Sarah Bessey is an author and an award-winning blogger. Her first book Jesus Feminist was released in 2013, and has received extremely positive reviews by all. Sarah Bessey followed that release with her most recent book Out of Sorts, released in 2015. The book documents Sarah’s attempt to make peace with an evolving faith, and amongst positive reviews was described as “honest, sober, and encouragingly relatable.” Sarah Bessey writes about the intersections of a spirit-filled life, as well women’s issues, social justice and her own journey. She describes her concoction of topics as ‘narrative theology’, as she feels the best way to spread her message is via the medium of story telling. Sarah Bessey was also the winning of Canadian Weblog Best Religion/Spirituality blog in 2011 an 2012. A talented writer, I was eager to learn about the book behind Sarah Bessey and her strong following. Please enjoy my interview with Sarah Bessey…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I’m a writer.
I’m reading Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell’s new book about the Trinity, The Divine Dance as well as Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, The Resurrection of the Son of God by N.T. Wright, and I’m also re-reading the Chief Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny over the holidays.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
My earliest memory of reading is being read to by either my parents or my paternal grandmother. But my first memory of being utterly swept up in a book was when I was seven: I remember that I went to our spare room in our split-level house in Regina, Saskatchewan with a book about Annie Sullivan who was Helen Keller’s teacher. Four hours later, my mother finally found me, curled up in an old white bucket car seat long unused, completely engrossed and utterly unaware of how the time had passed. I loved that feeling of being swept away so that I forget my own surroundings or the passing of time or anything but the story.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be?
My own children are at that age of discovering great books for themselves. I try to put good books in front of them, ones that I loved at their age like Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery but to be honest, I just love to see kids read. I tend towards the belief that the key is get them to love to read – they might read a lot of trash or comic books at first, but once they love to read, it’s not a far leap to begin reading better and better books. For instance, my older children went through a season of all Garfield books, all the time which I thought was silly but then that turned into graphic novels which turned into chapter books which turned into fantastic books for kids like the Harry Potter series. The book that children should read is the book that they love – after that, you’re always just looking for that “I love this book” feeling and you’ll keep reading more and more.
Can you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Sure can! I was eight years old and it was called “Alice the Snow Bunny.” My grade two teacher, Mrs. Philips even typed it up on her typewriter on foolscap (do kids today even know what foolscap is?!) on her own time, leaving space for me to draw the illustrations. It meant the world to me and I haven’t stopped writing since then.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Right after university, I had a job sitting in a cubicle, cold-calling business leaders to try to convince them to come to an over-priced leadership conference. The days are long when you’re on the phone all day, calling people who don’t know you or want to talk to you about money they don’t want to spend. I lasted four months.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring writer?
Read, read, read is the obvious one. If you’re not reading, you won’t be doing much worthwhile writing. It’s important to follow our curiosities, to read widely and indiscriminately across all genres that pique your interest. The other bit of advice I have is to stop waiting for the perfect moment: just write. There is no perfect moment, your life won’t ever be less busy, you won’t ever finally have everything in order to write as you’d like. So get after it anyway. Write in the mornings before your kids wake up or on your lunch breaks or on Sunday afternoons while everyone else naps. It might all be terrible but it’s better to write in the midst of your life when conditions aren’t perfect and you aren’t perfect than to never write at all.
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
Never. The big change to my life as a reader was when my children were born: I have four ranging from toddlers to pre-teens now. I remember reading all day on Saturdays years ago – I look foward to doing that again someday! But for now, I mostly read in the evenings before bed after all the tinies are tucked in bed.
What books do you feel are important reading for people on your career path?
My vocation is what I call “narrative theology” – it’s writing that wrestles with what we think or believe or know or even hope about God. So in that line, I have found obviously reading scripture to be deeply important – not as material but to be changed or read by it. I also read a lot of theology, memoirs especially theological or spiritual memoirs, and poetry as well as novels – all of them feed some part of me.
Almost every book in my house has been read more than once. One-timers are for my library card – the books in the house are the old friends. The one set of books that I’ve read the most often though are by L.M. Montgomery – her books are my comfort books. Whenever I’m tired or stressed or worn out, I pick up Emily of New Moon or The Blue Castle or A Tangled Web for a familiar respite.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
I hardly even know how to answer that – I recommend so many books all the time to so many people! Recommendations are often based on the reader’s season of life or interests – it’s almost impossible to make a carte blanche recommendation. Besides, talking about books is one of the great delights of being a reader. That said, I have found myself most often encouraging people to read the Crosswicks series of memoirs by Madeleine L’Engle – I have re-read them many times and I always find some new bit of wisdom there.
Who would you say are the three writers that continue to inspire you?
Madeleine L’Engle, Shauna Niequist, and Anne Lamott. Those women helped to give me permission to do the sort of writing I always wanted to do. They gave me permission to write about God and to write about my life – I am endlessly inspired by their work and their presence in the world.
What’s your favourite genre of book?
Probably spiritual memoir. But I have a big weakness for good juicy novels, too.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
Poor and lonely.
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
Definitely. So many actually! I can’t name them all but off the cuff, I would say: Anne Lamott, Kathleen Norris, Shauna Niequist, Madeleine L’Engle, Jen Hatmaker, Luci Shaw, N.T. Wright, Pete Enns, Walter Bruggemann, Rob Bell, Liane Moriarty, and Louise Penny.
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
I think eventually they will be the dominant force – kind of like how digital music eventually replaced vinyl records – but there will always be those who appreciate vinyl and so there will always be those who appreciate paper books.
What book do you feel humanity needs most right now?
Hand’s down, it’s The Bible. I’ve wrestled with scripture most of my life and I still am challenged by this collection of books, refined and renewed by it. I love the endlessness and layers and possibilities of the bible.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
Absolutely. I would probably have to make a list of hundreds of books to cover all the ones that have shaped me.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I’ll be looking forward to another new Louise Penny book for sure! Other than that, I haven’t made a “to-read” list – I prefer to read as books find their way to me. Reading is always a bit serendipitous that way.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
That’s a tough one – I don’t know!