Gift ideas: Crime story, Contentment guide, Contemplation

Everyone is strapped for cash this holiday season, so ReadTheSpirit plans to help readers make smart choices of books and DVDs that will cheer—and inspire—the men and women in your life. Starting today, we are recommending holiday gift ideas. Plus, this week we will publish interviews with all three of these authors, so you can learn more about their work. If you wind up purchasing these books as gifts, you may want to print out the interviews later this week to enclose with these gifts.
(Click the titles or the covers, below, to jump to Amazon and order copies.)


Most Americans tell pollsters that faith is important in their lives—and most Americans love mysteries!
Check out any week’s listing of bestelling books and you’ll find murder mysteries and true-crime page-turners dominating the list. Unfortunately, readers rarely are able to connect theology and thrillers. Now, David Stokes is giving us both thrills—and a whole lot to ponder about the nature of religious leadership in America. The Shooting Salvationist: J. Frank Norris and the Murder Trial that Captivated America is quite simply a fun “read.” Or, if you are part of a book-discussion group, you might want to mull over issues raised by Stokes’ history of a ruthless religious entrepreneur. This cautionary tale is set in the 1920s, but the Rev. J. Frank Norris was an early model for today’s politically powerful mega-church preachers. He managed to run enormous churches both in Texas and Michigan. But, he wound up in headlines coast to coast when he shot and killed an unarmed parishioner in his church—then claimed that he was acting in self defense. (And, meet author David Stokes in a ReadTheSpirit interview.)


Lots of books promise happiness, but most Americans know that they’re not going to turn their lives around in 10 Easy Steps, no matter who is pitching the latest get-successful-quickly scheme. No, it’s time to set our sights on something much more practical—and, in the long run, much more likely to bring us enduring joy. Robert Wicks already is a beloved author and a highly respected therapist with a string of popular books to his credit. Now, in Streams of Contentment: Lessons I Learned on My Uncle’s Farm,Wicks mixes his lifelong expertise in overcoming trauma with a wealth of grassroots wisdom he has picked up over a lifetime. “Life is simpler than we make it,” Wicks writes in the introduction. “Knowing this can encourage us to focus more directly on what is truly important and essential to life.” If you are just discovering Robert Wicks’ name in this review, click here to read our 2009 interview with him about his earlier book, called Prayerfulness. (And, meet author Robert Wicks in our ReadTheSpirit interview about Streams of Contentment.)


Toward the end of each year, bales of prayer books and 365-day guides to contemplation crowd onto store shelves. Some are packaged as page-a-day calendars; some are geared toward one particular denomination; some are inspirational collections from a single best-selling writer.
Why so many prayer books? Since the vast majority of Americans tell pollsters they pray on a regular basis—a prayer book is a great gift. What’s tough is finding a unique volume. That’s what Sarah Arthur gives us in “At the Still Point,” which she describes as “a literary guide to prayer.” In fact, Sarah’s book is so unusual, we recommended it once last summer—and we are recommending it again for year-end gift giving. (Meet Sarah Arthur in our new ReadTheSpirit interview about At the Still Point.)
Many of our readers already are familiar with Sarah’s earlier devotional books that link popular culture with spiritual treasures from the Christian tradition. You might have enjoyed her Walking With Frodo: A Devotional Journey Through the Lord of the Rings—or perhaps her Walking through the Wardrobe: A Devotional Quest into The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.
Now in At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time Sarah ushers us into a library full of poetry and prose where we meet dozens of writers from Jane Austin to Victor Hugo. There are some contemporary excerpts, as well, including Kathleen Norris and Garrison Keillor. In At the Still Point, there are many prayers and recommended scripture readings, but the spiritual art of this book is reflecting on Sarah’s selection of literary passages. This is a perfect gift for the relative or friend who loves reading—and enjoys finding deeper spiritual connections.

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Originally published at, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

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