cover image SEEKING ENLIGHTENMENT... HAT BY HAT: A Skeptic's Look at Religion

SEEKING ENLIGHTENMENT... HAT BY HAT: A Skeptic's Look at Religion

Nevada Barr, . . Putnam, $21.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-399-15057-9

"A life ago," Barr writes, "I was depressed, broke, homeless, unemployed and divorced." One evening she wandered into an Episcopal church, primarily because it was unlocked. Desperation, not interest in religion, had brought her there, but warmly accepting parishioners kept her, and soon she wanted to be confirmed. "I went to the priest and asked him if it would be okay considering I didn't accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior, didn't believe the Bible was divinely inspired and wasn't entirely sure about the whole God thing. Fortunately Father Andrew had been tending his flock long enough to recognize a lost lamb when one came bleating into his office and put no obstacles in my way." It was a turning point for Barr, who here describes the resulting changes in her life and thinking over the last six years. Readers of Barr's bestselling mystery series featuring park ranger Anna Pigeon might have hoped for a whole book full of enlightenment about Anna's creator. However, apart from the introduction and occasional anecdotes throughout, her first nonfiction work is more a collection of personal essays than spiritual memoir. In more than 40 short chapters, she looks at topics as varied as forgiveness, girlfriends, being ordinary, Halloween and of course hats, usually saying more about how she thinks life should be lived than about how she actually lives hers. Nevertheless, Barr's sassy style, self-deprecating sense of humor and trenchant observations make for a good—and, yes, enlightening—read. (June)

Forecast:Barr's 11th Anna Pigeon mystery was published earlier this year and has been a PW and New York Times bestseller. This memoirish spirituality title should ensure that the multi-talented writer Barr will never be, well, pigeonholed solely in the mystery category.