Betsy Kerekes walks us through Sean Gunning’s journey in the steps of Jesus.
For the book lover, the best present ever might just be this book, especially if your book lover is a fan of history, Jesus, their Catholic faith, and wishes they could travel to the Holy Land themselves. In other words, The Best Present Ever: A Sinner’s Guide to the Holy Land, checked all my boxes.
I was hooked from the first page: the prologue. Author Sean Gunning is imminently likable, relatable, self-deprecating, and real. Suddenly all the work I needed to get done around the house was set aside so I could read. Which reminds me, Sean, if you’re reading this, my husband would like a few words with you.
What strikes me most about this book is the complete cut-your-soul-open honesty. Sometimes a little TMI, but most times refreshing. The author pulls no punches when reflecting on his actions, how embarrassed he is by them, and how he wishes he would do better.
The second noteworthy aspect is the fabulous writing with many well-crafted observations and turns of phrase, such as “thoughts pinballing around my brain.” The author is a poet in his own right. The way he paints a picture of his surroundings and uniquely, artfully strings words together is a thing of beauty. Visiting the Holy Land is a dream I may never have realized, but I was able to see these historic places through the author’s eyes.
He doesn’t sugar-coat the scenes of poverty, however, or the annoyance of the hawkers, or even his feelings toward certain members of his pilgrimage, especially the one pilgrim who consistently isn’t paying attention during roll call. All of that provides a good warning of what to expect for anyone planning a group trip to a high-tourist area.
Much of the book is stream-of-consciousness, sometimes with quickly jotted notes as he takes in the details of his surroundings. There’s the occasional imaginary tangent, and artfully inserted poem from a famous author. And frequently, delightfully, a reflection on the beauty, intelligence, wisdom, and kindness of his wife.
His interactions with every day people offer a real slice of life on the other side of the world, and all in all, it was a sweet journey. Though he didn’t experience a major conversion from a typical, not very hardcore Catholic to something more akin to a daily communicant, he did have several touching encounters with Jesus in his own way.
Be warned that this is not a book for children, and there are several swear words. Also, pictures would’ve been nice, but the author page contains a link where one can view pilgrimage photos. On the whole, The Best Present Ever: A Sinner’s Guide to the Holy Land is an engaging read, especially for anyone considering a pilgrimage to the Holy Land themselves.
Sean Gunning, author of The Best Present Ever, is offering a special coupon code to Catholic Mom readers in memory of his beloved mother-in-law, Yolie, who is featured in this book. When you purchase the book directly from the author ($20 plus $3 shipping) and use coupon code Yolie in the box labeled "Note to Seller," Catholic Mom will receive $5 from the purchase price of every book. This offer is good through September 30, 2022.
Copyright 2022 Betsy Kerekes
About the Author
Betsy Kerekes is the author of Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying (Our Sunday Visitor 2019) and coauthor with Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse of 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person (Ave Maria Press 2016) and 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage (Ave Maria Press 2013). She homeschools her four children and writes about her experiences in motherhood at ParentingIsFunny.wordpress.com.