For me, several criteria must be met before I'll consider the highest review rating for a book, movie, or piece of music. For instance, if reading a collection of words causes me to put a book down, get up from where I'm seated and wander around the room because I don't know what to do with the emotions that have slipped past all the safe guards and invaded my soul, then there is something significant about the one who penned those words.
I did not want to read this book. It seemed to have all the promise of a superficial, feel-good, new-agey amassing of words that guarantee a happiness equal in value to the suggested retail price. And the brief author-bio on the back cover should have clenched the deal: a Christian from Willow Creek -- certainly her words could be nothing more than a focus-group confirmed, market-driven strategy for a thinly veiled excuse to proselytize. However, the subtitle expressed a subject of deep interest to me: finding the sacred in the mundane, so I opened the book and read a random paragraph.
What I read startled me. The paragraph was an admonition to the reader about the great risk of being someone who cares and the author's words had very little to do with a superficial happiness. She writes:
"...I whisper to them, 'be careful.' You will be haunted by what you find there, and you won't be able to wash away what you've seen and heard. You will see things and hear things, and then you will be responsible for them, for telling the truth about who you are and who you discover you are not..." (pg. 141)
Filleted by these words, I checked the book out from my library and began to page through the short chapters in no intentional order. Contrary to all my unfortunate biases, I was quite humbled to discover a human being. I wasn't reading, in some circumfrential manner, about a person, about their life history, about their successes and failures, about their concepts or their opinions about life. I was, instead, invited past the writer's fleshy parts to the cellular level of existence. (This, by the way, is another high-rating criterion).
Niequest does something with words. And her words are, at first glance, what I assumed the whole book would be -- superficial. But then she surprised me. In the midst of mundane story-telling she manages an alchemical shift (one almost imperceptible), weaving experience into digestible pieces of very raw wisdom. Inexplicably, after almost every chapter, I found myself faced...with myself (more criterion). Absolutely magical.
In my view, the author achieves her stated goal: encouraging a life of celebration. But she accomplishes this by taking the reader on a journey through the unsafe and dark terrain of her own soul (leading the way in her pajamas, no less). The landscape is, at times, scandalous with its honesty, and almost always emotionally and spiritually raw. In other words, she brings the reader to the place of being human...and about that, there's nothing superficial.
There are other things that I feel should be present in a work worthy of five stars. Some of the criteria are subject or genre specific. Niequist's work certainly deserves this rating. This is an excellent book.