BOOK REVIEW: A limited niche book only some will like …

Before I read “Bread and Wine: A love letter to life around the table, with recipes” by Shauna Niequist (published by Zondervan), I did something I usually never do before reviewing a book: I watched the author’s promotional video about the book.

Authors and publishers are always trying to get reviewers to watch videos and include links and do things I just do not do as a reviewer because I want my reviews to be thoroughly independent and entirely about what the author actually wrote.

But the video captivated me! It promised a message by the author that I thought the church had long forgotten and could sorely benefit from hearing again. “Bread and Wine” was to have three  key ingredients to it: fellowship around the table, food, and faith.

Niequist delivers on her promise when it comes to re-introducing the church to the immense value of swinging wide the doors of our homes to practice hospitality by inviting people around our tables to share in authentic fellowship.

“Both the church and modern life, together and separately, have wandered away from the table. The church has preferred to live in the mind and the heart and the soul, and almost not at all in fingers and mouths and senses. And modern life has pushed us into faux food and fast food and highly engineered food products cased in sterile packages that we eat in the car or on the subway — as though we’re astronauts, as though we can’t be bothered with a meal,” Niequist writes, “What happens around the table doesn’t matter to a lot of people. But it matters more and more to me.”

Much of the rest of the book is a testimony to just how much fellowship around the table matters to the author, as most of the content centers around what has happened around her table or other tables with her friends. Niequist writes so glowingly of those times around the table that it makes the reader want to immediately plan a dinner party and gather friends around their own tables.

The book also delivers on sharing the author’s love for food, including the sharing of recipes at the end of some of the chapters. In fact, Niequist so persistently raves about her passion for food I soon began to be concerned as to whether she was placing too great a value on it, then she clarified the matter.

“It’s not, actually, strictly, about food for me. It’s about what happens when we come together, slow down, open our homes, look into one another’s faces, listen to one another’s stories,” Niequist wrote.

Great message!

So the book delivers on highlighting the great value of gathering people around our tables and enjoying the rich fellowship that can come from sharing a meal together. But on the aspect of faith, the book fails to deliver much.

The author does mention praying together around the table, and having a house church (of sorts) in her home that focused on fellowship around the table. But there are only glimpses and fleeting mentions of faith; this certainly is not the kind of book where scripture is shared (none are).

In fact, when it comes to the issue of faith, there are a couple of items mentioned by the writer that brings to question just what the author means by “faith.” On pages 159 and 160, Niequist tells of praying in a hospital chapel and how a friend had told her she prays to Mary at such critical times. The writer noted she kneeled near a statue of Mary to pray, and upon leaving the chapel adds, “I don’t know the Hail Mary, but I knew enough for that moment. I nodded at her, like dipping your head before royalty. Hail Mary, full of grace.” This scenario from a Protestant made no sense to me with regard to any expression of a biblical expression of faith.

Additionally, the writer states she serves as an officiant at weddings, but neither the author’s bio nor the content of the book itself mentions anything about Niequist being an ordained minister — so how does she officiate at weddings?

Once you get past the positive and powerful message at the opening of the book regarding the value of fellowship around the table, the remainder of the book is very “Seinfeld-esque,” a lot of writing about nothing of real significance. The content isn’t quite a series of personal stories told by the author as it is more like the writer reminiscing on events in her life that involved being around the table or the sharing of food. Some of the chapters lack any substantial subject matter, but that doesn’t stop the author from writing them.

Whether on purpose or not, “Bread and Wine” is appealing mostly to a female audience due not only to the way it’s written, but also because of some of the content. For example, the author strings across multiple chapters her very personal struggles with pregnancy, and shares this story in a way one woman would relate to another. Men would have to be diehard foodies to make their way from cover-to-cover with this book.

If you’re female, a foodie, and like the idea supposedly sharing your faith with others around the table or while cooking, you might love this book. For the rest of us, it’s a little too much like a bad batch of bread — it initially has a lot of promise, but ultimately falls flat.


I received this book free from Handlebar as part of
their book review bloggers program. I was not
required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed
are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal
Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use
of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”