Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The allure of memoirs...

While taking a much needed breather from my deluge of business-related emails this morning, I jumped onto Amazon to research some new reading material. As you already know, if I don't have a book lined up to read (ok, ok, a backlist of at *least* a half dozen) I will die. I *love* reading, and well, it's why I became a librarian. I love books, and I love being around them. They soothe me and make me happy. Books have the power to transport me to different places and to experience different lives. I read every single day; even with the demands of a small child, a home and husband to care for, and a full-time job, I find time to read. It keeps me sane and is a little time carved out just for me.

One of my favorite genres is memoir. I read a good deal of fiction, but when it comes to non-fiction, I want personal stories. Long, short, whatever; as long as they're about a specific individual and their account of something in their life, I'm interested. My preference is religious memoir, but I do also read general biographies, etc.

So anyway, I read a book recently that I haven't stopped thinking about. It is The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University, by Kevin Roose. The author is from a secular upbringing devoid of faith aside from a few holiday visits to a local Quaker meetinghouse, and is a journalism student at Brown University. He becomes intrigued with Christian colleges, and spends a semester at Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell, in Virginia. He wants to be utterly immersed in the evangelical culture present at the school, and thus he aims to fit in, i.e. have others believe that he shares their faith, without actually lying. He makes a genuine effort to understand the beliefs of his new friends, and does so in a manner that in no way mocks the Christian faith; in fact, he defends it against some skeptical inquiries from his well-meaning, but non-religious, family.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. It is extrmely well-written, funny, charming and an engrossing personal story. I *loved* it, and was a bit teed off when, before I was finished reading it, I was notified that someone else put in a request for it and I had to return it. Since it's from the university libraries' collection, I put aside my annoyance to be thrilled that someone at this school wants to read the book. I did order it for the collection, after all; my efforts are obviously appreciated :) Besides, I had a week to return it, so I had plenty of time to finish the book. This book is wonderful; get it; read it.

Based on my Unlikely Disciple fever (don't you hate it when you finish a book that you absolutely love? It's so sad!), I grabbed another one of my collection development efforts to re-read - God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America, by Hanna Rosin. This one is about Patrick Henry College, also in Virginia. It's a bit more "academic" than Unlikely Disciple, so it's not quite as grabbing, to me at least. But the author does include some personal stories involving students that I think make this worth checking out.

I think the reason why I was so attracted to these two books in particular is that they address something I discussed with regard to why I love those Amish fiction books so much - a close community of like-minded believers. Certainly, we are called to be salt and light to the world, so we need to intermingle with the whole of society. But something about having your faith nourished by an encompassing community of your peers is very appealing to me. I went to a Catholic college, but it wasn't, well, overtly Catholic. I loved my experience there, don't get me wrong. My faith wasn't as strong then either, so I think that I didn't get as much out of its Catholic identity as I could have based on my own lack of initiative. I wish I could go back and do things differently sometimes. Alas...

Anyway, back to memoirs. Another one of my "to be read" pile is In Due Season: A Catholic Life, by Paul Wilkes. Very excited about this one. I read another of this author's books, Beyond the Walls: Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Life years ago, and really liked it. I think In Due Season goes more into his life story and conversion to Catholicism which is so totally up the alley of the Catholic Librarian.

Other memoirs from my morning research that I have on my "to be retrieved from the public library" list are:

Home is Always the Place You Just Left: A Memoir of Restless Longing and Persistent Grace, by Betty Smartt Carter.

Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir, by Susan Isaacs.

Sexless in the City: A Memoir of Reluctant Chastity, by Anna Broadway.

Others that I noticed are compilations of short stories, which can also still be good. You have to be discerning though; some are excellent, some are superficial, well, crap :) The public library does have a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Living Catholic Faith which did get great reviews on Amazon. Since it's at the library, I'd like to give it a go.

I'm more interested in the series of short compilations edited by Sister Patricia Proctor. Years ago, I purchased 101 Inspirational Stories of the Rosary and loved it. I've actually re-read some fo the stories in there. Since then, she's published a whole litany of similar titles on different Catholic topics. The other day I was in a Christian bookstore shopping for a prayer journal for my cousin, when I happened upon 101 Inspirational Stories of the Sacrament of Reconcilliation. Naturally, I had to buy it. I'm chomping at the bit to read it, too. These are titles that the public library likely will never acquire, so I feel totally justified in buying them :) Also now appearing on my Amazon wish list are: 201 Inspirational Stories of the Eucharist, 101 Inspirational Stories of the Priesthood, and 101 Inspirational Stories of the Power of Prayer.

When I have new books on my radar screen, I cannot articulate the joyful anticipation that overtakes your Catholic Librarian. It makes her feel very, very fulfilled...

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