Book Review: The Midnight Library

The Midnight Library

The Midnight Library is one of the most fascinating fiction books I have read in a long while — and, yes, I know I am very late to this party. This book was published back in 2020. I bought it for another person to read, who raved about it, and then it came up with another person as a must read. The premise completely enticed me even without these recommendations, but it still took me a long while to come to it — to come to death, the potential in-between state between life and death, to choices, to where the path not taken takes someone, and more.

That’s right — the fictional idea that we can “die” and not yet “die.” That there is an in between state that begs the question between life and death. Nora, the protagonist, wants to die. The choices she has made have lead her to one big book of regrets and so she dies — not explicitly stated, but she completed suicide.

Yet, she finds herself in a library and it’s midnight — rather than the pearly gates of the afterlife. From here she moves in an ever shifting space of what has been and the opportunity to walk down all the paths she didn’t take and see how they played out. The idea is she is not dead — yet — there may be a story she finds that she wants to live out. This is a story of redemption even when one feels there is nothing about self to be redeemed.

One of the most interesting books she opens is the first one — a large, hefty volume of her regrets. Ah! Regrets! And this one is really accurate for Nora — thus why it is so thick. Regrets large and small about the life she has been living — everything from not exercising on any given day to not marrying the one and basically everything in between.

There is oh so much more, but it had me stop to think about my own book of regrets. If I found myself in my own Midnight Library, would the first book I open be one of regrets? Would the volume be thin, thick, silly, serious — how would I receive looking over the life I have been living essentially? Would the thickest, most urgent volume be the one filled with my regrets?

For Nora, the volume becomes overwhelming. Her volume was thick, overflowing with every move she made and many she did not make. Before she can begin to even open the books that will take her into her stories that she spent so much time regretting she has to face the regret first. Oh! What courage!

As the New Year gets ushered in, how are you perceiving life? Are you looking back at the old with regret? Is there space for what was possible and that you made possible for yourself.?Is there space to hold on to decisions you made that were intuitive and may have left you in pain, but was necessary for yourself in some way? Or when you made those decisions did the walls close in and you filled with regret — which then lead to paralysis to not be able to move forward?

Regrets. They can creep in and define a life. The Midnight Library concept is so special because it allows us to name the regret — well, it’s been written down for you in your great volume of regrets — and then to open up a whole different volume to see if you would have played that decision differently, what would come from it. We often think in terms of all the good we didn’t allow ourselves to have, but, quite possibly, it may have saved us a lot of heartache and wrongness that we just new even as we could not point a finger and name why specifically.

We are all walking the life we are crafting. From the everyday mundane tasks to choosing a partner and a profession — life is dynamic. The Midnight Library acts dynamically as well. Nothing is ever cast in ink either — you can jump out of one story and into another. We have agency, autonomy, and choice to open or shut our decisions, chapters of life, and more.

At the beginning of all things, let there be choice and suspend the regret. Think about it all written down in the great volumes of your Midnight Library — what are you missing in the other volumes by focusing on regret?

Book Review: Before the Ever After

Before the Ever After Book

Happy Football Season! Well, it doesn’t really feel like the season at all with curtailed seasons under the COVID pandemic. Yet, it is still the start of Autumn and with that, if you are in America, football is called to mind. I guess it may be the season that has me so intrigued by Jacqueline Woodson’s latest book Before the Ever After.

It’s a novel about a boy and his father, but not just any father. ZJ has a football star for a Dad. He is beloved by the kids in the neighborhood and to many millions more. He is an athletic star. Life is good and glorious — until it is not. The book moves into exploring his Dad’s CTE diagnosis when he stops remembering and starts forgetting their lives.

It’s an interesting topic to take on quite frankly. In America, we hold up our athletes as invincible heroes on and off the playing field. Most of us know, by now, how dangerous playing football is to the health of the players, but no one is around when their health declines. We are around to watch them play. Yes, even though we know they are risking their health and lives, we show up and watch them play week in and week out.

Once their glory days have passed, we often hear a news headline that somebody or other that we once cheered for with all of our hearts is now ill with a diagnosis like CTE. We feel bad, but our attention has flitted to the next great athlete on the field. This is why I think this book is edgy, as it takes you into the life of the family that has to deal with their glory days being over and how it is to live with someone so crippled by memory issues. All of a sudden it’s not the glory days the family yearns for, but the person who made those days up.

For our society that worships sports stars without a care toward their future ill health, this is a great book to begin to extend our understanding and empathy toward the consequences of these games we so cherish. This is a perfect book to give your middle school child and a great one to read together. There is a lesson from ZJ and his Father for all of us.

Book Review: Daily Rituals

Daily Rituals Book
What are your Daily Rituals?

Are you an artist? When I hear the term I think of a writer, or a painter, a cartoonist, and any other number of artistic fields that people endeavor into for creative fulfillment. On some level, this makes each one of us an artist. As artists we compose and all of us compose the days that make up our lives. We are creators!

As my own person, I think of myself as an artist — not only because I write, but because I am constantly creating the world I am dwelling in — from my home to my clothes to the things I watch and read to the subjects I take interest in to the way I move my body and more. I am creating my life each and every day.

Guess what? So are you!

That’s why a book like Daily Rituals by Mason Currey is so intriguing to me. This little book is a compendium of many artists and their daily rituals as related to creating their art. Although it is about their lives as artists, really it is about life. Peeking into how others create rituals that help them create is interesting to me. It makes me feel less alone on the path I am on.

I know my daily rituals, habits, and patterns — and I am sure you know yours as well. But what can I glean from another’s that causes me to think about something new or sparks interest in a new ritual to change up my days. Thus, creating in my days. Some of them are surprising — as some had no rituals at all, but rather an attitude toward the day. Others remark on how the ritual is not external, but rather within as to how one disciplines self to create.

Little tidbits of wisdom float up from this book. I happen to love books like this because you don’t not need to read it cover to cover, but rather just pick it up and open to a page and read about one artist’s daily rituals and put it down again. Another fun idea is to open the book to a random page and read about that particular artist. Most likely, your energy picked that page and that artist. The message is specially made for you at that moment. Take it in.

I bought myself this book on my Birthday five years ago. I must have been looking for an artistic muse and I found so many in one little book. Which I recommend to you for artistic inspiration.

What are your daily rituals? How are you using them to craft the life you truly love?

Book Review: The Blue Day Book

The Blue Day Book

Do you have blue days? Those days where it’s difficult to get out of bed, where it’s hard to rally a smile, or to even see anything as positive in your life.

We all have these days — I don’t think we would be human if we didn’t feel blue. And that’s why I love this little book from the 1990s that is called The Blue Day Book. It’s a quick read with lots of pictures of animals with a few words meant to cheer you. What I love is it takes less than five minutes to read and just gives a jolt of something funny and fun to lift one’s spirits on blue days.

I keep this little book on my bedside just so I can reach for it for a laugh or a positive message that cheers me up with some lighthearted humor and animals that make me smile. Often a bad day can just turn on something as simple as a Blue Day Book. We often forget to reach for simple things like this thinking it cannot help.

However, being able to do this simple act – like reading this book – can actually open you up and out of singing the blues and into a more positive frame of mind. Laughter can also do this and this book invokes laughter. Sometimes when we are feeling depressed though it is beyond difficult to reach for a book or a laugh. That is why it is no easy step to take.

However, I do recommend having a few fun and funny books within easy reach on any given day to lift your spirits in case you need them. It may not completely cure your blues, but it may take your mind away from them and allow something new to come in to feel during the day.

All these old books I am reaching for this summer learning that these oldies still offer a lot of wisdom for today’s pressures and feelings. Some days and things do not change.

The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady

The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady

Do you love nature? How about sketch drawings? One more question — do you appreciate each month and the beauty it offers to you all the year through?

If you have answered yes to any of these questions, but particularly if you replied yes to all three then this little book gem is for you. This is another old book that I have dusted off my shelf and found recent enjoyment in as it truly does follow The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady, Edith Holden.

Edith takes a year in her life and documents all of the natural moments she finds both in seemingly perfect quotes — even grounding us in the meaning of the months’ names – and drawing images that she finds in nature, much like the cover of the book. All throughout the books sketch drawings capture one’s eye as it takes in the birds, bees, and other critters and flora she finds on her way.

She breaks the year down by month and takes us through how the animals and plant life change as the months on the calendar turn. I was always drawn to her timeline of dates during each month. It won’t be every day of the month listed, but a splattering of dates where she does something or happens upon some unique aspect of nature. So charming!

It’s only a little slice of Edith’s life that we get to see, but it’s so full of charm. I believe it would be a perennial favorite — a book that can be pulled out again and again to become grounded in nature and even imagine your own year full of natural glory.

It’s summer – a perfect season to be outdoors and take in your own nature notes. Perhaps you will be sketching them, or recording your days in a journal, or just inspired by your own natural muses. It’s fun to pull out the books on your shelves that you’ve had forever and reread them to find meaning anew.

Antiracism Books for Teens

Antiracism Books for Teens
Photo Credit: Washington Post

Antiracism books for your teen is a brilliant idea this season!

Your teen has probably been home and studying for months by now. Hard to believe that school is almost out — given school is home and home is school. Still, summer reading season is almost upon us and with everything going on in America, this may be a great summer to have your teens read books that speak to themes of antiracism.

Whether working for social justice, seeking further understanding of the immigrant experience, or gaining knowledge around America’s unique racist ideas that are embedded in our systems, this list offers something interesting that will add appeal to your standard summer reading list.

Do you have younger childre? Then check out this list of antiracist books for children featured in the New York Times. Love this list as it breaks down books by age-appropriateness.

And for all of us, here is a great list to read through and that I believe teens will also appreciate as well. How many have you read?

Many people feel like if they are not protesting in the streets then they are not doing anything for the movement. Yet, reading books that are on these lists is one of the very first steps all of us must take in order to educate ourselves on our history, our past, the movements, and where we are headed into the future. Being well read on these topics is critical in helping to make systemic change in America.

Another idea is to pass along your books after you read them — that is if you bought your book. Share and recommend these books far and wide to all whom you know. It is important work to read, use our language to distill the ideas, and share with your friends and community.

Happy Summer Reading!

Book Review: All Adults Here

All Adults Here Book

All Adults Here is the title — but perhaps its all the children in the adults that are here.

It is summer! Well, not officially, but unofficially in my book this sweet little season has arrived. And with that, I find my reading mind craving bright, easy books that take me away from any cares and into the world of relationships that feel quirky, frothy, yet still give me something to ponder over. Even our beach reads offer us a look at relationships that hold our interest — perhaps we’ll even take away a nugget of something that is meaningful. Sometimes, it is just a sweet, quick read that breezes on by.

All Adults Here by Emma Straub is a novel that is a contemporary look at a family, through the 68 year old’s matriarch’s eyes regarding her children and how she sees each of them and their struggles — to the extent that any parent can see her progeny and try and set some things right for herself and for them. As you can guess, things are going to get complicated fast.

However, it is an interesting family that threads multiple story lines across the generations and how each has its own particular struggles and yet holds together across the entirety of the family system. As one who enjoys looking at how families function through the generations of families, even a fiction family has something to offer me to grow further understanding of myself, my own family, and other families.

It’s a fast read — very now. It feels like a perfect read to kick off the summer season. All Adults Here offers the idea that we are all adults, yes, but we are also all children who grew to be adults. Together, we can find the children inside ourselves and our families long past age says otherwise.

I Know This Much Is True

I Know This Much Is True Review

I Know This Much Is True is a book that was published in the late 1990s by Wally Lamb. Someone gave me a copy that year and I was riveted by the story of these identical brothers and how one has developed full-blown schizophrenia and the other is functioning in his adult world, but emotionally paralyzed.

It’s a dark, sad, harrowing tale about life, mental illness, bad stuff that happens along the way — most of it not of our choosing. When I think about the paths that set these two brothers up for a terrible time in life it has nothing to do with choice, but who they were born to and how they were raised — and by people who had their own traumatic history wrought on them by their elders. The lot of these brothers feels generational, set in stone before their bodies and spirits ever entered. So many of our stories are already written before we are born.

So, this story is a downer. It is difficult to read and now the book has come to the small screen in a six-part limited series that brings the story alive. I had appreciated the book two decades ago and now, having studied mental health counseling for the past four years, I was ready to see this show and look at this story through a more clinical lens. No matter how clinical my eye, this story breaks my heart.

Mark Ruffalo is amazing as he plays both twin brothers. I understand that he shot the scenes as Dominic and then returned months later, weighing 30 lbs more, to play his brother, Thomas. The cast is strong all around, and I get the sense where one brother may be psychologically weak the other has strength and vice versa. Still, for Dominic, who promises his Mother to care for his schizophrenic twin brother for the rest of his days, we get a keen sense of the pain it is to take on such a role.

Each episode, I am actually horrified at what I am watching. It’s not really the mental illness that unfolds in the story, but the everyday catastrophes that we have difficulty facing let alone ever recover from. Our own lives are made up of those moments, people, episodes of difficulty and the way the story is told there is really no place to hide from the raw power of pain.

I do want to recommend this book/show to you. Yes, it is difficult. Certainly, during this pandemic, it may not exactly strike your mood, but it’s worth a watch. This is a six-part series, I am two episodes in. Yes, I am overwhelmed, but I am also riveted for the next episode.

Book Review: Coronavirus: A Book For Children

Coronavirus A Book for Children

The longer this pandemic hangs on across the globe, the more there is a need for good books to help explain what is going on to the children, who have been impacted greatly by this virus. Children of all ages are now at home with their parents full-time. There is no going to school, playing with friends, outdoor activities and sports, Birthday parties, or even seeing caretakers outside of Mom and Dad. Their worlds have shrunk as all of ours have.

As adults we have a sense of what is going on in the world, the affects this is having on people’s health and pocketbooks, and can make some sense of the situation. Even though it is exhausting for adults to stay-at-home, it is stressful to be parenting, working, and home schooling all day long, and the “not knowing” when any of it will end. Adults have a lot to deal with even understanding the facts.

Now take the situation and give it to children, who may not really know at all why, what, and how this is all happening. At this point, it has been going on long enough for parents to have talked to their kids, for kids to have talked to one another, and for there to be some sense of the situation. However, I like the idea of a book that lays out the facts of this situation in a way that is easy-to-read, access, and understand for children. Even the title, Coronavirus: A Book for Children, tells you exactly what this book is about.

The illustrations are bright and colorful. The facts and recommendations are given in an easy-to-read and understand manner. I particularly like the part that focuses on how children may feel at home cooped up on their own. This part provides an opportunity to parents to hone in on how their own children may be uniquely feeling this situation, as well as share their own feelings.

A book that provides context and hope to children during this pandemic is an excellent resource. There is also more books that may be helpful to your child during this time. Here is an excellent round-up of these types of books. The more the better, especially for the littlest ones. Books help us understand our world and it also helps to slow down for a little while to tune in and process together what is happening in the world, in our homes, and in ourselves during this trying time.

Book Review: Women Rowing North

Women Rowing North Book
Rowing North as We Age

Women Rowing North not only focuses on women over the age of 50, but actually targets women, in my opinion, who are over 70.

I have to admit I loved Mary Pipher’s book Reviving Ophelia that was published back in the 1990s and looked underneath the surface of what adolescent girls experience during this time in their lives. Back then, I was closer to adolescence and had barely settled into young adulthood and so it felt like a thunderbolt to have someone take interest and speak truths about what I and my friends had experienced. It was ground-breaking and revolutionary in many ways for me.

So, when Pipher followed up this book with her new book published at the beginning of 2019, Women Rowing North, I was interested as I was now firmly in middle age and rowing north toward old age myself, but not quite there yet. I also bought a copy for my Mother, who is in her late 70s. I was curious to hear her take on this book as she was living this time in her life and I was still gazing at what is to come for me from a distance.

Pipher, in all honesty, paints a rosy, upbeat picture for women over the age of 60 who are still looking to find joy and happiness in their lives. I am taken aback that the target audience for this book is women over 60, because as I read the book it felt more like women over the age of 75. For me, gazing down the path toward old age, I was struck by how small life becomes and where we must look to find our joy and pleasure.

I remember one passage from Women Rowing North encouraging women to take time during their days to look at their pictures and play music that takes them to happy times in their lives. For some reason this idea depressed the heck out of me. That as I row north, it will be more about recalling memories rather than creating new ones during this phase of my life. When I discussed it with my Mother she agreed that it is pretty bleak in that way — that life becomes smaller, especially with health considerations on board. Hmmm…the ideas Pipher came up with seemed to overwhelm me.

For my Mom, not so much. She found it interesting, truthful, held some solid ideas for how to manage one’s time, but all-in-all she felt that it was a little too pollyanna even for her. It can’t all be rosy days as you age. So, she felt, at her age, Pipher was painting somewhat of an optimistic look at this stage of life. For me, squarely in middle age, what Pipher speaks to scared me beyond belief.

Is this a book I would recommend given all of this? Well, I respect the author and what she is trying to provide to elderly women, but I am not at all sure she really hits the mark and speaks to their experience. For those of us not in this stage, I would just keep it on the bookshelf for a few decades and pull it out around the age of 65 to 70 for some hopeful anecdotes that surely will be tempered as we row north.