December 2016

TGO readers nominate their good reads for summer

It’s that time of year when The Good Oil invites some of its readers to nominate a book they particularly enjoyed and would recommend to others for the summer holidays. Each person was asked to choose a book of fiction or non-fiction, religious or mainstream, a recent release or a classic. The main criterion was that the book stimulated their mind or nourished their spirit.

BY The Good Oil’s readers

A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler (recommended by Pam Grey SGS)

Robert Seethaler, the author of A Whole Life, had me living and breathing the same mountain air as Egger, his leading man. Egger is a fascinating fellow living a simple, yet compelling life throughout the twists and turns of the twentieth century. He left his mountain village on two occasions – to go to war and to see where the bus stopped. “Egger’s every word and every step left a mark precisely where, in his opinion, such marks were supposed to be.”

Seethaler has written a sensual, poetic work that leaves traces of silent amazement in the reader. It ages well with subsequent reading.

Thrive by Arianna Huffington (recommended by Asheligh Green)

Thrive by Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, is a deeply personal, compelling book that redefines what it means to be successful in today’s world. In a world where busyness and stress is often a badge of honour, Arianna uses personal experiences and scientific findings to show the transformative effects of sleep, mindfulness, unplugging and giving.

This book encouraged me to think deeply about my priorities in life and I was inspired by the quotes that are scattered throughout the book. Be prepared for your mind, body and spirit to be stimulated, challenged and nourished!

Blue Sky God: The Evolution of Science and Christianity by Don MacGregor (recommended by Kevin Treston)

I have chosen this book because the topic is of critical importance for all who aspire to better understand the challenges and opportunities for Christianity in modern science. During the last century, modern science, especially quantum physics, patterns of energy, genetics and cosmology, have upended previous assumptions about the nature of matter and humanity’s role in the biosphere.

Don MacGregor, an Anglican priest living in West Wales, draws from his scientific and theological background to offer an inspirational plea for integrating the wisdoms of modern science with traditional Christian teachings and spirituality. A key aspect of the appeal of the book for me is MacGregor’s ability to explain complex scientific concepts in language forms that are understandable for general readers.

Towards Purrfection: The Rule of Benedikitty (Not A Saint) by Christine M. Nelson (recommended by Sonia Wagner SGS)

Towards Purrfection invites us through creative word and delightfully quirky illustration to pause, read, gaze, laugh, pray. The aim of linking what we aspire to in everyday life with the wisdom of St Benedict is achieved with skill and wisdom through the eyes of Benedikitty – a real, live cat with unsaintly feline foibles residing at the Anglican Cathedral in Adelaide.

Here we have the blend of the practical with the poetic, the common sense with the profound, and all achieved with a lightness of touch and good humour! Towards Purrfection is whimsical and wise!

For those who know little or nothing about Benedict and his Rule, Benedikitty is a great introduction, especially if you are a cat lover. For those whose life is shaped by the Rule of Benedict, this book can offer a new lens. It would make a great Christmas gift.

From India With Love by Latika Bourke (recommended by Paul Lentern)

Being something of an “Indiaphile”, I was readily attracted to Latika Bourke’s story of resistance, reluctance and eventual enchantment with her Indian heritage. Bourke was born in India but adopted at a young age, coming to live in rural Australia with an Anglo-Australian family. Originally she fiercely resisted any association with her obvious ethnicity, but ever-so-gradually, through a series of circumstances and situations, she was drawn into an exploration of her Indian heritage culminating in a heart-warming and inspiring re-discovery.

Anam Cara by Dr Glenville Ashby (recommended by Margaret Keane SGS)

Anam Cara, by Dr Glenville Ashby, not John O’Donohue, is a book which allows creative thinking or writing. Above all, it encourages pauses for contemplation and discussion. The discussion could easily be with another or with God. There is room to ask questions of the author.

I’m convinced that a reader would find this book a retreat companion as it encourages journaling, examination of one’s motives, and of our relationships with God and others. Quotes from noted writers are well used adding depth to the content. Take it up and put it down at will.

Judas by Amos Oz (recommended by Carmel Dunne)

Judas is an adventure of wonder, perplexity and challenge. Set in 1959-60, its themes are current. It purports a divergent understanding of Judas, his actions of betrayal. The characters are drawn with depth and privacy. The sense of place is deeply felt and sometimes claustrophobic.

Shmuel, the main character, is Christ-like in patience, kindness, wisdom and tenacity. He is dishevelled, loving, confused and searching. The novel delves into the psyche of love, affection and belonging. It is about the complexity of Jerusalem; faith and all its questions.

Friendship Bread by Darien Gee (recommended by Geraldine Boylan SGS)

Friendship Bread is a heart-warming, light and easy read. It encourages women friendships and tells of the power of sharing bread (food) that results in community building, grudges dissolving, reconciliations made and new friendships forged.

This novel prodded me to be more hospitable in my choice of guests at my table. I have learnt to cook more lovingly and tastefully, eat more mindfully, and welcome more willingly those who are new to town, those who need a bridge of acceptance or relationships deepened, and those who are lonely or feel isolated.

Reckoning: A Memoir by Magda Szubanski (recommended by Beth Riolo)

Like many Australians, I have always been a big fan of Magda Szubanski, finding her comedic exploits hilarious and entertaining. When I saw that she had written a book, I was immediately interested.

What a book Magda has produced! Reckoning is an entry into aspects of Magda’s life, her complex relationship with her father and coming to terms with his past, his legacy and her own sense of herself as she navigates her path in life. Magda’s turn of phrase and descriptive retelling of events, people and places is enriching, illuminating and thought-provoking. I read it passing time on a bullet train in Japan and the time, like the train, flew by.

Child, Arise! The Courage to Stand: A Spiritual Handbook for Survivors of Sexual Abuse by Jane N. Dowling (recommended by Judith Foster SGS)

This winner of the 2016 Australian Christian Book of the Year is essentially a handbook for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, but also provides insight for others into their lives. The writer shares her own spiritual struggle with the ongoing effects of abuse through inspiring reflections on scripture.

Each chapter focusses on a biblical passage through questions designed to assist with the healing process. From the goodness of creation described in Genesis, to the freedom experienced by the paralysed man, this is a book of consolation which calls for pondering, prayerful reading.

The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver (recommended by Leonie Keaney)

In 2029 the American economy is collapsing as a result of its currency being raided by international forces. The US is no longer the pre-eminent economic power it has been and families like the Mandibles are losing their substantial wealth overnight. The resultant cataclysm produces consequences which are both devastating and uplifting as the things that matter come into sharp focus.

A family saga in the great tradition of American literature, this is also a book of our times, positing a future which may not be all that fanciful post the November 8 American election. It is funny, informative, challenging and a rewarding read.

The Sisters of St Croix by Diney Costeloe (recommended by Terry Clout)

During World War II, Adelaide, a young English upper-class woman in search of her real family, travels to meet her aunt, who is in charge of a convent of nuns in rural France. When the Nazis occupy France, Adelaide and the nuns become involved in the war in ways that challenge their ethics, values, religion, loyalties and capabilities. Their struggles in critically evaluating the lines between right and wrong stimulated and challenged me, and made me examine my conscience and consider how I would respond in similar circumstances.

Reading of the courage of these women in following their consciences, in spite of the likely adverse personal and communal ramifications, stimulated my spirit and restored my hope that we as a society will be prepared to follow the theme of this book – “You must fight evil wherever you find it”. Highly recommended reading.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (recommended by Mary McDonald SGS)

“And there was the day when Addie Moore made a call on her neighbour, Louis Waters. ‘I’m lonely. I think you might be too. I wonder if you would come and sleep in the night with me. And talk’.” She wanted conversation and companionship. Louis eventually accepted and they shared their joys, losses and hopes.

An unexpected shift occurs – Addie’s grandson arrives and delights them both. Towards the end, Louis says: “I just want to live simply and pay attention to what’s happening each day” – final advice from author Kent Haruf who was dying as he wrote this book.

The Wisdom of Wilderness: Experiencing the Healing Power of Nature by Gerald G. May (recommended by Gary Walker SSC)

I bought this book because I have another of Gerald May’s books, Will and Spirit, in my library. May writes simply about what he has observed and the impact or influence on him. He is an honest writer, economical with words yet lyrical. He explores the connection between psychiatry/psychology and spirituality in his professional life and brings these insights into his relationship with nature. I refuse to dissect the book; just read it, you will not regret it.

Etty Hillesum: A Life Transformed by Patrick Woodhouse (recommended by Mary Scanlon SGS)

Etty Hillesum, a remarkable twentieth-century Dutch Jewish woman, lived at the time of the Nazi Holocaust and perished at Auschwitz in 1943, aged 29. In the book’s foreword, Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, says her life is “an utterly distinctive modern chronicle of conversion: a Confessions of St Augustine for our own day”.

After a brief summary of her life, Woodhouse draws on Etty’s diaries and letters, published in 2002, to explore the process of personal change that led to profound interior grace and a new clarity and awareness of living. There are nuggets from her writings describing insights and the dailyness of life. It offers hours of reflection.

Etty discovered in two-and-a-half years what is taking me a lifetime to practice. Etty is a woman for our time. She has a message of hope for today. I also recommend this YouTube video featuring Patrick Woodhouse talking about the book.

The Good Oil

‘The Good Oil’, the free, monthly e-journal of the Good Samaritan Sisters, publishes news, feature and opinion articles and reflective content which aims to nourish the spirit, stimulate thinking and encourage reflection and dialogue about contemporary issues from a Good Samaritan perspective.

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