Thursday, August 09, 2012

A Book Religiously Reviewed

There are few times that I have reviewed a book here, ahem...other than my own. Generally, when so inspired, I will put a note in Goodreads. I log in via Facebook, so that my Facebook friends can find my Goodreads suggestions. We can explore each others habits. So far no one I know has admitted to reading Fifty Shades of Gray, but then again no one has listed S&M in 69 Flavors of Leather either.

This book is called Flunking Sainthood, by Jana Riess. If you read my blog regularly, you already know I have disclaimers to get out of the way before I get to the meat of the post. Here they are.

First I have to admit that this book was on a pile of books that Ron brought back from the US on his last trip. This was only one of two books that I had not ordered and had mailed to his niece for his to cart home. He is much cheaper than international delivery. After creating the pile, I just grab the next book on top as I finish one and need another. From the title, I thought it was a novel; off of the pile it came. By the first page, I knew it was not a novel, it was about religion, but even with these disadvantages, the author has a sense of humor. It would be a fun read.

Riess decides to read religious classics like a new member of the Ecclesiastical Classics Book of the Month club who needs to get their membership obligation over and done with in a year's time. She attempts to follow one religious practice each month associated with her chosen monthly reading. This was a set-up for writing the book; Riess is an author and editor. 

These types of books are like single people reality shows on paper. It has the same flavor as books like A Year Without "Made in China": One Family's True Life Adventure in the Global Economy or How We Lived on What Was Created Within 50 Miles of NYC: One Couple True Life Adventure of Recycling Toilet Paper From Local Cucumbers. All of these books are by authors who already have an editor who they smooze into "Hey what if I do this and write a book about it. Will you publish it?" Riess was honest with the title. It could have been titled "Creating Sainthood: One Woman's Journey to Be Like St. Theresa and Joan of Arc". 

Just about each month, Riess flunked out on her chosen monthly task. She changed the rules for fasting and praying the hours. Some months she just quit part of the month through. However, she has shared her failings in the most humorous way; it is impossible not to laugh out loud.

Now, if I were religious, I would say I have a confession to make. However, I am an atheist, so just let me lay this out. I loved the book. What it brought to my awareness were all of the extremes that people will go to to try to be closer to something that is intangible and no one is able to quantitatively prove exists. What still confounds me is when people honestly believe "When we are in despair about a child getting leukemia, God is right beside us feeling righteously pissed" (page 110). Come on! Riess, you made me stop laughing here and made me righteously pissed that anyone could dare write this sentence.

The sub-chapter "Would I friend Jesus on Facebook" is what I had read immediately after having been invited to lunch at a student's home. We had a lengthy discussion about Facebook and friendship. Was that God telling me something, having me come across this part of the book so soon afterward?. Hell no, but it was fun to read.

I am going to share this book with friends, especially the religious overachievers. I loved it. Another book that I am putting on my reading list is Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don't Give Away More Money by Christian Smith (love the first name), Michael O. Emerson, and Patricia Snell.

Jana Riess, PhD, is the Religion Book Review Editor for Publishers Weekly magazine and is also the author of The Spiritual Traveler: Boston and New England (HiddenSpring) and What Would Buffy Do?: The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide (Jossey-Bass). She holds degrees in religion from Wellesley College and Princeton Theological Seminary, and a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University. She is frequently interviewed by the media on trends in religion and publishing. A convert to the LDS Church, Riess has spoken at Brigham Young University Women’s Conference and other Mormon gatherings, as well as professional conferences. She lives in Kentucky with her husband and daughter.
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