Some announcements

August 13, 2008 | 47 comments

It seems like a lot of my favorite bloggers are re-running posts from their archives these days. I’ve been enjoying read them, many of which I’d forgotten all about or never saw the first time around. I’m also going to go ahead and jump on that bandwagon and do my own Flashback Series of posts from my archives, probably about once a week. Since few people have been reading since back when I started this blog in 2005, there should be plenty of new-to-you stuff!

The reason I’m doing this is because I need to free up a little bit of time for another writing project I’m working on…

Remember when I said that I was going to take the posts from my archives and self-publish them on Lulu? Well, shortly after that I was contacted by some folks in the publishing industry who strongly encouraged me to write a real book instead, perhaps a memoir of my conversion. It sounded good, but I hesitated because first-time authors typically do not sell memoirs on a proposal alone (e.g. a table of contents and one sample chapter). In other words, I’d have to write a lot of it, maybe even most of it, without any guarantee that it will ever see the light of day. After a lot of thought and prayer and talking with my husband, I’ve decided to go ahead and do it. Even if no publishers pick it up, I can always go back to the Lulu option, or just keep it around for my children to have.

My goal is to have the first draft done in six months (which means I might actually have it done in nine months). I’ve been working on it for about a month, and one thing I’ve learned is that the only thing harder than writing a memoir is writing a memoir about a religious conversion. Any prayers would be appreciated!

UPDATED TO ADD: What are your favorite memoirs? Needless to say, I’ve taken a great interest in the genre. I’d love to hear any recommendations! (They don’t have to be about religion — I’m interested in all subject matter.)


  1. Kelly

    I’m a long time lurker but I had to respond to your question.

    My all-time, number one favorite book that I reread yearly is Thomas Merton’s “The Seven Storey Mountain”. It’s his memoirs about his conversion from agnostic to Catholicism. I’m not a Catholic myself but I sure do love his book.

  2. Milehimama

    I loved Angela’s Ashes – the sequel, ‘Tis, not so much.

  3. Matthew Cochrane

    Jennifer, I am a fairly new reader of yours and am looking forward to reading some of your older posts I missed. I also occasionally post older posts, though not because I’m working on a book but because I’m lazy.

    As far as memoirs go, there’s always the glaringly obvious: Augustine’s Confessions. Elisabeth Elliott, Corrie Ten Boom and C.S. Lewis (Surprised by Joy, A Grief Observed, etc.) also come to mind. I can’t think of anymore at this moment but if I do I’ll pass it on.

    Godspeed with your own memoir writing!

  4. Heather

    Oh Elisabeth Elliot and Corrie Ten Boom are both great.

    Congratulations–now get to work.

  5. Jane @ What About Mom?

    For a memoir about a specific event (although I know conversion is a process, but you know what I mean), I really liked The Suicide Index by Joan Wickersham. It was superbly well-written and also quite original in organization/trope. I reviewed it on my site (easy to find by the search box).

    Good luck! Look forward to reading it.

  6. nathansward

    I read a wonderful memoir by Lauren Winner, called “Girl Meets God.” Wonderfully written. A great read. It recounts her conversion to Christianity from Judaism.

    It sold many, many copies, and many people have enjoyed it.

    Good luck with your writing.

  7. Joy of Frugal Living

    Good luck Jen. Definitely praying for you. And I’ll look forward to seeing your completed project, however you publish it.

  8. maggie

    Eeeeeeeeee! Exciting! Congrats!

    My faves are Anne Lamott’s ‘Operating Instructions’ and Beverly Donofrio’s ‘Looking for Mary (Or, The Blessed Mother and Me)’. Not exactly Elisabeth Elliott, but I’ve reread both of these books many times and each time something else stands out. I appreciate how they take Important Subjects and inject them with humor, lightness and tons of humility.

  9. Meta

    A Grief Observed by Sheldon Vanauken

  10. Sara

    Among the books I’m reading is Merton’s “Seven Storey Mountain,” too. I’m really enjoying it. I also got for my birthday “Home” by Julie Andrews. Not a conversion story, but very enjoyable.

  11. Jeana

    Angela’s Ashes, Beverly Cleary, Mary Higgins Clark (I don’t remember the names of those, only the authors) and recently I read The Glass Castle and loved it. It does have some occasional strong language–don’t know how you feel about that, but there’s your disclaimer. I think it was the author’s first book, but I’m not certain about that.

  12. Anonymous

    My favorite memoir, hands down, is Winston Churchill’s “The Second World War.” It is an amazing story of human virtue. Caveat/full disclosure: it’s long! — the six-volume set runs 3600 pages, IIRC, excluding the appendices.

    Catholic Finance Guy (I don’t like to post as “anonymous”, but can’t seem to log in.)

  13. Sta

    A few religious conversion memoirs I’ve read…

    Girl Meets God
    The Water Will Hold You
    Confessions of an Ex-Feminist
    Take this Bread: A Radical Conversion
    Anne Lamont’s essays

    Some non-religious memoirs I enjoyed:
    Lucky by Alice Sebold
    Mary Karr’s two memoirs (Cherry and The Liar’s Club)
    The Glass Castle
    Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.

  14. Jessica

    I’m glad you’re actually writing the book!

    Have you read “Facing East” by Frederica Mathewes-Green? It’s a story of her converstion to Chrisitianity and hence to Eastern Orthodoxy. Amazingly good.

  15. calrablat

    Very cool. Good luck with your book!

  16. Rocks In My Dryer

    I second “Girl Meets God”, above. That was really good. Proud of you for taking this step!

  17. JimmyV

    I’ve only read two memoirs: I am Jackie Chan and My Grandfather’s Son (Clarence Thomas). I liked the both, though Clarence Thomas’s story would be more similar to yours. I will send you my copy for free if you want it, since a friend passed it on to me.

    I also know a great little Catholic publisher. I’d gladly hook you up with them. Their books have been great so far.

  18. Hope T.

    I just finished reading Redeemed by Heather King. I highly recommend it.

  19. Kent

    i LOVE memoirs!
    Some of my recent favorites are Sixty-five Roses by Heather summerhayes Cariou.
    Butterfly Garden by Chip St. Clair
    i also liked The Glass castle and Angela’s Ashes.
    Good Luck on yours.

  20. Melanie B

    Funny you should ask about memoirs. I seldom read non-fiction and have read few memoirs; but today I just finished We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich, the story of her life in a cabin in backwoods Maine. Very funny and an interesting read in part because the style reminded me very much of blogging. Each chapter was a sort of self-contained story, almost like reading a series on a blog.

  21. Erin

    I third Girl Meets God. It’s fabulous. My reviews of it don’t do it justice, so I’ll refrain. It’s a favorite of mine though.

  22. pharmgirl

    I really loved “All But My Life” by Gerda Weissman Klein – she’s a Holocaust survivor and the book discusses her experiences during the war.

    “Madame Secretary” by Madeline Albright is a good one. You may not agree with her politics, but she’s fantastically smart, and being an immigrant to the US gives her an interesting perspective. She also spends a good deal of time discussing the sacrifices of being a working mom.

    Hillary Clinton infuriates me sometimes, but I actually enjoyed “Living History.” It has a lot of interesting stuff about her childhood and some funny stories about things that happened when she visited other countries as First Lady. (Do like I did and check it out from the library.)

  23. La gallina

    I can’t wait to read your book!!! Maybe my athiest sister will read it! Will you come down to SPI when you go on your book tour? 😉

  24. Nicole

    Definitely Anne Lamont’s book about conversion. It is funny and brutally honest. I think it is called Travelling Mercies.

  25. quirkyskittle

    I’m a long-time lurker myself…and an English major who’s read quite a few memoirs for classes as well as pleasure. Most of them aren’t as satisfying on a religious level as those of the other comments here (though I enthusiastically echo the vote for C.S. Lewis’s stuff!), but some I’ve enjoyed are:

    -Peter Jenkins’s A Walk Across America (it’s in two parts; the second is called The Walk West), which includes his conversion to Christianity

    -Barbara Kingsolver’s recent Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

    -Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon (which I liked better than the sort-of-sequel Through the Children’s Gate)

    -Scott Russell Sanders’s The Country of Language

    May I just say, too, that I’ve read quite a few back entries, and besides having a great blog, you have some fantastic people commenting. There’s a lot of anger online–it’s so uplifting to know of people who can handle controversy without vitriol.

  26. Emily (Laundry and Lullabies)

    I recently read “Three Little Words” and was impressed by how well it was written. Many memoirs are not, as I’m sure you know! It is a hard book to read because of the content (child abuse in the foster care system) but it might be helpful for you.

  27. SuburbanCorrespondent

    If you’ve been over at my place lately, you know I go for the memoirs that are written with a good sense of humor. Both books of essays by Cynthia Kaplan are good; The Devil In The Details by Jennifer Traig is excellent (and deals with religious themes of interfaith families, scrupulosity, etc.); Jeanne Marie-Laskas has I think 2 books that are memoir-style that are excellent.

    You’ve already written most of the memoir – you just don’t realize it. It will be great. If you need anyone to read the rough drafts and give suggestions, I happily volunteer. I’ve helped a friend of mine edit pieces that were later accepted for publication, and I love doing it.

  28. Nicole Amsler

    You’ve already been told about Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner (three times.) In a similar vein, Blue Like Jazz by Don Miller and A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel are both excellent reads. Both have unique takes on the religious experience.

  29. Bonnie

    The Road from Coorain by Jill Kerr Conway is very good. As is A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The second one is definately not Christian at all, but I love the way Dave Eggers writes. It’s quirky to say the least, but to warn you, there’s some inappropriate language and sex.

  30. Charity Grace

    Others have mentioned Girl Meets God too. It’s great.

  31. John Scholes

    A memoir. A somewhat ambiguous term. Or perhaps a memoir and memoirs are quite different.

    I think my main advice would be to err on the side of being too short rather than too long. Many potentially excellent books are spoilt by being too long. Leave your readers longing for more, not skipping ahead!

    More generally, I applaud what you are doing. I live in one of the world’s most pagan countries, the UK. Focussing the Catholic Church here on evangelizing is a major priority. At the moment, to our shame, the Mormons from Utah do more over here than we do! Conversion stories have an important part to play.

  32. truthfinder

    Congratulations!!! Of note are “Seeking Enlightenment…Hat by Hat: A Skeptic’s Guide to Religion” which is a memoir by mystery writer Nevada Barr, “The Cloister Walk” by Kathleen Norris (some strong language in both, but good reads.)
    Not religious – exactly- but you’ll use up a whole box of tissues if you read “Gracie” by George Burns.

  33. Cheryl

    I just wanted to leave a little encouragement (not to answer your question) for your memoirs. A few weeks ago you linked to the 10 Minute Writer, and I picked up her blog for my own reading. One item she mentioned was writing for the glory of God rather than money or vanity or whatever (not that either of those are your intentions).

    I’ve thought about this a good deal in relation to my own writing, especially when I’m a little down about whether or not I’m writing something that’s already been written or wondering if anyone outside my own circle will read it or appreciate it. If God calls me to write, then my writing, no matter what the world’s interest is, will glorify Him. St. Louis de Montfort spoke of the hidden life of Our Blessed Mother – “all” she did within her life was raise a son who died a gruesome and ignominious death, but within that little life, she glorified God more than any other human before or since (with the obvious exception of her son who also happened to be God). St. Therese of Lisieux has much the same story.

    All that is to say that there is a great precedence for performing unrecognized works of love for the glory of God. =)

  34. kabloona

    The memoir titled, Kabloona

  35. Betsy

    I was greatly inspired by a rather modern memoir, “Left to Tell” by Rwandan Holocaust survivor Immaculee Ilibagiza.

    Christ Himself is closest to the most broken hearted, and her story of suffering accompanied by intense care from our savior made me love God so deeply for His special tenderness in the midst of such intense evil. A tough read in some ways (violent, obviously) but so precious, as Christ always Is.

    It also gives such an interesting perspective on evil and the enemy’s complete delight in murder and confusion, while at the same time displaying the truth that we are safest when in the Father’s hands, no matter the danger we are in.

  36. Imajackson

    East to West by Ravi Zacharias is my latest favorite and the only one I’ve read recently. Perhaps that could help?

  37. Sal

    A small correction: “A Grief Observed” is by C.S. Lewis, not Vanauken.
    Vanauken himself wrote a fine memoir about himself, his wife and their conversion to Christianity called ‘A Severe Mercy’. A must-read, imo.

    “We Took to the Woods” is a great favorite of mine, as well.

    Other secular favorites:
    Ruth Reichl’s “Tender at the Bone” and “Comfort Me with Apples”
    Frank Rich “Ghost Light”

    Good luck with the writing.

  38. Sal

    If you like letters, try ‘The Habit of Being’, the collected letters of Flannery O’Connor.

  39. SignsOfFaith

    Martha Beck’s “Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith” is an interesting read that covers heavy topics in a charming and funny (!) style.

    “Bone Black” by bell hooks

    Esmeralda Santiago’s “When I Was Puerto Rican”

    Good Luck writing your memoir!

  40. Carrien

    That’s fabulous. I would buy it.

    And I’ll add my prayers. It would be a privilege to get to participate in that in such a way.

    Would you be interested in helping me spread the word about some Burmese refugee kids we’re trying to help?

    The story is here.

    And there are prizes.

  41. n.o.e

    Hope has mentioned Heather King’s conversion memoir (Catholic). I have a feeling you’ve seen Amy Welborn’s post about the book (since you’re mentioned in it) bu here’s the link for other readers:

    I liked Annie Lamott’s Traveling Mercies and Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God, but each has left me with a few nagging issues, mostly of a theological nature…

  42. asv

    Hey that’s great news! I’ve been waiting to have your book on my hands for a while.. So I’ll keep waiting..

  43. Patrick O'Hannigan

    I’ll be praying for you, Jennifer. Meanwhile, as to favorite memoirs, I recommend two: on the “heavy” side, Sidney Stewart’s “Give Us This Day,” which is about how he survived the Bataan Death March and time in a Japanese POW camp during WWII. On the lighter side, Homer Hickam’s “Rocket Boys,” which became the movie “October Sky.” When the coal miner’s kid becomes a NASA engineer, you’ll want to cheer.

  44. Jolyn

    I’ll second Ruth Reichl, mentioned later in the comments, and throw in Lisa St. Aubin de Teran. Neither are religious memoirs at all. The first is an American, the second British; both have an international flavor.

  45. Recovering procrastinator

    I’m surprised that “Eat, Pray, Love” has not been mentioned. It’s not a religious memoir, though there is a lot about spirituality in it. The Eat and Love sections were good, and the Pray section is fabulous.

  46. The Knitting Theologian

    Earlier commenters mentioned Merton’s “The Seven Storey Mountain,” Lorraine Murray’s “Confessions of an Ex-Feminist,” and St. Augustine’s “Confessions,” all of which have made an impact on me in my own personal summer of reading conversion stories. I would also suggest Dorothy Day’s autobiography, “The Long Loneliness.” Good luck with your writing–I look forward to the results.

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