Tag Archives: book reviews

Holiness and Horror (Review: “A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories”)

Everyone loves a happy ending, but the sad ones are way more interesting. That’s the basic premise of every story by the incredibly talented Flannery O’Connor. She was one of the greats of Catholic fiction, so for my last regular review for ATX Catholic, I encourage you to give her a try.

The first of her stories I read was either “Good Country People” or “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” I read them both for one of my English major classes back in undergrad, and they helped me see that short fiction is not just for fat English textbooks. Those two stories are the standout features of the collection “A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories,” although each story shines and shocks on its own.

a stone angel with a garland of flowers in front of a cross

Read the rest at ATX Catholic.

Bits and Bytes on Thriving Parishes (Review: “Great Catholic Parishes”)

Since I stopped working in ministry, I’ve been a regular parishioner, just like everyone else. Having seen things from both ends of the pew, in a sense, I remain interested in the state of American parishes and efforts to right the wrongs and fulfill our mission as Christians. So I read a lot of books about parish improvement. My most recent read in that vein is Great Catholic Parishes: How Four Essential Practices Make Them Thrive, by William E. Simon Jr. of Parish Catalyst. It’s not my favorite in this niche, but I found some gems nonetheless.

Simon begins with an interesting overview of the history of Catholicism in the U.S. I’d never really thought about it from the perspective of the parish before. In Catholic countries, Simon writes, the parish wasn’t important because the Faith was everywhere. In the New World, however, Catholics clung to their parishes as cultural, social, and religious centers. It wasn’t everywhere anymore. Considering that difference got me to thinking about what the ideal situation would be today: to have the faith “in the water,” or to have it be something you have to choose and fight for. One could make a good argument for either.

Cristo Redentor statue

Unfortunately… Read the rest at ATX Catholic.

Pocket-Sized Pointers for Picking a Partner (Review: “101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person”)

Today’s review is of a short book, so this will be a short review. Following on the heels of their successful book 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage, Jennifer Roback Morse and Betsy Kerekes have released a guide for getting to marriage in the first place. This new title basically begged me to read it: 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person: Helping Singles Find Each Other, Contemplate Marriage, and Say I Do. Yes, please! In this tiny tome, I found much to support my previous thoughts about important premarital decisions and a few new points to ponder.

As the authors note, it’s much easier to have a happy marriage when you’ve married the right person in the first place. Thus, most of the book is given over to how to improve yourself as a single, how to date wisely, and what to look for when the possibility of marriage pops over the horizon. They’re definitely on the right track there. I have never been married, but I used to do marriage prep (for other couples, not for myself), and I have a personal interest in improving the way marriages begin. Starting off on the right foot sounds like a good way to set yourself up for marital bliss.

Photo by Billy Quach

Photo by Billy Quach

Some standout tips are… Read the rest at ATX Catholic.

The Bible Is a Story About Jesus (Review: “Walking with God”)

I love to read. I also love Jesus. I must confess, however, that I do not always love to read about Jesus. I would wager that most Christians (and many non-Christians) know that the Bible is a book about Jesus. I would also wager that many of those same people might struggle to explain how a long list of “begats,” hundreds of detailed Levitical laws, and Joshua fighting the Battle of Jericho are about Jesus. It’s not their fault, though; they have never been taught that the Bible has a story. Just one. It is a story about Jesus. But it’s not easy to read.

Thank God for Jeff Cavins and Tim Gray. Along with several other gifted writers, they have developed The Great Adventure: a series of books and Bible studies that reveal the narrative story of Scripture. I had the opportunity to participate in a summertime study of the short version of the Bible Timeline at Emmaus Catholic Parish a number of years ago. Those eight weeks changed the way I read the Bible. It makes sense now! If you’re thinking, “But I don’t have time for eight straight weeks of homework and driving to meetings,” then I know Walking with God: A Journey Through the Bible is for you. It’s a book. You can read it at your own pace. You don’t even need to read the referenced verses in order to understand (although that will help). No more excuses.

The Bible is a story about Jesus! A review of "Walking with God," by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins, at ATX Catholic

Read the rest at ATX Catholic.

Finding God, Funny Times, and Failing Health (Review: “Operating on Faith”)

I tend not to like vignette-style books. I never did like The House on Mango Street, critical acclaim and racially diverse protagonist notwithstanding. I do, however, enjoy stories of young adults living the Catholic life with joy, not bitterness. It’s refreshing, and it’s my reality. With a lighthearted approach in mind, I read Operating on Faith: A Painfully True Love Story, by Matt Weber, and found much mirth infused by reverence.

A review of "Operating on Faith" at ATX Catholic.com

As I said, this book is a memoir told by way of vignettes through Weber’s first few years of marriage. I knew that the “for better or for worse” of Matt and Nell’s early marriage would come into play, but I still wanted a cohesive character journey to follow. Even with scattered scenes, I like to have the feeling that there is a running theme to a story, a particular meaning. In the author’s own words, the major takeaway is that we should “find the meaning.” I struggled with that. Weber definitely encourages his readers to find meaning in their suffering (physical and spiritual), but he has one critical factor that not everyone does….

Read the rest at ATX Catholic.

Carmelite Spirituality for the Analytical Mind (Review: “The Dark Night of the Soul” by Gerald May)

I have a relatively new interest in the intersection of psychology and spirituality. I have some good friends who are Catholics and counselors, and while I treasure the opportunities I’ve had to walk alongside people on their spiritual journeys, I’ve never wanted to pursue that path myself. I don’t even have much interest in spiritual direction. But I’m always up for a new book.

One of my roommates is aware of this interest of mine and has been recommending books that might help my casual research. Although I’ve never been much into Carmelites, I decided to give her latest recommendation a try. The Dark Night of the Soul: A Psychiatrist Explores the Connection Between Darkness and Spiritual Growth, by Gerald G. May, M.D., is perhaps the best resource I’ve encountered for beginning to understand contemplative prayer and its role in the spiritual life.

"Faith darkens and empties the intellect, hope frees the memory, and love liberates the will." Gerald G. May, M.D.

The tricky thing about contemplation is that, if you think you’ve mastered it, you probably haven’t. In that way, it’s like trying to explain the Holy Trinity: the closest analogy you can muster up is probably a heresy. I have always struggled with contemplation and contemplative prayer for that very reason. I’m a very action-oriented person, although I am also quite reflective. This is probably why I can never wrap my head around Carmelite spirituality, but Augustinian principles speak straight to my heart. So I went into this book hoping that I might understand contemplative prayer a little more.

I’ve also struggled with the concept of the “dark night of the soul.” Have I been through it? Am I going through it right now? Is it something I should fear, like a punishment? Is it something I should want, like painful physical therapy that is needed to restore health? Should I fear it despite wanting it? Can I even figure out if I’m in it, or if I have been in it, or if it’s coming?

It’s all very confusing. This book, however, is not.

Read the rest at ATX Catholic.

For Women Only… and A Little Bit for Men (Review: “Discovering the Feminine Genius”)

I finally found a book about women’s spirituality that is (a) not about single life and (b) one I like! That is a rare find. I read (and write) a lot about being a single Catholic woman. There’s a market for it. There’s also a need for materials that explore women’s spirituality, but that usually turns into stuff for moms. I stop short of demanding that everyone cater to my needs, but it stings to feel left out. I am delighted to share that, through the kindness of a good friend, I stumbled across the book I’ve been looking for: Discovering the Feminine Genius: Every Woman’s Journey, by Katrina J. Zeno. In it, I finally began to discover what this whole “feminine genius” thing is about, how it applies to me, and how it fits into my real life and relationships in the light of the Theology of the Body.

Zeno begins her book with basic questions of identity formation, the same thing that starts plaguing us in adolescence. We all ask, “Who am I?” Zeno’s revolutionary (at least to me) answer is that we are first daughters of God, and then the bride of Christ. One of the nice things about still being single is that I’ve had no other choice than to form my identity as a woman without a man, as a daughter of God rather than the wife of my husband. (I also have a fantastic earthly father.) Zeno shares her own process of learning to find a new identity when the plan she’d built so carefully started to unravel. Her skill as a writer and storyteller is apparent; she starts with her own story, but she never made me as a reader feel disconnected just because my story is different than hers.

circle of women

photo by Ashley Webb

Read the rest at ATX Catholic.

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