Book of the Month: October 2014

acts and omissions final coverActs and Omissions by Catherine Fox

I knew I was going to enjoy this book when I looked at the Dramatis personae and saw that it was divided between Bishops, Priests & Deacons and People! But the clergy are very much real people too and we follow them all through a year, in which the chronological and liturgical form the background to the changing scenes of lives turned upside down, not just by the beautiful Freddy – willfully self-destructive and seemingly unaware of his capacity to destroy others – but also by “events, dear boy, events.”

Catherine Fox has a gift for capturing the essence of a personality in just a few words and for drawing the reader, not just into the story but into the hearts, minds and souls of her characters. Her asides are witty (noting how often giving up alcohol is balanced by taking up grumpiness); instructive (microwaving last year’s palm crosses makes it easier to prepare the ash for Ash Wednesday, apparently); thought provoking (as the number of foodbanks increase, how often will we see our Lord hungry and do nothing?) and at times infinitely wise and tender about human frailty.

Quite apart from being an excellent story teller, Catherine Fox clearly knows and loves the Church of England, from its cathedral spires to its parish holiday clubs: though that doesn’t prevent her being clear sighted about its idiosyncrasies and even its failings. I’m sure most readers will find themselves recognizing their clergy, fellow parishioners and even, perhaps, themselves.

I’d guess that most people will read this book three times: once for the joy of the story telling; once for the fun of identifying the quotations from hymns, psalms and poems which are threaded through the text and once as the person currently reading it regales them with “I must just read you this …”

I loved it – and I can’t wait for June 2015 to find out what happens next.

Reviewed by the Revd. Norma Fergusson

Special price of £8.99 in the shop (posted out for free) or £6.99 + postage online from www.sarumcollegebookshop.co.uk between 1st and 31st October 2014. RRP £9.99.

Book of the Month: May 2014

Help Thanks WowHelp, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott

Help, Thanks, Wow is one of my favourite books on prayer by one of my favourite writers, Anne Lamott.  All of Anne’s books about trying to live a Christian life as a recovering alcoholic and single mother are entertaining, but this one distills her spiritual insights most effectively.  Those of us who have long been told that ‘thank you, sorry and please’ are the three words that ought to shape our prayers, will find it a helpful jolt to think rather of ‘help, thanks and wow’.

‘Help,’ she says, is the first great prayer, because so often life is difficult or heart-breaking.  Help is the way we keep in touch with God when everything around us is broken or seems beyond fixing.

‘Thanks,’ is the short form of the original prayer she used to say for any unexpected grace in her life: ‘Thankyouthankyouthankyou’, the prayer that comes as a rush of relief that we have just dodged a bullet.

And ‘Wow’ is the prayer we gasp at something mesmerizing or miraculous.  Wows cannot be controlled. They can only be felt when they come.  Just when life appears to be boringly normal or depressingly bleak, along comes a wow to astonish us with beauty, or awe, or new hope.

What about ‘sorry’?  All she will say on this is that ‘Help me not to be such an ass’ is the fourth great prayer, ‘which perhaps we will address at another time’.

Summarising these three (or four) prayers does not do Anne’s book justice though.  It is funny and helpful too.  She tells sharp, subversive stories, like a stand-up comedian. She shares things that her friends or her pastor have said.  Most of all, she talks honestly and lovingly about prayer.  And her advice on using a God box is worth the price of the book alone.

Reviewed by David Holgate, Principal of STETS

Special price of £11.50 in the shop (posted out for free) or £9.50 + postage online from www.sarumcollegebookshop.co.uk from May 1st – 31st. RRP £12.99.