In "The Souls of China," author Ian Johnson shows how China does, indeed, have more than one soul.
The religious landscape is dynamic yet chaotic, as the Chinese people carry not only a 5,000-year history behind them, but also the excesses of the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, the year of Mao's death.
If there is one consistency to contemporary Chinese belief systems and practices, it is inconsistency, the author makes clear.
"The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria" is as much an account of Syria as it is a beautifully crafted narrative of a Syrian family and an independent first-generation Syrian-American woman.
It breaks through the single-lensed generalizations and headline tickers and dives deeply into the lives of Syrians with stories that smoothly weave in and out of a complex political context. In sharing the stories of her friends and families, author Alia Malek is sharing the story of a nation.
The book is bracketed by Malek's quest to reclaim and renovate her grandmother's apartment in Damascus, which had been taken in 1970 from her family by an obstinate tenant protected by lopsided laws. Malek, a Christian whose parents' professional careers as a physician and pharmacist lead them to settle in Baltimore, had long had a nostalgic desire to return to her parents' homeland to which she was exposed during long visits with family as a child.
Heather King is a wonderful writer who, in "Holy Desperation," gives us a contemporary rendition of classic Catholic asceticism.
Her story -- a recovering alcoholic who gave up the practice of law to embark on a full-time vocation as a writer -- would be compelling enough as a human memoir. But what she has done in this remarkable book is more impressive. King, who entered the church in 1996, has allowed us to see the contours of her prayer life and the daily discipline that led her to a life of service.
The book begins with the prayer of desperation King uttered from the depths of 20 years of alcoholism, an acknowledgment of defeat and the utter need for God's help. The kernel of her wisdom is the recognition that "genuine spiritual awakening seems to consist in a disappearance, however temporary, of self."
It's been a long, dry stretch since someone published a book on the Mass that is captivating, informative, inspirational and challenging.
Rooted in solid, intellectually honest, balanced scholarship, yet written in language that the average person will follow easily and enjoy, "Bored Again Catholic" is a book that will renew just about anyone's appreciation for the Mass. Indeed, it should be required reading for Catholics in general and priests in particular.
Research on many fronts makes it clear that a healthy marriage is beneficial to both the individual couple and to the larger society.
Married couples tend to be healthier, happier and more prosperous than those not married. Husbands and wives tend to live longer with few fewer medical issues than do single men and women. The larger society promotes marriage through tax policies and other laws because of the benefits marriage brings to society.
The following books are suitable for summer reading:
"How to be a Hero: Train with the Saints" by Julia Harrell, illustrated by Chad Thompson. Pauline Kids (Boston, 2017). 176 pp., $14.95.
This summer elementary-school readers can take a timeout from preparing for the next grade or athletic event, and train to become a saint by using the virtues as a guide. Organized by mini-biographies, reflections and questions, "How to be a Hero" explores the virtuous lives of St. John Paul II, St. Josephine Bakhita and St. Charbel Makhlouf among many others. The book includes discussions on the cardinal, theological and "little" virtues, and can be read daily or weekly as a part of a summer religious curriculum. Ages 9-11.
On Thursday, Dec. 4, 1980, the bodies of four women were found in a shallow roadside grave in El Salvador. It became clear after the autopsies that two of them had been raped before being murdered. There were over 8,000 murders that year in El Salvador, but these four victims stood out because three of them were Catholic nuns, the fourth was a lay missionary and all of them were Americans.
"A Radical Faith" tells the story of the eldest victim, Sister Maura Clarke, who was a Maryknoll nun. She had been in El Salvador only four months, but she had been a missionary sister serving in Nicaragua for 20 years.