Across the editor’s desk

By 
  • May 18, 2007
Every week at least half a dozen books drift across the editor’s desk at The Catholic Register. Most weeks we have barely enough space to thoughtfully review one. So, in the interest of fuller disclosure, here’s a few notes about some of the books we haven’t sent out for review.
There have been at least 22 books published about American Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. That’s in addition to the 44 titles published both before and after his death in 1968 which list him as author.

{sa 086716710}William Shannon’s recent addition to this long list isn’t an attempt to say something new about one of the most fascinating lives of the last century. Shannon’s Thomas Merton (An Introduction) is an attempt to introduce a new generation to the man who captured the world’s imagination in 1948 with The Seven Storey Mountain, his spiritual autobiography.

Shannon’s 199-page assessment of Merton, issued in paperback by St. Anthony Messenger Press ($20), seems uninterested in clichéd images of Merton as the monk against the church or the man of letters who just happened to live in a monastery. For Shannon, understanding Merton means understanding his faith and his dedication to the Rule of St. Benedict.

Of course, understanding mid-20th century Catholicism is not possible without an encounter with the great Ecumenical Council of 1962 to 1965. Reading the documents can be daunting. It doesn’t help that those documents are often debated among Catholics as if they had no historical context. Edward P. Hahnenberg tries to nail down what common ground there is when it comes to the 16 major documents of the Second Vatican Council.

{amazon id="0867165529" align="left"}A Concise Guide to the Documents of Vatican II (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 178 pages, softcover, $19.95) isn’t an attempt to break new ground in theological research, nor is it taking one side or another in sometimes bitter disputes. This is an accessible adult catechism which tells readers what the documents say, what they don’t say and why they say it. It’s aimed at parish reading groups, but could be read just as profitably by anyone who feels they need a straightforward account of what happened more than 40 years ago.

{amazon id="0230529011" align="right"}Most of the critics have been pretty savage on Jeffrey Archer’s The Gospel According to Judas (St. Martin’s Press, softcover, 101 pages, $21). Archer secured the assistance of world-class Catholic biblical scholar Francis J. Moloney, who vetted his fiction for historical and theological errors.

The gilt-edged pages and the words of Jesus written in red italics have annoyed critics, and some have marvelled that Moloney lent his name to the project. But it’s probable Archer doesn’t imagine he’s writing a sacred text. He’s trying to capture a popular audience with an idea, and he is willing to use props — such as the red ribbon which comes attached to the flexible, faux leather binding — to get his idea across.

Archer challenges the perception that Judas was somehow solely responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. He presents Judas as a man caught up in a moment when the forces which held power in Jerusalem — not just the Sanhedrin and not just the Roman army — were all focused on one man. Whether it makes the grade as a Gospel is not the point.

{amazon id="289507836X" align="left"}The publishing industry senses the loneliness of the modern parent. Every week there are more and more books across this editor’s desk which claim to explain it all — all the secrets of nurturing and perfecting a family despite the Internet, television and every other threat imagined or real. The Way I See It, Life Lessons From a Child (Novalis, 207 pages, softcover, $19.95) takes a less paranoid view of child rearing. Grandmother, family counsellor and therapist Genevieve Hone claims to show us human development from the perspective of a child.

Actually walking into one of the cavernous, so-called non-denominational, suburban megachurches is a fascinating experience. But seeing how big they are, and how full the parking lot is, doesn’t actually explain the phenomenon. Why are they successful?

{amazon id="0801065984" align="right"}Organic Community by Joseph R. Myers (Baker Books, softcover, 190 pages, $17.50) isn’t meant to explain it all to curious Catholics looking in from the outside. Rather, this is the philosophy which drives these middle class, free market, American churches distilled into a kind of guide for anyone who would follow in their footsteps. It is easy for many Catholics to be contemptuous of this sort of spirituality for your leather upholstered SUV, but here’s an opportunity to inform that contempt.

Margaret Silf has been around forever, writing and leading retreats from her home in the West Midlands of England. She has a dozen titles listed on Amazon.ca.

{amazon id="1933346043" align="left"}Her latest book addresses the practical business of making decisions — not about what to eat for dinner, but how to live your life. In Wise Choices (Novalis, 144 pages, softcover, $17.95) Silf’s advice is set in open type centred on the page to make it look like poetry. Whether it is poetry is rather debatable.

{amazon id="019518307X" align="right"} Philip Jenkins very successful take on church history, The Next Christendom, The Coming of Global Christianity , has just been revised and expanded. The book has been immensely praised for saying the obvious — that most Christians now live below the equator, and that the numbers matter. The Pope is in Brazil declaring the first Brazilian-born saint because Jenkins is right.

If you missed it in 2002, the new paperback from Oxford University Press is 316 pages and sells for $22.95.

{amazon id="0802852726" align="left"}Ruth Sanderson’s More Saints: Lives and Illuminations (Eerdmans, 40 pages, hardcover, $25.99) may be a little more interesting than its predecessor, Saints: Lives and Illuminations. It’s not that the little 100-word biographies of these 48 saints offer a sense of historical context or ask about the reasons these heroic figures were declared saints. It’s just that the selection reminds us the idea of sainthood is not dead by including some more recent saints. The last entry in this volume is St. Teresa of Calcutta.

The wide, thin volume presents itself as a children’s book, with illustrations that look like they were produced with coloured pencils for a 1950s reader. It’s the kind of birthday present that makes a child wonder what Grandma has been smoking. Even the author seems to admit that all the information contained in the book is freely available on such web sites as newadvent.org, catholic-forum.com and catholic.org.

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