Nancy Piccione: Eight things learned in eight years of reviewing Catholic books

By Nancy Piccione / Books and More

This marks my final regular monthly column reviewing books for The Catholic Post. After more than eight years, hundreds of books reviewed, and nearly 100 columns and “Reader” profiles, I’ll be stepping away from writing book reviews to pursue other projects.

To be honest, I’m uneasy about what this change in status will mean for my spiritual life and prayer life.

Searching out and reading good Catholic books has become normal these past eight years.  I’ve spent hours in adoration reading potential good books — an excellent way to discern whether a book is review-worthy. And because my husband Joseph has been the first reader of my columns, his feedback and our discussions as I fine-tune my thoughts have strengthened our spiritual friendship in marriage.

I’ve heard from many readers over the years about books that have helped or edified them, but truthfully, I am the one who has been most enriched by writing about Catholic books. I will always be grateful for this opportunity and my years here, and the careful editing and guidance of Tom Dermody, the editor of The Catholic Post.

Here are some of the “takeaways” that I’ve learned. I hope you will remember them, too:

  1. Catholic memoirs and spiritual biographies are an excellent genre for the reader’s spiritual growth and learning.

Memoirs, including spiritual biographies, can be very inconsistent in quality. While I’m not a fan of much modern memoir types, I have found numerous good examples in Catholic books old and new. I’ve written about ones as varied as the first book I ever reviewed, Venerable Fulton Sheen’s classic “Treasure in Clay.” Other great spiritual memoirs include “He Leadeth Me” by Father Walter Ciszek, “The Fourth Cup” by Scott Hahn, and “The Ear of the Heart: An Actress’ Journey from Hollywood to Holy Vows” by Mother Dolores Hart.

  1. Not all “Catholic” books are written by Catholics, or from Catholic publishers.

One of the most discussion-worthy books I’ve read in recent years is Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End,” which explores the area of death and dying, including wisdom from medieval monks, and what that means in today’s culture. In addition, books like Michael Pollan’s “Cooked” offer incarnational perspective on the goodness of creation.

  1. Catholic authors are good for different audiences.

As I’ve written before, very few books are good for every Catholic reader, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something for everyone among Catholic books.

To consider two audiences:

  • For kids and teens, there is everything from saint biography books like “Ablaze” and “Radiate,” saint-inspired fiction like the charming “Olivia and the Little Way,” and practical works such as “Your College Faith: Own It!” and “How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard.”
  • For moms, there are a range of books, and newer ones released almost every year, on motherhood and balance, from pregnancy and early childhood in “Made for This” to parenting for your child’s personality in books like “The Temperament God Gave Your Kids.”
  1. Praise God, the saints come in all types, sizes, and spiritualities.

I’m not going to name names, but certain saints inspire in me not devotion, but gratitude that God made all kinds of people capable of becoming saints. A friend is fond of saying that the spiritual life is “individual as a fingerprint.” Readers can easily find a saint, spirituality to suit, though I have found it spiritually edifying to stretch outside my comfort zone when it comes to reading about the saints.

Some of my favorite books about saints and spiritualities include ““Praying the Dominican Way: Ten Postures, Prayers and Practices that Lead Us to God” by Angelo Stagnaro, “Introduction to the Devout Life” by St. Francis de Sales, and “My Sisters the Saints” by Colleen Carroll Campbell.

  1. Healing can begin with reading books.

Some of my most popular reviews have been books about sensitive topics, especially ones relating to mental health and sexuality.  Such books include Dawn Eden’s “My Peace I Give You” and “Remembering God’s Mercy,” both about healing memory; “Gay and Catholic” by Eve Tushnet; “Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach” by Sister Kathryn Hermes; and the powerful “Hurting in the Church: A Way Forward for Wounded Catholics” by Father Thomas Berg.

  1. You can be intellectual and Catholic.

This shouldn’t be surprising, considering that the Catholic Church gave us the scientific method, the university system, and innumerable discoveries. But in today’s culture of “cool,” the prevailing belief is that Catholicism, or any deeply held faith, is at odds with reason and “reality.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Consider “Would You Baptize an Extra-Terrestrial” by Vatican astronomers Brother Guy Consolmagno and Father Paul Mueller; “The Case for Jesus” by Brad Pitre; and any of the books by Bishop Robert Barron or Father Robert Spitzer.

  1. Our Catholic faith is a precious gift that we should want to share and celebrate with everyone.

“Forming Intentional Disciples” by Sherry Weddell is a book that gets to the heart of evangelization, both within and outside of parishes. It talks about the vital importance of helping people have a deep personal relationship with Jesus, and what that means for the life of a parish or the Church at large.

  1. Media literacy and critical thinking are must-have skills.

Developing the ability to discern wisely what one is reading, watching, or hearing, is more important than ever. Books like “The Read-Aloud Family” by Sarah MacKenzie and “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age” provide not just families, but anyone, with tools and ideas for strengthening one’s critical skills in this area.

That is eight, but I have one more takeaway, since I like to “over-deliver:”

  1. Reading is subservient to the goal of our faith: love.

St. Paul puts it perfectly in 1 Corinthians 13:1: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging symbol.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Those wishing to write Nancy Piccione, or follow her blog, may do so at The blog includes an archive of past columns and other book features.

See related editorial: “Thank you, Nancy.”


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