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Notable books

Notable Books | Four readable memoirs reviewed by Susan Olasky

Epilogue: A Memoir

Writer Anne Roiphe struggles to deal with the sudden death of her husband of nearly 40 years. She finds herself having to learn how to do everyday tasks that he had always performed. As she tries to rebuild a life, her daughters place a personal ad for her in the New York Review of Books. She later places an ad on Match.com. The correspondence and awkward "dates" that ensue give her fodder to explore memories of her marriage, her grief, and her chances for new love. Roiphe rejects religion although she acknowledges that belief in something would give her tools for surviving. The book is terrifically sad because Roiphe has no hope that there's life beyond this one-or that a personal God, who cares about suffering, exists.

Child of Divorce/ Child of God

Steakley shares childhood memories in order to flesh out and explore the ways children are hurt by divorce. Her memories strike a balance between ugly reality and compassion-this isn't a blame-throwing volume, but it also won't provide comfort to those wanting justification to divorce. Her chapters weave research on children and divorce with short anecdotes from the lives of others and biblical wisdom meant to comfort those struggling with divorce-related issues, including God's sovereignty and goodness, and their feelings of abandonment and guilt. She also delves into the way the church can be both too hard and too soft on divorce-and how children are made to feel excluded because of their parents' failures.

Thinking About Memoir

Thomas offers helpful advice to the would-be memoirist. Much of the book consists of her own memories, which she uses as springboards to talk about writing and as prompts for writing exercises. She writes in the preface, "This book is also about the habit of writing as a way to keep track of what's going on in the front and the back of your mind. . . . Writing memoir is one way to explore how you became the person you are. It's the story of how you got here from there." The book draws attention to the need for silence: "Something interesting might enter your head if you let it alone. We are bombarded by media. We are overstimulated these days. We talk too much."

Acedia & Me

You don't have to agree with everything Norris writes about theology to find encouragement in her memoir of her struggle with acedia-an ancient term to describe a deep spiritual depression characterized by an absence of caring about anything. As she tells her own story and delves into topics of mental illness, counseling, spiritual disciplines, and prayer, Norris makes distinctions: "While depression is an illness treatable by counseling and medication, acedia is a vice that is best countered by spiritual practice and the discipline of prayer." Her book then shows how at moments of deep sadness and acedia, the Psalms have roused her from her torpor and have given her "the sort of hope that matters, for it can conquer not just acedia and despair, but death itself."

Spotlight

We live at a time when multi-tasking, productivity, and speed are all considered great virtues. In Distracted (Prometheus Books, 2008), science journalist Maggie Jackson examines the way technology has altered family life, concentration, and even the way our brains operate. Jackson doesn't think these changes are benign, as her subtitle-The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age-reveals. She prompts readers to confront important questions: "Do we yearn for such voracious virtual connectivity that others become optional and conversation fades into a lost art?. . . Do we split focus so finely that we thrust ourselves in a culture of lost threads?. . . Can a society without deep focus preserve and learn from its past?"

Mike Bechtle's Confident Conversation (Revell, 2008) divides the world into two kinds of people: those who have trouble talking and those who have trouble listening. He provides practical advice to both extroverts and introverts to develop communication skills that accept and grow out of their unique personalities.

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