If there is any writer I would want to imitate, it would be Brian Doyle. He would probably say that while that is flattering, I should be trying to write like myself, not him, and of course he would be right. But I have rarely found a writer whose work I enjoyed as much.
Brian Doyle is fun — really fun — to read, but he doesn't cheat. There's nothing lazy about his writing, not even his sentences that go on and on and don't let you stop to catch a breath.
I came across him when the Jefferson County Read chose his book, Mink River, for the year's book. It probably didn't hurt that he is a fellow Oregonian.
I was blown away by his use of prose and the charm and quirkiness of his storytelling.
When I found out he had a book of prayers, I immediately wanted it. And got it.
In A Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary, author Brian Doyle lets readers in on what feels like an ongoing conversation he is having with God. The prayers are part prose poetry and part reflection. From Sorin Books, it retails for $14.95.
Why you might buy A Book of Uncommon Prayer:
If you have read anything by Brian Doyle and liked it, don't hesitate, just buy this one.
Doyle tackles the tragic and the funny, things small and close and large and far away, with titles for his about-a-page-long prayers like "Prayer for the Boys I Used to Coach When They Were Little Unlike Now" and "Desperate Prayer for Patience with Politicians with Excellent Suits and Shoes and Meticulous Hair and Gobs of Television Makeup Who have Utterly Forgotten That Their Jobs Are Finally About Feeding and Clothing and Protecting and Schooling Children."
Inside these prayers is a look at their author — his passions and frustrations and failures. Mostly you will see his generosity of spirit, his thankfulness for even those things that annoy him, and his wonder at the world. With a little effort, you may start to be more generous and thankful and curious yourself.
It is also a glimpse of the way Doyle sees God. He closes a prayer for Osama bin Laden, whom he calls a "stupid murderous slime," by saying, "I pray that I am right and there is a Forgiveness bigger than any slime and that somehow in ways I do not understand but believe in with awe and not a little fear that You have found a chamber in Your heart for even him. Even him."
Doyle's writing is unlike any other. He chooses exactly the right words to draw the reader through his meandering, but never incoherent, sentences. His images are vivid, and his emotions are raw.
This book is intimate. Doyle allows us to listen as he rages and praises a God he loves but does not completely understand.
Why you might not buy A Book of Uncommon Prayer:
If you don't like Doyle's style, you probably won't be able to get past it. Just move on.
Doyle is a Catholic, and a few of the prayers are very specifically Catholic. That said, the book intentionally casts a wide net; its dedication is to Doyle's sister, who is a Buddhist nun. And many of those prayers could be easily said about any church denomination.
I'm guessing this book might strike some people as irreverent.
A Book of Uncommon Prayer is a rare gift from an astonishingly truthful and original writer.
This book will make you want to pray like Doyle does. You won't, of course, but you might end up praying more like yourself.
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Ave Maria Press. I was not required to write a positive review. These are my honest opinions.
Much of this article was originally published on News for Shoppers, where I wrote it.