The National Catholic Review
Patricia A. Kossmann

Some lovely books have crossed my desk in recent weeks that are worthy of highlight as you review your Christmas shopping list. One is A Classic Christmas: Spiritual Reflections, Timeless Literature and Treasured Verse & Scripture (hardcover, $14.99, HarperOne), assembled by the publisher. With its gilded edges, satin ribbon marker and two-color design with illustrations throughout (drawings and period pencil sketches), it is a book that will be cherished year after year. Organized around seven sections (Hope, Love, Peace, Journey, Giving, Joy and The Gift) containing poetry, spiritual reflection, literary narrative, folk tales, theological insights and wisdom of the saints, it lives up to the “classic” in its title. It is well suited not only to private meditative reading, but to sharing and reading from at family gatherings. “Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel” (Is 12:6).

The distinguished art publisher Rizzoli International has just released a deluxe illustrated edition of Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth (hardcover, $60). It contains over 120 full-color plates, reproductions of classical depictions of Jesus by a host of famous artists, including Caravaggio, Gaugin and Matisse. In a glowing review for America (6/4/07) of the original text-only edition (Doubleday), Gerald O’Collins, S.J., pointed out that “some sections read like beautifully crafted biblical homilies” and declared that the book “excellently achieves its central purpose.” This new, lavishly illustrated and over-sized version, in a lay-flat binding on glossy stock, will sit well on anyone’s coffee table this Christmas season, inviting family and visitors to peruse its spectacular pages.

For the sentimentally inclined, especially fans of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” I call your attention to Andrew Greeley’s new novel, Home for Christmas (hardcover, $14.99, Forge). It would not be fair to readers to lay out the plot line. I shall say only that the story is about love and redemption in the life of its protagonist, an Iraq war hero, his near-death experience and “second chance” at love with his lifelong sweetheart. The characters are memorable, as are the lessons imparted by the popular and talented Greeley.

On the light side comes a truly enjoyable read for the whole family, Almost First Dog: The Secret [Rejected] Portuguese Water Dog Applica-tions, with text by Spencer Starr and photographs by Sharon Montrose (hardcover, $16.95, Stewart, Tabori & Chang). Bo, the First Family’s pet, contributes a brief foreword, acknowledging his luck at being chosen over some formidable “competition.” These range from puppies to senior dogs—all strains and colorations of the breed—touting their unique qualities and what would make them the best White House resident. A humorous, clever and witty book, I assure you. Stuff it in someone’s stocking.

Themes and passages from the Gospel of John, selected by John J. Gerhard, S.J., a Johannine scholar, accompanied by dozens of original oil paintings by Helen Owen, a self-taught artist, constitute The Trail of Glory, an oblong spiral-bound soft-cover book (The Orlando Truth, Inc., $24.95). A pictorial history of Jesus’ public ministry, it will be appreciated by many as an aid to meditating on the journey of Jesus.

Those of a certain age certainly remember the dynamic preacher and now servant of God Fulton J. Sheen. As Dec. 9 marks the 30th anniversary of his death, it seems appropriate to single out a few books. Of all his writings, Life of Christ (paperback, Doubleday, $17.95) seems to have had the greatest staying power: it has been continuously in print and selling since it’s original publication in 1958. And then there is Treasure in Clay, his autobiography (paperback, Double-day, $15.95); and one of my favorites—because yours truly put it together and published it on the centennial of his birth—From the Angel’s Blackboard: The Best of Fulton J. Sheen (paperback, Liguori, $16.95).

One of my special personal favorites is the Scottish mystery writer, poet, short story writer and novelist Dame Muriel Spark (to whom, incidentally, America’s editorial board bequeathed the 2001 Campion Award). You may wish to introduce her to a generation of new readers. Right at the top of the reading list, I suggest, should be her celebrated novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, first published in 1961 and today available as part of the Harper Perennial Modern Classics ($12.99). Also recommended reading is All the Stories of Muriel Spark (paperback, New Directions, $19.95).

You might revisit America’s book review section as well for additional gift-giving ideas. May your Christmas be joy-filled and wondrous.

Book Briefs is written by Patricia A. Kossmann, literary editor of America.