Book chat: Books about faith and food

September 2, 2009 | 27 comments

It’s been way too long since we’ve talked about books! Here are some thoughts on what I’ve been reading lately…

The Rosary: Keeping Company with Jesus and Mary by Karen Edmisten

When a former atheist writes a book about the rosary, you know it’s going to have some fresh perspectives. I’ve been following Karen Edmisten’s blog for a long time, so I was excited to read this book. I nodded and laughed at this tale she tells of her early efforts at praying the rosary:

In his explanation of the rosary, a friend had casually said, “Announce the first mystery.” I nodded to mask my confusion, but later dug up some instructions on the rosary to clarify. They said the same thing. So now I had to know what it meant to “announce” a mystery. Did I have to say something out loud? Was I announcing something to God? Was I supposed to pray the rosary only with other people, when things could be announced?

Boy, could I relate to that! From there Edmisten goes on to tell how she got past her fixations on doing it “right” to appreciating the beauty of this form of prayer. She also clears up common misconceptions (praying “to” Mary, vain repetition, etc.) and offers some beautiful reflections and Bible verses for each mystery. I think my favorite part, however, was how upfront she is about the difficulties that many of us face making any kind of prayer — the rosary in particular — part of our daily lives. I perked up at the first paragraph of Chapter 9 when she writes:

Now that we’ve explored every other aspect of the rosary, let’s ask the real question: How do we put this into action for more than a week? It’s a question every serious Christian faces, no matter what the form of prayer is. It’s the question of a realist. We have the noblest of intentions. We mean to go to God every day, to give ourselves to him twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. But we routinely fall down on the job. How then do we make it happen for real?

Her unflinchingly honest and practical advice on this subject is invaluable for any Christian who wants to pray more, whether it involves the rosary or not. At only 84 pages this slim little book is a quick, delightful read that is sure to leave you more enthusiastic about all forms of prayer, especially the rosary.

The Shadow of His Wings by Gereon Goldmann

Just buy this book. Right now. Click through the link to Amazon, hit Add to Cart, and make yourself a note to thank me later. Dawn of Natural Design recommended it to me in the comments to my last book post, and I’ve meant to thank her profusely ever since.

This true story of a young man in 1940’s Germany whose dream to be a priest was derailed when he was drafted into the Nazi army is one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. The stories of how Fr. Goldmann trusted in divine Providence, even when it seemed insane, will leave your mouth hanging open in awe as you read; if this book doesn’t inspire you to trust in God, I don’t know what will. To give you an idea of how good it is: it was my current reading when the baby was born back in March, and I was so into it that I didn’t mind waking up for feedings in the middle of the night because I could click on my book light and get back to reading. Did you hear that? DIDN’T MIND BEING WOKEN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. BECAUSE OF THIS BOOK. Like I said, just buy it.

My only criticism would be that the epilogue is a little long. While it is interesting, it goes in a totally different direction than the first part of the book, so that’s kind of jarring. And one other thing: do not read the captions under the pictures — they often give away what happens next in the book! For example, you’ll be immersed in some intense scene, almost sweating with tension as you wonder if he’ll make it across enemy lines, and then you’ll glance at a picture and read the caption which says, “Goldmann with friends after he made it across enemy lines.” Argh!

Other than that it is pure awesomeness. Buy it now.

The Duggars: 20 and Counting! by Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar

I was surprised by how much I liked this book. It’s a combination memoir and advice book, and I enjoyed almost every page of it. Interestingly, I was wading through Jean Pierre de Caussade’s classic Abandonment to Divine Providence at the same time as I read this one, and I found that they complemented each other nicely.

The memoir part of the book offers one story after another of how God worked in their lives when they were obedient to whatever they thought he was calling them to do, even when it seemed crazy. For example, Jim Bob writes of spending $110, 000 of their own money on a failed Senate bid, saying, “Strangely…we both continued to feel the same strong sense of peace about the spent money and the failed effort. There was no remorse because we knew we had done what we believed God wanted us to do.” I also loved how they gave specific numbers for many of their big financial decisions — it was interesting to get a glimpse into their financial lives in such detail.

The second part of the book has some great practical tips for how they manage the chaos of day-to-day life with their then-18 children. I think the thing that impressed me most, however, was simply their tone. Anyone who’s read many internet discussions about them knows that some people seethe with hatred at the mere mention of their names, and there have been many unkind things said about them. And yet from the tone of the book you’d think that nobody had ever offered them anything but words of love and blessings; they are not defensive or critical of others, and focus on showing the good that God has done in their lives rather than criticism or telling other people what they should do. A lovely read.

Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck

I’m a sucker for books about food and nutrition, so it’s no surprise that I liked this one. Planck has a particularly interesting perspective because she is the daughter of well-educated parents who voluntarily left the rat race to start a farm. She grew up on the farm but then rejected her parents was of eating for a vegan then vegetarian lifestyle, writing:

In her sentimental book, Diet for a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappe argued that modern beef farming was ecologically unsound (it wrecks natural habitats), politically unjust (you could feed more people on the grain cattle ate than on the steaks), and nutritionally unnecessary (we don’t need all that protein. The idea that a vegetarian diet was healthier clinched it for me, and I became vegan in high school. It was perhaps my only act of rebellion against my stubbornly tolerant parents.

Planck then chronicles how eating became an intellectual endeavor more than anything else, and she learned to mistrust her body’s instincts about what to eat. The results?

As for my health, I felt terrible. My digestion was poor, and I was moody, tearful, and tender in all the wrong places before I got my period. In cold and flu season, I got both. I was depressed, too. Partly to stave off gloom, I ran three to six miles a day. On this virtuous regime I also gained weight steadily…Back on the farm in Wheatland, meanwhile, my omnivorous parents were the healthiest people I knew, lean and cheerful as they tucked into friend eggs and pork chops. Something was wrong with me, but I certainly didn’t suspect it was my diet.

For the rest of the book she lays out her own research and personal experiences that led her back to her parents’ way of eating, as well as founding London’s first farmer’s market. Her tone throughout the book is friendly and calm; it reads like a light memoir about food rather than the heavy-handed manifestos that are so common in this genre. A great read for anyone who wants to feel inspired about healthy eating the old-fashioned way.

Lick the Sugar Habit by Nancy Appleton, PhD

Speaking of books that read more like manifestos than light memoirs…this would be one of them. Appleton was motivated to write this book after seeing the tremendous impact it had on her life when she eliminated refined sugar from her diet. All her life she’d been chronically ill with long bouts of pneumonia as well as frequent headaches, colds, flus and fatigue, all the while making sundaes, large amounts of chocolate and other sugary treats a big part of her life. When she cut sugar out of her diet her health did a 180-degree turnaround and she felt better than she ever had in her life. That prompted her to do research into what exactly refined sugar is and how it impacts the body, which she shares in the rest of the book.

I liked it — it was one of the things that inspired me to embark on my own “Saint Diet” which had such a big impact on my life — and, from my personal experience, I believe that some people have a physical makeup that leaves them much more sensitive to refined sugar than others. But she definitely does take an extreme position on the subject, and it will probably seem overboard to some people, especially those who haven’t had personal experience with something like this. If you’re looking for inspiration to cut sugary junk food out of your diet, though, this is the book for you!

Whew! There are my thoughts on a few of the books I’ve read in the past few months. Anyone else have any thoughts on these books? Any other books to recommend? What have you been reading lately?


  1. Barbara C.

    I really liked the Duggar book, too, and I like the Duggars. Even though many of their beliefs and ways are different than mine, they seem to have genuine respect for those with differing opinions.

    I used to be annoyed by the whole "J" name thing, too, until I read how they always treated each new baby as if it could be their last. They never assumed that they could have more whenever they wanted. They trust it all to God.

    I also liked when they talked about how every bad decision that was made was done when Jim Bob either didn't consult with or listen to Michelle.

    I'll have to add those other books to my reading list. Thanks.

  2. Catholic Chicks

    great pics…would love to read the first one!

  3. Rachel Gray

    Thanks for those recommendations! That "announce the mystery" thing reminds me of when I was a new Catholic and the priests would lead us in prayer "for the intentions of the Pope." "Why?" I'd think, "are we afraid his intentions are bad? I thought faithful Catholics generally liked the Pope!"

    It's interesting what the Duggars reveal about other people– you're right that some really seem to hate them!

    Right now I'm reading a big fat biography of St. Jean-Marie Vianney. It's just a straightforward account of his struggle to be ordained a priest and then his lifelong work in the little parish of Ars. I like the book because it's making me love the saint– his humility and zeal really come through.

  4. Amy

    In his explanation of the rosary, a friend had casually said, "Announce the first mystery." I nodded to mask my confusion, but later dug up some instructions on the rosary to clarify. They said the same thing. So now I had to know what it meant to "announce" a mystery. Did I have to say something out loud? Was I announcing something to God? Was I supposed to pray the rosary only with other people, when things could be announced?

    That's funny. A couple of years back I read "The Seeker's Guide to the Rosary" by Liz Kelly, and I remember wondering exactly the same thing. I've been thinking of checking it out from the library again, but I remembered how I didn't understand what I was supposed to do with the mysteries. Now I'm going to have to read Edmisten's book to find out! (She does explain it, doesn't she?) ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Kimberlie

    All of these sound like books I am going to add to my "must read" books. It's funny because a friend of mine and I were just talking about the Duggars today. I think the thing that impresses me about them the most is how open they are to life. They are living examples of how Christians should welcome and embrace children. Now I do not have the grace to have that many, but I am a bit sad that three are all we are going to have.

    And I love the way Jim Bob respects Michelle as an equal when making decisions. I love their respectful demeanor and calm voices. So soothing. I wish I could be that way with my kids. Shrieking is too big a part of who I am. Sigh…

  6. Amy

    I'm a cradle Catholic, so it amuses me when converts worry about doing things right. I remember being in grade school and making a "living rosary" that the nuns instituted – I always ended up being the "Glory Be" for some reason. Anyway, it makes me so grateful to have been raised Catholic. It's just part of my identity.

  7. Suburban Correspondent

    You put me to shame – I've hardly read anything lately. Must fix that…

  8. Just Me

    I'll have to check out the Duggar book. It's very interesting you posted on this today since I was just at the Dr. office and the receptionists discussions were on this family. The pure hate that was coming from one lady was really unnerving. It's amazing how negative it can be against those who choose to have large families – even when they seem to care and provide for them just fine.

  9. Dawn

    I completely agree with your review of The Shadow of His Wings! It should have a warning sticker on the front that says once you start reading you won't want to put it down.

    I made the same mistake with the photo captions so I'm glad you mentioned that. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I'm so happy you enjoyed the book as much as I did. I hope many of your readers partake in the same joy.


  10. Beth

    Hi Jen,

    When talking about the Duggar book, I'd say to my friends…"I have a confession to make" and then tell them that I was reading it and surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It surprised me that it wasn't as preachy as I expected or sugar-coated. I was inspired by how productive they are because they work together and make decisions together. I also was inspired by how undeterred they were in certain situations even when they knew nothing about some endeavor they were about to undertake. I just plain dug them.

  11. thegypsymama

    "Wild Things: The art of nurturing boys" by Stephen James and David Thomas – the most insightful and useful book I have read yet by Christian authors on the joy and chaos that is the balance of raising boys. Cannot recommend highly enough!

    Have been tangentially interested in the Duggars book – will look into it now. Thanks for the reference.

  12. Roxane B. Salonen

    Jennifer, oh, this is great! Thanks for narrowing down the array of choices out there. I'm going to add at least four of these to my list, maybe all of them. Good stuff! With diabetes pervasive in my family, I'm concerned about the sugar aspect of our diets. Appreciate your taking the time to summarize and recommend.

  13. Charity

    A book I read recently is "This Is My Body: An Evangelical Discovers The Real Presence" by Mark Shea.

    I love his ex-evangelical perspective on the Eucharist and how he writes for a non-Catholic audience. My childhood catechesis was pitiful so in some ways I don't understand Catholic idioms and phraseology. Also, I am in a mixed marriage and feel particularly called to understand the reasons for my faith in contrast to evangelical arguments.

    I like how he pitted his aversion to "God's a cracker" against the fact that, hey, God was a flesh and blood dude. If you can have a sweaty God with bad breath, then you can have a cracker God no prob. Except, he said it in a holy and reverent way.

    Another very helpful piece he included was about rituals. I have often wondered how one might go about defending rituals. I encounter such impassioned opposition to them. They are seen almost like witchcraft. That feels pretty yucky. It was nice to read how he was able to use an evangelical concept to legitimize them.

    One slight negative was that I did not like his writing in this one as much as I did in "By What Authority". But that could be due to it's length being only a minuscule fifty pages. He really had to fit a lot of information into a tiny space.

  14. Sara

    Thanks for the suggestions! I just wanted to say that I read In the Shadow of His Wings 5 times! It is definitely one of my favorites. I learn something new from it everytime. It helps to remind me that even in the most horrible moments God is there and can work beautiful miracles through you.

  15. el-e-e

    I've been reading… the Twilight series. Ahem.

    Feeling a little sheepish now. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Some of these look great, thanks for the recommendations!

  16. Anonymous

    I am just finishing up Born to Run. It is fabulous, truly. If you like to run, or even walk, you will love this book and it will inspire you to move. It's not about running per se, it's about joy.

  17. Jodi

    Another great book on Food is The Unhealthy Truth by Robyn O'Brien. Excellent read with amazing information! I think you'll enjoy it.

  18. Brother Juniper

    I read "In the Shadow of His Wings" several months ago and I agree with you, Jen. It is one of the most gripping books that I have ever read.

    It seems to me that it is an excellent lesson on how to pursue a religious vocation in the most difficult and dramatic of condition.

    Even when Fr. Goldmann was faced with impossible moral choices, he did what he knew was and what Divine Providence told him to do.

  19. Anonymous

    I am in the middle of Anne Rice's Called Out of Darkness a spiritual confession. It's hard to put down because she is so descriptive on her upbringing in the Catholic Church. Her devout life as a child sounds a lot like my father's life. Her honesty is refreshing too. I am only half way thru, but I am enjoying it!

  20. Anonymous

    I returned to the rosary a couple years ago – as a cradle Catholic, I had viewed it as a long, tiresome prayer.
    To begin – I found a CD of the rosary that my mom liked… if you you don't have it – get it – The Rosary with Fr. Scallon & Dana. It's beautiful and really honors the prayer.

    I also bought a little booklet called "Praying the Rosary without Distractions" Look for the Rosary Center online… One look at the illustrations, and you'll buy them in bulk to give to your friends like I did!

    That helped me through. I still don't love praying the Rosary as much I know I am capable of – but I am almost there.

    Now let me share a funny story.
    When my Grandmother was in her last year (approaching her 100th birthday) my mom and aunts hired a woman to check on her and sit with her a few hours each day – between the visits they could make.
    They asked her to pray the rosary with Grandma. This woman was not Catholic so they made a little cheat sheet for her (She was gracious enough to do it earnestly – so sweet)

    At Grandma's wake, the woman told us how she prayed the rosary with Grandma – and how she fretted when she made mistakes – Grandma would just say, "That's okay dear… go on." in her sweet way.
    And the woman grew to love the rosary.

    Funny how life gives you gifts like that.

    Love you Granny!!

  21. Emily

    I LOVE the Rosary book. LOVE it. I pass it around to just about everyone. ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. Stefanie

    Hi, Jen — The little old fellow who runs our parish's Welcome Table has been pushing the "In the Shadow of His wings" book to everyone for months now. You (and the others here) have described the book better than he as able to — maybe he was still just overwhelmed by it. So now, I guess I'll have to ask him to add me to the reservation list… Ah, me, where did the Summer go???

  23. Christian H

    I have to plug Radical Gratitude and God in the Alley (in response to your request for books).

    The first, by Mary Jo Leddy, is about the title, really. She's a Catholic professor of theology, and writes mainly about the spiritual troubles resulting from consumer culture. She can be a bit repetetive, though.

    The second, by Greg Paul, is about finding Christ among the homeless. It's pretty breath-taking.

  24. Jamie

    Could you please explain how you have this much time on your hands to read??? I have ONE, yes ONE child and about seven books that I've ordered on-line sitting around my house collecting dust. What am I doing wrong???

  25. Amy

    I bought the Rosary book this week! I can't wait to read it this weekend. I'm also combining the 30 Day Shred exercise DVD (I can already just say one thing about that – ouch) with a book by Gina Loehr called Choosing Beauty, a 30-Day Spiritual Makeover for Women. It's early, but so far I like it (and it's easier than the Shred.)

    I'm planning to read (it's on the truck heading for Borders now) Traveling with Pomegranates by Sue Monk Kidd. There are a few reasons I'm interested in it, but the main one is that as she's grappling with spiritual things she begins to wonder why she doesn't have a feminine image to reflect the divine. Suddenly Mary becomes powerful for her and she notes that Mary is so suited to 21st century feminist interpretation. Well, I want to read this. It will either be wonderful or horrible – but I intend to find out.

  26. Karen E.

    Thanks, Jennifer, for such a lovely review. I'm glad you could relate! ๐Ÿ™‚

    And now, thanks to this post, I have several other books to add to my tbr pile. I'm on a bit of a food book kick … Just read Chocolate Unwrapped: The Surprising Health Benefits of America's Favorite Passion, and now I'm reading The Omnivore's Dilemma.

  27. Tres Angelas

    I picked up Lee Strobel's "The Case for the Real Jesus" (2007) at the library this weekend while waiting for the girls to locate their usual armfuls of books.

    Strobel effectively refutes some of the more recent assaults on Christianity. Of course, I knew the attacks on the Church were wrong, but it's good to know just HOW wrong and why.

    I haven't read any of Strobel's other works (e.g., "The Case for Christ"), but I may have to now.

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