Compassionate Fire: The Letters of Thomas Merton & Catherine de Hueck Doherty
Edited by Robert A. Wild (Ave Maria Pres)

It's hard to read Thomas Merton anymore—hard to get past the celebrity. Short of becoming 16 years old again and discovering one of his books in complete ignorance of the man and his legend, this little book offers the best chance for entry. Start at the end, with a talk that Doherty gave several months after Merton's death. She recalls a lunch with him, before his vocation, when she interrupted his flow of beautiful talk and said, "Why don't you shut up for a while?" Then she suggested that he come to spend some time in Harlem. He listened.

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The Sins of the Fathers: The Law and Theology of Illegitimacy Reconsidered
John Witte Jr. (Cambridge University Press)

In this brief but immensely learned and penetrating book, John Witte illumines legal, social, cultural, and religious perspectives on illegitimacy from antiquity to the present, showing with painful clarity how often the church has fallen short of its calling. And he considers the current "explosion of illegitimacy" in the light of this history, reminding us in conclusion that "adoption is one of the deepest forms and examples of Christian charity."

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Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage
Elizabeth Siegel (Yale University Press)

If your Christmas gift list includes someone who relishes the Victorian era in all its contradictions, you might consider this handsomely produced volume, which accompanies an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago (October 10, 2009&mdashJanuary 3, 2010, then traveling to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York). Drawn from photocollage albums of the 1860s and 1870s, these images will especially interest fans of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. Why, by the way, was this a golden age of Nonsense?

Related Elsewhere:

Compassionate Fire, The Sins of the Fathers, and Playing with Pictures are available at,, and other book retailers.

John Wilson is editor of Books & Culture, a Christianity Today sister publication.

Other Bookmarks and reviews are in our books section.

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