10 hot reads for the season

Summer is a time for relaxing, going on vacations and being with family. The slow days and warm weather are also perfect for reading. Yet with thousands of new Catholic books published last year, which are worth reading this summer? 

Here you’ll find 10 great recommendations, whether you enjoy sweeping fiction filled with adventure, commentary on hot-button issues such as contraception and religious liberty or fresh spiritual reading to jump-start your faith. Whatever your tastes, we have you covered. 

Ah, but what if you’re too busy to read? And what if you can’t afford expensive new books? We’ll help you there, too. In addition to book recommendations, you’ll learn five secrets to reading more books and several ways to acquire books on the cheap.

“Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution”

By Mary Eberstadt (Ignatius Press, $19.95) 

Fifty years after the Pill, many are gravely concerned about its effects. Are women better off in our “post-liberation” world? Are families stronger, dignity more protected, and relationships healthier now that contraception is widely available? 

Stanford researcher Mary Eberstadt provides a firm “no” in this important book. Her groundbreaking text draws on secular research from sociology, philosophy and culture to show how the Pill has been one of the most disastrous inventions in history. According to Eberstadt, “no single event since Eve first took the apple has been as consequential for relations between the sexes as the arrival of modern contraception.” 

Eberstadt demonstrates that the increase in divorce, pornography and unhappiness, and the prevalence of abortion, date rapes, hookups and binge drinking all flow directly from the sexual revolution. She also shows how Pope Paul VI’s groundbreaking encyclical, Humanae Vitae("Of Human Life"), has proved prophetic in its dark vision of a contraceptive culture. 

“Seek First the Kingdom: Challenging the Culture by Living Out Our Faith”

By Cardinal Donald Wuerl (Our Sunday Visitor, $19.95) 

The HHS mandate, which requires every American to subsidize contraception, abortifacients and sterilization procedures, threatens religious liberty and has provoked an unprecedented outcry from the bishops.  

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington D.C., is especially alarmed. “Being forced to provide these services violates both our faith conviction and our freedom,” he recently said. 

In response to such tensions, Wuerl has released this book, which commissions a faith that is both intimate and personal, but also decisively public. Wuerl explains that Catholics must usher the “kingdom of God” into the secular world. However, he maintains that this “kingdom” is not some wispy, idealistic metaphor. It is a real, substantial reality that requires deeds and actions, not just empty words. 

He covers several hot-button issues including religious liberty, the role of conscience and the need for Catholic identity, making this a great primer for the upcoming election season. With the political season in full swing and the current clash between faith and politics, the book couldn’t be timelier. 

Evangelii Nuntiandi ("On Evangelization in the Modern World")

By Pope Paul VI (free at Vatican website

It used to be that when Catholics heard the word “evangelization” they brushed it off thinking “that’s just for Protestants.” But things are rapidly changing. The New Evangelization, sparked by Pope John Paul II and flamed by Pope Benedict XVI, has stirred millions to take up the task. 

The movement finds its early roots in this short 1975 exhortation by Pope Paul VI. The letter was designed to “make the Church of the 20th century ever better fitted for proclaiming the gospel.” 

Pope Benedict has extended that mission by launching a “Year of Faith” and a special Synod on the New Evangelization this October. So, this is the perfect time to return to Pope Paul’s foundational text, which confirms that a person’s greatest need is an encounter with Christ. And this manifesto for the New Evangelization provides a game plan for doing just that. 

“Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel”

By David Downing (Ignatius Press, $19.95) 

What would it be like to share a drink with C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the rest of the Inklings? Find out in this new novel by David Downing. 

The adventure follows a young man, Tom, as he treks through England researching the Arthurian legend. Aware of Lewis’ expertise in the field, Tom arranges to meet with the Oxford don and is surprisingly invited to meet all the Inklings. 

Tom’s research quickly turns into a full-blown adventure as it intersects with an even more alluring quest: a search for the legendary Spear of Destiny, which purportedly pierced the side of Christ on the Cross. In both searches, Tom’s new friends provide spiritual and archaeological guidance. 

“Looking for the King” is what “The DaVinci Code” should have been. Downing’s book is historically accurate, true to the sights, events, and people he records, and is spiritually uplifting. 

Inkling lovers will especially relish “Looking for the King,” but it’s a great summer read for anyone who enjoys adventure. 

“Style, Sex, and Substance: 10 Catholic Women Consider the Things that Really Matter”

Edited by Hallie Lord (Our Sunday Visitor, $14.95) 

Kathleen, my wife, recently devoured Hallie Lord’s new book. And I always knew when she was reading it, too. (Her giggles and sighs gave it away.) 

The book is a guide for all women to unlocking their “feminine genius.” Through profound advice and several hilarious anecdotes, the contributors take a lighthearted look at many topics like prayer, friendship, motherhood, sex, marriage, the single life and more. 

As they each do on their own blogs, they share the triumphs, trials, and temptations they face and show how faith in God has carried them through. 

Each chapter concludes with six discussion questions, which makes this a great book to read with friends over the summer. 

“Shirt of Flame: A Year with St. Thérèse of Lisieux”

By Heather King (ParacletePress, $16.99) 

St. Thérèse of Lisieux didn’t start a religious order, she didn’t run a hospital and was known by a few dozen people at her death. But her powerful autobiography, “The Story of a Soul,” launched her popularity across the world. 

Talented writer Heather King recently spent a year studying and praying with this now well-known saint, and her new book is the resulting memoir. 

I love this book because Heather and Thérèse are so similar. They write with the same raw authenticity and share a spirituality centered on grace and “small things.” King really captures the simple, yet intense holiness of Therese’s “Little Way” and shows how it can be lived in the modern world.Heather draws you into the soul of St. Thérèse and brings you up close to saintliness, right to the level of friendship. For this deep spiritual communion I highly recommend her book. 

“A People of Hope: Archbishop Timothy Dolan in Conversation with John Allen Jr.”

By John Allen Jr. (Image, $25) 

In just a few months’ time, Cardinal Timothy Dolan was named archbishop of New York, appointed to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization and was elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

Heaven and Mirth
OSV photo

Veteran Church reporter John Allen Jr. says Cardinal Dolan is set to become the most influential Catholic in American history and the face of American Catholicism for the next decade or more. 

Allen uses this book-length interview to show why. Cardinal Dolan’s warmth, brilliance and simple piety shine as the two men discuss hot-button moral issues such as the sexual abuse crisis, abortion, homosexuality and contraception, as well as ecclesial topics like Church authority, dissent, the role of women and Catholic tribalism. 

Allen points out how Cardinal Dolan consistently responds with “affirmative orthodoxy,” which emphasizes what Catholicism says ‘yes’ to rather than what it opposes and condemns. According to Allen, Cardinal Dolan is “affirmative orthodoxy on steroids.” And that shows throughout the book. The prelate’s faith is grounded on the belief that in any situation, no matter the darkness, there is always reason for hope — a lesson we could all learn this summer. 

“Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life”

By Father James Martin (HarperOne, $25.99) 

This entertaining book couldn’t have had a better author. Father Martin is one of the funniest, joyous, most light-hearted religious figures in America — and the official “Colbert Show chaplain.” You’ll rarely find him without a smile, and his new book captures his marvelous sense of humor. 

Father Martin explores the humor of Jesus, something we often miss. Jesus’ jokes are tinged with first-century Jewish wit so they often fly right over our heads. To fix this, Father Martin shows how Jesus meant them to be lighthearted and, yes, even funny. 

Father Martin also turns to the saints, who too often are falsely depicted in art as always serious, even morose. “A sad nun is a bad nun,” says St. Teresa of Avila and Father Martin provides plenty of alternatives. Many saints were full of mirth, and he teaches how we can apply it to our own lives. 

Overall, “Between Heaven and Mirth” is a guide to spiritual joy that will have you laughing (and praying) all summer. 

“Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith”

By Father Robert Barron (Image, $27.99) 

Father Robert Barron, creator and host of the epic “Catholicism” documentary series, is one of today’s theologians most attuned to contemporary culture. That’s on full display in this, his newest book. He uses art and architecture, story and song, philosophy and theology to show that Catholicism isn’t just true and good — it’s also profoundly beautiful. 

“I stand with the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar,” Father Barron writes, “who held that the truth of Catholicism is best appreciated from within the confines of the church, just as the windows of a cathedral, drab enough when seen from the outside, shine in all of their splendor when viewed from the inside. 

“I want to take you deep within the cathedral of Catholicism, because I’m convinced that the experience will change and enhance your life.” 

Father Barron does just that providing a feast for the eyes and a banquet for the mind. Filled with more than 100 vibrant photos of churches, artwork and Christian sites, the book is also packed with clear theology and catechetics. 

“Catholicism” systematically walks through the Catholic tradition, from Jesus and Mary, to Sts. Peter and Paul, to the sacraments and saints, all the way to heaven and hell.  

If you’re looking to brush up on the fundamentals of the faith, check out Father Barron’s deeply compelling overview.

“The Catholics Next Door: Adventures in Imperfect Living”

By Greg and Jennifer Willits (Servant Books, $16.99) 

Real parenting involves grit, and that’s what you’ll find in this new book by Greg and Jennifer Willits. The authors, co-hosts of the popular SiriusXM radio show “Catholics Next Door,” have written a real-world guide for Catholic families who stumble toward holiness. They don’t ignore the daily grind of screw-ups, arguments, yelling, pooping and trying to form saints against all odds. 

The book is a collection of stories showing the up’s and down’s, successes and failures of their own family life. You’ll find children lassoing each other with rosaries, the difficult darkness of miscarriage, profound moments of conversion and plenty of fun adventures in between. 

Greg and Jennifer don’t sugar-coat the tough times or embellish the good — they just tell it like it is. We need such ordinary saints with one foot on the floor and one in heaven. The Willits give that in “The Catholics Next Door,” and Catholic parents will find it refreshing and inspiring. 

Brandon Vogt is a Catholic writer and speaker who blogs at www.ThinVeil.net. He is also the author of “The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet” (Our Sunday Visitor, $13.95), which you can find at www.churchandnewmedia.com. He writes from Florida.  

Further reading: How to build your home library