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Review: ‘Raised Right’ by Alisa Harris

Review: ‘Raised Right’ by Alisa Harris post image

Title: Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics
Author: Alisa Harris
Genre: Memoir
Year: 2011
Acquired: The book was sent to me by Kate (The Parchment Girl) because I told her I was excited to read it; thanks Kate!
Rating: ★★★½☆

Review: I have to admit, part of the reason I wanted to Raised Right by Alisa Harris this book was a sort of voyeurism. As a person not raised going to church or even ascribing to a particular religious philosophy (other than my mom’s constant advice to “Do unto others and you would have them do unto you”), I have a really hard time understanding where religious, right-wing politicians are coming from when they so deeply connect religion and politics. In fact, it rubs me the wrong way so much that it’s almost impossible for me to take a candidate from the Religious Right seriously.

Harris’ memoir was, I think, a great vehicle for me to get stared trying to learn about this movement, in the sense that Harris and I have a similar sensibility (other than the whole religious upbringing thing), or at least a similar love for writing and writing as thinking. A former young journalist, Harris notes in the introduction that the book is as much a memoir as a way for her to write and explore her own faith and politics:

Writing is not just how I communicate my thoughts, but how I actually think. It’s the way an experience of fleeting thought becomes real to me instead of floating away. It’s the way I catch my thoughts and turn them over, testing their weight and deciding to keep them or throw them again. For me, to write is to become, and I can’t become that older, wiser person without skewering these youthful thoughts to paper without holding them up for my scrutiny and yours.

I should back up a little bit. In Raised Right, Harris writes about her upbringing in a deeply religious family that spent time picketing abortion clinics. Harris was home-schooled in a very Christian-Republican curriculum, where faith and Republican politics were deeply intertwined. After leaving for college, Harris was forced to start confronting the fact that the world is a more complex place, with more complex people, than she was raised to believe was possible.

Raised Right isn’t a perfect book, despite how much I enjoyed reading it. In her struggle to write her way to understanding, Harris loses a sort of cohesive narrative to the book. There’s not a good sense of time — when particular events take place to give them context — or forward momentum to the storytelling. The memoir is really more of a series of topical essays exploring issues like abortion, immigration, and poverty than a memoir as I tend to think of them.

I think what I liked about the book was the way that Harris constantly sought a more nuanced explanation for issues that we’ve been trained to see in black and white. Although sometimes, like with abortion, this leaves her without a clear stance on the issue, it does go to show that even thinking people can come to different — yet equally valid and acceptable — feelings on the same subject. In a public discourse that actively tries to discourage nuance, I thought this was refreshing and interesting.

I don’t think this is Harris’ final book that will explore the way faith and politics intersect and contradict each other, and for that I’m glad. Although she struggles to come to many conclusions in Raised Right, I appreciated learning about her life and seeing issues from a perspective that is well outside of my own.

Other Reviews: the parchment girl | Biblio Sue |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • bermudaonion (Kathy) March 29, 2012, 6:29 am

    This sounds like an interesting book. I wonder if a lot of home schooled children have similar reactions when they leave the nest.

    • Kim April 3, 2012, 7:03 pm

      I’m not sure. I do know that getting out into the world for college, home-schooled or not, can make you reevaluate how you see the world. At least, it did for me in a lot of ways.

  • Gwen March 29, 2012, 3:07 pm

    “it rubs me the wrong way so much that it’s almost impossible for me to take a candidate from the Religious Right seriously.” I battle this too. To me, it feels like people can’t even pick out a head of cabbage at the grocery store without bring God into it and I don’t get that at all.

    Putting this on my wish list now.

    • Kim April 3, 2012, 7:04 pm

      I really, really struggle with this one. I don’t want to dismiss political figures for just that reason, but it’s hard because it’s so far outside of how I was raised.

  • Jeanne March 29, 2012, 6:42 pm

    Not all home schooled children attempt to think this critically when they leave the nest, that’s for sure. I’ve taught a number of them at the college I used to commute to. One of the most memorable told me she couldn’t watch the clips from the film versions of Othello that I was showing in class because it was rated R and she wouldn’t be 18 for another two weeks. She was, sadly, not unusual in still believing whatever her parents told her.

    • Kim April 3, 2012, 7:06 pm

      Wow, that’s different! I’m a rule-follower, but not that much 🙂

  • Suzanne March 29, 2012, 8:04 pm

    I’m definitely going to read this one. Thanks for reviewing it.
    While I definitely don’t agree with the views of the “religious right”, I can respect their opinions and agree to disagree as long as they are willing to do the same. Unfortunately as a general rule this is not the case but it sounds like this book is a bridge toward that.

    • Kim April 3, 2012, 7:07 pm

      That’s a good point Suzanne — part of what’s hard for me with politics, no matter what side, is people who are not willing to agree to disagree on certain points.

  • Sheila (Book Journey) March 31, 2012, 9:20 am

    Writing is not just how I…. that paragraph is powerful, sounds like an interesting read Kim. I would read it if I came across it.

    • Kim April 3, 2012, 7:07 pm

      Isn’t it? That’s the moment I knew that this book was going to be a good read, even if I disagreed with some of the conclusions.

  • Christy (A Good Stopping Point) April 1, 2012, 2:30 pm

    Your description of the book’s problems with cohesion reminded me of Rachel Held Evans’ Evolving in Monkey Town, which is about a woman on a similar journey from a dogmatic Christianity in childhood to a more examined faith in her young adulthood. Her book was also grouped around ‘topics’ of a sort, although it was also roughly chronological, and it was kind of a weird format. Still, even with that, I really got a lot out of reading her thoughts and reflections.

    • Kim April 3, 2012, 7:08 pm

      Interesting! I remember reading about that book when it first came out, but never read it. It’s going back on the wishlist ASAP.

  • Katie @ Doing Dewey April 4, 2012, 11:08 pm

    Hi Kim,

    I’m currently borrowing your blurb requesting other people mention review they’d like you to link to, but if you’d rather I not, let me know and I’ll just have to be more original 😛 Thanks!


    • Kim April 5, 2012, 9:04 am

      No, I’m don’t mind at all! I probably borrowed that from someone at some point anyway 🙂

  • Kate {The Parchment Girl} April 11, 2012, 1:20 am

    Great review, Kim! The lack of cohesion bothered me a bit too, but overall I enjoyed it.

    My review is here: http://parchmentgirl.com/book-reviews/raised-right-alisa-harris/

    I’m linking up to your review as well.

    • Kim April 29, 2012, 9:24 am

      I remember when I read your review, you mentioned the cohesion thing too. Thanks for sending me the book!

  • Suzanne May 16, 2012, 6:44 pm