I have always had a hard time picking up auto-biographies. I had some bad experiences in the past – OK, I had over 20 bad experiences with auto-biographies in the past which have left a sour taste in my mouth having nothing to do with my addiction to lemons.
There is also the part of me that can’t help but think: how arrogant does one have to be to write about oneself and how awesome one (thinks one) is?
I know, harsh words — but seriously, those experiences were scarring.
But once in awhile, as a form of therapy to get over my autobiographobia, I pick up an autobiography and try to read it through. I’m happy to report that I’ve had enough good experiences to encourage me to continue facing my phobia. For example, I recently read Michael J Fox’s Always Look Up, more about his fight for a cure to Parkinson’s rather than a “look at me, I’m so great” type of book, it inspired me and earned a place of honour in my bookcase.
This is the reason why, after I read the 29 Gifts write-up, I decided to give it a try. It reminded me a lot of Michael J Fox’s book, since it was more about the journey rather than the author. Both have used something difficult that happened, turned it around and made it a form of blessing, each according to their sphere of influence and the resources at hand (we can easily conclude that Michael’s hand is a lot longer).
29 Gifts is a great read. The author’s tone throughout the book is extremely friendly and upbeat, even while recounting her darkest moments. She doesn’t mince words while describing them; however, she doesn’t dwell on them, and each described dark moment leads to something positive. I never once felt like Cami wanted me to feel sorry for her, but rather that she was welcoming me into her world in an open and frank way.
The premise is simple: healing doesn’t only involve taking care of your physical well-being, but also of your mental and spiritual well-being; to be helped mentally and physically, you need to learn to help others.
From the book: “Healing doesn’t always happen in a vacuum, but through our interactions with other people. By giving, you are focusing on what you have to offer others, inviting more abundance in your life.
“Giving of any kind is taking a positive action that begins the process of change. It will shift your energy for life.”
In other words, this is the practical component of The Secret.
The book opens with a rather lengthy prologue explaining where the idea comes from and how it was shared with Cami Walker. The book is then divided in — you guessed it — 29 chapters, one for each of the 29 gifts. And there is a little something extra; at the end of the book, not only are there are stories from the online community of experiences they had during their own month of giving, but there are instructions from Cami Walker’s spiritual advisor, Mbali Creazzo, on how to go about doing your own month of giving.
One of the many things I found great about this book is that while it exudes positivism, the author, Cami Walker, is a realist; she never claims that MS (or any other disorder, for that matter) will suddenly and miraculously be healed by giving 29 gifts in 29 days, but rather that taking ownership of it gives living with MS a very different feel. This is reassuring, as I have come across too many so-called “therapies” that encourage patients to just stop all medications, and sometimes to start some weird treatment based on extracts of plants I can’t find in my encyclopaedia. I wouldn’t want to have yet another one being passed around.
The relative simplicity of the 29 gifts movement is refreshing, too. It’s reflected through some of the seemingly obvious gifts the author is encouraged to give (listening to a friend on the phone while they cry for example) and the spirit in which she is encouraged to give them in (with abundance & with love, for example). We live in a society of such excess, that we tend to forget that being nice and giving gifts doesn’t relate to the size of quantity, but rather to the gesture itself.
Looking at this book as a book, however, there were a couple of weaknesses.
I don’t know if aiming to write 29 days worth of gifts was a good idea, as some of the gifts and ensuing reflections seemed repetitious. It also gave way for a couple of “rambles.” While each of them were, on their own, well written and reflective, put together in a book made them, well, repetitious (aren’t I the pot calling the kettle black?) It would have been nice to have one thread (or more) to follow throughout the entire book; for example, letting go of the image of MS as a horrible thing instead of a great opportunity. To see an overall net progress rather than the sometimes dizzying back and forth between detachment and anger would have made it an even more satisfying read. While the approach used lends the story great authenticity, it also makes for a less than smooth read.
Another thing I found lacking was a deeper reflection on why this process works. What makes giving such a powerful tool? What philosophies support it? How long has it existed? While Cami Walker’s personal experience is powerful, as is the experiences of the contributors in the online community of 29 days, it would have been great to back it up with the even more powerful experiences of thousand year old philosophies that rely heavily on giving.
Despite these weaknesses, 29 days is a fantastic book. I finished it in two sittings. I know I read absurdly fast (a great gift when in university), but the speed I consumed this book is a tribute to its ability to grab my attention. I would recommend reading it before, God forbid, something happens to you, so that the life of giving you choose to embark on will cushion any blow you might be dealt with in the future.
First published here on Blogcritics.