Fall Reading Guide: Across the editor’s desk

By  Michael Swan, The Catholic Register
  • October 25, 2006
 The United States Library of Congress estimates it has catalogued 29 million books over the last 200 years. The International Standard Book Number System currently has 628,795 publishers in 248 countries listed. The Vatican
Not very much of that big drop can be reviewed in The Catholic Register. We make choices. Not all approve of these choices.

Heres some of what has come across our desk recently.

Do We Worship the Same God: Comparing the Bible and the Qur'an (St. Anthony Messenger Press, softcover, $13.08 at amazon.ca) is another in an apparent unleashing of books addressing the anxiety some Christians have about Islam. Author George Dardess claims to ask the question and leave the answer up to the reader. Given what Nostra Aetate had to say in 1965 about the bond Christianity shares with this Abrahamic faith ('They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to menâ'), Dardess appears to be picking over a question that has already been answered.

Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics by Willard M. Swartley (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., softcover, $28.37 at amazon.ca) is serious stuff from a serious Mennonite theologian. This is interesting because Mennonites do theology the way Catholics do, beginning with the Gospel then exploring how it has been lived out in tradition. Unsurprisingly for a Mennonite, Swartley defends pacifism as the true Christian stance at the heart of the Gospel. If he is to be contradicted on this it will require genuine biblical and theological scholarship.

A Short History of Christianity (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., softcover, $14.43 at amazon.ca) is not nearly so serious, and likely a better book than its title would indicate. The history of Christianity is not short, and attempts to make it simple, straightforward and easily digestible without the benefit of a very broad education are doomed to misrepresent the subject. Most popular histories of Christianity are, in fact, thinly disguised polemics trying to steer the reader to a particular view of the church. This one, however, is endorsed by Terry Jones of Monty Python. The author is British journalist and scholar Stephen Thomkins, who writes the Loose Canons column on church history for www.ship-of-fools.com. Since polemicists rarely have a sense of humour, this short course in Christian history may, in fact, be fair and balanced.

Mohawk Saint, Catherine Tekakwitha and the Jesuits (Oxford University Press, softcover, $16.68 at amazon.ca) is not an attempt to rescue the most Canadian saint in the canon from a disreputable history of treacly, plaster saint nonsense we've all seen about the 17th-century teenager. Tekakwitha was rejected by everybody, native and European, in Montreal before the British took over New France, and her life tells us a great deal about the societies that rejected her. University of Toronto historian Allan Greer isn't much interested in the attempt by Catholics in the 20th century to turn Tekakwitha into a comic-book icon of idealized maidenhood. He is interested in her as a real, historical individual and what her life tells us about the encounter between Europe and the native culture of North America. Issued now in paperback, last year this book won the Gilbert Chinard Prize of the Society for French Historical Studies and the Annibel Jenkins Prize of the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies.

Italian Canadian Voices (1946-2004) (Mosaic Press, softcover, $15.19 at amazon.ca) is perhaps an anachronism, and perhaps a reminder of what's really going on in Canadian literature. When Caroline Morgan Di Giovanni brought out Italian Canadian Voices, An Anthology of Poetry and Prose (1946-1983) 20 years ago, multiculturalism was a new way of thinking about Canadian letters. And it's no accident that it was the Italian community which insisted on breaking into Canada's bipolar French-English party. Is the idea of multiculturalism still a useful way of thinking about Canadian literature? "Canada best illustrates the diasporic pluralism that is the demographic and cultural reality of the globalized world of the 21st century," claims St. Jerome's University literature professor Vera Golini in her afterword to Di Giovani's new anthology. This collection of Italian-Canadian writing includes a pretty fair collection of Pier Giorgio di Cicco's best poems.

Unborn Jesus Our Hope (Life Cycle Books, softcover, $18.95 at lifecyclebooks.com) wouldn't pass muster as academic theology, but it is an attempt to think about the meaning of things in terms of Scripture and church statements. It is the work of veteran California pro-life activist George A. Peate, and in its two appendices lay out the spirituality of socially conservative pro-lifers.

Pope John Paul II to Benedict XVI (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc., softcover, $20.43 at amazon.ca) by Sr. Mary Ann Walsh is about as straightforward an account as could be hoped for of the transition from the old pope to the new one. It is essentially a reworking of the Catholic News Service reporting from John Paul's funeral through to Benedict's installation. It's full of graphs and illustrations and its frank reportorial style unveils a lot about the world of the Catholic hierarchy.

Mother Teresa's Prescription, Finding Happiness and Peace in Service (Ave Maria Press, softcover, $10.05 at amazon.ca) might give some readers the heebie-jeebies. Mother Teresa had no formulas or easy, pat answers for comfortable, middle class North Americans. She lived her life with and for the poor in India. She opened her soul to them. Author Paul A. Wright is a rich American doctor who found inspiration in Mother Teresa's life. By going to work with the Missionaries of Charity in Tijuana, Mexico, and Calcutta Wright discovered meaning in his own life. This book is an attempt to share this new sense of purpose with middle-class Americans like him. In spite of a know-it-all tone and no resistance at all to the temptation to preach, Wright is able to indicate that for us, the wealthiest human beings in history, there is something to be learned from the poorest of the six billion of us alive today.

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