Following is my July column that appears on this month’s book page of the print edition of The Catholic Post.
Full disclosure: I sometimes disparage younger authors. You know, the ones writing memoirs at 15 or how-to-parent books at 25. It may be a kind of reverse ageism, but the older I get, the more I see that wisdom often comes with age.
But it’s also true that generalizations are dangerous and unhelpful, especially when I recall so many exceptions to the rule, such as Colleen Swaim’s excellent books for young people, or Elizabeth Esther’s searing memoir Girl at the End of the World, to name just two.
And then I realized that a number of new recent books, all by young authors, are excellent, each in their own way. See? Even middle-aged and older people can change their views, and—I say only partly joking— there can be harmony among the generations.
Leah Libresco is one of those younger authors.
Her first book, Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers That Even I Can Offer, is a quirky and brainy mix of popular culture, literature, philosophy, and Church doctrine, that’s both enjoyable to read and a challenge to live out one’s Catholic faith more fully and intentionally.
Libresco is an accomplished writer and popular blogger at Patheos, a religious blog portal. She grew up in an atheist home, but during her time as an undergrad at Yale (just a few short years ago) she encountered intelligent, thoughtful Christians unafraid of intellectual rigor applied to faith.
Eventually, she converted to Catholicism and blogged her journey in real-time. This book recounts part of that improbable, highly intellectual, and spiritual journey.
But far more than a personal journey memoir, Arriving at Amen is a thoughtful book on seven of the basic elements of a healthy Catholic life: Petition, Confession, Examen, the Divine Office, Lectio Divina, and the Mass. The book shares, in-depth, how these nourish and inspire a robust faith and life.
For such a recent convert, and young writer, Libresco writes with a mature spirituality that is enlightening to readers of all ages.
Chastity Is for Lovers: Single, Happy, and (Still) a Virgin by Arleen Spenceley is another smart book by a talented young author.
Spenceley is a young but experienced journalist, so the writing is keen and clear. Like Arriving at Amen, Chastity is for Lovers is part personal story, but more an attentive analysis of what’s great about our Catholic faith; in this case, on what makes for healthy sexuality.
Spenceley sets out the argument for chastity as the healthiest, most integrative way of life, no matter one’s state in life. She explores, with humor and grace, how it can be a challenge in our culture, but so worthwhile.
There are many good things about Chastity is for Lovers, but the best chapter is Spenceley’s sharp critique the “purity culture” promoted in some Protestant churches, and how it can harm young people and impair healthy sexual development. “Purity culture” involves, at its worst, shame-based and condemning messages about premarital sex in a misguided effort to promote purity, but often having the result of creating unhealthy sexual messages and lead people away from the truth, rather than towards it.
Spenceley shares throughout her book how the Catholic vision of chastity is so very different from that, and how vital it is to convey that message to young people.
Decent Exposure, by actress and designer Jessica Rey, and former model Leah Darrow, is a very different book than the previous two, but has its place here. This is especially true since this kind of book is probably best created by young authors.
A line from the book sums up the authors’ well-met aim: “Decent Exposure was written with the simple idea that women need positive, uplifting guidance. It is not about shame; it is about empowerment.”
The book is a well-designed large volume, with engaging graphic design and appealing photos. This book is a great conversation starter for pre-teen, teen, and older girls on up about body image, beauty, relationships, and mostly, living in our culture without being overwhelmed by it.
Decent Exposure is not a perfect book, and some topics are worded differently than I might express them, but it’s a sensible resource for ideas to start or continue a healthy dialogue with the girls in your life.