Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman (Oct. 2013)

hoffmanThis is a tiny book.  Like, you will finish it in a little over an hour.  At first I thought, no one who isn’t already terribly famous would be able to get away with this at a publishing house.  All the rest of us have to shoot for the 40,000 word minimum.  But after reading the book, I was no longer miffed.   There is purpose and effectiveness that would be impossible without brevity.  Hoffman — one of my favorite fiction writers — survived breast cancer 15 years ago.  This isn’t a breast cancer memoir, but rather a compilation of things Hoffman learned — about what is important in life, and how best to live it — through surviving cancer.  With its small size and few pages, this book might on first glance seem to fit into the market for aphorisms and devotionals, those little gift books on the sale tables at Barnes and Noble, the books that end up on our mother’s and grandmother’s night stands.  The ones filled with gag-worthy cliches that make you want to rip out the pages and shred them into itty bitty bits for presuming to reduce our pain into measurable portions that can be handily contained with truths too clever to be true.  But no.  No.  Hoffman’s book is NOT one of these.  You will read it and be surprised by the relief you feel.  You will give it as gifts.  These gifts will end up on night stands.  And there will be many people who sleep just a little bit better because a writer of beautiful words has understood their suffering: that pain, to be reduced, cannot be dismissed.  There are many self-help books out there that take hours and days to plod through for the small morsels we can take away and use. But in just an hour, you can read Survival Lessons and absorb every word, with no need to discard the tedious and superfluous.  Advance Reader’s Copy provided by BEA (and signed by Hoffman herself, who indeed was, upon meeting, the lovely person I had believed her to be from her writing).


Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed (March 2012)

My own name is Cheryl, I grew up hiking and skiing in areas the Pacific Crest Trail passes through, and I have fantasies of one day spending several weeks backpacking with my husband on a trip about a tenth the length of the one Cheryl Strayed took and wrote about in this memoir.  But that isn’t really why I listened raptly to the audiobook every minute I was in my car recently, and thoroughly related to her experience.  Cheryl Strayed is simply a great writer.  I think one of the reasons so many people — and so many different kinds of people — have read her book and loved it, is that Strayed’s well-crafted and illuminating prose succeeds in bringing the personal and very particular into universal applicability.  This is a memoir about being a human being.  So even if you hate spiders and love hot showers and wouldn’t dream of spending one night — let alone close to 100 — in a tent . . . you’re still walking, every day, a journey that in many respects probably looks similar to Strayed’s.  In reading about her journey, she will undoubtedly illuminate your own.  Highly recommended.

Comet’s Tale by Steven D. Wolf (Oct 2012)

This memoir is above all about living with a sudden and unexpected disability and chronic pain.  It is almost as fully an account of how much a dog can ease pain and disability, both psychically and practically.  And it is also an illustration of how tragically a change in physical wellness can nearly rip to shreds the health of family relationships.  In the end, “Wolf” and his dog save each other and their family.  I kept thinking throughout the book how easily I or someone I love could get disabled.  “Wolf” was a triathalon athlete at 42 when his condition reared it’s ugly head.  I understand a little better now what being cut down in your prime can mean.  I’ll be looking into long-term disability insurance.  I’m also now in love with greyhounds.  My husband isn’t yet sympathetic, but I think, like “Wolf”, he just needs to meet one, to look into her doe eyes and see the quiet, calm intelligence.  They’re incredible dogs.  At least Comet certainly was.  There were about 40 pages in the middle of the book that I thought could have been more heavily edited.  But the overall read was worth it.  Galley provided by Algonquin Books on

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