Worth the whole month.
12 August 2010
While I took my fiction reading vacation over the past month, I couldn't entirely neglect nonfiction (of course). Earlier I alluded to a nonfiction book that took me a month to read; the book in question was Suzanne Strempek Shea's Sundays in America: A Yearlong Road Trip In Search of Christian Faith.
It didn't take me a month to read because I didn't like it, or because it was hard to read. It took a month to read because for once I gave myself the luxury of simply slowly chipping away at a book--I read it three or five pages at a time, and yes, although this may be too much information, I read much of it in the bathroom.
It was perfect for that kind of reading. Shea did exactly what her subtitle promises; she spent a year going to different Christian religious services, and then wrote about each week in short chapters about five to ten pages long. She roamed all over the country to do so, although many of her experiences were based in her native New England. The result is a thoughtful, fascinating book, not only about religion, but also about a personal search for meaning (told from the perspective of someone who is primarily observing others' searches for meaning). As a Catholic who "had experienced a spiritual disconnect," she relates her memory of watching the outpouring of grief over the death of John Paul II, and wishes she could feel such passion about her religion and spirituality again. Hence, her quest to "to on a pilgrimage of sorts, tour a few other houses of worship, finally find out just what goes on in those churches I grew up forbidden to enter, and understand what makes for devotion to a religious community." (p. xi.)
She only chose various Christian denominations (she was particularly interested, as a Catholic, in those "banned" Protestant churches she'd heard more about during her childhood) to visit, and each of the chapters describing her experiences in Baptist, Quaker, Greek Orthodox, Episcopalian, Pentecostal (and many other faiths) is a fascinating window into new worlds. As is my habit, I stuck bookmarks in wherever I really enjoyed something or thought I might want to quote it; rather than trying to put any such quotes in context, I'll simply say that this book collected no fewer than seven bookmarks, which is pretty impressive.* My favorite chapters were the ones where she really felt at home, and I also enjoyed her chapters about several "megachurches" she attended, as she managed to be much less judgmental about Rick Warren and Joel Osteen than I would have been.
I wouldn't have minded a little longer conclusion, discussing a bit more how she felt after her year and what services particularly stayed with her, but that's a small quibble. If this isn't the subject matter for you, I can also recommend her earlier memoir, Shelf Life: Romance, Mystery, Drama, and Other Page-Turning Adventures from a Year in a Bookstore.
*It's always very satisfying to me to finish a book and see it still stuffed with bookmarks. I feel like I really got something accomplished.