Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

While I was away in Los Angeles, I received an email from Heather Powers, the highly creative brain behind the Art Bead Scene blog and creator of some gorgeous, lust-worthy beads. She let me know that she had posted a review of Bead One, Pray Too on her site and I am so pleased! It is a most wonderful review and I am humbled by the lovely and kind thngs she wrote. That is the first happiness.

The second happiness is that she had been moved to create a few sets of prayer beads with some fabulous beads she made herself. I had been buzzing around her site one day when I saw these little beads she made in the shape of birds and I got so excited! They would, I wrote her, make great invitatory beads for an Anglican rosary (or a great bead for a Pearls of Life, or a pagan rosary, or some Baha’i prayer beads, or a shaheed for an Islamic tasbih or subha). She took my suggestion and you must see these! The birds are such a suitable symbol for prayer beads. If you are Christian, they can represent the Holy Spirit, and for people of other faiths they can represent peace, freedom or transformation. I LOVE THEM.

And just as good is her description of the beads she chose for this set, which is gift for a friend, and why:

“This one starts off with a branch bead to remind my friend to leave the chaos/wilderness of the world and to enter into a time of prayer,” she writes. “The bird is used to remind her that if God cares for the birds of the field, he will provide for his children. I used stones as a symbol of our Creator’s unending faithfulness to us and the glass as a reminder that life is fragile and precious. The wood beads are more personal as a reminder of the cross.”

Spend some time on Heather’s great blogs, looking at the great beads she creates. There is a lot of inspiration there for prayer beads of all kinds!

And one more happiness: Heather posted her review of my book on amazon.com and when I went to look at it, someone else – a total stranger – had posted another 5-star review. If any of you know Jacqueline C. Young, give her a smootchie for me!

Read Full Post »

Thursday Morning, Oakland International Airport

For the next few days – Thursday through Sunday – I will be attending Book Expo in Los Angeles, Calif. I am going with Publishers Weekly, for whom I frequently write, and will try and pick up and write several stories for them from the floor show.

But I will also be attending as a blogger and hope to file two or more dispatches about the new and forthcoming titles I see that are about prayer, contemplation and – dare I hope ?– prayer beads. Actually, I guess I don’t hope, because MY book is new and I don’t want the competition, right? That’s the smart writer’s response anyway. But the stoopid seeker inside me says hey, there’s room for us all.

So, stay tuned. I hope to post once a day, but if things get interesting, I’ll do more.

Thursday Evening, Westin Bonaventure Hotel, Los Angeles

The exhibition hall does not open until tomorrow, so I was not able to walk around and inspect the books. But I was able to go to the press room and register – or, rather, re-register, as they mistakenly had me registered as “Kimberly Winstine.” Daisy Maryles, the executive editor at Publishers Weekly welcomed me as “one of the tribe.” We got the badge mix up figured out and I am now plain old boring me again. Darn.

In the press room, I picked up some materials from publishers who produce some religion books. The most exciting book in these pages to me is the forthcoming Acedia & me: A Marriage, Monks and a Writer’s Life by Kathleen Norris, which Penguin releases in September. I read her Amazing Grace and The Cloister Walk years ago and they just electrified me. They were my first indication that the richest personal relationship with God can exist outside the boundaries of organized religion. As the title suggests, Norris discusses her own battle with acedia, a kind of spiritual depression. As some of you who read this blog know, I have suffered from depression since childhood, so I am keenly interested to see how Norris, one of my favorite writers, links depression, creativity and spirituality. Publishers Weekly gave this book a starred review.

Dinner tonight was sushi with my editor at Publishers Weekly, Lynn Garrett, and Daisy Maryles. Whenever I see Daisy, which is about once a year – I ask her what she’s read lately that excites her. She gave me a long list. Daisy is involved in The Rorh Family Foundation which awards literary prizes to young, up-and-coming Jewish writers, so many of her suggestions came from what she has read for her work there, and some of her other suggestions are just good books she picked up and liked:

The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit

Those Who Save Us – A Holocaust survival tale that moved back and forth between the past and the present.

The New Philippa Gregory

The Space Between Us by Thrity Umringer

Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Lynn has on her nightstand My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. I blogged about a New York Times piece about this author, a brain scientist who suffered a stroke and after her own rehab believes people can train their brains to access bliss.

So that’s the first day. Off to bed with the show program to plan tomorrow’s events.

Read Full Post »

Affirmations, Anyone?

I recently had to write a short piece for Publishers Weekly on a new book called Excuse Me, Your Soul Mate is Waiting by first-time author Marla Martenson. Martenson is a Los Angeles-based matchmaker, and the book is about how the power of positive thinking can attract the right mate.

The book isn’t about religion – the usual subject I write about for the magazine – but falls more into the category of spirituality and self-help. But there was one segment of it that sort of jumped out at me. The routine Martenson prescribes for attracting a mate includes a practice of daily affirmations. While these are not prayers, they reminded me of my friend Daniela, who, as I described in an earlier post, planned to use a set of prayer beads I made her for Christmas for her own set of daily affirmations. It struck me that others who may find prayer a challenge for one reason or another might find Martenson’s affirmations a good alternative to use with prayer beads.

Here is a sample of some of the more spiritual affirmations Martenson suggests:

*Love pours into my life from every corner of the universe. I know that I am loved.

*I see the good in others and give other people a chance. Therefore, everyone sees the good in me.

*I am always open to new ideas. I have an open mind and an open heart.

*My life is drama-free. i am centered and at peace.

*Love is all around me. I choose to see the love.

*I am beautiful and inspirational. I am a work of art.

I am not in the habit of saying affirmations, with or without prayer beads. I prefer to say prayers, reaching out specifically to God. But as I say in Bead One, Pray Too, it is not for me (or anyone else) to define or limit the religion, spirituality or faith of others. So if the idea of traditional prayer does not appeal to you, you might try some affirmations – either these or others of your own. And if you are looking for a mate, take a look at Martenson’s book. I thought it was a fun, upbeat read – and I am sooooooo married.

Read Full Post »

Beader-extraordinaire Katie Hacker was gracious enough to write a very positive review about Bead One, Pray Too on her excellent blog. Take a look. I am very flattered – she is a beading superstar. I am over the moon about this. Will have champagne tonight!

Read Full Post »

Amazon Review #2

I don’t know Sarah “mawkinberd” of Ruston, La, but if any of you do, please give her a big kiss for me! Here’s her review.

Read Full Post »

Amazon Customer Review

Holy Moley!!!! LBRLucas of San Diego gave Bead One, Pray Too a five-star review on amazon.com, in the book’s first amazon customer review. I am just overwhelmed at her reaction to the book. Thank you so much Louise!!!

Read Full Post »

eatpraylove.jpgMaybe I should start a blog called “Behind the Curve” because I am always the last one to read the book everyone else is reading. Partly this is because I have to do a lot of work-related reading (latest requirement: Jim Wallis‘s “Great Awakening”) and partly because I am a terrible book snob. I mean, if everyone is reading it, it can’t be that good, right? I came to this snobbishness after being burned – I read “The DaVinci Code” by Dan Brown only because I couldn’t, as a responsible religion reporter, hold out any longer, and I do not have the words to describe how foul I found it. What trash! Read like a screenplay – a bad screnplay. And I waited quite a while before reading “The Historian” (in a book about Dracula, shouldn’t he appear before the book is three-fourths gone?) by Elizabeth Kostova. I’ll never get back those hours wasted on rural Romanian folk customs that had NOTHING to do with the story. Sigh. Still, Brown and Kostova don’t need my endorsement. They and their bank accounts are doing just fine without me, thank you very much.

egilbert.jpgDitto Elizabeth Gilbert, whose spiritual memoir, “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia” has topped the NY Times besteller list for more weeks than I have teeth. I’ve heard she was also on a little daytime talkshow called “Oprah.” But this time, I am happy to report, that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, not the least because of what she says about contemplative prayer, one of the subjects of this blog. It is also just a damn good read by a very fine writer. I have been thinking about it a lot since I finished reading it earlier this week. (For a summary of the book, click here.)

hindu-mala.jpgFirst, I was bound to like this book because its cover image includes a Hindu mala curled into the word “pray.” A mala is the Hindu form of prayer beads, consisting of 108 beads. In the introduction, Gilbert describes some of the symbolism of the mala – how its 108 beads have all sorts of hidden three’s – a very symbolic number in many religions. The number 108 can represent perfection because it is not only divisible by three, but its individual numbers add up to 9, which can be divided into three 3’s. I discuss the meaning and symbolism of the Hindu mala in the first chapter of “Bead One, Pray Too. “

The numbers are important to Gilbert, too. She describes her travels through the three countries of the subtitle in 108 sections, almost like dateless diary entries, charting her spiritual progress from a sobbing, depressed blob to a wiser woman who has learned perspective. Each section is marked by a black-and-white image of a mala bead. My favorite was number 58 for this depiction of the nature of prayer:

“Prayer is a relationship; half the job is mine. If I want transformation, but can’t even be bothered to articulate what, exactly, I am aiming for, how will it ever occur? Half the benefit of prayer is in the asking itself, in the offering of a clearly posed and well-considered intention. If you don’t have this, all your pleas and desires are boneless, floppy, inert; they swirl at your feet in a cold fog and never lift . . . Prayers can become stale and drone into the boring and familiar if you let your attention stagnate. In staying alert, I am assuming custodial responsibility for the maintenance of my soul.” (page 177)

This sent shivers down my back. In my own prayer practice, the biggest thing I battle is boredom. “It’s time to pray, so what do I pray? That again? Oy. ” But Gilbert reminded me that it isn’t enough to say the words, or even to sit in prayer. I have to be present in what I am asking for. If I don’t take it seriously, how can I expect God to?

Since I finished this book I have been trying to bring a new freshness and immediacy to my daily prayer bead session. I am not always successful, sometimes getting fidgety, sometimes finding my mind has wandered halfway around the world before I remember to call it back. And Gilbert tells us that is okay, too. Her own daily meditation is filled with frustration. But she sticks with it and comes out at the end a much more peaceful person. This was a GREAT read.

Read Full Post »

What is the WhatLast night, as I was lying in bed reading my book club’s current selection, “What is the What” by Dave Eggers, I came across this passage:

“I have been reading Mother Teresa and Brother Roger‘s book called Seeking the Heart of God, and each time I revisit it, I find different passages that seem written for me, describing what I feel in your absence. In the book, Brother Roger says this to me: ‘Four hundred years after Christ, a believer names Augustine lived in North Africa. He had experienced misfortunes, the death of his loved one. One day he was able to say to chrst: “Light of my heart, do not let me darkness speak to me.” In his trials, St. Augustine realized that the presence of the Risen Christ had never left him; it was the light in the midst of his darkness.'”

The book tells the story of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan War, his many trials and hardships, first as an unaccompanied minor during the Sudanese civil war and then as a young man trying to make his way in America. It is an unforgetable book – both funny and heartbreaking at the same time. I am loving it.

Last night, as I read the paragraph above, I literally felt a jolt in my chest. I have been feeling so horribly depressed the last several weeks. I think this is one of the worst bouts of depression I have ever had. I feel frozen in Jell-o some mornings, unable to move a single limb, let alone get out of bed. Somehow, I have managed to get up and get dressed and get something done each day – but not much. There has been a lot of crying, then laughing, then crying again. Over nothing. I have felt as if there is this werid and moving darkness around me. It feels like a threat – like something evil come to swallow me whole.

Saint Augustine of HippoBut when I read that passage last night, that prayer of Saint Augustine sent a bolt right through me. To my ears, it sounded like the cry of a soul in deep despair, a cry I could identify with. Its image of a light inside the heart made sense to me – it was something I could visualize and use to fight the darkness. And the description of the darkness as “my darkness” resonates with me, too. It is my darkness, created wholecloth by me and I am the only one who can overcome it – with some help through prayer, I hope. I immediately committed the prayer to memory and when I turned out the light a few moments later I said it over and over again in my head. Today I am going to pray it on my prayer beads. It is like a beacon against the darkness – a darkness that may be all in my head, but feels all to real and dangerous.

Read Full Post »

praying-with-beads-cover.jpgPraying With Beads: Daily Prayers for the Christian Year

By Nan Lewis Doerr and Virginia Stem Owens

Eerdmans Publishing, 2007

81 pages,


This slim book is like a prayer bead breviary – a short, concise guide to praying with the Anglican rosary on a daily basis. The book concerns itself solely with the Anglican rosary, with the bulk of the book holding a collection of prayers drawn mainly from the scripture read each Sunday in Episcopal churches. It contains a very brief introduction to prayer beads and a short description of how to use them as a prayer tool, both written by Virginia Stem Owens, a writer and an Episcopalian.


The prayers, compiled by Nan Lewis Doerr, an Episcopal rector at Church of the Redeemer in Houston, are organized around the Episcopal church calendar, beginning with prayers for Advent and Christmas before moving on to Epiphany, Lent, Easter and the season after Pentecost. Each season is introduced by a short description of the importance of the season to the church. Each day’s prayer is laid out like the daily offices of the church, with prayers for morning, noon and evening. Particularly helpful are the symbols used to show what prayers are assigned to the different beads – those for the cross are preceded by a small cross symbol, those for the invitatory bead have a small donut, the cruciforms have a kind of four-petalled flower and the weeks get a black bullet. In this, the book owes a debt to Phyllis Tickle’s series of prayer books, The Divine Hours, which has similar symbols before the different prayers of the day. Use of these symbols makes it easy for the eyes to know which prayers go with which beads without having to fully engage the mind – very important in contemplative prayer.


The book is aimed at Anglicans and other users of the Anglican rosary, but with some adjustment it could be used with a Catholic or Lutheran rosary, a set of Pearls of Life or other form of prayer beads you may have made for yourself. On the Catholic rosary, prayers assigned here to the weeks beads could be said on the decades beads and those for the cruciforms could be said on the Our Father beads. The Lutheran rosary is similar in format to the Anglican rosary and would require even less adjustment. And the total free-form nature of the Pearls of Life allows one to take any of the prayers in this book and assign them to any of its 19 beads.


Read Full Post »