"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton
This is where I chronicle my reading life. I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.
Another book that received a somewhat "unexpected" four-star review.
I listened to this audiobook all in one day, allowing me an "unbroken" look at the story that usually eludes me. Although one can expect a certain amount of navel-gazing from memoir, this one included it to an especially high degree, and the first third of the book felt incredibly isolated, as Barbara tended to spend most of it within her own mind, with her parents, friends, and other people she encountered feeling totally periphery and almost incidental. She wrote the memoir as a way to "answer" her adolescent self, whose journal revealed a search for the meaning of life, but which did not record a number of "mystical" experiences that Barbara had at that time because she did not know how to make sense of them in a family that was staunchly atheist. While her experiences did feel like altered states of consciousness, I wished she would have explained them better, even as I understand the difficulty of putting such experiences into words. Because of this sense of isolation and extreme introspective, I found the first third to be a bit tedious and dry, overexplained while still leaving questions unanswered, and I can imagine a lot of people would have given up on the book at this point. I'm glad that I didn't.
In the middle section, Barbara begins to move outside herself, finding meaning in activism and connection with other people and eventually motherhood. The book started to feel warmer at this paint, and Barbara had gained enough self awareness to recognize the vein of depression that had run through her life -- a vein which I had also recognize, and which perhaps is why the first section was so difficult for me, as it was perhaps too reminiscent of my own teenage bouts with the illness.
It was in the end, in the way that Barbara decides to make sense of these longings and experiences outside a religious context, that redeemed the book for me. As someone who has always taken "believing" for granted, I am acutely interested in the details of other people's belief and unbelief. Barbara has remained atheist, but the way she made sense of the experiences other people would have attributed to religion sat well with me, and ultimately included acknowledgement of both the sacred and mystery, with no easy answers but with room for wonder. That works for me, and I'm glad Barbara found something that works for her, too.