What We’re Reading Wednesday

Happy Veteran’s Day! A special thank you to all our servicemen and servicewomen and their families for their sacrifices.

Today, I finally have some book reviews! But first, as promised, the announcement of the winners of the raffle! Congratulations to Laura Rene, a newlywed! In lieu of the prize packs, she’s getting Seven Saints for Seven Virtues by Jean M. Heiman, Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood by Pat Gohn, and Women, Sex, and the Church: A Case for Catholic Teaching, edited by Erika Bachiochi. Do check out her blog, linked in her name.

I’m waiting on hearing back from the winner of the Singles Bundle before announcing her name publicly.

And the second piece of bookish business: I recently joined a Catholic YA Authors group, and am so happy to help out my fellow writers. Please take a moment to check out Cynthia Toney’s Goodreads Giveaway of her book 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status. Thank you!

On to the reviews! Today’s theme is “Catholic Marriage Guides!” If either spark your interest, you can learn more and purchase directly from the publisher (support Catholic businesses!) by clicking on the covers.

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Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage by Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak

When PJ and I were at the World Meeting of Families, we came across Dr. Greg at a booth, and I told him that their book was hands down, the best marriage prep we had done–so, so much better than what our diocese offered. And I meant every word. While I do have one nit to pick with it, this book encapsulates most of the big-picture issues a couple entering marriage or just starting out should look at. Chapters cover the spiritual life couples should develop together, practical topics like dealing with conflict, money, relatives, sex, and what they call “marriage enemy #1” (spoiler: refusing to leave your comfort zone).* Nearly every section includes an activity to do with your spouse. Though PJ and I weren’t married when we worked through this book, the exercises prompted great conversations about expectations we were bringing and maybe how they might need to be managed, about how we were actively loving each other and ways we could love better, and about our hoped-for visions for our new family. The lists we wrote each other of the various ways we loved the other and ways we could feel even more loved sit our nightstands to this day. Also included in each chapter are Dr. Greg and Lisa’s “story” regarding their personal experience with the topic, written like a dialogue. These sections, as well as the example conversations of actual couples with similar problems, were my favorite. They reminded me of the “Can This Marriage Be Saved” columns in magazines that featured a couple, each discussing their view of a problem, and the therapist’s turn. To me, there’s something in seeing concrete, specific issues and how people dealt with it, as well as qualified assistance–it’s like free counseling–as opposed to just generic “here’s how you communicate effectively” bullet points.

  • The BEST takeaway: the concept of not “negotiating the what.” I wished WordPress let me underline. Oh to emphasize how eye-opening this tidbit was. Essentially, “negotiating the what,” is described in this book as the biggest, unnecessary source of conflict. The thesis is that little and big fights happen because one spouse tries to only negotiate the actual thing. To use a small example from the book: a wife buys new decorative pillows for the couch; husband is frustrated that money was spent on what he calls a frivolous item; they get trapped in arguing about the pillows themselves, the “what.” Instead, Dr. Greg advocates for negotiating the when, the how, anything but the darn pillows. So that might mean in this situation, the couple discusses the potential purchase–maybe they wait until an expected bonus comes in; maybe they move the throw pillows from the bed in the bag downstairs (what we actually did!); maybe they agree to see if someone will get them for a birthday or Christmas present.

I judge advice books by how practically, effectively, and successfully the guidance can be used in a real relationship. Now that we’ve been married four months (exactly today!), this concept, along with many other pieces of counsel are working. For example, we had a discussion about a matter in which we initially disagreed, and it was looking like there was no way around it–perhaps sometimes you have to negotiate the “what.” In our example, I’ll call the “what” ‘bananas.’ I really believed that there shouldn’t be a question that I could have bananas without reservation, and PJ believed that before having bananas, it should be discussed, and under certain circumstances. We could’ve ended the conversation and day in an unhappy stalemate, but we pushed through and came to the conclusion that instead of one person getting their way about the bananas, we could negotiate the when and how. The whole conversation also reflected the ways the authors suggested we handle conflict “gracefully.”

  • The one thing I didn’t like: This book is about the first five years of a Catholic marriage. One chapter deals with the “when do we have kids?” question. This bothered me particularly, though PJ not so much. So this critique is just a personal reader response. No book can be everything and encompass everything, so perhaps I am asking too much. But…Let’s be real. If you’re a Catholic couple, following Church teaching, children can very likely not be a decision you make some months or years in, but are right in your face three weeks after the honeymoon with that positive pregnancy. I personally believe this dramatic change in both the woman’s hormones and your identity as a couple–no more just husband and wife, but mother and father, too–deserves some consideration, especially given how it can affect a couple. Some couples may do great, but I just wish this Catholic book had more examples of newly minted couples that had to deal with pregnancy or a baby in addition to figuring out how to live and work as husband and wife. Yes, at the core, dealing with conflict and money and in-laws are general areas and the advice in the book could be applied in those situations, I just wish there were more specific examples–especially if leading up to the marriage, any of those areas had only recently been resolved, and the arrival of a new person will add a layer or new dimension, or worse, open up old wounds. That’s just my take.

Bottom line: if you’re engaged or recently married and looking for guidance or enrichment, I heartily recommend this book. (And yes, I know, it has a sex chapter and some of you aren’t married yet, but you really have to talk about this stuff appropriately, and in my *unqualified, but reasonable* opinion, this treatment is okay.)

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Catholic and Married: Leaning Into Love, edited by Art and Laraine Bennett.

At least two years or so ago, both Hallie Lord and Simcha Fisher, two incredible bloggers, teased their chapters for an upcoming book of essays on marriage through Our Sunday Visitor. I was so excited. It finally released in late 2014. Both of the mentioned women’s chapters were great. Most of the chapters were good; one I didn’t especially care for the presentation of the content–snippets of moments from the marriage that go from high to low and back again without transitions or application to the topic (marrying young). Perhaps just the scenes were meant to reveal a larger point with takeaways for all couples, but for me, this one just didn’t quite “hang together,” and that’s my overall personal feeling about the book. As a whole, the individually good chapters on a variety of subjects form marrying young to children to challenges to marriage and divorce, it just didn’t quite hang together. I greatly respect each of the contributors and the editors, being familiar in some way with nearly all of their work from my publishing days. But from that background, I couldn’t help but think about if I had received this manuscript how my reader’s report would have yes, personal, suggestions for how to make it more cohesive. So yes, this critique is tempered mostly by my own views, but I believe it somewhat useful, as this form of evaluation is useful, for if a book doesn’t turn on my inner editor but inspires me, then I feel that the book is particularly successful in achieving what it intended.

While I felt this book lacked a flow–it appears to jump from one topic to another, held together loosely that these chapters are “about marriage”–the personal stories are illuminating, and as you’ve seen above, I do like those. Best moment: the writer who tells us about the time her husband got up in the middle of the night and slept in front of the children’s bedroom door, so they wouldn’t come out and bug mommy who was very ill. #Husbandgoals, amirite? Because it tackles topics like entering into marriage as a child of divorce, pornography, and cohabitation with those areas’ general effect on the institution, this book could actually be good for engaged couples, of course, but also Catholics dating and Catholic singles.

Bottom line: For those who are married, about to be married, or are interested in the subject of Catholic marriage, this book features some good essays on the various aspects of the sacrament, along with some examples of living it out. Though it lacks a focus like the above title, it offers some takeaways for couples. And while it was not my personal utmost favorite treatment of marriage and married life, it is still a good entry in the Catholic couples’ book realm.

—Given my publishing history, I’ll add this disclaimer: I probably won’t review books that I first saw as manuscripts. So I have never seen the above books before purchasing them for my own personal collection.

*Edinburgh Housewife, aka Auntie Seraphic, says it’s contempt, and both sins are incredibly destructive to a relationship.

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One thought on “What We’re Reading Wednesday

  1. Thank you for the book package as well as the link to my blog!! 🙂

    I got Greg and Lisa’s book while we were engaged but wasn’t able to finish it by the time it was due back at the library. LOVED what I had read, though, so thank you for reminding me of it. I’d love to read it as a married couple now.

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