Amen, Amen, Amen Virtual Book Discussion

Amen, Amen, Amen: Memoir of a Girl Who Couldn’t Stop Praying (among other things) by Abby Sher. Published in 2009.

Synopsis: After witnessing a string of traumatic deaths in her childhood and adolescence (her aunt, her father, a girl from her high school, the woman at the grocery store…), Abby turns to her Jewish faith and prayer for solace (and to try to prevent more bad things from happening). Her prayers eventually become more time-consuming and she adds new rituals to her life to try to prevent danger – collecting trash that she sees could harm others, kissing objects, reciting made-up songs. This highly personal memoir is about the author’s struggles with severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, about her path to dealing with it, about faith and love.

About the Author: Abby Sher began her career as an improv actress and writer for Second City in Chicago and has also performed with the Upright Citizen’s Brigade and Magnet Theater in New York. She is the author of the young adult novel Kissing Snowflakes, and her writing has also appeared in several anthologies and in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Self, Jane, Elle, HeeB, and Redbook. She currently lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter, where she writes, teaches, acts and practices yoga.

My Initial Reactions to the Book

First of all, I must give Abby Sher props for divulging a highly-personal story about her struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder – a disease that consumes almost her entire life. While many other reviewers of this book found this book to be somewhat-overly-repetitious, as someone who struggles with moderate OCD herself, I found her repetitions to truly show how the disease has affected her, the importance of rituals in her daily life, and how she has learned to cope with her condition.

I tried to read the memoir with an open-mind and respect for the author’s beliefs. She is deeply religious and a follower of the Jewish faith. For example, she always refers to God as ‘G-d’ and capitalizes all pronouns referencing God with a capital ‘H.’ Not being Jewish myself, I found the book to also be somewhat anthropological, as she shared a lot about Jewish customs, rituals, prayers and their importance to her.

One of the things I admired about her was, at the end of her story (when she was pregnant) and at other times in her book, she actively weaned herself off drugs to treat the OCD. I am strongly of the belief that our society tries to throw a drug at everything as a cure-all, while not trying to deal with the root causes of the situation. Clearly, when Abby was on pharmaceuticals, OCD was still very much a part of her life. I found her story to be more about internally finding balance with her condition and incorporating her rituals into her life with her external life of career, family and relationships. Therapy, yoga, and participation in a recovery program have also been beneficial to her in finding that balance.

Have you read this book, and if so, what did you think of it? Do you also struggle with OCD and could you relate to Abby’s story? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Next up for Discussion: A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice by Malalai Joya. Discussion begins May 19th.

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One Response to Amen, Amen, Amen Virtual Book Discussion

  1. jennyjohnsonriley says:

    About 40 pages into this book, I read Sher’s thoughts on lists. She writes that her mom thought “lists helped put things in perspective.” Her mom had lists for “groceries to buy, recipes to cook, books to read, movies to rent, thank-you notes to send, people to phone” (39). Crap, I thought. I have at least 3 handwritten lists sitting on my desk right now, and that doesn’t include the 20 lists of things I have on my computer. I started to wonder at what point being organized becomes OCD. I decided not to worry about it, which probably means I don’t have OCD. I am curious about how much of Sher’s rituals are behaviors she learned from her mom.

    Many times when I’ve read memoirs about people struggling with a mental illness, addiction, etc., the book ends with the person being totally cured and everything turning out just find. I liked that this book ended with Sher feeling more in control of her symptoms but not totally “cured.” I’m not saying I’m happy she’s suffering, but I am glad that she’s honest about the fact that people don’t just suffer and then at some point stop suffering. It’s an on-going process.

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