Saturday, January 26, 2013

New Year, New 30 Day Book Challenge, Day 24

Day 24: A Book You Wish More People Had Read


In 1994, I was living in Florida when I read a stunning review of Lucy Grealy’s memoir, Autobiography of a Face.  I finished the review, immediately went to a bookstore, and purchased a copy. It must have been a Sunday because I returned home and read the book that afternoon and into the night.

Lucy Grealy was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer at the age of nine. The ensuing surgery would ultimately take half of her jaw, disfiguring her face. As the story continues, she encounters the worse than average teenage years of insecurity, taunting by boys (as she gets older the side of her face begins to sink in), plus the guilt of her illness’s financial burden on the large family.  She would grow her hair long in an effort to conceal her face as much as possible, rarely making eye contact. 

While I suppose this could have easily become one of numerous incredibly depressing memoirs, it defies that definition. It really is the story of how Grealy found salvation while at Sarah Lawrence College. She found poetry and a community.

Grealy would eventually find a surgeon that has success (after dozens of surgeries over her lifetime), but that too comes with mixed emotions.

After you read Autobiography of a Face, check out Ann Patchett’s Truth & Beauty which is about her friendship with Lucy Grealy. It will break your heart, and who doesn’t need that?


Once upon a time, I took a whole lot of religion classes in college. I know! The next thing you know, I'll confess to being the Rotary Club Sweetheart in high school (....I guess I'm feeling a bit confessional tonight). Anyway, I was an English and History major, but the religion courses were fascinating and great blends of both literature and history. One of the better classes I took was on gnosticism, and one of the best books from that class was The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels.
The Nag Hammadi codices found in 1945.

Here's the thing: if you're going to be a member of an organization, you should know the history of that organization. If you are going to be a Christian, you should know the history of your church.  Princeton professor Elaine Pagels should be required reading for members of the world's largest religion. In 1945, some farmers in Egypt found a clay jar filled with books dating back to the 2nd Century, believed to be buried before they were destroyed by church leaders.

Elaine Pagels
 In 1975, the texts were made public, and Pagels? Elaine Pagels is one of the go-to authorities on the Nag Hammadi find and the early versions of the Church that existed before leaders suppressed fringe groups and versions of Jesus's life that didn't follow the approved script. The Gnostic Gospels reveals an early church that doesn't closely resemble what it looks like today. Ever hear of The Gospel of Thomas? It exists. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene? It exists too. Why isn't it in the Bible? Excellent question.

The Gnostic Gospels isn't some boring, jargon-laden, academic text. Elaine Pagels is a good writer and her book made the Modern Library's list of 100 best nonfiction books of the 20th Century. I don't understand blind faith. I do understand learning as much as possible about the power structures that govern our culture. I wish more people would read this book. 

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