This book was a fascinating read but I found the author somewhat annoying. Reed is one of those people who constantly wonders about the road not taken. She is married with two adopted children, but always wondered what would have happened if she followed an earlier calling and had taken up religious life. So, she decides to do some in-depth research and visits many religious communities, mostly convent-style communities, and reports on what she finds there. This woman is in love with nuns. The number of times she describes their beatific faces, or reports without skepticism the fortuitous coincidences that happen to them that the nuns attribute to divine intervention, the more she lost me as a reader.
Reed is at her best when she is describing the communities and how they differ: this group is aggressively pro-life, this group gets up at 2 am, this group is cloistered, this group lives in an inner-city house among the people, this groups wears habits, this group admits men, and so on. The sheerr amount of time she has spent with these women and the amount of access she hhas to their lives -- lives which are not often spoke of outside of religious communities -- is impressive. As a total agnostic, I was more interested in the questions that Reed takes for granted: how can you be in love with and marry someone who doesn’t exist? does physical intimacy play a part in the lives of these women at all? what about the nuns who were mean to her, what’s their story? Reed seems to play up the good communities and dismiss the bad communities as dying out relics or people with outdated ideas as opposed to not wanting to basically have reporters get in their business. Reeds reporting is admirably politically neutral in most ways, but I was surprised at her lack of self-awareness at how putting herself into the lives of these women and reporting on them, fundamentally changed what they were and what they were doing. There’s a certain irony in listening to a reporter interview a woman who is mostly hermitted because, of course, when she’s being interviewed, she’s not really being a hermit, is she?
In general, this book is readable, a wealth of good information and a compelling read. I just wanted to know a lot less about Reed and her personal spiritual journey and more about the women whose way of life she was in some way invading for the purposes of her own soul-seeking journey.