“Me Before You”; A review, of sorts.

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some secret sort of homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers. How delightful if that were true.” (said by Juliet to Dawsey, two of my most favorite literary characters, in one of my most favorite books, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”)

Oh Juliet. Books do indeed find their perfect homes. Like when your best friend loans you a book when you live in Chattanooga and he lives in Chicago and then when you move to Portland, the book moves with you because you haven’t read it yet and then finally one day, probably more than a year since you’ve had it in your possession and he has asked you so many times if you’ve read it yet, you finally get around to opening “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” and you pour yourself into it, staying up all night crying your eyes out, thinking about calling in sick to work to stay home and read, finally finishing it and asking him why he didn’t make you read it sooner, which gets followed up with something like “Are you kidding me????”

Or how your roommate suggests you try reading “Gilead” though you’ve never heard of Marilynne Robinson and you just immediately fall in love from page one and then seek out all of her other beautiful books and dream of one day growing up to be just like her.

Or you mention to a friend in passing how you loved the movie “Into the Wild” and the friend kind of growls at you and gets mad, and you ask why and get something along the lines of “Jon Krakauer is an amazing writer and the book is brilliant and the movie doesn’t do it justice” so then you read it, and you too just want to soak up every word Krakauer has ever written.

Books just have a way of landing in the hands of the perfect readers. “Me Before You” by JoJo Moyes is no exception. This one came from Alisha. Or rather, it came from Alisha’s now ex mother in law. This was many months ago, when everyone was already fairly certain that the “ex” part of that scenario was going to happen though it hadn’t quite yet, and we kind of looked at her funny when she said  a book had arrived at her door all the way from England with a note that said she thought she would enjoy it.

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Alisha started reading it and was soon telling me she was hooked. She thought I would like it. After she finished, she gave it to me without really telling me what it was about. Alisha knows my book tastes enough by now that I probably won’t question it when she makes a suggestion. And there’s just something to be said about sending a book to your soon to be ex daughter in a law, in another country. I had to see what this was about.

There’s a quote on the back of it that says it is “partner-ignoringly compulsive” and about 75 pages in, I knew that if I had a partner, I’d definitely be ignoring them. I looked for 5 or 10 minutes everywhere I could to sit and read. I sat in my car on my lunch break, crying my eyes out over a scene involving a pair of tights, texting Alisha that I didn’t know how to go back to my desk and think about work. I wanted to skip out on plans with friends just to keep reading. Four days after starting, I had finished. And balled like a baby. And re-read several parts. I started talking to a coworker, Lucie, about books and what we were reading and she decided to buy it and join my Literary Society. At the next meeting, Alisha and I both talked about it, about how fast we read it and how much we cried and how we just couldn’t stop thinking about it. But there’s little you can say about the actual story to someone who hasn’t read it, because you cannot give anything away. And so Alisha’s copy went to Amy, who read it quickly, and she then read half of it again before it went to Katie. Katie read it and showed up at the next Lit Society meeting furious because she had forgotten that when I say something is wonderful and beautiful, I mean tragic and I probably don’t at all mean happy. But still she gave it to her roommate. By this time there were enough of us that had read it and wanted to talk about it that we did what we have not otherwise done in Lit Society (and most likely won’t do again) and we made a rule: you have to read this book. We don’t care what you read otherwise (as long as you read). This one is the exception.  Alisha’s copy made it around to Lindsay and then Brittany and then Rachelle, and Staci and Christa had managed to pick up copies elsewhere and finally, finally, finally, last week at our November meeting we were able to talk about it.

The overall opinion of the group is that most everyone loved it. There was one exception, someone who definitely broke out of her normal genre to read it just so we could all finally talk about it, and she had some issues with one of the main characters. Since we’re all entitled to our own opinions, we allow her to disagree with the group. Lindsay didn’t love it as much as others, because it had been a bit too built up for her. Katie was still mad that we’d made her read a sad book and told her it was great (um, because it is). But the rest of us…well, even when we could finally say what we thought, we had some trouble finding words to express how much it had meant to us. We talked about what character we related to the most, or who we disagreed with, and what lens we saw the story through. We discussed what we would have said if we had known that the author was at Powells a couple of months ago and we had been able to talk to her (“Whhhhhyyyyyyy” being what Christa wants to know, and Staci wants to thank her for breaking her heart in such a good way).

The point is, the book reached out and grabbed us all (except one), and at least for a period of time shook us up a little, and made us think just a bit about scenarios we don’t often dwell on, and left us a bit sad but also a bit hopeful, and struggling to find the next novel that would captivate us so much.

I’m often asked how I heard of a book or where it had come from, like there’s a magic formula to always know what to read next. After thinking about how so many books have stumbled into my path, and this one appearing in the most unusual of ways, I’ve decided that we should just stop questioning how we find books and realize that they simply come to us when and how  they are supposed to.

“And The Mountains Echoed” by Khaled Hosseini

I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book with more…humanity.

The first 150 pages ripped my heart out. Slowly the next 250 tried to stitch it back together.

This book conveys more deeply the effects that we, as people, have on each other, than any fiction book I have ever encountered before. Parent, sibling, uncle, stranger, lover, friend, enemy. How we care for one another, how we love and how we hurt each other, how the decisions we make play out in the lives of people we are connected to, how truly flawed we are, and how much we can do to ease another’s pain.

Maybe this book struck me more because I’ve been in the midst of a lot of relational changes over the last year.  Because I’ve been hurt, and know that I hurt others. Because I’ve both feared the start of distance and wanted it. Because I’ve stepped back and then stepped forward again, making some relationships feel a bit like a dance, in which no one knows who is leading. Because one relationship or another is always on my mind. And Hosseini writes more about people, about relationships, than anything else. He understands the complexity of being alive and he expresses every imaginable emotion in characters you love and loathe, those you relate to and those you hope to never become.

Yesterday in the park a man walked by talking about the book, saying he didn’t like it because it seemed like the author had a lot of short stories put together into one novel. I disagreed and was annoyed at the time. But I was thinking about his comments later as I as reading the last 30 pages, and I think that, in one way, he may have been right. It is told in stories about many different people. But where he was wrong is that they are all connected into one overarching story, which was impossible to forget throughout the book. And I loved it, because it felt real to me. That’s what life is; It’s your story, and mine, and 7 billion others, all intertwined into one much larger narrative.
 
(If you don’t recognize the name of the author, he also wrote “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” both of which I also highly recommend. This review first appeared on my previous blog. I am slowly moving some of those posts to this new blog home.)

35 Things

1. My parents are amazing. Simply amazing. They give and they give and they give to everyone around them in profoundly selfless ways.

2. I have fallen very far behind on my once a month letter writing goal, but I have written three so far this week with two more planned, so I am catching up a bit.

3. I dream, every day, of spending more time writing, and reading too.

4. The sun is out today. It’s not in the forecast very much for us right now, so it feels kind of special.

5. I think about my niece and nephew every single day. I am just so proud of the beautiful, intelligent little ones that they are, though they are not as little as I still want them to be.

6. I do not know what I would do without my friends.

7. Last weekend I went to Newberg to see Rachel, who I hadn’t talked to in three months due to harvest time in the wine industry. We’d both had a rough couple of months. We spent hours catching up, talking about the good and the bad things we’d missed in each other’s lives. We ate delicious food Rachel cooked. We drank coffee, mimosas and wine. We read. We watched a movie. We didn’t get out of pajamas from 6:30 p.m. Friday until 11:00 a.m. Sunday. It was perfect and good for my spirit. I miss her. We can’t go three months again.

8. Last weekend, mostly while at Rachel’s, I read an entire 495 page novel. The Circle, by Dave Eggers.

9. I am participating in a book Secret Santa put on by a blog I recently found, The Broke and The Bookish. I found it by searching for Secret Santa ideas for my Literary Society, which brings me to…

10. Literary Society. I am just so thankful for these beautiful ladies who come over every month to share what they’ve been reading and find out what everyone else has been reading, and talk a bit about other things in our lives as well, and slowly we have all started becoming better friends outside of the monthly meeting too.

11. You know those people who think that all texting is an impersonal way to communicate? They are wrong.

12. I would not be sane without my Chattanooga friend Nicole. Nope, I would not. And our primary means of communication is texting. She should really be able to bill my insurance for therapy via text messaging. I will forever be grateful for texting, and for her.

13. I love the Parenthood theme song so much that that I have never once fast forwarded through it. “May God bless and keep you always. May your wishes all come true.May you always do for others and let others do for you. May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every run. May you stay, forever young.”

14. I cried in two episodes of Dexter Season 4 recently.

15. I am kind of disappointed in the current seasons of both New Girl and Hart of Dixie.

16. Alisha is also disappointed in these shows. And speaking of Alisha…I am just so happy we are friends! We’ve known each other for almost the whole time I’ve lived in Portland, but it’s only been in the last year that we’ve become close friends. I think we’ve been really good for each other over this last year. I love how much we have in common. Seriously, it’s a lot.

17. I don’t believe in horoscopes, but mine was sent to my today by my mom (who also does not believe in them) because she’s with my great aunt who likes to read them, and it really fits right now: “Make travel plans, sign up for a course or gather information about a subject that interest you. No matter how or what you learn, it will end up being beneficial.” I just made new travel plans, and I just decided to take a class this winter, and I am currently in the midst of gathering information about a subject that interests me.

18. Speaking of travel plans, I just want to say that out of mine and David’s 9 year friendship, I think this one is going down as the best so far.

19. Last Sunday I got a nice glimpse of Mt Hood for the first time in a while and it was covered in a new blanket of white. I cannot wait for the first snowshoe adventure of the season!

20. Sometimes I still have dreams of being Sydney Bristow from Alias. I’m fairly certain that my cover career would be that of a librarian.

21. I am so glad I have a job with enough PTO to take my birthday off and spend it doing what I want to do-things related to the world of literature, followed by happy hour and hang out time with Sheena.

22. Sheena is many things to me. The one I’d like to highlight right now is that outside of my parents, no one is as supportive and encouraging with my writing as she is. It means more than I know how to express.

23. If you missed my most recent post, scroll on down and read it. Because I just want to reiterate, it feels good to be in a good place right now.  

24. I think I’ve lost the ability to sleep late.

25. I don’t know who figured out that eggs, bacon and cheese go exceptionally well together, especially on a bagel, but I am glad they did

26. It is not necessarily easy to come up with 35 things.

27. I am really looking forward to my weekend seasonal job at my friend’s Christmas tree farm in Gresham. If you are in the Portland area, then you must come for a visit! Contact me for more details, or later on I will post the link to the facebook page. I’m in the process of getting it all updated now.

28. I’ve seen a few 2nd run movies lately, and I highly recommend “The Way Way Back.”

29. Also “The Sapphires” is now on Neflix and you should definitely watch it.

30. I love that Caitlin and I still have our “give each other chocolate on our birthdays” tradition. She and Wyeth came over today to deliver mine. Remember how I always want those chocolate peanut butter cups that I refuse to learn how to make because I just want her to make them for me? This year she made them and put them in homemade chocolate ice cream that her husband Chris made. Oh, and he caramelized the sugar before he added it. So yeah, I’ve got homemade chocolate caramel ice cream with chocolate peanut butter cups. If you live around here, I would consider giving you one bite. One.

31. The random things I find on pinterest make me happy on a daily basis.

32. I wish more of my friends had blogs.

33. This last year, the one in which I was 34, has been pretty tough, with some exceptionally great moments thrown in.

34. Today I turned 35. While I don’t normally look forward to my birthday, this year I did. I was ready to let go of much of this past year and start over again, which is what birthdays are really for, I think. I have hopes for a good one, and I’m thankful so many great people are going to be part of it.  

35. I think I’ve run out of things to say.

Freedom

I was venting today about something that is, honestly, out of my control. Something that I had hoped would stop by now, in light of some recent events, but is continuing, for reasons I don’t know and can’t decide if I care to know. In expressing my frustration, I said “They won! I’m gone! Now move on!” and the ever so insightful friend I was texting said, “Yes, but really, you won.”  And damn it, I did win.

It has been a long time since I could say, truthfully, I am good, when asked the ever so not at all simple question: “how are you?” I feel free. Freer than I’ve felt in a least a year, possibly longer. No longer weighed down by something that should never have been as tightly bound to me as it became. I feel motivated to pursue goals and attempt to turn some dreams into reality. I am hopeful. I feel pushed, in the best way possible. I am encouraged. I am…good.

There had been one thing, one thing that felt like the weight of the world, on my shoulders for far too long. Over the last couple of months, I found the way to let it go. It took a lot to get there. Closure doesn’t come easy to me. I had to think, to dwell, to dig very, very deep into my own heart and mind, to find a way to say everything I needed to say to make sure the door actually closed. I needed to hear the click of the lock, knowing there was no chance it could swing back the other way. And I did.  

People kept telling me it was brave. I don’t think it was brave. I think it was survival. It was hard, yes. Very hard. And it left me numb, then sad, then grieving. And then FREE. Clear and open. When I finally realized that’s how I felt, it was a bit startling, because only then did I realize just how entangled I was before.

Someone wise recently told me that there is energy and creativity in grief. For a moment I didn’t believe them, as I felt so very exhausted. But no so long later, that energy and creativity did indeed begin to show up. And though it’s only been a few days, I think it is going to stick around. It started showing up Friday, which is when I told someone “I’m good” and I knew I meant it. And I suddenly had a million ideas, like they had just been waiting on me to say “Ok, I’m ready.”

And then I had a lovely, peaceful weekend, involving a lot of rest and catching up. Last night I had two dreams. Vivid, real dreams that stay with the dreamer. In the first I was a bit homeless. I was hiding in other people’s homes and someone was going around looking for me. In the next dream, the one that I remembered first but definitely came second, I was being pursued by the grim reaper. The grim reaper, at least in the land of my subconscious, is a pale skinned, wiry red headed woman in a black robe and a dark car. She was driving after me while I was in my dream world car, through a cemetery, until we reached a wall. I skillfully scaled that wall while her robe kept her from reaching me. Just as she got to the top, I woke up with a bit of a scream. But I woke up alive. I did some research on dreams today. Normally I don’t have to, because I don’t dream in metaphors very often. It’s rare that a dream doesn’t make sense, that I can’t immediately pinpoint where it came from and what it means. But today I couldn’t, so I used the ever-wise internet to tell me. Dreaming of homelessness means a lost sense of identity. And dreaming of the grim reaper (apparently in any way) means that something has ended, or closure. They were somewhat unsettling dreams, until those answers. And then it made sense.

I lost myself over the last year. A lot of me. But I’m quickly getting it all back. And now I am even more certain that the finality of what had been weighing me down was absolutely the end. But more importantly, it was a whole new beginning.

Is everything in life fine? No, not at all. Because life never will be perfect. But it is so much more peaceful in my heart right now. And for that, I am beyond grateful.

Mormons and Memoirs

I’ve loved reading memoirs for years. And for some reason, I’m drawn to books written by or about Mormons.

This week, actually only Sunday-Tuesday, I read “Confessions of a Latter Day Virgin” by Nicole Hardy, which I found to be one of the best, most moving memoirs I’ve read in a long time. I couldn’t put it down.

I’ve been in a place, for quite some time, of being frustrated with how the church responds to singles in their 30s, 40s, on up.  I am speaking mostly about the divorced-with-no-kids or never-been-married-childless singles. Those that both want to be single and those that would give up a limb to find a partner or to have a child. We are an anomaly. We are what used to be a small minority and have, in probably the last 20 or so years, become not such a small group. And the church has not yet figured out what to do with us.

Generally speaking, I do not put the Church of Latter Day Saints in the same category as mainline Christian denominations (Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, etc). There are doctrinal and theological differences that put them into their own category. However, the struggles Nicole Hardy writes about as a single 30 something year old woman who has, for all of her life, been part of a devout faith community, are not unique to being Mormon. They are the same struggles of most every other single woman of that age who was raised in and remains part of a church, faith community, or religion, be it Mormon or otherwise. Maybe they are the same struggles of single men as well, but I can’t speak for them. I can speak for my own, and I am fairly certain I can speak at least a bit for quite a few other women I know in similar circumstances.

This book hurts. If you are at all feeling any ache of the loneliness that comes from being single, this book will speak to you, but it will be painful in the process. I can’t even count the number of times in these 295 pages that I had to put the book down, close my eyes and just sit for a while because she seemed to be pulling the feelings straight out of my heart. The details are different, some big and some small, but the emotional journey is remarkably similar. The depth in which she is able to put words to heartache is profound. To write this openly, this beautifully, with this much anguish requires a bravery that most cannot muster.