An African-American Anthology

In a treasure trove of African-American spirituality, Revs. Floyd Flake and Elaine McCollins Flake offer Practical Virtues: Everyday Values and Devotions for African American Families. While the title might suggest another simplistic niche devotional with bite-sized expressions of spiritual wisdom, the book actually offers an incomparably rich selection of historical writings by, for and about African-Americans. Here we find snippets from the memoir of Rosa Parks, the speeches of Sojourner Truth, the poetry of Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks and the socio-political writings of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. (Polar opposites in their approaches a century ago, Washington and DuBois actually seem at home appearing cheek-by-jowl in this collection.) The writings are organized around spiritual virtues such as courage, diligence, faith, honesty, love, loyalty and service. (Amistad/HarperCollins, $24.95 416p ISBN 0-06-009060-X; Sept. 2)

Sex and Vatican City

If you can dig through the heavy sarcasm, there's some good information buried in The Catholic Girl's Guide to Sex, a very funny, brazen and irreverent guide by Melinda Anderson and Kathleen Murray. They lay out the Roman Catholic Church's position—uh, no pun intended—on birth control, chastity, reproduction, sex education and The Deed, which includes an "everything but" section detailing all manner of foreplay. Oh, and don't forget guilt, which features prominently throughout. The book is hilarious, aided by terrific cartoon illustrations by Alli Arnold and side items such as pop quizzes, "roving reporter" interviews with all kinds of Catholics and lists, lists, lists. One section explores the "pros and cons of a Catholic partner," helping readers choose between the "I Might Have a Calling" Catholic, the "Super Guido" Catholic, and the "A-Little-Too-Irish" Catholic. This book is sure to offend just about everybody and does so with style. (Broadway, $9.95 272p ISBN 0-7679-1303-5; Sept. 9)

More on Middle Earth

Commentaries on The Lord of the Rings trilogy have been a cottage industry recently, as the film installments attract new readers to J.R.R. Tolkien's modern classic. In The Battle for Middle-Earth: Tolkien's Divine Design in The Lord of the Rings, preacher Fleming Rutledge offers a commentary that "is about God first of all"; the analysis is a "theological narrative" that follows the dramatic trajectory of the trilogy itself. Rutledge adds much to the theological understanding of the LOTR, in prose that is accessible and crisp. (Eerdmans, $22 350p ISBN 0-8028-2497-8; Sept.)

Beautiful Buddha

Jack Kornfield provides the historical introduction for photographer Jon Ortner's Buddha, a lavishly illustrated coffee-table book about the "one who is awake." The 175 color photographs depict Buddha statues all over the East, accompanied by verses from the Dhammapada. The book's design is noteworthy, with a vibrant orange satiny cover (inspired by the design of Buddhist monks' robes) stamped with a gold foil lotus. (Welcome, $29.95 240p ISBN 0-941807-28-2; Sept.)