It all started with Anne Lamott. She wrote Traveling Mercies, and since then we’ve had quirky memoirs. For a while, Don Miller was called a male version of Lamott. Now we have Sarah Cunningham, whose former book was called Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation.
Does Cunningham have anything to offer in this crowded genre?
Absolutely. For one thing, great writing. I read a lot of books, and a very few are characterized by the quality of writing in this book. A few pages into this memoir and I relaxed. It’s the same feeling you get (I imagine) when you’re being chauffeured by someone who really knows how to drive. You can settle back in your seat and enjoy the view, knowing that you don’t have to worry about the driver. I felt that way with Picking Dandelions. Cunningham has what it takes to guide us to her intended destination. This book is a pleasure to read.
I also loved reading about her life. I could relate to her, which is, after all, the whole point of a memoir like this. She writes about her childhood conversion, something she can’t remember and that really didn’t have much in the way of understanding or faith. “In some ways,” she writes, “my conversion was probably as real and trusting as any decision I’ve ever made. While most interests from my childhood have come and gone, my allegiance to Jesus is still with me each new day.”
I too remember childhood prayer meetings and even church business meetings, and the quirky things that go through your head as a child, which probably aren’t that different from the quirky things that go through your head as an adult. I enjoyed reading about her growth, landing almost by accident at a college, and then as an earnest social activist on staff as a church. I could locate her Dear Church book in the story of her life. It was interesting to read of her efforts to coordinate a community response to the 9/11 attacks, and then to read of her transition to teaching high school in her community.
I also love her theme. She longs for Eden:
I fondly remember the intentions of Eden. I remember that God wanted humans to live in a setting that could be described as “good” and that the primary tasks he assigned to us were simply to care for our earth and thrive, to build families, and to flourish…I think the longing for Eden is one of the oldest and most normal yearnings humans experience.
Picking Dandelions is a story of change. Her stories and transitions are ordinary and yet “point to the extraordinariness of Eden growing up among the everyday weeds of our lives.”
I enjoyed this book. As I neared the end – despite the great writing – I found myself getting nervous, wondering how the theme was going to resolve. In a sense, it does. Cunningham learns something from her grandmother that gives her a picture of what her life is becoming.
But in another sense, the story is not over. This is perhaps appropriate, given Cunningham’s stage of life. While this book was being edited, she welcomed a son into her family. The story is very much continuing. I’m sure we’ll be reading more in the future.
I also found myself wanting to find the point. I did but I didn’t. I found myself wanting more. This could be my problem. Maybe I just need to enjoy the story. But if you’re looking for a theological treatise you won’t find it. But you will find a superbly written account of one person’s search for Eden so far, someone who loves Christ and is growing in her allegiance to him.
If you can relate to the search for Eden, and to getting glimpses of the extraordinary in the ordinary, or if you just like good writing, you’ll enjoy this book. But don’t expect a neat ending. Expect a journey that’s still very much continuing.
This book was provided for review by Zondervan