Tag Archives: memoir

L lives in your neighbourhood

L is just around the corner, the nice bit of the neighbourhood, the place you like to hang out.

Loldis for Local, local authors whose last names begin with L.

L is for Leddy, Mary Jo Leddy, an author who wrote about the neighbourhood where I lived for five years in Radical Gratitude. Mary Jo Leddy also teaches at the Toronto School of Theology, a place where I’ve been known to give a course or two.

L is also for Landsberg, Michele Landsberg, best known locally as a journalist and feminist. I really enjoyed her book Reading for the Love of It, and at first did not associate the author of that book with the newspaper columnist. Then I realized they were the same person! Landsberg has written other books that I think would be interesting to read, particularly the memoir of the time her husband was the Canadian ambassador to the US. (Landsberg’s husband is Stephen Lewis. One of their sons is Avi Lewis, who is married to Naomi Klein. Imagine family dinners at their house.)

Finally, a little further afield, L is for Little, Jean Little, an author who lives in Guelph, which is sort of near Toronto. Little writes mostly children’s books. I quite enjoyed her autobiography, Little by Little. I read more of Little when I was young, before I started obsessively writing down books read. In keeping with the theme of local non-fiction, though, I do recommend Little by Little. You should check it out.

 

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St. Jack?

Friday was All Saints’ Day. Many churches who follow the liturgical calendar celebrated All the Saints in the service today. I bet there were lots of people singing this hymn. All the Saints includes all Christians, not just those who are especially named as saints by particular churches. With that in mind, I’d suggest that November 2013 is a celebration of one particular saint — St. Jack, the author C.S. Lewis.

Lewis died 50 years ago, on November 22, 1963. On November 22, 2013, a memorial to Lewis will be dedicated in Westminster Abbey. Lots of people are taking notice of this Lewis jubilee year. Lewis’s parish church in Oxford held a celebration of his life in September. New books on the life and works of Lewis have been published in the last year. It seems an appropriate time to reflect on the influence of Lewis on me. Lewis has influenced a lot of people in a variety of ways, and lots of them have mentioned this in interviews and memoirs. But I’ve never written much about Lewis’s influence on me. So I’ll go there this month. Watch for it.

Top five Lewis books based on their influence on my academic thinking:

1. An Experiment in Criticism

2. Surprised by Joy

3. The Great Divorce

4. Of This and Other Worlds

5. Studies in Words.

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M is for Monday. And Memoir.

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter

M is for Memoir.

A memoir is a narrative composed from personal experience. Often memoirs are confused with autobiographies, but memoirs do not tell a person’s whole life story, but recount a specific part of their experience. My blog post yesterday is an example of a short memoir, a narrative based on personal experience. I’ve  been collecting conversion memoirs lately, stories people have published about their conversion to Christian faith.

The first conversion memoir I remember reading was Born Again by Charles Colson. I usually don’t tell people that one of the reasons I decided to study theology was reading Colson. I’m not an American, but if I was, I wouldn’t be a republican. Colson is, of course, a notorious republican. I remember Born Again appearing on my father’s shelves shortly after it was published. My 10-year-old self was disconcerted by this. I recall wondering what political benefit would come from Colson’s book. I didn’t say those things out loud. I remember being suspicious of the whole thing, though, certain that this conversion could not be real. I didn’t actually read the book until about 15 years later. By then Colson had also written many other books, one of which, Loving God, got me further along the studying theology path.

Other conversion memoirs that I’ve read include: Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life by C.S. Lewis, Girl Meets God, by Lauren F. Winner, Take this Bread, by Sara Miles, and Surprised by Oxford by Caroline Webber. Lewis, Winner, and Miles I unreservedly recommend. Webber I wanted to like, but found her narrative under-edited and over-written. Some people I know absolutely love it, though, so you might as well.

Colson wrote another memoir about living the Christian life called Life Sentence. I’ve found that many people who write conversion narratives often write this sort of follow-up memoir. Some new follow-up memoirs (by Lauren F. Winner and Sara Miles) have very recently appeared. I’m looking forward to reading them.

Why read Conversion Memoirs or Christian Life Memoirs at all? Why should someone else’s reflection on their own life, their navel-gazing, have any interest to me? I’ve been reading a collection of essays called Why Narrative? on theology and stories. In one of these essays, Nicolas Lash argues that the paradigmatic form of Jewish and Christian religious discourse is autobiography. Testimony, our own testimony of God’s work in our lives, is the paradigmatic form of Jewish and Christian religious discourse, beginning with the confession that “My father was a wandering Aramean” (Deuteronomy 26:5). As we listen to the testimony of other people, we learn to live our own story. This is what makes these memoirs important for me to read. From them I’m learning to better live my own story.

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For All Saints Day

Happy All Saints Day. I was raised in a tradition that didn’t value the festivals of the church year. While studying at an Anglican Seminary, I learned to appreciate the cycles of the church year. Part of my learning came from reading a memoir structured around the church year, Girl Meets God, by Lauren F. Winner.

I first encountered an part of Winner’s memoir as an article. I didn’t remember who wrote the article, but I remembered what it was about. It was about giving up books for Lent. The author described how she was challenged by her priest to give up reading for Lent. I thought Hah, I could never do that. She thought a similar thing, and I was encouraged by her attempt. I didn’t give up all reading for Lent as Winner did. I only gave up reading fiction for Lent. To make up for the lack of fiction, I dove into my non-fiction books with a vengeance. I got A LOT of non-fiction reading done. I read biographies that had been sitting on my shelf for ages, essays, collections of letters, books for a course I was taking, some spirituality books, and a book on reading. I read 15 books during the 40 days of Lent. But I missed fiction. I longed for Easter to come. I had the fast-breaking book (Little Women) all lined up. I think that is part of the point of fasting during Lent – we long for Easter, we desire the hope of the resurrection. But there is another point to fasting that I totally missed that year. Part of the point of giving something up is to remind us to pray. Missed that one. Back to Winner and Girl Meets God – even before I read the book, Winner influenced me through her article. It changed the way I did Lent in 2001.

I read Girl Meets God in 2005. It begins with Sukkot (The Feast of Tabernacles) and continues from Advent to Advent, following the Christian year. When I got to Lent I had a sudden shock of recognition! I’d encountered Winner before, and she’d already changed the way I thought about Lent. I gained a new appreciation for my challenge to stop reading that Lent. I also gained a new appreciation for other parts of the church calendar from reading and re-reading Winner. We need to be reminded regularly of the different ways God works. All Saints celebrates the lives of all Christians through the centuries. There’s a great hymn to go with the day – there are about 50 verses it seems, but here is one version with some of the verses I particularly like.

 

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