My Life – My Prayer by Elizabeth Ruth Obbard (New City, £5.95). This simplified and illustrated autobiography of St Teresa of Avila by a well-known Carmelite author is intended to make St Teresa’s own writings more accessible to a modern readership. As such, it succeeds admirably in bringing to life this compelling figure whose reform of the Carmelite order in 16th-century Spain was a key aspect of the Counter-Reformation. Energetic, humorous, honest about her weaknesses and imbued with an overwhelming love for Christ, St Teresa showed how divine grace could transform flawed human nature with the cooperation of its recipients.
Benedict XVI: Last Testament by Benedict XVI and Peter Seewald (Bloomsbury, £9.99). This superb book is now out in paperback. We get to hear Benedict XVI in his own words as he speaks about his resignation, the future of the Church and some of the controversies that dogged his pontificate, including the VatiLeaks scandal. There is also a wealth of fresh information about his early years (for example, that his mother was illegitimate). The Pope Emeritus comes across as wise, supremely intelligent and caring. Unlike many books about him, this one truly reveals the man inside. Highly recommended.
Portrait of a Family with a Fat Daughter by Margherita Giacobino (Dedalus Press, £12.99). Part fiction, part fact, this book describes four generations of a peasant family living outside Turin between the late 19th century and the 1960s. When her father dies, the author’s eight-year-old mother returns from America to Italy, to be raised by her relatives, marry a feckless husband and run a small shop. The prosperity of this enterprise helps the extended family to emerge from poverty. Beautifully and sympathetically evoking the intense world of working-class Turin, this story is a pleasure to read.
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood (Allen Lane, £14.99). One of five children from a family that might be described as bohemian or dysfunctional, depending on the reader’s point of view, the author alternates black humour with astonishment and resignation at her parents’ behaviour. Her father, a Protestant minister who became a Catholic priest, seems, according to his daughter’s portrait, a highly unlikely candidate for ordination. Lockwood, a poet, is merciless in her scrutiny of his eccentricities. A keen feminist, frank about her own rejection of her childhood faith, the author has written an irreverent, jaunty and yet sad memoir.
The Broken Ladder by Keith Payne (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £20). Subtitled “How Inequality Changes the Way We Think, Live and Die”, this book asks questions such as “why do women in poor societies have more children?”, “why do unequal societies tend to become more religious?” and whether inequality affects the body and mind. Combining professional expertise alongside practical examples, Payne suggests strategies for change, concluding that “making the conscious effort to consider what genuinely matters interrupts the unconscious default pattern of looking to others to gauge how much we value ourselves.”
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