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More book recommendations from NCR readers

Every year, NCR readers are asked to share with the world the books that moved, taught and inspired them over the past 12 months. And every year they oblige in numbers too large to contain in the Winter Books special section (NCR, Nov. 3). So here are more readers’ favorites from the year 2000.

Joan Ambre

Of all the books given to us as gifts of the spirit in 2000, for me, Tomorrow’s Catholic: Understanding God and Jesus in the New Millennium, by Michael Morwood (Twenty-Third Publications, $9.95) beats the whole field. It not only stretches the envelope of faith; it shreds the old envelope completely! But, miraculously, the faith that was wrapped in that old packaging bursts forth and comes alive in ways that continue to enrich and expand. If we want to help construct tomorrow’s church, we need to know tomorrow’s Catholics. Read this book: You and your faith will never be the same!

Jean Bohr
Joliet, Ill.

The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas Friedman (Random House, $15): I’m being dragged kicking and screaming into the computer age, and this book convinced me that I’d better get with it or be left out of the emerging global culture. More, Friedman convinced me that computer technology is actually a graced reality. His Lexus image symbolizes the “electronic herd” that moves trillions of dollars of money over the Internet each day, and the clout this represents. However, it also represents a means of destroying the many “walls” that have allowed dictators to maintain power, corrupt systems to control. This kind of electronic power can be ruthless or redemptive. Friedman suggests that the symbol of the olive tree represents a counterbalance of culture, tradition and religion, and he brings his Jewish background in as a helpful example. This book can help us to cozy up to the Internet and treasure the gift of the olive tree traditions that can be grace to our communities.

George D. Cody
Princeton, N.J.

Andrew Greeley’s The Catholic Imagination (University of California Press, $24.95) is a unique description of what Catholics hold in common and the difference it makes in the choices we make, the values we espouse and the activities we undertake in our American society, understood sensitively by a gifted author and a careful sociologist.

James T. Dette
Weehawken, N.J.

My favorite book is Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love by Dava Sobel (Walker Publishing Company Inc., $27). The subtitle only hints at the marvels the invention of the telescope opened to the scientists of the day, the ecclesiastical intrigue surrounding the famous trial of Galileo, but most of all the wonderfully heartwarming account of the relationship of Galileo and his daughter, Sr. Maria Celeste.

Sobel expands the story of the father/daughter relationship, gained through the letters of Sr. Maria Celeste to her father, into a captivating account of the times, which includes the controversy over the Earth as the center of the universe versus heliocentrism as well as the plague and the Protestant Reformation. But the best is the story of the love of these two people for each other. The ending brought tears to my eyes.

(Fr.) Norman J. Dickson, SJ

My favorite of the current year is Ronald Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing (Doubleday, $21.95). I find Rolheiser’s presentation of Christian incarnational spirituality clear and powerful. It gives me fresh language for naming and integrating my faith experiences.

Harold Feldmann
Milton, Mass.

In Barley Cakes: Parables for the 21st Century by Cheryl Cavalconte (WovenWord Press, $10), the author invites the reader to “taste and touch and smell the presence of the Holy Bread Maker.” How true! These Barley Cakes can be read over and over again, and the taste of inspiration gets better each time. My favorite yesterday was the “Newly Weds and the Journey,” today it is the “Potter and the Elder” and tomorrow ... well, read it yourself and enjoy its wonderful flavor.

Peter Flint
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

ReEnchantment: The New Australian Spirituality by D. Tacey (Harper Collins, Sydney) speaks of the spirituality bursting forth in perhaps the most secular society in the world, one that will not be found in conventional religion and churches. For reflective Australians, it is a wondrous book. Much of what is in the book would be relevant universally, and there is much that is unique to an Australian spirituality.

Gary Frye
Howard, Ohio

Tall In Spirit by Joni Woelfel (ACTA Publications), written from a Christian’s perspective, comprises 40 meditations that emphasize the need to be mindful of one’s spirit in order to cope with chronic illness. As I began reading each meditation, I was struck with the positive outlook that Joni evokes in her writing. When trying to cope with chronic illness, it is easy to forget about one’s spirituality. Persevering through the constant emotions caused by chronic illness is extremely difficult. Frustrations mount, and adversity can cloud our perception and our reception of the spirit we so badly need for inner strength. Reading this book has renewed my strength and spirit, and I am sure it will be a positive influence to anyone who reads it.

Patrick Flannery

Jim the Boy by Tony Earley (Little Brown & Company, $23.95) is the best evocation of a child since Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke, Ha, Ha, Ha. It is a beautifully written, gentle story of a 10-year-old boy growing up in Depression-era North Carolina.

Grace Garrett
Columbia, Md.

My favorite book last year was Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest by Wayne Muller. Drawing from Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist traditions, Muller makes a compelling case for our need for Sabbath and rest if we are to live healthy, spiritual, integrated lives that nourish the core of who we are. Muller’s gentle but challenging approach to reclaiming rest, spirituality and the sacredness of Sabbath is nourishment for weary souls.

Pat Irwin
Fairfield, Ohio

My favorite book of 2000 is Joan of Arc by Mary Gordon (Penguin). I now have a keen understanding of the power of symbols that drove this short, stocky teen. She came from nowhere and gave everything. Illiteracy was no deterrent. Gordon has distilled and crystalized the 20,000 books written on Joan, the girl/soldier, in 180 pages!

James C. Gorman

Extensively documented, refreshingly and clearly written, Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (Simon & Schuster) is enlightening and helpful for anyone engaged in ministry. It offers a societal context within which a reader can understand: 1) the decline in participation in church activities; 2) the generational divides within the church; and 3) the difficulty of proclaiming a gospel message that calls for community to an increasing number of people who have no human experience of community.

(Fr.) Don Kenna
Brooklyn, N.Y.

The institutional church is not nearly ready to address the challenge of “globalization.” Will it possibly be able to catch up with Jeremy Rifkin’s vision in The Age of Access? He sees international cultures being absorbed into an international economy, leaving only commercial bonds to hold societies together. If he’s right, the next question to face will be how can we restructure our most basic relationships when commerce asserts itself as the only and primary arbiter of human life? It’s the most challenging book I’ve read since I first understood Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

Nancy Greaney
Bedford, N.H.

It’s Christmas Again by Frrich Lewandowski and Michael P. Riccards (Ambassador Books, $13.95): “Why do we celebrate December 25th?” a little boy asked. But no one knew the answer. The whole world was so busy buying gifts and decorating trees, it had forgotten why Dec. 25th was a holiday.

Dec. 25th arrives. After playing with the toys a man named “Santa” left for the children, they quickly become bored. They go outdoors to play and enter a neighbor’s barn. They are surprised to hear the animals talking “people talk.” They are mesmerized by a story the owl tells about an event that took place centuries ago in a small village called Bethlehem. The children realize that the story told unveils the mystery behind the reason for celebrating Dec. 25th.

This beautifully illustrated book serves as a wonderful reminder to children of all ages of the Christmas story. It is a charming and captivating presentation of the greatest story ever told.

Joan Krebs

Jesus and His Message: An Introduction to the Good News by Fr. Leo T. Mahon (ACTA Publications, $6.95): Leo is the former pastor of my parish, and so I’ve heard this story of Jesus, a “first-century, second-temple Jew” many times in many situations, but it’s never enough. This little book of 110 pages carries a mighty wallop. The book comes from the mind and heart of a person who says he’s distilled this story from his 50-plus years as a priest trying to explain and model the essence of the Good News for people. This small book is a great read, especially if it’s shared.

Bill McGee
McAllen, Texas

In The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (Oxford University Press), Bart D. Ehrman treats the books of the New Testament in a historical and analytical manner intended for an educated general reader. He takes time to put in plain words specialized vocabulary and to give explanation to various, sometimes contradictory, schools of thought. His presentation is clear, straightforward and not without a sometimes sly witticism or two. I recommend this work to students and Bible study groups everywhere as a comprehensive and readable introduction to the study of the New Testament.

Sheila A. Litsch
Clinton, Okla.

The Great Divide by T. Davis Bunn (Doubleday/Waterbrook Press) is for those who love a legal thriller. As the plot unfolds, the reader discovers what happens when a small-town lawyer takes on an international corporation involved in using sweatshop labor to produce its product and the lengths the corporation will go to cover up this fact. A necessary read based on one of today’s pervasive evils.

(Fr.) Tim Gray, SCJ

I was introduced to The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes by James Alison (Crossroad/Herder) after reading Violence Unveiled by Gil Bailie, recommended in NCR last year. Alison’s book is an awesome accomplishment that builds upon Rene Girard’s thesis that scapegoating and violent sacrifice are at the root of all society and religion. Alison passionately and logically contends that Christ’s self-sacrifice broke this chain of violence, and shows how far we have come, and how far we need to go to imitate Jesus’ pouring himself out for others. The book is theologically heavy lifting; but I found it enlightening and well worth the effort.

Nancy Rocereto
Haddonfield, N.J.

As a “bookaholic,” I love recommending good reads. This year I have bought and given away many copies of Expecting Adam by Martha Beck. Labeled as a true story of a woman who gives birth to a Down syndrome child, the real message of this book transcends any such pigeonhole. It’s impressive, amusing and edifying. It’s written with wit and depth. The reported paranormal experiences may turn some off, but the book is powerful enough to withstand that.

Marian Greenwell
Wimberley, Texas

For anyone seeking deeper and broader levels of spirituality, Christ the Eternal Tao by Hiermonk Damascene (Valaam Books) is a wellspring. Reading it regularly, it can become a manual for scoping the interior life. The writing is profound, yet simple and direct: a refreshing alternative to the literal-mindedness that dehydrates so consistently the Christian experience.

Maryann Tyrer
Clarksburg, W.V.

Joyce Rupp strikes gold again with Out of the Ordinary (Ave Maria Press). She offers meaningful reflections (and reprint permission) for various liturgical feasts and seasons, as well as hard-to-find prayers for transitions, justice, ministry, birthdays, family events and even Valentine’s Day. Every page is full of rich images and profound words, and I’ve nearly worn out my copy returning to it again and again for solace and inspiration.

Frances Rossi
Pebble Beach, Calif.

The Changing Face of the Priesthood by Fr. Donald B. Cozzens (The Liturgical Press, $14.95) has got to be my favorite. Criteria? It was on my mind from the first review I read and has not disappointed me since I got it. It may be a book for priests, but I see it as a prophetic book for the church as a whole.

J.G. Donders

My favorite book this year was Anthony J. Gittins’ Reading the Clouds: Mission and Spirituality for New Times (Liguori). Do yourself a favor, take the risk and read this book!

Eugene J. Smith
Okemos, Mich.

For a cogent perspective on the cultural status of America today, I highly recommend Roger Kimball’s The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America (Encounter Books). In view of the demotic trends that many of us find unsettling, Kimball’s explication of Rousseau’s notion of virtue is particularly enlightening.

Manuel E. Soto-Viera
Memphis, Tenn.

Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan González (Viking) will be read the least by those who should read it the most: English-speaking Americans. It is a challenge to reflect on the profound demographic changes the United States is experiencing as a result of the huge migration of Latinos pouring into this country -- in different waves -- since World War II.

The author’s thesis can be summed up as follows: The territorial and economic expansion of the United States into Latin America, as well as its political meddling or outright interventions, have brought about a vast economic, social, political and cultural disruption of the Latino societies. The “modern flood of the region’s people to the United States” resulted. Some, as the Mexicans in the territory wrested from Mexico in 1848, were already in their own country when the expansion made a great leap.

Well written and well researched, this book examines the various Latino communities that now make up the “Hispanic mosaic” being woven into U.S. society -- their roots, their differences and their contributions. This demographic upheaval is fraught with possibilities: the growth of a truly democratic multicultural society to be a beacon of hope in the world or a country torn by dissension cropping up out of know-nothing nativist policies, that is, at heart, out of an expanded, multidimensional racism.

Marilyn R. Wilson
Fairfield, Calif.

I am slowly pondering Diarmuid O’Murchu’s words as I read Religion in Exile (Crossroad, $15.95). The ideas are absolving me of the anxieties I’ve had over my own exile from the trappings of church. O’Murchu gets underneath the politics and dysfunction and goes to the heart of what religion should mean. What a relief.

Robert Thiefels
Hinesburg, Vt.

God After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution by John F. Haught (Westview Press) is a powerful book that takes us far beyond the narrow confines of the current popular debate regarding evolution. Haught draws on sound Biblical imagery of God that challenges our triumphalist notions of a God who has everything absolutely under control.

Haught does not shy away from the perennial questions of suffering, beauty, ethics and hope. In fact, he leaves few stones unturned in his desire to secure the ground on which theology and science can inform each other.

What if, as Haught concludes, we did not fall from a preconceived divine plan and that we ought not to be spending all our time yearning for a lost paradise? What if we are on our way to an as-yet-unimaginable future, and that God comes to us from out of that future in newness and novelty? Might that not be a breath of fresh air and a new way of understanding the cosmic pilgrimage?

Mary S. Long
Spencer, Ind.

The Kennedy Women (Villard Books, $16 paperback) by Lawrence Leamer is a long book, but fascinating. Shows how a philandering patriarch, Joseph Kennedy, influenced his sons to a life of womanizing and politics (not necessarily honest).

What is unbelievable is that wife Rose -- who attended Mass most days -- and his daughters accepted the behaviors of father and brothers with equilibrium. By the end of the book, one can understand how and why so many calamities befell this family.

Janet Atkins
Tigerville, S.C.

The book that I recommend is Neither Virgin Nor Martyr: Holiness In the Third Christian Millennium by Donald F. Kilburg, Jr. (Dorrance Publishing Co., $12). For people who may find it difficult to identify with our traditional canon of saints, this book offers an enlightened discussion and has some down-to-earth suggestions to help inspire us “everyday saints” living in today’s “marketplace.” The author approaches the question of sainthood from a personal angle with an easy, readable style that offers a more human and humane picture of people attempting to live their lives in a godly fashion.

National Catholic Reporter, November 10, 2000