It’s easy to be cynical about spiritual memoirs as publishers seem to mine the market for all its worth. For example, does the world really need a third collection of Anne Lamott’s reflections? Such books, however, clearly reflect a need for contemporary autobiographies that examine faith.
Canadian novelist Rudy Wiebe uses photographs and first memories to describe beautifully his boyhood in Of This Earth (Knopf Canada). Born in Depression-era Saskatchewan to a Russian Mennonite family, Wiebe knew a life as hard as that of any 19th century pioneer. The “earth” of a northern landscape, a strong family and faith community, along with committed one-room school teachers shaped his career as a novelist.
In Easter Everywhere (Bloomsbury), a contemporary biography in the fashion of Lamott or Lauren Winner, Darcey Steinke reveals her deepest troubles. Neglected by self-absorbed parents, Darcey lost her faith and sought happiness in a variety of troubling prodigal ways. She recognized, though, “the vast spiritual wilderness” at her life’s center. While her current beliefs are far from orthodox, she gradually returned to God and participates, hesitantly, in a church.
Named after her popular National Public Radio broadcast, Speaking of Faith (Viking) allows Krista Tippet to explain her vocation as a journalist. Born into a Southern Baptist family, she turned away from faith at university and plunged herself into journalism and diplomacy. Dissatisfied with the moral immaturity of her superiors, she took up theological studies and eventually developed her radio show. Tippett refuses the media’s fixation with the vices of religious leaders and, instead, wants to “expose virtue.”
These memoirs are not fault-free. Wiebe wrote a good chapter too many, Steinke may shock more than she enlightens, and Tippett could have deepened the portrait of her own life and beliefs.
In arresting prose, Steinke pushes us, however, to consider our own moments of despair. Her book also provides indirect lessons for showing sensitivity to people trying to return to faith and the church. Both Wiebe and Tippett give good direction on how to reflect on vocation—through a memory of what has shaped us and a clear sense of purpose based on our interests. Ultimately, in reading the lives of others, we can begin to read how God is directing us.
reviewed by Mike Postma
Florida’s finest have perfected their blend of grit, hooks, harmonies, and depth with their third album. Cuts like “Adelaide” and lead single “Godspeed” are enchantingly catchy, while “The Unwinding Cable Car” is perhaps the best song Stephen Christian has penned thus far. Stellar live performances and incessant Internet buzz have elevated Anberlin to the top of the emo/rock genre, and their uncompromising stance of faith is refreshing in a scene littered with pretenders. (Tooth and Nail)
reviewed by Kristy Quist
If BOZ seems vaguely familiar, perhaps it’s because BOZ, the big green bear, is brought to you by one of the creators of Barney, the big purple dinosaur. The animated BOZ DVDs, complete with syrupy songs and a treehouse, are very similar to the live action Barney show—except that BOZ is written with a Christian perspective. While that may seem derivative to me, my 4-year-old is enthralled. And she’s learning her A-B-Cs to boot! (Exclaim)
by Patricia Polaccoreviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema
Elegant socialite Ginger loves her pet pig, Petunia. When Ginger goes to London, she arranges for Petunia’s care by a babysitter who never arrives. Left to her own devices, Petunia adopts Ginger’s motto—“You are what you wear!”—and disguises herself as her owner. Initially Petunia enjoys living Ginger’s life, but soon she longs for the chance to be herself again. Polacco’s vivid, energetic illustrations complement her hilarious tale. (Philomel)
by Barbara Kingsolver
reviewed by Phil Christman Jr.
Eating local food from earth-conscious, small farmers is a moral imperative. It saves oil, soil, and family farms all at once. That doesn’t mean it sounds fun. This delightful memoir solves that problem. Richly informative about everything from tomatoes to Tuscany, with better writing than any book in its genre, it succinctly lays out the case for resisting Big Agro, shows you how, and—best of all—makes you want to trade that milkshake for some arugula. (HarperCollins)
by Rickie Lee Jones
reviewed by Robert N. Hosack
Boho diva Rickie Lee Jones provides a ragged but beautiful collection of songs inspired by Lee Cantelon’s book, The Words. She offers a latter-day spin on Jesus’ teachings presented in the language of the hip and the outcast. As Jones encounters the human Jesus of the gospels, the songs soar in stripped-back glory—minimalist punk cutting away 2,000 years of musty church tradition and ceremony. This is anti-devotional music, but pervaded with a heartfelt mysticism. Think of it as a soundtrack for reading Anne Lamott. (New West)
by T.D. Jakes
reviewed by Wayne Brouwer
Engaging, pastoral, and winsome, T.D. Jakes is a decent counselor, gifted pastor, shrewd businessman, and insightful social critic. He grabs attention in the first chapter by doing a social and spiritual intervention that feels like it was made for every reader. Then he plots a course to wholesome living that does not promise prosperity but does look for personal responsibility, change, and results. While there is nothing new in this book, most will nod appreciatively all the way through. (Atria)
The LowdownMaking Movies in the Midwest
The Prairie Grass Film Challenge at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, launches Sept. 20. Filmmaking teams have 48 hours to write, shoot, edit, and submit a film that includes elements assigned to them on opening day. The Challenge promotes the visual arts in the region, gives budding young filmmakers a venue to show their work, and promotes the role Dordt College plays in the arts. Dordt has marketed the event to both Christian and public high schools in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Iowa. At the Nov. 9 screening, Dordt will give away a total of about $6,000 in cash and prizes, including three video editing software packages and the coveted Dordty Award statuette. To learn more, go to www.dordt.edu/filmchallenge.