In our home, Christmas gift-giving has evolved from the days of Legos and action figures to clothes and Mass cards—and pretty much everything in between. But one thing that has remained constant throughout all of our Christmas seasons: we always give books to our boys.
I love books and have spent a lot of time reading Catholic fiction and non-fiction books this year with one goal in mind: find the top ten best ones to recommend as stocking stuffers. Not all these books were published in the year 2010 but all are worth knowing about!
Number one on my list is Memorizing the Faith. Without a doubt this is the best non-fiction book I’ve read this year. Memorizing the Faith is written by Kevin Vost and is a great book that helps build memory skills while also imparting a thorough understanding of the faith. Vost is a gifted writer who taught about memory and demonstrated the use of mnemonics for his college classes. This book takes the reader through a guided journey in which different locations and areas of a home are used as mnemonic devices to memorize such things as the gifts of the Holy Spirit and capital sins—to name a few. But Memorizing the Faith is really so much more than that! It is a guided journey that also helps the reader learn better organization and memory skills that can be applied to other areas of your life. Vost’s style is clever and witty (Swiss cheese is used for one of the marks of the Church: holy). The chapters each end with “Memory Master Tip and Facts” in which Vost shares incredibly interesting information about such great thinkers as Aristotle, St. Albert and St. Thomas. Indeed, Memorizing the Faith is so rich in information that you will quickly forget you are “working” at memorizing anything at all—rather you will eagerly embrace each new chapter as an opportunity to grow in your faith walk.
Number two on my list is Bill Donohue’s Secular Sabotage. This book takes a hard-core look at the secular attacks that the Catholic Church constantly faces. It isn’t for the faint of heart and there were times that I began crying while reading this book. It isn’t easy to read about the purposeful desecration of a Church or a consecrated Host, and yet somehow I believe we all need to be aware of the depth of attack that the Catholic Church is under. Donohue is a real champion for the Catholic Church and has a job that I don’t envy one little bit—but I do feel incredibly grateful to him and the work of the Catholic League.
Christmas—and New Year—always brings out the resolutions we make about health. Two books that totally complement each other in this genre and are also faith-based—a real bonus if you think about it—are numbers three and four on my list: Fit for Eternal Life by Kevin Vost and The Rosary Workout by Peggy Bowes. I’m a huge fan of Vost’s and Fit for Eternal Life was actually the first book of his that I read. I was hooked. Vost is a body-builder whose love of his Catholic faith permeates everything he does. His complete understanding of the body as a temple to the Holy Spirit brings a depth to physical and spiritual wholeness as he sheds light on how to develop both! While Vost focuses on the weight-bearing, anaerobic aspect of physical health, The Rosary Workout focuses on the aerobic aspect of physical health, all the while developing the spiritual component through guided meditations. Bowes flew Air Force jets for nine years before becoming a full-time wife and mother whose family sold all their belongings and travelled the United States in an RV while she homeschooled. Tell me that isn’t fascinating in and of itself! Bowes was recently featured on EWTN’s Journey Home because of her compelling reversion story. Everything she has learned about health and faith fills the pages of The Rosary Workout.
Number five on my list is Lorraine Murray’s delightful Death of a Liturgist. When I was a young adult I was hooked on the Rabbi Small series written by Harry Kemelman. Years later I never missed an episode of Murder, She Wrote starring Angela Lansbury. For me, that small-town, quaint who-dunnit is the best escape I can imagine. This year I picked up a couple of other books in this category but admit that Murray’s Death of a Liturgist wins, hands-down, for the way in which she made me want to have ice cream with Francesca and solve the mystery. At some point during my reading of this wonderful book, I realized that my own church was probably the sort that was depicted in the book as too “modern” yet I didn’t take it personal. I was able to chuckle at how Murray nailed the “feel-good” atmosphere that sometimes pervades our Catholic liturgies. Murray’s characters are just real enough to inculcate themselves into your life and yet peculiar enough to not cause anxiety that they may, in fact, be you! What an incredibly delightful mystery—great characters, setting and dialogue.
As I drew to a close on Death of a Liturgist my only consolation was that Murray had actually written a book prior to it called Death in the Choir. This book is number six on my list as I savor each page during this wonderful time of year—my favorite reading time as fall gives way to winter. Again, Murray’s ability to capture “quaint” is down to an art and combined with a bit of a mystery, makes her my favorite fiction writer this year!
Nancy Carabio Belanger has a real gem for kids with her award-winning book Olivia and the Little Way which is number seven on my list of Christmas books with which to stuff stockings. Having taught middle school for many years, I felt that this treasure would be most appropriate for kids, mostly girls, in third through sixth grade. Having said that, as Olivia, the main character, learns the “little way” of St. Therese, I found myself learning – or revisiting – some important concepts of the value of “offering things up” and the need to persevere and make good decisions. Like any well-written book for kids, Belanger has believable characters in real-life sort of circumstances thus allowing the reader discover skills through the ways in which the characters learn and grow. I loved how Belanger wrote in Olivia’s disobedience to her parents by getting her ears pierced and felt it was an honest depiction of the ways in which kids succumb to peer pressure. I am positive that this is the sort of book that parents will love as much as their children will and would encourage Catholic teachers to look into this treasure as well.
If Belanger’s book has great appeal to young Catholic girls, I would say that Patti Maguire Armstrong’s book Dear God, I don’t get it!, which makes my list as number eight, would have a huge appeal to young Catholic boys. Where Belanger uses the life of St. Therese as a role model, Armstrong’s delightful book uses saints as models as well, but in a more comical way as the main character gets the brainy idea to make himself a hero—just like the saints he has learned about in school. Armstrong, the mother of ten and best-selling author of many other books, has much to offer the young reader. I’m guessing because Armstrong’s kids have very well “been there, done that.” Dear God, I don’t get it! would be a great addition to any Catholic home or classroom. Both these books (Belanger’s and Armstrong’s) have charming black and white illustrations throughout which, when complementing the great stories, makes the books true standouts. I guarantee that mom and dad will enjoy this book as much as the kids!
Miriam Ezeh wrote a tale of chaste love and right relationships that continues to stay with me years after first reading it. Whenever I am asked to recommend a book for high-school aged student and adults, The Story of Peace is my suggestion. Stan Williams, filmmaker and media expert whose company is Nineveh’s Crossing, has said that The Story of Peace would make an excellent move—and he is absolutely right. Ezeh has captured the lush tropical feel of Africa in this tale of tribal war, vengeance and true love. It is a quick read loaded with faith and the human condition with an ending that leaves you almost breathless. The Story of Peace is the sort of book that can capture the hearts and minds of Catholic high-schoolers as well as adults.
Number ten on my list is one of the books on my shelf in which the pages literally are ragged because I read it over and over again. Not so much as a whole book anymore but just to revisit some of the passages that I have highlighted. It is called Finding the Mystic Within You and is written by Peggy Wilkinson. This book continues to remind me of my potential and even as I move slowly into my fifth decade, I love how that makes me feel: that there is still so much more for me and God to explore in our relationship. I love this book and though call it number ten, consider it a prized possession.
Catholic books really can be tools of evangelization while they entertain and I believe these books will all be delightful additions to any Catholic home or classroom.