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Angela Himsel On Her Book "A River Could Be A Tree"

I went into the Barnes and Noble in my neighborhood to check on my newly-released memoir A River Could be a Tree. My book describes growing up in a fringe Christian faith, and then converting to Judaism, so I looked for it in the places I figured it would be shelved: Jewish Biography? No. Judaism? No. Non-fiction? No. New non-fiction? No. Finally, I asked the woman at the help desk. She directed me to Christian Life. Yes. There it was. Right next to Liz Curtis Higgs’s book Really Bad Girls of the Bible. I was in excellent company.

I was kind of amused that people seeking Christian guidance might inadvertently stumble upon my book, which culminates in my decision to leave Christianity. But, I was also a little concerned because I would hate for someone to buy it and feel like they’d been misled. However, it was out of my hands; it’s not for me to decide where my book is shelved or in which category it best fits.

After A River Could be a Tree was released, it quickly hit number one in both Amazon’s “Cults and Demonism” and “New Releases Jewish Biography” categories. However, in bookstores, my memoir was shelved in the Christianity section. Who knew one book could span so many diverse genres?

Truth be told, I personally feel pretty comfortable in Christian cults and in Jewish spaces. Each of them has informed my identity in some way or another. However, there is no “It’s Complicated” genre, one that might attempt to at least acknowledge that books, like their authors, are complicated and not so easily pigeonholed.

Identity is relative. With my kids, I’m a mom. With Jews, I may be perceived as “the convert” (which some might think bugs me, but doesn’t because it’s true). To non-Americans I’m an American.To the world, I am a woman.

We at times change or alter our identities to suit certain circumstances. For instance, there’s plenty of evidence that women writers are regarded differently than their masculine counterparts. From George Sand to George Eliot to J.K. Rowling, it’s been a time-honored tradition for women to disguise their gender using masculine pseudonyms, both to draw a wide audience to their work and to be considered “serious.”

But hold on—it’s not just women who use pseudonyms. Men use feminine pen names, as well! A number of romance writers are actually men. Amongst them, Leigh Greenwood, aka Harold Lowry, and Jennifer Wilde, aka Tom Huff.

I understand the author’s plight: What is the best way to reach your audience? Will a reader reject a romance novel written by a man, and ignore a thriller written by a woman? We do all judge books by their covers and, if the name on a cover indicates gender, it may be enough to sway someone not to pick it up.

My memoir is about figuring out your identity on your own terms. Transcending the world and the religion you were born into, not to find a “better” identity, but rather to claim the one that suits you best. Change is inevitable in life, and we are entitled to choose where we feel we belong, even if it means defying others’ expectations.

Now my book is out there and I can’t choose where it is shelved or if I will primarily be dubbed a female or Jewish author—or both. As imperfect as the current classification system is—dividing books into general categories—it’s perhaps necessary to help the reader access the books he or she is interested in.

Which is why, in the end, I’m delighted that my book broke out of its presumed box and found its way into Christian Life. Why not shake things up, personally and professionally? Because you know what? I have faith that even if a Christian happens to read it, it’s okay. They can survive another point of view, and maybe find common ground—because identity is complicated, and that’s ok.

A River Could be a Tree is one of JWA's 2018-2019 Book List picks.

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A River Could Be A Tree
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A River Could Be A Tree by Angela Himsel.
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How to cite this page

Himsel, . "Angela Himsel On Her Book "A River Could Be A Tree"." 11 December 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 25, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/bookclub/angela-himsel-on-her-book-river-could-be-tree>.


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