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 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