239: Ten Books to Watch This Fall: from images of heavens to voices of Earth

oday, we’re going to give you a special treat: A preview of 10 books we’re looking at right now — most likely for recommendations in September. I’m not finished with my own reading for September, but we’re giving you an “early look” because we know that many of our readers are planning their autumn reading right now.
    In my view, these 10 books are important to watch as we head into autumn. As you contemplate this list, please be aware that there’s no particular ranking intended in the order I am presenting them here. They’re all intriguing and helpful.
   IF YOU’RE INTERESTED in any of these 10 books, click on the headlines/book titles below and you’ll jump to our Amazon bookstore. There, you’ll find even more details on these books and can order them now at Amazon-discount prices (plus you’ll be helping our project a little bit with each purchase).

Awe-Inspiring Beauty While Learning:
“Hubble: Imaging Space and Time”

   This National Geographic book is one of the society’s impressive new volumes this year, exploring the wonders of heavens and Earth. If you question whether this is a “spiritual” book, the Foreword makes it clear: “The chronicles of the Hubble are about more than a telescope in space. They are a story of imagination and dreams, of struggles, failures and triumphs, sometimes against all odds.” The telescope’s overall purpose? It’s “answering the fundamental question: Where do we come from?”
   Since this is a National Geographic publishing effort along with the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, we get some of the world’s best photography and graphic arts as this story unfolds for us. While reading and learning, we flip pages that open up awe-inspiring windows into the cosmos.

Our Man in Asia Becomes
Our Man in Asia, Again:
Paul Theroux’s “Ghost Train to the Eastern Star”

     What Baby Boomer studying the world in the 1970s didn’t encounter “our traveler” Paul Theroux’s “The Great Railway Bazaar” and feel a pang of envy mingled with wonderment? I’m still reading his new book, which weighs in at nearly 500 pages. Theroux has his own eccentric viewpoint as one of the world’s most famous travelers and some early reviews take issue with this opinion or that one voiced by Theroux — but this new book is bigger than that, I think. It’s almost an obligatory occasion for Baby Boomers to hop back on this Asian pilgrimage with our traveling mentor.

“Final Thoughts” from a Giant:
“Love & Death: My Journey Through the Valley of the Shadow”

    Very little has been heard in public forums from the prolific Forrest Church, since his announcement early this year that his doctors have told him he “has only a short time left to live,” due to terminal cancer.
    Forrest Church ranks among the giants of spiritual letters, a widely respected voice sought out by other writers over the years for help with their own work.
    Church’s present physical condition apparently is a private matter, as it should be, but he has written this final memoir “fighting the most convincing deadline of my life.”
    I’m not finished with his book, but sections I have read have convinced me that this slim volume will become a spiritual classic.

Struggling for a Nonviolent World:
“A Persistent Peace”

    The Jesuit priest and author John Dear calls himself an “itinerant preacher of peace,” which doesn’t sound nearly as compelling as the story in his new autobiography. His story starts with his spring break from Duke in 1979 in which “we drank all night and slept all day on the beach.” From that self-destructive spring blossomed this real-life prophet who has circled the world crusading for peace.
    We’ve arranged to bring you an in-depth Conversation With Dear in September, so watch for that in coming weeks. His life leaps out of the pages of scripture as he prophetically puts into action what he preaches.

“Jews Engage the New Testament
Jewish Well-Being in a Christian Environment”

    I have heard Rabbi Michael Cook lecture on Jewish themes and sources in the Christian New Testament and have wished we all had a Cook’s guide to these subjects. Now, thanks to Jewish Lights, we have such a book by Cook. As a longtime educator, Cook builds all sorts of helpful tools into this book — including diagrams of which chapters are best for various groups from high-school classes to general readership. Watch ReadTheSpirit this fall, because we are planning a Conversation With Rabbi Cook, as well. Clearly, September is going to be an exciting month around here! Please, read along with us — and share links to our upcoming stories with friends who also may be reading these books.

“Who Speaks for Islam?
What a Billion Muslims Really Think”

    Dr. John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed released this book from Gallup Press earlier this year but we’re going to hear more about it this fall especially during Ramadan. The most important contribution in this book is its solid base in Gallup research conducted in 35 countries with significant Muslim populations. Hearing from real people — the silent majority of Islam — opens many promising doorways for improving relations. Here’s an example from the book: “What Muslims around the world say they most admire about the West is its technology and democracy — the same two top responses given by Americans when asked the same question.” Americans tend to think of a very limited range of images and voices when we think about this enormous group of people. Esposito reminds us that Islam is geographically far larger, more ethnically diverse and quite frankly more like “us” than many of “us” realize.

“Sin Boldly:
A Field Guide to Grace”

    Among the journalists crossing over to write spiritual books is Cathleen Falsani of the Chicago Sun-Times. After years as a newspaper religion columnist, Falsani has a voice perfectly attuned to our everyday yearnings. This new book is about grace — obviously a popular theme with writers and readers. Falsani is another writer you’ll meet in our pages in a September.
   We have arranged to share with you not only our review of this engaging book, but also an in-depth interview with the author and an intriguing, short excerpt from her book. Watch for that in September, because these pieces should be fun to read — and a useful resource if you choose to buy this book and discuss it in your small group.

“A Friendly Letter to Skeptics …
Why God is Good and Faith Isn’t Evil”

    Dr. David Myers literally wrote the book on our modern understanding of psychology. His Psych textbooks are widely used in universities around the world. Beyond his role as a leading educator, he’s also a bridge builder trying to reconnect deeply divided camps within our global community. In this new book, Myers tries to build a sturdy bridge between faith and skepticism. This is a great choice for small-group study. Many people seem to be interested, this fall, in talking about the challenges raised by neo-atheists. We recently ran a Conversation With Michael Novak, who also tackles this topic in a new book. You’re likely to find Novak engaging especially if you’re Catholic and if you like his more combative style of writing. In contrast, Myers comes out of a more Protestant world view and is a veteran at affirming what he believes — while trying optimistically to build new relationships with one-time foes.

A Look Ahead:
“The Great Emergence” by Phyllis Tickle

    This is actually an October release by Baker Books, but we want to give you an early “heads up” on this title, which is one more great choice for small-group study.
    Phyllis Tickle writes so much that it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with her literary output — but this volume is well under 200 pages and offers a concise overview of what Phyllis has been preaching in recent years about the future of Christianity.
    You’ll hear more on this book in coming weeks, including a Conversation With Phyllis around the time of the book’s release. But, if you’re planning for small-group studies later in 2008 or early in 2009, keep an eye on this book.

What Happens When Our “Word” Vanishes?

“One Thousand Languages: Living, Endangered and Lost”

Linguist Peter Austin and the University of California Press invite us
to tour the world through language groups large, small and extinct. As
a longtime journalist and a teacher of high school-age students myself, I
immediately liked the beautiful design of this book: colorful photos,
maps and sections organized around regional language groups. It’s a
book that calls out to readers to explore the basic themes of language
and culture.
Once again, you might mistake this as merely a scientific book, but
anyone who has studied world faiths knows the close association between
language and spiritual tradition. Remember the ancient Psalmist’s plea?
“How shall I sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” This book gives
us the big picture of this problem that so many of the world’s people
are facing today.

PLEASE, Tell Us What You Think — and What You’re Reading.
    We’re eager to hear from you! On Friday, we will publish another Reader Roundup, sharing ideas, reflections and questions that readers have been raising this week — so it’s a great time either to click “Comment” below or send us an Email directly.

    A version of today’s story also was published in our Monday-morning Planner newsletter, which is free and goes out via Email once a week to men and women who want to keep a close eye on spiritual themes emerging in our culture. There’s still time to sign up for the Planner and receive the next edition on this coming Monday. Send us an Email and tell us you want to “Subscribe to Planner.”

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