Tuesday, January 24, 2012

January Giveaway #2: Weightless by Kate Wicker

Congratulations to the Birgitta, winner of the giveaway of Strengthening Your Family.  

Next up is a giveaway of Kate Wicker's Weightless: Making Peace with Your Body, another book I reviewed in my January column.   I had the chance to interview Kate and post the interview last week.  You can read that interview here, where you can read more about her book and writing.

The deadline for entering this giveaway is Monday, January 30, at 7 p.m. Central Time.

Here are the rules for this giveaway and all the books on giveaways here at the Catholic Post Book Group.  You must comment on the blog post or posts giving away the book.  So, if you are interested in a copy of Weightless, leave a comment here on this post.

In addition, if you are the winner, I will let you know via comment if I do not have an e-mail or a way to reach you.  If you do not respond in two days, I'll pull another name. That's it--couldn't be easier.  Good luck to all entries!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Three Great Books for Life

Today I'm working to finish my February column for The Catholic Post, and I've so enjoyed watching the March for Life coverage from Washington, D.C., on EWTN when I head to the kitchen for lunch or water.  There's one reason to be glad for cable television.

Today, I kept TweetDeck, a Twitter program, running, since the March is going on.  The hashtag #MarchforLife has been steadily growing throughout day, and nearly every second, sometimes more, a tweet will pop up on my screen with the hashtag #Marchforlife.  There are so many great ones from teenagers via text and others via Blackberry or iPhone at the March itself, like, "all life is presh" and "a person's a person, no matter how small" as well as some of the cheers they are saying, like "At the #MarchforLife right no. People are chanting "#Obama, your mother chose life."

 I thought at one point, I bet this is a "trending topic" on Twitter, so I checked that, but so far, every time I do, it's not listed.  Why, Twitter?  I don't want to claim Twitter media bias or anything, but it's almost hard not to.   So I subscribed to the hashtags that are "officially" trending, like #CommunityManagerAppreciationDay and #NationalPieDay (really? and #marchforlife is not?) and let me just say that they are in now way as "busy" as #marchforlife.  So even thought Twitter is not listing #marchforlife as trending, I'm telling you, it is trending, big time.

Because of that, and in honor of all the great people (mostly young, you can see them live on EWTN!) at the March for Life, I wanted to list a few quick books that are worthwhile reading

1.  Angel in the Waters by Regina Doman, illustrated by Ben Hatke

For children, nothing beats Regina Doman's Angel in the Waters, her picture book about the life of an unborn baby, with luminous illustrations by Ben Hatke.  You can read the book online at Angelinthewaters.com/, but there's nothing like sitting on a couch reading it to your favorite young person.  I dare you not to choke up when you read it.

2.  Unplanned by Abby Johnson

I reviewed Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader's Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line, last February, and it is worth a read if you have not and a re-read if you have.  Johnson was a Planned Parenthood clinic director, and leaves it all after seeing a first-trimester baby jerk away from the instruments as she assisted during an ultrasound-guided abortion.  I  interviewed Johnson about her book and work here.

As I wrote in my review, "This fine book speaks volumes about the power of love and prayer to overcome darkness and despair. Johnson writes that she was 'loved from one side to the other.'  Reading Unplanned  will make readers want to be that kind of love and prayer in their own communities.

3.  Won by Love:  Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe of Roe V. Wade, Speaks Out for the Unborn As She Shares Her New Conviction for Life  by Norma McCorvey

I had forgotten about this book until a friend tweeted over the weekend, " Want to know more about Roe v Wade? Why don't you read about it from Roe herself?" with a link to Norma McCorvey's website, Roe No More.  Norma McCorvey was the plaintiff in the Roe v. Wade case, but writes about how she was tricked into it, and all that ensued--addiction, abortion clinic work, conversion, healing.  Powerful, powerful stuff.

I read Won by Love last year after I read Unplanned and wanted to read or re-read other abortion conversion stories.  I found Won by Love to be somewhat less "polished," but no less powerful or moving because of it.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, when I worked in the pro-life movement in Washington, D.C., I often encountered Norma McCorvey with her firebrand and rarely-out-of-the-spotlight lawyer Gloria Allred.  I remember at the time thinking that I felt so, so sorry for Norma McCorvey, as she just seemed lost and used by those around her.

This is an aside, but I usually felt sorry for most of the people on the pro-abortion side, as many were wounded and not healed, and there was always a pervasive sadness there. Once, a woman working for NARAL (we were always friendly to each other) blurted out to me in a green room before an interview, "Well, I've had an abortion" as if I would condemn her, and I just said, "I'm so sorry.  I'm sorry you had an abortion."  What else was there to say?

But with Norma McCorvey it always seemed especially sad, and that she was so deserving of love.  Reading Won by Love made me weep because she finally discovered a healthy, life-giving love.  Lots to ponder and be grateful for in reading that book.

I'm realized now I've never read former abortionist Bernard Nathanson's The Hand of God, and I have to remedy that this year.   There are probably other books I'm missing here. 

What are some of your favorites?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

January Giveaway: Win a Copy of "Strengthening Your Family"

This month I'm excited to be giving away two books that I reviewed in my January column.  First for a giveaway is a copy of Strengthening Your Family by Marge Fenelon.

 I had the chance to interview Marge and post the interview earlier this week.  You can read that interview here, where you can read more about her book and writing.

The deadline for entering this giveaway is Monday, January 23, at 7 p.m. Central Time.

Here are the rules for this giveaway and all the books on giveaways here at the Catholic Post Book Group.  You must comment on the blog post or posts giving away the book.  So, if you are interested in Strengthening Your Family, leave a comment here on this post.

In addition, if you are the winner, I will let you know via comment if I do not have an e-mail or a way to reach you.  If you do not respond in two days, I'll pull another name.  That's it!  Couldn't be easier.  Good luck to all entries!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Q&A With Kate Wicker, author of "Weightless"

Following is my e-conversation with Kate Wicker, author of  Weightless: Making Peace with Your Body, which I reviewed in my January column.. The great local news is that Kate will be keynote speaker at the Behold Conference this March.  If you live anywhere remotely near the diocese of Peoria, Illinois, and have not yet registered for this great conference, please consider doing so.  In the meantime, enjoy our conversation.

Q: Tell Catholic Post Book Group blog readers a little about yourself, your family and your writing.

First off, thanks so much for sharing your space with me. To give your readers a quick rundown: I’m a cradle Catholic, a wife to an amazing man, a mom to four little ones, and a writer and speaker when my-harried-but-happy-life-allows.

I have a degree in journalism and before becoming an at-home mom, I worked on the editorial staff of a regional parenting publication. I also freelance wrote for a variety of national publications and did a lot of medical and health writing early on.

These days I’m blessed to have the opportunity to write about two of my greatest passions in life: motherhood and my Catholic faith. I’m a senior writer for Faith & Family LIVE! and health columnist for Catholic Digest, and I also occasionally contribute to other publications. I ramble on about body image, my Catholic faith, mothering, sleep (or lack thereof), and other topics over at my blog, KateWicker.com.

I’m super excited to be attending the Behold Conference in March as a keynote speaker, and I hope I’ll get to meet some of your readers.

Q. One of the things I loved best about Weightless was your desire to help your own daughters grow up with a healthy self-image.  How does faith play a role in that?  And how do you see that changing as your girls get older, or now that you have a son?

I could write an entire book just about raising healthy daughters. Our children live in a world where they are constantly being exposed to unrealistic media images and unhealthy messages about sexuality, what it takes to be beautiful and desirable, and being a woman. We live in a society where girls are constantly at risk of sacrificing their true selves - whether they try to find love in the arms of a boy who doesn’t really care about them, wear immodest clothing to get attention, or turn themselves into a shiny, pretty package using extreme dieting or obsessive exercising. We have to work hard to counter the confusing messages out there, and the strongest tool in our arsenal is the wisdom of the Church. We have to teach our daughters where their true dignity lies: in the simple truth that they are created in God’s image and likeness and are carrying His mark. 

When I wrote Weightless, I only had daughters, but we were pleasantly surprised to welcome a baby boy into our family this past August. I’m already thinking of ways to help him see that his God-given role as protector means that he must fight for the dignity of women and protect their divine beauty and worth. Partly because of the contraceptive culture we live in, it’s very difficult for today’s young men to not be enticed by the scantily-clad images in media or to not start objectifying women instead of seeing them as vessels of God’s beauty. 

Our children - both boys and girls - face a lot of pressure today, but with our guidance, prayers, and the grace of God we can help fight back against a culture that undermines their worth, muddles their true life purpose, and help them hold onto their true selves. 

Q.  You share a lot of your personal story in Weightless about your struggle as a teen and young woman with an eating disorder.  Was it hard to write about that with the compassion that you did, or is it enough in the past to allow you perspective?

I don’t think it’s ever easy to expose our brokenness (especially if you’re a perfectionist like I am). In many ways I didn’t (and still don’t) feel qualified to write a book about making peace with your body, especially when I still occasionally struggle with my body image or when I sometimes have difficulty applying the virtue of temperance to my eating habits.

During the writing process for Weightless, I was forced to face some of the relics of my eating disordered past, but I also was gifted with the opportunity to share glimpses of hope and redemption.

Likewise, dredging up the abuse I inflicted upon my body when I was suffering from a clinical eating disorder certainly wasn’t fun, but it was worth it because I also saw how God had never left my side even at my darkest moments. In fact, it wasn't until I turned to God and the principles of my Christian faith that the real healing began. 

I do believe that all of us have our own unique spiritual attacks we have to constantly be on guard against. For me, food and body image seem to be some of them, so I’ll probably always find it somewhat uncomfortable and challenging to discuss some of these topics related to how we see ourselves and our bodies and how we approach food. Yet, God often invites us to step outside of our comfort zone in order to find peace in Him and to be better able to minister to others.

Q:  Your book has been out for several months.  Can you share some of the feedback you’ve gotten from readers? 
I’ve been blessed to have received many encouraging emails and messages from women in different stages of life. One woman wrote that even though she was called to the single life and spiritual motherhood rather than physical motherhood, she was able to glean something from my book’s chapter that focuses on how being a mother changes how we see ourselves and our bodies. 

I also had a 70-year-old women confess to me that she had struggled with bulimia for more than 30 years and had never really understood the depths of her hurt until she read my book. 

One mom wrote that her young daughter was already thinking she was fat because her clothes from last season no longer fit her. The mom was worried and asked for my advice. It broke my heart that a child was already so body-conscious, and I encouraged the mom to remind her child that she should see her tighter clothing as something positive - a sign that she is healthy and growing. In our thin-obsessed culture, it’s easy to see why even young children start to equate growth with gaining weight, which feels like something they should avoid. This can be especially true for girls going through puberty - a time when their bodies naturally change and often fill out. It’s important to talk about how a girl’s body will develop and how growing up means that some physical changes will begin to take root. 

At the same time, even if your young daughter has started to blossom physically, protect her innocence. Just because a child looks more like a grown-up doesn’t mean she is one. Finally, I’ve told other moms to remind their children that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Despite what Hollywood might have us believe, there is no “ideal” body shape. God loves variety. One look at the diversity in nature, it’s obvious that He did not intend to create a cookie-cutter world. We need to appreciate His artistry and accept our shape and encourage our children and others to do the same.

Q. What do most hope readers will take away from Weightless?

My biggest hope is that women will walk away from reading this book believing they can live a “weightless” life unencumbered by thoughts that they are not thin enough, young enough, pretty enough, or simply good enough. I know what it’s like to be a slave to the scale, to believe you’ll never be able to free yourself from thoughts of food or from pursuing thinness. But I’m here to tell you that there is hope.  You are stronger than a craving. The number on the scale is not an indictment of your character. You’re not a bad person because you ate a few too many chips. You don’t have to feel shameful because you binged or purged or did both. God is knocking on your heart. Let Him in. Food or a relentless quest for youth and beauty won’t offer you real, lasting happiness or peace. But believing in an all-loving, all-powerful God who makes all things possible just might.

Q. Are you planning to write any more books? 

I’ve been approached about a second book, and I feel incredibly humbled to have this opportunity; however, I’ve decided to focus on my most important “works in progress” - my children - at least for the few more months before starting any new writing projects. I’ll definitely keep you posted though when I get around to writing another book!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Q&A With Marge Fenelon, author of "Strengthening Your Family"

I'm delighted to have had the chance to "e-chat" with Marge Fenelon, author of Strengthening Your Family, one of the books I reviewed in my January column.   Marge, my thanks for being willing and thorough in answering my questions here. 

 Q: Tell Catholic Post Book Group blog readers a little about yourself, your family and your writing.

I’m a cradle Catholic and have been married to my husband, Mark, for 29 years. We have four mostly-grown children, ages 26-16, and live in the Midwest. My interest in writing began in grade school, although for a time I was convinced that I’d become a criminal lawyer so I could go after the Mafia (Go ahead, laugh. I do.). I majored in Journalism in college and spent several years as a public relations consultant. One day, I woke up and said to myself, “I want to write for the Church.” So, from that moment on, I wrote almost exclusively for Catholic publications and organizations. I couldn’t be happier.

 Q.  As I wrote in my review of your book, I felt like we are “kindred spirits… I felt like I was having lunch with a friend and getting encouraging counsel and spiritual uplift about family life and its inevitable ups and downs.”  Was your conversational, fellow-traveler style intentional, and how did this help you?

I think my writing style involved from my copious journaling throughout grade school, high school, and college. The “copious” part tapered off once I had kids; the desire was there, but the time wasn’t. I always addressed my journal entries to someone – the Blessed Mother, Our Lord, or a favorite saint. It helped to picture someone on the other end of the line, so to speak. Once I started getting published, folks seemed to like my style, so I kept up with it. Once, my spiritual director called me a natural storyteller, and so I took that as a sign from God that I should try to further develop that gift. Mostly, though, I think it comes from the fact that I love and enjoy people – all kinds of them!

Q.  Before I read your book, I was not at all familiar with the Schoenstatt Apostolic Movement.  Is it primarily regional to WI, where you live?  Can you tell us a little more about it and its influence on your family’s life?

Schoenstatt is an international lay movement founded in 1914 in Schoenstatt, Germany, by Father Joseph Kentenich (1885-1968), a German priest whose cause for beatification has been opened in Rome. Father Kentenich spent 14 years in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the movement sprouted roots there. That’s how I encountered it – through a chance meeting of my mother with Fr. Kentenich and my attendance at a Catholic grade school taught by the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary.

The Movement is one of moral and religious renewal, based on a Covenant of Love with Mary under the title Mother Thrice Admirable and with the Schoenstatt Marian Shrine as a focus and place of grace. There are more than 250 Schoenstatt Shrines throughout the world and on every continent. People also erect home shrines, or prayer corners, in their homes in the same spirit.

Cornerstones of the Schoenstatt method of education include ideals, freedom, and self-education, which have become cornerstones for my educational methods for myself and my children. Schoenstatt has given us a framework in which to grow spiritually and has drawn us closer to Mary and her Son.

Q.   Your kids are mostly grown now.  How does this phase of life change your parenting and your spirituality?

Whew. Great question! I often think that parenting now is far more time consuming (in a good way) than when the kids were little. There are days I throw up my hands and jokingly exclaim, “Argh! What I wouldn’t give for a poopy diaper!” Basically, as the kids get bigger, so do the problems. And yet, it’s a privilege and delight to see them become the persons God has intended them to be, and to hear their impressions of the world unfolding around them. Frequently, they’ll spontaneously seek me out for a heart-to-heart chat, and I love that! I do more listening and taking in now, as opposed to active teaching. Once in a while I’ll give advice, but I try to allow them the freedom and encouragement to work things out on their own. That can be excruciating when I see one of my children going through a tough time! Spiritually, I have (a little) more time to myself, but my focus still usually is on my children. I pray for them, but also I offer for them – sacrifices and acts of self-mortification. Don’t worry; no leather whips with little iron balls at the end! I may fast for a day, give up something I really like, make a pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine, or do some extra work around the house – things like that. On a personal level, I’ve discovered that now I have the ability to dig deeper in order to root out those evasive chunks of nastiness in the crevices of my soul that had eluded me when I was occupied with those aforementioned diapers.

Q.  What do most hope readers will take away from Strengthening Your Family?

Uh, the whole book? Kidding aside, I hope that they can grasp what I see to be the five most important elements of parenting toward sanctity: holiness, stewardship, apostleship, freedom, and joy. I’d also like to see some of the sting taken out of that word, holiness. It’s not just for canonized saints, or for the family that sits in the front pew at Sunday Mass. It’s for US – for you, me, your family, my family – with all our blemishes and shortcomings. We’re all called to holiness regardless of our state of life or step in the spiritual journey. Additionally, holiness is obtainable in small, concerted increments. It’ll cost us much sweat, prayer, and sacrifice, but it’s definitely do-able.

Q. What writing projects or books are in your future?  

I’m always working on something…sometimes too many somethings at once. I plan to continue writing my columns and to broaden the base of sites and publications that host my work. I’m doing some re-structuring of my website and forging a new blog, called “Are we there yet?” which will be about the ups and downs of traveling toward the Kingdom together as family – nuclear, extended, community, parish, Church and society. Book-wise, I’m working on an exciting new one (with a likely sister-book) for which I can’t yet give detail because the contract hasn’t been finalized. However, I can tell you that both our Blessed Mother and moms of all kinds will be VERY excited about it!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Meet a Reader: Liz Dahlen

I'm so grateful to Liz Dahlen for reaching out to me and offering to be the "reader" this month.  I'm always looking for suggestions and people in the diocese of Peoria willing to be "readers" on the Catholic Post Book Group.  If you know someone or are a reader yourself, please contact me here on the blog or through The Catholic Post.

How You Know Me:

After being a lifelong Lutheran, I joined the Roman Catholic Church on Easter 2007.  I am a member of St. Louis Parish, Princeton, where I am a lector.  I am a member of the Illinois Valley Cursillo Community, and I am a behind-the-scenes volunteer for the Rachel's Vineyard post-abortion healing retreats.

Why I Love to Read:

I am absolutely certain I was born with a book in my hand!  Words and ideas have always fascinated me.  I love to read because I love to learn new things, and I also love to read because it "takes me away" from the daily grind to new places and new times, even if the times I'm reading about aren't new in the chronological sense. 

What I’m Reading Now:

I just finished Catholicism by Father Robert Barron and The Litigators by John Grisham.  Both books were wonderful.  On my Kindle I am reading a biography of Michaelangelo.  I don't anticipate starting a new hardcover until after the holiday rush.

My Favorite Book:

That is a very tough question!!  I would have to say Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.  I read it for the first time when i was in junior high school and fell in love with it.  That book has everything—plot, characters, style, great writing.  I take it out and re-read every few years and I still enjoy it.  My second favorite is any book written by Donald Cardinal Wuerl.  He is a wonderful writer and I have learned much about the Catholic faith from his books.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Time to Go on a (Media) Diet?

Here is my January column that appears in this weekend's Catholic Post.  I invite your feedback here or on Facebook or Twitter.

So, you’re already re-considering your New Year’s Resolution by this time.  Maybe those resolutions to get your kitchen or finances organized, or to exercise every day, have been abandoned already.

Can I suggest watching your diet?

No, I don’t mean what you eat, but the media you consume—your “media diet.”  I once wrote a column for The Catholic Post called, “You Are What You Read” about making good media choices because it’s a lot like eating well.  The more you fill up on the good stuff, the less bad stuff you have time for, or even have a taste for.   And by “good stuff” in books, I don’t mean brussel sprouts, but dark chocolate that’s delicious and healthy.

Here are a few good choices for people looking to fill up on some great and nourishing reads.  As a bonus, all have topics that might help you keep some of those resolutions.

Hoping to do more as a family?  Two books provide help:

Strengthening Your Family: A Catholic Approach to Holiness by Marge Fenelon.  I’ve never met Marge Fenelon, but we are kindred spirits.  Reading each chapter of this excellent book, I felt like I was having lunch with a friend and getting encouraging counsel and spiritual uplift about family life and its inevitable ups and downs.  Fenelon is not writing from the perspective of a holier-than-thou, but rather a fellow traveler who’s been there, made the mistakes, and yet still calls us (and herself) to a Catholic vision of doing family life well.  She shows us having a strong, holy family is hard, but also fun and rewarding, work.

Media mindfulness—viewing media in light of our Catholic faith-- is a perennial interest of mine, and a frequent topic at our house.  And no one does “media mindfulness and literacy better than the Daughters of St. Paul.    Our fridge displays a Daughter of St. Paul magnet: “Control is for the moment—communication lasts a lifetime.” 

In this spirit, Daughter of St. Paul Hosea Rupprecht wrote How to Watch Movies with Kids:  A Values-Based Strategy to give tons of great ideas for parents, teachers and others who care about media literacy and mindfulness.  I so appreciated how each chapter ends; with “Saints to Guide Us” (for instance, St. Edith Stein on a chapter called, “Values Articulation,”) and with questions for family conversations. 

Thinking about living a healthier lifestyle?  Make sure you have balance in this area.

Weightless: Making Peace With Your Body, Kate Wicker’s heartfelt, personal book about body image and the spiritual life, is a resource especially well-suited to younger women.

Wicker leads readers through her own journey of an eating disorder and treatment, and now as a wife and mother yearning to hand on healthy body image to her young daughters.  She explores the role of having balance in all things related to our bodies, taking advantage of medical and psychological help when needed, but most of all keeping God at the center.  I love that that Wicker recommends (as do many resources) a “media fast” from unhealthy sources, and doing the same with her kids.  Throughout, Wicker tells readers, “If you love God, then love your body.”  Amen.

*Extreme Makeover: Women Transformed by Christ, Not Conformed by the Culture by Teresa Tomeo. Tomeo, a Catholic radio host, writes persuasively about how damaging a constant and solely secular media diet can be.

Best by far is the chapter titled,” Extreme Media Makeover: Your Personal Media Reality Check and Spiritual Beauty Plan,” in which she encourages an inventory of one’s media consumption, and more of the sacramental life.  Tomeo is great at reminding us that silence (or fasting) is a critical aspect of a healthy media life:  “We have to silence the noise in our lives if we want to hear from God an live a more peaceful and less stressful life.”

Have you resolved to make work-life balance a priority this year?  Consider The Catholic Briefcase: Tools for Integrating Faith and Work by Randy Hain.

At first glance, The Catholic Briefcase seems like book written only for business executives, but it reaches to such a wide range of people I’d recommend it for just about adult who works, inside or outside the home—pretty much everyone.   Hain is not only a business leader, but a recent convert, and he helps remind us cradle Catholics the richness of our faith, and the tools we all have available to keep us effective and holy in our vocation.

Each chapter offers interviews, encouragement and ideas not just for making realistic faith part of work life, but infusing an attractive Catholic culture into everything we do.   Especially helpful is advice on Catholic business networking, and making the spiritual life a priority.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Two E-Books for Two Great Feasts

Happy Feast of St. John Neumann!  When I saw yesterday that St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was the feast day, and today was St. John,  I immediately thought of two terrific short chapter books about these saints.

First is Thomas Finds a Treasure: A St. John Neumann Story by Joan Stromberg, part of the Glory of America series.  These books are similiar in style and reading level of the American Girl books, but with a Catholic flair.  And they are not girl-specific, so both boys and girls will enjoy it.  Readers will learn all about St. John Neumann and his time through the eyes and story of a fictional 10-year-old boy, Thomas, and his family.

Another great book in the series is Kat Finds a Friend: A St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Story, also by Joan Stromberg.  When our family traveled to Gettysburg and Emmitsburg early last summer, I realized I had forgotten to bring along our copy of Kat Finds a Friend.  How excited I was to see the Kindle edition, and download it immediately so we could read it and enjoy it as we saw the actual places described in the book.

These Kindle books are a bargain at $5.50 each.  If you are not a Kindle reader, both "real" books, and others in the series, are easily available at Catholic bookstores.

Yesterday, when I was in the school library for my day to volunteer and share great books, I had the chance to share with the kids.  I thought quite a few of the kids, or someone in their family, might have received a Kindle or other device to read e-books, and I was right--it was more than half.  I had the opportunity yesterday to "book talk" both of these books, and their e-editions, by showing the kids the books on my Kindle App.

Do you know other e-books about saints?  What are some good choices?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

First, What Are You Reading? Volume 17: Best Books of 2011 Edition

Happy New Year!  For January, here is a variation on the monthly “First, what are you reading?”

Instead of current reads, I’m going to list three of the best books I read in 2011.  For the last two months, I've finally starting keeping a list of each of the many books I read or peruse through the month.  My phone has a "list" feature, and I just quickly jot down a book when I finish it, with a note if I want.  I hope to have this as a great record over time of what I've read and loved most.

But since this is new, I glanced back through my Catholic Post reviews to come up with my favorites for 2011.  And a shout out to my always-creative husband, who gave me the idea for this variation on “first, what are you reading?”  In particular, you don't have to choose a book published this year.  What was the most influential book on your life this year?  I can’t wait to hear your choices, so without further ado, here are mine:

Life, Death and Catholic Medical Choices, by Fr. Kevin O’Neil, and Fr. Peter Black.  This is a slim volume in a Q&A format, and just an indispensible resource when it comes to understanding Catholic teaching on sensitive medical moral issues.  There are a lot of bad resources out there, from Catholic sources or not.  These theologians make it look easy, but trust me, it’s a job for professionals, as I wrote in my review:

“Just because someone slept at a Holiday Inn Express-- or has read a lot of Church documents--doesn’t guarantee good results when one tries to charitably explain or defend Church teaching accurately, especially on complicated and critical issues of life and death.  In this area, what’s most needed is loving and well-formed professionals.  Two of these have written Life, Death & Catholic Medical Choices.  Take advantage of their wisdom and guidance, and keep this book on hand.”

Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints by Colleen Swaim.  Reading this book, intended for teens and young adults, makes you want to be a better person.  All my kids read and loved it, but adults would find it substantial, too.  The great news is that Colleen Swaim is writing Ablaze 2 now.

Unplanned by Abby Johnson, about her journey from abortion clinic director to pro-life advocate.  As I wrote in my review: “Johnson leaves her job after the first time assisting an ultrasound-guided abortion, and seeing with her own eyes a baby struggling away from the abortion instrument.   This is more than just pro-life apologetics; Johnson writes a well-paced and sensitive memoir of her spiritual journey.”

In particular, Unplanned starts discussion about the vital need to guide young people, who are in a kind of “sensitive period” in their late teens to mid 20s when values and life course are being set.  How do we direct their natural idealism and energy to the culture of life, instead of the opposite?

Even as I finish writing about those three books, I wish I could pick more, like Lisa Hendey’s A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms, and Heather King’s Shirt of Flame, or the intriguing Catholic manga by Manga Hero.  But I’m much more interested in your favorite reads from this year.  What would you list as your favorite book?  I invite your feedback here or on Facebook or Twitter.