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Keeping Up with Books: Five Promising Titles that Didn’t Make My Cut

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Sep 30, 2013

For serious improvement, I’ll take a good book over a great movie or documentary almost any time. Even for pure entertainment, I’ll usually prefer a book to any visual medium except for a few favorite magazines (though along with billions of other people, I confess a weakness for NCIS and home-team football). But when you write for a major Catholic website, it turns out that a good many people would like you to mention their books. Then suddenly, even in a profession which theoretically affords plenty of time to read, it becomes impossible to keep up.

The Renaissance of Catholic publishing over the past generation makes this frustrating. After the collapse of fidelity at most major Catholic publishing houses starting in the 1960s, the Catholic market was slowly reclaimed beginning in the 1980s. For a brief period from about 1985 until 1991, Trinity Communications published books as part of the renewal effort, but we didn’t prosper at it. By contrast, Ignatius Press, which emerged around the same time, became an important force for renewal in Catholic publishing. They are in it for the long haul.

But there have been many other newly founded publishing houses (one thinks of Sophia Institute Press, as just one example), and even a few of the long established publishers that went bad for a while have made legitimate comebacks (one thinks of Crossroad Publishing, which is a division of Herder and Herder). There are also some fine niche presses associated with religious orders or movements. Thus Scepter admirably serves the needs of Opus Dei, with a very broad appeal. And I’ve always been fond of the spiritual classics published by the Institute of Carmelite Studies.

Some of the new colleges and universities have their own presses as well. Christendom College had one (begun by yours truly way back at the beginning), but it has, alas, languished. I recently reviewed a major book from Sapientia, the press of Ave Maria University, which is reported to be understaffed and underfunded. Underfunded or not, however, good materials keep coming from dozens of sources, including even the occasional major secular publisher (such as Oxford University Press) which will publish a book of profound Catholic interest now and then, jumbled in with far more titles which cut with reckless abandon across the Catholic grain.

The result is, for someone in my position, is overwhelming. So I thought I’d take a quick look at a handful of the books on my desk which I have come to realize I am simply not going to get to. And yet there will be good Catholics who would love each of them, if they only knew. Here we go, then, in the order received over the past six months:

Please Don’t Remove MarGreat’s Glasses: Josh Baker has written and self-published this wackily conceived, odd-sized paperback as a coming of age story about a down-and-out youth coming to Faith. I’ve read enough of it to know it is interesting, but not enough to assess its real value as a novel. Still, if you enjoy seeking out new and unproven authors, and you like Christian fiction with at least some specifically Catholic elements, this may be your ticket to a few very enjoyable hours. MarGreat, as it turns out, is a cartoon figure created by the main character. Check out www.MarGreat.com.

The Things Lily Knew: Sherry Boas is back with a fourth volume in her Lily trilogy, a series of novels revolving around a woman with Down Syndrome, which I reviewed favorably two years ago. So now it is technically a tetralogy. Sherry hasn’t been taken on by an established publisher either, but many people love the true-to-life characters she creates as she tells tales of growth through personal sacrifice, in a Catholic setting. Her best work so far has grown out of her own thorough experience with Down’s. You’ll find more information at LilyTrilogy.com.

Rich in Years: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Long Life: Johann Christoph Arnold is a Christian pastor who gives away enormous quantities of his best-selling books, and manages to get endorsements from leaders across the Christian spectrum, including, for this volume, Cardinal Timothy Dolan. His books are fresh and simple and, even if they lack the full richness of the Catholic spiritual tradition, they are wise. I called attention to his free book Children Do Matter last year. His latest is on aging gracefully—not a bad topic for many of us. (For a possible complimentary copy, visit Plough.com.)

True or False Possession? How to Distinguish the Demonic from the Demented: Here we have a complex topic explored by a Catholic physician, Jean Lhermitte, who wrote in 1956 at a time when most Catholics took the occasional need for exorcism for granted, and sometimes credulity was too great. This new edition from Sophia Institute Press is introduced by Aaron Kheriaty, MD, author of The Catholic Guide to Depression, which I reviewed a few months ago. The purpose is to distinguish various psychological disorders from genuine manifestations of the diabolical. (Sophia Institute Press)

Open Mind, Faithful Heart: Reflections on Following Jesus: This is a collection of past writings of Pope Francis, most of them just a few pages in length, organized topically to illuminate the current pope’s approach to life in Christ. Unlike Joseph Ratzinger’s rich theological writings before he became pope, here we are dealing not with an intellectual but with an experienced pastor. I do not have a strong opinion one way or another about the rush to gather together the writings of a pope before he became pope, unless they have an established value of their own. But as I only received an uncorrected proof copy today, I am in no rush to comment, but I know that many people will want to discern the value for themselves. (Crossroad Publishing Company)

A final reminder: I have not read any of these books in their entirety. Owing to the press of time, ultimately they did not make my cut. But this depends partly on my own tastes and purposes. It does not mean they shouldn’t make yours.

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