Memoir

Man’s Search for Meaning

Viktor Frankl, a PhD-level Neurologist and Psychiatrist, spent three years in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. He survived that harrowing experience, not by any force of luck, but rather through knowing he had a purpose in this life. That purpose bred hope, and that hope sustained him until he could safely emerge on the other side of hate and continue living a life of meaning that he chronicles in his memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning. I am super late to this book and decided now—in a time when so many of us are hanging onto hope—was as good a time as any to read this book. My friend, and fellow Book Babe Jill, joined me in reading it and we decided an actual conversation was absolutely necessary. I was all, okay, twist my arm… and here we are.

Lara: So, I was trying to figure out how I have missed this book for so long and I came to an embarrassing realization. I kept thinking it was over 1,000 pages (do I dare admit I was confusing him with Victor Hugo and Les Misérables?) and it also sounded super philosophical and scholarly (not that there’s nothing wrong with that).

Man’s Search for Meaning covers a miserable period in world history and it is a bit philosophical. But it’s way more accessible and impactful than I ever expected. Ever. And, it’s under 200 pages! What did you think? Can you believe you hadn’t read it until now?

Jill: I will see your embarrassing realization and raise you by one unit of mortification. I hadn’t even heard of the book before you told me about it! That said, how did I miss it? It’s superb!

The Holocaust is indeed one of the darkest, saddest periods in all human history. While Frankl does lean towards the philosophical and his work is grounded in psychiatry and logotherapy (psst…go off and research this on your own…fascinating!), he humanizes what could be very dry theories through the telling of his own concentration camp stories. It’s short, accessible, and deeply impactful for these troubled times we now find ourselves in.

Lara: The premise of Frankl’s memoir is simple and profound:

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear almost any ‘how’.”

This hit me. Hard. And I totally agree.

Jill: My first life and business mentor taught me the phrase, “Put the what before the how.” My life motto btw. In Frankl’s case, the “why” and the “what” are the same concept. It’s the focus on a person or a goal that is much bigger than ourselves that keeps us moving forward through the most difficult of times. The thought of our children, for example, can push us to do things we never thought we were capable of. I think what Frankl proposes so beautifully is that it’s not about what you would die for. It’s about what/who you will live for.

Lara: Exactly! And what I love about his explanation is that what is meaningful to us is as unique as we are. He shared the story of the fellow prisoner whose sole purpose for staying alive was to get back to his scientific research. He had spent his life dedicated to research and all of his findings were documented back home in his journals. That meaning kept him going. For someone else, it was returning to his family as he felt his life’s purpose was to be a husband and father.

Here’s the other thing Frankl is onto. We need to have purpose in our lives, no matter where we are in our lives. In fact, the sooner we determine our purpose, the better, because that is what will carry us through uncertain or challenging times.

 Jill: Yes! Each of us finding our purpose, our “why”, is what keeps us going. The tough thing is that it usually takes us many years into adulthood to figure out what gives our lives meaning. We play at stuff, and check things out, but very few of us settle right into lives that bring us joy and fulfillment.

Lara: I totally agree with this. Imagine how much better off we would all be—and the world would be—if we all uncovered our purpose in the first half of our lives.

Jill: If we could figure it out sooner, we’d have more happy people living lives on purpose. There is a great deal of suffering in the world, particularly in the US where we have so many options, around figuring out what we want to “be when we grow up”…what our ultimate “why” is. I loved that Frankl helped his fellow prisoners learn their “why” for survival through conversation and visioning of their future. And, it was a win-win for him. He helped them AND kept his research going, thereby finding his own “why”. As you said, so simple, yet so profound.

Lara: It reminded me a lot of Louis Zamperini, whose story is told in the book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. Zamperini was an Olympic runner who fought in WWII. His plane was shot down and he spent a mind-boggling 47 days afloat a raft in the Pacific Ocean. He was captured by the Japanese and survived three years in prison camps. Zamperini could always see himself alive and on the other side. Always. Just as Frankl could. That ability to know we have a role in this life, beyond this interruption (be it a prison camp, or a simple set back) is crucial to our ability to endure.

Jill: I haven’t read this book yet, but it now must go to a higher place in my TBR stack. The book that I read most recently that holds a similar ideology is The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau. Guillebeau submits that pursuing happiness isn’t the game. The real happiness is in the pursuit itself. Frankl noted this about pursuing success and happiness:

“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

Lara: I love that sentiment. We need to quit thinking of happiness as an end goal… I will be happy once I lose that weight/get that job/find my soul mate. Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage also dives into this concept. It’s really good stuff.

Were you as surprised as I was to find that there were moments—very brief moments—of humor and art and music Frankl and the other prisoners were able to create or experience while in the camps?

Jill: This actually didn’t surprise me. There is so much research that supports how art and music can be used to heal. Did you see the story going around on social media for a while about the 90-year-old man in a nursing home that had barely spoken in years, but one day when a piano arrived at the home, he started playing jazz and talking about his days in a band? I mean…amazing, right?

 Lara:  I did see that! And was amazed. And cried and all that. I am also a firm believer that humor is essential to our health. Even in the smallest doses. I think of what a little levity can bring to a challenging work project or tense negotiation. I can only imagine the sense of hope a smile or laugh can bring to someone experiencing something as horrific as imprisonment. That said, it can’t be easy; but it’s essential to survival.

Let’s talk about another big theme in the book: Love. Frankl writes:

“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”

I know this had to resonate with you.

Jill: It did. Especially the bit about seeing potential not yet actualized in another, and using love to help enable the other person to actualize potentialities. That is an overwhelming thought to me. That I have the power to enable people through love. Another great passage and one of the most beautiful sentences I have ever read lies in the last line of this quote:

“For the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”

This is where Frankl got me. When we make the choice to do everything through love and in love…for ourselves, each other, our fellow humans, all sentient beings…what can be achieved (and endured) is remarkable.

Lara: The other day I saw the coolest print. It declared Kind is the New Cool. This is exactly what Frankl and others before and after him have been saying and proving is vital to our survival as humans and a human race. We need more love, acceptance, appreciation, and respect.

Jill: This is where it gets really tricky for many of us. There can be true evil in the world. We experience it daily by watching the news. How do we extend love to those that are unlovable? His quote is simply the best:

“Human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn.”

Lara: What I take from that quote, is that to be able to find the kindness and the humanity, we have to break down the group connect on an individual level. It’s only at that one-on-one level that we can truly break through barriers of difference and achieve common ground.

Jill: Yes, it feels like something very crucial, very basic is missing in our world right now. We need human connection and kindness now, more than ever.

Lara: Thanks for chatting this really important book up with me. It’s a worthy read now, and really any time. We hope you will check it out!

Sunday Sentence | February 28, 2016

Nora Ephron

“…the state of rapture I experience when I read a wonderful book is one of the main reasons I read, but it doesn’t happen every time or even every other time, and when it does happen, I’m truly beside myself…”

By |February 28th, 2016|Memoir|0 Comments

Sunday Sentence, July 13, 2014: A Three Dog Life

Here’s the best of what I read this week:

A Three Dog Life

 

We envisioned an old age on a front porch somewhere, each other’s comfort, companions for life. But life takes twists and turns. There is good luck and bad.

From A Three Dog Life
by Abigail Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

D is for The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Jean-Dominique Bauby

It’s official: Size does matter. At least it does when it comes to books; and especially when we are talking about books that need to be consumed within a week. I found myself just yesterday afternoon still putting off the March book club mandate of 600+ pages and in an absolute tailspin about what to read this week that was short on pages, high on interest and starting with a letter of the alphabet that I hadn’t yet covered.

Oh boy.

Enter: One bookstore, a perfectly blended chai tea latte, and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby. At 131 pages, I knew I had hit the knock-it-out-in-one-sitting jackpot. But where the book lacks in length, Bauby more than makes up in heart.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is Bauby’s memoir, painstakingly dictated to a speech therapist through his only means of communication: The blinking of an eye. At 43, Bauby was full of life, living in France and working as the editor of French ELLE magazine. On the way to an event with his teenaged son, Bauby suffered a massive stroke to his brainstem and was left completely paralyzed–only to retain the functions of his brain and left eye. This type of outcome is often referred to as being “locked in” with no ability to communicate, yet complete awareness of one’s surroundings, total cognition in tact. A sort of total confinement–imprisonment for a crime not ever committed.

And yet, Bauby is heroic in his effort to live. He connects with a speech therapist at the hospital who knows he is more than his incapacitated shell. She patiently works with him, and together, they devise a way to communicate with Bauby blinking at letters of the alphabet she shows him. Once realizing this capability, Bauby works with her to document his story painstakingly “written” one letter at a time.

His story, it turns out, is remarkable; especially when you know what he had to go through to tell it. Add to that only the merest traces of self pity or anguish and you have a completely compelling story. Bauby uses the strength of his mind to call up memories of his past (with his children, his work) and imagines a future he know he won’t ever have (lying next to and caressing his girlfriend, experiencing delectable food). Rarely is there anger; sometimes there is sadness. More often than not, Bauby expresses humor, humility and grace sharing the simplest of details that we so often take for granted.

One of these simple details, his love of letters from friends and how they helped him get through the darker days of his recovery, Bauby beautifully wrote:

“I hoard all of those letter like treasure, One day I hope to fasten them end to end in a half-mile streamer, to float in the wind like a banner raised to the glory of friendship.
 
It will keep the vultures at bay.”
Unfortunately, Bauby won’t have that opportunity. Just two days after his memoir was published, Bauby passed away from heart failure. He was making so much progress in his ability to communicate and connect with others that I found this truly heartbreaking. Despite the sadness, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a worthy read (and as I now understand, a well received movie that I will have to check out). Bauby’s story is both devastatingly simple and overwhelmingly complicated. He provides us a great reminder that we are more than our bodies–that there is so very much to appreciate in this life.

Rating: 5 stars
Pages: 131
Genre: Memoir

H is for Half a Life – Darin Strauss

“Half my life ago, I killed a girl.” begins acclaimed author Darin Strauss’ intimate account of a regular day turned tragically inside out and upside down. As shockingly written as any first sentence of a harrowingly told tale, the shock lies in this being the true story of 16 year old Celine Zilke inexplicably swerving into 18 year old Strauss’ car, leaving her dead and Strauss forever changed.

Strauss was not cited. The Long Island police declared the accident completely unavoidable and the insurance company agreed. The books and any potential case were closed. Life could officially continue on. Yet, being absolved of any blame or fault didn’t erase the fact that Celine Zilke was dead and Darin Strauss was involved in her death. These two facts stayed with Strauss, affecting his life in profound and different ways.

Strauss has bravely exposed himself, sharing the complex emotions of grief, anger, fear, guilt and egocentrism he experienced in the years that followed the accident. Processing her death was complicated. Was it an accident? Could he have done something differently? Did Celine want to die? Why on earth would she turn into traffic? In addition to the unrelenting questions swirling in his head, he wrestled with his feelings (what they were, what they should be) and how to fit into a world that now knew him in relation to Celine’s death.

College out of town was a bit of a reprieve. Yet Celine was always with him, not experiencing the things he was able to experience. Creating relationships with new friends or women proved challenging. At what point do you share with someone this part of your past? Celine haunted him, shaped him and helped to create the man and writer that he is today. In fact, Strauss shares that her death likely lead to his work as a writer.

I can’t imagine such a fate. To have known you were involved in another person’s death is incomprehensible and emotionally devastating to me. Still, these types of unimaginable situations happen everyday. While families and communities mourn the loss of life, rarely is time or attention is spent on those who were spared. Half a Life give us that perspective in a completely raw, vulnerable and realistic way.

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 204
Genre: Memoir

S is for Sleepwalk with Me: And Other Painfully True Stories – Mike Birbiglia

Anyone who knows me, knows I love, love, love Mike Birbiglia. He’s the funniest guy most everyone hasn’t heard of; but that’s about to change. And, no, not because of my review. But because he’s at that place in his career where he’s really taking off. He’s paid his dues growing up an awkward child, into an awkward adult, traveled the country doing standup in every venue imaginable (yes, even for a college study hall, while the kids were trying to study). He’s recorded a few comedy CDs, performed at some larger venues, like the Hollywood Avalon (where I saw him two years ago) and the Tempe Improv (where I saw him again last January). Last year, he had his own one man show, Sleepwalk with Me on Broadway and now he’s got a book, of the same title, that chronicles his life, including his issues with sleepwalking.

Birbigs, as he’s often called, hasn’t produced something I haven’t loved; and I expected this book to be no different. Thankfully I was right. His comedy is made up of great storytelling, and his conversational writing tone carries the same feeling. The only thing that would make reading the book better, would be to watch him tell the stories. He’s hilarious to both watch and hear. Because Birbigs is a storyteller and not a one-liner comedian, it’s hard to pull out any zingers from the book, but here’s my best shot at some of my favorites.

On his love of pizza:

“Pizza is probably my biggest weakness. I love pizza. I would marry pizza, but it would just be an elaborate ploy to eat her whole family at the reception.”

On his love of the Cheesecake Factory:

I simply can’t drive by a Cheesecake Factory without stopping. I love their chicken sandwich the size of a soccer ball and their piece of cake as large as an entire cake. I love the Factory’s generous portions. Their like, “We could sell you grilled cheese sandwiches for a buck fifty, or we could stuff a loaf of bread with three pounds of mozzarella and call it the Mozza Mountain.” And, hey, if the Factory says it’s one serving, who am I to question them? They’re making this stuff to factory specifications.

On his addiction to email (which I share):

I check my phone messages and email about forty-five times a day. I don’t even know what I am expecting to get in these messages. Maybe Visa will call and say, “We just realized that we owe you money!” or I’ll get an email from a high school classmate that says, “We’ve reconsidered and we’ve decided you are cool after all.”

On the multi-tasking ridiculousness of products and technology:

When you go to buy anything these days, the guy’s always like, “You know, it’s also a camera.” And it’s a slippery slope. Like one day I’ll go to the store to buy something and they’ll be like, “It’s also a camera.”

“I just wanted a grapefruit.”

“It’s a camera grapefruit. You take pictures of yourself eating the grapefruit, and then you poop the pictures.

“That is the opposite of what I wanted.”

But Birbigs comedy isn’t all pizza, cameras and Factory specifications.

Growing up, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer and in his 30s developed a dangerous sleepwalking condition that has required medical intervention. Even through these challenges, he’s able to keep his sense of humor. Upon being diagnosed with bladder cancer:

“The doctor found something in your bladder.” Whenever they tell you that, it’s never anything good like, “We found something in your bladder… and it’s season tickets to the Yankees!”

It’s really safe to say that I am probably not the most objective reviewer of Sleepwalk with Me. If I had any one complaint, I would say that watching him perform or listening to his comedy CDs is better than reading a book of his. But, if this is all the Birbigs I can get right now… I will take it.

Rating: 4 stars
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 189

Week 52: How Reading Changed My Life – Anna Quindlen

This week has been a gloomy and doomy weather week. Bitter cold temperatures for our desert clime: rain, wind and some even said they saw snow! While I didn’t see any, I saw perfect weather for curling up with a good book; fitting that this is the last week of my book-a-week project. It also seemed rather fitting that during this last week of gray skies and personal contentment that I slide How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen off the shelf. Not sure how it took me so long to read this book that I have owned for a few years and yet it’s a bit serendipitous stumbling upon it now after a year of doing more reading than I have ever done before.

How Reading Changed My Life is lifelong reader and Pulitzer-prize winning writer Anna Quindlen’s account of her most favorite of pastimes. Reading trumped everything for Quindlen, and for that I felt an instant kinship.

“I did not read from a sense of superiority, or advancement or even learning. I read because I loved it more than anything other activity on earth.”

Many of my current friends can’t imagine me as a shy or quiet person, yet reading was my primary activity of choice up until high school theater pulled me in. Prior to that I had a very small circle of friends, preferring one-on-one interactions over large groups. Looking back I recall Barbara, a girl who preferred her nose in a book rather than sparking up a conversation… a perfect pal! We were bus riding friends, always saving a seat for one another, respecting each other’s quiet ride to school, only the rustle of a page turned passed between us. And even now, years out that quiet and insular shell, I love to read more than I love to do most anything else.

Quindlen shares not just her love of reading and the importance that various books have played in her life, but the value of connection found in reading–especially among women.

“Women seem to see reading not only as a solitary activity, but an an opportunity for emotional connection, not just to the characters in a novel but to those others who are reading or have read the same novel themselves.”

Is that really surprising, though? Just look at the number of book clubs that have sprung up in recent years. Almost everyone I know is in a book club or knows someone who is. My own club has been going strong for over seven years and it is for all of us, one of our most looked-forward to and favorite “me” times of the month. The diversion it creates away from work, children, partners, chores, bills and all the other to-dos gives us opportunity not just to catch up, but to escape for a few hours and talk intelligently, passionately, with no holds barred or judgements rendered on the opinions we share about the book we have just read.

Also not surprising is the popularity of book clubs (and reading in general) amongst women. This is not the same, Quindlen states, for men. She pulls some interesting, although not shocking, data from a 1991 Gallup poll on the differences men and women share regarding reading:

  • Women are more likely to find reading a more relaxing pastime than watching television.
  • College-educated women reported reading an average of 25 books over the space of a year… men only 15.

She goes on to interview bookstore owners, uncovering that women are more likely to read novels, versus men who pick up more biographies and historical books. Just another example of the different ways women and men are wired.

As I flipped through the pages and began taking notes of some of Quindlen’s recommended reading, I began to think about how reading has changed my own life. Certainly, as I was a young adult, it was pure escapism and comfort. In college, my reading for pleasure all but disappeared and was replaced by the large text books, carried in a backpack or satchel that bore a deep indentation on my right shoulder. It wasn’t until 2003, and nine years after college, that I really returned to my childhood love of reading. I proposed the idea of dining and dishing on books to some friends, and on a whim we started a book club. Not only have I read some fantastic books, but I have made and kept some fabulous friendships. Books are one of my favorite topics of conversations and is one of the things that bonds me and some of my closest friends. Truth be told, I probably won’t trust you if you don’t have books–even a single book–in your life.

Over the years, reading has indeed changed my life. It changes the life of everyone I know that does it. When the structure of the words on the page bring tears to your eyes, remind you that you are not alone, or make you laugh so hard your stomach aches, you have been changed in the simplest and most profound ways.

I couldn’t have guessed what a single year of reading a book each week would do for me, but it did more than I could have imagined. Sure I watched less television, but surprisingly, it didn’t cut into my time with the kiddo, my friends or other pastimes. I felt more connected to others (my kiddo and book-loving blogging partner, in particular) this year, more objective and empathetic. Just being exposed to so many different people and circumstances inhabited in the many pages I devoured (over 13,000) will do that for you.

So many people wondered why I would take something like this on, offered me encouragement and praise or lamented they too should read more. I think you all know that I would never discourage anyone from picking up a book; I will always think there’s value in doing that. But the reality is, anyone who embarks on any kind of personal project needs to do so with a real affinity for what they are undertaking and not because the “feel they should.” But just know, that if you do decide to boost your reading, even if only by one book, it will change you.

Grade: 5 stars
Pages: 96
Genre: Memoir

Week 46: Stitches: A Memoir – David Small

This week I am back to my favorite new genre, the Graphic Novel, discovered while undertaking this weekly reading challenge! No matter that it’s really the only new genre I have tried all year. It’s also no matter that it’s only the second time I have read from this genre. I mean who’s keeping score? Okay, I am. And at the end of the year I am going to have this wicked cool post full of stats and numbers (or as many stats and numbers that a Communications major can muster) and my fellow book nerds are going to love it and some will think it’s dumb and that’s okay, too.

So, not only being a new genre for me, it’s a new one for the old book club. It’s my turn to host in December and when you are the host, you hold the power to either mandate or offer up some selections from which the group can vote. I decided to shake things up and present three choices, all graphic memoirs. There were a some eager smiles, a few perplexing hmmmmms and even a couple of she-might-be-crazy-to-think-I am-reading-a-what?-an-adult-comic-book?-helllllls-no.

So after everyone softened their gazes and started reading the summaries, the majority settled on Stitches: A Memoir by David Small. While I am not one to gloat It should be noted that two book club members e-mailed me within the last couple of weeks to say they had never read a graphic novel and were pleasantly surprised with Stitches. Now that I have read this 2009 National Book Award winner, I can say that I was as well.

Stitches is the shocking look at a brief, yet life altering period, in David Small’s life. Born to a radiologist father and a homemaker mother, Small grew up in a household that communicated with bangs, slaps, claps and grunts. Communication was completely controlled by the parents (when they communicated at all) and the house was cold and quiet, devoid of any love and affection. When David was just six years old, he developed multiple sinus infections, which his father chose to monitor and evaluate with x-rays. This repeated exposure caused Small to develop throat cancer and required two serious operations on his throat. Complicating matters (more than your own father giving you cancer is complicating) was the fact that Small was never told why he needed surgery. It was only after the second procedure caused him to lose his voice–and what we can guess was years of guilt–that his father confessed.

As wordless as the Small household was, Stitches is almost as quiet. Relying on his tremendous illustrative talent, Small effectively takes the reader through this fear and anger-filled time in his life with compelling imagery and few words. While there are certainly enough issues with Small’s dad to write a book, his mother is a significant contributor to the family’s dysfunction. We learn little about Small’s brother and the story did leave me asking a few more questions than I would have hoped. Despite this, I absolutely loved the way Small uses his ability to draw to present his story. It’s the illustrating (and years with a caring counselor) that enables Small to actually find his voice.

I think it is awesome when someone can write a book or draw even a single picture. But if you can do both? At the same time? That’s ridiculous talent. Seriously. I now officially get why this is an emerging arena for creatives that have the ability to story tell in different ways. It’s no surprise after reading this to learn that Small is now an accomplished illustrator, having won awards for his work on children’s books. His talent is obvious. His story completely fascinating, ultimately redemptive and uniquely his own.

Rating: 4 stars
Pages: 336
Genre: Graphic Novel

Week 45: The Middle Place – Kelly Corrigan

After reading LIFT by Kelly Corrigan, I was seriously jonesing (does anyone say that anymore? I guess I do) to pick up her first book, THE MIDDLE PLACE. After last week’s book club selection, I wasted no time cracking it open and I am not sure I even put it down once I started.

THE MIDDLE PLACE tackles Corrigan’s battle with breast cancer as a 37 year old mother with two young girls and a doting husband. If that’s not enough, it’s during her course of chemotherapy and radiation that her first love, her adoring and delightful father, is diagnosed with cancer as well.


Dreary and teary, right? Wrong.


Well, a little teary. It is cancer we are talking about. But mostly it’s just a wonderful account of what it means to be a family, and specifically the relationship a daughter can have with her father. And that she, in turn, can create in her own life with her own husband and children.


George Corrigan is in a word, life. He’s exuberant and positive and Corrigan’s biggest fan. To read how she describes her father’s love and support of family, you can actually feel the love coming through the pages. And before this sounds hokey and corny and too good to be true, Corrigan is just so cool. She shoots straight and bares her soul in a way that your heart aches when she’s scared and you laugh as loudly as you expect her to in the many laugh-out-loud moments in the book.


And then there’s Edward, Corrigan’s husband. Edward is a great partner, and supportive husband committed to helping his wife through this disease and remaining a positive and united front with Corrigan as they work through her nausea, physical wear down and hair loss with Georgia (4) and Claire (2). While I certainly hope to never experience cancer, I would totally want an Edward on my team and by my side.


We often hear how important it is that we have positive relationships in our lives. That attitude is a significant contributor to our health and and well-being. It can even help ward off disease. And with a family like Corrigan’s, you can’t help but wonder if that’s true. The perspective they all bring to life’s obstacles–to face it head on and assume the best outcome–is refreshing. Corrigan actually sums this up in the very beginning of her book when describing her father:

“I think people like him because his default setting is open delight. He’s prepared to be wowed–by your humor, your smarts, your white smile, even your handshake–guaranteed, something you do is going to thrill him… People walk away from him feeling like they’re on their game, even if they suspect that he put them there.”

Imagine if we treated every person like they have something wonderful to bring to the table. No matter how small, it would be significant. We could see value in each person we encountered. While we all don’t have the opportunity to meet George Corrigan, as she recommends at the book’s beginning, Corrigan has done the next best thing in writing this love letter to her family and her father for all the world to read.


Rating: 5 stars
Pages: 288
Genre: Memoir

Week 34: Let’s Take the Long Way Home – Gail Caldwell

For the past 33 weeks I have chosen a book to read and write about for this yearlong reading project. Sometimes the selection process is a thoughtful one; other times there’s not much more than a single thought in my brain as I reach up and grab the next book off of the shelf and attempt to dive right in.

 

This week, however, something different happened. I didn’t choose a book. A book chose me.

 

I am not saying that a book flew out of my bookcase and into my hands. Nor did one come to me in a dream or some kind of vision imploring me to read it. No, it was as simple as a spontaneous late-night online shopping excursion fueled by the discovery of a long lost gift card in my in box. It didn’t hurt that amazon.com had it sitting in the “We have recommendations for you” section of their site, or that it was a memoir. But it was the title, simple cover and summary that drew me in. And that’s how LET’S TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME by Gail Caldwell came to me.

 

But that’s not how it chose me.

 

I downloaded the book to my Kindle within seconds and then left it to wait until I was ready to read it. The truth is that I rarely, if ever, read a book right after I buy it. Sometimes I do, but not usually.

 

Well, welcome to sometimes.

 

After just a few days of having purchased LET’S TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME, I found myself eager to start this book that was already garnering solid buzz. Within the first two paragraphs, though, I caught my breath and had to stop.
[blockquote]It’s an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and so we shared that, too. … For years we had played the easy, daily game of catch that intimate connection implies. One ball, two gloves, equal joy in the throw and return. Now I was in the field without her: one glove, no game. Grief is what tells you who you are when you are alone.[/blockquote]
So very sad. And, yet, so beautiful.

 

And so goes LET’S TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME, a sad yet beautiful account of Caldwell’s friendship with fellow writer Caroline Knapp. The two had been set up through a mutual acquaintance that was certain their love of writing and dogs would bond them. As it turned out, they had even more in common than a life of writing, they both loved the outdoors (Knapp a rower, Caldwell a swimmer) and both battled decades-long addictions to alcohol that were long left behind at the time their friendship formed.

 

As similar as the two were, differences abounded. Caldwell achieved literary acclaim as a Pulitzer prize winning book critic with her audience and those around her unaware of her alcoholism. Knapp came into the fray with her critically lauded, DRINKING: A LOVE STORY an intimate and candid look at a woman’s affinity for the bottle. It’s only now, through this book, that Caldwell is comfortable sharing her addiction and it seems as this book is as much a tribute to friendship as it is a mechanism through which she can process her own grief and come clean about her own demons.

 

Heavy stuff for sure. But there are also moments of humor and candor that had me quietly smiling in agreement or laughing out loud.
[blockquote]Men don’t really understand women’s friendships, do they?” I once asked my friend Louise, a writer who lived in Minnesota. “Oh God, no,” she said. “And we must never tell them.” [/blockquote]
Caldwell captures the ebb and flow of seriousness and brevity that makes friendships–especially those between women–so rich and dynamic. Despite her loss, Caldwell knows she is a better person for knowing Knapp and having shared the intimacy and connection that a rich and deep relationship affords, even if only to lose that friend far too soon.
[blockquote]I know now that we never get over great losses; we absorb them, and they carve us into different, often kinder, creatures.[/blockquote]
At the end of the day, LET’S TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME is a sentimental and gracefully told story. I was eager to write my review and share this gem of a book with all my female friends, but found that I couldn’t immediately do so. I needed time for Caldwell’s words to settle into all nooks and crannies of my heart. I needed time to reflect on my own friendships and was reminded how very fortunate I am to have them. I needed time to wrap my head around what I wanted to capture here and I am almost certain my words fall entirely too short.

 

So I will leave you with a simple request: Read this book. Step away from all the responsibilities of your world and find a few hours that you can immerse yourself with an exquisite account of life, loss, friendship and all that falls in between.

 

Rating: 5 stars
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 208

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