I suppose by definition, when you write a memoir you’re assuming that people will be interested in your life. And when I read a memoir, I’m conceding...moreI suppose by definition, when you write a memoir you’re assuming that people will be interested in your life. And when I read a memoir, I’m conceding that I am interested in the writer’s life. But this memoir says that in such an egotistical way that I was left wondering who the hell Ira Wagner thinks he is that anyone would read this.
First off, the prose is so melodramatic and overreaching that it makes me cringe. It’s so obviously an English 101 writing assignment (or if not literally an assignment, the work of someone still learning how to write), complete with clichés, repetitiveness and trying way too hard to sound lyrical. It felt obvious too that he tried way too hard be fair and not to criticize, at the expense of owning his own story and experiences. How many times can you say “I’m not criticizing, just stating the fact. That is just the way it was.” The editor could have cut pages from the book by deleting that useless phrase every time it appeared, along with any and all paragraphs that contain with “I don’t remember…”
Secondly, there is something missing. He talks about the stress and struggles of living an Amish life, but doesn’t ever say what is stressful about it. He is quite upset that his neighbors are proudly ignorant; it’s a huge gulf between them and one of the big reasons he doesn’t want to stay Amish, but he never says what topics they’re proudly ignorant on. He goes on and on and on about his fears about all the bad things he’s done, without ever mentioning what those things might be. He left and returned like many of his peer group. He drank and bought a car at a time when he wasn’t a member of the community, like many in his peer group. He disappointed his parents and dumped his girlfriend, like so many teenagers and young adults do in every culture. Yes, these are bad, but they don’t seem as unforgivable as he makes them out, especially because he was forgiven for them. I felt like he must have done bigger stuff he just didn’t bother to describe. Or maybe he just lacks the perspective to see that those things are not that exceptional.
Thirdly and I suppose this is a petty criticism, this book has the misfortune of being misnamed. It’s not about Growing Up Amish, it’s about Wagner’s back-and-forth relationship to the Amish culture and eventual apostasy, all of which took place in his teenage and adult life. It doesn’t get at those little curiosities of daily life that entice someone to read a book about growing up in a culture different from our own. Do they have hot water? How do they cook? If electric service is not allowed in the home, is it allowed in other Amish structures, like the schools and businesses? What about natural gas service? How do they do laundry? Do women work outside the home or schools? What are typical meals? I don’t fault the author for not pandering to curiosities; they’re not what his book is about. But they are what the title of his book indicates the book is about and honestly they’d probably have been more interesting.
Fourth, there was one passage about his relationship with Sarah that majorly hit a nerve. I won’t begrudge him having a failed relationship. That’s a fact of life. I won’t even begrudge him for getting engaged to a woman he didn’t love. That too seemed part of the culture. But there was one passage where he says something like “We were very compatible. She loved me intensely and would have been a loyal wife. But I didn’t feel anything for her”. Is that you’re idea of compatible? What kind of sexist egomaniac do you have to be to think that that is what “compatible” means? At least he had the sense to leave before he could drag the poor girl into a one-sided marriage, but even then he seems to feel more guilty about the break up than about than about stringing her along for so long.
Fifth, what did the Mennonite church offer that the Amish didn't? A little extra undefined "freedom"? (less)
Full disclosure: I'm a Bad Religion Fan Girl. Or something. Fan Girl sounds awfully frivolous, but what else do you call it?
I'm a Bad Religi...moreFull disclosure: I'm a Bad Religion Fan Girl. Or something. Fan Girl sounds awfully frivolous, but what else do you call it?
I'm a Bad Religion fan. And I have been for something like 17 years. Bad Religion was a huge influence on my life and world view as a teenager. You know those years where everyone is figuring things out for themselves and starting to ask the big questions? Those were the years that I listened to and studied Bad Religion albums. And I sang along. I knew every lyric (still do) and found so much to think about. So Yeah. I pretty much grew up with Greg Graffin's philosophic influence. And, not necessarily as a result, but as it happens, I'm an atheist and a monist and I find evolution in everything. I am not a scientist, but I sometimes wish I was. Pretty much I've been so influence by Greg Graffin and I've listened to and read his lyrics for so long that Anarchy Evolution is just common sense to me. I'd like to say that I think like him, but maybe it's more correct to just say that I understand what he's saying. It's what I would say if I were eloquent (OK, I wouldn't write the personal memoir-type stuff, but the philosophy/atheism/evolution stuff).
In short. I'm going to buy my own copy of this book because I want to read it again with a hi-lighter (they frown on that with library copies) and I want to hi-light the crap out it. And I want to shove my neon yellow copy into the hands of the next person who asks me some dumb question about atheism or what I believe and say read the yellow parts.
Then, there's also the fact that it's a punk rock memoir. Awesome.
I don't believe in self-important folks who preach No Bad Religion song can make yourself complete You'll get no direction from me.