Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Q&A With Patricia Treece, Author of "God Will Provide"

As I mentioned in my mini-review of God Will Provide last month, I had hoped to post an interview with author Patricia Treece.  I'm delighted to be able to share our conversation.  Thanks, Patricia!

 Q. Tell Catholic Post readers a little more about you and your work. 

I’m a convert who fell in love with God’s friends the saints, particularly modern saints and holy people of our time who are on their way to official sainthood. Their lives, often so like our own, offer me mentoring, companionship, and prayer help. To share them with others - the whole human family - is my delight. I’m so grateful that God has given me a lively writing style and a talent for research from my training as ajJournalist and the several languages I studied in high school, college, post-grad., or independently with tutors. In turn, it is a grace and a lot of fun to give these gifts back to God by spending much of my time with the holy. You know people, in part, by the company they keep. God’s saints have helped me know and love God. My prayer is that my books help readers in the same way.

Q.  I found God Will Provide an amazing book, “brimming with wisdom and grace.” How did you get the idea for it, and how long did it take you to complete the book?

Thank you for asking. I am so relieved you found “wisdom and grace” instead of an author just thinking she can tell others what to do in trouble! I certainly can’t but  wisdom and grace are found in the saints and they get them from the Lord, who uses very ordinary people like me sometimes to pass them on.  

During the dark winter days of 2008-09, I woke one Sunday morning and almost immediately grabbed something to write on. An outline complete with many of the examples which appear in the book poured out. I don’t wake in work mode on the Sabbath! But I felt – of course I knew I could be deluded! – God, out of love, was letting me be an instrument to help the many people struggling in the terrible economy. I felt this work was a Divine invitation to everyone to position himself or herself so that God could meet their needs, material, emotional, and spiritual. I brought the outline to an editor I was working with on another project. He found value and I set aside the other project and began work, hoping to have it out by Christmas 2009. Call it just the way things go and laugh or see in what happened the kind of roadblocks that come against projects that will do good (I believe both are true) but as 2010 neared its end I finally learned that the publisher actually had no money and the printer-ready book was not going to come out.  A new publisher took it early in 2011 but wanted many changes so the twice-edited book was edited, to good purpose, twice again. Yet it made it out by mid-December 2011. 
Q. I found myself so uplifted and spiritually nourished by every single page. What is your intention for the people who will read it?  

You hit it, Nancy, right on the head. My prayer is that readers be uplifted and spiritually nourished. May the book fix in every reader faith – as the saints lives show - that God cares about your material and other  troubles, God has power to help, and God loves you and wills to help you.

Q.  You have such an interesting mix of saints and near-saints. How did you select the saints for the book?

Time and again in researching and studying saints’ lives, I have found instances of Divine Providence whether for their own material needs or those of the many they ministered to. I usually made notes about these and threw them in a file. I have also listened to the stories of people I know and experienced myself, that we non-saints, if our lives are pointed Godward, receive Divine Providence too. So when the outline for the book, I believe, was given me, many of these came to mind. In my file, I found others – way more than I could use. And sometimes an example fell into my lap just at the perfect moment. I could almost say I didn’t select the saints, they were sent to play their role.

Q. Don’t take this as a criticism, but to me all the stories are all delightfully mixed up in the book. I normally like books that are super-structured (8 Habits of Highly Effective ..., etc.), but in God Will Provide, the way you wrote helped me just let all the saintly wisdom soak in. Was that your intention in writing?

I certainly hoped the saints’ wisdom, which is a gift from God, would soak in, but I can’t claim that I consciously structured the book to mix up the stories in just this way. Sometimes a story started in one chapter and, after editing – and I had a very good editor at Paraclete who stretched me to sharpen my focus -  ended up in another. I guess I’ll just have to blame the Holy Spirit! 

Q. Any more books or writing projects in your near future you would like to share with Catholic Post readers?

The book I set aside due to the need I felt to get God Will Provide out is my next project. Nothing Short of a Miracle: God’s Healing Power in His Saints some of your readers may remember when it came out in the late 1980s. I took it out of print to update it with the addition of healings from the 1990s forward as well as to let readers know what has happened to some of the children particularly who received great miracles when they were tykes or infants. At the moment with five new chapters and all the updates, I may have to cut a bit. Isn’t it wonderful to think that our God gives us ordinary people (if you think about it, few beatification and/or canonization miracles, for instance, go to any but the most ordinary folks) so many miracles that a book on just some of the recent ones through just modern saints can easily get too long!

Q. Is there anything else you wish I would have asked, or would like to share? 

I would just like to thank you, Nancy, for relieving my mind that I did probably  receive this book from the Lord to help people, rather than am kidding myself about that.  And I thank you for mentioning it as possible reading for Lent. With the modern emphasis on doing something positive for Lent, I would be thrilled to think of people reading God Will Provide. Especially in these difficult times when it’s a temptation to turn away from God in disbelief or even get angry at Him in one’s struggles, I’d be so happy to think of some reader discovering or discovering anew that God loves and wants to provide for them. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Looking for a Great Read This Lent? God Will Provide

Lent started yesterday.  I wrote this mini-review for the February print Catholic Post book page,  but I neglected to put it up on the blog before now.  Perhaps someone is out there looking for good Lenten reading, but procrastinated and needs a good suggestion.

I highly, highly recommend a wonderful new book called, God Will Provide: how God’s Bounty Opened to Saints--And 9 Ways It can Open for You, Too by Patricia Treece.

Every singe page (and I mean Every. Single. Page.) of this extraordinary volume brings fresh insight into the nature of God and what it really means to surrender completely to Him.   Treece tells stories from the saints and near-saints, including St. Therese’s sister Leonie, to a favorite of mine, Father Solanus Casey.  This book brims over with wisdom and grace.

I hope to have a Q&A with Patricia Treece learning about how this remarkable book came to be written.  In the meantime, if you’re looking for a new book to read this Lent for growth in faith, consider picking up a copy of God Will Provide.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Catholic Blog Day: The Prayer of St. Ephrem

Catholic Blog Day 

 I first read about Catholic Blog Day on Twitter several weeks back, and resolved to post today on the suggested theme of "Penance."  How convenient (and not a bit coincidental!), since it is Ash Wednesday.

I thought about all the things I could share about penance and Lent, and in fact quite a few funny discussions going on around our house with tweens and teens about "what I'm going to give up for Lent."

Instead I'd like to share The Prayer of St. Ephrem (his name is spelled lots of ways; I'm just picking one).  This is a prayer my husband suggested our family might pray together during Lent.  Our pastor printed this in our bulletin, and my husband explained how Byzantine Catholics pray this all the time during Lent, as in every hour of the day!

(Said husband also happened to start his Lent on an Eastern/Byzantine Catholic schedule, which means he started two days ago.  Meanwhile, I'm thoroughly Roman Catholic, and definitely had my Mardi Gras yesterday with an apple fritter and all the non-Lent things).

 You can read a little more about The Prayer of St. Ephrem here.  I don't think we'll necessarily be praying it every hour here, but I'm posting it in various rooms around the house, and I hope we will be able to consistently make it a part of our Lenten journey.

Prayer of Saint Ephrem

O Lord and Master of my life,
keep from me the spirit of uncaring and discouragement,
desire for power, and idle chatter.

Instead, give to me, your servant,
the spirit of wholeness and integrity of being,
humble-mindedness, the spirit of patience and love.

O Lord and King,
grant me the grace to be aware of my failings
and not to judge my brothers and sisters,
for You are blessed, now and ever and forever.   Amen. 

I'm not really sure what will be the fruit of the Prayer of St. Ephrem during Lent, but I consider it to be so much like our Catholic faith and prayers--just letting it all soak in.   You pray the Rosary about a zillion times, and occasionally you have an insight about one of the mysteries or even the "Hail Mary" that expands your soul and faith in completely unexpected ways.  There's so much to explore in this simple prayer, and I hope and pray that this time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving will help us all grow spiritually.

If you care to share what your family is doing for Lent, you are more than welcome--comment away!  What are your thoughts, too, about Catholic Blog Day, and did you participate?

Catholic Blog Day is the idea of Jonathan Sullivan, a Catholic evangelist and new media expert in a nearby diocese.  I think it's such a great idea, and I'm glad to be a little part of this great experiment and idea. I hope there will be another "Catholic Blog Day" maybe in Easter Time this year, so we can all write about joy or reconciliation or mercy.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Q&A With Amy Welborn, author of Wish You Were Here: Travels Through Loss and Hope

I am delighted to have the chance to share this Q&A with Wish You Were Here author Amy Welborn.  Thank you, Amy, for being willing to answer all my questions about your work and your life.  What a gift for readers here, and your book is to readers everywhere.

Q.  Tell Catholic Post readers a little more about you and your work.

A.  I've meandered around the Catholic world professionally in various capacities for a while.  I have a BA in history from the University of Tennessee and an MA in Church History from Vanderbilt.  I have taught religion in Catholic high schools and served as a parish Director of Religious Education.  I have been writing for the Catholic press and Catholic audiences for about twenty-five years now, beginning back in the 80's when I lived in Florida and wrote a column for the Florida Catholic.  In the years since, I have written regular columns of faith and life for Catholic News Service and Our Sunday Visitor.  I've written books on apologetics, spirituality and such for various publishers, including Loyola Press and Our Sunday Visitor.  I do a lot of smaller editing and writing projects as well: writing study guides and pamphlets, editing and evaluating manuscripts for publishers and so on.  And of course, I write online on my various blogs.  When it comes to writing for the Catholic audience, I'm primarily interested in continuing what I started: teaching.  I really enjoy taking a complicated or dense subject and trying to make it understandable for a specific audience. I also enjoy, on a more basic level, experiencing interesting things and writing about them. 

Q.  Wish You Were Here was such a moving memoir of a tough year for you.  You wrote a little on your blog about the death of your husband, and your subsequent trip to Sicily and Barcelona.  When did you realize you should, or that you wanted to, write a book about that time in your life?

Oh, a few months after Mike died, I started hearing questions and hints from various readers about turning this into a book.  I resisted for a lot of reasons, until my friend David Scott - who was my editor at  the OSV newspaper for a bit and was a friend of Mike's - said, "You're writing about it anyway on your blog.  What difference does it make if you put the same words on paper, between covers?"  As I made the plans for Sicily, it seemed to take on a helpful framework and evolve into a book in my head, so at that point, I contacted Trace Murphy at what was then Doubleday Religion, and he was open to the idea.  It was a long slog from that point to this, mostly because the task was a lot more challenging than I had anticipated, and writing this way is different that tossing out blog posts. But I'm grateful to my editor, Gary Jansen, and pleased with the result. 

Q.  As I wrote in my review, “If you’ve been through the loss of someone dear, Wish You Were Here will just make sense….Your’re fine, and then you’re not.  You’re overwhelmed with sadness, and then you have hope.  You cling to your faith, but you have doubts and questions and what-ifs.”  Did you realize how much you were writing for so many other people when you wrote about your own experience of grief?

A.  I didn't realize, but I hoped I was. That was the only reason to write it: to help other people.  I don't mean that to be pretentious. It's just true. I was helped by other people's writing about their own experiences - everyone from the well-known like C.S. Lewis (A Grief Observed) and Kathleen Norris (Acedie) to simply bloggers sharing their own experiences of grief - that I hoped I could contribute a helpful voice to that never-ending conversation. 

Q.  I wrote down so many quotes from the book it slowed me down!  Your writing is so “quotable” and looks effortless.  Do you find writing easy, or is it a hard process for you? 

A. Thank you.  It's both.  Journaling is effortless, but shaping it is far more difficult. But I actually enjoy the editing process quite a bit.  That is when the real writing actually happens. 

Q.  Very recently, you lost your father as well.  Do you mind if I ask if this grieving is different, or if it is hard to be discussing this book when going through another loss?  

A.  It's a different experience, to be sure.  My father was older and quite ill - and had beaten a lot of odds to even get to the point that he was.  But the other thing - and this is quite important - is that Mike's death really changed me and my own stance toward death.  I have really committed myself to living what I profess in the Creed every Sunday about life, death and resurrection. 

Q. It’s clear from the book that (despite inevitable travel-related ups & downs), that your teenager and younger ones, benefitted and even thrived with the trip.  Do you plan any more far-away excursions with your kids? 

A.  Oh, yes...but I like to keep my travel plans under wraps until I'm practically there!

Q.  Any books or writing projects in your near future you would like to share with Catholic Post readers?

A.  I am working on smaller projects and just really trying to see if fiction is something that I can actually do, or if my identity as "fiction writer" is something that only exists in my imagination. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Giveaway: The Catholic Bride's Wedding Planner

And the year of great giveaways continues .....

Today's giveaway is A Catholic Bride's Wedding Planner  by Tracy Becker.   File this away in the category, "I wish I had this when I got married."

A Catholic Bride's Wedding Planner includes information about the sacrament of marriage, prayers, appointment stickers, a fill-in calendar, receipt holder.  

My favorite feature is the laminated bookmark with a planning guide, with tasks like "request baptismal certificates."  It would be handy to keep right in the planner's calendar section.

The only drawback for me was a lack of introduction.  The planner starts right off nicely with a quote from Scripture (1Cor 13:4-8), but then jumps right in with some challenging (meaning, a challenge to read) quotes from Casti Connubii, a Piux XI encyclical.    I wish there would have been a little introduction, perhaps a summary of the church documents.  Otherwise, there are lots of great ideas here!

A Catholic Bride's Wedding Planner is also featured on the Catholic site, "For Your Marriage," and its helpful page on wedding planning resources. This page is a great source of other websites and books listed--do check it out if you are getting married in the near future.

If you know a bride-to-be, enter the giveaway to offer this great resource, or encourage her to enter here.  You can enter by leaving a comment here until the deadline.

Rules for this giveaway are the same as always; once I pick a winner, I will announce it in the comments and contact the winner if I can.  If I don't hear from the winner in two days, I will draw another winner.

Deadline for this giveaway is (when else?), St. Valentine's Day, Tuesday, February 14, at midnight.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Giveaway of Randy Hain's The Catholic Briefcase

I am predicting that 2012 will be the year of the giveaway, and you'll just have to wait for even more great giveaways in the coming weeks to see what I mean.

The current giveaway is not one, but two copies of Randy Hain's new book, The Catholic Briefcase:  Tools for Integrating Faith and Work.

If you haven't read my Q&A with Randy Hain, you can do so here.  I reviewed The Catholic Briefcase in my January Catholic Post column.

As I wrote, 

"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."

So many people can benefit from this book.

If you want to enter the giveaway, you can do so at the Q&A with Randy Hain, or just leave a quick comment on this post.  Deadline for this giveaway is Thursday, February 9, at 7 p.m. Central Time.

Again, my rule is that once I announce a winner, I will contact the winner and announce it in the comments.  If I do not hear from you in two or three days, I will pull another winner.  Couldn't be simpler.  Good luck to all entrants!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Q&A (and Book Giveaway!) With Randy Hain, author of "The Catholic Briefcase"

Even thought I'm not an executive with a briefcase, I am Catholic, and so I truly enjoyed reading, and then reviewing, Randy Hain's new book The Catholic Briefcase, in my January Catholic Post column.  I was able to have a Q&A with Randy, and the publisher has shared two copies of this great resource to give away.  You can enter to win a copy of this book by commenting on this post, and one other, giveaway-specific post.  Good luck to all entering the giveaway.  And thank you, Randy Hain, for so thoroughly answering all of my questions about your helpful new book!

Q.  Tell Catholic Post readers a little more about you and your work.

Nancy-it is a pleasure to speak with you!  My family and I converted to the Catholic Church in 2006.  Prior to completing my RCIA program in 2006, I went through a life-changing personal conversion in the fall of 2005 when I finally stopped trying to be in charge of my life and surrendered to Christ.  That conversion and surrender (which is an ongoing process) has been the catalyst for how I live my life today as a husband, father, business leader and writer.  I am passionate about helping our fellow Catholics lead fully integrated lives, centered in Christ.  This means being authentically Catholic in all aspects of our lives, especially at work and in the public square.  I have started and still lead a number of ministries that are devoted to this effort.  My writing and speaking reflect my candid observations as a Catholic in the business world, as a married man (17 years to Sandra) and the father of two sons (Alex and Ryan).  I felt led to write the book to help others with practical steps to fully integrate their Catholicism with the place where they will spend the majority of their waking adult lives-the workplace.

Q.  Many people might consider that with its title, The Catholic Briefcase is only for business people or other “leadership,” but I thought it had great suggestions to infuse a Catholic culture into everything we do and a range of professions.  Who was your intended audience for the book?

Great question!  Quite frankly, I wrote the book for everyone.  I have had a number of stay-at-home-moms, retirees and students share with me that they have found valuable lessons in the book.  It has also been surprising to me how many Protestants have read the book and enjoyed it!  I write from my perspective as a Catholic in the workplace, but the lessons and stories in the book really connect well with everyone, regardless of your career or vocation.  I also was very intentional about writing a book that meets you where you are.  Some of us are quiet prayer warriors and others courageously lead the fight for our faith in the public square.  There is something here for everyone.

Q.  You have a website, The Integrated Catholic Life as an online ministry with a similar, but broader, focus than the book.  How do you see the “online” life for Catholics as opportunity and also a challenge?

Deacon Mike Bickerstaff and I started the Integrated Catholic Life eMagazine ( as a way to share the work of outstanding Catholic writers faithful to the Magisterium, with a broad audience.  The website has exploded in popularity because we think people are hungry to learn about our beautiful Catholic faith.  They want the Truth and they are seeking ways to apply it in their daily lives.  The great opportunity for Catholics is having access to such good content from almost anywhere.  The challenge is to be careful about becoming addicted to technology and our often compulsive need to be on the Internet.  We also need silence, peace and quiet in our lives.  I worry that too much “noise” is hurting the prayer lives of our fellow Catholics.

Q.  You recommend Catholic business networking as a great way to share our faith.  How would you help broaden that to people not strictly in a business setting (such as at-home moms)?

In our wired world with so much time being devoted to online connecting (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) we must be mindful of the need to interact with our fellow human beings as much as possible.  I strongly encourage Catholics to spend time with others who will encourage, educate and challenge them in ways that lead to strengthening their faith.  Business people have ample opportunities over coffee or lunch to meet, but stay-at-home-moms and others can also seek out others through the parish network to gather together.  Our parish has a number of outlets such as the Catholic Mom’s group that does a book study at our parish once a month and Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP) which is a twice a year in-parish retreat for men and women.  When all else fails, we can simply introduce ourselves to our fellow parishioners after Mass and build friendships that way.  The bottom line is we can’t lose the vital human element to connecting by exclusively interacting online.

Q. Any books or writing projects in your near future you would like to share with Catholic Post readers?

I am currently writing my second book for Liguori Publications titled “Along the Way: A Convert’s Journey in the Catholic Church” which is due to be released at the end of 2012.  The book shares my experiences and lessons learned as a Catholic since I joined the Church.  It will address almost every aspect of our Catholic faith, where I have stumbled and struggled and the powerful lessons I have learned.  I hope converts and lifelong Catholics will find it helpful.  I continue to write a blog every Thursday called “Surrender and Strength” for the Integrated Catholic Life.

Q.  Is there anything else you wish I would have asked, or would like to share?

I hope people enjoy the book and I encourage them to tell their friends about it.  I welcome feedback and can be reached at

Readers, to enter the giveaway of one of two copies of Randy Hain's The Catholic Briefcase, just  leave a comment here.  I'll do another giveaway-specific post, and you can enter there as well. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Meet a Reader: Joy Allen

How you know me:  I'm Joy Allen; I'm in my 21st year as Principal of Central Catholic High School in Bloomington, IL.  Before that I taught English for grades 9-12 and then started and ran an alternative high school on SUNY College campus in Cortland, New York.  My husband is a professor of Materials Science at University of Illinois and we have been blessed with three children who are now young adults.

Why I love reading:  I love to read for two purposes, the first being simply for pleasure.  I must admit that I enjoy romantic fiction where I do not have to think a lot about keeping track of the characters or plot.  I just like to escape and enjoy and know the ending will be happy.
 I’m a Hallmark reader when reading for pleasure!

The second purpose is for education and self improvement.  I am continuously reading educational journals, self-help books and news magazines (National Geographic, Newsweek). I receive approximately 5 monthly journals/magazines on education, leadership, Catholic Schools and classroom instruction.  I look for articles to copy for our faculty and staff.  Additionally, any self-help articles for anxiety, depression, self esteem, love, marriage, mood swings and motivation etc. call out to me.  I love to follow new theories and practices that will possibly help others who come to me.  I am also always looking through quotation/proverb books for quotes to use in speeches or as meeting openers.

What I am reading now: I have three books going at this time.  The romance shall remain nameless! The other two are books for our teenagers that were recommended and written by our Diocesan Chastity Guest Speaker, Jason Evert.  The first is, How to Find Your Soul-mate Without Losing Your Soul and the second is If you Really Loved Me.

Just for fun, I subscribe to the weekly Glacier Park Regional newspaper called Hungry Horse News out of Kalispell, Montana.  We travel to Glacier Park each summer and I keep track of all the local news and park photos year round.

My Favorite Books: My favorite books are: Poor Richard’s Almanac & Quotes by Benjamin Franklin and Beyond the Information Given by education specialist Jerome Bruner.

Friday, February 3, 2012

"Wish You Were Here" A Pilgrimage to Sicily, and Through Grief

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

 “Grief, they say, is not a straight line,” writes Amy Welborn in her beautiful new memoir Wish You Were Here: Travels Through Loss and Hope.  This “wavy line” is truly is the best way to describe her wanderings—literally, to Sicily and back, and figuratively, through a landscape of mourning, loss, and understanding.

Welborn is chiefly known as a Catholic writer of books for young people.  Among many other works, she is author of the “Prove It!” series for teens, and, most recently, Friendship with Jesus, a book about First Holy Communion.  She’s also one of the first and best in the Catholic “blogosphere.” 

A few months after her husband dies suddenly at the age of 50, Welborn decides to take her teenage daughter and two small sons to Sicily and Spain because…well, she doesn’t really know why.   So we find out together as they travel, and the result is this remarkable book.

Wish You Were Here is part travelogue, part Catholic exploration on life after death, and all about the unexpected ways those left behind cope after the death of someone dear.

If you’ve been through a loss, Wish You Were Here will just make sense.  It’s not overwrought or depressing, in fact, it’s funny at times.  It’s just true:  You’re fine, and then you’re not.  You’re overwhelmed with sadness, and then you have hope.  You cling to your faith, but you have doubts and questions and what-ifs.,   It may seem strange that that map of suffering and grief is overlaid onto a map of Sicily, but it works well here.

I wrote down so many quotes and paragraphs as I was reading Wish You Were Here that I could fill my column and blog with them this month, but here are just a few:

*”Maybe here in Sicily, picking my way on worn-down paths around tumbling ancient walls and broken columns, I will catch a clue as to how to live with it all.  And because here the veil between past and present seems as thin as the cooling breeze from the sea, maybe just once in a while, it will whip aside, it will lift, and I’ll see.”

*“What does it mean if I edge up on joy while doing something in a place I wouldn’t be if he were still alive?”

*“No matter how they present themselves, no matter how confident they seem, everyone is walking around with a hole, a resentment, a question, a nagging sense that something is not right, the suspicion that if this or that aspect of their life had been different, they would be happier, they would be at peace, they would be complete. Be kind, someone once said, because everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

It might seem like reading a about someone else’s grief could be a “downer,” but Wish You Were Here  is not that kind of book.  It will have deep resonance for anyone undergoing loss, and will be  informative and uplifting for anyone interesting in a Catholic vision of death from a deeply personal angle.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

First, What Are You Reading? Volume 18, February 2012

Here are my answers to the four questions I ask on the first of each month:
first, what are you reading?
what do you like best about it?
what do you like least?
what's next on your list to read? 

As always, I hope you'll consider your current reads on your blog and/or sharing here in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter.  Happy reading!

First, what are you reading?  

The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley.  We saw a like-minded family at the library, and their voracious reader was reading (and enjoying) this series, so I put several of them on hold at the library.  We do NOT recommend this series (as you'll read in "what do you like least.").  This happened to me before with other series and books, so you think I would learn, but in the end I think it helped us.  Every family, and every reader, is different.

Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.  In my very first "First, What Are You Reading?" post, I was reading the Heath brothers’ more recent book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

What do you like best about them?

I love anything by the Heath brothers, so I knew I had to add it to my list when back in the fall, when I attended a retreat for the volunteer directors of the Behold Conference.  (by the way, if you have not yet registered, what are you waiting for? It's going to be so great!  So take 2 minutes right now to go and register here).  At the retreat, the excellent Susan Grebner, who is doing media for the conference, gave a fantastic talk on the themes of Made To Stick related to what we want to accomplish, or “stick,” with the Behold Conference.  That talk really helped me, and I know others involved with the conference, to shape goals.

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Thrive and Others Die has been a topic of discussion at our house and beyond as I share various themes from the book. Briefly, a “sticky” idea must have as many of the acronym SUCCESs elements as possible: simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and told as a story.

The book is full of great examples of sticky stories and why they work and "stick." Here's just one “sticky” story regarding, “why bother with math?” from a high school math teacher: 

“My grade 9 students have difficulty appreciating the usefuleness of the Standard Form of the equation of a line, prompting them to ask, “When are we ever going to need this?”

This question used to really bother me, and I would look, as a result, for justification for everything I taught.  Now I say, “Never.  You will never use this.”

I then go on to remind them that people don’t lift weights so that they will be prepared should, one day, (someone) knock them over on the street and lay a barbell across their chests.  You lift weights so that you can knock over a defensive lineman, or carry your groceries or lift your grandchildren without being sore the next day.  You do math exercises so that you can improve your ability to think logically, so that you can be a better lawyer, doctor, architect, prison warden or parent.

MATH IS MENTAL WEIGHT TRAINING.  It is a means to an end (for most people), not an end in itself.”

So there, all you math-hating people!

What do you like least about them?

The Sisters Grimm series is not compelling to me, nor will be a “favorite” series, not the least of which is the fairly intense violence.  I skimmed the first two, but didn't have time or inclination for the rest. As my 11-year-old daughter put it, “It’s like pretzels when you’re hungry—it’s something to read.”  She also commented, “The sisters are always being chased by monsters.”  So this series is a bit of a “meh” in our house, and from what she told me about some of the later books she did read (the violence gets darker and weirder), I’m glad the others didn’t pick them up.

Simcha Fisher had a great post at The Catholic Register way back in November talking about “dangerous books for teenage girls” .

What I love best about Simcha’s analysis is not so much the list of what not to read, but the conflict for parents who don’t want to censor everything, but still think kids can’t read “just anything.”  She recommends, “variety, variety, variety,” and also this beautiful phrasing:  “dedicate them repeatedly to Mary. Ask her to make them a sponge for good ideas and Teflon against the bad; and abandon the idea that you can follow a formula that turns out perfectly virtuous kids.”

I have a refrigerator magnet from the Daughters of St. Paul that reads, “Control is for the moment…. communication lasts a lifetime.”   (I actually had the chance to quote that in my January column—I’ve been looking for an opportunity to do that, and finally did!)  Helping our kids develop a good media literacy sense is a major goal at our house.  The fact that The Sisters Grimm did not gain traction here I hope is a fruit of that work.  Another fruit is that all my children have put down books that they find a “waste of time” to finish.  I love that.  I don’t think I learned that until I was about 30—I don’t have to finish a book that isn’t any good, or that I don’t like.

What’s next on your list to read?

My husband was interested in talking about the integrative medicine of Dr. Andrew Weil, so I’ve got a few of his books, including his new one, Spontaneous Happiness, from the library.

I’m also starting to re-read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley; I haven’t read it since college, and I must admit it’s slow going.

So, what are you reading these days?  Any books you would like to share?