Book chat: books about prayer, faith, writing and being lost at sea

October 11, 2010 | 33 comments

It’s been way too long since we’ve talked about books! Here are six books I’ve read recently:

1. Adventures in Daily Prayer: Experiencing the Power of God’s Love by Bert Ghezzi

This new book by Bert Ghezzi is a delight. I’ve been a fan of his for a while (his books The Heart of a Saint and Breakfast With Benedict are favorites), so it was great to see something a bit more personal from him. In this part memoir, part how-to format, Ghezzi gives us an intimate glimpse inside his prayer life, then takes a step back to consider what he’s learned, and offer suggestions for how we can apply these lessons to our own lives.

It was refreshing to hear such a respected author admit that he was so devastated after failing a master’s exam that he fell into a deep depression and stopped praying for almost a year, or that he’s experienced times of spiritual dryness. That kind of candor mixed with concrete lessons that I could apply to my own life made this book a spiritual breath of fresh air. I highly recommend it.


2. 10 Prayers God Always Says Yes To by Anthony Destefano

I actually read this book over a year ago, but since I never did a review I wanted to include it in this list since it’s been so influential for me. I discovered 10 Prayers after reading this gripping endorsement from a mother whose only child was murdered in the Virginia Tech shootings. I bought it based on her recommendation, and, sure enough, it transformed the way I see view prayer and God’s will. In particular, it helped me understand the age-old question of “Why does God let bad things happen?” Ever since I read this book I’ve felt less need to fixate on the “Why?” aspect of bad situations, and ask instead, “How is God going to bring good out of this?”

DeStefano writes in a tone that assumes the reader believes in God, so this isn’t a book I’d recommend to someone who’s having fundamental doubts about God’s existence. However, it is an excellent book for anyone who believes but feels like God is silent or distant.


3. Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan

Wow. This is one wild read. It’s the true story of a man who was shipwrecked just a couple days into a solo transatlantic journey, and how he went on to cross the Atlantic by himself in a life raft. It is definitely a page-turner, and I learned a lot. Like, say, it made me realize that I have no interest in sailing across the Atlantic by myself. It made me realize I don’t have a very strong will to live (I would have rolled over and died on page forty). It made me realize that, no matter how bad my day is, I can always be thankful that at least I’m not stuck on a raft in the middle of the ocean with the awareness that at any moment a Great White shark could come up from the abyss and swallow me whole.

Anyway, you’ll find this book informative and riveting. My only caveat is that I found his agnostic outlook, devoid of any transcendent meaning for this experience or his life in general, kind of depressing; in the end, I felt vaguely sad for him, even though he did survive this incredible ordeal.


4. Perfect Recipes for Having People Over by Pam Anderson

I love to have friends over. I kind of like to cook. But when you combine the two, I usually end up a half step away from a nervous breakdown. I’ve realized that the problem is that I am just not wired for cooking while socializing. (You know how those guys on Top Chef can sautee this and stir that and throw something in the oven and whirl around and chop something, all while carrying on a conversation? Whatever part of the brain it is that facilitates that kind of cross-activity multitasking, I do not have it.)

So anyway, I realized that the key is for me to find dishes that I can make ahead of time, so that I have only minimal hands-on cooking to do after my guests arrive. Enter Pam Anderson’s book. (The author not to be confused with the Baywatch star of the same name.) Though some of the meals were a bit pricey for our budget, it still gave me tons of good ideas. Most of her recipes can be made ahead, and she includes all sorts of tips in each recipe that show that she has actually made this for friends in her own home (e.g. making rectangular pizza dough so you can fit more than one on the bottom rack at once). Combine it with mouth-wateringly beautiful pictures, and this is just the book I was looking for.


5. Word Painting: A Guide to Write More Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan

Writing descriptively is not something that comes naturally to me; I tend to focus more ideas than really bringing the reader into a specific moment in time, so Word Painting is just the book I needed. Thanks to McClanahan, I was able to see how to liven up my descriptions without bogging down my prose with a bunch of unnecessary words. I loved what she had to say about the importance of describing characters in motion, and I thought it was great advice when she suggested that writers focus on one detail to deal with overwhelming topics (e.g. she shares the story of a student who wrote a powerful poem about grief by describing the moment she sewed a button on her deceased father’s jacket). This book needs to be on every writer’s bookshelf.


I’ll throw in another writing book, just for fun:

6. Flogging the Quill: Crafting a Novel that Sells by Ray Rhamey

I almost didn’t buy blogger and editor Ray Rhamey‘s book because I had that typical consumer’s bias against self-published books, but I’m so glad I didn’t skip it. Probably more than any other book I’ve read on writing (and I’ve read a lot), this one made me feel like I could truly get inside an editor’s head. Most helpful were the pages at the end where Rhamey reprints actual first pages from submitted books. He first asks you, the reader, to consider whether you’d turn the page if you were to come across this book. Then he shows the pages again, this time with his edits. Having that “hands-on” practice helped me understand these concepts much better than if he’d simply lectured about them. If you’ve ever considered writing a novel, memoir, or any narrative prose, you need to read this.


What about you? What are you reading these days? Read anything particularly noteworthy lately?


  1. Kat

    Flirting with Faith: My spiritual Journey from atheism to a faith-filled life – Joan Ball

    The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God – Brent Curtis and John Eldredge

    Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust -Immaculee Ilibagiza

    The Unexpected Adventure: Taking Everyday Risks to Talk with People about Jesus -Lee Strobel & Mark Mittelberg

    How We Got the Bible – Neil R. Lightfoot


  2. Matt

    Jennifer, I have enjoyed reading your blog for some time now and always find it refreshing and enlightening. I am particularly fond of your book reviews. As an avid reader I am always on the lookout for the next great read. Continue to do the good work here that God has given to you. I think you are and will continue to touch lives. God bless.


  3. Kimberlie

    I am actually reading two books by Matthew Kelly right now. Our “Mom’s” book/scripture study group is reading Rediscovering Catholicism right now and on my own I had picked up The Rhythm of Life. Both are really good reads. I have found the second particularly thought-provoking as I have lately been struggling with my vocation as a wife and mother and feeling like “who am I anymore other than a cook, laundress, taxi driver, lawn mower, and all around slave.” (I am exaggerating on the slave part – I have a bit of the flair for the dramatic) However, as a woman that used to have a very fulfilling intellectual life, I find myself struggling lately.

  4. sara

    I read Adrift. I totally agree with you: harrowing and depressing all the same time. I’ll have to look into your other suggestions.

  5. Liesl

    My book club is reading “Jesus of Nazareth” by Pope Benedict XVI right now. It is excellent so far! So deep and insightful, but yet it’s not over my head.

  6. Faith

    I just finished Roots of our Faith; The Church Fathers and You by Mike Aquilina. Excellent! Highly recommended!

    I’m also rereading Augustine’s Confessions with my 15 yo son.

    Reading Little Men by Louisa May Alcott to my 9 yo.

    And I’m about halfway through The Maltese Falcon. Great writing!

  7. Julie B.

    When God Stood Up … a Christian Response to AIDS in Africa (James Cantelon)
    Radical (David Platt)
    Because of Romek (David Faber)
    Choosing Gratitude (Nancy Leigh Demoss)
    Finding Calcutta (Mary Poplin)
    Simple Spirituality (Christopher Heuertz)
    Out of the Black Shadows (Stephen Lunu)

  8. Javier (JCA)

    I also recommend this new and very interesting book:
    Euteneuer, Thomas J: “Exorcism and the Church Militant “, Human Life International, 2010

    It explains very well what the Devil is–and what is not, and how he works against God and us through History. It is a very good insight in a enough forgotten, but important, field of catholic Doctrine.

    The abstract follows:

    The phenomenon of demonic possession is one of the most frightening realities of the fallen human condition—and one of the most misunderstood. For those who seeks insight into this aspect of the Christian Faith, Fr. Euteneuer has compiled a compendium of the basic teachings about exorcism, which will give the reader an insider’s perspective on the Church’s warfare against the enemy of our souls. The devil, however, is not the subject of this book. Christ’s victory over him—through the Church—is the motive and subject of this work. May all who read it grow in faith and in the certain knowledge of how strong the Church stands against the power of Hell.

  9. Julie Cragon

    Jennifer, I too love reading Bert’s books and always support him in our bookstore. He is my editor right now on a daily meditation I’m writing to be released 2011. My daughter and I had dinner with him last August in Chicago. He is as wonderful as his writing. The Heart of a Saint is one of my favorite books. I just started reading Chasing Superwoman after happening onto Susan Dimickle’s blog. Thanks for the great reviews.

  10. Jaimie

    “The Help.” Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Best book I’ve read since last January.

  11. marie

    March by Geraldine Brooks. historical fiction about what the father was doing in the war while the Alcotts Little Woman were on the honefront

    Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn’t Stop Praying (Among Other Things) by Abby Sher The gripping non-fiction account of Abby Sher’s own struggle with OCD and an eating disorder.

    And I loved the Help.

  12. Ed

    Life of Christ (Fulton Sheen) brilliant (bringing out for me, even more, the humanity, magic, love and humility of Jesus).

  13. Kathleen Moore

    Thanks for the great suggestions. I am also reading Matthew Kelly’s Rediscovering Catholicism. I just finished Peter Hitchens’s The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith. A great book. I recently read George Wiegel’s Letters to a Young Catholic, which I also loved. And I have been slowly working my way through Martin Stannard’s biography of one of my favorite writers, Muriel Spark, another convert to Catholicism.

  14. Lindsey

    I Believe In Love: A Personal Retreat Based on the Teaching of St. Therese of Lisieux, by Fr. Jean C.J. d’Elbee. I’m about halfway through, and I think it is helping my interior life. I have also been reading about Mother Theresa lately and just feel really moved by her faith [in action, always] despite not “feeling” God’s presence.

  15. Margo

    Thanks for this list! I was just talking with my brother and sister today about finding a new book since I’m almost finished with my current one. They always seem to have good recommendations but now your list comes at the perfect time! I was told that the book called Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Father Jacques Philippe is an interesting, easy read. It’s a small treatise, only 110 pages.

  16. Sally Thomas

    Oh! Oh! I know Rebecca McClanahan, or I used to! She was a fabulous poet-in-the-schools when I was teaching high school English, and then we met up at a writers’ conference the summer I was pregnant with my oldest daughter. She’s a lovely, warm person as well as a really gifted writer. Now I’ve gotta get that book!

  17. Sally Thomas

    Oh, and I just finished rereading Alice Thomas Ellis’s Summerhouse Trilogy, three novels which approach the same series of events from the perspectives of three women caught up in them. It’s not exactly a heartwarming read, but it’s so brilliant I’m still kind of breathless (I literally just finished it five minutes ago).

  18. Christine

    Anthony Destefano also wrote “Travel Guide to Heaven” – wonderful book. Although fiction (because no one knows!) it was very inspiring. Just finished reading “The Shack”… I still get goosebumps when I speak of it!

  19. Amy

    My only caveat is that I found his agnostic outlook, devoid of any transcendent meaning for this experience or his life in general, kind of depressing; in the end, I felt vaguely sad for him, even though he did survive this incredible ordeal.

    Interesting. I haven’t read the book, so perhaps he alludes to how his agnostic view is depressing or sad. I frequently used to come across this attitude on the internet, that a view of life devoid of religious faith is sad (but since yours is the only religious blog I read nowadays, I don’t come across it much anymore). Obviously this man did not give up hope due to his supposedly depressing outlook, and survived. I was actually more depressed and hopeless when I was trying to buy into the whole god story (because of my failure to succeed) than I am now that I’ve given it up. I am much more at ease and happy (and just as motivated to be kind and loving toward others as I was before–I haven’t suddenly become more selfish and rude since I gave up on trying to figure out if there is a god and how that affects my life). So I find this view puzzling.

    (I’ve tried to think of a way to phrase the following questions that doesn’t come across as snarky or accusatory, but I don’t think I’ve managed it, so just know I am truly asking out of curiousity, and I’m not trying to be rude–you know I love your blog! I’m trying to understand your attitude of pity and sadness for this man and others–like me–who live their lives devoid of religious faith, people who aren’t unhappy, bitter or cruel.)

    Is it because you think you have something more that makes you feel sorry for agnostics/atheists? That you have something we don’t? That our lives lack some sort of richness or depth because we don’t believe in supernatural events? I suppose my life does lack a certain richness of depth, but to my view it is a fantastical richness of depth, much like believing in fairies and magic–sure it would be cool if those things existed, and believing them certainly would make my life more rich in certain ways, but I find life fascinating and precious enough as it is, with all of the things I can actually see and feel and witness, without having to look for invisible, silent, unfathomable things as well.

    On a different note, if you believe God has a plan for everyone, why should you feel sad for the author? Perhaps this period of unbelief is paving the way to a much deeper faith in his future. I would think Christians should be the happiest people in the world, since everything is working out according to some grand design. And if some people don’t make it into the “good” parts of the grand design at the end of their lives, well, that’s part of the design, isn’t it? So why be sad? How could a good god create something that was defective or bad in any way?

    And I don’t know you of course, but I seriously doubt you would roll over and give up–the instinct for survival is strong, whether you believe there’s a reason behind living or not;-)

  20. priest's wife

    My problem? I always reread books I love- right now I am tag-teaming The Hobbit and Children of Men by PD James (NOTHING like the movie- I don’t know how that script got approval!)

    You have given me so many good ideas- but the first I am going to read is Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust -Immaculee Ilibagiza next- I keep hearing about “Radical”- it is a Protestant book, but I still think it will be a good kick in the pants

  21. Ashley


    I was just looking at features of your website yesterday, specifically your “Favorite Books”, and vowed to read the entire list. I’m entirely appreciative of your reviews and suggestions.

    I’m reading The Jungle currently, and it’s severities are falling into the vats of my mind. I teach English, and as usual, am tied up in young adult lit., classic lit. I haven’t read yet but should have before my teaching position, and books handed to me as suggested reading by a good friend.

    Once again, thanks for the suggestions!


  22. Rachel

    The Fufillment of All Desire by Ralph Martin. MUST READ I’m about 30 pages into this 450 page book, but already it’s changing my life. I would recommend it to ANY Catholic, and it’s so interesting that I think even a non-Catholic friend or two would be interested as well!

  23. Jane

    Oh, just starting George Weigel’s new book, The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II — The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy,

  24. Grant

    I know how ponpous and self-righteous this may sound to some but the only book I can read now and not get bored in 5 minutes is the Bible. I enjoy hearing of anyone searching out our Father but my only teacher is his Word Jesus Christ. The most precious contact we have with our Father is through his word the Bible and I just can’t stay interested in anything else

  25. Debbie

    I am currently reading “Interior Freedom” by Jacques Philippe. It started a bit slowly for me, but one into it, I am continually highlighting passages and paragraphs. This book and Tadeusz Dajczer’s “Gift of Faith” are two books that I read over several months because I chose to only read small sections (sometimes only a paragraph or two) at a time. Two of my all-time favorite books for spiritual depth and helpfulness in tough times.

  26. Steve

    “Homilies in Praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary” by Bernard of Chairvaux
    “Signs of Life’ by Scott Hahn
    “Nuts & Bolts” by Tim Staples
    “In the Beginning” by Pope Benedict XVI

  27. John O.

    “The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path” by Robert Barron. It’s a great book. Fr. Barron uses great insights from a variety of Catholic writers from Flannery O’Connor to “Brideshead Revisited” to Dante’s Purgatorio to illustrate his points.

  28. Olsen22Rochelle

    I had a dream to start my company, but I didn’t have enough of money to do it. Thank goodness my dude advised to take the credit loans. Thus I received the consolidation loans and made real my desire.

  29. Kaye Swain

    Hi, I came to visit from a link on another site and have really enjoyed reading several of your posts. As a fellow book-lover, I really enjoyed this article and was especially intrigued by your review of “Flogging the Quill.” One of my goals is to write a book (or 50 🙂 ), and I’m always looking for good resources, so will definitely check it out. One I just finished, that I highly recommend, is “When the Hurt Runs Deep” by Kay Arthur. It’s one of the best Christian books I’ve read on the topic of pain and suffering in our lives. Thanks, again, for a lovely visit.

  30. Kaye Swain

    Hi, I came to visit from a link on another site and have really enjoyed reading several of your posts. As a fellow book-lover, I really enjoyed this article and was especially intrigued by your review of “Flogging the Quill.” One of my goals is to write a book (or 50 🙂 ), and I’m always looking for good resources, so will definitely check it out. One I just finished, that I highly recommend, is “When the Hurt Runs Deep” by Kay Arthur. It’s one of the best Christian books I’ve read on the topic of pain and suffering in our lives. Thank you again, for a lovely visit.

  31. Kaye Swain

    PS Sorry for the duplicate – thought I blew it by not adding the http:// – didn’t realize it had taken. 🙂

  32. Free unlocking

    Oh my goodness! Incredible article dude! Thanks, However I
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