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10 Book suggestions for last-minute Christmas gifts

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Elizabeth Scalia - published on 12/16/17

Fiction and non-fiction; religious and secular; historical and hysterical. Aleteia has your last minute shopping needs covered right here.

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Just think, a week from tomorrow, we’ll be in Christmas Eve. The running around will be done, and the daily Advent Meditations will have (hopefully) readied our hearts and made us fully prepared for the triumph and tenderness of the Christmas Mass.

But yes, most of us still have some shopping to do, and if you’re a bit confounded on what to get people — in several categories, from adult to teen to child — here are some suggestions to help you get done in time appreciate the beautiful, season-and-soul enriching O Antiphons that are about to begin.

In no particular order, some books that will make terrific gifts:

1) Cultivating Virtue: Self-Mastery With the Saintsby “Anonymous” (Tan Books)

cultivating virtue
Tan Books

This book is a true gift in every way, from its gorgeous design and gilt-edged presentation, to its content. Originally published in Europe in 1891 and brilliantly – -most important, “readably” — translated into very clear and conversational English, this book takes you through the virtues through out the year, day-by-day, sharing stories of both great and lesser-known saints, and their writings. If you’re looking for something that is rich in both feel and content, and you have someone ready to make some new friends of the saints, you can’t go wrong with this.

2) Humility Rules: Saint Benedict’s Twelve-Step Guide to Genuine Self-Esteemby Augustine Wetta, OSB (Ignatius Press)

Humility rules
Ignatius Press

The title seems serious but in fact this is a rather jolly book, as one might guess by the skateboard tucked under the arm of St. Benedict. Wetta, a Benedictine monk of St. Louis Abbey, has a terrific sense of humor and a puckish eye for illustration. Here he has essentially broken down the Rule of St. Benedict for young adult readers (and teens, I’d say) and his down to earth prose reads like an extra-clear C.S. Lewis who is feeling breezy.

3) The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine, Lindsey Fitzharris (Scientific American / Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

butchering art
Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The cover is eye-catchingly gory and, with its Victorian font, immediately suggests Jack-the-Ripper. Anyone who follows Fitzharris on Facebook is aware of her expertise on the nightmarish hell that was the practice of medicine in the Victorian age, and here she takes us on a fascinating journey into the real terror of it, as faced by countless patients, before Joseph Lister (hello, Listerine!) managed to convince an often stubborn medical community to take antiseptic practices seriously. Sterling prose, vivid descriptions and more than a dollop of humor makes this a must-have, especially for students of medicine or fans of historical horror stories.

4) The Ninth Hour, by Alice McDermott (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

ninth hour
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A breathtaking novel the reader does not want to put down, and a stunning, evocatively drawn illustration of the truth that most lives of faith, not even the lives of nuns, can remain lived in black-and-white when there is so much grey, all around. Set in the early 20th century, McDermott’s depictions of the mostly Irish sisters who visit the poor and sometimes squalid tenements of their parishioners are accurate reflections of the sort of strong, fiercely faithful, and yet bold before God women who essentially invented the notion of “social services” well before the government ever thought to. Fascinating, affecting. A great, great novel.

5) Eight Whopping Lies and Other Stories of Bruised Grace, by Brian Doyle, (Franciscan Media)

eight whopping lies
Franciscan Media

What a writer we lost at the too-soon passing of Brian Doyle, perhaps the finest essayist of our age. His was an irresistible and singular voice, managing to write about his life, and the lives of others, with keen insight, elegantly expressed. He is also capable of wringing your heart with one poignant paragraph, only to keep the tears falling — this time with laughter — as he hauls out a phrase full of sass and brass. We’ve lost a treasure, but if you give this book as a gift — a great stocking stuffer, this one — the treasure is passed on.

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6) To Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Ageby Bishop Robert Barron and John L. Allen (Image Books)

light a fire
Image Books

I’m going to let Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap (Archbishop of Philadelphia, and author of Strangers in a Strange Land) tell you why this book is so good, because he nails it:

Robert Barron and John Allen are two men at the peak of their great skills: Bishop Barron, the most compelling English-speaking Catholic evangelist of our time; John Allen, the finest Catholic journalist and biographer. Together they’ve created a must-read portrait of a man and his ministry on fire with the love of God. This book is a joy to experience — not just for the elegance of the writing, nor even its absorbing insights into Bishop Barron the man, but even more for the encounter with truth, beauty and goodness woven throughout its pages.

7) The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs! , by Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith (Viking Books for Young Readers)

3 little pigs
Viking Books for Young Readers

Yes, it’s a little kid’s book. It’s the Three Little Pigs, but told as a spoof in which the Big Bad Wolf gets to explain things from his perspective, to the press. It’s a kid’s book that adults don’t mind reading again and again because it’s so creatively, hilariously put together. It’s sly; it’s almost subversive in its sophistication. Try reading it in the voice of “Rocket” from Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s a hoot all the way through.

8) The Mysterious Benedict Society: 10th Anniversary Edition, by Trenton Lee Stewart (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)

benedict society
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

A terrific series of intriguing local happenings are investigated by the young, eclectic group of “spies” who make up the Mysterious Benedict Society. These books are highly imaginative, encouraging the reader to guess along with the diverse team of youngsters whose own peculiarities, social tics and “weirdness” become tools to help them solve the case. It’s a perfect book for kids at that “misfit” age, when they tend to start believing they have to be like everyone else. These books make an entertaining argument that kids are better off being themselves. Something they can’t learn too early.

9)The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, by Cardinal Robert Sarah, (Ignatius Press)

power of silence
Ignatius Press

This is one of the most important books of the year, delivering an important message with powerful, sometimes lyrical, prose: We must have silence if we wish to cultivate a relationship with God. We must have silence if we are to know our own minds. There are many blessings to the age of information, but it is the noisiest age of humanity. We are being buffeted and tossed about by the screens before us, everywhere we go, and the endless racket of social media. Sarah not only identifies the din, he helps us get away from it, that we might hear the “small still voice” we are missing.

10) The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom, Elizabeth Sherrill, John Sherrill (Chosen Books)

hiding place
Chosen Books

I had asked a friend for a Young Adult book recommendation and she suggested this classic, and I thought, “Yes, that’s brilliant, of course!” Corrie Ten Boom’s telling of her tight-knit family’s efforts to hide Jews from Nazi occupiers, and their subsequent arrest and imprisonment, is by turns, sweetly nostalgic, utterly harrowing, and uplifting. If it were not a true story, it would be a perfect novel. Either way, it’s readable history that young people, especially if they are approaching the “doubting years,” should read, and will find fascinating. This is actually a good stocking stuffer for almost anyone.

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