Comic? Yes. Spiritual? No

{mosimage}Heaven is Small by Emily Schultz (House of Anansi Press, 256 pages, $29.95).

In her comic novel Heaven is Small, Toronto author Emily Schultz takes a light-hearted approach to the hereafter. At the outset the protagonist, Gordon Small, has just died — “an event he had failed to notice” — and he seeks new employment as a proof-reader of romance novels at the Heaven Book Company. 

Although the novel is creative, it does not offer any serious reflection on life after death.


An outsider's inside look at the Vatican gardens

{mosimage}When Linda Kooluris arrived at the Vatican with an old Nikon F2 she discovered the secret life of the city state. She also found out it is not really a secret.

Twenty-seven years later the photographer and painter reveals her discoveries in The Gardens of the Vatican, a 159-page, hardcover photo book with text by her husband Kildare Dobbs (McArthur & Company, $39.95).


‘The Great Hunger’ changed Toronto

{mosimage}Death or Canada: The Irish Famine Migration to Toronto, 1847 by Mark G. McGowan (Novalis, hardcover, 170 pages, $24.95)

Few experiences can be more painful than having to tell your hungry child there is no food. Today mothers and fathers in Sudan, North Korea and other troubled countries have to do just that. In the mid-1800s, it was Irish parents who witnessed their children starve, as they did so themselves.

The crushing nature of famine is captured most poignantly in J.P.L. Walton’s lament, first published in The Limerick Reporter in 1846 and reprinted in this beautifully produced book. As he and his neighbours suffered, Walton’s “Irish Labourers’ Pater Noster” reads, in part:
 

Young authors explain sexuality

{mosimage}Sexuality is an inescapable topic, yet teens just aren’t being given the tools to evaluate their relationships properly, say the authors of a new book for Catholics called How Far Can We Go?

“Kids don’t like scare tactics, so if you tell them they might get pregnant or get AIDS, it often doesn’t help — it basically reinforces the idea that if you don’t get AIDS or get pregnant then there’s no problem. But if you say it’s bad for your relationship... and if you find out what level of intimacy is appropriate to you, that’s much better than saying here’s what not to do,” said co-author Brett Salkeld.

Truth can hurt, even in a beautiful way

{mosimage}Perfecting by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer (Goose Lane, hardcover, 360 pages, $22.95)

Classical and medieval writers on esthetics believed that what made a work of art good was — at least in significant part — its proportion to the subject matter, its “trueness” to even an ugly topic. A true and proportionate image of the ugly can be beautiful because it shows forth the subject in a way that strips away ambiguities or irrelevant details that cloud the issue.

Practice makes perfect, eventually

{mosimage}Practicing Catholic by James Carroll (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, hardcover, 400 pages, $37.95).

James Carroll is a tough guy to read, and for critics a tough thinker to argue with. He’s demonstrated that in 10 novels and five serious works of non-fiction so far. His latest work, Practicing Catholic will for some be his toughest book yet. For others it will be like a long cold drink of water on a fiery day.

Carroll, raised an Irish American Catholic (and the qualifiers are important) on the eastern seaboard of the United States has bedevilled conservative lay Catholics and conservative members of the hierarchy for nearly four decades. Trained as a Paulist priest with two vocations — priest and poet — Carroll is a man of Vatican II who finds his faith and solace in that truly astonishing and earth-shaking convocation which rocked the church 40 years ago and still does to this day.

A greener shade of Pope

{mosimage}Ten Commandments for the Environment: Pope Benedict XVI Speaks out for Creation and Justice by Woodeene Koenig-Bricker (Ave Maria Press, softcover, 160 pages, $15.95).

Anything that helps Catholics live their lives and construct their churches today in an ecologically friendly manner ought to be a good thing. The problem with Ten Commandments for the Environment: Pope Benedict XVI Speaks out for Creation and Justice is that it won’t do these things. In fact, I fear it just might make things worse.

Glorifying one God doesn't make us the same

{mosimage}What God Really Wants You to Know , by C. David Lundberg (Heavenlight Press, softcover, 448 pages, $24.57).

Pope Benedict XVI’s recent visit to the Holy Land emphasized the idea that the three religions of the book — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — share common ground.

What God Really Wants You to Know, a self-published 427-page tome by C. David Lundberg, endeavours to teach the same lesson.

Given a chance, peace is possible

{mosimage}John Dear on Peace: An Introduction to His Life and Work by Patricia Patten Normile, S.F.O. (St. Anthony Messenger Press, softcover, 137 pages, $17.55).

Millions pray for peace. Many strive for peace and some of us even act on the premise that world peace is possible. Yet peace clearly remains frustratingly elusive and increasingly, it seems, a pipe dream.

Exploring the dark side of the brain

{mosimage}Cruelty: Human Evil and the Human Brain , by Kathleen Taylor (Oxford University Press, hard cover, $34.95 [U.S.]).
 

Could eradicating cruelty ever become government policy? According to Kathleen Taylor, author of Cruelty: Human Evil and the Human Brain, it should.

Such policy might involve stronger punishment for cruel behaviour, pedagogical programs aimed at fostering empathy in children and the encouragement of openness and acceptance. It would require human beings to admit that our societies — and we ourselves — are capable of cruelty and are often perpetrators of cruel actions. It would also entail that we re-inject moral parametres into our concrete societal objectives. Taylor thinks this is desirable — that is, if we all agree on a definition of cruelty and its causes.

God books are back

{mosimage}In bookstores across the country, award-winning author David Adams Richards’ new book God Is: A Search For Faith In A Secular World stands out on the shelves. It is a sharply argued and closely observed testament to a civilization that thinks it is cool to diss God and believers of any stripe. But more than that, the book is part of the evidence that a tide has turned.

In Ecclesiastes, the wisdom is “To everything there is a season.” It is an insight the publishing industry knows very well. If the trend of the last few years has favoured the militant atheist, the polemical humanist and the over-reaching scientist, the current publishing catalogues say the backlash is on and, as one title aptly puts it, “God Is Back.”