Summer Reading List

There are some odd rules in the land of publishing. For example, if you "blurb" a book, that is, write a few sentences of praise for the back cover or for advertisements, you can’t review it. (Strange, I know.) Or, if you have some sort of professional connection to the author when you’re reviewing it, you are obliged to state that somewhere in the review. (E.g., "Bishop So-and-so’s book is terrific! Full disclosure: he’s my ordinary.") Another practice to be avoided is "literary logrolling," that is, giving blurbs and praise to people who have blurbed and praised you. You can see the problem. If you have friends or colleagues who write good books, it’s hard to praise them in a review! With that in mind, I wanted to break all these rules and tell you about five wonderful new books that might make some good summertime reading for you. All are by friends, and all are terrific. Jeremy Langford (full disclosure: good friend, introduced him to his wife, celebrated their wedding) has written a terrific book on spirituality under the title "Seeds of Faith: Practices to Grow a Healthy Spiritual Life." Jeremy is a popular speaker in Catholic circles and (more full disclousure) currently works for the Chicago Province Jesuits. His new book is one that almost everyone can use: offering simple, clear and direct advice on things like prayer, community, friendship, solitude and even celebration, all sprinkled with well-told anecdotes and examples. If I could give one book to a young person (or older person, for that matter) who is asking the questions, "What does it mean to be a spiritual person in the world today?" it would be this one. And by the way, it’s a small book, beautifully designed and packaged. You can judge a book by its cover. Next on my list is a spectacular new book by one of my all-time favorite spiritual writers, William A. Barry, S.J. (Full disclosure: fellow Jesuit, former superior, first guy to mission me to America magazine.) Bill Barry’s great insight for readers is that a relationship with God can profitably be compared to a relationship with a good friend, and what you can say about one (it needs openness, honesty, change, silence, etc.) you can say about the other. His new book "A Friendship Like No Other: Experiencing God’s Amazing Embrace," builds on this crucial insight--an insight that changed my life. One of my favorite parts of his book is his fascinating discussion on entering into an "adult" relationship with God. When we age our relationship with our parents change. Does our relationship with God do the same? Read this lovely little book to find out. Justin Catanoso (full disclosure: new friend) is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist who teaches at Wake Forest University. He is also the cousin of one of the church’s newest saints, St. Gaetano Catanoso. His glorious new book "My Cousin the Saint" tells the story of his cousin (about whom he knew little before his canonization a few years ago by Pope John Paul II), his discovery of his family’s in Calabria, and, ultimately, his reclaiming of his Catholic faith. My favorite part comes when he interviews the redoubtable Jesuit Peter Gumpel, who works for the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. After having read considerably about the saint-making process and the saints (more full disclosure: including my own book on the saints) Catanoso tells Father Gumpel that he finds the process a bit too "bureaucratic." Gumpel answers sensibly, "How would you go about it?" It’s a great story: part travelogue, part detective story, part spiritual journal, and beautifully told. Another new friend is Donna Freitas, who teaches theology at Boston University. She has written a wonderful, mind-clearing book (full disclosure: I’m only part-way through it) on sexuality among young people. It’s called "Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance and Religion on College Campuses." Her findings are hair-raising. (One reviewer, Jean Hughes Raber, in Commonweal, accurately compared some of Freitas’s real-life stories with the fictional ones in Tom Wolfe’s searing portrait of the "hook-up" culture in his book I am Charlotte Simmons.) Freitas visited America House a few months ago and noted that while college students (including Catholic ones) are struggling with their sexual appetites, they feel that the church gives them little real guidance beyond "Be celibate." Moreover, young people are actively looking for useful ways of integrating their sexuality into a healthy life--which may mark a great teaching opportunity for the church. Freitas’s book is a boon to anyone who not only cares about our nation’s young people, but who has previously learned about this phenomenon only through rumors or anecdotes. Read her book, based on dozens of interviews, for the real scoop. Finally, I’ve mentioned here before Robert Ellsberg’s new collection of the journals of Dorothy Day, called "The Duty of Delight." I can’t praise this book enough. (Full disclosure: good friend, publisher of one of my books, frequent dinners at his family’s house.) So far I’m still in the 1930s, but Dorothy comes across as almost astonishingly human. "As I sit, I am weeping--I have been torn recently by people, by things that happen," she writes in 1935. Real stuff makes for real saints. This is bound to be a classic book in Christian spirituality. Why not read it right now? Full disclosure: I’ll bet these friends are happy that I’ve mentioned their books. More full disclosure: You’ll be even happier when you read them. James Martin, SJ
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10 years ago
Dear Ms. Solari: Ah, you've proven my point: Andrew is a friend (a former Jesuit) so I can't review his new book! But it is indeed a beautifully written story.
10 years ago
I'm re-reading 'The Life You Save May Be Your Own' this summer. 'My Life with the Saints' was my Easter season read. Delightful stuff, and now handed on to one of my guys here at prison who wants to know more about Catholics. What better way to introduce him than to share the friends and family? I've picked up 'Hidden Things: Scripture as Spirituality' by Richard Rohr for the summer.
10 years ago
Thank you for the recommendations. I have been savoring Cohiba's and 'My Life with The Saints' and 'The Life You save May be Your Own' (Elie) during the evening hours on my deck. A couple of years ago while at St. Joe's in Philly, my oldest daughter, Lindsay, spent some time at a Catholic Worker House in West Virginia and reintroduced me to the life and writings of Ms. Day. I have been reading all I can about Ms. Day and by her. I also have gone through a similar consumption exercise with Thomas Merton. (Coincidentally, both happen to be two of my "saints," as are Ignatius, Pedro Arrupe, and Mother Teresa, more on that "coincidence" another time, and it was over an eight- day retreat at Eastern Point Retreat House where I first meditated on 'The Seven Storey Mountain.') But I digress. So, I can't wait to get my hands on and my spirit involved with Ellsberg's collection of Day's journals. Finally, I am delighted to know that William Barry is still at it. He was an early inspiration in my journey. 'Finding God' and 'Spiritual Compass' still reside dog-eared with highlights and notes on my shelf as if to remind me just in case I get off the path. He too is a favorite and I trust your 'spectacular' review, and I will read and comment in the future. Thank you for all you do and for allowing me to comment.
10 years ago
Thanks for the suggestions. I have just begun reading ''Sex and the Soul'' and realize what a challenge we have-- and an opportunity. I worked in Campus Ministry in the late sixties and early seventies when the ''sexual revolution'' began. We needed to take a look at sexuality--but somehow things went astray. I'm a retired priest and hope that the church makes use of the opportunity to meet the needs of the yoing people today.
10 years ago
Fr Martin: I just finished Andrew Krivak's book 'A long retreat.' A wonderful and moving autobiography. Why don't you review this book?

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