Thursday, March 16, 2006

Book Recommendation

I've been joking that the recent science/religion thread on the blog represents a new preoccupation for me, but it doesn't really. One of my favorite books, which I read six or seven years ago, is Afterwards, You're a Genius by Chip Brown, more usefully described by its subtitle: Faith, Medicine, and the Metaphysics of Healing. In it, Brown visits faith healers whose practices are grounded in Eastern spiritual traditions (those are the serious ones; the flakier practitioners in the book clearly come from the School of Quackery).

The story he tells is my favorite type of rambling first-person narrative: knowledgeable about its subject; full of entertaining digressions; motivated by, and seen through the prism of, highly personal concerns (in Brown's case, the desire to come to terms with romantic heartbreak, learn more about his own spiritual thinking or lack thereof, and explore the relationship between modern science and ancient thoughts about health.)

The book meanders a bit through its middle section, but not enough to put a dent in my love for it. Its opening paragraph is one of my all-time favorites, and perfectly sets the tone for everything to come. Here it is. Think of it as today's archive, if you must:
More than a few years ago, when I was in a bad way, wallowing in a sob story about an actress who'd exchanged me for a used-car salesman in California, I went to see a psychic. It was half a lark, or so I thought at the time. The heartache that inspired the visit was real enough, but I was not able to make any sense of it until much later, when I happened on Borges's description of love as a religion organized around a fallible god. For the millions of us who press on in a secular age, under Darwin's empty heaven, love may be all we ever know of religion, and the loss of love is that much more wrenching for its likeness to a crisis of faith. What else but a confusion of divine and human realms can account for the pain of misplaced devotion? Pain made worse by the ludicrousness of it all, the ersatz savior and the preposterous church and the disillusioned parishioner, who stumbles around in the aftermath -- stupefied, in my case, by the sight of his highly beloved on Channel 7 in a Fruit of the Loom commercial. There she was! Dressed as a guava or possibly a passion fruit. Something tropical. I couldn't see clearly. I was too busy gasping for air. She turned up again a few weeks later as a guest star on a cheesy detective show, but this time there was an offsetting, even therapeutic, consolation: She got shot in the head.
(Sadly, it seems like the book is out of print. Happily, you can get a used copy cheaply on Amazon. It's a steal.)

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home