I’m pretty sure I got this as a free Kindle book a while back, and it was definitely worth me downloading. This is one of those times, though, where I almost want to do two reviews: one on how the book spoke to my needs, and one more objective evaluation of it as a book.
Here’s the Amazon blurb: ‘For eight years Rachel Devenish Ford has been writing about her not quite normal life at her blog, Journey Mama, telling stories about her days with characteristic honesty and humor. Now for the first time, this writing is captured in book format in the Journey Mama Writings Series.
In Trees Tall as Mountains, Rachel writes about her life of volunteering in an intentional community in the woods of Northern California with her Superstar Husband and three young children, cultivating joy and her faith in God despite a continuing fight with anxiety and very simple means. She is candid and hopeful, intimate and humorous. Because Rachel’s explorations of faith are not trite or churchy, her writing is beloved by believer and non-believer alike. Her bright, honest words make strangers into friends, and Rachel’s attempts to truly understand the love of God radiate hope to others who are searching for him in the sometimes dark, sometimes beautiful world.‘
In terms of my needs, I read this book at a time where I needed to think about some of the things it was saying. The last couple of months I’ve been particularly struggling with anxiety, as life has been harder than usual, and the many-headed snake has grown some more heads I haven’t had to deal with before even as I’ve worked over the last twelve months to control better some old heads. And yet, I’ve come to understand my anxiety more and more, and that has brought relief and fear, disappointment and hope. I used to think I had just a phobia of a specific thing; a counsellor who I saw six months ago insightfully suggested it seemed bigger than that, and over the last six months I have recognised that that is true. It’s only as and when we recognise such truths that we can deal with them, so, overall I feel more positive and hopefully about diminishing my anxiety’s sometimes forceful grip on my life and thoughts as I see and understand it more clearly. Rachel Devenish Ford, in Trees Tall As Mountains, depicts her day-to-day struggles insightfully, and I understood myself better through reflecting on some of her wise commentaries on her own thoughts, feelings and behaviours. I have included quite a number of these very perceptive remarks in the ‘Top Quotes’ at the end of this post. So, from this angle, I really valued this book and was glad I read it. I think others who have any form of anxiety and want to understand it better might likewise find this an interesting and illuminating read.
But, reviewing this book more objectively, my feelings are more mixed, and my overall impression is ambivalence. The writing style is very good, especially compared to most contemporary books, and there are many passages which are beautifully written. This is all the more impressive when one considers that the book is a collection of blog posts. Devenish Ford also writes fiction, and I’d guess, judging by this, that her fiction is beautifully written, and I’d be interested to read some of it. The relatively brief entries also make this a great book to read in those little gaps everyone gets in the midst of busy days (e.g. waiting at the doctors or the chemists, or for the bus, or for food to finish cooking). And, although it’s nicely written, it’s not a hard read.
My main issue with this book is that it didn’t really grip me (and this was for two reasons). I’ve been trying to be more persistent about finishing books once I’ve started them (I have a bad habit of flitting from book to book and reading too many at the same time), and so I was determined to finish this; but, I wasn’t really captivated by it. I finished it because I wanted not to leave a book unfinished rather than because I was gripped.
The first problem, I felt, was that there wasn’t a page-turning grand narrative, nor really many page-turning mini narratives, to propel the reader onwards. I think the idea of compiling a book from blog posts is an interesting one, but it felt like there were too many packed into this book, and so many featured somewhat repetitive minutiae. I can’t help feeling that this book would have packed more of a punch if it had been a quarter of the length and the blog posts, or sections of posts, sifted more selectively for the striking ones. Often too, a bit like I advise my undergraduate students with their essays(!), a good book (indeed, perhaps most good pieces of writing almost regardless of genre) need some solid signposting; here, the reader needs some heads up as to the trajectory of the narrative, and the exciting or interesting threads that should make them want to keep reading.
The second issue was that nothing really came to life except the author herself. Even her children remained rather indistinct in my head, and even more so her husband. Likewise the community in which she lived, and her friends and family. I suppose because this was written as a blog, I guess primarily for people who knew her, there was not originally the intention of bringing totally unfamiliar people and contexts to life, and yet without this vividness the book somewhat flounders and exciting opportunities are somewhat missed. I would have loved to know more about the very distinct Christian community in which the author lived, the individuals the community worked to help, the work the author herself did. I’d like to have had a more 3D sense of her unusual and fun-sounding family. I’d very much have liked too to hear more about her faith, how she understands it, how it motivates and drives her, at a much deeper level than is featured here. I felt like she had so much more to say about her experiences in this kind of Christian vocational work, and I really wanted to hear her comments on that!
So, all in all, this was both a good read which spoke to me and a disappointing one.
‘If you don’t act sick, people will treat you like you’re well. I have a hard time slowing down, ever, so I sometimes end up sitting and feeling sorry for myself, wondering why no one treats me any differently because I’m ill. It’s the lesson of my life: you need to let people know what you need.’
‘My real anxiety revolves around something that I have absolutely no control over. Other people and their thoughts or emotions, how they are doing, whether they hate me. I walk around scrunching my forehead over things I have no way of changing. The ball is not in my court. It’s not even on the same block. I may as well worry whether the river is flowing the right way.’
‘I want to be the kind of person who invites a lonely person over when I’m feeling lonely rather than waiting for someone to call.’
‘One of my mottos in life is “Do things a different way.” Something not working? Do things a different way. Feel trapped or stifled? Do things a different way. There are so many myths of the way things have to be.’
‘We demean people if we put stock in the idea that a career is for making money, life is about climbing the corporate ladder. I believe that to truly radiate the potential that we are given, with integrity, we will inevitably make decisions about our lives that cause us to earn smaller paychecks, because we couldn’t with good conscience earn the bigger ones. Corporations will have to make a few million less because they decide that they can’t use sweatshop labor after all. It’s not worth it to take the livelihoods of most people of a nation into subjection in order to make the stuff that another nation’s kids will break and throw away. We need to stop building our empire on the backs of others.’
‘I realise that everything is temporary, right? So you love things while they are there, without that compulsion to grasp.’
‘A wise woman once said that if you can go through trials without letting them embitter you, they will refine you.’
‘Bitterness will suck you dry, it will take the joy out of your life, it will rob you of the lessons that the trials you have gone through are meant to offer you – a good gift, a gift from a Father who loves you. It might make you sick to your stomach, like it does to me. It might make your heart race with anxiety, cause your attention to wander’
‘I believe that bitterness comes when we think we deserve more than we’ve been given. I think it also can fester when we don’t know how to grieve and let go.’