RNS PICKS: The most inspired books of 2015

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"The Book of Strange New Things," by Michel Faber. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

"The Book of Strange New Things," by Michel Faber. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

(RNS) Faith, spirit, and social significance are all over these 2015 favorite books compiled by the RNS staff. Check this of list of 14 new books (and one classic). 

IMAGINED WORLDS

“The Book of Strange New Things” by Michel FaberFrom “Frankenstein” to “I, Robot,” literary scholars have seen science fiction as a genre where religion and theology can be explored. Faber follows Peter, a Christian missionary (like Jesus’ disciple), sent by a big corporation to evangelize aliens living on a planet the corporation wants to mine. He comes to question the role of faith, the nature of good and evil and the responsibilities of a righteous individual. (Hogarth Press, $28)

“The Secret Chord” by Geraldine Brooks. Vacation Bible School meets literary fiction! Pulitzer Prize winner Brooks (“March”) imagines the life of King David, complete with his many loves, only one of which was music and one of which was a dude. Brooks has an amazing ability to express the inner voices of her characters, particularly the women. The voices of David’s wives really sing. (Viking Press, $27.95)

"Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity, and Our Life Beyond," by Billy Graham. Photo courtesy of Thomas Nelson

“Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity, and Our Life Beyond,” by Billy Graham. Photo courtesy of Thomas Nelson

INSPIRING LOOKS

“Where I Am: Heaven, Eternity, and Our Life Beyond” by Billy GrahamBilled as evangelist Billy Graham’s “final work,” it may offer a last chance to read new prose by the 97-year-old. And this one is not for the faint-hearted. He minces few words about the “horrible pit” of hell he believes awaits non-Christians while preaching his longtime message about the promises of heaven for those who pledge “allegiance to Christ.” (Thomas Nelson, $22.99)

“Radical Love” by Toni GreavesPhotographer Toni Greaves documents the growth of an unexpected religious calling in the life of a college student named Lauren — and her countercultural decision to dedicate her life to God. This gorgeous photo book follows Lauren’s transformation into Sister Maria Teresa of the Sacred Heart, amid her cloistered community of Dominican nuns in Summit, N.J. (Chronicle Books, $40)

"Art of Grace" by Sarah L. Kaufman. Photo courtesy of Richard Dunkley/Getty Images

“Art of Grace” by Sarah L. Kaufman. Photo courtesy of Richard Dunkley/Getty Images

“The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life,” by Sarah Kaufman. Why does watching Cary Grant makes us swoon? His secret is grace: what we tell each other with our posture, our motion, our eyes and our ways of relating to each other, body — and soul – says Kaufman. She’s a dance critic who won a Pulitzer Prize for social commentary. Her celebrity-packed book of essays is joyful, thoughtful and helpful, too. (W.W.Norton, $24.95)

“Opening the Good Eye: A Path to True Seeing,” by Michael WoodSeeing the beauty of the world “directly and unconditionally,” without judgment, can be a spiritual practice, and Wood, one of the originators of the contemplative photography movement in modern photography, is a world-class guru. “Opening the Good Eye” teaches how to break out of our tired, routine, ways of seeing the world and discover a way that is clear and pure. It’s based on 32 years of teaching contemplative photography workshops worldwide. (Miksang Publications, $24.95)

CHALLENGING

"Faithfully Feminist" a soon-to-be-released book from White Cloud Press contains essays by 45 women -- Christian, Jewish and Muslim -- on the conflict within their own lives between their feminism and their religion. Photo courtesy Christy Collins.

“Faithfully Feminist” a soon-to-be-released book from White Cloud Press contains essays by 45 women — Christian, Jewish and Muslim — on the conflict within their own lives between their feminism and their religion. Photo courtesy Christy Collins.

Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian & Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay,” edited by Gina Messina-Dysart, Jennifer Zobair and Amy Levin. The three women who edited this compilation — one Christian, one Muslim, one Jewish — offer essays from 45 women on why they persist in their faith when it can treat women as less than equal to men. Many in this diverse group of essayists confess to having seriously considered chucking faith, or at least their own religious tradition. Some of them actually did leave, only to return. (White Cloud Press, $8.98)

Ferguson & Faith: Sparking Leadership & Awakening Community” by Leah Gunning Francis. Gunning Francis, an associate dean at a seminary in St. Louis, had a front seat to the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, by a white police officer. Clergy and young activists in the St. Louis area told Francis about the risks and challenges in their new work together and

"Ferguson & Faith," by Leah Gunning Francis. Photo courtesy of Chalice Press

“Ferguson & Faith,” by Leah Gunning Francis. Photo courtesy of Chalice Press

offer suggestions for how other faith communities can work to foster racial justice. (Chalice Press, $15.99)

“Merchants in the Temple” by Gianluigi Nuzzi. For those fascinated by secrecy, wealth and power, look no further than Nuzzi’s new book. Using leaked documents and recordings of high-level Vatican meetings, Nuzzi reveals Pope Francis’ struggle to reform the Holy See administration and its murky finances. Consequently, Nuzzi and another journalist who published a similar book have been put on trial at the Vatican, alarming press freedom groups. (Macmillan, $28)

“Our Kids” by Robert PutnamPublic policy expert Putnam, “a nice Jewish formerly Methodist boy,” writes about social change and the next generation. His fact-laden book that reads like a tent meeting revival, complete with an “altar call” for action at the end. He wants to awaken and inspire Americans to “save” young people from a soul-killing spiral of fractured families, poor schooling, and grim economic futures. (Simon & Schuster, $28)

"Our Kids," by Robert D. Putnam. Photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster

“Our Kids,” by Robert D. Putnam. Photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster

“Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence” by Rabbi Jonathan SacksThe rise of religiosity in the 21st century alarms Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Great Britain, because it often expresses itself violently. But religious terrorists do not act in God’s name, Sacks writes. He offers religion as an antidote to the radical and a path to peace, and calls on moderates within every faith to teach this tolerance to those within their own folds. (Penguin Random House, $28.95)

“Black Earth” by Timothy SnyderIt’s not easy to write a book that posits a new way of looking at the Holocaust, and some critics say Snyder does not entirely succeed. But he does draw our attention to the horrific way it played out in Eastern Europe. (Penguin, Random House, $30)

YOUNG READERS

“Commentarii de Inepto Puero” by Monsignor Daniel B. GallagherIf you know an intelligent, inquisitive kid who happens to love “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” why not pick up the Latin version? “Commentarii de Inepto Puero” translation tells the same boyhood tale with a 21st-century take on Latin. Gallagher — who happens to write Pope Francis’ Latin tweets — said he wanted to show children how the ancient language can still be relevant to modern-day life. (Il Castoro, Amulet Books, $16.95)

Cover art for 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' in Latin. Photo courtesy of Il Castoro

Cover art for ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ in Latin. Photo courtesy of Il Castoro

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins: 25th anniversary edition”  by Eric A. Kimmel. Unlike all the new books on this list, Kimmel’s book was originally published in 1989. But, as noted by last year’s anniversary edition, this Caldecott Honor book is still in print. And it still offers one of the best, true-to-Jewish-theology children’s tales. Hershel cleverly outwits goblins that have extinguished the candles and darkened Jewish village’s Hanukkah celebrations. By his wits and dedication, he restores the lights of the faithful. (Holiday House $17.95)  

I Am Malala” by Malala YousafzaiAn inspiring book by this young Nobel Prize winner who was shot for advocating education for girls, introduces your child to a conflict in another part of the world that affects us all. (Little, Brown and Company, $26)

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  • If I may be so bold, let me also recommend my new book, co-authored with the Rev. Dr. Paul T. Rock: “Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar: Lessons for the Christian Church.” It may inspire you to better ecumenical and interfaith relations. See: http://amzn.to/1GjnHXQ

  • Jack

    Book sales running short?

  • Glad to see Ferguson and Faith on this 2015 list! It’s available for 50% OFF now through the end of the year with coupon code SAVE50 applied at checkout. Just FYI!

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  • Fran

    The most-inspired book of any age or generation is, and always will be, God’s Word, the Bible.

  • Indeed, it is the Word of God that is the most inspired once again. Year after year, the Bible continues to be the best seller by far. Somehow the books of men are not able to compete with the Word of God. I wonder why that is? LOL But not everyone loves the Bible. Not everyone loves the Gospel, or the preaching of the cross. That is, that Jesus Christ sacrificially atoned for our sins on the cross, was buried and rose again. For the Holy Spirit says through Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 1: “For the preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” But then He adds: “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” So we see on these blogs, exactly what God revealed to us over 2000 years ago. Awesome. For those who truly are seeking the truth, receive Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Turn away from sin. Then you will know the power of God in your own life. God Bless

  • Bob

    No, Fran and Mark, really the bible is a truly horrid book, with explicit instructions for killing and other violent acts as well as support for slavery, and horrid punishments done to people by the nasty sky fairy “god” of its tall tales. In addition, the Jesus tale is complete nonsense. How is it again that your omnipotent being couldn’t do his saving bit without the whole silly Jesus hoopla? And how was Jesus’ death a “sacrifice”, when an omnipotent being could just pop up a replacement son any time with less than a snap of his fingers? Not only that, but an omnipotent “god” would have known that Jesus wouldn’t really stay dead. That is no sacrifice at all.

    It’s also worth asking why such a claimed benevolent, wonderfully kind, “god” has to put us through thousands of years of anxious waiting before “saving” us from a flawed life that he supposedly created. The Christian beliefs are just plain ridiculous, and false.