"The Five People You Meet in Heaven," by Mitch Albom
Mitch Albom has written quite a few books including, "The Time Keeper," "Tuesdays with Morrie," and "Just One More Day," all of which are wonderfully creative and thoughtful in their own right. "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" is tender, thought provoking and imaginative as the story begins at the end of Eddie's life as he lies dying in the sun. This might seem a strange way to begin a story, but even though we're not aware of it at the time, "all endings are also beginnings." This beautifully written novel will be enjoyed by anyone who has ever loved or has been loved. It's a story about the elements of love--caring, commitment, compassion, sacrifice, longing, forgiveness, of loving those around us, and of learning how to love one's self. It's a story for anyone who might be wondering if they're making a difference in this life or, in the lives of others or, where they fit into the greater scheme of things. Upon his death, Eddie learns five lessons from the five people who have been waiting to meet him in heaven-- lessons which lead him to find the meaning of his own life. A most moving and lovely story.
"Heart Land," by Caroline Miller
This heartfelt, timeless and gently written fictional memoir finds a grown man, Oliver, reminiscing about his family and childhood after the recent death of his mother. As he begins sorting through some of the things in her closet, he finds a photo album which highlights the period of time in his life between 1939 & 1940 --a time during which he and his younger brother were growing up in a small town in rural Ohio. Each chapter highlights an adventure in the lives of these two young boys, a lesson learned or even a deeper sense of awareness of what is really important during a time in our history that was rich in family values, communities pulling together and neighbors intent on lending a helping hand. Chapters are introduced as a hand written photo caption -- a most clever technique used to tie together all the escapades, events and lessons learned by these boys, their friends and their family. Uncle Henry will no doubt remain memorable long after the last page is turned as will the neighbor who spent the summer trying to teach her son how to cook from their Fannie Farmer Cookbook so that he would be able to do so when she could no longer be there with them. At the end of each chapter my thought was that this was a story I wanted to share with my grandchildren so they too might have a sense of how it would have felt to walk down tree lined streets in their bare feet, laughing and jostling with their friends on the way to a secret hideout deep inside the blackberry bushes. Sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant but always totally and wonderfully memorable. One of my favorite books.
"girlchild," by Tupelo Hassman
Set in a rundown, trailer park on a dusty, dilapidated street in a Reno, Nevada, barrio, this beautifully written story of survival, courage, wit, and spirit unfolds in 1 or 2 page quickly read chapters as Rory Dawn Hendrix defies all odds while struggling to survive her childhood. She lives in poverty with her mother and often in the care of her grandmother, but it's not until she discovers the Girl Scout Handbook in her school library that she is able to experience "promises" that aren't broken and a new meaning for the words "honor" and "obey." While I was often heart broken by what was happening, I was enamored with this story and Ms. Hassman's style which so often left me breathless. The first time I read this book I was flying to see my daughter and her family in Missouri. I remember being at a point in the story that was difficult to read, and to imagine, but as I turned the page I was surprised to see there was nothing on the next page--nothing but blackness. There wasn't anything this author could have written or said that would have left more of an impact than did that black page. This novel is dark at times, but the optimism Rory exhibits in light of all the badness and her effort to be different than those around her even though she loves them dearly, encourages the reader to stick with her and cheer her on when no one else can or does. A beautiful story that is sometimes ugly about a little girl who is not "feeble-minded" at all, but instead, really quite remarkable and the perfect reflection of Ms. Hassman's skills as a writer.
"The Memory Palace," by Mira Bartok
Reading Ms. Bartok's memoir has been a little like eating from a dense, dark, delicious loaf of bread. Each chewy bite takes a bit of effort, but the texture is so full, and the flavor so scrumptious that before one realizes what is happening, half the loaf is gone. It's not long at all before one realizes this isn't just a loaf of bread at all but instead, a most delectable cinnamon raisin bread, infused with ribbons of sugar and spicy goodness that makes not finishing the whole loaf impossible. This beautifully written memoir traces the lives of a mother, Norma, and her two daughters, Mira and Rachel, as they experience the turmoil and fragility that defines schizophrenia. Both parent and children did what was necessary not only to survive decades of uncertainty and angst but more importantly to thrive and excel. I'm not sure if Mira and her mother were brilliant at birth or if they became so as a result of her mother's illness, but Mira's recollection in such detail, the flights of fancy, the ability of someone so young to be able to cope and find an escape in her art and music, the journeys taken by her homeless mother to places most of us will never know or see offered glimpses into an imaginary but very real world. It had become imperative that for the last 17 years of her mother's life there would be no physical contact between mother and daughters, but letters were exchanged between Mira and her mother and the contents of these letters kept the two bonded even though they were worlds apart. The advice given by her mother was often raw and seemingly nonsensical but clearly Mira's mother loved her daughters very much and undeniably everything she said and did was for their benefit. The wonder of this story lays in the fact that Mira and Rachel grew and flourished regardless of the experiences that unfolded throughout much of their childhood--a testimony, I think, to the strength, hope and the power of forgiveness which is found in love. This book is filled with treasures, both written and drawn, real and imagined and if I have the opportunity to read "The Memory Palace" a dozen more times, I know I'll discover something new each time I turn a page.
Trusting we'll all be able to find the quiet time that invites a moment, or two, curled up with a favorite book. I'm so very grateful for the difference doing so has made in my life...
If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again,
there is no use in reading it at all.