I don’t re-read books all that often, but during a busy work week in which I lacked the energy for something new and couldn’t stare at a computer screen any longer (even for reality TV shows, which definitely don’t bother my eyes as much as Excel spreadsheets), I picked up Rhoda Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress again.
I think memoirs are good for the soul. They allow us to understand how people like ourselves healed or made changes, and by extension how we might do the same. Self-help books, while not a bad option for helping one to fall asleep, provide advice directly rather than letting the reader realize the lesson on his own. As a result, the information never sticks, even if it would be helpful. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, my favorite memoirs, like Mennonite, are simply good for a laugh.
The books begins as Janzen returns to her parents’ Mennonite community for the holidays instead of traveling on sabbatical as planned. Her husband just left her for a man he met on Gay.com and she can no longer afford to rent an extra apartment while continuing to pay their mortgage on her own, see. She spends the first several chapters weaving stories of childhood camping trips (need I say more?) in with present-day trips to Circuit City four days before Christmas to figure out how to program her parents’ prepaid cell phones.
Janzen is confidently nerdy (a professor specializing in late 19th-century American literature according to her bio on the Hope College website, she admits that she “creepily knows how to diagram every sentence in the English language”) and matter-of-fact throughout. Even when she moves on to more serious topics — her tumultuous marriage and eventual divorce from a passionate, bipolar man, her faith, her sometimes-strained relationships with her brothers — Janzen describes her life’s twists and turns with a healthy appreciation for the ridiculousness of it all.
Reading this book is like hanging out with your favorite English teacher and hearing her perspective on things you’ll understand as you get older. Buy this on your Kindle, light a candle and read in the dark before bed. You’ll wake up glad you did.