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Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor Paperback – November 1, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Paraclete Press (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1557256608
  • ISBN-13: 978-1557256607
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #189,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

It's clear from the start of this sparkling and very funny memoir that Riess means well. But as she readily admits, she's a spiritual failure. She intended to devote an entire year ("a year-long experiment") to mastering 12 different spiritual challenges, including praying at fixed times during the day, exhibiting gratitude, observing the Sabbath, practicing hospitality according to the rules set by St. Benedict, abstaining from eating meat, and amply demonstrating her generosity. But nothing turned out as planned. Rather than being moved by Therese of Lisieux's The Story of a Soul, she instead dismisses the saint as a "drama queen." And Reiss is unregenerately practical. The best month to fast, she reasons, is February, at the height of winter; conveniently, it's also the shortest month of the year. Furthermore, at best, she's a "lukewarm vegetarian." Although her spiritual quest falls far short, she can still proffer spiritual lessons. Anyone who has failed to live up to expectations, which means most everyone, will love this book.

Booklist, September 15, 2011



STARRED REVIEW - Publishers Weekly - Punchy humor and unpretentious inquisitiveness combine in this absorbing memoir in which former PW editor Riess (What Would Buffy Do?) commits to both adopting and studying a new religious practice each month for a year, while simultaneously reflecting on her spiritual progress. Choosing such diverse disciplines as fasting “like a Muslim during Ramadan,” exploring lectio divina, observing an Orthodox Jewish Sabbath, practicing Benedictine hospitality, and engaging in the Liturgy of the Hours, the author shares frustrations and insights in a manner likely to amuse and comfort readers, especially those who have attempted such exercises and also found them challenging. For example, Riess’s description of her internal dialogue during Centering Prayer, concludes, “ ‘Shut the hell up!’ yells Spiritual Mind,” while her experience of practicing mindfulness, with annoying help from the never sainted Brother Lawrence, leads to a sympathetic observation that he’s “an underappreciated housewife.” Supporting quotes from saints and writers (St. John Chrysostom, Dorothy Day, Thornton Wilder) pepper the text. The author’s declared “failures” make her a sympathetic witness, while such “successes” as her description of how “[g]ratitude practically tackles me,” prove genuinely moving. A witty, inspiring read.(Nov.)

About the Author

Jana Riess is the author or editor of nine books, including What Would Buffy Do? Although she is a spiritual failure and was never able to climb the rope in gym class, she has a doctorate from Columbia University and teaches religion at Miami University. She blogs at http://blog.beliefnet.com/flunkingsainthood/.


More About the Author

Jana Riess is the author or editor of many books, the most recent being "The Twible," which has all the chapters in the Bible in 140 characters or less . . . now with 68% more humor! Her 2011 book "Flunking Sainthood" was selected as one of the top ten religion books of the year by "Publishers Weekly."

Although she is a spiritual failure and was never able to climb the rope in gym class, she has a doctorate from Columbia University and works as an editor in the publishing industry. So she's not a total loser. She blogs for the Religion News Service at http://www.religionnews.com/blogs/jana-riess.

Customer Reviews

Being trite is not always bad.
Amazon Customer
I found this book thought-provoking, but written with a very definite sense of humor.
valmur
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Jana's latest book.
Megan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Barney on October 3, 2011
Format: Paperback
I first learned about this project from a Facebook update Jana had written, in which she alluded to a Muslim-style fast she was undertaking for a new book project. I was a little bit confused, because it was February, and Ramadan did not fall in February that year. She explained to me that she picked February to make the challenge of the fasting easier, since it is a short month with short days. (This is clearer in the book, where the inspiration for fasting was clearly the Christian Desert Mothers and Fathers, and she follows Muslim practices just because the practices of the Desert Saints were so very extreme.)

The original plan was for Jana to spend a year reading great spiritual classics, but overachiever that she is, Jana decided not only to read spiritual classics, but to actually try her hand at the spiritual disciplines they encouraged. So she spent one month coming up with the plan and the next 11 months trying to live the disciplines. Here is the timetable of her year immersed in these practices (from the Table of Contents):

Januwary: choosing practices
February: fasting in the desert
March: meeting Jesus in the kitchen...or not
April: lectio divination
May: nixing shoppertainment
June: centering prayer, er, The Jesus Prayer, Look! a squirrel!
July: unorthodox sabbath
August: thanksgiving every day
September: benedictine hospitality
October: what would Jesus eat?
November: seven five three times a day will I praise you [imagine the seven and five are struck through]
December: generosity

The original idea was for her to write about her experience accomplishing these various spiritual disciplines. But there was a problem: On some level, she failed at all of them.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Schroder on October 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
It's not often that a book makes me both laugh and cry, but the early chapters of this were so funny, and the ending so heartfelt, that "Flunking Sainthood" tickled my funny bone AND tugged at my heartstrings. The author takes on (and fails) lots of different spiritual practices including an Orthodox Jewish Sabbath, a Ramadan fast, Benedictine hospitality, and a generosity project to raise money for charity.

Riess wants to push her limits but also not go too far, so she says she won't be plucking her eyes out for God (a la St. Lucia), living on top of a pole for 37 years (St. Simeon the Stylite) or parading naked in the town square (St. Francis).

I liked Riess' honesty and humor, and the quotations about spiritual growth in every chapter (from Billy Joel's "I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints" to thoughts from Dorothy Day and the Desert Fathers). This is a good book for people who are interested in spirituality but also want to keep it real and not be all holier-than-thou.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Love2Read on October 4, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I can't pick my favorite chapter. Reading about fasting, keeping the Sabbath, gratitude and other weighty matters, I don't know how Jana Riess makes it funny, but she just does! It doesn't matter if you're a Christian, a Jew, a Sikh, a Buddhist or whatever, this book will entertain you AND teach you a few lessons about yourself. This will make a great gift for your friends and family who have everything. Enjoy it and buy a copy for a friend while you're at it!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Scott on October 20, 2011
Format: Paperback
Memoir is a tricky genre. For me, it too often comes off as a contrived effort at saying something universal--something "deeply profound" and "moving"--all while quarantined within the tiny confines of hall-of-mirrors. I know this isn't always the case, but it often seems that way in a post-Eat, Pray, Love world.

So, up until a few days ago, I was unsure how I was going to take Jana Riess's Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking theSabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor (Paraclete Press, 2011). On the one hand, I have a lot of respect for Riess's scholarly work, which I first encountered while researching an essay on Mormonism and Twilight.[4] Also, Riess is from Cincinnati, my hometown, which doesn't hurt her Low-Tech cred.

(NOTE TO CINCINNATIANS: Skyline Chili reference on page 136)

But smart scholarship and the hometown advantage do not a winning memoir make. For me, a really good memoir needs to be a balance of readability, personality, and authenticity. If it's severely lacking in any of these areas, I make like the Joad family and move on.

Flunking Sainthood, by the way, is a chronicle of Riess's attempt at spending a year tackling obscure spiritual practices from a variety of religious traditions. Like other memoirs of this ilk, most notably A. J. Jacobs's hilarious The Year of Living Biblically, Riess devotes each month to a specific practice, often to the dismay of her family and friends. None of these practices, of course, are as zany as any Jacobs attempts--Riess never tries stoning anyone in Eden Park, for example--but they have their charm. She fasts, avoids shopping, tries lectio divina and Centering Prayer, talks to Jesus while cooking, keeps an extreme Sabbath Day holy, etc.
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Format: Paperback
A surprisingly good and rewarding read, and one quite needed in the field of spiritual disciplines. Almost all books on observing those disciplines are, well, so focused on "discipline" that they tend to be rather grim and foreboding to read. The results for me have most often been putting it down after a chapter or two combined with decided disincentive to observe the discipline(s). It is a blessing to have a book that achieves quite the opposite. It is filled with good humor and quality writing. It has the added bonus of containing a knowledgeable discussion of the particular disciplines discussed along with insight into the actual experiences and flawed results of one who has attempted to follow them. In the end, moreover, the book succeeds where other more serious and "successful" authors fail: Reiss reveals the blessings in the attempt. She ends with a surprise twist in her life that gave her further insight into the year and into her surprising growth over the year. The result for me, at least, is a renewed interest in hanging with some of these practices because it turns out that the blessing is in doing them and not in "succeeding" at them.
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