Book Recommendation

The Book of Mary, Edited by Anthony Zurlo (CruciformPress, 2011)

Okay. So, CruciformPress just did something pretty radical. They have an eBook that you can download from their website for just 99 cents through January 3rd. First book I ever read without paper. But I really wanted to read it. Anthoy Zurlo found a box from an estate auction filled with some journals . These journal entries basically make up the entire (short) book, with some very good commentary intertwined by Zurlo. The journals were written by a woman named Mary from 1986-1993. She was a mom, a drug addict, very sexually active, tormented by her sin, and had AIDS.

But Zurlo challenges the reader while we offer our pity and make our judgments on Mary. How different are we? He makes some great points about how drug addicts are actually more honest with themselves than a lot of us “normal” people. He says normal can be tragic. At least the addict’s eyes are opened to the fact that they have no hope to escape this world of death.

Most of us try to suppress this truth. We play pretend. We surround ourselves with people who agree with us, who act like everything is okay. If anyone tries to remind us that things are not so good, we get angry. We want others to help us live out our fantasy, not expose the sad reality we prefer to ignore.

But no matter how hard we try, the real world bleeds through. Many of us find culturally acceptable ways to cope. We fill our lives with distractions so we’re too busy to think. Most of the time, these distractions are just culturally acceptable addictions— the attention of a lover, a drive to succeed, sports and hobbies, even religious behaviors.

But for some people, none of these things really work. Call it honesty, or maybe something else, but what it comes down to is that these are people who can’t suppress the truth, who can’t shut out the pain that comes from not having a solid hope. They are unable to escape the plain truth about our world, and they don’t know how to face that awful reality—at least, not in any way that is socially acceptable. Many of these become drug addicts.

They may become addicted to one drug, and then detox and get off it, but they end up getting re-addicted to that drug or another one. What makes them addicts is not so much a physiological need for cocaine or pills: they are addicts because they live to get high. And they live to get high because they see the world as it really is; they have no hope, so they live just for the now.

To me, these are the sane people.

You know what’s insane?

To live blasé in a world that brings everyone pain and suffering. A world of uncontrollable destruction from fellow man and nature and disease. A world packed full of loneliness and tragedy and heartache so deep we can’t put words to it. A world where death always wins.

What’s insane is to live in that world, and to know you live in that world, and say, “Eh, not so bad. Pass me the remote.”

In her honesty, the addict needs strong medicine to hide from the pain. So she finds a behavior that gives a strong and immediate payoff, a response that helps her cope with or forget about or escape from the world as it really is (24-25).

Of course the Christian knows the true hope that does not disappoint. Our future, sure hope bleeds into our present, as Zurlo says, and gives us true joy. Mary mentioned in one of her journal entries how she was attracted to men who showed leadership and authority. That is our Savior, the only one with ultimate authority who led by sacrificing himself for people worse off than Mary—and you and me. As a matter of fact, he suffered in our place. Zurlo gives a beautiful gospel presentation at the end of this book. And it is really a fantastic resource for evangelical witness to an addict.

But The Book of Mary is helpful to the person who already knows Christ as well. As I read Mary’s life of despair, I got to know a real person–not a drug addict. You cannot read this book without developing true compassion for those who really know they are lost. I hope that you will go to CruciformPress’s website and download a copy for yourself!

What do you think?

  1. This observation, “the Christian knows the true hope that does not disappoint”, is exactly what I was thinking as I read through the book excerpt Aimee, except you wrote it better than I was thinking it.

    And I also really appreciate the second thing you noted, that reading the book allowed you to get to know a person named Mary, not the label “addict”. I see folks like her at work every day, and I always need to keep in mind that they are not addicts, or the accused or criminals; they are people God loves.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us in such a way as to get me thinking too.


    • I bet that is a challenge in your line of work, Tim. I did find myself stereotyping Mary as well while reading, and Zurlo did a fantastic job of pointing out how the addicts signs are more obvious, while we “normal” people do a better job of concealing our idols lures to sin.

  2. This is really going with my theme this week that we are all caught up in God’s epic tale. A tragedy/drama of sorts. I am currently reading Dual Citizen’s by Jason J. Stellman (thanks to your reflection a while back) and am at the part where he talks about this reality. I never really looked at this life-history-world in the eyes of it being a tragedy, but he is right! In his chapter “Suburbylon” he talks about this reality! He says, “The truth of the matter is that this age is littered with loss and lamentation.” We are all caught up in the tragedy (the fall) and “the Christian knows the true hope that doesn’t dissapoint.”

    • I believe this is an area that opens up all kinds of evangelism for the Christian. We all know there is something wrong, and we can’t be that “crazy Christian” stereotype that pretends like everything is so dandy all the time. Awesome synoptical reading, Dana (as Adler would say)!

      • And then I opened up my fb page to read that a friend died in his sleep after posting “Happy New Year” on his wall. He was my age with wife and a daughter. “Loss and Lamentation” is all around us. Clinging to our “Hope.”

  3. I was a profoundly depressed, promiscuous, drug using child of former hippies before Christ saved me… the truth of this article struck a chord. I have always wondered why more people aren’t suicidal– how does one get out of bed each morning without “the hope that does not disappoint”? It a gracious gift from God that I was under no false hopes or delusions of my own goodness when someone loved me enough to give me the gospel. Thanks for this– well done.

    • Brandi- I hope you download the book. I think you will find it useful to help others like yourself. Thanks for stopping by and adding your testimony!

  4. I’ve been reading, “The Book of Mary: Diary of a Drug Addict.” There are little hints here and there that have been making me think, “Is this for real?” The biggest question I have is the following:

    This is an entry from Mary’s diary, dated April 23, 1993. Friday

    “I emailed the lawyer today,…”

    Really, she e-mailed her lawyer in 1993? Even prior to the release of Windows ’95? Seriously? A drug addict with a computer and e-mail before I was even able to use one in college? I suppose it’s possible? Hmmmm?

    I’ve been enjoying the book; and the presentation of the Gospel is wonderful. But there are things in the diary including the above-mentioned that, at least to me, seem suspect. Any thoughts?

      • I can’t say for sure on the page number since I’m e-reading, but it does appear at 86% and just shortly before the editor’s commentary, “The Hope Set Before Us.”

        Here is the full entry for that above-mentioned date:

        “I emailed the lawyer today, I explained more of my HORRIBLE existence in this house or horrors. Please God, I hope he contacts me. He is my only hope. Got to get a job. Thinking about taking word processing at business school.”

        • One additional note:

          the following typo (“house or horrors) from the above quote, should obviously read, “of” horrors. That is not my typo but comes that way in my volume. There are numerous mistakes just like this one that I have seen in this book. One could account for these mistakes in one of two ways. Either it is an editing error and the fault of the proof-reader prior to publication, or the mistake was left in so as to give a true and accurate representation of Mary’s diary entry, including her oddities, etc. However, Mary’s diary was obviously handwritten. So any obvious such mistakes must certainly have been made by a proof-reader or by the author/editor of this book in keeping with the diary entry. The typo from above, “or” is easily seen as a typing mistake where the left forefinger mis-keyed going “up” for the “R” rather than remaining on the home row to strike the “F” in the word, “of.” Since the diary was handwritten, any such mistakes cannot be a true representation from the diary. As I say, there are numerous such mistakes in (at least my) volume. So, my question is this: Are these such mistakes left in on purpose to represent the diary? Or are they simply proof-reading errors? I can live with the proof-reading errors. But if the author/editor left them in on purpose…Hmmm?

          One last possibility…the transcription of the PDF version I am reading could have been entered with typos. I would be curious what the hard-bound version of this book has for typos, in particular the one noted above. Can anyone set me straight on this? I so very much want to believe that this is a true story and nothing less less than above-board!

  5. On that “email” question — good catch! We looked back at the journals and found that what it said was “I mailed a letter to the lawyer, __________ today…” In the process of removing identifying names from the published version, “mail” was accidentally converted to “email.” Apologies for the confusion. At we will be posting an image of that page of the journal with the name blotted out. Glad you pointed that out. Any other questions, let us know. This project is truly 100% legit. Thanks!

    • Thank you for the quick reply, Kevin. It is helpful to post the image for the page. Beau, I hope that is helpful for you. The intro. did discuss the typos.

      • I do feel better, yes, thank you! Oopsies happen! And the critics (which I have no intention of being) are just looking for something to discredit the Grace and Glory of God! Thank you for clearing this up! I will be recommending this “read” to everyone I know!


  6. As we pointed out in the introduction, we left any typos in Mary’s entries to try to stay as true as possible to what she recorded. Mary’s life was far from tidy, and we didn’t want to clean its presentation up any more than necessary. That was a judgement call on our part, one that could certainly be debated from different perspectives. At another level, since we had decided not to fix typos, sometimes it was a matter of interpreting her handwriting–a misspelling vs. a poorly formed letter?–so no doubt some errors crept in there as well.

    Love that attention to detail!

    • Really, I don’t want to be overly critical or petty about any of this; but if you were unwilling to “fix typos,” why the obvious taking of liberty with not trascribing the exact words with which Mary used in the above referenced image that you supplied for the journal entry in question? How is that… “to try to stay as true as possible to what she recorded”, or “to clean its presentation up any more than necessary.”? I can understand deleting names, etc. But in regard to this entry, even “HORRIBLE” is in reality…merely “horrible.” Curious what’s behind the second blocked-out point in the image.

      Again, I truly do not wish to be a pain about any of this! But something isn’t clicking. Maybe it’s just me! Please forgive me if that is indeed the case!

      Just saying!

  7. Fair enough. The two primary issues here are that we are certain the journals are real, and we are confident that, despite its imperfections, no one reading this ebook will come away with a materially false impression of Mary’s original journals.

    That said, we could’ve done better on the details. We tried something new here. This is not only an unusual product, but for a variety of reasons we chose to create it through an unusual process (one we probably won’t repeat). One of the operational decisions was this: confident of the legitimacy of the journals, we did not give every person in the editorial chain direct access to all the original journal pages. (For example, the page in question is one I haven’t actually seen until now.) This did produce some errors, but again nothing that alters in any meaningful way what Mary intended to communicate.

    Perhaps the good news is that, as we prepare for what will likely be a print version of The Book of Mary, we are starting from scratch and doing a fresh evaluation of the journals, eyeballs to paper, page by page, with direct comparison between the journals and the final product.

    It can only get better from here. Thanks again for your observations, Beau.

  8. Pingback: 3. Hope Regarding Death | wafers made with honey

  9. Anthony still is my pastor. He truly is a modern day George Whitfield. His passion and love for Christ is a joy to have every week, yet at the same time he counts himself and all of his accomplishments as less than nothing and points is only to Christ. I just wanted to say this for whoever may consider his book that any sermon preached by him or book written by him does have great hope in it ,because while it is meant to empty you of yourself it is always to drive you to the one who saves to the uttermost Jesus Christ.