Katherine Paterson is best known as an award-winning novelist for kids (Bridge to Terabithia, The Great Gilly Hopkins). It’s less widely known that she is also a former Presbyterian missionary and a pastor’s wife, and that she spent many years writing stories to be read aloud at her church’s Christmas Eve service. Paterson has now collected many of these stories in the book A Stubborn Sweetness and Other Stories for the Christmas Season. There’s nothing saccharine or sentimental about these tales of a persecuted Japanese pastor, a pregnant teenage thief, a homeless drifter and his family, and more — but there is much that’s inspirational. Bittersweet, moving, and beautifully written, these stories of faith make up a collection to treasure.
If you’re in the mood for something a little more traditional but equally inspirational, there’s always A Christmas Carol! The Annotated Christmas Carol, edited by Michael Patrick Hearn, offers a wealth of information on Charles Dickens’s beloved classic. A detailed introduction and notes, along with copious illustrations, shine a new and helpful light on the old story.
At the other end of the spectrum is Barnes & Noble’s new pocket-sized edition of the Carol. It has no notes or illustrations, but it’s nicely bound and printed, and the perfect size for a stocking stuffer!
— Gina Dalfonzo is the editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog.
RYAN T. ANDERSON
Here are a few of my favorite titles that I read in 2013. Any would make a great gift for the special someone on your list, provided he or she is interested in ideas.
Yuval Levin is perhaps the sharpest conservative writer in Washington, D.C. His just-released book, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, shows how a debate 200 years ago still shapes our politics today. Anyone seeking a better understanding of the philosophical differences between conservatives and liberals could do no better than look in Levin’s writings. They illuminate what’s at stake in how we understand nature and human nature — and that greatest reflection of all on human nature, government.
But can a Catholic be a conservative, and even a tea partier? Samuel Gregg’s Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human Flourishing goes back to the first tea party to show how natural-law theory, Catholic social teaching, and the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, make the case for the American experiment in ordered liberty. Gregg is one of the best thinkers on these questions writing today, and his argument defending our form of polity, neither liberal nor libertarian, is one of the best on offer.
Of natural-law theorists, there is none greater than Princeton’s Robby George. In his new collection of essays, Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism, George shows how the best of human reason can defeat the reigning orthodoxies of liberal secularism. Amidst growing attacks on religious liberty and traditional morality, George shows how conscience has rights because it has duties, duties that the state ought never to undermine or violate.
And for the future of global Catholicism, no one does it better than George Weigel. And nowhere has he done it better than in Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church. Evangelical Catholicism isn’t a new church, but a new cultural expression of the timeless truths of Christ. Its adherents embrace faith and reason, Scripture and tradition, church authority and individual conscience, liturgical prayer and personal piety, and holiness and mission above all else.
Theology is meant to be lived, and Rod Dreher paints one picture of holiness — warts and all — in his moving tribute to his late sister, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life.
The religious have more babies, and as church attendance declines so too do nurseries. That’s the conventional wisdom at least. Mary Eberstadt challenges this in her fascinating book How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization. Herein Eberstadt argues that family decline — and fertility decline — contribute to religious decline. Marshaling impressive historical and sociological evidence, Eberstadt makes a case for a “double helix” of family and faith — each dependent on the other, rising or falling together.
What the future will hold as they fall is the subject of Jonathan Last’s What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster. Never has demography been as entertaining to read. Last is a great writer who makes a potentially boring topic (full of data sets, charts, and graphs) come to life. The book is chock full of anecdotes and funny stories, but also meticulous and judicious: His isn’t a morality tale about society going to hell in a hand basket — he sees both the pros and the cons of contemporary fertility trends, and he points to the various positive and negative factors that likely influenced the new trends. Nevertheless, the trend is leading, as the subtitle notes, to disaster. Find out what to expect.
For the more scholarly on your gift list, let me suggest three academic titles, in history, philosophy, and theology. Brad Gregory’s intellectual tour de force The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society argues that today’s society is the result of the Reformation. Without intending it, the Reformers planted theological seeds that sprouted secular fruit hundreds of years later: relativism about truth, subjectivism in morality, consumerism in economics, secularism in politics, and an indifferentism to theological claims.
Indifference to theology, however, proves fatal to coherent morality, or so argues John Rist in Plato’s Moral Realism: The Discovery of the Presuppositions of Ethics. Rist argues that a close reading of the Platonic dialogues reveals a development in Plato’s thought, with the most mature dialogues pointing to the necessity of a metaphysics of morals — and a theological one at that.
The philosopher Alexander Pruss develops one such theological account in his book One Body: An Essay in Christian Sexual Ethics. This is quite simply the best, most thorough, most analytically rigorous contemporary presentation and defense of Christian sexual ethics.
— Ryan T. Anderson is the William E. Simon Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and the editor of Public Discourse. He is a co-author, with Sherif Girgis and Robert P. George, of the book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense.