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2 Stars Out Of 5
Not what I expected
February 2, 2012
I didn't even finish the book because I was too disappointed in it. I really just did not like it. I don't like the way Shauna writes, it seems somewhat choppy to me. No scripture references. I guess, I don't really get the point of this book. It didn't motivate me, it didn't move me, and overall I found it a bit boring. It is basically a bunch of short stories of Shauna's life.
Every now and again I come across someone's blog or book or an article that makes me wish I lived in their town and have the privilege of being their friend. Shauna Niequist is now one of them.
I've been reading her latest book, Bittersweet and in it I've discovered treasure upon treasure which makes me want to tear out entire pages, fold them up and keep them in my purse for a quick recap whenever I find time. Bittersweet really is like a collection of blog posts or essays and at the end of each and every essay (chapter), I've found myself wishing I could leave a comment, or type out the entire essay and post it on Facebook so to share with everyone else like I'd just discovered lost treasure beneath the ocean. I've had to read it slowly in order to savour every word and allow it to sink it and resonate through.
The way Shauna writes is so raw and real; so much that it feels like I've had the privilege of sitting across her, having lots of dinners while sharing stories at her scarred table. She doesn't pretend to have it all figured out, neither does she speak in 'Christianese' or give me a 'how-to' lecture but all the while making sure she reminds me how important it is to keep God, the church and families close. (Oh, they would've been really awesome dinners!)
Perhaps it's the way she has dealt with the rough patches, pain and loss that I could identify with, or maybe it's the fact that I could relate to the fact that she isn't as 'perfect' as you'd expect a pastors kid to be, or maybe its the fact that she loves food, or even that she struggles with saying "No" whilst trying to do everything and more than one could possibly fit into 24 hours. All this making me constantly want to tweet her and say, "OMG, ME TOO!!!" This is just to say; I've learnt so much from this book and I'd definitely be re-reading it many times over!
"Bittersweet: Thoughts on change, grace, and learning the hard way" by Shauna Niequist was really quite moving. It's a series of semi-autobiographical/motivational chapters that touch on pain and the beauty we can find in it. Shauna is quite the artist, I found, given the way she takes experiences of brokenness that are common to many of us, sketching in honest detail why they hurt us so much, and then lingering on the way pain and death intertwine with beauty and new life. Imagine a painting of a flower pot that's been knocked over by some kind of turbulence, and is now laying on its side amidst scattered shards and soil. Looking more closely, you notice that the flower has managed to take root and even flourish where it had spilled onto the ground. That's pretty much how this book has impacted me.
Shauna has an honest, down-to-earth way of sharing her own stories about heartache, loss, and troubles that resonate with many of us. There's lots to relate to in this book: The pain of losing a child, the sorrow of losing a grandparent, the difficuly of keeping a marriage healthy during hard times, the loneliness one feels when friends and acquaintances remain silent and distant during your time of grief. But there's plenty of fun and light-hearted stuff in here too: Shauna draws the reader in with meaningful, well-written stories, and unique insights on the joys of cooking, traveling, weddings, and quality time with friends and family.
It's definitely a book for women, as it deals a lot with issues around motherhood, female friendships, and "crying in the bathroom." However, some of the chapters are great for men too. I've had moments where I just *had* to show my brother, my husband, and my uncle a chapter or two. And once they start the first few sentences they're usually hooked until the end. Of course, the point isn't that they got hooked on the chapters, but that the book has an enjoyable way of revealing truths about common life stages and experiences that stay with the reader long after the book has been shelved.
One of my favourite chapters is called "Things I don't do" about having boundaries on our personal time, and getting a healthier perspective on our priorities in life. It's one thing for me to describe this chapter to you, though, and quite another to read it. I'll post excerpts of Shauna's book here on my blog in the near future to show you what I mean about her refreshing insights and writing style.
If I had one concern, it would be her take on theology and her critique of theologians. She's a pastor's kid, as am I, so I would have expected her to have a more nuanced and sophisticated view of the Gospel and the people who teach it to us. Her perspective sounds a lot like the disdain for theology I heard from members of a former church I attended, and I'm concerned that a growing number of Christians--who are understandably disillusioned with dogmatic, fundamentalist-style Christianity--are throwing out the baby with the bathwater when it comes to regarding God's Word and the people He has gifted as teachers with value and respect. This chapter appears near the end of the book, so it didn't affect my experience of the rest of her thoughts, which was good. I'll post more about this in the future as well. But this is the only reason I can't give the book a perfect rating, as much as I would have liked to.
So I give it four out of five stars. If you can find a copy, I definitely recommend reading it at least once. As for me, I'll be re-reading "Bittersweet" many times over.
A special request: I'd be Shauna's first customer if she were to publish her tips on dining and entertaining, along with recipes for the many fabulous dishes she describes in "Bittersweet". They all sounded so delectably irresistible!
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I want to express my sincere thanks to Zondervan for the opportunity to review Bittersweet. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan in exchange for writing a review, and I was free to express my honest impressions of the book, whether positive or negative.
Prior to reading this book I hadn't heard of Shauna Niequist or her previous book Cold Tangerines, but I decided to give her new book a try anyway. I did some research and apparently Shauna is the daughter of Bill Hybels, the Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. I read Bittersweet, because I was curious about her thoughts, I was also curious about her writing style, and coincidentally I haven't read many books written by women. To me reading Bittersweet was like reading a publicized diary. Bittersweet is a look into Shauna's personal life, her past, her pleasures and sorrows, her most precious moments, etc along with making life suggestions and giving encouragement to readers. Although I can't relate to some subjects she wrote about like having a miscarriage, I enjoyed reading chapters like 'say something' and 'twenty five' as I learned a bit from her experiences. Of course a drawback in my opinion is since she is a Christian author and the daughter of a Mega Church Pastor, I would preferred to have read provisions of scripture in addition to her thoughts; especially whenever she mentioned moments in Biblical history and God. Overall this is a very deep, poetic book filled with many familiar emotions: happiness, anger, sadness, excitement, even envy. I liked reading this, just remember to compare it to scripture for it is wise to do this with any other book which has a Christian label. Disclaimer: Ben Umnus was given a free copy of this book by Zondervan Publishing, but he was neither paid for his review nor was he commanded by Zondervan Publishing to write a positive review. This review is the personal, written opinion of Ben Umnus. This disclaimer is in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255