Back to the Garden: Getting From Shadow to Joy by Patrice Dickey is a self-help book with short chapters, some barely covering a full page and most falling below four pages. Dickey shares her personal story through the relationships she has both personally and professionally. The wisdom she learns from her experiences are poured fourth on the page but there is not a lot of advice offered. A few practical exercises and maybe some suggestions for affirmations but, for the most part, the book serves as a memoir cum guide.
When I first down to read this book, I quickly changed how I approached this book. Rather than read in large blocks of time, I sat with each small chapter and read maybe one to three, at the most, in a single sitting. Some of the chapters were clearly thought out, well written with a clear purpose while others seemed to meander in and out of ideas. These latter ones confused me and it confused me more when a theme mentioned in a previous chapter would be forgotten altogether or mentioned so much later that I had to flip back to see if she was talking about the same thing.
There are times when a writer’s style, whether it’s good or not, simply doesn’t click for the reader. I believe that this might be the case with Dickey’s book. It may be that other readers had the same problem and, were I to seek out other reviews, I would hear my confusion echoed by others. I avoid other people’s opinions about books until I can form my own. But for me, something about Dickey’s merging several themes on the same page and within the same chapter was simply off-putting, easier for me to approach in smaller doses than immersion.
The book is written from a liberal Christian perspective. At first I thought Dickey was mostly New Age (because of the terminology she uses), might be leaning towards Hinduism (she is a yoga instructor), or some confluence of all of the above that most call “being spiritual” but somewhere along the way she shares her experience in finally finding a church home I realized that she is Liberal, with a capital “L” and this may offend some more conservative readers while her Christianity might offend others. Can’t win for losing, can she? None of this offended me at all. I liked reading about her spiritual struggles, her candor regarding her faith. Transparent as she is about her life and her life’s stories, there are some things that she never fully realizes on the page and relationships that are more complicated than she ever explains. The hints she leaves allow the reader to see the scars without re-opening the wounds.
This is a surprisingly above average self-published book–and I typically avoid self-published books because of the poor quality of the final product. I won’t lie and say that this book is flawless. I cringed when the author alluded to the song “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly” saying it was sung by Ado Annie. Close but not quite. The song is from Annie Get Your Gun and Ado Annie is a character from Oklahoma. There are a few other mistakes that a rigorous editor would have caught but I don’t think most readers will care and I would even guess that some editors for well known publishing houses might not have caught them. (Do big publishers hire people to verify content?)
Thankfully, there are not the usual editing problems–the paragraph mistakes, the commas that come and go, the periods that manifest in the middle of words, or other clearly odd problems that seem endemic in self-published books.
I would marginally recommend this book. There is an audience for it. I’m afraid part of my problem with this book is that I was reading it at the same time as another. The other book was one I had been enjoying since April, a daily reading book that was informative one day, inspiring the next, and more. As a result, Patrice Dickey’s book paled by comparison. Where hers was loosely organized, this other was tight and concise. I think that was her intention, to write a more meditative self-help type book. It simply didn’t work for me.