I try not to blog about books unless I have formally finished them, but I have about 10 books going right now, and I want to get something new up here. Blog readers can get testy when you don't post often enough. I live in the perpetual shadow of sweet Steph who has something to say at least every day or two.
I am reading a very funny book on the subject of fundamentalism: The Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs. (Mr. Jacobs wrote another funny favorite called The Know-It-All: One Man's Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. In this memoir, Jacobs read and commented on the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from A-Z.)
In the year of living biblically, Mr. Jacobs attempts to live his life according to the letter of the Bible for one year. His stories and trips and musings about life as a strict adherent to the Old and New Testament are fascinating and also show quite a side of humility. He is funny but he does his best not to mock the conventions which he studies. He admits he can't agree with them (creationism for example.) but understands why the belief is appealing. AJ Jacobs is a secular Jew and for the first two-thirds of the book explores the Old Testament but gives time in his year to living the New Testament as well.
His attempt at stoning adulterers in Central Park is so funny it is worth the price of the book.
Fundamentalism in any religion fascinates me. I am spellbound by stories of people who are driven by religion in unholy or unhealthy ways. Stories of fundamentalism in all forms fill our airwaves. We hear of jihad and plural marriage and countless tales of abuse and sacrifice in the name of religion.
The title of this memoir intrigued me because I have always felt that the language conservative Christians use when talking about religion is a little creepy. The phrase "Personal relationship with Christ," sort of makes me feel like one wasgoing to date Jesus. I was never interested in a datable God.
The memoir is a mix of Susan Campbell's story of being raised in a fundamentalist church in the Ozarks and her own research and understanding about the role of women in the church. I always enjoy the story parts more than the didactic parts, but the two types of story are deftly intertwined in this memoir.
Two specific parts drew me in. First, Ms Campbell writes beautifully of the effects of Title IX on her formative years. She was an athlete and thanks to Title IX was given more opportunities to play sports that most girls who came before her. The author thanks Title IX for giving her the gift of being comfortable with her body. She loved and excelled in sports and was able to do so for the first time in public school history. I myself was never an athlete, and I came of age at the same time she did and have always been oblivious to the benefits that this historic piece of legislation may have given me. She wrote beautifully about what access to sports and competition did for her. Go girls!
The other part of the memoir that I loved was when she finally got the chance to stand at the pulpit and deliver a sermon as part of a church service. Her whole life she stared at the pulpit and mused over why it was closed to her since she was a female. She wrote powerfully about standing up there as a full grown woman and feeling terror about standing in a place she was not allowed.
The feeling she describes at ascending to the pulput after yeras of being denied is exactly why I love stories about fundamentalism. These ideas pose such restrictions on the way people think and act and live, and when someone finally realizes that those beleifs do not have to be part of who we are, there is magic in that realization. The curtain has lifted.
I know many people who would enjoy this book: so many of us feminists used to be funamentalists. I got it at the public library and have returned it so if you want to check it out, it should be waiting.
When I was a young professional, I read a fabulous book by Gloria Steinem called "Revolution from Within". It was about the importance of taking care of your own demons before taking care of the world's. I generally do not care for self-help books, but for some reason this one struck a note for me, and I sat down and wrote her a letter.
That was in the bad old days when writing a letter meant typing it on a typewriter, using correct-type, folding it in an envelope, addressing it and putting a stamp on it. Further, I did not have an actual address for Ms Steinem so I had to send it in care of her publisher and hope that it did not get lost in the shuffle.
Do you know Ms. Steinem actually wrote me back? A few weeks later I got a type written note thanking me for my kind words and encouraging me in my own personal revolution. I am sure I have the letter somewhere in my boxes. It meant a lot to me that Ms Steinem would take the time to send me a personal note.
It is much easier now to write to living authors we admire. Most new books have an email address on the jacket where you can reach the author. If I enjoy a book, I write the author and let him or her know.
So yesterday, I wrote to Imran Ahmad the author of the book Unimagined that I mentioned in the last blog post. He wrote me right back. He was excited to hear from someone in the States as he has not heard from many of us. He is going to tour the US with his book and is doing so in conjunction with the Unitarian church because the church has many of the same goals (peace, understanding between faiths, international brother and sisterhood) as his Muslim group does. He asked me to write a review and submit it to Amazon which I am glad to do. Last, he wants me to write Oprah and ask her to read his book.