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87 of 109 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A crisis in editing rather than faith?, December 23, 2011
This review is from: Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis (Hardcover)
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Lauren Winner is a talented writer and a provocative thinker, but I do not believe that this book is her best work. The subtitle says the book is "Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis," and the author describes it as "an autobiographically inflected rumination on a focused spiritual theme -the theme of desolation and consolation," and acknowledges that it is "not really a narrative . . . the chapters are reflections." This is generally accurate, but to use the term "chapter" to describe many of these observations is a bit of overstatement: many are only a page or two in length, some only a few sentences. The author admits that "structuring this book was hard," and it shows - the book has the feel of a collection of blog or journal entries that have been bound between two covers in roughly chronological sequence. "Mid-Faith" is also a bit of a stretch, given that the author is in her thirties and is a relatively recent convert to Christianity from Orthodox Judaism (although Wikipedia tells us that she was recently ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church, notwithstanding her "mid-faith crisis").

I found the content of the book to be sometimes interesting, but usually when the author was quoting another thinker or writer. The author acknowledges at one point that her complaining "sounds tinny and childish," and that same tone is present in many of the chapters of the book. She mocks another post-divorce memoir (snarkily calling it "Masticate, Meditate, and Masturbate"), yet her style constantly - relentlessly - evokes that other work with its references to the type of food being eaten, the wine being drunk, the color of the dress she was wearing, the music that is playing, the piece of artwork being contemplated during the discussion with "my friend [fill in the blank - e.g., Ruth, Samuel, Molly, Hannah, Sarah, Phyllis - the list of names invoked by the author seems endless]" and yet none of these descriptions really seem to have anything to do with the substance of what it is the author is relating. The author's writing style was a distraction to my understanding of her content and it adversely affected my ability to benefit more fully from reading the book; all the effort spent to create a mood in the writing could have been profitably spent editing the book into a more coherent whole.

If what I have described still sounds irresistible to you, I encourage you to first read some of the other authors who have walked this trail before Winner and may have more profound insights on the topic. I especially recommend Darkness Is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness by Kathryn Greene-McCreight or Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life by Kathleen Norris. McCreight tells the story of her struggle with mental illness in the context of her faith, while Norris shares the spiritual aftermath of her husband's death after a marriage of over 30 years. Another alternative story of one soul's dark nights can be found in Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. These books offer substantial meditations on the crisis of faith and adversity, and also provide helpful perspective to Winner's predicaments.

Update 11/19/12: I am always trying to improve my reviews, so if you're tempted to vote that my review is not "helpful," please take a few moments and leave a comment as to your reasons so I can do better next time. Thanks!
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Tracked by 4 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 22, 2012 1:32:13 PM PST
Tracy says:
Interestingly, your review was one of the few I saw that made any reference to mental health (in your recommendations). I found the frequent descriptions of OCD behavior, panic attacks and depression very worrisome, since she did not seem to recognize these factors as primary to her crisis. Christians, apparently even hip evangelicals, are often blind to the psychological burdens we carry.

Posted on Apr 8, 2012 7:33:42 AM PDT
[Deleted by the author on Apr 9, 2012 6:47:22 AM PDT]

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 9, 2012 6:00:30 AM PDT
Tracy says:
I read "Darkness Is My Only Companion" on your recommendation. Greene-McCreight took more time in the writing, so the reader got a bigger picture than we do with Winner's style that emphasised the immediacy of ther distress. It is interesting that both of these books were written by Episcopalians (both priests now). I think the more evangelical denominations are profoundly uncomfortable with discussing mental illness--unless it is a "success story" or self help book.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 9, 2012 3:44:08 PM PDT
Bill Barto says:
Thank you for your comment, Tracy! I am glad that the Greene-McCreight book was apparently worth your time; I enjoyed it (as much as one could!) a great deal. I also think you are right about evangelical restraint in these matters; disclosure in that community can provoke questions about the "hidden sin" in your life causing the problem, which is not always helpful.

Posted on May 10, 2012 7:32:19 PM PDT
As you say, I dislike the technique, here on Amazon, of clicking "unhelpful" when one simply disagrees with a review. That seems very unsporting - wiping out everybody who shares a different opinion, so I'll try not to do that.
However, I disagree with your review in the sense that the writing in this book, while meandering, feels no less fascinating than I have seen in other spiritual memoirs - and I have read many. I'm guessing (from your name) that you are male and that MAY be one explanation as to why the writing style and social references seemed like a distraction rather than an aid to understanding. I'm also going to guess that you're Christian - I'm not, and perhaps that factor also makes this book more relatable to me.
Although there are mental health references in the book, I don't think they are central or dangerous. We all, at times, exhibit behaviours that are "on the spectrum" of one disorder or another. For instance, many people check and recheck when they're anxious, and I use the word solely in the conventional, not pathological, sense. When life is in free-fall, some degree of insecurity is understandable - it is a sane response to a tough situation.
I actually liked the fact that Winner calls attention to how minor her complaints sound in contrast with the big troubles of the world - it's the sort of thing I might say myself, and it helps render likeable prose which could otherwise seem somewhat navel-gazing.
What I appreciated, in particular, about Winner's book is that she doesn't present any hard and fast answers, and the absolute certainty that perhaps many Christian readers are seeking and hoping for is not entirely present. To me, that feels very real.
It may be troublesome from an evangelical perspective, but in the real world, faith is not always a strong, confident straight line. For that reason and many others, I enjoyed the shaky lines and connections that Winner skilfully (if meanderingly) draws between these loosely-connected not-a-memoir episodes and musings in her own life.
I appreciate the fact that you have helpfully recommended other books in this genre, so I DO consider this a helpful review although I don't agree with it. I will check the Yes button accordingly, and hope others will give you the same respect!

In reply to an earlier post on May 13, 2012 5:25:21 AM PDT
Bill Barto says:
Thank you for your thoughtful post, Jennifer! And I acknowledge much of what you write as completely valid - I like Winner's writing, but I think that this book would have been more accessible to a broader range of readers with perhaps a bit more effort at reaching the "other." I did not mean to suggest that mental health issues were central to the book (I think that was a commenter), but I did find another book (with mental health issues in the fore) to present a more successful meditation on the experience of destabilization and unrest. Bill

Posted on May 23, 2012 2:17:44 PM PDT
[Deleted by the author on May 23, 2012 2:18:01 PM PDT]

Posted on Jun 9, 2012 8:22:31 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jun 9, 2012 8:27:49 AM PDT
D. M. Dunn says:
You asked for it so here it is - I did not agree with your review for three reasons:

1. You wrote, "'Mid-Faith' is also a bit of a stretch, given that the author is in her thirties and is a relatively recent convert to Christianity from Orthodox Judaism..." The mid-faith Winner described is not a point of faith that comes after a certain age or after a certain number of years as a Christian. It is a point in spiritual maturity that can happen to someone in their 20's as well as someone in their later years. To me, what Winner described was a period when what she thought she knew of God was challenged by her experiences and she was contending with who God really is and what she was going to chose to believe about him.

2. You found the author's writing style a distraction. I love her writing style and find it artistically beautiful. A simple difference of preference, hopefully all reflecting God's creativity.

3. Greene-McCreight's book is a fabulous recommendation for someone struggling with depression or for someone who wants to understand depression better, but I read her book for a completely different reason than I read Winner's book. I have struggled through a mid-faith crisis but not through depression, so I read Winner's book empathizing with her experiences; whereas, I was only able to read Greene-McCreight's book with sympathy, having never suffered depression.

On the upside, I love Kathleen Norris' writing and appreciate the recommendation. I'll order that one next!

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 9, 2012 11:32:41 AM PDT
Bill Barto says:
Thank you, D.M. Dunn, for sharing your thoughts. I hope you won't mind if I reply!

1. I agree that a "mid-faith" crisis can occur to a young(er) person, but I think that it is not a term that one can give the crisis. It may be a "beginning of faith" crisis, or an "end of faith" crisis. What I object to is what might be called the presumption by the author that she's over that beginning stuff and in the middle of things.

2. I enjoyed her other writings, too, just not this one. It was too blog-like for a book, and too book-like for a blog.

3. I think that you will enjoy Norris' effort!

Thanks again for interacting with me. My reason for asking for comment is that the Amazon system encourages people to vote a review as "unhelpful" just because they disagree with it. I vote reviews as being "helpful" even though I disagree with the author and/or reviewer all the time, and am just trying to work around the Amazon system to make sure I am still offering helpful commentary.

Bill

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 1, 2012 11:20:08 PM PDT
I sometimes find the most helpful reviews to be the ones that are negative or critical. When I read a review, whether positive, negative, or both, I try to compare what they like/dislike with my personal tastes in reading; I may find that it's something they hate that I will love, or vice versa. So thank you for what you said. I agree with you on the presumption of using "mid-faith crisis" when she doesn't know (maybe when you're 80 and know where your life has gone a bit more?).

(I would recommend Cloister Walk over Acedia because I found it more readable, but Kathleen Norris' works are good; I just found the subject of acedia to become, well, draining after awhile.)
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