Book recommendations for a reader?

May 15, 2008 | 17 comments

I recently got an email from a reader who wanted book recommendations for two different friends:

FRIEND #1: “[She] is Catholic, but rarely attends Mass and is self-described ‘not very faithful.’ She’s terrified of the world we live in. She’s scared to fly, to travel too far from home, to take her kids outside in the winter, everything…She has a wall up, she’s difficult to talk to and it would take a miracle for her to hand her fears over.”

FRIEND #2: “[She] was brought up Catholic but doesn’t go to church anywhere anymore. In fact she’s very hostile towards the faith. She has a lot of deep-seeded issues…I know one reason for her hostility towards Catholicism is that she thinks her mother just went to church ‘for show’ and then acted however she wanted to outside of church…I truly believe she is searching for meaning in her life, she’s just so confused.”

She has been praying for these two friends but would like to find some inspiring reading to offer them as well.

There is, of course, the possibility that these two friends are in places in their lives where a book wouldn’t help; and, either way, praying for them and showing them the love of Christ is by far the most important thing to do. That said, I think that the issues that these two friends struggle with are common ones, and I love to talk about books anyway, so I thought I’d open it up to see if anyone has any good reads to recommend.

My recommendations:


  • Trustful Surrender to Divine Providence: The Secret of Peace and Happiness by Jean Baptiste Saint-Jure and St. Claude de la Colombiere: I have not yet read this book myself, but everyone I know who’s read it says it changed their lives. Actually, most people say it changed their lives profoundly, especially in terms of letting go of fears and anxiety.
  • He Leadeth Me by Walter Ciszek: It is one thing to opine about trusting God from the ivory tower; it is an entirely different thing, however, to opine about trusting God while wrongfully imprisoned in a Siberian slave labor camp. Fr. Ciszek’s reflections on the decades he spent in Siberia make for a fascinating page-turner of a book, but also provide some life-changing insights into what it means to let go of anxiety and trust God in all things.


  • The Catholic Catechism: A Contemporary Catechism of the Teachings of the Catholic Church by John Hardon: I would recommend that she familiarize herself with a) what exactly the Church teaches, and b) the how’s and why’s behind its teachings. As I know from personal experience, when you have bad experiences with people who are members of a specific religion, it’s tempting to conflate their behavior with the tenets of their belief system. Especially when it’s your own childhood religion that you’re considering turning your back on because of a situation like this, I think it’s worth taking some time to really delve into its teachings and understand exactly what you’re leaving before you go on to something new.
  • I’m not sure what else she might find helpful in her search to reconcile her negative experiences with religion with her search for meaning. Orthodoxy? Some of C.S. Lewis’ books? Reasons to Believe?

Also, another idea worth throwing out there is that her friends could consider seeing a counselor, preferably one who understands the importance of both psychological and spiritual healing. (I once saw a good pitch for seeking counseling as a path to spiritual healing in the comments here at Simcha’s blog). Catholic Therapists is a good place to start, and I’ve heard rave reviews of the Pastoral Solutions Institute Tele-Counseling Service, which offers reasonably-priced counseling via phone. (Of course my reader would have to discern whether it would be appropriate to recommend it to her to friends; I mainly mention it in case anyone else finds it helpful.)

Anyone else have any thoughts or books to recommend? I looooove talking about books, so I am particularly eager to read the comments on this one.


  1. Hope

    I don’t know if I would give a friend in these situations a book. It could come across as trying to fix them or tell them where they are in their journey isn’t okay. And who knows what God is doing beneath the surface in either of their lives?
    I’d only recommend them books if they are an avid reader and have expressed interest in reading something to help them on their faith journey.
    Other than that, as you say, loving them where they are at and praying for them could be the best thing.

    Author Anne Lamott talks about God loving us where we are at but loves us too much to let us stay that way. How God does that and what God’s plans are for making that happen are a puzzle in my own life. I wouldn’t want to tackle that in anothers even though I understand the wanting to.

    And I love talking books, too!

  2. Sta

    I was also going to recommend C.S. Lewis for No. 2. I can relate to her story quite a bit — sounds pretty similar to my own. I read Mere Christianity after I was already a Christian, though.

    Lee Strobel’s The Case for Faith played a bigger role for me in breaking down my walls. I also read a book called Girl Meets God very early on. It’s a memoir about a very devoted Orthodox Jew becoming a Christian. The last recommendation I’d make is one called Stealing Jesus, which is more about politics, but it helped me get over that wall, too. It’s about how the Right sort of claimed Jesus as its own then distorted His message to fit its agenda. Interesting read. Oh and fine, one more. The Practice of the Presence of God is one of the most simple, beautiful instruction books for prayer I’ve ever read. I can’t imagine anyone reading it without walking away thinking.

  3. mom v many

    A few of us in our parish have decided to read the book “The Reed of God” by Caryll Houselander. It was a recomend by our priest and is considered a spiritual classic.It is also one that has a comment on the cover by Dr Scott Hahn. We are enjoying it DEEPLY!!!
    Highly readable, you’ll want to use a highlighter!

  4. Autumn

    I agree that these people might benefit best from counseling or a spiritual advisor.

    But, I too love books, so here are some of my recommendations:

    For something a little lighter, easier to digest, but profound nonetheless, I would suggest Patrick Madrid’s “Suprised by Truth” series and even “No Greater Love,” Mother Teresa.

    For a little deeper reading: Butler’s Lives of the Saints and The Life of Christ.

    One of the best books that has helped me countless times would be The Catholic Woman’s Devotional Bible.

    I would like to add that I second Hope’s comments about Anne Lamott. She is one of my favorite authors, but note that in her nonfiction especially she can be a bit crass (turns some people off). Also, she is very liberal and not Catholic. However, she is a devout Christian (Episcipalian, I think?) and her stories of struggles, very raw and real stuff, was awe-inspiring to me. I would recommend her books Traveling Mercies, and Further Thoughts on Faith.

    I hope this helps!

  5. 'Becca

    For Friend #1, possibly both of them, I recommend Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. This is a book that helps you “hear” what you are telling yourself inside your mind and “talk yourself into” more constructive thoughts. It is not a religious book but might help a person notice the role that faith and trust can play in hushing negative messages.

  6. Jennifer F.

    A reader with a similar background to both of these friends just emailed me to say that she really enjoyed Rediscovering Catholicism. Just thought I’d pass that along. 🙂

  7. Darwin

    I’d echo several others in wondering if a book is the right thing at the moment for these friends. However, for friend #2, the reader might consider God And Man at Georgetown Prep — which chronicles the author’s journey away from Catholicism and eventual return to it.

  8. Anonymous

    “The End of the Affair” by Graham Greene is a powerful novel about God, His Grace through the sacrament of Baptism and redemption. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is questioning his or her faith.

  9. The Koala Bear Writer

    I’d recommend Scott Hahn’s books. He explains the Catholic faith very well. I have his books on Mary and the Eucharist and really like his writing. He’d probably help Friend #2, who seems to need to see the beauty and truth of the Church. And I’d just make it a casual suggestion, like, “I really enjoyed this book and thought you might be interested.” I’m an avid reader so always love it when friends recommend books to me, but others may not be like that, so as you say, this friend will have to use discretion. And prayer is powerful! 🙂

  10. Tausign

    I would second the recommendation for Caryll Houselander especially for reader #2. Already mentioned was ‘Reed of God’, which is excellent. Also very good for me was ‘The Little Way of the Infant Jesus’ with subtitle ‘How the Christ Child Leads You to God’. Each of these are classics and I have read them many of times.

    I actually became infatuated with her insight and style. I found her other writings through used book shops etc. One that is out of print is her autobiography ‘A Rocking Horse Catholic’ which might be really apropos for reader #2. I found it in an online edu service which captures and scans in out of print material. But for some reason it is not recalling the book now. Fortunately I did cut and paste the entire book onto my hard drive and am thinking of running it through WORD and making it PDF (assuming no copyright issues of course) If anyone is interested in her autobiography send me an email.

  11. Patrick O'Hannigan

    People have been saying good things about Peter Kreeft’s latest book, “Because God is Real.” And Pope Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth” is gold all the way through. But I might not present either book to those friends, given their emotional states.

    How about “Red Sky at Morning,” by Richard Bradford? It doesn’t directly address faith, but it’s great.

  12. SuzyQ

    I just recently found your blog and have really been enjoying your posts.
    I love finding new book titles!
    One particular book I return to again and again is ” love A Glimpse of Eternity” by Earnesto Cardenal, it has a fabulous forward by Thomas Merton, written in his distinctive style.
    Also “The Reed of God” by Caryll Houselander is brilliant. It focuses especially on Mary’s role in our faith.

    Have a blessed day:)

  13. Ruth

    Great suggestions here and I echo C.S. Lewis and The Reed of God. I also have suggested the writings of Henri Nouwen to people, which some have found helpful.

  14. Matthew N. Petersen

    For either one, Chesterton’s St. Francis of Assisi, or something like St. Siluan the Athonite. Or the Last Conversations of St. Therese (or her diary or her poetry).

    Or maybe Come be my Light, or Theology of the Body, or Charles de Foucauld.

  15. Anonymous

    Hi there,

    I would highly recommend “The Gift of Faith” by Fr. Tadeusz Dajczer. We all need to be truly convinced of God’s great merciful Love for us, and then a love response from us can take place. This book has been truly life-changing for me…I have discovered that God’s loving presence is with me in EVERY event, ordinary or otherwise. It wasn’t until I was convinced of God’s mercy and Love that I truly desired transforming union with our Lord.

    God bless,

  16. Jon

    For #1: If she isn’t happy with her situation I’d suggest to her that she might like to pray “Lord have mercy” or “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy” whenever she’s feeling scared and explain that some people use that prayer as a reminder that the Lord is merciful.

    I’d need to know more about the specific causes for #2’s hostility before I could even begin to offer suggestions for how to proceed with her, but hypocricy is a very real problem in the Church.


  17. Lex

    I’m late to the party, being a new reader of your blog… but I just had to chime in with a book that I could not put down. “The Last Dance But Not The Last Song” by Renee Bondi, a Catholic woman who suffered a freak accident leaving her a quadriplegic whose faith has expounded as a result. This book has touched me in a major way, reminding me how God brings hope and joy through some very trying times.

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