Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Nonfiction Files

This is something new I'm going to be starting, probably once a week, mostly as an incentive to myself. You see, I really like books. (Maybe you've noticed?) And while I love fiction, I also really love nonfiction - I just, for some reason, forget to read it. And, because I collect nonfiction with the same startling frequency as fiction, I have a fair amount of it piling up, pining away to be read.

I think a big part of my issue is that I don't really like to review nonfiction - I feel like there is so much I want to cover, and I end up forgetting it all when I sit down to actually write. So, instead of trying to review a book once I'm finished, I thought I could just talk about it, little by little, as I'm reading. That way, I don't have to feel pressured, but I can start making my way through my stacks. Anyway, that's my plan. We'll see how it ends up.

So, the first book I'm reading for The Nonfiction Files is Losing My Religion by William Lobdell. Here's the synopsis from the publisher:

William Lobdell's journey of faith—and doubt—may be the most compelling spiritual memoir of our time. Lobdell became a born-again Christian in his late 20s when personal problems—including a failed marriage—drove him to his knees in prayer. As a newly minted evangelical, Lobdell—a veteran journalist—noticed that religion wasn't covered well in the mainstream media, and he prayed for the Lord to put him on the religion beat at a major newspaper. In 1998, his prayers were answered when the Los Angeles Times asked him to write about faith.

Yet what happened over the next eight years was a roller-coaster of inspiration, confusion, doubt, and soul-searching as his reporting and experiences slowly chipped away at his faith. While reporting on hundreds of stories, he witnessed a disturbing gap between the tenets of various religions and the behaviors of the faithful and their leaders. He investigated religious institutions that acted less ethically than corrupt Wall St. firms. He found few differences between the morals of Christians and atheists. As this evidence piled up, he started to fear that God didn't exist. He explored every doubt, every question—until, finally, his faith collapsed. After the paper agreed to reassign him, he wrote a personal essay in the summer of 2007 that became an international sensation for its honest exploration of doubt.

Losing My Religion is a book about life's deepest questions that speaks to everyone: Lobdell understands the longings and satisfactions of the faithful, as well as the unrelenting power of doubt. How he faced that power, and wrestled with it, is must reading for people of faith and nonbelievers alike.

My thoughts so far:

I've read through chapter three, which encompasses the author's initial conversion story, and his beginnings as a religion reporter for the local edition of the LA Times.

It's an interesting but fairly predictable story so far - the author, in his early 20s, had pretty much screwed up his life, and when a friend suggested he try God, he figured, Why Not? It can't hurt, right? He checks out a local mega-church, and finds the experience completely different than his childhood hours spent in a traditional service. He's completely desperate for some sort of help, and God enters his life at exactly the right time.

I applaud the author for his honesty. He's quite frank about his initial misgivings, and desire to keep his budding faith "under wraps", so his friends don't think he's fallen off the deep end into whackery. His descriptions of different parts of the contemporary service show just how deeply he was tuned into this form of worship - for example, this is what he says about modern worship music:

"St. Augustine wrote that 'to sing is to pray twice,' and he was right. Singing words repeatedly, propelled by a catchy melody, allows you to enter a meditative state where you can find God...When you enter that zone, it feels like you are having an intimate conversation with God, and that He is bathing you with love."

So far, I can relate to much of his experience - not so much the conversion itself, but what he finds once he enters the church. It's quite similar to my own personal experience, so I'm enjoying reading about his. I also had to chuckle when he describes his friend, Hugh, who apparently chose the Presbyterian church because it was the one least likely to require him to hug. (And now I want to send Hugh this t-shirt.) I know it doesn't all stay sunshine and roses, though, so I'm quite interested to see where we go from here.

So far so good!


Literary Feline said...

This is a great idea! I will be reading this one in the near future and am looking forward to it. I hope to see the author this coming weekend at the book festival.

Zibilee said...

Sounds like something I would like. I am not really much of a non-fiction reader, but I do go for some non-fiction titles that really grab me. I also enjoy books that explore different elements of faith. I am going to be looking forward to this feature!

Jenners said...

I really enjoy non-fiction -- especially memoirs -- so this is very interesting to me! I love that you are doing this series. I'm looking forward to hearing more about this book!

Elizabeth said...

Literary Feline - thanks! I'm jealous that you get to meet the author - so far, I think he's great.

Zibilee - I hope you enjoy it. So far, the book has been very interesting.

Jenners - thanks for your interest in the series. I'm liking the book so far!