Thursday, June 17, 2010
Couple of book reviews...
I've been lax in reviewing books lately, so I thought I'd post about a few today. This month, my book club is reading a graphic novel. I am a lifelong devout reader, and this was my very first graphic novel. I really didn't know what I would think of it, but as always, I'm grateful to my book club for exposing me to things I wouldn't have selected on my own. Our selection was Castle Waiting by Linda Medley.
I finished it last week, and to be honest, I don't really have much to write about it, content wise. The experience of reading a graphic novel was totally... novel for me :) It felt kind of strange, like I wasn't really reading, if that makes any sense. Because the illustrations are just as important as the text in a book like this. And the illustrations were excellent. Overall though, I just didn't get too into it. I'm not even writing about the plot, so I'm sure you can tell :) I guess I'm just not all that certain what it was really about. Went over my head a bit, I think. I will say that it was charming and amusing, and some parts made me laugh out loud. That's a very good thing. But otherwise, I don't think I'll be reading other graphic novels unless they are for book club or are extra highly recommended.
This was a fairy tale, and we meet a young girl that is pregnant out of wedlock and her journey to find sanctuary. Lots of other characters come into play, and I confused them easily, so this didn't help me get into the book, certainly. I did think it interesting that towards the end of the book we meet an unusual order of nuns that are devoted to a saint with a pretty amusing back story, so I was intrigued by that. But generally, I just felt like I didn't "get it", which is not a feeling I enjoy when I read a book.
Our next entry is In the Land of Believers: An Outsider's Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church, by Gina Welch. This book I definitely enjoyed, and is the sort of personal religious memoir that I so totally dig.
The premise of this book is that the author, Gina, is an atheist who moved to Virgina as an adult and became fascinated with her evangelical acquaintances. She became so entranced with their lives as church-going Christians that she decided to attend Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist church for 2 years and experience life first hand as a believer. And of course, she wanted to write about it.
Couple things. I'll start with what I didn't like and move to what I did, because overall I did really like and enjoy this book. What I didn't like is that Gina actually pretended to have a conversion experience, get saved (by the evangelical definition of praying the sinner's prayer), and was baptized, all when she remained steadfast in her nonbelief in God. This bothers me. A salvation experience (to evangelicals) and baptism (to all Christians) are sacred experiences, and I didn't think she should water those down by taking part when she didn't believe.
Indeed, I think she could have still written a gripping memoir by chronicling her experience as a non-baptized seeker in this very church. My sense was that she truly believed that she wouldn't have been "accepted" and have had as intense an experience if the other church members didn't see her as one of them. Maybe she's right, I don't know. There was definitely some insecurity on her part, coming from a completely secular background, but toward the end of the book I could see her point of view a bit more. But still, I don't think you should be dishonest about something that important.
As well, she lived over an hour from Thomas Road Baptist Church, and I felt that she only picked it because she knew that name would help sell her book. Smacks a little too much of using Jerry Falwell's notoriety for her own purposes for my taste. I thought she could have accomplished her goal at a church much closer to her home and it still would have been extremely interesting to me, but maybe that's just me.
Ok, so that's what I didn't like. But here is what I did like. The author is extremely charming and likeable, and is a good writer. You're really rooting for her to assimilate as she desires and to make friends and connections in the church. Of course, you're also rooting for her to find faith, and I'll leave that there so as to not spoil the ending of the book for anyone who wants to read it.
I love books that delve into a personal account of lives of faith, and you get that in abundance here. We learn all about her first introduction into the church via a "Connections" class, her attendance at Sunday and Wednesday services, her baptism, her involvement in the church's singles ministry, where she experiences genuine friendship and love, and her mission trip with this group to Alaska. Fascinating stuff.
Toward the end, she does begin to feel bad about deceiving people that she's grown to really care about, but I had to think that she should have anticipated this. To give her the benefit of the doubt, maybe she didn't anticipate the *degree* to which she'd experience these feelings.
All in all, this is a good read. If you like spiritual memoirs, I think you'll like this one. Even though her viewpoint is so divergent from mine, I found her very warm and non-judgmental on the whole. Certainly, there were some things in there that she wrote that tweaked me a bit (mentioning of her being pro-choice, things like that) but she doesn't linger over those things. I think she does a good job of presenting herself in a sympathetic light. And honestly, I agreed with her on a couple of things, like her questioning the way (at least some) evangelicals see the assurance of salvation experience. This is a good book. Check it out.