Review: Anne Jackson’s “Permission To Speak Freely”

After writing this review, I wrote a follow-up piece here that has more rounded-out thoughts on the book.

The project began in May 2008 when Jackson posed a question on her blog: “What is the one thing you feel you can’t say in the church?” The response was immediate and heartfelt. More than 500 comments poured in with confessions about addiction and adultery, admissions of loneliness and lost faith, and much more.

The purpose of the book is simple, Jackson says: “to share the confessions I’ve received, as well as my own life and experience, to show you that you’re not alone in your battle with fear and secrets. We are not isolated in our brokenness.”

So says the official website for Anne Jackson’s book Permission to Speak Freely.

Which, together with copy on the back cover of the book, might give one the impression that is what the book is about.

One would be wrong.

Or, at least, one would be mostly wrong. Those things are in the book, and those do have something to do with where the book ends up.

The journey getting there, however, has little to do with people’s experiences with the church. There are a handful of the “confessions” thrown in as garnishes, but it’s not really about what people wish they could say or why they feel they can’t or what the church needs to do to change that.

It’s about bad things that happened in the life of Anne Jackson.

As such, it’s not a bad book. As a memoir reflecting telling her story, it lives up to her goal of openness and honesty. Jackson argues that the reason people feel they can’t say things is that nobody says things. The more we are transparent, the more people feel they can be transparent.

To be sure, there’s a limited amount of transparency here — it’s a relatively short book and there have been many bad things to happen to Ms. Jackson, so one hoping to learn from any of her experiences may also be disappointed.

I’ll admit it was interesting to read this week that Jackson and her husband are divorcing; their marriage figures prominently in the book, and arguably serves as example of progress in her life. I intentionally did not read what she had to say about the divorce until after writing this review in order not to color this further. But that was another of the problems I had with the book; one’s answers to life’s problems are valuable only if they’re efficacious, and Jackson fails to fully make that case using her life as example.

The book is an enjoyable read. I do agree with its ultimate conclusion. It meanders in getting to that conclusion, but is short enough, and enjoyable enough, that the conclusion is worth the read regardless.