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Book Review :: Lessons and Carols by John West

Lessons and Carols by John West book cover image

Guest Post by Jack Bylund

Written in short vignettes of narrative that make it difficult to put down, John West’s Lessons and Carols: A Meditation on Recovery is a thoughtful and poetic memoir, beautifully written and rife with striking imagery. West vulnerably and honestly engages with his own life story. As he does, he explores the joys and pains of new parenthood, the agony of addiction, the contradictions of faith and atheism, and so much more, all in the form of a traditional Anglican Christmas service. Devastating emotion is packed into vignettes making up a single page or even just a few sentences. It’s not all dour rumination, though—West’s narrative voice includes sly and sometimes self-deprecating bits of humor.

The cast of characters rises to unwieldy numbers by the end; it grows difficult to keep track of who everyone is, especially people in addiction recovery with West, all christened with just a single letter (N, for instance). But this does not detract from the beauty of West’s writing, messaging, and storytelling. Anyone interested in narratives about faith, atheism, queerness, mental illness, and profound questions will find more than one thing to treasure in these pages.

Lessons and Carols: A Meditation on Recovery by John West. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., May 2023.

Reviewer bio: Jack Bylund teaches and studies English literature and fiction at Utah State University. He loves contemporary lit, Panda Express, and books about the end of the world.

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