Book Critique: Lauren Winner “Still”

I started reading “Still” before “Girl Meets God” put it down about half way through, started reading her memoir and then went back to “Still”. I do that sometimes. For whatever reason I sometimes have a hard time focusing, digesting, etc., and in order to really understand it I need to step away. When I come back to the book it’s like an epiphany I understand it much clearer. At first I didn’t really pay attention to who the authors were. In fact, until I started writing this critique I did not realize that the book was written by the same woman. I remember thinking as I was reading “Girl Meets God” that it seemed similar to one of the other books I had read, I also remember thinking that was odd. Now that I know they are written by the same person, it makes sense. What is interesting to me is that I found her memoir easier to read than “Still”. However, it maintained the matter-of-fact tone, but I found it less engaging.

This book is telling of real life and what happens to someone who is no longer bound and held together by the laws and rules of a strict faith and religiosity. It is something I struggle to understand. I think the reason for it is because I never converted from one belief structure to another. I have never had a crisis of faith, never questioned God in terms of whether he is who he says he is. Many people I know have walked away from their faith because God did not do what they thought he ought. My perspective is something that Lauren mentions in a brief chapter. She tells a short story about a friend whose wife feels the presence of God naturally. But for himself, the bit of comfort he offers Lauren is that one of God’s gifts is the training of discipline.

The events of her life give her poignant self-reflection and an amazingly insightful perspective. As a writer I can only hope to use my life events, reflect upon them with an unemotional attempt to glean a life lesson and share it with my readers; one that educates and warns, one that encourages and gives hope. To take a tragedy, a failure, or any kind of negative result and think about it clearly is a difficult task. To share those events and thoughts is one that takes courage and strength to be vulnerable and open to hurt again.

Writers are a unique group – one that every time they publish accepts that, while they hope for praise, recognize that criticism is a more likely scenario. Even worse is to experience fame and fortune as a result of vulnerability placed on paper (or the web) and then when that vulnerability no longer pleases the palate of the public’s approval it is cast to dark nether shelves of book stores left for some book-worm to find by happenstance.

There is truth in Lauren’s words; a truth that has nothing to do with being spiritual but is tied to it nonetheless. Truth that the need to be near people who will be nice to you and finding them at church; even if it isn’t genuine, no one acts poorly at church. Lauren addresses the issue of boredom with the church. Many people use this or something similar as an excuse to why the church or Christianity no longer works for them. Lauren’s friend helps her find perspective – quit being so concerned about yourself and how the church makes you feel, but think about what you can do for the church and others. Whoa. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Perspective – I have a new one. I understand that as a writer I must be careful of the words I choose. Though I might mean one thing, someone reading them may have a different understanding of the words. It is important to write clearly, and if there is any question as to meaning or that they could be construed into something they are not- define it.

Lauren Winner’s books are enlightening, though not entirely engaging, and only because of her matter-of-fact tone. While I found “Girl Meets God” more interesting, “Still” was more about real life. Either way I learned a lot about my own beliefs, the way others view God, how their up-bringing may affect that perspective, and one way to be a more-clear writer.

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