Woods or beach? Camping or house share? Here's another key to knowing what kind of vacationer you are: Do you bring books as gauzy and light as summer fabrics? Or use the unbroken time to conquer a heady tome? Our list of spiritually oriented books for summer has plenty for both kinds of vacation readers--from the weighty but gripping to fluff with a few hard kernels to chew on.

Climbing Brandon
by Chet Raymo

This meditation on landscape is the perfect spiritual guide for a vacation in the woods. Raymo, a science professor and columnist for the Boston Globe, annotates his many trips up Mount Brandon, an ancient pilgrimage site in Ireland's desolate west, where, in Raymo's telling, polytheism and Christianity, natural history and religion have long rubbed elbows. Some have complained that Raymo's grasp of Catholic doctrine is shaky, but his lightly worn erudition and meditative style make this book read like an extended prayer. Buy it

by Marek Halter

Fans of "The Red Tent" will be back home in Marek Halter's "Sarah," a novel of the life of the biblical matriarch. After extensive research on ancient Sumeria, Halter, a Warsaw Ghetto survivor, renowned French writer, and Mideast peace activist, far outdoes Genesis for detail on the wife of Abraham, including her royal childhood in Ur, her first encounter with her husband-to-be, and her anguish over her childlessness. "Sarah" is the first in Halter's planned trilogy that will bring to life the less well-known Zipporah and Lilah. Buy it

The Case for a Creator
by Lee Strobel

Strobel, a former atheist and Chicago Tribune editor, pulls more punches in this book than in "The Case for Christ," his classic investigation into what Christians say is true. But Strobel's journalistic approach, this time turned on the eternal questions of the origins of our universe, is still compelling for doubters and uplifting for believers. Buy it

by Edward J. Larson

It's no wonder that Darwin's theory of natural selection began a controversy that continues to this day: As prize-winning science historian Edward J. Larson shows, Darwin's "dangerous idea" challenges our deepest beliefs about who we are. Larson introduces us to evolution's leading proponents and opponents, and chronicles its effect on culture, politics, and especially religion in 368 entirely readable pages. Buy it

The Dance of 17 Lives
by Mick Brown

The current, 17th Karmapa-the second-highest-ranking personage in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama-was improbably discovered in remotest Tibet, was threatened by the Chinese, and eventually escaped to India. Part detective novel, part adventure, and part history, Brown's is the brightest of several biographies of the courageous teenage dignitary. Buy it

The Church That Forgot Christ
by Jimmy Breslin

Newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin-here the self-appointed "Bishop Breslin"-takes the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church personally, and this grim indictment is filled with sketches of his New York neighbors who have been wronged. But there are as many stories of characters who fulfill Breslin's high hopes for what Catholicism should be, and the acid-tongued author (and his readers) are constantly reminded of his regard for his religion, if not his church. Buy it

The Preservationist
by David Maine

Following the biblical tale verse by verse, David Maine's debut novel is a gripping retelling of the story of Noah's ark: The familiar tale of collecting the animals, building the ark, and observing the destruction of the rest of the world is anchored by a Jesus-like Noe (Maine uses the 1582 biblical spelling) who has complete faith and trust in God and never questions what is expected of him, despite being constantly scoffed at and tormented by his neighbors, who get a delicious comeuppance when the rains begin. Buy it

The Big Love
by Sarah Dunn

Dunn crosses Bridget Jones with the movie "Saved!" in creating Allison, a neurotic 32-year-old writer who gets dumped by her boyfriend, sleeps with her boss, and wonders if her evangelical Christian upbringing permanently messed up her sex life. "The Big Love" is really Christian chick-lit for non-Christians--Allison's faith-based past operates more as an easy explanation her strange (compared to other chick-lit heroines) sexual mores than as an important struggle in her life. But it's a novel element in a young genre that already needs some new ideas. Buy it

Tales from the Bed
by Jenifer Estess

Jenifer Estess was a thriving 40 year old about to launch her own business when she was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and given a few years to live. This memoir of her last years is a moving manifesto focused not on how to die but on how to live, to retain faith in love, and to hope for the possibility of making a difference--even finding a cure--until the very end. Buy it

What to Wear to See the Pope
by Christine Lehner

These 10 interwoven short stories capture the wickedly distractible inner life of Ursula Codwell, a woman with a thoroughly Catholic sensibility. Haunted by the saints, she sees Therese de Lisieux's eyebrows on a traffic-court judge, finds that she never feels more Catholic than when confronted by a fundamentalist Christian, and ponders the quandary of the title. Buy it
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