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Stella MarisParish Holy Book Club


“Staggerford, a Novel” by Jon Hassler

Staggerfordis Jon Hassler’s first novel published in 1977.Named for its setting in a quaint, mid-western small town, Staggerford is told mainly from the point of view of seasoned English teacher, Miles Pruitt, a bachelor, age 35. Employing a third-person narration sometimes omniscient, sometimes limited, the novel chronicles the daily life, memories, and insights of the competent but ironic Miles, along with those of a handful of his colleagues, friends, and students, during a single, increasingly eventful week, starting on Friday October 30 and ending on Saturday November 7.Passing references to the American Indian Movement (265) place the action firmly in the mid-1970s. By turns poignant and humorous, the novel affectionately satirizes academia and the narrowness of American small-town life while sympathizing with the struggles and successes of a wide variety of "ordinary" people.

“The American Way of Poverty” by Sasha Abramsky

Virtually everything worthwhile written about American poverty is essentially about moral failure. It is the failure of the society (according to liberals) or of the poor themselves (according to conservatives) or of institutions and individuals together in a complex combination (according to centrists). Poverty violates core American values. It challenges the American dream’s promise of prosperity for anyone who works hard, a faith central to the national ethic. Richard Wright called this faith “the truth of the power of the wish.” The dream dies in the early pages of Sasha Abramsky’s intricate study, “The American Way of Poverty.” Abramsky, a freelance journalist who has written for The Nation, The Atlantic and other supported by financial interests’ belief in “the desirability of oligarchy.” He endorses the notion, popular on the left, that poverty is not just a glitch but a feature of the American system, “a corrosive brew,” he writes, “capable of eating away at the underpinnings of democratic life itself.”

“Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home” Encyclical Letter by Jorge Bergoglio, Pope Francis. 

US Conference of Catholic Bishops, (USCCB) (usccb.org.) review: “On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’) is the new appeal from Pope Francis addressed to "every person living on this planet" for an inclusive dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. Pope Francis calls the Church and the world to acknowledge the urgency of our environmental challenges and to join him in embarking on a new path. This encyclical is written with both hope and resolve, looking to our common future with candor and humility.” Summary excerpted from Laudato Si” book: “In his second encyclical, Laudato Si’…., Pope Francis draws all Christians into a dialogue with every person on the planet about our common home.  We as human beings are united by the concern for our planet and every living thing that dwells on it, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. 

“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr.

Summary, excerpted from the book jacket: From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel. In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge. Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).    

“The Gift of Years, Growing Older Gracefully” by Joan Chittister

Book Review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat: The great adventure of growingolder and being an elder is the chance to deepen and enrich our spirituality. Whereas we can find examples of this in the medicine men and women of indigenous cultures and in the seers of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religious traditions, wise old souls are rarely depicted in Western movies and television programs. Usually old people are portrayed as frail, bumbling, or silly. People grow up assuming that they will literally be over the hill with nothing to look forward to once they pass the retirement age. Joan Chittister, who has written many books lamenting what’s missing in American society, now turns her attention to the sad consequences of stereotypes about aging. She posits a different and very inspiring portrait of the gifts, not the lacks, of years.

“Abraham, a Journey to the heart of the Three Faiths” by Bruce Feiler. 

Summary excerpted from the book jacket: “Both immediate and timeless, Abraham tells the powerful story of one man’s search for the shared ancestor of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Traveling through war zones, braving violence at religious sites, and seeking out faith leaders Bruce Feiler uncovers the defining yet divisive role that Abraham plays for half the world’s believers.  Provocative and uplifting, Abraham offers a thoughtful and inspiring vision of unity that redefines what we think about our neighbors, our future and ourselves. 

“The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels (Hinges of History)” by Thomas Cahill, Nan A. Talese

The author of the runaway bestseller How the Irish Saved Civilization has done it again. In The Gifts of the Jews Thomas Cahill takes us on another enchanting journey into history, once again recreating a time when the actions of a small band of people had repercussions that are still felt today. The Gifts of the Jews reveals the critical change that made western civilization possible. Within the matrix of ancient religions and philosophies, life was seen as part of an endless cycle of birth and death; time was like a wheel, spinning ceaselessly. Yet somehow, the ancient Jews began to see time differently. For them, time had a beginning and an end; it was a narrative, whose triumphant conclusion would come in the future. From this insight came a new conception of men and women as individuals with unique destinies--a conception that would inform the Declaration of Independence--and our hopeful belief in progress and the sense that tomorrow can be better than today. As Thomas Cahill narrates this momentous shift, he also explains the real significance of such Biblical figures as Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the Pharaoh, Joshua, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Full of compelling stories, insights and humor, The Gifts of the Jews is an irresistible exploration of history as fascinating and fun as How the Irish Saved Civilization.

“Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads” by Chris Lowney.

From choosing to live in a simple apartment instead of the papal palace to washing the feet of men and women in a youth detention center, Pope Francis’s actions contradict behaviors expected of a modern leader. Chris Lowney, a former Jesuit seminarian turned Managing Director for JP Morgan & Co., shows how the pope’s words and deeds reveal spiritual principles that have prepared him to lead the Church and influence our world—a rapidly-changing world that requires leaders who value the human need for love, inspiration, and meaning.

Drawing on interviews with people who knew him as Father Jorge Bergoglio, SJ, Lowney challenges assumptions about what it takes to be a great leader. In so doing, he reveals the “other-centered” leadership style of a man whose passion is to be with people rather than set apart. Lowney offers a stirring vision of leadership to which we can all aspire in our communities, churches, companies, and families.

"Jesus, a Pilgrimage" by James Martin

Summary: (taken from the book jacket) “Father James does something remarkable in this book.  He invites you to accompany him on a pilgrimage through the Holy land but, at the same time, you begin to see the world through the lens of Jesus and his disciples (and, therefore, learn to understand Jesus an earthly man and as our Devine God / added).  As the work of first-century Galilee and Judea comes to life, you find yourself a disciple, walking along side Jesus in the Gospels.  Even more remarkable, Father Martin brings to life the ancient world in which Jesus lived.  In Father Martin’s hands, New Testament scholarship opens up the life of Jesus so the Gospels can speak to each of us today and transform us as they did their first hearers.”

“Being Mortal, Medicine and What Matters in the End.” by Atul Gawande

Dr. Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending. Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering. Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession’s ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person’s last weeks or months may be rich and dignified. Full of eye-opening research and riveting storytelling, Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end.

“Bonhoeffer: Pastor”, Martyr, Prophet, Spy  by Eric Metaxas

As Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and attempted to exterminate the Jews of Europe, a small number of dissidents and saboteurs worked to dismantle the Third Reich from the inside. One of these was Dietrich Bonhoeffer—a pastor and author. In this New York Times best-selling biography, Eric Metaxas takes both strands of Bonhoeffer’s life—the theologian and the spy—and draws them together to tell a searing story of incredible moral courage in the face of monstrous evil. Metaxas presents the fullest accounting of Bonhoeffer’s heart-wrenching decision to leave the safe haven of America to return to Hitler’s Germany, and sheds new light on Bonhoeffer’s involvement in the famous Valkyrie plot and in “Operation 7,” the effort to smuggle Jews into neutral Switzerland. In a deeply moving narrative, Metaxas uses previously unavailable documents, including personal letters, detailed journal entries, and firsthand personal accounts? To reveal dimensions of Bonhoeffer’s life and theology never before seen.

“Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion.” by Gregory Boyle

For twenty years, Gregory Boyle has run Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program located in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, the gang capital of the world. In Tattoos on the Heart, he distills his experience working in the ghetto into a breathtaking series of parables inspired by faith. Arranged by theme and filled with sparkling humor and glowing generosity, these essays offer a stirring look at how full our lives could be if we could find the joy in loving others and in being loved unconditionally. From giant, tattooed Cesar, shopping at JCPenney fresh out of prison, we learn how to feel worthy of God’s love. From ten-year-old Lula we learn the importance of being known and acknowledged. From Pedro we understand the kind of patience necessary to rescue someone from the darkness. In each chapter we benefit from Boyle’s gentle, hard-earned wisdom. These essays about universal kinship and redemption are moving examples of the power of unconditional love and the importance of fighting despair. Gorgeous and uplifting, Tattoos on the Heart reminds us that no life is less valuable than another.

“The Invention on Wings” by Susan Monk Kidd

Writing at the height of her narrative and imaginative gifts, Sue Monk Kidd presents a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world. Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women. Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten-year-old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love. As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements. Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better. This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

“7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness”, Eric Metaxas, Nelson Books, Nashville, TN, 2015.

Each of the world-changing figures who stride across these pages—Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa, and Rosa Parks—is an exemplary model of true womanhood. Teenaged Joan of Arc followed God’s call and liberated her country, dying a heroic martyr’s death. Susanna Wesley had nineteen children and gave the world its most significant evangelist and its greatest hymn-writer, her sons John and Charles. Corrie ten Boom, arrested for hiding Dutch Jews from the Nazis, survived the horrors of a concentration camp to astonish the world by forgiving her tormentors. And Rosa Parks’ deep sense of justice and unshakeable dignity and faith helped launch the twentieth-century’s greatest social movement. Writing in his trademark conversational and engaging style, Eric Metaxas reveals how the other extraordinary women in this book achieved their greatness, inspiring readers to lives shaped by the truth of the gospel.

“Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with My Sister’s Killer” by Jeanne Bishop

This powerful, true story of faith and forgiveness shows that all of us are capable of experiencing the healing and renewal that comes with truly forgiving another. Change of Heart follows the transformative journey undertaken by Jeanne Bishop after the murders of her sister and brother-in-law, a journey that challenged Jeanne’s belief in the message of Jesus on the cross and eventually moved her beyond simple forgiveness to the deeper waters of redemption and grace. Jeanne’s authentic story will guide readers past the temptation of anger and revenge, and help them navigate the path of truly forgiving someone whose actions have hardened their heart.  From once wishing that her sister’s killer languished in a cell for the rest of his life, Jeanne now visits him regularly in prison and publicly advocates for his release. "It’s not okay what you did, but I am not going to hate you. I am not going to wish evil on you," writes Bishop of the murderer. "I am going to wish the opposite. I am going to wish that you will be redeemed." “The criminal justice system in the United States, which deems some people unworthy of redemption¯even children who commit serious crimes¯urgently needs to hear voices that speak for mercy and restoration. Jeanne Bishop’s is such a voice” writes Sr. Helen Prejean, activist and author of Dead Man Walking. Change of Heart confronts these serious and pressing issues of restorative justice, juvenile life sentences, and incarceration in the criminal justice system. Ultimately, Jeanne is writing more than a memoir of finding faith through extraordinary obstacles. Her compelling story offers a better understanding of what it truly means to be a person of faith. It is a call to action that is a “must-read for pastors, social workers, caregivers, and all who seek to build community with people relegated to the margins” (Greg Ellison, Emory University).



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