You may not have heard of Josh Riebock, but he’s someone worth watching out for. An author and speaker based in the USA, his book Heroes and Monsters is one of the most brutally honest accounts I’ve read in a long time.
Before I say what I thought of it, Josh was good enough to take some time to answer some questions – and these are well worth spending some time reading.
The book clearly makes reference to some painful memories in your past. What was is that led to want to write it, and was it a difficult experience?
One of the most pressing motivations for me was the desire to write the kind of book that I would want to read. Something honest. Something unconventional, imaginative. Something that doesn’t spell out the moral of the story. Something that cherishes the magic of words. Something that some people are going to hate and not understand. Those kinds of books are the ones that seem to stick with me longest, and well, I wanted to write a book that would stick with people. Beyond that, writing this book was my way of retrieving a big piece of the sanity that I’ve lost through a lot of different events and years. It was a cheaper form of therapy. And, at times, yes, it was difficult. But reliving the painful memories, tracing back over my scars wasn’t the most difficult part. The most difficult part was working to capture the events and emotions and thoughts of my life in a thoroughly vivid way. I had a lot of fears that in writing about my life, I might cheapen it, both for me and for others, that the words on the page wouldn’t present, in a lively way, what life has often felt like. That’s the wonderful and frustrating challenge of writing: arming words and sentences with the electricity of real life. Doing that was very difficult.
There’s a strong sense throughout that we live in an uneven world full of uneven people. Where do you think God fits into all of that, and how do you reconcile God with this uneven world?
Well, in a lot of ways I have no idea. But to me, one of the most wonderful aspects of life is born out of this very thing. The idea of God loving composed, symmetrical, good people is a fine idea, but it doesn’t stir my soul all that much. But the idea that God loves uneven people, and an uneven world? That moves me so much. And I believe that. He doesn’t love me or you or whoever because we are refined, or even because we’re going to become more refined. He loves us. That’s it. He loves us regardless of whether we grow or not, whether we mature or not. Of course, in the broken way that I view the world, I sometimes find it easier to see beauty in an ideal, in some kind of perfection. But beauty doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with perfection, or the absence of flaws. Often, the greatest beauty is the presence of love or hope or peace or freedom in places of endless flaws. So for me, knowing that God loves me, a wildly erratic man, well…I don’t know if there is anything more beautiful than that. The fitting together of him and us is stunning because of the differences between us.
The book is at times brutally honest; do you think that people today find it difficult to be honest, both with themselves, with others and with God?
Well, I know that I certainly struggle with being honest. And while I’m confident that I’m growing more and more honest with myself and others and God with every passing year, that goal of being fully transparent and open is still far away. It’s still a dot in the distance. And I suppose part of me is okay with that. Part of me wants it that way. In some ways I’m in no rush to be more honest because a lack of honesty has often served me pretty well. That’s the trouble of it all. At times, my lack of honesty grants me acceptance with others, career or social success, personal safety or comfort or pleasure. Lack of honesty helps me avoid things that I don’t want to deal with, numbs me. And often I don’t want to give those benefits up in order to become more honest. In that way, the journey toward honesty is really the journey towards believing that the benefits of being honest with others and God and self outweigh the benefits of refusing to be honest.
What does your ideal day look like?
Ha, I always hate questions like this. I’m so tempted to lie, to concoct a really exciting or odd or adventurous answer, because I don’t want to come across as dull. I guess my actual ideal day isn’t nearly as interesting as the one I could invent. So can I do both? I’ll do both. First, my invented ideal day…I wake up next to my wife, after a night of camping on a beach. I step into the sand and do sunrise yoga, my breathing set to the rhythm of the tide. After that I catch and cook breakfast for my wife and dog and I. The fresh fish is always good. Our afternoon is spent wandering art galleries and book stores, sitting cross legged and sipping beer and wine, pointing to the pieces and sentences that we love, trying so hard to explain why we love them, but never quite finding the words. In the evening I attend my weekly piano lesson with an old jazz musician, and he tells me that I’m almost ready for my first live gig. He wants to be there, in the front row. A few hours later, my wife and dog and I climb up onto the side of a hill, blankets in hand, and bundled together, we watch the sun melt into the water. For dinner, it’s seafood at a local restaurant, and then it’s off to a movie marathon—80s movies, movies starring Daniel Day Lewis and Edward Norton, slightly weird but honest and gritty art movies. Then we retire back to our house. The rest of the night is spent on the back porch with a few close friends, laughing and playing cards, sharing stories and writing all over the interior walls of our house in chalk, creating murals that we hope will never fade. And they never do. Yea, that’s my fake ideal day…Now for the true ideal day. My wife and dog and I sleep in, happily. We spend the entire day together, going for walks, drinking coffee, not worrying about work, laughing and laughing and laughing some more, watching a movie or two, never getting out of our pajamas, never really needing to in order to have an ideal day.
Where is your favourite place to be?
Oh I’m such a homebody, so there is rarely a place that I’d rather be than at my house in Austin, TX. I travel a good amount for work, but when I’m back in Texas, I often won’t leave our house for days. I’m not always sure why that is. As a kid, I spent loads of time at home, alone, so I’m sure that’s part of where my love for being home comes from. But I also think that the older I get, the more I crave familiarity, and being at home—in my bed, at my table, lying on the couch with a book, on the floor with my dog, the smell of my wife’s hair in every room—provides that sense of familiarity. Being there, I sense that I belong. And everybody wants to belong.
If there’s one thing you want people to take from the book, one thing they carry from it, what would it be?
Well, I think you just said it. My hope is that they would take one significant thing. Maybe that will be a newfound freedom to be honest, or the belief that they aren’t alone in their struggles and doubts and pains and neurotic behaviors. Or maybe that will be a newfound inspiration for creativity or pursuing their dreams. Or maybe that will be a fresh belief that no matter what, they are loved and they aren’t alone. But I really don’t care too much what that thing is. If someone reads this book and takes something significant with them, then it has done what I hoped it would.
So what do I think? I think Josh has written a book which is difficult to read. Not because it’s a badly written book (it’s beautifully written) or because it’s not interesting (it’s absorbing).
The reason it’s so hard to read is that it is so honest. I can’t remember the last time I read a book in which the author was so brutally upfront and honest about their life, relationships (both with others and God) and situation.
The notion of story that runs through the book is vital, and as a reader I found myself sucked into Josh’s life story, sharing the moments with him and feeling his pain at times.
I have a huge amount of respect for Josh for writing this book. In a sense, the answers he’s given above provide more of an insight into the book than I could ever give. But I would say that if you want to read a book that challenges you, makes you feel uncomfortable, and forces you to question those things closest to you, then this book will do all those things and more.
Josh was kind enough to provide answers to the above questions for this review, but graciously made no attempt to influence my review. Having communicated with him over the last few weeks, I can also say that he is an outstanding person, and I appreciate his honesty and help.