pushups in the prayer room

After finishing Atonement a couple weeks ago I had trouble picking my next book to read, so I ended up trying out a “book jar” idea that I had seen on a couple of other blogs. It is a great idea for helping make your next reading selection a little more random, if you have a ton on your TBR like I do!

The book I picked from the jar to read last week was Pushups in the Prayer Room by Norm Schriever, a memoir of Schriever’s year spent traveling the world in 1999–2000. His destinations included countries in Central and South America, Thailand, China, Australia and New Zealand, and the Middle East. Schriever’s adventures proved to be more than just a year of exotic party-hopping, though—he professes to be personally touched by the people he met in each place, and to have unknowingly embarked on a spiritual journey within as well.

For the most part, I really enjoyed Schriever’s account of his grand adventure. He gave up everything he had in his comfortable, familiar, predictable life in the United States to see the world. Pretty amazing and courageous! I have to admit I’m not sure I could do the same. Schriever does an excellent job conveying the sights, sounds (and smells) of the nations he visited. However… this is definitely not a book aimed at female readers. I think some could find several of Schriever’s descriptions of the women he met (and his random thoughts and wisecracks about women in general) to be sexist and offensive. I personally thought it was just kind of normal youthful insensitivity—I wasn’t shocked and horrified a guy in his early twenties who admits the primary reason for his trip was to get drunk, high, laid, and party would regard women how he did at the time. I don’t exactly want to call it sexist because he didn’t seem to think these women were inferior to him or men… just remarks about physical appearances, sexual behavior, stuff like that. Typical college bro.

That said, I did perceive a strong progression of cultural awakening in Schriever, if not entirely the spiritual one he brought up throughout the book. He expresses great respect for and genuine interest in the people and their cultures, often sharing some details about the history of the country or other factual information, which I loved. His self-depreciating sense of humor and admission of stupid jackassery endeared him more for me. He put himself in a few shockingly dangerous situations!

The chapter about basketball bored me a little, and I would have liked to read and learn more about what volunteering he did while abroad. Highlights for me though were the chapters on South America and the Middle East. I have been to Nicaragua so I’ve had a taste of Central America already, my husband has been to Thailand and China so I’ve heard about his experiences there, and we’ve recently been watching episodes of An Idiot Abroad, so reading Pushups in the Prayer Room brought a lot of these places I’ve just heard or watched about more to life for me. I appreciated Schriever’s no-nonsense style, too, just telling it like it is living and working for people in these parts of the world. It’s a fun, quick read about quite an adventure!

Read from April 8 to 11, 2013.

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