I began this Saturday series, this weekly glimpse of my over-stuffed bookshelves, because it seemed like fun. Just fun.
But now I’ve read House of Prayer No. 2: A Writer’s Journey Home by Mark Richard, and the word fun doesn’t come close. To share a book like this is something far beyond fun. It is serious. It is sacred. It almost feels like worship, and what can I possibly say to convince you to read this book? I don’t know what to say, but I feel desperate to say it.
This is a writer’s memoir. It is the story of a life, of a boy sinned against and sinning, and it is the story of God’s grace for this broken world. It is a work of art.
Unlike almost every other memoir you will read, Richard never uses the first person singular, never writes the word I. He refers to himself as you, and that choice draws his reader in and propels us through the pages.
It is as if a drowning man has lured us into the chaos of deep water. With him we are nearly overcome by the Southern Gothic horrors of his childhood, the wandering waste of his young adulthood, and, with him, we are saved. We are pulled from the water just as his father once pulled him from a swirling stream, and we see God.
By the end of this book we, like Richard, have long stopped believing in coincidence. Instead, through the words of an artist we are able to see the work of that Artist who takes the broken pieces of our lives, our bodies, our stories and fits them perfectly together. The result is something beautiful.
Richard’s memoir reminds me of the memoir trilogy by the poet Mary Karr, a series that began with The Liars’ Club: A Memoir. These are not easy books to read. Karr’s story takes Richard’s horrific Southern Gothic childhood and kicks it up a few notches. However, like Richard’s, this is memoir as poetry. Both books make me think that maybe the surest path to God is to run as hard and fast as you can in the opposite direction. Just maybe.
Next to memoirs by writers, I most enjoy memoirs by midwives. Baby Catcher: Chronicles of a Modern Midwife by Peggy Vincent is the best I’ve found. Each birth story she shares could stand alone, but there’s an overarching narrative that will make you catch your breath. Organized with brief quotations from The Book of Common Prayer, Vincent’s story prompts me to believe there may be no work more holy than that of a midwife.
I only wish we had a memoir from those heroic Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah, women brave enough to deliver babies and tell tales to Pharaoh himself.
If books get written in heaven (and why not?), then no doubt we’ll read their stories someday. I, for one, can’t wait.