The Monitor's Guide to Religion Bestsellers

The Monitor's quarterly review of the bestselling books on religion offers readers a one-stop opportunity to sample popular works that reflect the resurgent interest in things religious and spiritual. Such books, numbering in the thousands, continue to be a publishing phenomenon. Unlike our best-selling fiction and nonfiction pages, this list does not include ratings of the books.

PAPERBACK

1. CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE TEENAGE SOUL, Health Communications, $12.95

101 stories and poems by and about teenagers bear witness to the power of love to transform lives. Some stories are joyous, some sad, but most emphasize that our choices and actions make a huge difference. Tales range from the story of a boy who communicates with dolphins to a girl who saves her friend from suicide. Most of the accounts are touching and motivational, not sentimental or preachy. A few stories get bogged down in sorrow, and some of the poems are trite, repeating often-heard sentiments, but overall, the book is uplifting and shows teens and their parents and friends progressing beyond limitations and flaws. By Juniper Remmerde

2. THE CLOISTER WALK, by Kathleen Norris, Riverhead, $12.50

A Benedictine monastery makes a most unlikely residence for a married Protestant woman whose faith was nearly "nonexistent" for two decades. But for poet Kathleen Norris, two extended stays at a Minnesota abbey offer a profound opportunity to "walk" with monks, spending days in continual reading, praying, and singing. Shut off from the world of clocks, work, and sexuality, she gains a deeper understanding of their lives and her own. She discovers that discipline that appears restrictive can produce freedom and finds herself transformed by a willingness "to wait attentively in stillness." By Marilyn Gardner

3. CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE WOMAN'S SOUL, by Health Communications$12.50

Do women need the moving stories presented by J. Canfield, M.V. Hanse, J. Read Hawthorne, and M. Shimoff in this third rendition of the original bestseller "Chicken Soup for the Soul" more than do men? The authors think they do. "Chicken Soup spreads 101 recipes/images out on the table for the soul to savor. this batch stirs the reader to recognize the hunger women feel to love and to be loved, to experience the higher human ways inspired by goodness. But like its counterparts, this book, perhaps, relies too heavily on positive thinking and not enough on spiritual insight. Spirituality is the more substantial meal women want served. By Mari Murray

4. LIVING SOMEWHERE BETWEEN ESTROGEN AND DEATH, Word, $10.99

Aging is the topic of Barbara Johnson's latest bestseller, "for women only" - men can't read past Page 13, she says. This latest work by her offers anti-aging remedies for the "chronologically gifted." These include laughter and risk-taking. As with her other books, this one is a collection of short pieces in Johnson's characteristic homespun style, combined with sections of inspirational quotes from such literary luminaries as Isaiah, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Dave Barry, and Erma Bombeck. Less fundamentalist in tone than previous works, "Living Somewhere Between Estrogen and Death" is also more lightweight. By Yvonne Zipp

5. CHOCOLATE FOR THE WOMAN'S SOUL, by Kay Allenbaugh, S&Schuster, $11

A collection of 77 insightful, feel good, heartfelt, personal experiences. Pick up this book and read to lift the spirits. Written by women for anyone who needs a sweet taste, a chocolate lift, an emotional rush. A very simple but profound message - sometimes life is difficult, but no matter how dire the circumstances appear there is joy to be found, like discovering almonds in your candy bar. Offers ample inspiration to jump-start recovery from the blues while pointing out many hidden talents that too often lie dormant.

By Carol Hartman

6. DAY OF DECEPTION, by John Hagee, Thomas Nelson, $12.99

Founder and pastor of an evangelical ministry in San Antonio, Texas, Dr. Hagee seeks to "separate truth from falsehood in these final days." He employs societal commentary in a prophetic tone (see paperback review No. 10). He calls attention to what he feels are untruths in government as well as the American household and criticizes both the Clinton administration and public education. He refers to Biblical passages for making these agencies and institutions better. He views the American family as the strongest bulwark against the erosion of traditional values. He evaluates roles of husbands and wives, suggesting more-positive, concrete selfless actions for each. By Leigh Montgomery

7. LEFT BEHIND, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Tyndale, $12.99

"Left Behind" provides an interesting alternative to science fiction. The theory put forth by the authors is that the rapture as told in the book of Revelation has occurred. Jesus Christ has come for those who have let him into their lives and taken each to his or her glory in heaven. Call it Bible-or Christian-fiction. The date is the not too distant future. Amazing events take place in Israel: peace and prosperity. The plot and characters are satisfying, and the tone is more fiction than preaching. As the book ends, the reader hopes struggling individuals will succeed in their new mission, to rejoin loved ones taken into heaven. By Janet C. Moller

8. TRIBULATION FORCE, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Zondervan, $27.99

This second book (sequel to "Left Behind" see paperback review No. 2 this page) continues the lives of struggling individuals in the newly formed Tribulation Force, those recent converts who were "left behind" in the previous book. Again members of the Force are rallying against the New One-World Order headed by the smooth-talking Nicolai Carpathia, who is actually the Anti-Christ. This second book is well paced but could have been faster if some of the repetitious prophecy and theology had been edited out. By Janet C. Moller

9. CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE CHRISTIAN SOUL, Health Communications, $12.95

The kettle of nourishment of this good-news series continues to cook in the latest effort to feed the hungry soul of America. Serving up the tried-and-true recipe of past 'Chicken Soup' bestsellers, the co-authors (both motivational speakers) dish up 101 stories of tangible good for the purpose of healing the heart. Pared from 7,000 submissions, the list includes such notables as Corrie ten Boom, Norman Vincent Peale, and Dick Van Dyke. But the real kernel of appeal comes in the form of everyday people weaving selfless acts of Christian love and kindness into one another's lives, offering tangible proof of goodness in a battered world. By Jim Bencivenga

10. SMALL MIRACLES..., by Y. Hulberstam & J. Leventhal, Adams Media, $7.95

For those who have wondered how they are often provided with exactly what they need when they need it, this collection of such happenings may be of interest. But the authors, in their short commentaries after the stories, provide little insight into the possible underlying reasons for such events. They suggest that good deeds are rewarded, but the lack of substantive explanations gives the book a flavor of mysticism and superstition. Also, the stories lack real-life vitality as they seem to have been homogenized by the authors, who often don't even give the real names of the originators.

By Laura Lipscomb

HARDCOVER

1. The BIBLE CODE, by Michael Drosnin, Simon & Schuster, $25

"The Bible Code" has international intrigue, quasi-supernatural mystery, even a touch of celebrity name-dropping. But none of this eases the strain on the reader's credulity. Michael Drosnin's premise, that scores of prophetic messages are encoded in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, is supported by flawed assumptions and unexplained methodologies. "The Bible Code" sadly ignores the inspiration of the Scriptures in favor of millenarian gobbledygook.

By Judy Huenneke

2. JUST AS I AM, by Billy Graham, HarperCollins, $28.50

For almost 80 years Rev. Graham has been converting people and this book is certain to reap more. Graham is as objective as one can be in recording his own life. He admits to his own mistakes and failings with an obvious honesty. And he takes responsibility for his actions. Don't be daunted by the 730 -page length. If a man can successfully preach for more than 50 years, he knows how to keep an audience. The book is an engaging account of his life.

By Janet Moller

3. CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD, BOOK I by Neale D. Walsch, Putnam, $19.95

This book is written in a very simple, accessible style. It is based on what the author, the founder of an Oregon based organization called ReCreation, describes as a three-year conversation with God that he transcribed, It contains some substantial insights and flashes of humor. In it, God is described as an all-good, omnipotent Being who is constantly communicating with all people. Most people misunderstand or do not hear Him because they are not willing to listen. Prayer is described as a process of gratitude, not supplication. The book, the first of three, addresses many personal issues from relationships to pay checks. By Abraham T. McLaughlin

4. SPIRITUAL LITERACY, by Bruce and Mary Ann Brussat, Scribner, $27.50

"Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life" is an effort to decode the spiritual signs in our daily lives. Although the authors frequently cross the line from spiritual insight to platitude, they deserve credit for compiling a rather extraordinary array of excerpts by contemporary authors writing in a genre they refer to as "spiritual literary." The book contains more than 700 examples of spiritual insights that touch on subjects ranging from forgiveness to joy, hospitality to death. The "how to" nature of instructions after each chapter will either attract, or turn off, readers depending on how formulaic the exercises strike them. By Jim Bencivenga

5. CONVERSATIONS WITH GOD, book ii, by Neale D. Walsch, Putnam $19.95

In 1993, Oregon pastor Neale Donald Walsch began the second of three "dialogues with God." In this sequel to his previous bestseller, he emphasizes the freedom found in overcoming fear and discusses the nature of mankind (perfect, time (eternal, not linear), and hell (doesn't exist). some may find the statement that Hitler didn't do anything wrong because there's no such thing as right and wrong tough to take.

By Yvonne Zipp

6. THE GOOD BOOK..., by Peter J. Gomes, Morrow, $25

With a scholar's scope, a black homosexual's perspective, and a minister's heart, Gomes presents an "apologia" on the Bible. Although Americans revere the Bible, he says, they really know very little about it. With a good heart, but at times a controversial message, he devotes chapters to the way racism, anti-Semitism, discrimination against women and homosexuals, and preservation of the status quo have been driven and perpetuated by misreadings and abuses of Scripture. But the pastor in Gomes also embraces anyone wanting to know the Bible better, especially "the marginalized and the excluded" who feel, or have been made to feel, that the Bible isn't theirs. By Linda Giedl

7. IN THE GRIP OF GRACE, by Max Lucado, Word, $19.99

The Rev. Max Lucado, minister at Oak Hills Church of Christ in San Antonio, Texas, is the author of 17 books and a daily lecturer on a radio program, in addition to being a devoted husband and parent. His latest book is a series of his sermons on the solace and direction that emerges from an unconditional faith in an omnipresent God. Lucado presents comprehensive contemporary examples of the application of traditional morality and Biblical principles, focusing primarily on Paul's Letter to the Romans. The book is designed to be read in small doses, a chapter at a time, with time set aside for contemplative thought. By Leigh Montgomery

8. JOY FOR THE JOURNEY, by Edited by J. Countryman, Word, $12.99

Due to the UPS strike, a review copy of this book was unobtainable.

9. AWAKENING THE BUDDHA WITHIN, by Lama Surya Das, Broadway, $26

This engaging book's subtitle is its content - "Tibetan Wisdom for the Western World." The author, a self-described "Jewish boy from Long Island," is a Buddhist lama who has written an informative and enjoyable treatise on Buddhism today. The work succeeds in its goal of presenting connections between Eastern and Western traditions and providing Buddhist approaches for modern lifestyles. While detailed descriptions of Bhuddist practices make for slow reading, the content is thought provoking. The lively conversational tone and concrete examples bring Eastern concepts into focus. The epilogue details essential issues in pursuing a Buddhist path. By Terri Theiss

10. THE GIFT OF PEACE..., by Joseph Cardinal Bernadin, Looyola Press, $17.95

After being dianosed with terminal cancer, Cardinal Bernardin of the Chicago Archdiocese wrote this book subtitled, "Personal Reflections." He did so in the last two months of his life finishing it 13 days prior to his passing. It reads like a collection of letters to friends and shares the serene state of his thought. It reveals a profoundly spiritual man completely at peace with God and his own conscience, something he wanted to share with all mankind.

By Jim Bencivenga

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