For those of you starting to panic because Christmas is just a few weeks away and you don’t have all your shopping done yet, here’s some help. Three of our CFWN team members have compiled a list of great books to check out, including one each of their own. We hope at least a couple of these will end up in your shopping cart—whether as gifts for loved ones or a treat for yourself!
Books We Loved
Stephen: For me a favorite book is memorable, leaving a deep impression. Both content and the quality of writing are important. A Carnival of Losses: Notes on Nearing Ninety by Donald Hall checks all the boxes. It’s a companion to his book Essays After Eighty. Hall was a poet, but in his later years poetry did not come easily to him, so he pivoted to the essay. His essays are poignant and the writing is lyrical. As a writer, you will be exposed to the topic of aging from a unique perspective, and you will experience stunningly good writing.
Randy: This year I got hooked on a series of murder mysteries by my friend John Duckworth. Some of you may know him from his years as an editor at Focus on the Family and David C. Cook. He has always been the funniest person on the planet, and now he has brought his misanthropic wit to a new genre. In Murder Most Annoying, his crime-solver is Carolyn Neville, a book editor who has a knack for getting in the middle of murder investigations. She struggles with her faith, her weight, and her attitude. But with a quirky sidekick (a junior editor), a vain boss, and an assortment of suspects, she always gets to the truth.
Ann-Margret: Sometimes I buy books that interest me and then they sit on a shelf for years. One book that took me a long time to finally pick up was Jesus—Safe, Tender, Extreme by Adrian Plass. As I read it, I knew that I was reading it just when I needed to. It’s a beautiful, poignant, intimate book about knowing Jesus. Plass shares with honesty and humor his own imperfect journey of faith, which is so much more effective than an expertly crafted sermon.
Books for Writers
Stephen: There are endless books on the craft of writing. Most of us probably own the better ones. But there’s one you may have missed since it has “Catholic” in the title and focuses on that least favored genre, poetry. It’s The Catholic Writer Today & Other Essays by Dana Giaoa, a poet, critic, and essayist. He’s best known for his 1991 Atlantic Monthly essay “Can Poetry Matter?” In this book he writes about beauty, faith, art, and writing as worship. You will encounter fascinating bios of a handful of poets and others, and learn about the craft of poetry as you learn of their lives. A favorite quote is, “We necessarily bring the whole of our hairy and heavy humanity to worship.” Isn’t the same true for writers and their writing?
Randy: A deep-thinking Christian, Martin Schleske is a best-selling author in Germany, and his prose translates splendidly into English. He’s also a professional violin maker. Luthier is the proper term for that—one of many things I’ve learned in his book The Sound of Life’s Unspeakable Beauty. Schleske takes us to a forest where he finds the ideal wood for a new instrument. He describes the painstaking process of carving, treating, and assembling the wood into a violin that’s beautiful to see and hear. He weaves in personal stories as well. And all along the way, he finds spiritual insights in his work. Deservedly, this book was honored in Christianity Today’s Book of the Year Awards. Besides its unique subject and profound observations, the book is a lovely artifact, beautifully designed and printed. Artistic thoughts about the artistic creation of an artistic instrument, presented in an artistic form. A great gift for a creative writer you know.
Ann-Margret: I’m an illustrator as well as a writer, and I have many other creative hobbies. I suspect most writers express their creativity in more than one way, whether that’s through music, photography, sewing, woodworking, or some other craft. A Book That Takes Its Time: An Unhurried Adventure in Creative Mindfulness by Irene Smit and Astrid van der Hulst, the editors of Flow magazine, is the perfect gift for the creative person on your gift list. It’s packed with interesting insights, cheerful art in full color, pull-out activities, and more.
Books by Us
Stephen: Fading is my third and best collection of poetry. A memoir of sorts, the style is in the vein of Billy Collins and Luci Shaw with a dash of Rod McKuen’s best stuff. One reviewer wrote, “Imbued with the wisdom and patience of age, [this] is a tender reflection on the strange wonders and sadness of life. Overall, the emotional breadth of these poems is impressive.” Another said, “The mix of whimsical and profound subjects causes the reader to be amused some times and to be provoked other times.” I promise you will laugh, you will cry, you will understand every poem, and see yourself in many.
Randy: The One Year Book of Women in Christian History (with Robin Shreeves). Have you ever written a year-long, page-a-day book? Writing 365 of anything is a challenge. Add historical research and the need for a devotional touch, and—let’s just say we earned every penny on this one. And I’m biased, but I think it’s good. Here you’ll meet hundreds of women who changed the history of the church and the world. You’ll read their stories, within the context of their times, and you’ll note how God has worked with all sorts of people—and still does. I’m tempted to say this is a great gift for any Christian woman, but I believe men benefit from it, too. I know I have. And we tried hard to avoid churchy language, so I imagine a non-Christian history buff would learn a lot as well.
Ann-Margret: Having the opportunity to illustrate and write a devotional coloring book, possibly the first book on the market to combine those two genres, was a surprise in itself. Having it then sit on the Christian bestsellers list for three consecutive months confirmed for me that Restore My Soul: A Coloring Book Devotional Journey makes an excellent gift for just about anyone. Forty devotions are accompanied by detailed full-page illustrations that readers can color in while meditating on the text.
If you buy any of these books, please remember to write reviews for the authors, especially if you liked the books!