From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Deck the Shelves: Books that Bring Glad Spiritual Tidings

Date 13 Dec 2001 16:20:51 -0500

Note #6979 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:


Deck the Shelves: Books that Bring Glad Spiritual Tidings

Westminster John Knox's 'Gospel According to the Simpsons' makes the list

by Steve Rabey
Religion News Service

WASHINGTON - Thousands of books about religion and spirituality were
published this year. The following are among those most likely to brighten
the holidays and provide enlightenment in the months to come:

Heartfelt Holidays Heartfelt Holidays

	As America's 39th president, Jimmy Carter won mixed reviews. But since
leaving the White House, his writing has won nonpartisan praise from many
readers. The latest of Carter's dozen-plus books is Christmas in Plains
(Simon and Schuster), a short book which overflows with inside scoops, warm
memories, and tinges of sadness.

	The book covers everything from the season Carter's family volunteered to
assist Habitat for Humanity to the season he struggled with hemorrhoids
while brokering a Middle East peace agreement. "We still have a lot to learn
about the nuances and glories of Christmas," concludes the prolific

	Two other titles that stand out amidst this year's avalanche of new holiday
books should interest children and families:
* Avril Rowlands' The Christmas Sheep and Other Stories (Good Books)tell the
familiar nativity stories from the perspective of four animals.

* Ace Collins' Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas (Zondervan)
helps explain the origins of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and 30 other
popular songs, which are the closest to holiday traditions many people have.

Best of the Best

 	In addition to the thousands of books published every year, hundreds of
religious periodicals and Web sites churn out thousands of articles. Some of
the best of these have been gathered into three new collections:

* The Best Spiritual Writing 2001 (HarperSanFrancisco), now in its fourth
year, is a stunning and often moving survey of contemporary belief by some
of today's best writers, including Simon Winchester, Wendell Berry, and
George Weigel.

*  The Best Christian Writing 2001 (HarperSanFrancisco) makes its second
appearance with pieces by Philip Yancey, Richard John Neuhaus, Reynolds
Price, and Stephen L. Carter.
	Debuting this year is The Best Contemporary Jewish Writings (Jossey Bass),
edited by Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun magazine.

    	Two new volumes survey earlier classic books. Terry Glaspey's Book
Lover's Guide to Great Reading (InterVarsity Press) looks at classic and
contemporary literature, while Raymond Schroth's Dante to Dead Man Walking
(Loyola) looks at 50 spiritual classics.

Sacred Spaces and Holy Places Sacred Spaces and Holy Places

	For many folks, nothing says Christmas like lugging a heavy coffee table
book over to grandmother's house. Publishers love such sentiments, and this
year, HarperCollins has created a gorgeous volume to meet the need.

    	Judith Dupre's Churches is a stunning look at more than 60 Christian
houses of worship, from the sublime (the massive St. Peter's Basilica) to
the simple (a humble New Mexico building). Inside a unique cover that opens
like the doors of a church and beckons readers to enter, the book is stuffed
with glorious photos, helpful texts and floor plans, and informative
sidebars like "Building a Gothic Cathedral."

    	Also impressive is The Quest for Paradise: Visions of Heaven and
Eternity in the World's Myths and Religions (HarperSanFrancisco). This
lushly illustrated book explores the ways different cultures conceive of the

    	One of the year's best religion books was Bruce Feiler's Walking the
Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses (Morrow). A
spiritual travelogue that covers thousands of miles, "Walking the Bible"
also explores the origins and meanings of writings that are thousands of
years old. Along the way, Feiler summarizes centuries worth of complex
research and wrestles with his own Jewish tradition in ways that are
surprisingly compelling and accessible.

Expert Insight Expert Insight

	Anyone wanting to understand the confusing contours of contemporary faith
and practice should study A New Religious America (HarperSanFrancisco).
Written by Harvard's Diana Eck, this is more than a stuffy study. It's an
ambitious survey that celebrates the country's growing religious diversity.

       	Understanding the role of religion in popular culture is an equally
daunting task, and journalist Mark Pinsky rises to the challenge in The
Gospel According to The Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World's Most
Animated Family (Westminster John Knox Press).

 	Since its 1990 debut on the upstart Fox TV network, "The Simpsons" has
wowed critics (Time, for example, declared it the best TV show of the 20th
century) and millions of viewers in 70-plus countries.

	Meanwhile, many religious leaders have criticized the show, which contains
zingers like Bart's sassy pre-dinner remark: "Dear God, we paid for this
stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing." But as Pinsky points out, the show
is comical mirror reflecting American's often conflicting views about

	Finally, the events of Sept.11 have created an understandable curiosity
about Islam, which is the world's second most populous faith and one of
America's fastest-growing religions. Consequently, publishers have released
many new books, with more on the way.

	The best, brief overview of was published last year: Islam: A Short History
by bestselling British scholar Karen Armstrong (Modern Library.)

	Equally worthwhile are Armstrong's volumes on the Crusades (Holy War,
Anchor), fundamentalism (The Battle for God, Ballantine), and Israel's Holy
City (Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths, Ballantine).
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