Review: The Salt of the Universe: Praise, Songs, and Improvisations

Amy Leach's third book, The Salt of the Universe: Praise, Songs, and Improvisations, upholds the singular spirit of Things That Are and The Everybody Ensemble with a deepening of personal and spiritual subject matter. Whimsical, frank, funny, shrewd, and ever unpredictable, Leach's phrasing and concepts continue to surprise, delight, and edify.

Where her previous works explored the world with curiosity, awe, an endearing silliness, and joy, The Salt of the Universe picks up with a new focus on Leach's upbringing and the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in which she was raised. "Now, in this book, I will let my soul speak for itself... I figure I've heard about five thousand sermons in my life, and now... I have something to say too." What she has to say will be familiar in tone to her established readers, but fresh in its more personal angle.

Leach remains the master of the list, especially lists of the unexpected. Look out for how Walmart has taught her to find items she was not searching for, including "inflatable bathtub neck pillows and tropical Popsicles and Guinness Baltimore Blonde and misty-scented candles and Minions whistles." Her subjects include not only gods but music and poetry; babies generally and her own two children in particular; snake grass and daffodils; brown dwarf stars and muons; an "interior Texas" and an outdoor heart and everything in between; the wide, wide world, both the small and the large; and the wonder and wondrousness of all forms of art, life, and love. In examining her relationship with Adventism and religion in general, Leach can be drolly tongue-in-cheek, and though earnest, never unfun.

This is a serious investigation into how to live, while coming from a religion that outlaws pickles and dancing. "We know not to read Shakespeare, or Boethius, but what are we to think of Snoop Dogg or Chubby Checker?... It is so hard to be stranded in the twenty-first century with only God as our guide." Leach has split from Adventism, rejecting the prohibitions on spicy foods, literature, and, yes, pickles (though she still refrains from eating meat), but retains her sense of marvel and reverence at the vast and varied world--the tubax, dancing robots, sloths, Edith Wharton, Bob Dylan. "The apocalypse can't be had for the hankering but the concerto sometimes can." She does not profess to prescribe, but will still inspire. Sincerely inquisitive and wildly, fancifully imaginative, Leach's perspective is a gift. The Salt of the Universe may be life-changing, even life-saving. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Shelf Talker: Playful, celebratory, wise, impertinent, Amy Leach turns her lyricism and wit on a fundamentalist upbringing and the wealth of experiences beyond.

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