I have a weakness. It’s called “the spiritual memoir” – I’m particularly weak when it comes to conversion memoirs. I can’t help it.
If it’s a story, a real-life story, about how someone encountered God, I will read it and LOVE it. Every time.
So this was a tough category for me. There are so many others I wanted to include. I tried to choose books that are first-person memoirs, as opposed to biographies (otherwise, we’d be here all day talking about Martin Luther King Jr. and Tommy Douglas and Nelson Mandela and Dorothy Day and….)
Actually, if anyone want to do a 10 social justice biographies? That would be lovely, thank you.
The Crosswicks Journals by Madeline L’Engle. This is the set of four on the right there, I found these in a thrift store (score!). My favourite is A Circle of Quiet, which inspired this post about the Tired Thirties that seemed to hit a nerve. Madeline L’Engle writes through her life, her art, her marriage, the loss of her mother, and her home. A beautiful experience, it elevated me, body, mind, and soul. These were the books that cemented her as my Patron Saint. (The books are A Circle of Quiet, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother (Crosswicks Journal, Book 2), The Irrational Season (The Crosswicks Journal, Book 3), and Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage (The Crosswicks Journal, Book 4).)
Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott. Almost impossible to choose a favourite Lamott book. But this one just seems to always speak to me. I love her irreverence, her liberal ranting, her self-deprecating honesty, and I love that she is part of my big glory God-family. This is the book that taught me about the two most important prayers: Help and Thank you.
Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life by Lauren F. Winner. I struggled with choosing a Lauren Winner book because they’re all just so damn good. Her most recent one, about the middle places of faith and life, called Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, completely undid me. I wanted to read it, out loud, with a glass of red wine in my hand, it was pure, spare poetry. But this one was her first book, and it occupies a special place in my heart. It tells the story of her conversion.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story by Donald Miller. (Not pictured because I loaned it out.) This book came at the right time for me. I wrote a reflection on it, because it’s so much more than a memoir, it’s an invitation to tell a better story, to live a better story. It changed my writing, my parenting, my marriage, even my faith.
The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris. Another patron saint for me, this book is part devotion, part meditation, all brilliant. I can hardly find words but “read it” will do nicely.
Surprised by Oxford: A Memoir by Carolyn Weber. A fellow Canadian and former agnostic, Carolyn Weber helped me to see that one can come to faith precisely because of Christians, rather than in spite of other Christians. Plus, a spiritual memoir (my one weakness) coupled with Oxford, literature, poetry, and other English-isms (my other one weakness), well, I sort of adopted her as my kindred spirit. (My full review of it is here.)
Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions by Rachel Held Evans (sadly, not pictured above as my sister is currently holding it hostage). Rachel is one of the boldest voices in the church of my generation, particularly in the male-dominated world of theology and ecclesiology. Her blog is a king-maker these days. She writes about coming of age in the apologetics/Moral Majority world of American evangelicalism (so fascinating!), and how she began to wrestle mightily with doubt in her adulthood, finding her “answers” less than satisfying. Rachel is honest, wise, funny, and disarming. I cannot wait for her next book A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master” to release this fall. (I’ve made her be my friend now, poor thing.)
Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles. This story was beautifully written and utterly fascinating, passionate and disarming. A lesbian left-wing journalist, Sara, surprising even herself, receives communion and becomes a Christian. She introduced me to the phrase “you can’t be a Christian by yourself” that has sort of wrecked my plans. I loved this book. More conversion memoirs should include the occasional f-word.
All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir by Brennan Manning. I’ve already mentioned how The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out changed my life for good. But this is the story behind the man that wrote it. I reflected on it here. It’s sad, lonely, brave, authentic, poignant, lovely, and raw. I’ll say this: it’s true. All is grace.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. This one doesn’t strictly fall into the “spiritual” memoir category, I suppose, but I found it a deeply spiritual experience. Annie Dillard can write me down to my knees to pray, just by writing about a year in Virginia, watching the world.
Honourable Mention:Reluctant Pilgrim: A Moody, Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert’s Search for Spiritual Community by Enuma Okoro. Enuma is one of the best narrators I’ve read in a long time. She’s funny, quirky, honest about her own faults, and interesting. Enuma writes about paradox and struggle in a way that makes me exhale.
Your turn: What is your favourite memoir?
We’re talking about 10 Books a Day for a Week. Share your own favourites on your blog, and post your link in the comments, or just let me know what you think or recommend. I love to snoop bookshelves, and this is my excuse – and yours – to talk books.
Sunday: 10 books that changed my faith
Thursday: 10 books I read over and over (and over)
Friday: 10 spiritual memoirs
Saturday: My daily books + 10 books of poetry
Disclosure: Affiliate links used.