I just finished the remarkable work of St. Teresa of Avila (first female doctor of the Church), The Interior Castle , which is on my short list of "Theological works one must read before he dies." It is truly amazing. Written with a deft touch, it covers the subject of prayer, but it is so much more than that.
St. Teresa asks us to envision our soul as an "interior castle" that is made up of seven "mansions". The first mansion is outside the gates of the castle, where we are most easily tempted to fall away from God and prayer and are living in sloth, not devoting much time to God or meditation in prayer. The seventh castle is one step away from Heaven, where you are as closely joined to God through prayer as one can be on Earth. This, St. Teresa says, is something all of us can aspire to. Her audience was her fellow sisters in the Carmelite convent, but her words are equally applicable to all of us, even in the twenty-first century.
The book discusses the best ways to pray, how to address periods of "aridity", or spiritual dryness, what suffering means, how to make the most of suffering, what God expects of us, confession, and many other topics. Her goal is to draw us closer to God and perfection, and she acknowledges that it is not easy. She writes in a conversational tone, and, like Thomas a Kempis, writes in short (although not as short as his) chapters, divided into subsections, which make for ease of reading. Of course, what translation you pick will also determine how easy it is to read, and again I found myself choosing the Barnes and Noble library of Essential Reading edition, which gave a great, clear translation with adequate notes and a good introduction (although a little heavy on the new-age feminist stuff...oh well).
I can't really praise this book enough, other than to say you must read it immediately. It's perfect for mediation, as well, and shouldn't be read straight through, although it can be. Time is needed to reflect upon and absorb the things that this great Doctor of the Church is trying to teach us. Although she often refers to herself as dumb and ignorant, it is evident that she is none of these things and is, in fact, providing us with profound yet accessible insight. It's a great book to give for Christmas, and perfect spiritual reading.