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Cathedral: An Illness and a Healing

Bill Henderson. Pushcart, $22 (160p) ISBN 978-1-888889-75-8

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Henderson, Pushcart Prize editor and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Lifetime Achievement Award, goes beyond the usual cancer memoir in his recovery story, which is filled with spirit and humor. Set in his home state of Maine, his tale is rich in references to place, particularly his hometown of Sedgwick and his home on Christy ("Christ with a Y") Hill. As Henderson begins to construct a stone cathedral on his property, he receives a cancer diagnosis. Surgery to remove a cancerous breast and treatment follow. Throughout his recovery, in the face of a recurrence of cancer and the despair that threatens to overwhelm him, Henderson focuses on returning to Maine to finish his cathedral. That vision sustains him. As it sometimes can for those who suffer cancer, the illness strengthens Henderson's faith: "faith I didn't know I had, from my childhood, bred in the bone," he writes. Ultimately, his is a story of hope. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Saint Katharine: The Life of Katharine Drexel

Cordelia Frances Biddle. Westholme, $26 (280p) ISBN 978-1594162114

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Novelist and teacher Biddle (Without Fear) explores the remarkable life of St. Katharine Drexel. Born on the cusp of the Civil War to one of Philadelphia's most prominent families, Drexel enjoyed a privileged youth. In the aftermath of the loss of her father, however, she begins searching for a greater purpose. She devotes herself, and her staggering inheritance, to empowering Native Americans and African-Americans through education. After years of spiritual struggle, she becomes a nun and eventually establishes her own order, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People. An energetic, unwavering champion of social justice, Drexel builds schools throughout the Deep South and West, often encountering deeply rooted prejudice and overcoming tremendous obstacles. Biddle is a scrupulous researcher but maintains a refreshingly lucid, readable style. Her scholarship is enriched by her connection to the Drexel family as a descendent of Katharine's grandfather. While she is particularly adept at drawing the reader into 19th century Philadelphia and highlighting the sociohistorical context of Drexel's work, she might have paid closer attention to the spirituality and theological development of an American saint. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Holy Resilience: The Bible's Traumatic Origins

David M. Carr. Yale Univ., $32.50 (336p) ISBN 978-0-300-20456-8

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In this convincing synthesis of biblical scholarship and research on trauma and collective memory, Carr (The Erotic Word: Sexuality, Spirituality and the Bible) concludes that monotheistic religion resulted from the collective traumas recorded in our biblical texts, trauma which reverberates even now in our secular, "disenchanted" culture. He contends that it is specifically these traumas, beginning with the destruction of ancient Israel by the Assyrians in 722 BCE, which have given biblical ideas their impact. Carr posits that this legacy began when the prophet Hosea announced to Israel that Assyria was merely the reflection and instrument of the one true King, Yahweh, who was punishing Israel for worshiping other gods. Carr also explores how the idea of an exclusive covenant between Israel and God ultimately evolved into full monotheism, because of the kingdom of Judah's traumatized reaction to its destruction by the Babylonians. Furthermore, the expansion of monotheism beyond the Jews derives from the traumatic legacy of Jesus' crucifixion, and the persecution of the early Christians under Rome. Lay readers of all faiths are likely to find this accessible book thought-provoking. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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An American Cardinal: The Biography of Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Christina Boyle. St. Martin's, $27.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-03287-4

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Boyle, a British journalist and former staffer at the New York Daily News, gained unprecedented access to one of the most famous Catholics in the United States and tells his story eloquently. She presents an eminently readable and enjoyable description of Timothy Dolan, a gregarious and generous human being who can also stand his ground like a pit bull in a verbal battle. Dolan was incredibly accommodating to the author, opening all aspects of his life and ministerial career to her, even recommending some family members and old acquaintances to interview for the project. Dolan's affable nature is clearly presented, but so is his role as a company man. For Dolan, contested issues such as abortion and gay marriage are not debatable; the Church's teaching is clear. At other times, the author portrays the cardinal as humble and vulnerable, as when he discusses what it has been like to live a celibate adult life. Boyle effectively portrays a complex and intriguing human being who could one day become the first United States born pope. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Kissing in the Chapel, Praying in the Frat House: Wrestling with Faith and College

Edited by Adam Copeland. Rowman & Littlefield, $17.99 trade paper (190p) ISBN 978-1-56699-765-2

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This absorbing, diverse anthology could easily be retitled Varieties of (Young Adult) Religious Experience. In 21 essays, young men and women in their 20s and 30s reflect on their college experience with faith, exploring a wide range of subjects—from Kristi Del Vecchio's socially-minded humanism to Edward Anderson's reflections on the powerful ways a religious upbringing can both shape and challenge a young person's attempt to discover faith on his own terms. The most outstanding essays appear in the section on "Sex and Sexuality," every one of these extraordinarily, even painfully, honest. The authors movingly describe their intimate experiences as they deal with some complicated topics, made even more so for persons of faith (coming out as gay, being transgender, and the trauma of sexual assault, among them). Copeland includes a set of discussion questions at the end of each essay that will be useful for youth ministry groups and classes. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Stitched Paper Art for Kids: 22 Cheeky Pickle Sewing Projects

Ali Benyon. C & T/Funstitch Publishing, $22.95 paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-60705-927-1

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The author, an Australian textile designer, has created a slim volume that highlights the possibilities of combining cardstock and other heavier papers with freeform sewing. Benyon's aesthetic is friendly and familiar: lots of bright colors, owls, hearts, and other cheerful designs. The patterns include a Bag Tag for a child's backpack, and a Hexagon Purse which uses kraft*tex, a leather-like paper manufactured by this book's publisher. Benyon also incorporates vinyl and clever recycling ideas, including using newspaper to sew an envelope for a present. But there's something off about this volume. The title and writing aim it squarely at "kids" (ages 8 and up), but the projects often involve small pieces, not to mention a need for precise sewing that most children will find too challenging. And why would a child want to create projects like drink charms, usually used for wine glass identification? For readers who are interested in giving this craft technique a go, ignore the "for kids" part of the title. Readers who want to give a child a crafting book should look elsewhere. Full color photos. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Ordeal of the Union: A New History of Reconstruction

Mark Wahlgren Summers. Univ. of North Carolina, $40 (528p) ISBN 978-1-4696-1757-2

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The triumph of the Union Army and the freeing of the slaves after the Civil War are always complicated by the realities of Reconstruction, particularly the failure to protect freed African Americans and the eventual implementation of Jim Crow laws. University of Kentucky historian Summers (A Dangerous Stir) argues that although Reconstruction was a failure for former slaves, it was successful in propping up and reintroducing the federal system into the former Confederate states. His account is a reminder of how difficult this process was, noting how Southern constitutional delegates "did not welcome slavery's end," nor did they, like many others in the post-bellum South, "regret secession." Summers effectively captures the turmoil and frustrations of the era: the strange 1874 battle between candidates for Governor of Arkansas, the rise of white supremacist groups such as the "redeemers" and "White Leagues," and voter intimidation that successfully forced African Americans out of a meaningful role in government. He also shows how economic woes affected Reconstruction's prospects. An arrangement that preserved the Union but damned many to suffering, Summers demonstrates it best when discussing meetings of Union and Confederate veterans: "Reconciliation they welcomed—on their own terms." Illus. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Indecision Points: George W. Bush and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Daniel Zoughbie. MIT, $24.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-262-02733-5

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Zoughbie, a scholar of international governance, criticizes the Bush administration's dithering and unfocused approach to diplomacy in the Middle East. Much of this volume is devoted to the tension between the ideas of sequentialism, which holds that the U.S. should pursue spreading democracy throughout the region as its priority, and parallelism, the view that concessions should be sought simultaneously from all parties to the conflict. Bush, according to the author, seemed perpetually susceptible to his advisors' conflicting counsel, and "never truly made a decision as to which view should guide U.S. foreign policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." When Bush did enter the debate, he had a tendency to miss the point entirely—as when he asserted that removing Yassir Arafat was of greater importance to the Palestinians than ending the occupation. Zoughbie clearly and concisely records Bush's missteps and his pervasive double standards: enraged by corruption in the Palestinian Authority, Bush turned a blind eye to the scandal that would bring down Olmert's government. Zoughbie reveals Bush as a man whose tentative yet hubristic forays into international affairs were overtaken by events, with his positions changing from day to day: "erratic shifts in the president's decision-making process were not an isolated occurrence; unfortunately, they were the norm." (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Hoarders: Material Deviance in Modern American Culture

Scott Herring. Univ. of Chicago, $25 (208p) ISBN 978-0-226-17171-5

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This well-argued study of so-called hoarders and their relationship with modern material culture asks for a second opinion on the recent identification of "hoarding disorder" in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a type of psychopathology. Herring explores the demonization of hoarding in contemporary culture using four "genealogies" as his foundation: the infamous Collyer brothers, whose deaths-by-refuse prefigured "hoarding disorder"; Andy Warhol, whose Manhattan townhouse was found piled with art and kitsch after his 1987 death; professional organizer and lifestyle counselor Sandra Felton; and Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edith, whose trash-filled East Hampton home became the subject of feature articles, documentary films, and a Broadway musical. Building on the work of others, Herring submits that accounts of hoarding incite an "object panic" in non-hoarders, who stigmatize it as unsanitary and unsafe, and who collapse "the distinction between overfurnished rooms and demented headspace." Herring digests a considerable amount of sociological, psychological, and scientific research into an engrossing and accessible exploration. If, as he posits, "hoarding is more social apprehension than neurological irregularity," then readers may well agree with him that "hoarding is in the heads of those who fret about the disease as much as the individual herself." (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Harry Hopkins: FDR's Envoy to Churchill and Stalin

Christopher D. O'Sullivan. Rowman & Littlefield, $36 (200p) ISBN 978-1-4422-2220-5

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With a detailed, practical analysis of one of the most accomplished power brokers in F.D.R.'s New Deal administration, O' Sullivan, a professor of history and international studies at the University of San Francisco, focuses on Harry Hopkins, the president's confidant and catalyst for much of the era's liberal policies providing government relief and public work jobs such as the Civil Works Administration and the Works Progress Administration. Hopkins, a former social worker and an early F.D.R. appointee, believed relief was a citizen's right in the economic doldrums of the Great Depression, and while operating more than $10 billion in agency budgets he became the "world's largest employer, with more than fifteen million people working in various programs he ran." O'Sullivan shows the significant influence he had with the president, serving as an envoy with Churchill and Stalin during crucial moments during WWII. A key feature of the Hopkins saga is the revelation of his private self: a driven and purposeful personality, he was cool under fire and very calculating in his political choices. O' Sullivan's striking portrait captures the life of a resourceful man who did the grunt work for a chief executive whose vision shaped modern American politics. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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