book reviews, music

A review of On and Off: An autobiography by Stephen Bishop…

Some time ago, I started following singer-songwriter Stephen Bishop on Facebook. I think I did so because I am a child of the 70s and 80s, and he’s written and sung some songs that have endured very well over the years. I love his original song, On and On, and as someone who saw Tootsie when it was in the movie theaters, I love his version of “It Might Be You”. I also love “Separate Lives”, which was used in the 1985 film White Nights. The famous version of that song was done as a duet by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin, but Stephen Bishop wrote it as a solo.

No, Phil Collins didn’t write this song. It was composed by Stephen Bishop. I like both versions, but I think I prefer Stephen’s solo.

I remember a few years ago, I did a karaoke version of Stephen’s solo version of “Separate Lives”, and some mansplaining guy on SingSnap left me a congratulatory comment, then “informed” me that it was originally a Phil Collins song. I was annoyed by that comment and wrote, “No, it’s actually a composition by Stephen Bishop. It’s HIS song. Phil Collins just made it famous.” Yeah, maybe a little bitchy on my part, but if you’re gonna try to school me on something, especially when it’s about music, at least be RIGHT! Just a little pet peeve of mine… but I write about it to establish that I like Stephen Bishop’s music and have for a long time. I am, on the whole, a Bishop booster.

One of my favorite songs by Stephen Bishop.

So, when I learned that Stephen Bishop had written his autobiography, I was interested. I like to read non-fiction, and especially enjoy autobiographies and biographies. However, having followed Stephen Bishop on Facebook and noticed some of his postings, I hesitated to pull the trigger. I’m going to be very honest. Stephen Bishop mostly comes across as very nice, and likely does his own social media, which I think is mostly a good thing. However, sometimes he also seems a little fawning and obsequious to me. I noticed that he was strongly urging people to read his book, which I guess is understandable. But there’s something to be said for letting a work stand for itself. If the subject is compelling, people will come to it. Some of his efforts to sell the book seemed a little too enthusiastic. On the other hand, having followed him on Facebook, I can believe that this book was authentically written by Stephen Bishop, in his own voice– for better or worse.

Anyway, I downloaded the book in late July and just finished reading it yesterday. I’m left with a mixed mind about On and Off. Overall, I’m not sorry I read the book. I learned a lot of things I didn’t know about Stephen Bishop. For instance, before I read his book, I didn’t realize that Bishop was raised in the Christian Science faith. His mother, who was from Key West, Florida, was a devoted adherent to the religion, and she dragged her son to church every week. However, in spite of his mother’s fervor for Christian Science, it’s quite clear to me that Bishop is no longer a follower. He includes a couple of anecdotes about the religion, which to many people will probably seem exotic.

Stephen Bishop didn’t grow up with his father, who was himself a musician, but made a living selling insurance. However, his father was in his life, even if Bishop’s “creepy” stepfather Kim was the more constant figure. Bishop makes it plain that he didn’t really like his stepfather, but he includes a number of stories about him, as well as a few photos. Although his mother was southern, Bishop was born and raised in San Diego, California. He makes it sound like there were some people in his community who were like surrogate parents to him. I can relate to that. I had a few of those “surrogate parents” myself, when I was growing up.

Some of Bishop’s stories are pretty funny. Some are just bizarre. A lot of his stories are genuinely entertaining and interesting, even if I was left scratching my head a few times. Bishop, to his credit, fully acknowledges that he’s been involved in a number of “weird” situations, which I can relate to, as someone who has also been in some truly odd predicaments myself.

Livingston Taylor does a nice job covering Stephen Bishop’s song, “On and On”. I notice that Stephen Bishop left him an appreciative comment. I’m a big Livingston Taylor fan, too. Especially when he’s in concert.

Prospective readers should know that a large portion of Bishop’s book consists of anecdotes, many of which are unrelated to each other. I guess it makes sense, as Bishop has made a name for himself writing songs, and most songs are short. Songwriting is not the same kind of writing as authoring a book is. I guess I was just a bit frustrated that the book was kind of mishmashed– with numbered anecdotes in some places, and portions that were more of a connected story in others. I also strongly believe that this book could have used an editor. There are some typos, and Bishop is frequently redundant, writing as if he’s speaking to his readers.

You know how sometimes, when you’re telling a story to someone, you might make a statement, go slightly off on a tangent, then come back to the original topic? That’s kind of what Stephen Bishop does. A little of that is okay, but it happens pretty frequently in this book. An editor would have streamlined the redundancies and perhaps connected Bishop’s life experiences in a more straightforward manner. I guess if I had to use musical terms, I would describe Bishop’s book as staccato, rather than legato. Maybe I just prefer legato writing to staccato, but that’s just me. I’m sure others like the short snippets that aren’t connected.

Stephen Bishop performs at the 1983 Academy Awards wearing a bespoke suit that he says he still owns. “It Might Be You” is one of the few Bishop hits that he didn’t write. I love this song.

One thing I did notice and appreciate about On and Off is that it’s a quick and easy read, and some of Bishop’s stories about other celebrities he’s met are interesting. However, I also noticed an implication that maybe he didn’t feel like he was a big enough star. He writes about how he was once good friends with the movie director John Landis, and Landis had both used his music and given him bit parts in his films. Bishop was famously cast in Animal House, and he includes the funny story about how he ended up singing “I Gave My Love a Cherry” in that film and two guitars were sacrificed for the sake of comedy.

Landis, who directed Michael Jackson’s video, “Thriller”, even used Bishop in that video. But Bishop writes that one day, he called Landis at home and found that his phone had been disconnected. Landis later told him to only call him at the office, but when Bishop did that, he would end up leaving messages for his old friend with a secretary, and Landis wouldn’t return his calls. Then he concludes that Landis had “cleaned house” and stopped talking to people who weren’t “big enough”.

I’m not a celebrity myself, so I don’t know what that world is like. Maybe there’s some truth to Bishop’s conclusions about Landis. However, having watched him post oily platitudes on other celebrities’ pages on social media, I kind of wonder if maybe Bishop doesn’t realize how he might come across to some people. Obviously, the man is a talented musician, singer-songwriter, and actor. He’s won Grammy and Oscar awards for his work. I don’t think there’s a question that he’s got star quality. However, he does sometimes seem to be a bit socially awkward and unaware. Case in point, below is an excerpt about an interaction Bishop had with the late John Belushi:

[Belushi] knew that I was friends with Eric Clapton, and that really impressed him. John asked me when I was going to see Eric again. I happened to be going to England the next month and told Belushi that I would say hello to Eric for him. As luck would have it, I hung out with Eric a lot on that trip. I mentioned to Eric that there was this talented actor named John Belushi on a television show called Saturday Night Live in the United States. Eric immediately knew who I was talking about and shrugged a little bit and said, “He’s the guy who does the imitation of Joe Cocker right? I’m not so sure about that guy…” After I returned from England, I remember having a conversation on the phone with Belushi in a phone booth. John sounded so eager and like a little kid saying, “Did you mention me? Did you say that I’m his biggest fan?” I said, “Gee, John, I feel really bad, but Eric doesn’t like that Joe Cocker bit that you do.”

“Oh, really?” John said, very disappointed. “Oh, okay…”

Bishop, Stephen. On and Off: An autobiography by Stephen Bishop (pp. 193-194). Stephen Bishop Music/Windsong Entertainment . Kindle Edition.

Bishop continues that he found out that Belushi was on LSD at the time and had a “bad trip” after what he told him about Clapton’s negative response regarding Belushi being a fan of his. Then he writes, “I felt really bad about that.” First off, the idea that Belushi’s “bad trip” had anything to do with Bishop telling him that Eric Clapton wasn’t a fan of his is kind of egotistical in and of itself. And secondly, it seems to me that there was no reason to tell Belushi that Clapton “wasn’t so sure about him”. He could have simply told Belushi that Clapton had seen him on Saturday Night Live and left it at that. I didn’t think that what Clapton allegedly said sounded that bad, anyway. It’s not like he called Belushi an asshole or anything. He just said he wasn’t so sure about him. But it seems to me that telling Belushi that Clapton didn’t like him was kind of an unnecessary and tone deaf move in the first place.

Eric Clapton is another subject in and of itself. Bishop very frequently mentions his friendship with Eric Clapton, and writes more than once that Clapton is a fan of his. He also writes that Aretha Franklin once asked him for his autograph, following with a comment that seems kind of like “humble bragging”, when he writes that he “worshiped her”. There are a number of name dropping, “false humility”, “humble bragging” moments in this book. A good editor could have toned down this tendency so that it was less annoying and off-putting, and more entertaining and informative.

My guess is that Stephen Bishop sees himself as a great writer. And, you know what? He IS a great writer… of pop songs. Writing a book is different, and I think he should have had some help writing his story. That’s just my opinion as a “nobody” out here in blogger land. But, on the positive side, I mostly did enjoy Bishop’s book. He’s lived an interesting life. I will also continue to enjoy Stephen Bishop’s music, but with a new understanding that I didn’t have before I read his autobiography.

Bottom line– I do think On and Off is worth reading if you’re a fan of Stephen Bishop’s music. However, I’m also reminded of the old saying… “You should never meet your heroes.”

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book reviews

Repost: Shannon Miller’s It’s Not About Perfect: Competing for My Country and Fighting for My Life

Here’s a repost of a book review I wrote on July 27, 2016. It appears here as/is.

Hi everybody.  I know I could be writing about politics or that poor French priest who was murdered near Normandy yesterday, but I think enough people are writing about those topics.  Besides, it’s high time for another book review.  I used to crank them out weekly and now it takes me a lot longer to plow through my reading.  Today’s review is about America’s most decorated female gymnast and ovarian cancer survivor, Shannon Miller, and her book It’s Not About Perfect: Competing for My Country and Fighting for My Life.  

With help from ghost writer, Danny Peary, Miller published her book in the spring of 2015.  Although I kind of quit watching gymnastics years ago, Shannon Miller comes from an era when I did used to tune in.  I remember seeing her when she was just 11 years old, competing in a meet that was aired on the now defunct cable channel, Home Team Sports.  Even back then, she was very impressive.  Years later, when she and her teammates won gold in the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, I remembered her performance as a child and marveled at how far she’d come.

Shannon Miller at age 11.

Today, Shannon Miller has a degree in law and is the mother of a son and a daughter.  Her daughter, Sterling Diane, was born against the odds after Miller had her left ovary and fallopian tube removed and endured nine weeks of chemotherapy.  Miller has her own foundation, Shannon Miller Lifestyle, which is devoted to encouraging health and fitness for women. 

Miller reminds readers that her potentially deadly cancer was discovered when she was feeling just fine.  It was a routine visit to her gynecologist that uncovered a cancer that often kills women because by the time it’s discovered, it’s too far advanced to treat effectively.  I agree with her on an intellectual level that people should pay attention to their health.  However, as a healthcare consumer, I think it’s very difficult for many folks to be attentive to their health.  For one thing, it’s takes time and money that many people don’t have.  For another thing, seeing doctors is potentially very demoralizing.  Most of us would rather be doing something else.

Shannon Miller’s gold medal winning balance beam routine at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.

In her book, Miller doesn’t focus too much on cancer or even married life.  It’s Not About Perfect is about eighty percent about Miller’s gymnastics career.  I’m okay with that, because I was interested in reading about gymnastics.  Let’s face it.  Shannon Miller is where she is, for the most part, because she is such a talented athlete.  It makes sense that such a large portion of her life story would be devoted to life in the gym.  I appreciated her comments about the historic 1996 Summer Games, too.  I was in Armenia at the time and didn’t get to watch them live.  Readers who would rather read about Miller’s struggle with cancer may be disappointed that there’s not more included about that battle.  In a way, the book’s title is a bit misleading.

I thought Miller’s book was mostly well written.  She comes across as a pleasant person, albeit more religious than I expected.  She mentions her faith more than a few times in her story.  I have nothing against people who have faith in God.  Some people may feel like this book is a bit whitewashed in that Miller mostly keeps her comments about her coaches and gymnastics very positive.  She writes about working out with serious injuries, enduring surgeries, competing when she was tired or sick, and glosses over the politics involved with assembling an Olympic team.  But I got the sense she didn’t want to alienate anyone and, perhaps, was not quite as candid as she could have been. 

Interestingly enough, I read in a review on Amazon.com that Shannon Miller was raised Christian Scientist, which means that early in her career, she didn’t necessarily go to doctors.  But she and her mother, Claudia, are both cancer survivors and were saved by the powers of modern medicine.  It would have been a great asset to Miller’s book had she written more about that aspect of her faith.  Apparently, in Shannon Miller: My Child, My Hero, her mother’s book, the Christian Science part of her upbringing is discussed.  Now, even though that book was published in 1999, I’m thinking I might have to read it.  Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how much I like to learn about fringe religions.  Edited to add: I read a large excerpt of Claudia Miller’s book on Google and it looks like a lot of the information is pretty much the same as what’s in Miller’s most recent book.

Miller also is mum about her first marriage to ophthalmologist, Chris Phillips.  That marriage did not last long and Shannon mostly says it’s because they didn’t know each other very well.  Of course, perhaps it was best that she not write too much about that marriage since her ex husband basically accused her of infidelity.  From what I gathered, the split was nasty and it was probably best not to rehash the relationship in the book.  I remember photos of them in People magazine when the wedding happened and other readers probably do, too.  

I thought it was pretty cool that Shannon included photos, including one of her smiling radiantly while holding her son, Rocco, and sporting a totally bald head.  Her trademark frizzy hair has since grown back after it fell out during chemotherapy.  It looks like it’s no longer frizzy.  Shannon’s looking sleek and professional these days.

Anyway… It’s Not About Perfect: Competing for My Country and Fighting for My Life is probably not a bad read for most gymnastics fans.  It’s not really juicy or scandalous, but it’s not terrible.  Those who want to read more about Shannon’s personal life or struggle with ovarian cancer may be left wanting.  I think I’d give it three and a half stars.

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book reviews

Review of Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine

I just finished my latest book today. I know I’m on vacation, but I like to review books right after I finish them because otherwise, I will forget important details. Aside from that, there’s a storm going on in Italy and some of the people with kids have decided that now is the time to be loud. So, with that in mind, here’s my review of Bad Faith: When Religious Belief Undermines Modern Medicine, written by Paul A. Offit, M.D.

I found this book in the Duggar Family News group on Facebook. Someone was interested in reading about extreme religious beliefs and a poster recommended Dr. Offit’s book, which was published in 2015. I love a good non-fiction read, especially when it’s about unusual religions, so I decided to download it. Paul Offit is a pediatrician. In fact, he’s Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He has also served as Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Obviously, he’s more than qualified to cover this subject, at least in terms of the medical details.

This book is mainly about cases of people whose religious beliefs prevented them from seeking appropriate medical care for their children, resulting in the children’s premature deaths. Offit mostly covers people who are Christian Science believers, but he also includes commentary on other groups such as the Amish, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and certain fringe fundamentalist Christian groups. He focuses on groups popular in the United States, so they’re mostly of the Christian persuasion, but the kind of “Christians” that some Americans would take a few paces back from. We’re not talking mainstream Methodism or Catholicism.

Dr. Offit clearly has little patience for the parents who let their extreme religious beliefs put their children in danger. I can sense disgust as he writes about how parents have the power to veto medical treatments that would cure their children– some of whom with bacterial infections that could be cured with a simple round of antibiotics– simply because they’d rather put their faith in God. Frankly, I understand his frustration, particularly given that he’s a medical doctor. Many physicians I have known don’t like to be argued with, but some of the cases outlined in Offit’s book really could and should have been easily saved. But instead of seeking medical attention, some parents prefer to call their pastors or prayer groups and pray to the Almighty… and they are SHOCKED when that does nothing for their child and they end up having to plan a funeral. One family Offit writes about lost two of their eight children to bacterial pneumonia. The parents were on probation after the first child’s death and finally got sent to prison when a second child died.

Well… I myself rarely visit doctors. However, I do have faith in medicine, and I do think it’s important to seek proper medical care when it’s clearly needed. On the other hand, I have to admit to being a little bit leery of Dr. Offit’s tone at times. He seems to think that good parents who don’t agree wholeheartedly with doctors are universally negligent. In one case, he writes about Amish parents whose daughter got cancer. The chemotherapy she needed made her very sick, so her parents decided not to make her get more treatment. A nurse, who happened to also be a lawyer, filed for limited guardianship of the girl, because her parents weren’t submitting to doctors’ orders for their child. Initially, the court sided with the parents, but that was overturned on appeal. When the hospital won the right to force the girl to get treatment, a taxi was sent to her home to pick her up… but her parents had taken her and gone into hiding. Four months later the hospital dropped the case. Offit seems disgusted that the parents won, after all… although I’m not sure what happened to the girl.

I do think this is an important subject. It’s one that needs discussion, particularly right now, as we face a pandemic and people are spouting off a lot of unscientific bullshit to support their “rights”. However, Offit comes off as a bit biased, and his tone is rather impatient and unsympathetic. I get that he’s passionate about this subject, especially since his job is to save children’s lives, but I was kind of turned off by his tone, which seemed to promote an anti-religion agenda. As much as I understand not liking some religions– I am not a fan of Mormonism, for instance– I do support people’s rights to their religious beliefs and, within reason, decisions regarding how they will raise their children. On the other hand, I also understand that sometimes children really do need to be protected from their parents. I guess it was Offit’s outraged tone that put me off. It seemed overly biased, as if he wouldn’t even try to understand where most of the parents were coming from. Instead, he just dismisses them.

Anyway… I did find the book readable and mostly interesting. This is a timely subject, even though I think this book could have been better. It will definitely appeal more to people who put all of their faith in medicine. And, for the record, I have more faith in medicine than religion.

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Reposted: A review of fathermothergod: My Journey out of Christian Science, by Lucia Greenhouse

Here’s another book review I posted on my original blog. I plan to move some of the better book reviews to this site, for those who find them useful. This was originally posted on February 2, 2019.

Last month, I got a cult kick after watching Leah Remini’s show about Scientology.  I downloaded several books about cults that I’ve always found interesting.  Christian Science has always been one of those belief systems that has intrigued me.  The faith, founded in 19th century New England by Mary Baker Eddy, is best known because its adherents do not generally seek medical care from physicians or hospitals.  Christian Science is also known for its excellent journalism; the Christian Science Monitor is a well-respected news outlet noted for its neutrality and accuracy in reporting.  The faith also has thousands of “reading rooms” scattered around the world.

Christian Scientists believe there is no such thing as “sickness”.  It’s an “illusion” that can be cured by prayer alone.  Diseases aren’t physical in nature; rather, they are supposedly caused by a mental error.  Although Christian Scientists are not officially required to avoid medical care, followers of the faith believe that prayer is most effective when it is not used in conjunction with medical care. 

Lucia Ewing Greenhouse published her book fathermothergod: My Journey out of Christian Science in 2011.  Greenhouse was raised in an affluent Minneapolis suburb with her sister, brother, and parents.  Greenhouse describes her parents as looking like Angie Dickinson and Burt Bacharach. 

The family enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle, and Lucia’s parents sent their children to private boarding schools affiliated with the Christian Science religion.  At one point, the family lived in London, where the children also attended Christian Science based private schools.  But beyond childhood vaccinations the children received when they were very young, and prior to their parents’ conversion to Christian Science, Lucia and her sister, Olivia, and brother, Sherman, never officially received medical attention.  Instead, their parents sent them to a Christian Science practitioner who would pray for them… for a small fee, of course.

Lucia Greenhouse writes that her mother, Joanne, had been raised with medical parents.  Her father was a doctor and her mother was a registered nurse.  Her brother, Jack, was a plastic surgeon.  Everyone in Lucia’s mother’s family was all for the medical establishment.  It seemed many of Greenhouse’s mother’s relatives resented Lucia’s father, Heff Ewing, for talking Joanne Ewing into joining the Christian Science faith.  Lucia’s uncle, Jack, was especially upset about the belief system. Jack and Heff didn’t get along very well at all.

Greenhouse grew up among loving relatives, but neither she nor her siblings were allowed to be “sick”.  When they weren’t feeling well, they would be doted on and put to bed, but they were not given any over the counter medicines.  They didn’t go to doctors.  When Lucia was in high school, she made the decision to see an ophthalmologist by herself so that she could get her vision corrected. Her father was very upset that she’d made that decision.  It wasn’t until Lucia was in college that she had her very first physical.

Naturally, as people age, health problems arise.  So it was with Lucia’s mother, who got sick when Lucia was a sophomore in college.  Instead of seeing a physician, Joanne Ewing went to Tenacre, a Christian Science “nursing” center in Princeton, New Jersey.  Mrs. Ewing languished at Tenacre for several months, causing her young adult children great anxiety.  Their father began to limit their contact with their mother, who had a large tumor in her abdomen that was causing her to be bedridden.

As the children watched their mother suffer at Tenacre and heard their father continue to deny her condition, they came face to face with family conflict.  Joanne Ewing’s family was very much for medical intervention, but her husband was against it.  At the bitter end of Mrs. Ewing’s life, she did seek medical care.  She had surgery to remove some of the cancer that was killing her.  The surgery helped her to get stronger temporarily, but still claimed her life in September 1986.  Heartbreakingly, in keeping with the Christian Science tradition when a person passes on, there was no talk of Joanne Ewing at her memorial service.  Those who spoke at her funeral didn’t talk about who Joanne Ewing was or what she did in her life.  They only spoke of the religion and the importance of maintaining the faith. 

Lucia’s father went on to remarry another Christian Scientist.  It was just a year after his first wife died.  Fifteen years later, he too died.  At the end of Heff’s life, Lucia and her siblings were kept away by their stepmother, Heather.  Lucia Greenhouse thinks he might have died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), but she doesn’t know for sure.  He was in his 60s.  At his memorial, Lucia did speak rather tersely about her dad.  She writes that she doesn’t miss him much, although she misses her mother terribly.  I don’t think her feelings are necessarily limited to having been raised Christian Science.  I can’t say I really miss my father, but when my mom goes, it may be much more of a blow to me.

I found Lucia Greenhouse’s story fascinating, mainly because I’ve never known any Christian Scientists.  I was interested enough in her story to read up a little bit on the belief system.  I’d never heard of Tenacre, for instance, and had to look that up.  She made it sound like a tranquil place akin to a college campus, only much quieter and more peaceful.  Christian Scientists have “nurses”, but I got the sense they weren’t nurses like what we’re used to at the doctor’s office.  The faith is more about prayer and spiritual healing. 

Unfortunately, in many cases of disease, faith and prayer simply aren’t enough.  Tragically, that is what Lucia and her siblings discovered when their mother developed a festering bed sore due to poor nursing care and neglect.  It was what Joanne Ewing’s plastic surgeon brother, Jack, discovered when he examined his sister and found that the cancer had eroded a hole between her vagina and her bowel. The “nurses” at Tenacre had claimed that Joanne Ewing and her husband, Heff, had “danced” every night, but Lucia’s Uncle Jack could tell by his sister’s extremely debilitated condition that dancing would have been impossible. 

Faith and spirituality are wonderful things, but science always seems to trump them in the long run.  One of Lucia’s relatives, her Uncle Ham, quit the faith when he realized that so many of its followers were dropping dead in their 50s and 60s.

This is a beautifully written book, and it reveals a lot about what it’s like to grow up a Christian Scientist, although I think I would have liked to have gotten a bit more information about the faith itself.  A lot of what I learned about Christian Science in Greenhouse’s book came about in passing, as she mentioned certain tenets of the faith.  Greenhouse’s story mostly seems about the tragic aftermath of what can happen when a person forgoes common sense in favor of religion.  Lucia lost her mother sooner than she should have and in a way that involved a lot of pain and suffering for everyone.  I think of fathermothergod as kind of a cautionary tale.  That being said, I haven’t seen a doctor myself since 2010…

Anyway, if you’re looking for a good book about Christian Science and the experience of being raised in the faith, you might want to check out Lucia Greenhouse’s poignant tale.  However, I will caution that Greenhouse’s story is just one story.  Some commenters on Amazon have written that they follow Christian Science or were raised in it, and Greenhouse’s family doesn’t necessarily reflect the norm.

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book reviews, religion

A review of Cult Survivor: My 42 Years in Christian Science: From the Christian Science Belief System to the Quaker Faith

In January of 2019, I got hooked on a TV series about cults that aired on the A&E network. As is my habit, once the show ended, I decided to do some follow up reading, which led to the purchase of several books. One of the books I read was Lucia Greenhouse’s 2011 book entitled fathermothergod: My journey out of Christian Science. I reviewed that book on my old blog.

I also purchased Chrystal Cole’s self-published book, Cult Survivor: My 42 Years in Christian Science: From the Christian Science Belief System to the Quaker Faith. I don’t mind buying self-published books. Sometimes, I find a gem for not much money. Cole’s book was priced at $2.99. Unfortunately, this time, I’m not sure I got my money’s worth. Oh well. You win some; you lose some.

Chrystal Cole was in the fourth generation of her family born into Christian Science, a belief system in which followers rely on prayer for healing. Christian Scientists don’t seek medical care. Or, if they do seek it, they don’t admit to seeking it. Christian Scientists believe there is no such thing as “sickness” and that a person who has a “disease” is suffering from an illusion from which prayer is the best and only real cure.

Cole, who uses a pseudonym to protect her family’s identity, was really into Christian Science, having practiced it for the first 42 years of her life. She was raised by her father, a man she repeatedly describes as very kind and gentle, and her stepmother, a woman for whom she evidently had much less regard. Cole’s mother left when she was very young, and I got the sense she was never close to her. Cole’s stepmother was not a fill in for her mother, as Cole repeatedly refers to her as her “father’s wife”, and she makes several statements that imply that her stepmother took Christian Science too far.

This seems like the start of an interesting story, doesn’t it? Well, I think it could have been, had Cole not simply cobbled together a bunch of blog posts and called them a book. I seem to remember reading at the beginning of the book that Cole had enlisted the help of friends to edit her book. They didn’t do a good job. Parts of Cult Survivor are decently written and interesting, while other parts are riddled with typos and redundancies. Hiring a professional editor would have been an excellent investment for the creation of this book.

Cult Survivor doesn’t flow at all, which can make reading it a frustrating exercise. It’s a shame, too, since I often find these types of books fascinating. My life has been touched by people who have been involved in “fringe” belief systems, so I enjoy reading about what leads people to join different religions and what causes them to, sometimes, ultimately leave them. However, while I love a good story, it does need to be written in a clear, coherent, and concise way. Cole’s book doesn’t deliver that. In fact, I was especially frustrated at the end of the book, which never seemed to have a real ending. It was just a bunch of blog posts, none of which had much staying power or connection to each other. With a little time and effort, Cole could have used the raw material from her blog and turned it into a real book.

Look… I obviously have nothing at all against bloggers. I am one myself. However, there is a big difference between writing a blog– which is kind of like a diary of sorts– and writing a book– which requires some organization and ability to make a story flow. I will give Cole credit, though, for suggesting other books about Christian Science that helped her as she was transitioning from Christian Science to Quakerism. One of the books she read was the vastly superior fathermothergod: My journey out of Christian Science, which I referenced at the beginning of this post. Lucia Greenhouse’s book is an actual book with a story and a point. It’s not a choppy mass of random blog posts tossed together.

Now that I’ve gotten my negative comments out of the way, I can admit that parts of Cole’s story are interesting. As she was raised in Christian Science, she was never vaccinated. Vaccinations are kind of a hot topic right now, especially given the outbreaks of measles that have been sweeping certain areas. Cole writes that the common childhood diseases most responsible people vaccinate their children against, were problematic in the Christian Science community. Cole also writes that when she was growing up, she wasn’t allowed to take so much as a Tylenol to kill aches or pains, nor was she allowed to use sunblock. As an adult, she now sees medical professionals and she does include one section about how she’s having to address issues that were neglected when she was younger. Included among her problems are multiple lipomas and keloids which, if you watched Dr. Pimple Popper, are also kind of hot topics these days. Apparently, Cole’s problems with lipomas and keloids have caused her significant suffering. Now she can get them taken care of without having to lie to church authorities or sneak around.

I really wish I could write more about this book. I wish there had been more of a “story” that stuck with me, rather than random thoughts that are repetitively stated and not necessarily linked. I do think Cole could write a compelling story if she tried. But she’d need to start over… use the blog simply as a reference and write her book from scratch, starting at the beginning. She’d need to set up her situation and explain what happened in a linear fashion that people can easily follow. A bunch of blog posts cobbled together does not a good book make. I was pretty disappointed with Cult Survivor and wouldn’t recommend it.

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