More 2014 Books: Parables, Homilies, Prayers, Maigret

Just to add to dotCommonweal’s recent end-of-year book recommendations, here are four 2014 favorites I’m giving to friends for Christmas.

Amy-Jill Levine’s Short Stories by Jesus is a highly readable take on the most famous New Testament parables by a Jewish scholar determined to strip away years of ahistorical (and often anti-Jewish) interpretation. She finds fresh, often funny angles both in the parables themselves and in our very human attempts to water them down. It is the perfect gift for anyone you know who preaches, as is the beautifully illustrated three-volume set of lectionary-based homilies from Homilists for the Homeless. As an added incentive, proceeds from the sale of this series benefit several charities providing basic food and shelter.

Another great gift idea is The Heart in Pilgrimage, edited by Eamon Duffy, a handsome hardbound prayerbook with everything from morning and evening prayer to the Stations of the Cross. Anglophiles in particular will delight in the classic prayers and traditional translations – and will also enjoy learning that Rowan Williams is in fact (as he is identified here before his brief foreword) “the Right Reverend and Right Honourable the Lord Williams of Oystermouth.”

And lastly, as an obsessive fan of Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret, I am overjoyed that Penguin has begun to reissue all 75 Maigret novels in paperback, in many cases freshly translated. The enigmatic, taciturn, compassionate Maigret (pictured above, portrayed by Jean Gabin) is a welcome antidote to the hypertense Sherlock Holmes; pressed in the middle of a typically sordid case to give a clue to what he’s thinking, Maigret often answers, “I don’t think anything.” Start with The Night at the Crossroads (1931) for the series at its best.

Thomas Baker is the publisher of Commonweal

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