Book written by: Linda and Rocco Maniscalco
Few authors truly succeed in transporting their reader to another environment while portraying the positive and the negative in equal lights. James Michener, however, rises to this challenge and excels in his portrayal of post-WWII Afghanistan in this an unassuming novel most likely to be found in a used book shop. I picked the book up from a box of abandoned books in desperation for something to read and I have been forever changed by the experience.
Doig, Ivan. Harcourt, Inc. Orlando, 2006. 978-0-15-101237-4
Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith hit the screen in this hard-hitting contemporary take on the old story of the impatient student and the wise old martial arts teacher. The scene is modern day Beijing where Dre Parker and his mother have just moved from Detroit.
The Cellist of Sarajevo. Galloway, Steven. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008. ISBN 978-1594483653.
No movie this year had funnier previews than “Despicable Me”. I’ll admit I have a penchant for animated movies, but from the moment the first preview hit the screen, “Despicable Me” topped the list of movies I really wanted to see. As the weeks wore on, every new preview only looked more appealing. While the film is undoubtedly one of the most original animated films of the year -if not of the decade- and it indubitably one of the most comical and cute films, it is hamstringed by the fact that so many of the great scenes had been in the previews. There is a fine line between using advertising to whet the public’s appetite for a film and dousing the film’s charisma with advertising ploys. Unfortunately, “Despicable Me” tends toward the latter. That isn’t to say that the film is lighthearted and cute. Following in the contemporary trend of the lovable villain as protagonist, this new venture creates a fragile character named Gru. While Gru is an aspiring world-class villain, underneath his protruding nose, hunched back and endearing Eastern European accent he is still a child who has never achieved the approval of his curmudgeonly mother. Nevertheless, Gru has all the patent marks of villainy: massive vehicles which belch clouds of pollution that would send Greenpeace into orbit, a tall, looming and ominously shadowed house surrounded by a derelict and barren yard, a dog with more teeth than brains, instruments of medieval torture on the walls, furniture made out of endangered species, plenty of nuclear weapons to go around, and an army of devoted minions in his employment. One of the most humorous aspects about “Despicable Me” is the absolute unreality of the events. It is simply not possible that Gru might be your next door neighbor. No one can inflict that much damage on a town, or launch so many nuclear warheads, and get away scot-free. Even the orphanage from which Gru adopts the girls is rather implausible, making one think of a 19th century, Oliver Twist-esque scenario. And once your mind acknowledges this, it makes it so much easier to sink into the world of the story and laugh repeatedly. Children and adults alike will love Gru’s minions. One of the cutest parts of the movie is this army of cheese puffs in overalls and goggles who are capable of building rockets, flying planes and running a copy machine. Though they squeak and mumble to each other instead of speaking, they feature a number of other talents such turning into glow sticks, running a sound booth and creating a lifesaving human, minion rather, chain at 30,000 feet in the air. And despite their responsibilities, they are also quite mischievous but sensitive enough to long for a good night kiss. The over-analytic observer might wonder if there is a subliminal message being pushed by the overenthusiastic all-male minions who hug and kiss a little too readily in their excitement.The other incredibly cute part of the movie are the three girls, Margo, Edith and Agnes, who Gru schemingly adopts and plans on using to break into the stronghold of his arch-nemesis, a nerdy kid named Vector with a penchant for sea life. From Agnes’s love for unicorns, Edith’s ever-present pink hat, and Margo’s determined courageousness, the three girls win the viewers’ hearts just as they win Gru’s. The ending to the movie, far from being the stereotypic conversion story, adoption story, or family story, is very heartfelt and very touching. In its depth, it tops the superficial aspects which drove people to the theatres in the first place and compensates for the movie’s rougher edges. The contentment that almost every character feels is conveyed to the audience more than makes up for any worries presented by the fact that there isn’t one single intact nuclear family in the movie (though the girls desire to be adopted by a family with a nice mommy and daddy.) “Despicable Me” is a family friendly movie that will be just as comical to adolescents and adults. No curse words, minor potty language and scatological humor, a lack of innuendos and few scary special effects make this a movie for the whole family.
Crosby, Anne. Paul Dry Books. Philadelphia, 2006. ISBN 1-58988-026-9In a world where childhood education isn’t compulsory, where developmentally disabled children are referred to as “mongols,” where families are encouraged to discard burdensome children for the good of the healthy ones, Anne Crosby gave birth to a son. The year was 1964, and Matthew Crosby came into the world with a weak heart, blue skin, and the telltale signs of Down syndrome. Shocked, surprised and despairing, his mother first wishes to destroy his life. Yet once the little boy “started living,” as his mother described it, she became his greatest friend and advocate. Anne Crosby’s prose is artistic, beautiful, and compelling. Her narration is detailed and does not seek to hide. I can’t say that I have ever encountered an author who “says it like it is” as Crosby does. And her memory is precise, both for physical details and for Matthew’s unique way of expressing himself. No author is more exacting in her description, mature in her observation, intimate in her understanding, and respectful in her treatment of their topic than Crosby. Crosby paints a picture of Matthew in a way that only a mother can. Yet you can’t help but close this book and feel that you too knew him, that you walked and talked with him. Her portrayal of her son is brutally honest but completely endearing. Yet nowhere in the text does this mother hint that her son is less than human because of his condition.The book is full of humorous and heartbreaking situations. Matthew is a charmer, willing to walk up to anyone and talk to them. Once, while in a pub, he joins two women at their booth, sits down, and eats from their plates though he does not know them. His joy when his art is displayed at a nearby car factory is contagious. However, Matthew doesn’t understand his limitations and he is frustrated by the fact that he can’t have the things he wants: a car, a wife, an office. His pain is tangible when he repeatedly asks for a car for his birthday, and again when his attempt to drive a forklift at work while no one is watching ends in disaster. Crosby is very candid in her descriptions of her decision to place Matthew in an institution - the normative action for the era- and focus on the “whole child,” her daughter Dido, -as social pressures dictated. However, she is equally as blunt in describing her decision to remove her son from the Normansfield Hospital, an institution founded by Dr. Langdon Down for the care of people with developmental disabilities. In her letter explaining why she was withdrawing her son from their care, she explained quite directly the brutal and inhumane conditions residents at the facility experienced.Eventually, Crosby and her husband create a network and are instrumental in founding the MacIntyre School, a system of schools that is still in existence today. As a student and resident of the MacIntyre School, Matthew grows and prospers, though he is kept away from his own family. In essence, though Matthew and his mother were very close, Matthew spent his entire life at boarding school. Yet at boarding school, Matthew makes friends, takes on responsibilities, and learns new things. He particularly enjoys art class and its teacher, an understanding young man named Jeff.One of the most beautiful aspects of this memoir is how Crosby allows the reader to see the world with the lenses Matthew and his family and friends do. Matthew hated the change of seasons, and he never understood Spring and Fall. “Make up your mind, Mister Weather, summer ‘r winter,” he said. He hated rain and once tried to talk the weather into behaving well. “You be good sky, I be good chap.” You can't help but smile when Matthew sees a maple tree shiver and lose its leaves all at once.”Look at lovely tree. S’gone bare.” Running over to the tree, he picked up handfuls of leaves and shouted “Come on, Mum, help put ‘em back.” Matthew is truly a delight. His sense of humor and his sense of empathy are also quite endearing. He was able to perceive the needs of the youngest children at his school and take care of them, helping them to dress or eat. Yet as a young man, he longed to truly be a man as he struggled with the pain of a failing heart and refused opiates because they clouded his mind. In all of his ups and downs, his first love, first job, regaining his best friend, being sodomized by a roommate, and becoming a man among men -albeit a dying man among dying men- in the hospital, Matthew’s daily struggles, unique perceptions, and heartfelt desires are compelling and incredibly human. Though the dust jacket warns that Matthew dies at 25, no reader will be prepared for his death. Upon closing the book, you will inevitably feel that Matthew’s death robs you of a chance to get to know him more. Yet the beauty of his death is an inspiration. I’m not much of one to cry, but I sobbed as I finished this book. “Matthew” is an absolutely amazing tale. I picked it by no chance other than that it was featured on a shelf at the library when I was searching for something else. But it is one of the best chance reads I’ll ever encounter. The book changed my life. Though there is nothing inherently religious about it, upon finishing you can’t help but understand deeply why the Catholic Church teaches that all human life has value and the teaching will mean much more than a cluttered series of verbiage thrown around in political debates.
Cunningham, Sister Agnes SCCM. Ligouri Publications; Ligouri, Missouri. 2010. ISBN978-0-7648-1959-9.The year my sister graduated from high school, I willingly consented to shepherd her and a few friends around Italy on a graduation trip before I began my study abroad experience on an island in the Caribbean. Having spent 10 days traipsing around Italy on stuffy trains, careening taxis, and aching feet (one of our friends didn’t tell me she had corns) I left the group in the Rome airport and departed for the Dominican Republic, via Madrid and Miami. And on that prolonged journey, which was far more stressful than any experience I’ve ever had in transit, I learned to trust God and entrust my travels to him. I’ve given thanks many times since for the graces stemming from that lesson. When I saw Sister Agnes Cunningham’s book “Traveling Graces: a little book of plane prayers” I immediately thought, “That’s the book for me!” For as much as traveling has taught me to trust, I still need to pray more when I travel. This delightful little book with its 30 short prayers will bring a smile to the face, and peace to the heart, of any traveler. Written when she was recovering from a car accident, Sister Agnes calls upon years of experience flying around the world to inform and enlighten her prayers. She balances the things most people enjoy about air travel with the things that no one can really claim to love. Within the pages of this short book are prayers giving thanks for the glory of the landscapes and cloudscapes seen out the little round window and asking for the grace to be thankful for airline food. Prayers cover such varied topics as overbooked or cancelled flights, the jet stream, turbulence, carry on luggage, waiting rooms and hotel shuttles. Particularly poignant is the dedication, a prayer in memory of Fr. John A. Jamnicky, the Chicago O’Hare Airport Chaplain from 1981 to 2000. Sister Agnes’s prayers often wax poetic. As a writer and a religious, she has a gift for seeing the extraordinary in an ordinary situation, for seeing God in earthly conditions, and in creating masterful sentences that capture complex thoughts. As the book progresses, the prayers also become more profound, starting with more tangible topics such as flight attendants and the person in the next seat over and moving towards complex notions such as unity in Christ and the human need for vacations before concluding, stranded in the Montreal airport. For the reader who enjoys poetry, these prayers will be a gem. But for the prayerful traveler, the prayers are also valuable. Each prayer is accompanied by a quote from scripture that pertains to the topic and promotes further meditation and reflection. Handy enough to fit into a briefcase, purse, or carry-on bag, this little book is also weighty enough to make time on each trip for the transcendent and to remind man that God is still the Lord of earth and skies. It is highly recommended to business travelers and white-knuckle flyers alike.
Smith, T.J. Tate Publishing; Mustang, Oklahoma: 2010. ISBN 978-1-61663-101-7.
Corsi, Jerome R. "The Shroud Codex." Threshold Editions, New York. 2010. ISBN 978-1-4391-9041-8 On May 2, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI will travel to Turin, Italy and venerate the Shroud of Turin, a relic which many believe to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. While the Catholic Church’s does not confirm the Shroud as such, it does not deny that it is a relic, the veneration of which may assist some in their faith. Author Jerome Corsi makes no excuses. He believes the Shroud of Turin is indeed the burial cloth of Jesus Christ, and is fascinated by both the faith-based and scientific aspects of the piece of linen. This fascination has led him to write a book, an interesting blend of faith, science, and fiction. With the book, titled “The Shroud Codex,” Corsi hopes to use a captivating story to draw more people into learning more about the Shroud for themselves. The premise of the book is simple, though perhaps not believable. But as it is a work of faith and of fiction, perhaps that can be bypassed. A certain Fr. Paul Bartholomew, a brilliant physicist turned pastor of a New York City parish, dies after a massive car crash. He has an after death experience in which God sends him back to earth with 30 days to prove that the Shroud of Turin is no forgery or piece of art. Fr. Bartholomew then begins to manifest the stigmata in his wrists. Soon he also suffers the wounds of Christ scourged at the pillar and those inflicted by the crown of thorns. As the media catches hold of the story, more and more people become interested in his resemblance to the man on the Shroud as well as the authenticity of the Shroud itself. Corsi’s storyline is augmented by no dearth of information about the Shroud itself. Citing the inspiration of Michael Crichton who combined accurate science and pressing questions with successful storylines, “The Shroud Codex” walks readers through physics as complex as event horizons, string theory, and alternate dimensions, as well as more practical investigations like radiocarbon dating, pollen analysis, and holographs or 3-D images of the man on the Shroud which attempt to verify the its authenticity. While the book does a good job of presenting the scientific, and indeed the faith-related, aspects of the Shroud in layman’s terms, the description and explanation become tiresome after a while. The most powerful aspect of the book is in the details. As Corsi presents the wounds of Christ appearing on the body of Fr. Bartholomew, in accordance to the details portrayed on the Shroud, one cannot help but wonder at the great love which would motivate a man to suffer such pain for an ungrateful human race. The process of crucifixion was, and Corsi portrays it well, a detailed and masterful process of sadism. For Christians, as well as for unbelievers, Fr. Bartholomew’s suffering is unbelievable, and it is gut wrenching. Anyone who picks up this book should do so with an open mind. No matter what your expectations are, it will not be what you expected. There are too many levels, too much information, too many angles. But the book succeeds in its purpose, that of bringing together faith, science, the Shroud of Turin, and a unique storyline while introducing a topic most people have never delved into.
Tobin, Thomas J. Seraphina Press, Minneapolis, 2009. $13.95 ISBN 978-0979824692
Rick Riordan. Miramax/Hyperion Books for Children, New York. 2005. ISBN 0-7868-5629-7 $7.99
“Wisdom and the Well-Rounded Life: What is a University?” Milward, Peter. Golden, Colo; Fulcrum Publishing, 2006. ISBN: 978-1-555-91-651-0. $14.95 Ask anyone who has been a teacher for more than 25 years if pedagogic strategies change frequently, and they will undoubtedly answer in the affirmative. The theory of what education is supposed to be and do seems to change with every new generation of students. But for those of us who believe in absolute truth, the idea that education is nothing more than training for a job is deplorable. Fr. Peter Milward’s book, if one can call it a book, as it truly is more of a short collection of brief essays, is a refreshing plunge into the pool of Truth. And each succinct essay is truly a gem. Milward’s reflections all follow the same theme: What is a University? What is Knowledge? What is Culture? What is Music? What is the World? Each reflection builds upon the previous, yet each segment ought to be read on its own. Every individual essay speaks to a different yet integral aspect of education, wisdom, and the light of truth. One of the most unique and beneficial aspects of this powerful little book is the experience Fr. Milward brings to the topic itself. He is able to combine his British education with his knowledge as a professor of Japanese and American higher education. Thus, beginning with the idea of a university and moving through the understanding of knowledge, wisdom, science, and the arts, this little book is not limited to any one tradition, culture, or system of education. “Wisdom and the Well-Rounded Life” discusses the concept of knowledge, knowledge of self and of the world, both physical and metaphysical, as the origin and aim of education. It finds fault with a system in which the purpose of education is to equip students with marketable skills to be competitive and able to solve problems in the national and international marketplace. And it encourages the integration of academic disciplines instead of artificially compartmentalizing the arts, sciences, and humanities. A press release from the publisher claims this book “looks at the questions that will help graduates as they prepare to become positive, contributing members of society.” The book is categorized as a “gift.” However, giving the book to a recent graduate as a gift might not be a good idea. “Wisdom and the Well-Rounded Life” will either be a recap of what the well-versed liberal arts student has spent four years studying or it will be a glaring reminder of all that one’s education could have been and wasn’t. On the other hand, Milward deserves a place inside the classroom. As many liberal arts schools are revising their curriculums to include seminars on the idea of the university, the purpose of knowledge, and the Western intellectual tradition, these essays are, hands down, the most effective, most erudite, and least confusing intellectual approach to everything that defines man as a sentient species. I can only wish that this book had been a part of my liberal arts education. Just because this book deserves to be on the reading list of a college seminar doesn’t imply that it is inappropriate for other audiences. It is truly a rewarding read for anyone interested in education, fascinated by the nature of things, and curious about the history of Western thought. Not much previous education is required to understand what Fr. Milward is saying, though an encounter with his prose is a most edifying experience. As Socrates once said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” There is no better place to begin the journey towards knowing nothing than Fr. Milward’s excellent little gem.
“Father Damien… ‘A Bit of Taro, a Piece of Fish, and a Glass of Water.’” Law, Anwei Skinsnes. Seneca, NY: IDEA Center for the Voices of Humanity, 2009. ISBN 978-0-9802123-0-3. $25.The quote on the back of the book reads, “He was my spiritual father and my friend.” The book itself is a rich journey into the island of Molokai during the time when Hawaiian law forcefully separated people suspected to have leprosy from their families. “Father Damien… ‘A Bit of Taro, a Piece of Fish, and a Glass of Water’” offers a unique perspective into the life of the Belgian saint who gave his life to the people of Hawaii affected by leprosy. The book itself is an easy read. It is more like a coffee table book than a novel. Perhaps one of its greatest assets is the quantity of pictures dating back to Fr. Damien’s ministry. Though the book is rich in quotes and description, seeing pictures of the people Fr. Damien worked with, the church he built with his own hands, and the stark reality of the lack of amenities on the island puts not only a truer perspective on the situation but sheds more light on the life and dedication of Fr. Damien. That’s not to say that the text is less absorbing. Whereas other books on the life of the recently canonized saint have more biographical information, or delve more deeply into his spiritual life or personal history, this book is unique in its close ties to the people who lived and worked with Father Damien. Those who are not still alive speak through the written words they left behind. But one of the most exciting things is to read the accounts of the children who were sent to Kalaupapa, on the island of Molokai, while Father Damien was still alive. For those who do not know the story of this Belgian missionary to Hawaii at the end of the nineteenth century, the book is a good introduction. It succeeds in presenting not only Father Damien, but the people afflicted with leprosy to whom he ministered, in a kindly yet humanist light. While the book may not be a must read of every Catholic, it is a touching read for anyone who is interested in the story of Father Damien of Molokai, or for those who are looking for an inspiring story about a saint who gave his life in ministry to the least of men.The book is available for $25, which includes shipping, from IDEA.
Gail, Brian J. Dayton, Ohio: One More Soul. 2008. ISBN 978-0-9669777-8-3. $14.95 In a literary world comprised of the works of Danielle Steele, Stephen King, Nicholas Sparks and J.K. Rowling, many people have forgotten the power or purpose of the novel. What is normally used as an escape or for a bit of entertainment once had the power to change the world. Books like The Jungle, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Lord of the Flies both captivated their audiences and caused people to think and sometimes even act. Brian J. Gail’s book “Fatherless” is a renaissance of the serious novel, and it even creates a new genre: the serious Catholic novel. I have to admit, when I first picked up the book, I thought I was in for a nice, entertaining story about some nice, Catholic people. Creating such a story, however, was not the author’s intent. Gail’s novel delves right into the heart of American Catholicism. His Church is neither the church of the pedophiliac priests which the media tends to overemphasize, nor is it the Church that many young people know today: a Church vibrant with the truth reemphasized by Pope John Paul II, ready to march for life, interested in going to Theology on Tap, and actively reminding Catholics to live their faith in the public square. Gail’s book takes place in the 1980’s, and is centered around a priest and three families in his parish. Fr. John Sweeney is not the brightest priest, but he is sincere, devout and does not lack in charity. The families that come to him for advice and direction are concerned with moral issues that time has proven lead America to the crux of her moral quandary in the current decades. One man, a marketing exec, is troubled by the opportunity for a new job which would involve relocating to New York City and pioneering a network similar to HBO. Does the career opportunity outweigh contributing to the moral decline of televised entertainment? Another, a financial officer at a pharmaceutical company, confronts the reality of the biological damage of the birth control pill and balances his family’s stability with delivering the truth to thousands of American woman. A third struggles with migraines, a bipolar daughter, an absent husband, and the morality of taking birth control to ease tensions in her family. All of these situations are imminently real, and imminently related to moral theology. When confronted with giving guidance, the well-meaning but poorly trained Fr. John often settles for telling people what they want to hear. He finds the works of Pope John Paul II hard to understand, but at the same time, he is losing parishioners who are willing to drive a half hour to hear the truth, and the teachings of JPII, boldly proclaimed at another parish. All of this leads to a crisis of fatherhood. What does it mean to be a father? The crisis of each of the main characters asks the question in a different way. Can a father compromise his beliefs and morals for the sake of a job that provides for his family? Can a father risk losing his job and being unable to provide for his family by standing up the immorality of his company? Ought a father do what’s right over making those in his care feel happy? When does the value of the truth outweigh the value of domestic happiness? When does the moral severity of a situation demand uncomfortable action? Brian Gail isn’t trying to play nice. His book has been criticized for a lack of happy Hollywood endings, a criticism which he said is fair enough. His endings are not intended to placate, they are crafted to demonstrate both that God doesn’t give anyone more suffering than they can handle, and that the wages of sin are indeed death. As Pope Pius XI said, “ it is a great mystery that the salvation of the many depends on the holiness of the few.” “Fatherless,” as a Catholic novel, isn’t intended to be a story about Catholics. It is a very real book which intentionally crosses those uncomfortable barriers people put up between what they do on a daily basis and what they profess on a weekly basis. Moral decisions have very real consequences. And while the book itself directly explores the drastic and absolutely tragic consequences that birth control and the sexual revolution had on American society through the lives of the characters, it indirectly coerces readers to examine their own attitudes towards confession, the Eucharist, marital fidelity, human sexuality, and the importance of a well-formed conscience through its often blatant statements of Catholic Moral Theology. “Fatherless” is a must-read for the contemporary Catholic. It will resonate much differently with the generation who knew life before JPII than it will with young Catholics. But for both, it is a novel that poses the question and attempts to answer what society would really be like if men answered the challenge to be true fathers. I must admit the book caught me off guard. When I read the accolade, “the Catholic novel of our generation,” I was not expecting the Catholic novel to change my generation. But having read the book, I realize it is a necessary catharsis. Some books grab your eye; some plots keep you up late at night to read just one more chapter. This book will change your heart and the way you live your faith.More information, as well as the book itself, is available at www.fatherlessbook.com
Book written by: Michael Casey. Ligouri/Triumph Publication. Ligouri, Miss. ISBN 978-089243-890-7. “Toward God,” is more of a treatise on personal prayer in the Western Tradition than it is a definitive history of Western Prayer itself. Nevertheless, Michael Casey's book is an amazingly simple, incredibly insightful reflection on what it means to have a relationship with God through prayer. Casey's work isn't dense. It isn't complex. It doesn't claim definitive expertise. Nevertheless, it boasts a simple wisdom that must be ingested in small doses. While the magnitude of Casey's humble observations can be overwhelming, they are attainable even if you aren't a monk, who, like Casey, has spent years perfecting the art of prayer. The book begins by analyzing humanity's approach to prayer. “Discontent is crucial to the emergence of prayer,” it claims. Being content with one's circumstances does not lead to action, to improvement. But prayer is a state of constant motion. Entering into prayer is a constant progression towards knowing one's self better, and ultimately, to knowing God more intimately. Of course, this is not an easy journey - it is the journey of a lifetime. Casey analyzes the various hills and valleys, deserts, jungles and oases that one's journey of prayer will encounter. Throughout this journey, the tasks, obstacles, or rewards are not the object of the search. However, as one moves toward God, each event, positive or negative, serves as a teaching moment: a moment for growth. Ultimately, prayer is not something accomplished. One does not achieve a better relationship with God. Prayer, and its ensuing mysteries, are gifts of God, freely given. Casey gives numerous examples, and numerous suggestions, to help one begin to pray. He is neither aloof or demanding. His words are like that of a wise friend, a good advisor, a mentor. His work is both knowledgeable and patient. “Jesus Christ is the answer to which every human life is the question,” noted Pope John Paul II. Man was made to know, love, and serve God. Do yourself a favor and take the time to read this book, take the time to reflect, and take a little time to move towards God: pray.
I once told a Benedictine nun she had a good sense of humor. She said, “See, we're people too.” Most women don't leave their personalities or their humanity at the door when they enter the cloister. After reading his autobiography, I think the same thing could be said about Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. “Priests are people too,” he would say. Sheen's primary focus in writing the story of his life was neither to create a list of his accomplishments nor to impress a particular audience. Instead, Sheen's personable writing and frank tone draw the reader into the book and introduce them to an American, a priest, a child of God, and a new friend and brother in Christ. In his writing, one of Sheen's greatest assets is his humility, another is his honesty, and the last is definitely his humor. No one can read this autobiography of the man whom Billy Graham called “the Great Communicator,” whom Pope Pius XII called “a prophet of the times” and to whom Pope John Paul said, “You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus. You are a loyal son of the Church” without getting to know the human being behind the famous archbishop, the nationally recognized telecaster, the international traveler. What “Treasure in Clay” isn't is a chronological narrative of a life, nor is it a detailed encyclopedia article about a famous person. What it most assuredly is, is a window into the life of a soul who struggled to love God, to live his vocation and to use his talents for something besides his own glory. Sheen opens his book with a narrative of his education and a description of his family life before diving into a number of specific topics such as the making of converts, priestly celibacy, being a bishop, the missions, daily holy hours, attending the Second Vatican Council, and Marian devotion, among others. Each of these chapters could stand alone as a tale of their own. But together they both acquaint the reader with a man who pioneered the media they now take for granted and form that same reader into a more knowledgeable Catholic. Sheen never wastes a word. His humor in describing the “683 zillion mosquitoes” in Batavia, Java, half of whom “bivouacked in his bedroom and held their maneuvers in your sleeves, drills in your trousers, and attack in formation when disturbed” is matched by the seriousness with which he addresses his priestly vocation to victim-hood, to offering himself for the world as Christ did. He is quick to inform the reader that he “didn't see a single Siamese cat in Siam” and even quicker to reiterate the absolute necessity of making a daily holy hour to one's spiritual health and well-being. Though the reader closes the book thinking he or she has shared many of Sheen's personal experiences in traveling, talking to dignitaries, or making converts, Sheen has used each of his experiences to teach his reader about human nature, divine mercy, the sacraments, and the significance of a vocation. Flipping back through the book, one can't help but be stunned at how much one learned, at the quantity of experiential and tactile information Sheen has presented. This book is not heavy. There are no headaches over heavy theology or impossible philosophy within its pages. Though it is nearly 400 pages, it reads faster than the first Harry Potter book. And though its about one man's life, it is never, ever boring. “Treasure in Clay” is an obvious recommendation for those who want to know more than the time line of Fulton Sheen's life and accomplishments. But it also an amazing recommendation for those who need to know that it is possible to be fully human and fully happy within the Church. Lastly, I would recommend Sheen's autobiography to anyone who needs a good dose of Christian hope and humor. Fulton Sheen's TV program was called “Life is Worth Living.” His life really was worth living, as is every human life. Reading his book reminds the individual that it is possible to live that life, whatever the individual circumstances or ministry may be. Do yourself a favor this winter and warm your soul with this inspiring and introspective autobiography.