The book works well as a teaching tool. It doesn't appear to be designed for the general reader, who might wish to read it cover to cover. That would...moreThe book works well as a teaching tool. It doesn't appear to be designed for the general reader, who might wish to read it cover to cover. That would be a bit overwhelming and not particularly satisfying, I think.
The book is also a little spotty. The Butler and Wacker portions are strong. The final section, written by Randall Balmer, grows tendentious, especially in the final chapter. I can see students with a conservative political outlook chafing at Balmer's tone and often hastily-made claims about the political right.
On the whole, the book works well as short introduction to the religious historical context of various literary periods one might teach. (less)
See insightful review in _Religion Dispatches_ -- October 19, 2012 3:52pm It’s Not Her, It’s You. Post by SARAH MORICE-BRUBAKER -- http://bit.ly/PHoWu...moreSee insightful review in _Religion Dispatches_ -- October 19, 2012 3:52pm It’s Not Her, It’s You. Post by SARAH MORICE-BRUBAKER -- http://bit.ly/PHoWu4(less)
I continued reading past the first chapter only by accident. I had set up the book on my nursing stand, and each time I finished nursing, I was too di...moreI continued reading past the first chapter only by accident. I had set up the book on my nursing stand, and each time I finished nursing, I was too distracted with the baby to remember to change out the book. But if I'd had free hands, I'd have thrown it against the wall.
In this book, Rhoda Janzen commits the following crimes:
--she makes fun of her family members for being backwards hicks -- in mean ways
--she makes snarky comments about almost everyone and everything -- snarky comments which she thinks are very clever, but usually are not
--she writes as if she is telling the story to her best friend. Perhaps that is an effective technique for some types of books, but it never works here. Rather, it sounds as if she is re-working material that played well at the water cooler at work, but has now lost its mooring and audience.
--she tries hard, way too hard, to be funny
--she repeatedly pokes fun at Mennonites, Christianity, and religion in general and -- worse yet -- associates belief with lack of education and inexperience.
--in spite of Herculean efforts, she fails to be funny
--when she fails to be funny, she often resorts to jokes about farting, pooping, or other bodily functions
--her chapters wander around without knowing where they are going, and she follows any tangent that she thinks will yield her a laugh
-- did I mention that she is constantly mugging for laughs?
--she fails to understand that most of the aspects of her childhood that she characterizes as hopelessly "Menno" are not particularly unusual. She was an awkward child embarrassed by her unpolished appearance. This is not enough to make her fascinating.
--It reads as a rough transcript of a lot of conversations with her sister and best friend--both in structure (the randomness of the flow of thoughts in any given chapter) and in tone (the way in which she seems completely sure that we will feel the same way that she does and take her point of view).
The fundamental problem underlying all of these issues is that Janzen can't decide whom she wants for an audience. Most of the time, it seems that this book is a rough transcript of jokes she's told to her academic friends -- jokes where the Mennonite practices of her childhood are punchlines that only urbane, sophisticated academics can fully understand. This comes across as obnoxious. But then she drifts into a more sympathetic portrayal of some of these characters, particularly her mother, as if she is writing for those who are able to take a more nuanced and sympathetic view of religious cultures. Anyone even remotely capable of such a view would have been completely put off by the first tendency, however.
In short, I don't understand how this book ever was published. I really had no idea that such a manuscript could get through editing. But here it is.
For the record: I am an English professor, raised in a strict, conservative Christian family in a backwoods, rural area, who now lives in a town full of clever, urban sophisticates. Rhoda, you do not speak for those of us who have walked that road. Let's get that clear. (less)