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Books that bring wit, inspiration and ideas to gift lists

By RNS staff
©2015 Religion News Service


Hunting for books of faith, spirit, and social significance for Christmas or Hanukkah? Here are gift-worthy suggestions compiled by the RNS staff. Check this of list of new books (and one classic).

Imagined worlds

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. From Frankenstein to I, Robot, literary scholars have seen science fiction as a genre where religion and theology can be explored. Faber follows Peter, a Christian missionary (like Jesus’ disciple), sent by a big corporation to evangelize aliens living on a planet the corporation wants to mine. He comes to question the role of faith, the nature of good and evil and the responsibilities of a righteous individual. (Hogarth Press, $28)

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks. Vacation Bible School meets literary fiction! Pulitzer Prize-winner Brooks (March) imagines the life of King David, complete with his many loves, only one of which was music and one of which was a dude. Brooks has an amazing ability to express the inner voices of her characters, particularly the women. The voices of David’s wives really sing. (Viking Press, $27.95)

Inspiring looks

Radical Love by Toni Greaves. Photographer Toni Greaves documents the growth of an unexpected religious calling in the life of a college student named Lauren — and her countercultural decision to dedicate her life to God. This gorgeous photo book follows Lauren’s transformation into Sister Maria Teresa of the Sacred Heart, amid her cloistered community of Dominican nuns in Summit, N.J. (Chronicle Books, $40)

The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life, by Sarah Kaufman. Why does watching Cary Grant makes us swoon? His secret is grace: what we tell each other with our posture, our motion, our eyes and our ways of relating to each other, body — and soul — says Kaufman. She’s a dance critic who won a Pulitzer Prize for social commentary. Her celebrity-packed book of essays is joyful, thoughtful and helpful, too. (W.W.Norton, $24.95)

Opening the Good Eye: A Path to True Seeing, by Michael Wood. Seeing the beauty of the world “directly and unconditionally,” without judgment, can be a spiritual practice, and Wood, one of the originators of the contemplative photography movement in modern photography, is a world-class guru. Opening the Good Eye teaches how to break out of our tired, routine, ways of seeing the world and discover a way that is clear and pure. It’s based on 32 years of teaching contemplative photography workshops worldwide. (Miksang Publications, $24.95)


Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian & Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay, edited by Gina Messina-Dysart, Jennifer Zobair and Amy Levin. The three women who edited this compilation — one Christian, one Muslim, one Jewish — offer essays from 45 women on why they persist in their faith when it can treat women as less than equal to men. Many in this diverse group of essayists confess to having seriously considered chucking faith, or at least their own religious tradition. Some of them actually did leave, only to return. (White Cloud Press, $8.98)

Ferguson & Faith: Sparking Leadership & Awakening Community by Leah Gunning Francis. Gunning Francis, an associate dean at a seminary in St. Louis, had a front seat to the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, by a white police officer. Clergy and young activists in the St. Louis area told Francis about the risks and challenges in their new work together and offer suggestions for how other faith communities can work to foster racial justice. (Chalice Press, $15.99)

Merchants in the Temple by Gianluigi Nuzzi. For those fascinated by secrecy, wealth and power, look no further than Nuzzi’s new book. Using leaked documents and recordings of high-level Vatican meetings, Nuzzi reveals Pope Francis’ struggle to reform the Holy See administration and its murky finances. Consequently, Nuzzi and another journalist who published a similar book have been put on trial at the Vatican, alarming press freedom groups. (Macmillan, $28)

Our Kids by Robert Putnam. Public policy expert Putnam, “a nice Jewish formerly Methodist boy,” writes about social change and the next generation. His fact-laden book that reads like a tent meeting revival, complete with an “altar call” for action at the end. He wants to awaken and inspire people to “save” young people from a soul-killing spiral of fractured families, poor schooling, and grim economic futures. (Simon & Schuster, $28)

Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (see review, this issue). The rise of religiosity in the 21st century alarms Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Great Britain, because it often expresses itself violently. But religious terrorists do not act in God’s name, Sacks writes. He offers religion as an antidote to the radical and a path to peace, and calls on moderates within every faith to teach this tolerance to those within their own folds. (Penguin Random House, $28.95)

Black Earth by Timothy Snyder. It’s not easy to write a book that posits a new way of looking at the Holocaust, and some critics say Snyder does not entirely succeed. But he does draw our attention to the horrific way it played out in Eastern Europe. (Penguin, Random House, $30)

Young readers

Commentarii de Inepto Puero by Monsignor Daniel B. Gallagher. If you know an intelligent, inquisitive kid who happens to love Diary of a Wimpy Kid, why not pick up the Latin version? Commentarii de Inepto Puero translation tells the same boyhood tale with a 21st-century take on Latin. Gallagher — who happens to write Pope Francis’ Latin tweets — said he wanted to show children how the ancient language can still be relevant to modern-day life. (Amulet Books, $16.95)

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins: 25th anniversary edition by Eric A. Kimmel. Unlike all the new books on this list, Kimmel’s book was originally published in 1989. But, as noted by last year’s anniversary edition, this Caldecott honour book is still in print. And it still offers one of the best, true-to-Jewish-theology children’s tales. Hershel cleverly outwits goblins that have extinguished the candles and darkened Jewish village’s Hanukkah celebrations. By his wits and dedication, he restores the lights of the faithful. (Holiday House $17.95)  

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. An inspiring book by this young Nobel Prize winner who was shot for advocating education for girls, introduces your child to a conflict in another part of the world that affects us all. (Little, Brown and Company, $26)