Friday, July 8, 2011

Real Books Still Matter

Here is my column that appears in this weekend's Catholic Post.  I'd love to hear your feedback and suggestions of other "real" books that matter.
Do real live books matter any more?

Since I write about books, you probably think that I am required to say “yes.”  I am a huge book lover, having a houseful of many genres.  I get books from publishers nearly every day and am always searching out the best of new Catholic books to share with readers.

But I’m no Luddite when it comes to reading.  I get much of my news from news apps on my phone & the computer; I have a Kindle app that I use frequently; and regular readers of the Catholic Post Book Group blog know that I love to promote Catholic titles available for e-readers.

And yet, there is “something” about a well-done book that inspires admiration.  Books—the real thing-- are a unique format for transmitting ideas, stories and life that simply can’t be replaced in any other way, particularly in a digital format.

Take the YOUCAT, for example—the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church—released this year worldwide in advance of World Youth Day next month, but intended to be a perennial resource.  YOUCAT is an extraordinarily well-produced volume that takes seriously how books can-and should- matter.   The feel  of YOUCAT is “just right,” the photos are handsome, and the line drawings exhibit both a sense of humanity and humor.  It’s clear that the design team took care to make it both beautiful and fun. This book matters, and not just because of its comprehensive content.

I had the book for more than a month before the design “sense of humor” caught up with me, and I discover new elements each time I open YOUCAT.  For instance, each section of the 10 Commandments begins with a tiny line drawing of Moses leaning on a tablet displaying the commandment’s number.   Another clever touch that will make you laugh: if you have a copy of the YOUCAT, start at the first page and look in the lower right hand corner, and you’ll know what to do.

Even though the YOUCAT is full of extras, it doesn’t have that cluttery feel some modern books-with-lots-of-sidebars exhibit. 

One very minor frustration with the YOUCAT—the numbering doesn’t mirror the Catholic Catechism of the Church, since the YOUCAT has 527 entries, and the CCC has more than 2000.  This isn’t a huge problem, as both volumes follow the same four-section organization (creed, sacraments, morality and prayer), so it’s pretty easy to look something up in the CCC if you want to expand on a particular topic.

The other downside is that the terrific quotes that line the pages of YOUCAT are not indexed.  So when you want to find that great little quote you might have to search.  That’s not the worst thing, as YOUCAT is a joy to spend time with.

Most will consider YOUCAT a reference, but I hesitate to call it that lest it be left on a shelf like a dictionary, to be consulted rarely.  YOUCAT should be in constant use.  As Pope Benedict XVI writes in the introduction, “Study this Catechism with passion and perseverance.  Study it in the quiet of your room; read it with a friend; form study groups and networks; share with each other on the Internet. You need to be more deeply rooted in the faith than the generation of your parents.”

Young people and others will appreciate another book that matters, in both content and design:  Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints, by Colleen Swaim.  This book is a gem, plain and simple.  Here are just three of the best elements:

*the book include several well-known saints, like St. Dominic Savio and St. Maria Goretti, but these bios aren’t the “same-old” facts.  Swaim infuses the stories with a fresh, invigorating voice that shows these remarkable people as more 3-dimensional than the usual narratives.

*the bulk of the book is new-to-most saints, or saints most will only have a passing knowledge of, from St. Kitizio of Africa to Blessed Chiara of Italy, and many others.   Their stories are told in a way that makes Ablaze a must-read.  It truly inspires a sense of longing for holiness.

*each saint/chapter ends with “saintly challenges,” offering readers a chance to apply the lessons of the saint’s life to his or her own, through media, prayers and recipes.  Think trying a homemade chai tea recipe to give as a gift after reading about St. Alphonsa from India, or being challenged to put into practice a daily schedule to emulate St. Stantislaus.  There are movie suggestions, simple virtue development ideas, and tons of other great ideas and challenges.


  1. I am using YOUCAT with our homeschooled 15yo this coming school year. I like the format, the quotes. and the pictures. Very well done!

    Change of subject: Has anyone read HOLY WOMEN by Pope Benedict? I am interested in reviews, opinions, etc.


  2. I have Great Teachers, first in the series of this book, but have not yet received Holy Women. I hear it is very good. Thanks for the reminder to check it out!