An attempt to build a meaningful contemporary animism, this is the most deeply pagan book I've read this year, and I don't remember it using the word...moreAn attempt to build a meaningful contemporary animism, this is the most deeply pagan book I've read this year, and I don't remember it using the word "pagan" once. At times the prose was too much: dense, verbose, overly rich and self-indulgent. But really, that's in keeping with what Abram is trying to achieve: an assertion of radical subjectivity and a call to immerse ourselves in the rich density of both sensuous language and physical reality. Occasionally cringe-inducing, but if you can get past that, this book is an opportunity to try seeing and thinking about the world in a genuinely interesting way.
Personally, I found myself arguing with Abram much of the time I was reading, but it was one hell of an interesting argument and I'll be thinking about it for some time to come.(less)
In a year of reading all kinds of books about spirituality and religion, this is one of my favourites so far by a very large margin. A beautifully wri...moreIn a year of reading all kinds of books about spirituality and religion, this is one of my favourites so far by a very large margin. A beautifully written, open and honest account of one woman's struggle to reconcile her everyday life and restless mind with a yearning to find the numinous in the world-as-it-is.
She explores various threads of pantheist thought woven through the history of religion, philosophy and literature, looks for communion in the company of Quakers, Buddhists, scientists and birds, immerses herself (not always wholeheartedly) in the threatened natural environment of New Mexico, and manages to find a very human mixture of solace and disappointment.
There's a lot to think about in here, but what makes the book truly special, for me, is the awkward fragility of Russell's religious engagement; she is painfully candid about the limits of her own ethical, political and spiritual commitment.
Reading this book was like sitting down with a stranger who slowly, quietly opens up her life to you - hopes and fears, doubt and belief - as though she's hesitantly offering a delicate gift that she's really not sure is worth anything at all. But it is; it's precious and it's lovely and I can't thank her enough.(less)
This is a difficult, annoying mess of a book, and its relentless devotion to psychoanalytic bullshit just about drove me into therapy. I really strugg...moreThis is a difficult, annoying mess of a book, and its relentless devotion to psychoanalytic bullshit just about drove me into therapy. I really struggled to get through it and actually screamed out loud with frustration at one point. This is in contrast with Fun Home, which is hard to put down (unless you find self-conscious erudition and literary allusion intolerable, in which case good luck).
I am, however, very glad I persisted. Taken as a record of a tortuous writing process, and an exploration of the relationship between real life, memory and memoir, Are You My Mother? is fascinating and potent and rich with material to think about. If you read it passively - expecting Bechdel to fill you with profound, elegant, neatly presented insights - you're going to be disappointed. Probably bitterly disappointed. But if you go into it the way you might if you were reading someone's private diary, or searching their attic, or sneaking into their apartment while they were out - well, you get the idea. This book is rich with treasure, but the most valuable insights here take a lot of guesswork and reading between the lines, digging through junk to find the gold.
So, from wanting to throw it at the wall, I have finally come around to giving it four stars. It's a valuable artifact, and I'll be thinking about it for years. I'm very glad Bechdel made this book, and I'm very glad I read it.
By the way, I was sad to read that Bechdel's mother - the real star of this book - died a month ago. I strongly recommend reading Helen Bechdel's obituary, which offers a fascinating counterpoint and moving epilogue to this strange, complex, powerful book.(less)