The sleeping giant of religion/spirituality book sales began to stir more than 10 years ago, and despite periodic predictions that reader interest would wane, the fall 1999 publishing season brings no sign of that. Publishers' lists for this critical season are still lush with choices on the surprising variety of topics and approaches that fit within the category, reflecting confidence that these books will find buyers. Subcategories that began as trends or fads have evolved into niches, and there appears to be no topic, from biblical studies and religious history to neo-paganism and ecotheology, that will not catch some reader's imagination.

The category is now remarkable not so much for innovation as for stability and consistency. Books on spirituality and prayer continue to dominate, along with inspirational and devotional titles. Within those subcategories a variety of approaches can be seen, evidence of the struggles of authors and publishers to find fresh angles on timeless topics. One notable trend is the increasing number of Roman Catholic books that fit easily into the classically evangelical Protestant subcategory of "Christian living," books that apply theology or doctrine to everyday thoughts and actions. More Catholic publishers are reaching out to the general trade, and books like Paulist's Transforming Fire: Women Using Anger Creatively (Jan. 2000) and Loyola's 189 Ways to Contact God (Sept.) demonstrate that effort.

In the wake of shocking recent incidents of school violence, the increased number of books on parenting may reflect heightened concern about social and cultural influences on children. On the other hand, there are far fewer on millennialism and end-times prophecy. In this last season before the calendar flips over to 2000, publishers seem to be holding their breath, wondering how well the flood of spring books on those subjects will do in the short time they have to pay back their investment.

As always, some books stand out in a crowded field. Among them are a promising new biography of Pope John Paul II by Catholic theologian George Weigel (Witness to Hope, HarperCollins/Cliff Street, Oct.) and a follow-up to the groundbreaking 1993 A Generation of Seekers: The Spiritual Journeys of the Baby Boom Generation by sociologist Wade Clark Roof. His new book, Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion (Princeton) is due out in October. Another title that explores the varied spiritual landscape of contemporary America is Roger Housden's Sacred America: The Emerging Spirit of the People (S&S, Nov.). In an effort to reawaken interest in the fine writing of novelist Frederick Buechner, Harper San Francisco is promoting its substantial Buechner backlist along with his newest memoir, The Eyes of the Heart (Dec.). And in September, Paraclete Press will release in paperback Basil in Blunderland, a collection of reflections on the nature of the spiritual search by Cardinal Basil Hume, a British Benedictine who became the Archbishop of Westminster and the author of six other books. Comparing Christianity to the Caucus-race in Alice in Wonderland, Hume, who died last month, quoted the Dodo: "The best way to explain it is to do it." Perhaps the reason books on religion and spirituality continue to appeal to so many readers is that in a world only growing more complex, simple words like Cardinal Hume's can encourage them in the doing.