This is the Part Where I Save the Day

(At least, that’s what my book mark says.)

I was recently loaned a gift card to Barnes and Noble and instructed to purchase a book I’d like, and then share it with the lender.

It took me a couple hours to choose, as you can well imagine.  I had been set loose in approximately 26,000 square feet of wall-to-wall books without a single guideline, minus the one.   I like a great deal of books, you understand, so my personal preference just made the thing harder.

Eventually, coffee in hand, I had it narrowed down to three books: Animal Dreams, by Barbara Kingsolver (a must-read, without question), The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger (a classic), and a small paperback I’d never read before: Ordinary Life, a collection of short stories by Elizabeth Berg.

I chose the latter.

I’ve admitted once before that I have various and obscure reasons for the novels I collect.  These include the following: I already know I like it; someone recommended it; I collect everything by said author; the first sentence was perfect; the prose made me want to read out loud (somewhere other than in the checkout line); I liked the picture on the cover; or (and I hate to admit this one), something about the texture of the paper and look of the font. 

The deciding factor for this one was a line of recommendation by The Boston Globe: Immediate, moment-to-moment storytelling that unfolds with the naturalism and authenticity of real life.

After reading this, I sort of went Aha!  And it was decided.

Stories like these make you really appreciate life.

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For example, "Sweet Refuge" is about a nurse who cares for a man with a terminal illness.  Through the experience, the nurse comes to realize that “love comes in all forms,” and also that “there are exquisite acts of tenderness lying latent in all of us, waiting only for our permission to come into being.”  

"Martin’s Letter to Nan"  is a husband’s response to his wife’s unexpected departure.  It is the first time he has honestly expressed how he feels about their marriage, and he comes to the conclusion that despite everything, he appreciates what they have.  He writes the letter “in honor of every bit of it.”  

"Today’s Special" is about what to do when you have the blues, and how sometimes we miss the most comforting things merely because they are so incredibly simple.

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But it was the first short, "An Ordinary Life," that really got me hooked.  Picture this: An eighty-year-old woman named Mavis decides that she needs some time to herself, and, since she and her lifelong husband can’t afford a vacation, chooses to lock herself into the bathroom for a week.  She wants to think about life – the reason behind a sequence of events that together define an entire existence.

What caught me off-guard was the utter simplicity of the things Mavis considers.  The stain on her blouse.  The closeness she felt for her sister.  The items she used to own when she was young.  Her first night as a married woman.  Washing her son in the sink when he was a baby.

These ordinary moments have defined her life.

They bring her to the conclusion that there must be some kind of benevolent intention gracing life.

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  1. what a fun, fun thing to do!
    I want to do that with a friend, I think I will go buy a giftcard and do so.

  2. Interesting idea,reflective holidays can happen anywhere. Hugs Karen

  3. Those stories sound quite inspiring, thanks for sharing them :) I love Barbara Kingsolver, by the way!

  4. i read "dream when you're feeling blue" by berg; it was good...until the end. i was quite upset. :P
    i love that past picture! *sigh.*

  5. What a great idea. (I would've gone for Kingsolver, but the Berg collection sounds good too.)

  6. I've read EVERYTHING by Berg...I call her my "feel good author; my hot fudge sunae, author...
    You must read "Pull of the Moon OR "Talk Before Sleep." these were my favorites by Elizabeth! :)

  7. I'll have to get Pull of the Moon next then! I've read Talk Before Sleep and loved the dialogue.

  8. Lauren,

    I'll add these to my list. Animal Dreams has been on my radar.

    Funny you mention the texture of the paper and font for some selections. I can relate. I am sure I have made folks wonder at the local B&N. But it's true, there is just something unique about the right "feel" of a page.

  9. Oh wow! Now I need to pick up this book. I love when an author takes a very simple premise and unlocks the poignancy and extraordinariness in it!

    And since you mentioned Barbara Kingsolver in your comment over at Legs, I need to pick that one up as well! Thanks for the review!


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