It’s crisp and chilly outside, but the sun is shining and it’s going to warm up soon. Since we haven’t seen the sun for so long, I’m hoping to get out for a long, long walk today. But right now I have a steaming cup of chai to keep me company (no special baked treat today, unfortunately).
I was reading up a storm this past week, so I’ve got three books to tell you about. The first is the book we are going to be discussing at my next Friends Book Club meeting on January 23, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. This novel opens with a countdown to the time when thirty-five-year-old Nora Seed decides to kill herself. Nora is filled with regrets, and she feels that no one needs her and no one would miss her if she was gone. Her cat just died, she just lost her job, her parents are dead, she doesn’t speak to her brother any more, even her elderly neighbour no longer needs her to pick up his prescriptions, so what is the point of living? She finally makes this momentous decision, but when she wakes up, she is not in Heaven or Hell, but in some sort of in-between place called the Midnight Library where, after reviewing all of her regrets over her lifetime, she can, with the help of her elementary school librarian Mrs Elm, jump into the alternate lives she would be living if she had made different decisions. She may have decided to become a glaciologist instead of working at a dead-end job at a music store. She may have stayed in the band with her brother and become famous. She may have married her former fiancé instead of breaking off the engagement just days before the wedding. So many choices she could have made that would have changed her life, but would any of them make her happier than where she already is? This fun exploration of multi-universes and parallel lives was the perfect book to read at the beginning of a new year, when all thoughts are on resolutions and making better choices for a better year (in case you're wondering, I've made no resolutions, but have decided to eat more tofu!). It was an easy read that was also thought-provoking, a novel that reminded me of the saying: “Wherever you go, there you are.” I think it was a great book club choice, a book that will surely elicit a lively discussion from our group. It’s a coincidence that near the beginning of this book, it says something like, “Nora wished she had a million doors to escape into and never return”, which is funny because I’d just finished reading The Ten Thousand Doors of January.
The next book I read was What We Both Know by Canadian author Fawn Parker, which has just been longlisted for the Scotia Bank Giller Prize. Hillary Greene’s father, a famous author, is losing his memories to Alzheimer's, but he wants to write one last book, his memoir, before this happens, and Hillary is tasked with ghostwriting it for him, as well as caring for him as his dementia progresses. She hides his condition from his publisher and the outside world, and their existence becomes more insular over the course of the novel as Hillary uncovers information about his life and the sexual abuse of her late sister Pauline that is unsettling, causing her own deeply hidden memories to resurface. She struggles to deal with these memories and her own guilt, but will she decide to expose all in this memoir or can she find some other way to come to terms with her father’s past and her own involvement in it? This moving account read like a memoir of a survivor of sexual abuse, and meted out information at just the right pace to keep me engaged without overwhelming me with too many terrible truths all at once. It was an excellent read that was also quite intense and not very uplifting, so if you want to read it, you need to be in the right mood for this type of book.
And I just finished reading Sorry for Your Loss by Joanne Levy, a YA novel that is a Red Maple nominee. Twelve-year-old Evelyn “Evie” Walman isn’t obsessed with death, but it’s hard not to think about it a lot when your family owns a Jewish funeral home where you help out whenever needed. After an incident at camp the year before, and with some girls at school who bully her and call her Corpse Girl, Evie has decided that she doesn’t want or need friends - she’s busy enough with her part-time job at the funeral home, her older brother Nate and her parents, and her quilling projects. When both parents of a boy her age are killed in a car accident and her family hold the funeral, Evie is asked to help out with the surviving son, Oren, as he deals with his grief over this terrible, life-changing event. What she discovers, though, is that while she is helping him deal with his loss, he, too, is helping her deal with her own issues. This was a really engaging book that explored grief and loss, as well as friendship and family. I also learned a lot about Jewish traditions and the running of funeral homes, topics you don’t find in children’s books very often. I quite enjoyed this book, and was drawn into the relationship between Evie and Oren as it evolved.
WOW, looking over these three books, I see some overlapping themes emerging. Suicide, sexual abuse, dementia, grief and loss... oh my, not a very uplifting way to start the new year, but I'm not going to let these themes get me down, and neither should you. So get outside and enjoy the sunshine!!
Bye for now...