Nonfiction November 2017 Week 3: Be the Expert – Spiritual Reading

This week for Nonfiction November 2017, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness invites readers to either Be the Expert, Ask the Expert, or Become the Expert:

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Last year I chose to share a few books that were helpful in reading The Lord of the Rings (Speaking of which, have you heard that Amazon is going to be making a TV series based on The Lord of the Rings? It has the blessing of the Tolkien Estate and Trust, so here’s hoping! Anyway…)

This year, with Advent and Christmas rapidly approaching, I’ve decided to share two contemporary books about Christian spirituality and two books of annotated spiritual reading lists. There are some wonderful spiritual classics that have come to us through the centuries, but I’m choosing to share two recent books that have moved me spiritually and that I hope will find new readers this Nonfiction November. Who knows, perhaps some day they will be called classics by future generations. In any case, I find them spiritually nourishing and well worth reading. The other two books are resources I use when I’m looking for something new to inspire me to seek a deeper relationship with God.

First is a book that will appeal not only to the spiritually minded, but also to those who love travel memoirs.

To the Field of Stars

To the Field of Stars: A Pilgrim’s Journey to Santiago de Compostela

Kevin Codd
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2008

To the Field of Stars is Fr. Kevin Codd’s spiritual memoir of his walk on the camino, The Way of St. James. The camino is a walking pilgrimage to the cathedral of St. James in Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Believers have been making this pilgrimage for centuries, and in 2003 Fr. Kevin Codd decided to make it himself, walking 500 miles with fellow pilgrims. Five years later he published this moving and deeply spiritual account of what he experienced on The Way.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. As I wrote in my original review of the book, it is funny, honest, intelligent, meditative, and above all, uplifting. In other words, a little of everything.

Speaking of everything, the next book I want to recommend has (almost) everything.

Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything

The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life

Jim Martin, S.J.
HarperCollins Publishers, 2010

You may know Fr. Jim Martin as the unofficial chaplain to The Colbert Report, or from his work at America Magazine. Fr. Martin is a prolific writer and one of the Church’s most active users of social media. Of all of Fr. Martin’s books that I’ve read, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything is my favorite. In clear and engaging language, Fr. Martin explains the spirituality of the Society of Jesus, the order to which he and Pope Francis both belong. As the subtitle declares, it truly is a spirituality for real life, an approach to life that the average person can appreciate and live out.

If your spiritual life has been languishing, The Jesuit Guide will give it a new spark with its practical and welcoming tone. Recommended by people like Sr. Helen Prejean, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Anne Lamott, and Kathleen Norris, the book has proven to be tremendously helpful for people at all stages of their spiritual journey.

If the Jesuits and the camino aren’t enough for you, the next two books on the list will give you enough spiritual reading for the rest of your life.

Take and Read by Eugene Peterson

Take and Read: Spiritual Reading: An Annotated List

Eugene H. Peterson
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1995

Because I had a hard time limiting myself to only a few books, I chose to recommend this book of recommendations. Peterson’s annotated reading list of over 200 titles is an excellent place to delve deeper into the mine of Christian spirituality. He divides his list into twenty different categories including novelists, poets, prayerbooks, spiritual formation, and saints. One category to note is Mysteries, in which Peterson lists whodunnits featuring religious sleuths like Chesterton’s Father Brown.

For each title, Peterson gives a brief summary of its importance and reasons why a reader may find it valuable. You’ll find entries for authors as diverse as Thomas a Kempis, Dorothy Sayers, Walter Wangerin, Jr., Thomas Merton, Richard Foster, Annie Dillard, Martin Luther, Norman MacLean, Herman Melville, and Rowan Williams. As you can see, the list is broad enough to include books from across the spectrum of Christianity.

If you’re more interested in an annotated list of books from the Catholic tradition, take a look at my final book recommendation.

Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan by John Hardon, S.J.

The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan

John A. Hardon, S.J.
The Grotto Press, 1989, revised 1998 (Currently out of print)

It’s a shame that Fr. Hardon’s The Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan is out of print. It lists over 100 Catholic authors chronologically, from Ignatius of Antioch to John Wu, and includes two-page essays on each one. Still, the Internet has made finding even out-of-print books relatively easy, so it shouldn’t be too hard to locate this title for under $20. It is well worth it.

Fr. Hardon’s essays do an excellent job of introducing the reader to some of the most significant writers in Church history. Many are well known saints like Augustine, Thomas More, Catherine of Sienna and Teresa of Avila. But there are just as many of the more obscure or forgotten writers like Orestes Brownson, Alice Meynell, Katherine Burton, and Igino Giordani. In fact, Fr. Hardon’s book is one of the core resources I used when creating my Catholic Classics Reading List, along with Peterson’s Take and Read.

A Light in the Darkness

As the days grow darker, I hope I have given you a few books to help keep the light of faith burning bright in your heart. I would love to hear about some of your favorite spiritual books. Feel free to talk about them in the comment section below.

Deacon Nick

Nick Senger is a husband, a father of four, and a Catholic school teacher, vice principal and technology coordinator. He taught junior high literature and writing for over 25 years, and has been a Catholic school educator since 1990. In 2001 he was named a Distinguished Teacher of the Year by the National Catholic Education Association.

12 Responses

  1. Nice list! I would not know where to begin, as I always have at least one spiritual book gong one. So right now, I’m reading the life of an amazing man, st John Maximovitch, who ended up bishop of Shangai and San Francisco: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4603844-man-of-god.
    I’m also surprised to see the words “a light in the darkness” at the end of your post, as it’s so close to the title of the book I have published myself. It’s an anthology of Cistercian Fathers and Mothers on the theme of light, a short passage for every day of the Winter season. See here: https://www.amazon.com/Light-Enlighten-Darkness-Meditation-Cistercian/dp/087907227X/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510673616&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=a+light+to+enlighten+your+darkness
    or directly from the publisher: https://www.cistercianpublications.org/Products/CS227P/A-Light-To-Enlighten-The-Darkness

  2. I’ve just added The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything to my list… might get a copy for my brother, too.

  3. I read The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu this year and highly recommend it. Their dialogue is fascinating and gets at the eternal truths beyond our individual beliefs and practices.

  4. What a great list! I will definitely have to look for Take and Read. It’s hard to resist books that lead you to other books, right?

  5. I don’t think I’ve ever read a spiritual book, but I read Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer biography a few years ago, and I found it quite inspiring.

  6. Good suggestions! I love the covers of the first two, shallow comment but oh well 🙂 Thanks for joining us this week!

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