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Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 16, 2008

4.1 out of 5 stars 105 customer reviews

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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this penetrating theological memoir, Norris (The Cloister Walk) details her relationship with acedia, a slothful, soul-weary indifference long recognized by monastics. Norris is careful to distinguish acedia from its cousin, depression, noting that acedia is a failure of the will and can be dispelled by embracing faith and life, whereas depression is not a choice and often requires medical treatment. This is tricky ground, but Norris treads gingerly, reserving her acerbic crankiness for a section where she convincingly argues that despite Americans' apparently unslothful lives, acedia is the undiagnosed neurasthenia of our busy age. Much of the book is taken up with Norris's account of her complicated but successful marriage, which ended with her husband's death in 2003. The energy poured into this marriage, Norris argues, was as much a defiant strike against acedia as her spiritual discipline of praying the Psalms. Filled with gorgeous prose, generous quotations from Christian thinkers across the centuries and fascinating etymological detours, this discomfiting book provides not just spiritual hope but a much-needed kick in the rear. (Sept. 16) ""
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*Starred Review* The lacuna in Norris’ published life, following the phenomenal impact of The Cloister Walk (1996) and Amazing Grace (1998), was due, she now reveals, to the death of her husband, and to acedia, a profound form of apathy. Akin to depression, acedia, or the “noonday demon,” was counted among the original “eight bad thoughts,” but the term fell out of use. Norris believes it’s time to reclaim it. Delving, as she loves to do, into early Christian texts, and illuminating the wisdom of the monastic tradition, Norris, a superb storyteller, careful synthesizer, and brilliant interpreter, presents the “peculiar history” of acedia and chronicles her own battles with this particular “soul-sickness.” Her personal stories are truly moving and instructive, but the most arresting and resonant aspect of this engrossing extrapolation is Norris’ theory of social acedia as the explanation of our inaction in the face of so much violence and injustice. We abhor bloodshed, prejudice, and greed yet feel powerless to stop them. Norris’ fascinating inquiry casts our predicament in a new light and maps a course out of this “enervating despair.” Reading this strongly argued, paradigm-altering work may be the first strike against the demon it portrays. --Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; Second Printing edition (September 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594489963
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,154,976 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By K. M. VINE VOICE on September 14, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In Chapter XV of ACEDIA & ME, Kathleen Norris assembles quotations from august personages in a "Commonplace Book" on the subject. The "temptation to acedia" quote is plucked from the trappist Michael Casey's book, FULLY HUMAN, FULLY DIVINE: AN INTERACTIVE CHRISTOLOGY. That excerpt begins just as sternly, "The vice of noninvolvement is said to be endemic in the Western world. The acediac is a person without commitment, who lives in a world characterized by mobility, passive entertainment, self-indulgence, and the effective denial of the validity of any external claim." That is quite an indictment and one that ought to be both conceded and argued: we are all susceptible to feeling, as Charles Baudelaire did, "weary...of this need to live twenty-four hours every day" but we also, in the course of living, experience productive and highly optimistic times. Nearly everyone's life is a mixture of ups and downs.

Norris herself wrote the bestsellers THE CLOISTER WALK, and AMAZING GRACE. She also remained married to the same man, David J. Dwyer, until his death in 2003. So, Casey's definition of an acediac as someone who would leave creativity to others and who is without commitment seems too stringent to apply to her. Yet, Norris has written ACEDIA & ME because she recognizes in herself a stubborn tendency to sink into lethargy, boredom, detachment, apathy, and other facets of acedia. In a sense, this book is a form of therapy for her as she considers the subject from many perspectives. She consults the works of desert monks Anthony the Great and Evagrius. She compares and contrasts acedia and clinical depression and analyzes the psychological and psychiatric approaches to these related but not selfsame states of being.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a thoughtful memoir, full of incisive literary quotes from the author's wide reading. You may not be acquainted with the term acedia, but surely you are familiar with its many symptoms, offshoots, and corollaries: among them, lethargy, apathy, paralysis, depression, and alienation.

The author tells the story of her marriage, of her husband's illness and death. Each chapter is a meditation, an essay on the author's search for clarity and meaning.

Kathleen Norris is also the author of AMAZING GRACE: A VOCABULARY OF FAITH. She is at her best when defining concepts, especially religious concepts. In ACEDIA & ME: A MARRIAGE, MONKS, AND A WRITER'S LIFE, she concentrates on the concept of acedia and you will be supprised to learn how common it is. She looks at acedia as experienced, then as observed.

Of course the author discusses Andrew Solomon's excellent study, THE NOONDAY DEMON, but she says that it is common to experience acedia without being clinically depressed. There are degrees of it, she says, respectable acedia and industrial acedia.

The last section of the book is devoted to quotes touching on acedia from the wealth of our literature, Thomas Merton, Saul Bellow, Joan Didion, Ian Fleming, Walker Percy, and many, many others. I read every one of them and looked up from the book struck anew by the significance of the the author's theme.

Those interested in reading more about intellectual acedia might want to start with Colin Wilson's THE OUTSIDER; those looking to read more on spiritual acedia might enjoy David Loy's take on it in LACK AND TRANSCENDENCE: THE PROBLEM OF DEATH AND LIFE IN PSYCHOTHERAPY, EXISTENTIALISM, AND BUDDHISM.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I found this to be less satisfying than most of Kathleen Norris' work; it seemed to me to be a series of meditations on acedia without an overarching structure. Without the structure, it often becomes repetitive in a way that allows the reader to lose their way (the context/logic of the text).

On the other hand, this is a useful reflection on how acedia manifests in our culture - ennui as an artistic stance, consumerism, frantic schedules ... Particularly interesting is her discussion (a topic frequently returned to) of the roles of the wisdom of the desert fathers and mothers and of psychiatry/psychoanalysis. Here Norris does an excellent job of bringing their wisdom to bear on our contemporary human condition - reminding me of To Love As God Loves: Conversations With the Early Church.

Also interesting and useful are the biographic elements brought into the discussion - illness as a small child, her husband's suicide attempt, her sister's cancer, her own widowhood ... Through these events one sees how she balances wholeness as supported by her religious community with wholeness as supported by the medical community.

Closing the book is a commonplace book on acedia with quotes from a diverse group of people - Seneca, Evagrius (referred to frequently in the book), John Climacus, David of Augsburg, Dante, Chaucer, Pascal, Wordsworth ...
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Norris says in the introduction to this book that she's been working on it for a long, long time, gathering materials, reading, and writing. I suspect that what she was waiting for - consciously or intuitively - was an organizing structure. She never found it.

"Acedia & Me" is full of lots of wisdom and reflection on the spiritual problem of depression/apathy/boredom/distraction, as well as a smattering of wonderful quotes and stories from church literature that has been largely forgotten by the church, and stories about her husband's illnesses, and her own battles with depression (etc.) and quotes from modern authors about society's ills, and... anything else that managed to fall into her file marked "Acedia" over the years.

The problem is that it's barely organized at all. And at 327 pages, it's an awful lot of unorganized notes and thoughts. Some things repeat almost verbatim; often variations on the same theme are twenty pages apart. It gets kind of hard to keep plugging through after the first hundred pages or so; while new stuff does turn up now and then, maintaining a sense of progression through the book is almost impossible.

There is an awful lot of great stuff here. Norris has diagnosed a problem in society and written some excellent words of insight and reflection about it.

Too bad she never found that organizing structure.
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