The author certainly understands and clearly conveys her material concerning this tragic plight of our present time. After reliable research, she discusses the terrifying problems associated with eating disorders as it relates to a deeper dimension -- a spiritual dimension. Following an in-depth study of the dynamics of this disease and an accounting of factual data, she asks the larger question: “What is it that we are really hungry for?” In addition to all this, she is our daughter and we are very proud of her.

Ria Sutton
Pacific City, Ore.

The Alphabet Versus the Goddess by Leonard Shlain (Viking, 1998, $25 hardback; Penguin, 1999, $14.95 paperback) is one man’s hypothesis that when a critical mass of people within a society acquire literacy, especially alphabet literacy, left hemispheric modes of thought are reinforced at the expense of right hemispheric ones, which manifests as a decline in the status of images, women’s rights and goddess worship. Because patriarchy exists even in nonalphabetic Eastern cultures, the author also makes a brief detour into their history to see if it fits within the framework of his thesis.

This book has to be one of the most fascinating reads ever. One does not have to agree with the premise put forth, but it certainly will generate lots of discussion. For any of you who have wondered why the goddesses disappeared from the ancient Western world, here you have a lively book that will give you plenty of new ideas.

Fr. John S. Trimbur
Campbell, Ohio

When in Rome: A Journal of Life in the Vatican City by Robert J. Hutchinson (Doubleday 1998) is a humorous book about what goes on behind-the-scenes in the Vatican. The author spends a few months in Rome with his wife and three young children to find out the real truth. Just the way he arranges interviews is funny, not to mention the interviews themselves. The names of some chapters alone are fun: “An Evening Out with the Pope,” “How the Vatican Lost the Bones of St. Peter,” “Flunking Out of the College of Cardinals.” It is a very pleasant diversion from writings concerning the Vatican.

Edwin Weihe
Atlantic Beach, Fla.

George Kunz’s The Paradox of Power and Weakness (SUNY Press, 1998, $20) challenges the “so called truths of modern psychology: self-care, self-esteem, self-confidence, self-reliance, self-assertiveness, self-justification, self-gratification, self-love, self-whatever.” Psychology, in fact, has deified the self and set it adrift in its own universe.

Kunz, a psychology professor at Seattle University, reminds us that psyche did not originally mean the center of the private personality. The Greek psukhe meant “breath” and Homer used this term to refer to life, soul. The psukhe was the spirit gradually breathed into each of us by the life and love of others, by parents, family, tribe and ultimately by the Spirit of the universe. Others “inspire” this spirit into the self. It is their gift to us.

Kunz encourages members of his discipline, and so many of us -- writers, therapists, seekers -- who rely upon it, to turn to the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas. Levinas’ central theme is that the self transcends its own egocentrism and desires what is radically other than itself: the awesome, breath-giving otherness of the Other. In recognizing my vulnerability to the Other person, I am helped to understand not only the suffering we inflict on each other, but also the gifts we give each other. What we need, Dr. Kunz tells us in this marvelous, accessible book, is a “psukhology of gratitude, the study of the soul experiencing the Other breathed into the self.”

Richard Sneed
Laguna Beach, Calif.

Providential Accidents by Geza Vermes (Rowman and Littlefield, 1999): At 75, Geza Vermes, retired Oxford professor, is a world-renowned Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, whose English translation of Qumran literature is the best available, now in its 5th edition. This work is his autobiography, an astonishing story of his life. Born a Hungarian Jew in 1924, his parents converted him and themselves to Catholicism when he was 6. He attended Catholic schools and was in the seminary when the Nazis deported and murdered his parents. After ordination, he wrote one of the first books on the scrolls, escaped to England stateless and penniless, fell in love and married, and reconverted to the faith of his fathers. His tale is one of extraordinary devotion to scholarship, to his wife, to Judaism and to productivity. The changing crises and the responses to them in the life of this mature and courageous scholar make fascinating reading.

David E. Ortman

I hate golf. I really do. This summer I took my 13-year old son out to the Ballard driving range. Out of a bucket of 50 balls, I couldn’t hit one far, straight or both. Meanwhile my son is whacking the heck out of the ball, looking like John Daly. While you await summer’s arrival or return, please pick up David Owen’s great book, My Usual Game: Adventures in Golf (Main Street Books, 1995). Even if you hate golf, it is one of the all time great insight books on golf and life in general.

Sr. Kathryn Leahy, OSF

One Day on Earth: A Third Eye View by Catherine Lazers Bauer (Cosmic Concept Press, 1999, $15.95) is a collection of 64 essays. These essays have varied themes, each one revealing perceptive, sensitive understanding on the part of the septuagenarian writer. Catherine’s writing may touch readers in different ways but touch it will. The reader will find, as I have, joy, humor, poignancy, spiritual refreshment. Bauer’s years of teaching and reading experience are manifest in her thought provoking, illuminating essays. I have experienced joyful, inner renewal through reading the inspirational book.

Mary F. Hazlett
Akron, Ohio

A weekend retreat this summer introduced me to new people and a book title: The Tao of Womanhood by Diane Dreher, which I enthusiastically recommend not only to women, but also to men (Quill Pub., 1998, $11). The author draws upon the poetic wisdom of the Tao Te Ching and shows how imperative balance is in our lives. To recover an inner balance that many of us have lost, we must begin establishing boundaries. Setting boundaries upsets others who are used to getting what they want from us. “It takes courage and discipline to break old habits of being ‘nice’ all the time in order to live your own life.” We must learn to say no mindfully, which means getting in touch with our deepest selves. We ignore the setting of boundaries because we are afraid of losing love. We give and do more than is healthy.

Beth Ramos
Holliston, Mass.

Cordelia Underwood: Or the Marvelous Beginnings of the Moosepath League by Van Reid (Penguin, 1999): I picked up Cordelia Underwood because someone said its humor was reminiscent of John Irving’s. But I found the characters more like Tolkien’s hobbits, and we don’t have to travel to Middle Earth to be a part of the adventure. (From Massachusetts, Maine is just a 2-hour drive!) The characters are “turn of the century” gentlemen, full of innocence and charm, who bumble into solving problems. This is a book you will want your grandmother and grandchildren to read! (Molly Peers, the second book in the series is delightful, too -- and it has a couple of independent women in it for feminists to like!)

Robert J. Hanyok
Laurel, Md.

Without by Donald Hall (New York: Mariner Books, 1999): Grief -- that middle passage between loss and consolation -- is a journey everyone must make, and for some, it will happen more than once. In a way, grief has become a business, as the list of books on how to deal with it attests.

So comes along this absorbing and striking collection of poems by Donald Hall, the prize-winning poet from New England. Without recounts the final illness and the loss surrounding the death of his wife of 23 years, the poet Jane Kenyon, after a two-year struggle with leukemia. There are many engaging parts to this collection -- straight narrative of Jane’s hospital days, the title poem’s quotidian awful accounting of a life ended, and the tenderness shared at the end. The most impressive poems are those written after Jane’s death, as her husband tries to come to some sort of resolution of his grief, but achieves maybe only a sort of dogged truce.

Readers will be pleased with the lack of sentimentality. The language at times can be bold (and a few words perhaps objectionable to some), but this was a couple passionately and physically in love, as well as two poets respectful of one another’s work. (Jane Kenyon’s posthumous collection, Otherwise, was completed during her final illness.)

In the end, there is no easy balm to Donald Hall’s grief. Life must be lived, even as he strives to find consolation in remembrance in the small things.

Fr. Paul F. McDonald
San Antonio

For a delightful visual experience, I recommend An Irish Blessing: A Photographic Interpretation by Cyril A. Reilly and Renee Travis Reilly (Sorin Books, 1999, $13.95). The Reillys’ gift of words and photography capture the beauty of the Emerald Isle landscape and the earthy radiance of a people who sense God’s presence around them in everything. The 22 lines of kind and gentle words that form phrases of a lengthy blessing for a loved one are brought to life in brilliant scenes illustrating the everyday good fortune we so often take for granted: rain, light, earth, people. This is the kind of gift book you’ll want to share with others while having a personal copy close by to nourish your soul and feast your eyes.

Patricia Hermes Zinsmeister
Ellicott City, Md.

Anam Cara by John O’Donohue (Cliff Street Books, 1997) is a treat for your soul and your senses! It’s about the presence and power of inner and outer friendship. In this book, John O’Donohue reminds you of what you already know, but it is how he does it that is the beauty of this wonderful book. It is written in the most enchanting, poetic and spiritual language. Treat yourself to this lovely gift!

Jean Hampton
Middlebury, Vt.

The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris is a book that drew me back for a second read. I read it over a year ago and kept thinking about it. Kathleen Norris, who wrote a previous best seller called Dakota, is by her own admission primarily a poet. This book is delightful; her prose is extremely flowing and descriptive. The author has a unique ability to mix humor and down to earth observations with deep spiritual insights. She is not afraid to write in a very personal way, revealing much about her life, past and present, including the ups and down of her marriage. The Cloister Walk is a spiritual book, but an unusual one. It is refreshingly honest and down to earth, never sickly sweet or cloying. It inspires me to bravely take my own unique spiritual walk!

Pat Chaffee
Newburgh, N.Y.

Oyster by Janette Turner Hospital (W.W. Norton & Company, 1996). Mystery folded in mystery makes this book a page-turner. Who is this man Oyster, who dominates every page, yet never appears in the novel? What happened at Oyster’s Reef? What occurs among the opal traders in the back room of Bernie’s Last Chance? Why are foreigners so hated in this remote, isolated, literally unmapped area of Queensland, Australia?

Oyster, however, is no easy read, no escape mystery for a lazy afternoon. It is a serious exploration of the inner mysteries of love, hate, greed, religion, fear, courage, among others. It demands collaboration from a reader. Oh, yes, the book is also about Armageddon at the turn of the century.

William D. Glenn
San Rafael, Calif.

Long-time literary editor of the New Republic and celebrated novelist, Doris Grumbach has written the book that impacted me more than any other this past year. The Presence of Absence: On Prayers and an Epiphany is a spare and moving account of the journey into the interior on which she has been engaged during her adult life. Written in elegant prose, her nomenclature for the diving is inspired, and her short volume holds powerful insights into the increasingly mysterious workings of the Spirit as it prompts one to fidelity to the task of prayer.

Fr. Depaul A. Genska, OFM

The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan by John Paul II (Daughters of St. Paul, 1997, $19.95): Sex and sexuality need positive “P.R.” Along comes Pope John Paul II who does just that -- giving reinforcement to the gifts of sex and sexuality as God’s creations. From September 1979 to November 1984, John Paul in Wednesday audiences extols the beauty, the unity of human persons in their sex and sexuality. In our age drowning in bizarre sex, John Paul offers lifelines pulling us up to reflect on and respond to the beauties of our sexual creation.

Pat Bonneau-White
Las Cruces, N.M.

The Artist’s Way at Work by Mark Bryan, Julia Cameron and Catherine Allen (William Morrow and Co., New York) will forever change your idea about what creativity is and how God envisioned each of us to be creative. The book brings spirituality into the workplace with a mingling of integrity, unlearning old patterns of social interaction and a “guided encounter with your own ingenuity.” Equally valuable are the new thought patterns and actions that can be applied to other areas of your spiritual life. You must commit yourself to the minimum of 12 weeks of reflection and writing to bring about the desired results. However, if you believe that living in the now and practicing the presence of God is worth the effort, this book is for you.

Doris Bucher

One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers by Gail Sher (Penguin Arkana, 1999) has kept me writing every day without fail since I read it four months ago. The author draws from 20 years of experience as a Zen Buddhist, psychotherapist, writer and teacher. The title of her book, One Continuous Mistake, was Dogen Zenji’s description of Zen practice. Sher explains that working for growth through a craft or art is like prayer, because “doing anything with wholehearted effort, which will likely involve mistake after mistake, is the soul talking to God in a different tongue.” The writer’s desire for perfection may stem from a desire to be one with God, but it is “just as spiritual to be aware of how one actually is.” The effect of these words on me is that I now take pride in the struggle, understanding that “if writing is your practice, the only way to fail is not to write.”

Jeanne Lutgen
Waterloo, Iowa

Extraordinary Lives by Msgr. Francis Friedl and Rex Reynolds (Ave Maria Press, 1998) is an enlightening book. Each priest that tells his story is so different from the rest. It is interesting to see how they all ended up following God in becoming a priest. Each is unique in his own life but so much alike in doing God’s work. I think it would be a wonderful book for young men considering a vocation to read. Sometimes I think they think they are not worthy, and this book tells them no one else is perfect either. It relates the struggles each had as he followed God’s call.

Ken Holehouse
Fond du Lac, Wis.

Br. Benet Tvedten’s The View From a Monastery (Riverhead Books, 1999) is a 42 chapter collection of short essays and character sketches revealing the inner workings of Blue Cloud Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in South Dakota -- a cloister of characters.

Populated with eccentrics like Brother Paddy, who chain-smoked through his last days, telling those “in his smoke-filled room, ‘I hope you bastards have to bury me on the coldest day of winter,’ ” and Father Dan who claimed that his “incarceration” at Blue Cloud came as the result of a speeding ticket, Br. Benet’s non-fiction 193-page book is written with wit, candor, and a bit of whimsy. His insights, honed by years of observing his fellow monks and the day-to-day workings of the abbey, make fascinating reading.

This book rocks.

Frank Woolever
Syracuse, N.Y.

Virginia’s Questions: Why I Am Still Catholic by Noreen O’Carroll (The Columbia Press, 1998) started when the author wrote a letter to the editor of the Irish Times. Published under the heading: “Incensed by the Church’s Attitude Toward Women,” it was prompted by her outrage at a young priest who criticized the colorful, yet tasteful attire of the president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, during her audience with the pope. The author’s letter in turn brought forth a response from the Rev. Virginia Kennerley, a priest of the Church of Ireland. The three questions raised by the canon caused deep soul-searching by O’Carroll, bringing forth a testimony that will touch the souls of those wrestling with some of the same issues.

The subtitle of this slight volume gives a hint to the reader of the profound faith journey of a modern Irish woman. Raised in a strong Catholic family, the author’s initial crisis of faith came as a teenager, when her beloved grandmother committed suicide on Christmas Eve. A year later her great aunt did the same thing. Voluntarily separating herself from her family of origin, she wandered through the labyrinth of various hospices, homeless shelters, and mental hospitals. During all her arguments with God, she found little solace in the institutional church.

While she moved away from home and family, her parents and siblings never moved away from her. University studies brought her in touch with Søren Kierkegaard and Eric Voegelin, both of whom became significant figures in her graduate work in philosophy. Other saving graces included contacts with various small Christian communities involved with works of mercy and justice. The author’s two brushes with Opus Dei give us a rare look inside this organization.

This is beautifully written apologia. Once begun, it will not easily be put down.

Fr. Ed Kaminski, CSC
Monterey, Calif.

The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality by Ronald Rolheiser (Doubleday, 1999, $21.95): Rolheiser’s writing style is reader-friendly. He speaks time-honored truths in ordinary language accessible to all. He engages serious rumination without heady concepts. The Holy Longing is equally applicable to the professional pew-sitter and the infrequent flyer in our houses of worship.

While he writes from his Roman Catholic perspective, his insights and observations will resonate with people of any faith or people of no faith. Indeed, Rolheiser asserts spirituality is not an option, everyone has one. “Long before we do anything explicitly religious at all,” the author writes, “we have to do something about the fire that burns within us. What we do with that fire, how we channel it, is our spirituality … Spirituality is more about whether or not we can sleep at night than about whether or not we go to church.” That’s insight! He artfully applies that basic premise to developing a spiritual perspective of ecclesiology, the Paschal Mystery, justice and peacemaking, sexuality and sustaining our spiritual lives.

This book is a keeper and won’t wander too far from my nightstand.

Sr. Mary Rehmann, CHM
Morgantown, W.V.

A Beautiful Mind by Sylvia Nasar (Simon & Schuster, 1998, $25): This biography of John Forbes Nash, Nobel laureate and mathematical genius, reveals the dynamic history of a man, his family and professional colleagues. Born in southern West Virginia, Nash wrote a breakthrough dissertation in his early 20s that would revolutionize the field of economics. However, less than 10 years later he descended into near professional and personal oblivion due to schizophrenia. He roamed Europe, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the halls of several psychiatric institutions for more than 30 years before suddenly re-emerging to receive the Nobel Prize for economics in 1994. This specific achievement was due, in no small measure, to several professional friends who insisted on the justice of his recognition no matter what his current mental state. The book also reveals the impact of a loved one’s serious mental illness on family members and the fact that it was they who probably kept Nash alive until his apparent spontaneous remission.

Mary P. Burke
Quincy, Mass.

Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma’s Mystery series (Signet) combines three of my interests: a good mystery, Irish history and the probing of tensions within the church -- the early Irish and English churches in this case. Suffer Little Children, the most recent in the series, takes place in late seventh-century Ireland. The succession dispute of a minor dynasty serves as the occasion for a mystery solved by a strong, well-educated, young “religieuse,” Sister Fidelma. The setting for the series (which includes Absolution By Murder and Shroud for the Archbishop) is as intriguing as the mystery involved, and Sr. Fidelma can easily hold her own with today’s investigators.

Barbara Huber
Kalamazoo, Mich.

I recommend Andre Dubus’ Meditations From a Moveable Chair (Vintage Books, 1998, $12). Actually one could read anything by Dubus and be inspired, even sanctified. Start with the essay “Sacraments“ in this book and you will change the way you think of your everyday actions.

Linda Pinto
Milford, Pa.

Peter’s Redemption by Jim David (Caritas Communications, 1999, $15): Distilled to its essence, it is like any other scripture story. God chooses an unsuspecting person and while living out the mundane details of life, they are catapulted into circumstances that could lead to catastrophic change.

Jake Morrissey and his family attend Sunday liturgy in a rural parish. Sr. Beth McAlister, the pastoral administrator, realizes that the circuit priest assigned to four parishes that particular morning is not coming. Frustrated by communionless services, she challenges Jake, a married priest, to celebrate Eucharist. After much discernment and the encouragement of the parish council, he acquiesces. What they all were not aware of was that the vacationer in the back pew was also reporter from The New York Times!

From the innocence and integrity of the parish people to the salty, eccentric seminary professor to the ambitious, conniving monsignor to the discerning cardinal struggling to balance tradition with the will of the Spirit, each page leads the reader to a greater understanding of the God of surprise, intrigue and mystery.

If you believe change in the church is not possible, then give yourself this gift. This story is a soothing tonic for the weary of heart and soul.

Fr. Richard P. Lewandowski
Fitchburg, Mass.

Vicars of Christ by Michael P. Riccards (Crossroads Publishers, 1998) is a fine study of papal leadership from the reign of Pius IX to that of John Paul II, which emphasizes the importance of various styles of leadership in the contemporary Catholic church. The study focuses on the relationships among church organizations, dogma, personality and historical environments.

Riccards is a fine stylist whose meticulously researched volume is scrupulously fair -- often leading him to surprising and interesting conclusions. He presents Pius IX as originally a liberal, Benedict XV as the major shaper of the modern papacy, and Pius X as both a pious man and a promoter of Modernist repression.

While his book acknowledges Pius XII’s purported silences during World War II, Riccard’s study is far more balanced and comprehensive than John Cornwall’s indictment Hitler’s Pope. He suggests that Vatican II was an ill-prepared attempt to deal with church tensions among the clergy and not the laity, and he is gentle in dealing with Paul VI’s collegial style. A good portion of the volume is an analysis of John Paul II’s years in office. Riccards is impressed by the current pope’s personal heroism but sees his policies as often leading to dead ends cast in the pope’s authoritarian tones.

Riccard’s volume is one of the few comprehensive studies of the current papacy written in English and its style allows it to appeal to both a scholarly and popular audience.

Laura J. Grohovsky
Youngstown, Ohio

My favorite books are Conversations With God: An Uncommon Dialogue, books 1, 2 and 3, by Neale Donald Walsch (Hampton Roads Publishing Co. Inc.). These books are total enlightenment, revealing some well-kept secrets.

Renee Taylor
Lafayette, La.

Freedom From Fear: A Way Through the Ways of Jesus the Christ by Francis W. Vanderwall (Acadian House Publishing Co., 1999) has given me a heightened sense of hope and has inspired me to look beyond the trappings of guilt, shame and loneliness, and the fears of God, people and things into the very nature of a loving and compassionate God. Using parables, including the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, Vanderwall reveals the liberating and enthusiastic love of God as Father, Son and Spirit. He reminds us of the tremendous generosity that God extends to all his children, especially the strangers in need and the social outcasts.

Vanderwall emphasizes the power of prayer and the necessity of solitude, as well as spiritual direction/counseling, for transforming our fears into love. Meditations and spiritual exercises are provided at the end of each chapter -- an excellent resource for personal and/or group study. Books like this remind me that God is truly alive and well in our world today!

National Catholic Reporter, November 5, 1999