When Becky Aikman's husband died, she was not ready to be a widow, and certainly not ready to give up on finding happiness again like some of the widows she had met.
Aikman decided to form a group of widows like her—determined to to move forward—and she writes about their experiences in her memoir, Saturday Night Widows. She and five other widows met together once a month for a year on Saturday nights, sharing meals and going to art museums. Most importantly, they learned how to live on after the worst thing they thought could happen to them, happened.
Read our review at BookPage.com and watch the interview-style book trailer:
Will you read Saturday Night Widows? What are you reading today?
Margaret Roach's The Backyard Parables is both a spiritual and scientific field guide for the modern gardener. The book gives reader a glimpse of her spiritual practices, but also includes many practical tips for gardeners.
Roach, former editorial director for Martha Stewart, followed a passion, cultivated it devoutly and turned it into a career. She doesn’t need to discuss the how-to of mindfulness; her life is the best example of the way love and attention will make things bloom.
What do you think about Roach's blending of memoir and gardening manual? What are you reading this week?
Cheryl Strayed's memoir Wild, about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after the death of her mother and the dissolution of her marriage, was one of 2012's biggest and best books. Even Oprah thought so—she made it her first pick when she relaunched her book club. With its clear-eyed portrayal of Strayed's all-consuming sorrow and loneliness, and the incredible story of her (some might say foolhardy) determination to seek answers in an unforgiving landscape, Wild was our readers' #4 book of the year (and #2 on the BookPage editors' own Best of 2012 list).
Strayed's memoir encompasses so many different themes—grief, adventure, the healing power of nature, the journey to forgiveness and growth, discovering a community of like-minded misfits—that each reader takes away something different. If you're longing for something in a similar vein, try one of the following:
Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell
Like Wild, Let's Take the Long Way Home is a heartbreaking but beautifully told memoir of living through loss. When Gail Caldwell met Caroline Knapp, the two formed a quick, deep bond over such shared experiences as the joys and frustrations of writing, long walks with their beloved dogs and their self-destructive, alcoholic pasts. Knapp was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2002 and died a few short months later; Caldwell's grief over the loss of her friend knocked her flat. Her book is a powerful testament to a close friendship and the person she has become in its wake.
Claiming Ground by Laura Bell
Laura Bell's life has taken many unexpected turns. After graduating college in the '70s, she had a hard time figuring out who, or what, she wanted to be. So she turned to what she knew to be real and true—her love of animals and the land—and moved to Wyoming to become a sheepherder. It was not an easy job, especially for a young woman, but she learned to face her failures and celebrate her strengths, all the while reveling in the harsh splendor of the Western landscape. Over the years, she turned to different jobs (forest ranger, masseuse) and different people for companionship, surviving divorce and agonizing loss along the way. Inspiring in the best way, Bell's memoir chronicles a lifetime of learning how to be herself.
Townie by Andre Dubus III
The working-class neighborhoods of Lowell, Massachusetts, are no place for a young boy to admit to any weakness. In such an environment, Andre Dubus III grew up poor and, by age 11, the child of an acrimonious divorce. After years of enduring taunts and violence against his family, he fought back, transforming himself into a strong, vicious boxer and brawler. Eventually, he turned to writing as a way to lift himself out of misery and the dead-end life he was living, and also to untangle his relationship with his father after a serious injury. Light reading it is not, but readers who loved Wild for its unflinching look at Strayed's sad and troubled family will appreciate the portrait of love and loneliness that Dubus paints in Townie.
Fire Season by Philip Connors
Philip Connors has spent many summers as a fire lookout in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico, a job that allows him to attune himself deeply to the natural world around him. Though the work is not as physically demanding as hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, it requires long hours of solitude and the close, thorough observation of the forest. With nothing but the sights and sounds of the woods to distract him, Connors can achieve a sort of meditative peace that lends itself well to the daily practice of writing. When he observes that natural fires (caused by lightning strikes) are often beneficial, even necessary, to the survival of the forest's ecosystem, readers will realize that the truths he uncovers on the mountain may have meaning in their own lives as well.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
If you're looking for a lighter take on the experience of long-distance hiking, Bill Bryson's modern classic A Walk in the Woods is essential reading. Like Strayed, Bryson is not exactly prepared for the rigors of the journey when he sets out to hike the Appalachian Trail, and his bumbling efforts and dry humor make for an irresistible combination. Along the way, he learns about the history and allure of the AT and meets a number of curious characters—including his traveling companion, a cranky, monosyllabic and somewhat rundown friend from his high school days.
Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs by Heather Lende
Heather Lende, columnist for the Anchorage Daily News, has been compared to writers such as Anne Lamott and Annie Dillard for her gentle but deep-seated spirituality and her love of the natural world—in this case, the mountainous beauty of her Alaska home. In this collection of essays and observations, Lende writes with grace and humor about challenges and triumphs both personal and communal, and captures the spirit of community that infuses her small town. Like Strayed, Lende struggles with big questions, and finds inspiration in the beautiful but unforgiving landscape around her.
Looking for more great book suggestions? Check out the rest of our "what to read next" posts, or share your own recommendations in the comments.
Faced with the absence of her grown sons and the heartbreaking loss of a close friend, Katrina Kenison turned to introspection and yoga in order to heal. She records her results in Magical Journey, chronicling her path to discover the joy of living in the present moment.
"I can either run away from my loneliness, or I can practice tolerating myself as I am," she says, choosing to embrace the latter.
Read our review of Kenison's book at BookPage.com here and watch the inspirational book trailer:
What are your reactions to Kenison's Magical Journey? Will you be reading the book or passing it to a friend?
When Sal Lizard's hair and beard turned white while he was still in his 20s, he decided to embrace the look.
Being Santa Claus is Lizard's funny and touching account of his 30 years of playing Santa in malls, homes and hospitals. The book includes heart-warming stories of Christmas cheer as Lizard shares how being Santa Claus taught him what the holiday is really all about.
Read our review of the book here, and watch this trailer put out by Penguin Group:
Did you interact with Santa this year? Did he seem as realistic as Santa as Sal Lizard does?
If "heaven is for real," then it must change everything. In their latest book since they told the story of the four-year-old son's journey to heaven, Todd and Sonja Burpo reflect on their Heaven is for Real experience.
In this devotional style book based on excerpts from their previous book, the Burpos share their insights into God's plans during hard times in our lives in order to keep the hope of heaven alive every day.
Check out our review of Heaven Changes Everything at BookPage.com and watch the book trailer put out by Thomas Nelson:
Will you read Heaven Changes Everything or give it as a gift this holiday season?
Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky
Doubleday • $25.95 • ISBN 9780385535632
On sale November 20, 2012
We interviewed Tomsky for the December issue of BookPage. You can read that Q&A here for a preview of what you'll learn in Heads in Beds. I love his answer to the question, "What are the most annoying words a guest can say to a front desk agent?"
Here's an excerpt from the book—and an example of how not to act in the lobby:
There are a thousand ways to complain, a thousand ways to have your problems instantly solved. As far as the most effective tactic, would I suggest screaming at an employee? Obviously, I would not.
Here is what I would suggest: Before approaching any employee, try to pinpoint exactly what the problem is (You were promised one rate and charged another / A bellman was rude to your wife / Someone must've thought you were finished with the pizza box you left on the floor of the bathroom and threw away the last cold slice), and then, if possible, what solution would make you feel satisfied (Having the rate adjusted to reflect the original booking / Being assured that the issue will be investigated and the bellman will be spoken to / A pizza slice on the floor? It's gone. Let it GO). Though most complaints should be delivered to the front desk directly, in person or on the phone, keep in mind that most issues you present will not have been caused by the front desk at all. So briefly outline your problem, offer a solution if you have one, and then ask whom you should speak with to have the problem solved. "Should I speak to a manager about this?" "Should I speak to housekeeping about this?" Those are wonderful and beautiful questions to ask. Most of the time the front desk will be able to solve the problem immediately or at least act as proxy and communicate your unrest to the appropriate department or manager. Want to make sure the agent doesn't nod, say "certainly," and not do a damn thing? Get his or her name. Nothing tightens up an employee's throat like being directly identified. You don't have to threaten him or her either, just a nice casual "Thanks for your help. I'll stop by later to make sure everything has been taken care of. Tommy, right?" Whatever you asked me to do I am DOING it.
Lastly, let's try to keep fiery anger out of the lobby. Almost 100 percent of the time the person you are punching on had nothing whatsoever to do with your situation. It's a hotel; nothing's personal. Here is a nice rule of thumb we can all try to remember: a person of culture should make every effort to hide his frustration from those who've had nothing to do with its origin. Boom.
First she thought she had bed bugs. Then she thought she was overworked. A friend suggested that she might have bipolar disorder. After a month of tests totaling almost a million dollars, Susannah Cahalan drew a clock at the request of the doctor. The drawing showed that her brain was inflamed.
Cahalan, a journalist, chronicles her journey from sane to manic to catatonic and back, relying on interviews with family and friends to shed light on the month she can hardly remember in her new book, Brain on Fire.
Read our interview with Cahalan at BookPage.com and check out this interview style trailer where she elaborates on her month of madness:
What do you think about Cahalan's experience? What are you reading right now?
Oliver Burkeman wants us to rediscover the power of negative thinking in order to reach our goals.
If this logic seems strange to you, Burkeman just might convince you otherwise in his new book The Antidote.
Burkeman’s book is indeed a witty antidote to the shelves of self-help books that don’t seem to help anyone but their authors; but it also has a serious purpose. Embracing uncertainty and detaching from our monkey-minds may help us become happier.
Do you believe in a negative road to happiness? Will you give The Antidote a try?
The title of Sally Koslow’s book says it all: Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest is an investigation into the “adultescent” phenomenon. Koslow, a mother of two “adultescents” herself, explores the reasons behind the growing population of college graduates moving back home. Her findings reveal that prolonged dependency might not just be the young generations fault, but also the fault of their helicopter parents.
We have been drunk— not on alcohol, but on unreasonable expectations. For our lost kids at home, it’s time to dry up and move out.
Do you have any "adultescents" in your life? What are you reading this week?