Category Archives: Book Reviews

Meet a Reader: Shannon Cardaronella

This month’s “Meet a Reader” is a wonderful woman I met several years back at the Peoria Diocese Summer Institute.    At a dinner for speakers & spouses (both our husbands were speakers that year), we talked the entire time about–I know you will be shocked to hear this—books!  This actually is quite surprising as we have kids of similar ages, and kids tends to be a default subject.  I knew she would be great to feature here, and I am so glad to be able to introduce another thoughtful “reader” to Catholic Post readers.  Thanks, Shannon.

How You Know Me:

You probably do not know me.  More people know my husband, Marc, the Director of Religious Education (DRE) at Holy Cross Parish in Champaign and the Regional DRE for Champaign/Danville.  I love Holy Cross!   Holy Cross is one of the loveliest churches I have every enjoyed, and it is our home parish.  If you are ever in Champaign, please come worship with us.  Consider yourself invited.  I also appreciate that our parish is a motley crew of folks from all walks of life.  Marc and I have two boys:  John Berchmans “JB”, 9 and David, 7.  I am a homeschool mom, and I love homeschooling also allows us to read, read, read!

Why I Love Reading:

I grew up surrounded by huge bookshelves filled to the brim and even cataloged.  My sister read to me all the time when I was very young.  My parents discussed their latest reads at the dinner table.  We read it all, from junky books to works that uplifted the mind.  We were curious about other people and places, other points of view, new ways of looking at the world.  Finally, my parents were not afraid of the world.  They both possessed an innate love of and trust in the world and people, always teaching me that most people are good and kind and want to help.  This trust allows me to go deeply into the world of the book I am reading.  There is something about losing oneself in a good book that can neither be adequately expressed nor replicated with other media.

My Favorite Book:

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.  While Scarlett is the main character, it is Melanie who fascinates me.  Melanie is a beautiful Christ figure.  As a reader, I wince at Scarlett’s flaws: her insensitivity, selfishness and heartless conniving.  Melanie sees Scarlett’s perfections: her fortitude, intelligence, good horse sense and strength. The kicker is Melanie is right.  Scarlett — exactly who she is, with all of her flaws, because of who she is, with all of her flaws — saved herself, Tara, Melanie and the baby, Mammy & Prissy… her whole “tribe” if you will, against seemingly insurmountable odds.  Melanie is no doe-eyed ignorant optimist.  She accepts and embraces Scarlett and the world as they are.  This acceptance brings out the best in all, including even Rhett Butler and Belle Watling.

What I’m Reading Now:

Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly.  Fr. Willard, our pastor at Holy Cross, gave a copy to every family at Christmas Mass.  Thank you, Fr. Willard!  There is a lot of “food for thought” in this one.  And since this is my very own copy, I can underline to my heart’s content.

"The Grace to Race" and other Books Help You Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

Do you have a New Year’s resolution, or more than one?
When I put this question out on the blog last week and the Facebook page for the Catholic Post, an assortment of worthy goals were listed, from physical goals, such as eating better or exercising more; organizing goals; relationship goals such as having more family time; and financial goals.  Three new books offer interesting possibilities to help nearly anyone begin to tackle the challenges of a new year.

*The Grace to Raceby Sister Madonna Buder, is one of the most inspiring books I’ve read in recent years.  The lengthy subtitle tells the story:  The Wisdom & Inspiration of the 80-Year-Old World Champion Triathlete Known as the Iron Nun.

I was a wee bit put off by that “concept,” too–until I started reading and couldn’t put it down.

Sister Madonna’s book is part fine spiritual autobiography, part triathlete war stories, and throughout, true inspiration to the rest of us to really “reach” for more in our spiritual and physical lives.

Born to a life of privilege in St. Louis, Sister Madonna Buder considers a vocation from her early years, but still dates and immerses herself in an active, happy family life.  Her decision time approaches as she reflects during a summer trip to Europe:

“Once safely on the train coursing along the scenic Rhine, I began to collect my thoughts.  My Irishman!  Monsignor Doheny!  My European adventures!  The past, the present, the future!  What was God really asking of me?  Then, from the depths of my soul, came an interior voice, ‘Can any one man satisfy you when I alone dwell in the deepest recesses of your heart?’  The message was seeping in just as surely as the waters flowed along the banks of the Rhine.  My true longing was becoming clear.”

Based on her active lifestyle through her early life, it doesn’t surprise to see Sister Madonna to take up running at age 48, begin running marathons and then racing triathlons (including the punishing full-length Ironman triathlons) through her 80s.      What is surprising is how well she shows how running has enhanced and aided her vocation and her prayer life:

“All I knew at the time was that I was running on faith, and I prayed while I ran.  Afterwards, I realized it was a different kind of prayer posture.  Besides using my heart and head, when I ran my whole body was involved in the petitioning.”

For those looking for a little personal motivation, Sister Madonna gives tips and ideas for getting or staying active, but her story itself in inspiration enough.

*Is personal or home organization among your top goals for the new year?  Smart Martha’s Catholic Guide for Busy Moms by Tami Kiser is a super-encouraging, practical book that helps moms streamline home management and family organization.

Kiser presents her approach not just for the sake of a sparkling house or well-groomed family, but chiefly so that family members can be more “present” to one another and others, just as Mary was “present” when Jesus visited the home of Mary & Martha in Bethany.

A busy mom of nine, Kiser culls tips from her “Smart Martha” seminars to give a boost to moms who feel drowning in school schedules and home management.  What I love best about Smart Martha is the reminders that your way may be different, but just as good, rather than a “one size fits all” approach too common in home organizing books.

One feature I found especially helpful was her take on the 7 Habits time management skill of  “sharpening the saw,” originally all about balance and taking breaks to increase efficiency.  Kiser adds to that definition that moms should take the time to rethink routines, schedules, or even rooms, in order to be more efficient and have more time for one another in the family and in the world.

*With all the depressing financial news, it’s no surprise to see that Merriam-Webster decreed“austerity” as Word of the Year (WOTY).

(That’s not quite as much fun as the Oxford English Dictionary’s WOTY:  refudiate; but that’s for another column.)

Financial goals can be both a worthy goal and a significant challenge.   An intriguing new book, Why Enough is Never Enough:  Overcoming Worries about Money-A Catholic Perspective by Gregory S. Jeffrey, proposes that much of our worry and insecurity about money lies in two areas: a lack of trust in God, and a lack of generosity.

Each chapter ends with reflection questions that Jeffrey suggests people write out and talk over with a “money partner:” a spouse or trusted friend.  Overall, the reflection questions and indeed the whole book, are designed to foster in readers hearts that are “radically generous” and trusting in God for all good.

My main concern about Why Enough is Never Enough is the fear some readers might take away that the only cause of money troubles or money worries is spiritual; that somehow prayer, the sacraments and trust in God is all that is required to be a good financial steward.  In its defense, that really isn’t the book’s only message, but based on the title and some of the content, readers could be misled.

I wish the book had given more strategies that people can do to economize, or save more, or make wise financial decisions.  These might not fall into the category of a “spiritual” or “Catholic” approach, but can still help people meet their financial goals and be more at peace with money.

Also consider:

*Once you’ve been inspired by Sister Madonna Buder’s triathlons, consider The Rosary Workout by Peggy Bowes.  Bowes outlines a sensible, easy approach to interval training (for people of any physical or spiritual level) using the prayers of the Rosary.

 *A Mother’s Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot.  Pierlot proposes moms adapt St. Benedict’s Rule of Life to maintain rhythm and prayer in managing a family.
*7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free: A Catholic Guide to Managing Your Money by Phil Lenahan is a well-respected newer classic (from 2007) with an online component for small group study.

Meet a Reader: Father Dominic Garramone, OSB

Meet a Reader:  Father Dominic Garramone, OSB
1.  How do we know you?
I could be known for any number of things!  I’m a 1979 grad of Spalding, a Benedictine priest of Saint Bede Abbey, religion teacher and drama director for Saint Bede Academy, TV baker on public television, cookbook author and children’s author.
2.  Why do you love reading? 
I used to love reading mostly because it transported me to other worlds and alternate realities—I’m a big fan of fantasy writers like Tolkien, Anne McAffrey, Patricia McKillip, etc.  But as I grow older and (one hopes) more mature, I especially appreciate that reading is such a reflective exercise—it promotes reflection, meditation, discussion.  You always have the luxury re-reading a paragraph or having recourse to a dictionary or reading it aloud to someone else in the room, or just saying to yourself: “Stop—I want to think about this for a minute.”
3.  What are you reading now?
Right now our monastery table reading is And There Was Light, the autobiography of Jacques Lusseyran, blind hero of the French Resistance—absolutely gripping.  I’m reading Everyday Life of Medieval Travellers by Marjorie Rowling, as part of class prep for teaching church history.
4.  What is your favorite book, and why?
Apart from the Bible and the Rule of Saint Benedict, my favorite book is The Supper of the Lamb: a Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon.  No other book has influenced my cooking and my view of creation as much as this work—a great read for anyone who can see preparing food as a spiritual act and a share in God’s creative work.

Note from your blog host:  This month’s “Meet a Reader” is also the author of both of this month’s featured books, Thursday Night Pizza and children’s book Brother Jerome and the Angels in the Bakery.  I’ve always wanted to feature local authors here, and when the chance popped up I was delighted, and resolved to ask him to be our “Meet a Reader” this month, as well.

Thanks, Father Dominic, for being willing to be a part of this feature!

Meet a Reader: Sister Jacque Schroeder

Here is this month’s “Meet a Reader” feature.  I’m delighted Sister Jacque Schroeder agreed to share her reading loves with us.   Sister Jacque is well-known to more than generation of TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) and Cursillo attendees in the Peoria area.   I wrote about her lector skills here last week.  Thanks Sister Jacque!
Who: Sister Jacque Schroeder
How you know me:
I’m Sister Jacque Schroeder, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Immaculate Conception since 1966.  I’m currently in Pastoral Care at OSF St. Francis Medical Center, but I’ve been privileged to serve our diocese in many ways.  I have been an elementary and junior high teacher & principal, spiritual director for the TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) and Cursillo Movements, and formation director of my Franciscan religious community, and a pastoral care worker in the Standing Rock Reservation in our sister Diocese of Rapid City, SD. Over the past 30 years I’ve also enjoyed been privileged to journey with many people in the ministry of spiritual direction and retreats.
Why I love reading:
My mother set the pattern when I was very small.  She read to us every night before bed – Bambi was my favorite.  I loved listening to her read because she made the story come alive in my mind as well as in my heart.  With such a superb example one would have thought that reading would come easily to me, which it did not.  I’m told that between 1st and 2nd grade I completely forgot how to read.  It apparently was not too traumatic since I don’t even remember it – I was far too interested in riding my bicycle and playing outside.  However, that event started another tradition in our home:  all of us (there were 6 children in our family) had to come in for an hour in the afternoon during the summers to read.  I mostly enjoyed books about horses and families while growing up.  In spite of this (and the speed reading courses in college) I remain to this day a painfully slow reader.

My favorite book(s) and why:
How does one choose a favorite book?  For me, it is not possible.  However, a book that is representative of my reading loves is The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.  As a children’s book, written as much or more for adults as children, it disarms the reader and allows him/her to go to the heart of reality.  It combines wonderful adventure with the intricacies of relationships among family and friends.  Most of all, it tells our Ancient and Primal Story – The Paschal Mystery – revealing the Goodness, Fierceness and Beauty of our GOD Who is Love.
For spiritual reading, probably my favorite book is the 16th century classic Abandonment to Divine Providence by  Jean-Pierre de Caussade, S.J.,   I keep it with me, go to it often, and recommend it to anyone called to the ministry of spiritual direction –and, indeed anyone seeking to go to the heart of our journey with the Lord. The book is actually a collection of his letters to those he directed in the spiritual life.  Two scripture quotes come to mind that sum it up quite well:  “Do whatever He tells you.”  (John 2:5)  And “My food is to do the will of my Father.” (John 4:34)  A particularly helpful quote from his writings for me is “Perfection consists in doing the will of God, not in understanding His designs.”  I continue to discover that my need to understand is about me, whereas my need to be obedient is about GOD.  The second brings far more Blessings, Grace and Peace into our lives.

What I’m reading now:
I just began reading Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.  It is the real life accounting of a man (Mortenson) who stumbled into a Pakistani village in 1993, after failing in his attempt to climb the most difficult mountain peak in the world (K2).  The generosity and kindness of the villagers moved him to promise to return and build a school. This he did – and much more.  He began a humanitarian effort, enlisting the help of many people worldwide, from many walks of life, and began the Central Asia Institute to build schools in impoverished areas.  Over the next decade he built 55 schools – especially for girls.  I think that this book will make obvious the truth that, in the long view, books are a far more powerful agent for world peace than bombs can ever be and that the most powerful agent is, of course, true friendship.

I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You

Today’s first reading is from Job 1, about all the misfortunes that happened to Job.  Servant after servant came to tell Job of losing everything, and their “line” is, “I alone have escaped to tell you.”  And Job responds with,

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,

naked I shall return.
The Lord gave, the Lord has taken back.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

I am reminded of several random thoughts here that I hope will be somewhat cohesive.

*the lector for daily Mass, coincidentally, happened to be the October featured “Meet a Reader” that will appear in this weekend’s edition of The Catholic Post.  You’ll just have to check back later this week to see who it is, but suffice to say she is an excellent lector.  I always think when she is the lector, “Word on Fire,” because she reads in a very deep way (for lack of a better word, not “drahmatic” but moving and heartfelt–it’s hard to let your mind wander during her reading).  You know you are hearing the Word of the Lord.    I had arrived a bit late for Mass (not that that ever happens to me! hmm), so the reading has just started, but I was instantly drawn into the narrative.

*Job, scripture tells us, “committed no sin nor offered any insult to God.”  I think that is more difficult than anything when bad things happen.  Who can say they never complain to God?  I know I am extremely prone to this, for small things and big things.

*A suggestion for your Ipod: (and it happens to be on my running playlist), Blessed Be Your Name is a great song by the CCM band Tree 63, a meditation of sorts on this passage from Job.

*I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You: My Life and Pastimes
is the title of the excellent memoir by Ralph McInerny, who died last year.  He was a personal hero of mine and I wrote about him several times in my blogging life, so I’ve mined one of those old posts to share:

I met him once many years ago, when my husband and I were first married.  McInerny gave a speech at Bradley University, and one of the hosting professors invited us to the after-speech gathering at his house.  I brought along a super chocolate cake.  It was good, with a chocolate-sour cream ganache frosting–now where is that recipe?

McInerny praised it by saying it was the “most chocolatey chocolate cake” he had ever tasted.  My husband, the philosopher in the family (by trade, degree, and temperament), said this was the highest compliment given by a philosopher.  McInerny agreed, and we all had a good laugh.

Several years ago my husband presented a paper at a conference at Notre Dame. I tagged along with the two children we had at the time.   McInerny was one of the organizers, and even though I saw him walking around the conference, I was always too shy to re-introduce myself and tell him how much I admired him.  Usually I am pretty bold about introducing myself to people.  Now I wish I had.

How he discusses writing in I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You is brilliant.    He takes the craft of writing seriously but not too seriously.  He speaks of it being a discipline and work, and the luck/serendipity involved in his success.

He has referred to Anthony Trollope, one of my favorite authors, at least three times in the few chapters I have read.  He and/or his family regularly spent several years, and weeks of others, in Europe.  He is a faithful Catholic family man with a large family.  What’s not to love?

Meet A Reader: Monsignor Richard Soseman

Following is the feature “Meet a Reader” that appears on the monthly book page in the print Catholic Post.  This month we feature Monsignor Richard Soseman.  He’s been a friend of our family for many, many years, and I’m so glad to learn more about his favorite books and why he’s a reader.  I think after reading his take on it, I’m ready to tackle Don Quioxote.  Anyone else with me?

Meet a Reader:  Monsignor Richard Soseman
How you know me:
 I’ve been a priest of the Diocese of Peoria since 1992; I was a Judicial Vicar for 12 years and Pastor of  St. Mary of the Woods Princeville for 10 years.  I’m now at Congregation for the Clergy, Vatican City.
I also serve as the Episcopal Delegate for the Cause of Beatification of the Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen.
Why I love reading:
When we were kids, bedtime was at 8, but we could read until 8:30. We also went to the Library Club Summers at the East Moline Public Library.
Sylvia Standaert, at St. Anne School, East Moline, (now Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy) was a real inspiration, and guided us in selecting books in First through Third Grades, so we could appreciate and understand the books we were ready to read. I remember being judged ready to read “Farmer Boy” by Laura Ingalls Wilder and being very excited.
I come from a family of readers, from my Father, who loved Zane Grey as a teenager, and read often in his spare time, to my Mom who still enjoys a good novel, amidst quilting and visiting with her great grandchildren. My eldest brother read a lot of non-fiction, my older sisters preferred novels. My brother Gary’s favorite author was Homer. He reads a lot of novels, but there is almost always a volume of Plato or nonfiction on his reading table. So, I suppose I come by reading naturally.
What I’m reading now:
Nathaniel Hawthorne: The House of the Seven Gables. We have to rediscover old classics, and I really enjoy 19th century novels.
Pope Benedict XVI: St. Paul the Apostle
Fulton J. Sheen: Old Errors and New Labels
Luigi Pirandello: Enrico IV (Play) I find fascinating Pirandello’s interest in examining the interplay between reality and fiction.
I also enjoy the mystery novels of Lawrence Block, whose flawed and sometimes criminal characters nonetheless follow a rigid moral code.
My favorite books:
Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset. A beautiful and exciting epic trilogy of medieval and Catholic Norway, Kristin Lavransdatter is the life of the heroine from youthful indiscretion to elderly reflection.
Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales is possibly the best guide for development in the spiritual life ever written.   It’s so practical and full of examples. We say we love God. Don’t we want to learn all we can about Him through growth in the spiritual life?
El Quijote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.  The first modern novel, Don Quixote is so chock full of fun, adventure, and literary technique that it is hard to put down. I first read parts of the novel at Alleman, and for a semester while studying my Masters at Marquette. It is said that a person should read this novel at least three times, as a youth, in middle age, and when elderly. Because of this, for years I gave Don Quixote to students at the High School Graduation. I hope they read it.
Book of Ruth from the Bible
Since I’m part of a large family, I have always enjoyed this story of family loyalty despite great difficulties. Beautiful, especially when Ruth says to Naomi: “whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” It’s such a great reminder of human loyalty and of God’s great love for His people.

Father Leo’s Fusion Fajitas: Why I Am a Book Blogger and Not a Food Blogger Will be Evident Here

All month long, I’ve been promising to myself make the fusion fajitas that Father Leo Patalinghug beat Food TV Chef Bobby Flay on the “Throwdown” show.  We have watched the episode plenty of times at our house, especially after Father Leo appeared at our parish in May.  What an exciting time we had meeting him in person.

The fusion fajitas appear in Father Leo’s new edition of Grace Before Meals, his cookbook that encourages families to eat and talk together.  Here’s my review from The Catholic Post of Father Leo’s book Grace Before Meals.
The fajitas are thinly sliced flank steak along with sautéed onions & peppers, and served with “Holy Guacamole” and “Screamin’ Sour Cream” dip, and tortillas.
But it’s been a busy month, and I kept making “the usuals.”  Finally, last week I bought the ingredients (many perishable) so I would be sure to make them.  Flank steak was the hardest to obtain; I finally had to settle for skirt steak from a local specialty grocery store, Lindy’s,  in a nearby town.  The helpful staff assured me it would substitute nicely.
So finally, last Wednesday I decided was “the day.”
I assembled the ingredients on the kitchen table.  I thought that would be easier than taking things out one by one, and also I am prone to sometimes famously forget a critical ingredient when I cook (oops!  That hummus doesn’t have any lemon juice! Not so great, trust me).
Next, I mixed up the marinade for the steak and poured it over the steak, reserving some of the marinade to cook the onions & peppers in.
My youngest helped “tenderize” the meat with a fork.  He is saying here, a direct and favorite quote from Father Leo from the “Throwdown” episode, “I don’t want to make it too holy–that’s God’s job.”
Now the steak gets to sit in the marinade while I make the rest of the items.  I was surprised at how much brown sugar (1 cup) was in the marinade, but I don’t often marinade so what would I know?

Next, onto the “Holy Guacamole.”  I started by juicing one lime:
Next, I chopped up two avocados (I’m not sure if I’m spelling the word right, but adding an “e” triggered spellcheck), and immediately poured the lime juice over them to prevent browning:
Next, finely chopped red onion:

Now, some parsley, cilantro and salt is added to the mix and it is all smashed together.
Now it’s time to make the Screaming Sour Cream:  basically sour cream mixed with hot sauce, garlic and a few other ingredients.  Here it is before mixing:
Now, the reason I am a book blogger and not a food blogger should be evident by the fact that I lost steam around here and needed to get “dinner on the table,” and so did not take photos of lighting the charcoal for the grill, grilling the steak and letting it rest, sautéing the vegetables (though the chopped ones are visible in the last photo), etc., etc.
But I did finish the fusion fajitas, and we did have them for dinner.  They were very yummy:

Not everyone tried all of the fajitas as prepared, as I might have predicted.  The skirt steak was a big hit, as were some of the other items.  I filled out the table with refried beans (popular at our house scooped up with tortilla chips), a couple of cheese quesadillas, and some tortilla chips.  Everyone ate well and we had a relatively placid dinner and fun talking about Father Leo.
What I have to confess here is that I ended up making the “fusion fajitas” was towards the end of a day I felt convinced I am a failure as a wife and mother.  Ever have a day like that?  Last Wednesday was one of those for me.  Everyone, just everyone, in our house, yelled and was in tears for goodly portions of that day.  The only reason my husband escaped this fate is he had the great good fortune to go to work, but since he still was available via phone and email he did learn about our exploits at various points.
It was one of those truly horrible days that instead of loving the lifestyle of educating our children at home and being with my children all.the.time, I start researching boarding schools in New Zealand.  That is my big, laughing joke when chatting about homeschooling, “Yes, I love it, except on days when I want to send my children to a boarding school in New Zealand!”   And yet, there are days when that is not a joke.
Anyway, I wish I could say that making the fusion fajitas and eating them together as a family made everything terrific for the ending of that day, but it didn’t exactly do that.
However, it did make it a little bit better.  I didn’t feel quite so much of a complete failure because I tried a new recipe, had fun taking photos of it (until I ran out of time and needed to get dinner finished), and had more of a fun story to tell my husband at the table than a re-hash of the horrible day.
Maybe that’s what family meals together are supposed to do:  make things a little better, make us connect just a little bit more so we don’t despair about the inevitable bad days and bickering that goes on in families.
I think I might try to try one new complete meal recipe, along the lines of Father Leo’s Fusion Fajitas, once a month or so.  But next time, I’m going to do it on a good day.
Do you have any full-meal recipes I should try?  Or, better yet, any good New Zealand boarding schools to recommend?

Meet a Reader: Sylvia Standaert

Here’s August’s “Meet a Reader,”  the monthly feature that also appears on the Book Page of the Catholic Post.
If you have a suggestion of someone that would be a good subject for a future “Meet a Reader” column, please leave a comment!
Who:  Sylvia Standaert, librarian, Our Lady of Grace Academy (formerly St. Anne School), East Moline
I was born with Cerebral Palsy but because of my parents’ dedication and my determination and tenacity, it has never deterred me from reaching my goals.  I have worked in a Pre-school-8th grade school library (Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy formerly St. Anne School) for 43 years.  The kids keep me going.  I have two older brothers, Gene and Jim, and enjoy their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  My hobbies include collecting Longaberger baskets, reading, shopping and travel.  I have visited 46 states and 14 countries.
Why do you love reading?
I have read voraciously since the first day I could read.  It might have stemmed from the fact that it was something I could do despite my handicap, but I can’t imagine being without a book.  Books can take you anyplace you want to go, and make you feel like you are part of the characters’ lives.   Books can teach you anything you want to learn about any subject imaginable.
What is your favorite book? 
My favorite book is The Bears Visit the Library, a book I wrote and my niece/godchild Michele illustrated. (Michele is an artist in Arizona).  The Bears Visit the Library is based on a program I do each year with the kindergarten class at our school.  When we started the kindergarten at the school, I thought using my extensive collection of teddy bears could be a great way to relay the importance of reading and using the library to a group of very inquisitive five-year-olds.   I usually start my bear curriculum in January, about the time the kindergarten teacher is doing something with polar bears.   As the school year progresses, brown bears appear, as do holiday, gardening and sports bears.
What are you currently reading? Mysteries are my favorite genre.   I just finished a Charlotte LaRue Mystery “Death Tidies Up by Barbara Coley.  Charlotte has a maid service and keeps finding dead bodies in unusual places.  I love the Abby and Ophelia mystery series by Shirley Damsgaard, including the latest in the series, “The Seventh Witch.”  Ophelia is a small town librarian, and she and her grandmother Abby have some very “magickal” powers.   Other favorite authors include Joanne Fluke, Mary Higgins Clark, Nicholas Sparks, Nora Roberts and John Grisham.

Meet a Reader: Sebastian Von Zerneck

Here is my interview with Sebastian Von Zerneck, a high school student and the featured “reader” in this month’s “What Are You Reading?” column.  A shorter version of this will appear in today’s print Catholic Post.  I’m grateful to Sebastian for his willingness to participate here, as well as his remarkable work with Project Bright Bookcases.
Who: Sebastian VonZerneck, a 17-year-old rising senior at Peoria Notre Dame. 

Last summer I started Project Bright Bookcases to provide good books to kids in places where kids might not encounter books.   I was at the Peoria courthouse and noticed a room where children go when their parents are in court. My mother was with me, and we had a conversation about how essential quality reading material is at a young age. We also talked about how a lot of teenagers, as they grow up, have no use for the children’s books they’ve accumulated over the years.  I solicited and got donations of more than 2,000 books and several bookcases.  I fixed up the bookcases, and organized the books.  Finally last spring, I sent out letters to various locations organizations in the Peoria area who I heard could use the bookcases. We still have donations coming in and bookcases going out. 

Why I Love Reading:. Until I was 11, I lived in Brooklyn, New York, very close to what I consider the best public library in the world: Brooklyn Public Library. A lot of homeless people hung out or lived nearby, and I remember thinking that it wasn’t a terrible place to be homeless. 

I guess you could say I’ve been surrounded by literature since birth. We’ve always had a lot of books at our house, including several hundred stacked in shelves in the room my brother and I shared.  My grandfather Tom Klise wrote The Last Western; my aunts Kate and SarahKlise are children’s book authors. 

 I love reading because it allows me to experience times, locations, and situations that I otherwise couldn’t. I’ve also learned a lot from reading, probably more than I’ve learned in school. In fiction, what happens is shown to you, rather than told to you. This makes the information much more engaging than that presented in a textbook or class lecture. A teacher can talk all day about a certain time period, say, the Stalin era, but by reading Animal Farm I can honestly say that I have a solid understanding of all the various motives and ideologies that are crucial to knowing why things happened the way they did. Reading is, to me, a way to gain first-hand insight into a situation, which is difficult to gain just from hearing about it through an outside source. 

What I’m Reading Now: The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas, follows a young French nobleman and his three friends in the King’s musketeers trying to protect their King and Queen from the sinister machinations of Cardinal Richelieu. This book is incredible. It’s one thing to hear about the harshness of this time period, the far-reaching influence of certain key political figures, and the chess game that they played across Europe. But to read this book is to experience 17th century France first-hand. The characters are hilarious and memorable, the plot is fast and entertaining, and the politics are totally intriguing. I definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes a good adventure, or is interested in French history. 

The Art of War, by Sun Tzu, was written in the 6th century BC China. It’s hard to believe this work was written so long ago because the strategies it presents are still very applicable to modern thinking. Ideas on how to divide your army and how to use spies may seem of no practical use to someone who is not in the military, but if you think about it the tactics that Sun Tzu discusses are universal. A good example is card games. I know a lot of people who buy books about how to win at poker, or whatever. This book trumps all, no pun intended. Things like getting into the mind of your enemy by bluffing or underplaying are masterfully dissected in The Art of War. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has need to think strategically:  In other words, everyone. 

My Favorite Books: Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell, is a dark, dystopian novel about a totalitarian government that watches people even to the point of thought surveillance. Two civil servants become fed up with the regime and rebel in secret. To me, the politics were not even the most interesting part of the story. What really made an impact on me was the effect of the government’s mind-washing techniques on the protagonists. I won’t give anything away, but the conclusion was haunting. I thought about this book for a long time after I finished it, and that’s why I count it as one of my favorites. 

Shogun, by James Clavell, is an epic story about Tokugawa’s rise to power in 17th century Japan.  Japan was isolated from Europe for many centuries, and, because of that, Japanese ideas on philosophy and religion bore almost no resemblance to those of the first European visitors. After reading this almost 1200-page book, however, I really began to understand what motivated Japanese society during that era. Excuse the cliché, but it’s one of those stories that I literally could not put down once I became engrossed in the complex plot. The characters become so sympathetic that many of the events in the story become almost as emotional as those of real life. For those reasons, I recommend this book to anyone who can read. 

“Meet a Reader” Feature: Sister Catherine Cleary, OSB

This week’s Catholic Post Book Page features a new article series called, “Meet a Reader”  Each month, we’ll highlight the reading of someone, almost always from within the Diocese of Peoria, who shares a love of books and reading.

Ourinagural “Reader” is Sister Catherine Cleary, and I’ve had a delightful e-correspondence with her in preparing this month’s feature.  I look forward to meeting her someday soon!  Thanks, Sister Catherine, for sharing your selections and your love of books.

Who:  Sister Catherine Cleary, OSB
Spiritual director and retreat leader, Benet House Retreat Center
St. Mary Monastery, Rock Island
Why I Love Reading:
My love for reading developed as I was growing up with my nine sisters and brothers on a farm between Gridley and El Paso, Ill.  Both of my parents read a lot and read to us. Saturday afternoon was synonymous with a trip to catechism and to the library.  My father would often quote a line of poetry and challenge us to finish it and name both author and poem.  The line usually fit the circumstances of our lives at the time.
My childhood reading experience was excellent preparation for Benedictine life, since the Rule of Benedict directs us to read Scripture, to do Lectio Divina and encourages us to read and to study as part of our spiritual life.
I love reading because books can take me to another century, another country, and/or to new areas of interest. Words can transform my day, my thinking and my attitude from the ho- hum to a new level of beauty.
What I’m Reading Now:
­*Mildred Walker’s Winter Wheat tells the story of Ellen Webb, growing up on a desperately poor wheat ranch in Montana in the 1940s. One can see the ruggedness of the land, feel the cold and heat, taste the blowing dust and experience the joy and the pain of Ellen’s relationships.
*Three Cups of Tea, Cups of Tea highlights social entrepreneur Gregory Mortensen’s mission to promote peace by bringing education to children of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The writing is lively, but book’s chief value is showing how one person’s passion and sacrifice can make an enormous difference.
*Finally, Hemlock at Vespers by Peter Tremayne, is a collection of mystery short stories, and an enjoyable way to learn about the culture and history of 7th century Ireland.  Sister Fidelma, a qualified attorney, travels about the country solving cases, much to the dismay and surprise of the men of the Church, her own monastery, and the legal profession.
My Favorite Book:
It is difficult to pick one favorite book, but one is Thomas Merton’s Dialogues with Silence; here his writing echoes the conversations of his inner spirit, the world around him and his dialogue with God. What appeals to me most is Merton’s honesty, his sheer truthfulness about his inner self, his seeking his true self and his abandoning his false self.