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House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer's Journey Home Paperback – February 14, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this fascinating memoir, novelist Richard (Fishboy) details a life that led him from a lurid South to the gray streets of New York City. Born with deformities that left him nearly crippled, Richard suffered medical procedures that would have done a medieval torturer proud. Richard's status as a "special child" (it was also believed he was mentally handicapped) meant that he was further marginalized. As an outsider, Richard meets bizarre characters and finds himself in increasingly bizarre situations. As he dives into a world of crime and bad behavior, Richard hones his talent as a writer, with increasing success. Richard's flattened narrative tone suits the extreme nature of his material. He successfully weaves into his memoir recurring characters like his father, who slowly come into focus. As Richard gets older, however, characters and events blur in a mess of love affairs and crimes, shipwrecks and drug deals, and celebrities. Throughout, there's a grace to even his darkest tales. (Feb.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“Vivid. . . . Affecting. . . . A liberating demonstration of the power of faith.”
The Wall Street Journal

“An absorbing account of growing up in the 1960s South, living with a disability, becoming a writer and finding faith. Richard’s book attests to the power of words (and the Word) in shaping a life. . . . Richard is a fiercely gifted writer. . . . [His] special childhood results in considerable powers of observation, empathy and imagination.”
The New York Times Book Review

“So varied, dramatic, and, at times, incredible that it is bound to leave almost every reader with the feeling that they haven’t lived at all.”
The New Yorker
“Entrancing. . . . A surprising page turner. . . . Richard’s prose is gorgeous—and hits with a force that sometimes stuns. . . . Where other memoirists—evangelical and/or literary—just bluff and brag, he makes art.”
The Christian Science Monitor

“Amazing. . . . You’ll know just after two pages of Richard’s effortlessly killer prose that he’s special all right. . . . Grade: A.”
Entertainment Weekly
“Mark Richard’s memoir, House of Prayer No.2, is the finest book he’s ever written. No one writes like him. His prose style is both hammerblow and shrapnel. He has written the book of his life.”
—Pat Conroy
“A lyrical distillation of observations from Richard’s boyhood in and out of southern charity hospitals to his becoming a writer and father in search of faith.”
Vanity Fair
“Hauntingly beautiful. . . . A quintessentially American story.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A surreal and poetic memoir about faith, self-discovery and forming an artistic inner life.”
The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA)
“A humorous and heartfelt memoir, never tedious and often lyrical.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch
“This book is the extraordinary story of a special child who grew up to be a writer, and who may yet—I’m guessing—become a preacher or a priest. There are similar life stories in the South and elsewhere. But few will be written with Richard’s powerful talent, his genius.”
—Clyde Edgerton, Garden & Gun
“Gritty and engrossing. . . . His is an account, at times exquisite, of a youth laced with pain, surgeries, body casts, beatings, fear, drinking, isolation, rebellion. With flashes of brilliance. With mysticism and the supernatural and strokes of what many would call luck. . . . An interesting, well-crafted narrative girded with compassion and feeling, this is a good read.”
The Virginian-Pilot
“Lovely. . . . Richard captures what is often misunderstood about the Southerner’s intimate parlay with God. Appearances to the contrary, it is not about certainty. . . . A fascinating journey.”
The Oregonian
“Hot damn! And Glory be! Both. This is a wonderful book.”
—Roy Blount, Jr.
“Supremely animated. . . . [Richard’s] spiritual journey, conducted in fits and starts and finally claimed in gorgeous hosannas of prose, forms the book’s narrative DNA.”
“Richard’s story is inspirational not because of conventional redemption or simple answers to his struggle, but because he is so honest about both his doubt and his openness to a wide variety of God’s manifestations.”
—Darcey Steinke, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Affecting. . . . Fans who have been waiting to hear from him ever since [Charity] won’t be disappointed with his new memoir, which sees the welcome return of Richard’s charismatic prose style.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“The precision of the descriptions is marvelous in this memoir of growing up with infirmity. The depth of Richard’s heart is profound, exhilarating, frightening, instructive. House of Prayer
No. 2 is a work of high art.”
—Rick Bass
“Mark Richard says important things about finding one’s way, about love in action, about being a father, and he does so with the precision and grace of an artisan from another time. This is some of the finest writing you will ever read.”
—Amy Hempel
“If Mark Richard could not write, you could not read this. Since he can, you can’t not read it. It is unreal, and Mr. Richard has the wit to make it real.”
—Padgett Powell


Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (February 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 140007777X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400077779
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #258,733 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have to admit that when I bought and read this book, I had no idea it was a memoir*. The writing is undoubtedly quirky; the story almost too incredible to be believed. And yet, this is unquestionably one of the best books I've ever read.

This is the story of the author, Mark Richard, and his life from his challenging childhood as a young boy in the South about whom a doctor says, "he will be in a wheelchair by the time he is thirty". Richard is obviously a precocious child, deemed 'special' in the parlance of the day. It is never clear to Richard or his family whether this is a compliment or an insult. The book follows his unusual path to becoming a writer, husband, and father. Further, as the title indicates, it is a documentation of his spiritual journey; somehow Richard manages this aspect of the tale without becoming overbearing or preachy about it.

I do hate to use a cliché, but I absolutely devoured this book. I was thinking about it when I wasn't actually reading it. It's a unique story, but yet it contains many universal issues about finding your path and your purpose in life--but don't let that fool you. This book is flat-out entertaining.

If I could give more than five stars I would. I give this a huge recommend for all audiences. Don't let the spiritual journey deter you if you are not a particularly spiritual person; this is rip-roaring story that anyone might enjoy. Don't let the earthy anecdotes deter you if you are a particulary spiritual person; Richard is a human being who like anyone else makes some mistakes. Put this at the top of your reading list.

*This often happens to me with Kindle books as there is no cover to look at, and by the time I get to a book I often forget why I ordered it in the first place.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Love is not consolation. Love is light," Simone Weil once wrote. And that, I think, is what the writer learns in the course of House of Prayer No. 2. Perhaps that is why he must speak of his life from the view of the second-person narrator. Light can be deceptive, blinding, and he wants to get this story right.

And perhaps it is also because Richard understands his story as more than the story of his own life, that in its great particularity, he recognizes an unchanging story, perhaps the same one Solomon tells in Ecclesiastes. Whatever the reason for his choice, Richard's second-person is a cantor, a singer of a mysterious and elevated song. When I listened to the opening paragraphs of "House of Prayer No. 2" in my head, both John Milton's "Paradise Lost" and of Walt Whitman's "A Child Went Forth" sprang to mind. It was clear from the outset that Mark Richard was steering no middle course.

Just listen to the incantation: "Say you have a `special child, which in the South means one between Downs and dyslexic. Birth him with his father away on Army maneuvers...Give him his only visitor in the military hospital his father's father, a sometime railroad man, sometime hired gun for Huey Long with a Louisiana Special Police badge. Take the infant to Manhattan, Kansas, in winter, where the only visitor is a Chinese peeping tom, little yellow face in the windows during the cold nights. Further frighten the mother, age twenty, with the child's convulsions. There's something "different" about this child, the doctors say."

The "difference" was both the child's precociousness and his malformed hip joints that prevented his disguising that precociousness in the ways bright children generally disguise it from themselves and others---in games, sports, physical antics.
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Format: Hardcover
I don't even remember how I came across this book, but it must have been serendipity. I absolutely loved the gorgeous and original writing in this memoir by Mark Richard. I now want to go out and read every word he has published. The most unusual part about this book is Richard's use of the second person to tell this coming of age story. It makes you feel as though you are inside his head as he is recounting the tales of his youth to himself.

Born in the South with some physical deformities, he somehow also gets labeled as mentally deformed as well, although this is obviously not the case. He undergoes excruciating treatments that do little to improve the situation and leaves home to make his way in the world--sometimes through back-breaking, hard work, other times through criminal activity--until he finally becomes a writer. You can't help rooting for this guy even at his worst moments, but at no point does he ask the reader to feel sorry for him.

Memoirs are one of my favorite types of books to read and this one does not disappoint. See for yourself.
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Format: Hardcover
A memoir is a funny thing. It is neither fiction nor non. To be sure, our memory is not a perfect thing and some have argued that we are blessed in this way. I, for one, agree.

One way in which memory is not perfect is that it seems to capture only the moments that "pop". That is, the moments that, for one reason or another, stick with us because they deviated from the norm at the time. We are, to a degree, animals cursed with a sense of order. When things get out of order, we are forced to retain the memory of that which could prove to be either dangerous or capable of expanding the order itself. Or… what our ancestors believed could actually be real: God speaks in signs.

"House of Prayer No.2" is a compendium of one man's memory of divine signage and thereby his relationship to God and meaning. It is through this prism that Richard attacks what would normally be anecdotal pivots throughout a singular life. In the way that most memoirs leave us as a cold observer, Mark deftly shortens this division in two ways.

#1: Mark chose to write in the second person. This is a dive which most writing instructors tell you never to take. But it is perfectly used in this instance. Mark Richard takes the reader and places him/her squarely within his shoes, behind his eyes, and within the joints of his malformed hips. It is a smart choice, yes. But it is also a caring one. One of the first things I learned in graduate school (taught to me by the great Anne Bogart) is that you must take care of your audience. I cannot think of a better example.

#2: Mark relates his memories to the Christian lessons he has learned throughout life. In this way, the culmination of the novel (Mark himself) is lending context. But it is not blindly.
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