What I’ve been reading (all over the map!)

Fasten your seatbelts; this is one eclectic list.  I guess I could try really hard to find some common thematic thread that binds all the titles together … but nah.  I think I’ll just toss these wildly diverse books out there and you can see if there is any larger meta-narrative that I’m missing.

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Paraclete Press sent me a review copy of Centering Prayers: A One-Year Daily Companion for Going Deeper into the Love of God by Peter Traben Haas.  In the preface, the author (who is a pastor, and the founder of ContemplativeChristians.com) talks about his hopes that these brief daily prayers will “nourish a deepening experience of God’s love, especially when read as a prelude or postlude to periods of contemplative prayer.”  They’re beautifully-written prayers, most of them just a few sentences long, that use evocative language for God (the prayers are addressed to “Eternal Love,” “Source of the Creation,” “Beloved Comforter.”)  The language is immensely soothing; it’s astonishing how some well-chosen words like these can actually calm my heartbeat and my breathing.    I’ve been reading the prayers daily at my prayer desk, either in the morning or (even better) in the evening, when I have the time to ponder each word slowly.Wherever you are in your prayer life — beginner, or seasoned veteran — this book has something to offer you.

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I’ve read several of Brian Doyle’s books over the years, and I was more than eager to get a review copy of The Thorny Grace of It And Other Essays for Imperfect Catholics.  If you’ve never read Doyle, you’re in for a treat.  He’s a master of the run-on sentence, which may sound like odd praise coming from an English teacher, but trust me: the man knows what he’s doing.  Whether he’s writing about marriage or a basketball game in the park or a cherished rosary, his vivid prose carries you along for an unforgettable ride.  His essays can make you laugh out loud (as I did while riding BART a few weeks ago ) and can make you cry in recognition of the very beautiful human experiences and faith stories he shares.    Every little essay is a complete and perfect world in and of itself.  (And really, how great is that tattoo-inspired cover?).

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On the fiction side of things, I recently read The Sisters Weiss by Naomi Ragen.  It’s a very readable story of a young Orthodox Jewish girl in Brooklyn in the 1960s, who realizes that her artistic ambitions (she’s intrigued by photography) don’t have any place in the strict culture in which she was raised.  I won’t give away plot points, but I will say that it spans two generations and teaches a great deal about the Orthodox culture and keeps you turning pages trying to see how the female characters overcome their various familial and social obstacles in their individual quests for personal freedom.  The second half of the book wasn’t quite as compelling to me as the first, but it’s still a very enjoyable read, and one that I definitely recommend.

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I’m not sure how exactly I first heard about Amanda DeWees’ novel Sea of Secrets, but when I heard that it was heavily inspired by Hamlet, I had to read it. Though it takes place in Victorian England rather than medieval Denmark,  the general plot points are the same (prominent man dies, widow quickly marries his brother, brooding son can’t get over it all and suspects foul play).  What’s different is that this story is told from the point of view of Oriel, an intelligent and perceptive young woman who has come to live at the seaside estate of the family.   The writing is descriptive but not distracting, the plot is suspenseful, and the dialogue is natural (one big beef I have with historical novels is when they either veer too much towards Ye Olde Formal English or sound far too contemporary).  It’s a highly enjoyable ride, and is a good title to add to my list of  Escape Reading for Moms.

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If you write about spiritual topics and you’re looking to get a book published, The Art of Spiritual Writing: How to Craft Prose that Engages and Inspires Your Readers is the book for you.    Okay, I’ll admit that maybe I’m a little predisposed to like this book because it was written by Vinita Hampton Wright, who edited Random MOMents of Grace.  Being objective, though, the reason I like her so much is because she is phenomenal editor, and a fabulous writer to boot (as well as a very cool person).   In this handy book, she offers frank and hugely practical advice on how to produce a spiritual book that is ready for prime-time.  Some of the insights are “Save teaching for the classroom and preaching for the pulpit,” “Demand something of the reader,” and “Include your audience,” as well as specific suggestions about craft and about how to approach editors.  If you’ve ever wondered, “Geez, what does a religious editor want, anyway?”, this book is your answer.

So what are you reading these days?

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