Memoirs focus on former nuns and frantic brides
By Kathleen Grant Geib, STAFF WRITER
MEMOIRS ARE intensely personal — that's what makes them so fascinating. Readers place themselves in writers' shoes and say, "That could be me."
Yet there's a fine line between sharing experiences and betraying too much. This line is not always honored in an age of reality television and tell-all celebrity news. On the other hand, as Americans, one freedom we hold most dear is free speech.
Of the memoirs below, two are by former nuns and two are by authors who survived their difficult weddings. Brides of Christ and Bridezillas make an interesting contrast.
What is it like to be a nun?
A lot of us eagerly read Kathryn Hulme's popular novel, "The Nun's Story" and imagined a life of nursing and service similar to Sister Luke's. Deborah Larson also read Hulme's book and was inspired by it.
As a thoughtful 19-year-old who is passionate about God, Larson joins the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary — BVMs for short — a teaching order based in Dubuque, Iowa.
Larson, currently married and a professor at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania, offers a gentle, intimate portrait of her years at the convent in "The Tulip and the Pope: A Nun's Story" (Vintage Books, $14).
What is it like to be a postulant, then a novice and finally take your first vows? What is it like to pray, eat and work with a community of Sisters, yet obey the rule of silence? What is it like to have doubts about the vocation you envision for yourself?
Larson shares this part of her life with a candor that's addictive. Even if you aren't religious, this story fascinates with its detail and warm sincerity.
"The Scent of God: A Memoir" (Counterpoint, $24) by Beryl Singleton Bissell is also the story of a former nun, but this one is woven with frustration and tragedy.
Bissell's early life is overshadowed by a difficult mother and an alcoholic father. After high school, the author begs her parents to allow her to join a contemplative order of nuns in New Jersey. Hoping to find the peace and meaning she lacks at home, Bissell finally gains her parents' permission and joins the Poor Clares, an order devoted to prayer.
At first Bissell revels in her new life, but soon childhood demons arise. She becomes anorexic and finds herself in conflict with a superior.
A turning point comes when Bissell returns home to help nurse her father, who is recovering from a debilitating stroke. Simultaneously, she befriends Vittorio, a handsome priest and they gradually fall in love. Bissell's story becomes more dramatic when she decides to leave her order, and Padre Vittorio seeks dispensation from the priesthood.
Although Bissell and Vittorio eventually marry, their lives remain extremely difficult. It is only their love for God and ardent love for each other that sustain them.
Hana Schank writes about the chaotic year she spent planning her medium-sized Vermont wedding in "A More Perfect Union: How I Survived the Happiest Day of My Life" (Atria Books, $22).
Schank's well-crafted book offers a play-by-play of all her choices, from invitations to gown. Schank alternately seems rational and maddened by the details any self-respecting bridal magazine dictates.
In the end, Schank gets her Vermont wedding, but not before giving way to a storm of tears after her hairdresser messes up on the big day.
Schank's story begs a question: If a bride accepts the conditions the wedding industry imposes, why the Bridezilla attitude? Why take on strangers' ideas when deep down all you want is a day that's uniquely yours and his?
"Thirty to Wife" (Marlowe and Co., $14.95) by Craig Michaels of San Carlos is another wedding planning story, only this one is penned by a groom and aimed at men who are engaged or considering it.
Reflecting on the 30 days before his wedding and attempting to help men avoid his difficult experience, Michaels offers bullet-marked lists and helpful advice, such as how to deal with in-laws and write thank-you notes.
His tell-all style betrays the unhappy drama surrounding him and his fiancee, leaving readers to wonder how any ceremony could be worth this much angst. As with Schank's book, if you are determined to create a so-called fairy tale wedding, please don't complain about it.
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