Among books with not-so-great covers, The Searchers: A Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt, by Joe Loconte, is simply the best that I’ve read in a decade. And it’s practically the perfect gift, because you can give it to just about anyone. Rare is that person for whom this gem is not just right! Loconte’s winsome, charming, passionate, and beautiful way of talking about the very thing that makes us human — our struggle for meaning in the universe — is without equal anywhere. I have already given this book to scores of people. Loconte talked about the book at Socrates in the City back in the spring.
My personal Book of the Year Award goes to A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future, by Os Guinness. In an election year, and in a clear and elegant way that I’m deeply sorry to say I’ve never witnessed before, Guinness explains the one thing that every American must — must — know to really be an American and that so very very few do know today, God help us. He makes plain how the Founders structured our fragile and ordered freedom and what we must know about it to sustain it, lest “the last best hope of earth” be lost. That is what is at stake. Anyone with a brain or a conscience must blush crimson to be unfamiliar with this book. No pressure.
Thoughts to Make Your Hearts Sing, by Sally Lloyd Jones. This happily ends the question of what you will give that young person this Christmas. Sally has brilliantly followed up her already-classic Jesus Storybook Bible with this magnificent volume, which is as pitch-perfect in tone as it gets. So get it. Got it? You’re welcome.
And for any baseball fans in your life, hustle — go, go, go! – down that third-base line to score Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity, and the Perfect Knuckleball, the memoir by R. A. Dickey, winner of the 2012 National League Cy Young Award. The best baseball book since The Glory of Their Times. Dickey’s sparkling story of struggling through the hell of childhood abuse and the lower circles of Minor League Purgatory all the way to the very Paradiso of the sport’s highest pitching honor — and did we mention with a humble knuckleball? — is so quintessentially American that it will make you cheer. Unless you’re a humbug. Which I know you ain’t.
— Eric Metaxas‘s new book is No Pressure, Mr. President!
I’d like to suggest four books and one DVD as edifying stocking fillers for the NRO annual gift symposium.
At the risk of engaging in self-promotion, I will recommend my own latest offering, Bilbo’s Journey: Discovering the Hidden Meaning of The Hobbit, hot off the press (Saint Benedict Press, to be exact) and published to coincide with the imminent release of the first of Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy. In Bilbo’s Journey I uncover the profoundly Christian dynamic of that perennial bestseller, The Hobbit.
The Quotable Newman, compiled by Dave Armstrong. It might not be, as advertised in the subtitle, “a definitive guide” to the “central thoughts and ideas” of Blessed John Henry Newman, but it does nonetheless serve as an excellent introduction to the great man’s philosophy and theology.
In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G. K. Chesterton, edited by Dale Ahlquist. Here is an excellent collection of the finest essays by this finest of essayists.
The Hound of Distributism, edited by Richard Aleman. A collection of essays on the political philosophy of Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc — and an excellent place to discover the contemporary relevance of Catholic social teaching. Whether one is an impassioned advocate of the subsidiarity espoused by distributists or merely a curious and dispassionate student of political philosophy, this volume will prove enlightening.
Finally, I must encourage everyone to see The War of the Vendée, a charming and moving film about “the forgotten martyrs of the French Revolution.” In an age when secular fundamentalism is once again threatening religious liberty, the example of the courageous peasants of the Vendée will prove an inspiration and provide an infusion of much-needed encouragement to all Christians.
— Joseph Pearce is a professor of literature at Ave Maria University.
HANS VON SPAKOVSKY
My gift recommendations for Christmas range from serious to humorous to entertaining.
Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944–1956, by Anne Applebaum. In this outstanding new book, Applebaum describes in often painful detail how Stalin and his army of secret-police killers and torturers set out to crush all resistance and opposition in the occupied countries of Eastern Europe. As the Iron Curtain descended, so did a second living hell for the citizens of countries who had already experienced another hell under the Nazis. The Soviets and their collaborators bullied, threatened, tortured, and murdered to establish the Communist dictatorships that controlled Eastern Europe for 40 long years. Reading Applebaum’s book, I once again realized how lucky my parents were to have escaped such serfdom, and how smart and daring my Russian father was when he fled across Europe ahead of Soviet troops headed for the American-occupied sector of Germany.
If you have friends who are still despondent about the election, I recommend a DVD of classic Bugs Bunny cartoons — there is nothing better to bring them out of their depression. But be sure you get the DVD that includes “Ballot Box Bunny” (1951), the best short ever made about elections. When Yosemite Sam campaigns for mayor, Bugs runs against him, and mayhem results. For all of us who suffered through the last nine months of one of the meanest, nastiest campaigns ever, all of the dirty tricks that Yosemite Sam and Bugs Bunny play on each other in their quest to win will seem familiar. Some things never change.
My final recommendation is a CD of the Gunsmoke radio show. Gunsmoke ran on radio from 1952 to 1961 and was the forerunner of the TV show. It was one of the best-written shows ever produced in the long history of radio. Marshal Matt Dillon was voiced by William Conrad (who later played Frank Cannon on the TV show Cannon), and Doc Adams was voiced by Howard McNear (who played Floyd the barber on The Andy Griffith Show). If you have large blocks of time when you travel or commute to work, this series will keep you well entertained.
There it is, my Christmas list for reading, watching, and listening.
— Hans von Spakovsky is senior legal fellow and manager of the Civil Justice Reform Initiative at the Heritage Foundation.