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Return to readers’ favorite books

Cathie D’Auria

Ask to Fire: A Contemporary Journey Through the Interior Castle of Teresa of Avila by Carolyn Humphreys (New City Press, 1997, $9.95) is realistic, practical and easy reading for those laity and theologians who are seriously interested in an intimate friendship with Jesus.

Janetta Gallagher
Springfield, Ore.

I want to praise Whooping Crones: God-Songs for Women (Catherine Joseph Publications, $24.95), a prayer/reflection book for women that sets aside sexism in the experience of God. The author, Nancy Williams, swims with the God who is as close to her breath and brings others along in this dance of intimacy. The book celebrates women’s instinctive grasp of a God beyond the doctrinaire limits of the Trinity. Sr. Joyce Roach, a Tacoma Dominican, presents 46 of her striking color photos.

Edgar J. Kline
Bridgeton, Mo.

I read a recently published novel, The Call of Pope Octavian by Jesuit Fr. William B. Faherty (JKL Associates) that gave me a close-up view of the drama of a papal election and set my hopes high as the new pope outlines his plans. The novel focuses on a young woman reporter from Missouri who is assigned by her editor to cover the papal conclave to elect a successor to Pope John Paul II.

The reader is made to feel as if he/she were in Rome amid the action. As the conclave stretches into several days while the cardinals wrestle with who would be the best man to lead the church in the next century, the reporter follows up on a tip that a little-known but holy abbot might be a possible candidate.

When the white smoke rises from the Vatican we find out who is the new pope and that he has taken the name “Pope Octavian.” During the next few days, Pope Octavian lays out his ideas and plans for the church in the new millennium. He has some definite ideas on what should and must be done to expand the role of the religious and laity, men and women, in the church. In one of his early addresses, he offers general absolution and forgiveness of sins, so that all men may begin anew with a “clean slate.” He brings a message that instills an increase in faith, and in hope and charity towards all. The message of hope is especially heartening.

Patricia C. Sheridan
Eastchester, N.Y.

A Song for Mary: An Irish-American Memoir by Dennis Smith (Warner Books, 1999, $23): Written by New York City firefighter Dennis Smith, this book is a biography that reads like a novel. It is about growing up poor and Catholic in a single parent home in New York. It vividly reveals the life and traditions among the Irish community in New York.

Hard-biting and poignant descriptions of the effects of poverty on Smith, his brother and his struggling working mother will certainly move the reader. The streets of New York come alive with his deft portrayals of the city in everyday life. Smith has many sensitive and psychological insights that will make the reader pause and think about his/her own life in relation to his. The book shows the value of faith, religious practices, Catholic and public schools, good upbringing and direction from other members of the community.

Smith is particularly adept at describing his mother, Mary, as she tries to cope with a difficult life, hard work, family and poverty under severe conditions. The book contains moving accounts of bouts with drugs, violence and mental illness.

Robin Zeka
Joplin, Mo.

This Much I Know Is True by Wally Lamb (Regan Books, 1998) is really three books in one (not surprising at 900 pages). It speaks to the power of forgiveness: What is the cost of forgiveness and what is the cost of failure to forgive. Lamb tells the lives of identical twins Dominick and Thomas, one a schizophrenic peace activist trying to move from today into tomorrow, the other an ex-husband, ex-teacher and ex-father swimming in a pool of anger, assumption and fear. At the book’s end, the reader has traveled a circle, each tale blending itself into one.

Joanna J. Horn
Toms River, N.J.

Passion for Life: Lifelong Psychological and Spiritual Growth by Drs. Anne Brennan and Janice Brewi (Continuum, 1999) is a gem of enlightenment and inspiration that speaks deeply to those who have weathered the storms of life into midlife and their mature years.

They weave the beauty of poetry, the wisdom of scripture, the knowledge of science, the depth of psychology and the emotions of the heart into a meaningful and hopeful mosaic to which each reader can connect. Through life story illustrations gathered from numerous individuals, as well as from their own life journeys and 20-year mission, they provide an all-encompassing look at creative growth throughout the lifespan. Through these illustrations we come to recognize the importance of our own stories, that our own individual lives do make a difference.

Bill Murray
Abiquiu, N.M.

Skeptics and True Believers: The Exhilarating Connection Between Science and Religion by Chet Raymo: While my path hasn’t followed that of Chet Raymo’s into a career in science, the same questions interrupted by comfortable sojourn as a “true believer,” and transformed me into a restless seeker. With this book, I’ve been thinking -- what better gift for the year 2000 than to have a reconciliation of both science and religion (or would that be a first marriage for both?)

Sarah J. Costin
Notre Dame, Ind.

Anyone who misses Jon Hassler’s North of Hope (Ballantine Books, 1990) has missed a marvelous reading experience. The chief character is a Catholic priest, but it bears no resemblance to the so-called “Catholic novel.” The real main character is the bleak northern Minnesota landscape, where long winter on the land mirrors or induces a wintry-ness of the soul.

Worse than most of Minnesota is the Basswood Indian Reservation, “a wilderness of lost hope,” where the temperature never seems to rise as high as zero. The 44-year-old priest, a pastor in a nearby town, is determined to do his best for the reservation. He does not expect to encounter his high school girlfriend and her third husband, an alcoholic doctor whose criminal traffic in drugs has gotten him sentenced to public service on the reservation.

Frank Healy is not an especially strong man; he is just one who slogs off discouragement and confusion and plods along, doing his best and hoping it’s the right thing. Since that’s the best most of us can do, we are heartened by the fact that he doesn’t give in to temptation or difficulties. The art of the novelist is to keep Frank and us teetering on the edge, while giving us a taut and thoughtful book that’s nearly impossible to put down.

Justine Buisson

I Could Tell You Stories is a delightful and intricate memoir in which Patricia Hampl examines how imagination transforms memory into art. With the parenthesis of her own childhood and adulthood, she gives the reader glimpses of the lives and words of Walt Whitman, Edith Stein, Sylvia Plath and St. Augustine.

J.C. Dolan
Syracuse, N.Y.

From Weimer to the Wall: My Life in German Politics by Richard Von Weizsacke, former president of the Federal Republic of Germany (Broadway Books, 1999): This book is coming to the United States so close to the end of the millennium, when we Catholics are asked to forgive those who trespassed against us, and at the same time ask forgiveness for our trespasses. The author is a Lutheran who covers every facet of everyday life from religion to politics to art, and their impact on the people of his country.

Theresa K. Taylor
Summit Point, W.V.

My current favorite book is Sigrid Undset’s Burning Bush, translated from the Norwegian by Arthur G. Chater (Alfred A. Knopf, 1932). This was one of the many books -- treasures -- discarded by our local public library this summer, which I bought dirt-cheap. I was thoroughly absorbed in the inner life of Paul Selmer -- husband, father, capitalist-distributionist -- who early on becomes a Catholic convert. As his spirituality centered on the eucharistic liturgy deepens, his relations with his wife, who dislikes Catholicism, deteriorate and from that point on everything becomes quite complicated.

Mary E. HuntSilver Spring, Md.

Readers seeking women’s wisdom will find plenty of it in Naming Our Truth: Stories of Loretto Women, edited by Ann Patrick Ware (Chardon Press, 1995). This overlooked volume is full of the stories, ideas and commitments of a group who, from pioneer times to tomorrow, are combining social justice with spirituality, deep commitment with a light touch. Don’t miss the Loretto story if you want to know how things have changed in religious life for women and what is ahead for the whole church.

Br. Orlando Gozdowski, CS
Notre Dame, Ind.

Fr. Joseph Kudasiewicz, a Polish priest, in his book The Synoptic Gospels Today (Alba House, 1996) will enlighten you in a way that no other biblical exegete has done.

Kudasiewicz’s elucidation of the Martha/Mary story in Luke’s Gospel, where Martha serves Jesus food in her home while Mary listens to Jesus sitting at his feet, is a gem you can possess for the rest of your life as a prize keepsake. If you read it once slowly, carefully, then read it once again a month later, the impact on your spiritual life will surprise you.

Kudasiewicz writes simply, in such a way that will lead you to a new appreciation for the Synoptic Gospels, as they reveal God’s Word and love for us.

Sr. Vicki Masterpaul, OSF
Magnolia, N.J.

I offer to the readers of NCR a book that, although not new, is, for me, like the person to whom it is dedicated -- timeless and magnetic -- thus compelling the reader to pull it from the shelf repeatedly. St. Francis and the Song of Brotherhood and Sisterhood by the late Fr. Eric Doyle, OFM, was published in 1981 and was reprinted in 1997 by Franciscan Institute Publications.

I am convinced that this “classic” is as much about the author, a vibrant light in the Franciscan world, as it is about Francis of Assisi and his “Canticle of Brother Sun.” Doyle, an English friar, became beloved by many summer session theology students on this side of the Atlantic, at St. Bonaventure University. Inimitably gifted, thoroughly human and irrepressibly witty, Doyle was a man far ahead of his time. His treatment of issues of ecology, liberation theology, ecumenism and feminism in an erudite yet humane manner bespeak this loudly and clearly.

Fr. Eugene Keane
Highland, N.Y.

My nomination for the sleeper of the year is Reflections on the Sunday Gospels (Holy Family International, 1999, $9) by Fr. James Gilhooley of New York. The reflections are a collection of his homilies. Long ago he stopped giving out copies of those homilies. Postage and copying had grown too expensive. A Brown University graduate student would not be thwarted. He came to his liturgies wired for sound. A professor from Brown University, who was traveling, delegated his teen son to record that Sunday’s homily on a video recorder. Applause often follows his homilies.

Br. Thomas More Page, CFX
Louisville, Ky.

An Introduction to the New Testament by Raymond Brown (Doubleday, $58.95) is a huge tome of 813 pages. Coming at the end of Brown’s long years of scholarship on the New Testament, this is his magnum opus. It must be read in small doses, for it is a book that requires careful, thoughtful and prayerful reading.

Brown walks the reader leisurely through each book of the New Testament. What I liked best about it were the basic summaries of each book, the historical overview of ancient Greece and Rome, and the discussions of key theological issues in each book. Many times, rather than debate current schools of scriptural exegeses, Brown raises questions and leaves it to the reader to grapple with them. He has a gentle way of responding to controversial issues without becoming apodictic.

The reader will find many rewards in this monumental book, the greatest of which is to come away enriched and enlightened from being in the company of a sure, loving, trusting guide.

Betty L. Wolfe
Colorado Springs, Colo.

My favorite book this year is Tears in God’s Bottle: Reflections on Alzheimer’s Caregiving by Wayne Ewing (WhiteStone Circle Press, 1999, $23). This book will touch the soul of anyone dealing with Alzheimer’s disease in a loved one. There are many, many books about the physical and psychological aspects of Alzheimer’s. This book delves into biblical spirituality and comes to terms with the jumbled emotions of love, loss, sorrow, guilt, anger, selfishness and hope. It comes from the heart of a caregiver’s walk through Alzheimer’s disease with his afflicted spouse. The author’s wife was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at age 55 -- in the prime of life. Prayer and the scriptures helped Wayne Ewing grapple with the personal terrors he faced each day. The title of the book is taken from Psalm 56. His faith and spiritual awareness shine through his poetic style of writing. This beautiful little book is a treasure indeed!

Lois H. Lenz
Beloit, Wis.

I recommend In Search of Belief by Joan Chittister (Liguori/Triumph, $19). This is a word-by-word consideration of the Apostle’s Creed, confronting head-on the reservations many of us have avoided for years. I’m going to keep reading it until I can truly say, “I believe” to each phrase.

Severina Barnett
Kansas City, Mo.

My favorite book of the year was Floricanto Sí: A Collection of Latina Poetry, edited by Brice Milligan, Mary Guerrero Milligan and Angela de Hoyos (Penguin Books, 1998). The book is bilingual. Floricanto Sí brought me joy and still does. It carries me away with its beauty and simplicity, its language, truth and poetry.

Nancy McGunagle
Petaluma, Calif.

The Book of Women’s Sermons: Hearing God in Each Other’s Voices, edited by the Rev. E. Lee Hancock (Riverhead Books, 1999, $23.95): This interfaith collection of 35 women’s sermons is hot off the press; while I have not as yet completed it, I can justly recommend it to those men and women who wisely attempt to remain on the leading edge of concerns that preoccupy all branches of modern religious life. This book guides the neophyte explorer through theological issues that should touch us all. Never was a book more timely for honoring the personal experiences of motherhood, marriage and loss while maintaining that which is sacred.

Maria West
Bethesda, Md.

The Hidden Jesus: A New Life by Donald Spoto (St. Martin’s Press, 1998, $24.95): Before this book, the author had written celebrity biographies, so I was prepared to dislike it. I expected his portrait of Jesus would be of someone who was “with it” instead of “with us.” I was surprised, then enchanted. Though not a scholarly work, it is informed by modern theological scholarship. It was for me more than a refresher course in Christology; it was an unlikely but irresistible page-turner. I knew I had fallen under its spell when I started to arrange my free time to read and reflect on one chapter each day. As I became absorbed by its familiar themes of Jesus’ origins, prayer life, miracles and parables, it was like taking in an essential nutrient I didn’t know I was starved for until it was offered in a pleasantly flavored, easy-to-swallow solution. I invite anyone looking for a serious but accessible account of Jesus’ life to consider The Hidden Jesus and hope it is for others, as it is for me, not bread and wine, but a gift basket of fresh fruit to carry into winter.

Blanche C. Permoda
Missoula, Mont.

I highly recommend The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester (Harper Perennial, 1999). The absorbing account of how the many-volumed Oxford English Dictionary was compiled, plus the riveting account of the tragic American who contributed so much while he was imprisoned in England in an asylum for the criminally insane make this a compelling read.

Jerry Wickenhauser
São Paulo, Brazil

Jesus: Symbol of God by Roger Haight (Orbis Books) gives new, more plausible interpretations of Jesus and the Trinity, his resurrection, divinity and his relationship to other religious faiths. The excellent recasting of our cherished beliefs makes Jesus more credible for us postmodern Christians.

Sr. Noreen Morgan, SND
Oakland, Calif.

Prayers for a Thousand Years: Blessings and Expressions of Hope for the New Millennium: Inspiration from Leaders and Visionaries Around the World, edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon, is a treasure! Its subtitles suggest the rich reflections to be discovered. Each of the nine themes has a brief, thought-provoking introduction. This volume is, in my opinion, an excellent preparation for the momentous event of the new millennium.

Virginia Sullivan Finn
South Lee, Mass.

According to an interview, Oscar Hijuelos intends in his latest novel, Empress of the Splendid Season, to reveal how “we are just curators of our circumstances.” This he does and much more by telling the story and disclosing the heart of a woman who raises a family and works for many years as a cleaning woman in Manhattan. Day by day the reader accompanies her from her tenement neighborhood to luxurious apartments “across town.” The wonder of the book is not limited to vitality of character and plot; there is as well a stunning portrayal of class difference and of generational separation. With never a paragraph that is judgmental or rhetorical, Hijuelos, in an era that worships wealth, shows the depth, love and religious faith often found in “counter-wealth,” and he does it without drawing the reader for an instant away from story. Reading Empress of the Splendid Season, I discovered anew why Jesus told parables -- and how, in doing it, he managed to walk on water.

Patrick Gormely
Manhattan, Kan.

Global Population from a Catholic Perspective by John C. Schwarz (Twenty-Third Publications, 1998, $19.95) is a comprehensive, persuasive “critique from the inside,” by a faithful Catholic, a former college educator now engaged in adult education. The book packs a lot of information and analysis into its 260 pages, and includes almost 30 pages of source notes that can serve as guides for further reading. The book offers a brief, careful summary of some of the basic facts about rapid world population growth, and points out the economic and environmental implications of rapid growth, but this is not the book’s major purpose. The book’s main contribution is its successful attempt to broaden the discussion of population issues and related moral issues, and to provide a context for reconsideration of some “official” Catholic positions. He respectfully argues for a reconsideration of the official teaching on contraception, reminding us that Catholic moral doctrine is not immutable: It has changed in the past and can do so again. This is an important book that deserves a wide audience.

Betty Kuenzel
St. Louis

The Preaching Life by Barbara Brown Taylor (Cowley Publications, 1993, $10.95): Taylor is an Episcopal priest who is a stellar preacher. Her chapter on vocation -- rooted in baptism, not holy orders -- was wonderfully affirming. The several sermons included are packed with insight. Her words and images sparkle. Do yourself a favor and don’t miss this gem! Definitely not for preachers only.

Marie Therese Gass
Clackamas, Ore.

Journey to Your Soul: The Angels Guide to Love and Wholeness by Carole Marlene Sletta and Nancy Ambrose Snodgrass (White Phoenix Publishing, 1997): Would you read a spiritual book by someone with unusual charisma, someone you had personally met and admired? If he reminded you and others of Thomas Merton? Absolutely, so far. Now what if this man had died and was speaking through someone else? Pish-tosh and nonsense, I said -- not interested in channeling, thank you very much. Then the book arrived by surprise in a package from a friend. I hesitantly peeked under the cover and, the next thing I knew, was on the last page. I wondered if I had been so absorbed in the book only because of Tom. Fr. Tom Oddo, president of the University of Portland, who died in 1989 in a trifling accident. Tom (in the book) says that soul and body aren’t necessarily ready to go at the same moment -- that his earth-soul was dying well before the accident. He says he was burning out and that, like his fellow celibate priests, he needed more human love. Now, if canonized saints have spoken through the living, why can’t a young, vibrant person who dies do the same?

But leaving out any acceptance of channeling or attraction to Tom’s messages, does this book have other values? By its end, I was caught up in optimism and hope for my life and the life of the world. The old memorized phrases about God being all-knowing, infinite, etc., took on new life. This book’s repeated chorus is that God is love -- not judgment or preachiness.

John P. Olinger

Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 by Edwin G. Burrows & Mike Wallace (Oxford University Press, 1999) is a book big as the city it portrays. Its 1236 pages of text chronicle the raucous history (up to the union of New York and Brooklyn in 1898) of America’s quintessential port of entry. It is reassuring to discover that from its earliest days, the city (is there any other?) enjoyed a reputation for rowdiness and incivility. There is little that the authors leave uncovered, but the book’s particular strength is the populist bent of the authors.

New York City has always been a city of immigrants, thus a city central to the development of Roman Catholicism in the United States. The authors tell a compelling story of the successive waves of immigration and the growing civic and political power played by the church, its leaders and parishioners.

Gotham is a window on American history decorated in vivid colors and sparkling prose. Excellent maps trace the growth of the city over three centuries and the illustrations add to the text. This book consumed its authors for 20 years. We can only hope that the second volume, beginning with the modern city uniting all five boroughs, will not take as long.

Jeannette Oppedisano
Castleton, N.Y.

Coincidences: Touched by a Miracle by Antoinette Bosco (Twenty-Third Publications) is a great read -- full of poignant and inspiring stories of people from times past to the present. It made me remember a truth I never wanted to forget; that, as Wordsworth put it, “We get gifted or surprised by the mysteries of the invisible world.” This book helped wake me up to see that again!

Denise Roy
San Jose, Calif.

10 Best Gifts for Your Teen: Raising Teens With Love and Understanding by Patt and Steve Saso (Sorin Books, 1999): I am the mother of three teenage boys, and this book has been of tremendous help. It is one of the very best on parent-teen relationships that I have read. The 10 gifts that the Sasos outline are not only practical, but they are also foundational qualities that are important in all healthy relationships.

In reading the real-life stories the Sasos shared from their own family, I realized that I don’t have to be a perfect parent (an impossible task anyway!) The important thing is to help our children feel connected to us. When that happens, they will care about our opinions, our feelings, our thoughts. This book gives very practical ideas on how to nurture and maintain such a connection with our teens. I highly recommend it, not only for parents, but for counselors, ministers, and teachers as well.

Fr. Ken Heberlein

One of the books that I have recently read, which I thought was outstanding in subject matter, presentation and meaningfulness was Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul, published by Harper-Collins in 1994. When so many people are trying to find peace, quiet and the inner self, the author does a fantastic job pointing the way for us. I am a priest. It did much for me and gives me the opportunity to guide others. A must for anyone serious about his or her spiritual journey.

Msgr. Roy Rihn
San Antonio

If size isn’t a consideration, my favorite book read this year was The Way To Love: The Last Meditations of Anthony de Mello, published posthumously in 1995 (Image Books Doubleday, $6.95). Thirty-one brief gospel-based meditations by the late Jesuit mystic, this little book sends a haymaker to the chin of some of our most cherished spiritual illusions and challenges us to wake up and get up.

Gus Nolan
Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Meditation on Fathers, Brothers and Sons by Henri Nouwen (Doubleday, 1992) is not a new book, it just becomes a new every time one reads it. A good copy of Rembrandt’s famous painting “Return of the Prodigal” is a help but not at all necessary to get the message so well presented by Henri Nouwen. Very few books, large or small, have so impressed me.

Sr. Therese Wolf, FSPA
La Crosse, Wis.

Three books I’ve read by the same author T. Davis Bunn have been most delightful. He is a Christian author who writes about people who live their faith and the effects that has on those who come into their lives. The books are small and easy to read: The Music Box (Bethany House Publishers, 1996, 191 pages, $11.99); The Gift (Bethany House Publishers, 1994, 144 pages, $11.99); and The Quilt (Bethany House Publishers, 1993, 125 pages, $11.99).

Sheila Betit
Arlington, Va.

I participate in a women’s faith-sharing group at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Arlington, Va. For the past year, the group has been using a book titled Praying with Women of the Bible by Bridget Mary Meehan, published by Ligouri Press. Each month we discuss a different woman from scripture, and those who are leading the discussion use Bridget’s book as a resource. The book gives a nice background of the women and then lists some questions and suggestions to stimulate discussion and sharing. We have found it to be well written with great information. I recommend it highly to others who are interested in such a discussion/sharing group.

Stephen Court
Rockford, Ill.

Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard (HarperCollins, $13): None surpasses Annie Dillard’s ability to wrest cosmic truths from observations of the natural world and the minutiae of everyday life. Perceptive attention, analysis, synthesis and sensitivity to words, phrasing and expression are Dillard’s forte. Dillard’s eloquence and insight, for me, possess few counterparts. Dylan Thomas and Gerard Manley Hopkins come to mind.

Jerome R. Stratton
Littleton, Colo.

The Genesee Diary by Henri Nouwen (Doubleday Image, 1989, $9.95): Henri Nouwen, priest and caregiver to the mentally challenged, took a six-month sabbatical at an upstate New York Trappist monastery. His intense journal -- jottings, wry and ironic -- reach from the peaks of exaltation to the valleys of dire depression. The entries are written with a unique self-awareness.

Phillip Windolph
Burbank, Ill.

Born of Woman by John Shelby Spong, bishop of Newark, N.J., and published by Harper SanFrancisco in 1992, was the most inspiring book I read this year. It convincingly shows that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is truly to be highly honored and realistically emulated, especially by women and girls. The reason for such imitation, however, is not based on the prevailing view of Mary currently held by Christians of today. After reading with an open mind, a Christian will realize a much more human and beautiful reason for believing that Mary is blessed among all women.

Bill Knuth
Beavercreek Ohio

I submit Seasons of Your Heart: Prayers and Reflections, Revised and Expanded by Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB. It was originally published in 1979 by Silver Burdett Company and republished by Harper SanFrancisco in 1991. I bought my copy last year and have really enjoyed it. It has excellent biblical translations and truly meaningful reflections and inspiring prayers that complement the biblical references. It challenges and rejuvenates me every time I read and reflect on a passage.

Carol Schmit
Annandale, Minn.

Some might hesitate to call a book miraculous. We save that title for rosaries that turn gold. But some books effect such a change in the writer and the reader that they deserve to be called a miracle. The author, Abigail Brown, presents an amazing book, And Don’t Tell Anyone: Healing from Incest Through Poetry and Art (North Star Press of St. Cloud, 1977, $14.95). Having suffered abuse by her father, the author found she could break out of that oppression through her own creativity, her painting. She picked up the paintbrush, and in 19 passionate paintings, some beautiful, some poignant, some shocking, released the memory of childhood violation. Not a pretty story, a miraculous one. So you don’t paint? Your passion to cook, build birdhouses, quilt, run, garden, can be your breakthrough into an entirely new life. The book deserves to be on every therapist’s tea table.

George F. Stephens
Somerset, N.J.

The Last Priests in America by Tim Unsworth (Crossroads, 1991, $19.95): The title refers to the dying of U.S. diocesan priests - a 20 percent drop from 1966 to 1984, and a further 20 percent drop is projected to 2005.

The book consists of reflections of 42 priests on their ministries and thoughts about the future. The men include two seminarians, several bishops and many priests with decades of experience. The priests include organizers, youth ministers, evangelizers, recovering alcoholics, historians, sociologists, theologians, canon lawyers, seminary professors, an HIV positive man, a sex offender, resigned canonical priests, etc. The priests talk remarkably frankly. Unsworth found that virtually no one seemed intimidated by what the bishop or others would say. Virtually all called for a change in the celibacy discipline, and are willing to see married men and/or women ordained. The majority found loneliness and isolation their greatest burdens.

Leola Hausser
Villa Maria, Pa.

No book has lingered longer in my mind, and lies on my desk to be reread, than Helen Vendler’s Seamus Heaney (Harvard University Press, 1998, $22.95). Maybe the book intrigued me because I’ve read his 10 poetry books, and it was gratifying to find an author who goes step by step through the books starting with Death of a Naturalist (1966) to Spirit Level (1996).

I wish she had analyzed more individual poems, so brilliantly does she focus on those selected from the 10 books. She also draws attention to the structures of his poems, to the language and to his rethinking of the sonnet and the elegy. I am sure her book will fascinate and draw readers to the man and his poetry.

Dana Woelfel
Mankato, Minn.

My mom, Joni Woelfel, author of Tall In Spirit (ACTA Publishing, 1999), has been in a medical battle to become healthy for at least half of my 21 years. Her gift, amid this despair of struggle and agony, is that she can put into words a description of her feelings in a way that others can relate to.

I enjoy my mother’s book, not only because it is my mom’s, but also because through her experience it acts as a tool for others to find comfort that illness isn’t the end. Tall In Spirit is easy reading and has something for everyone, from the ill to those who have a friend or relative that’s ill, or for those merely looking to understand what and how the terminally ill strive to continue on.

Vivien Michals
New Orleans

Zen Among the Magnolias by Benjamin Lee Wren (University Press of America, $23) would be a great guide for anyone interested in Zen technique and philosophy within the Christian mystic tradition. This book explores the power of Zen in getting to the ground of one’s being, in reducing reality to the present moment, experiencing God sustaining, working and rejoicing in all things. This is a concept of Zen that includes “hands, heart and feet” with ikebana (flower arranging), tai chi and folk dancing. Hours sitting in a Zendo at home or at a Zen retreat outweigh any attempt to just talk or write about Zen, but Ben Wren’s words are insight and guidance along the way. The autobiographical bits put a human face on a Zen master who not only leads but it is willing to share his own journey.

Cay Hamilton

Become Jesus: The Diary of a Soul Touched by God (Dorrance Publishing Co., 1998, $22) is a must book for all of us who are struggling to deepen our spiritual lives as well as for mystics and those already on a higher spiritual plane. The author, Marinus Scholtes (1919-1941) gave us a true picture of one man’s awesome relationship with the Divine by recording his spiritual journey from the time he entered religious life until his death at age 22. He shows us so clearly how journal writing can start us on being really conscious of our spiritual life and development.

For more readers’ favorites http://www.natcath.com/NCR_Online/archives/110599/WINTERBKS.htm

National Catholic Reporter, November 12, 1999