I read two books about time in the past month - both very different and both terrific. I linked to Emma Straub’s bookish apartment last month, this month let me tell you how great her new book This Time Tomorrow is! This wonderful and imaginative story centers around Alice, who is turning 40 and questioning her life and the choices she has made. She is single, her career is stagnant, and her beloved father is failing in the hospital. On the night of her birthday, through a strange set of conditions, she finds herself back in her childhood bedroom. Alice is able to travel back to her 16 year old self and spend time with her childhood friends and more importantly, her father. Straub uses time travel not as a vehicle to change the future, but as a way to appreciate the life Alice has led. Reviews have noted how beautiful the father-daughter relationship is portrayed here, but Straub also gives us a wonderful example of female friendship. I love that Alice’s 16 year old bestie is still her 40 year old bestie. Also the nostalgia game is strong here. I am a bit older than Alice but I love how well Staub creates a real sense of place for the past. Though I am not a fan of time-travel books, I highly endorse this one!
The second book is Oliver Burkeman’s nonfiction best-seller, Four Thousand Weeks. This is not your usual time management or how to get more done book. Burkeman argues that if we truly realize how limited our time is and what things are important, we can put less pressure on ourselves rather than more. I have spent a lifetime rushing through things and looking forward to the next thing but more recently, I find myself wanting to slow everything down and just stay in the moment. I do not agree with 100% of this book (and theologically we couldn’t be more different) but I found myself highlighting passage after passage. A few ideas that resonate for me in this book:
Any life, even the best one I could imagine, is a matter of ceaselessly waving goodbye to possibility. (If I choose to do X, I am choosing not to do Y or Z)
Hobbies are subversive because we do them without any expectation of a payoff or profit and our culture fights this idea by focusing on turning things into side hustles.
Since we are limited with time and we will never get it all done, so stop trying.
Our time is not just for ourselves, almost everything worth doing depends on cooperating with others (marriage, parenting, business, volunteering, church) Don’t hoard your time, give it away.
I underlined so many things in this book that I printed out five pages of Kindle notes. Let me leave you with this quote “Because the attention economy is designed to prioritize whatever’s most compelling, instead of whatever’s most true or most useful- it systematically distorts the picture of the world we carry in our heads at all times. This means the attention economy has rendered you sufficiently distracted, or annoyed, or on edge, it becomes easy to assume that this is just what life these days inevitably feels like.” If any of these ideas resonate, seek out this book.
I am still listing books on the Pango App! Check here to see my books for sale. This is a great resource for buying used books. At this point I am buying almost as many as I am selling, so I guess you could say it is helping to pay for my habit.
I loved listening to this interview with Judith Voirst on NPR discussing her classic book, now 50 years old, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. This book was inspired by her youngest son who struggled to keep up. My kids adored this story and I always appreciated how it did not have a happy ending, everything didn’t magically get fixed, because some days are like that. We still occasionally say “I am having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”
These cartoons from Andy Babbitz in The New Yorker are spot on (click to see the full list.)
It is the season of graduations and I love a great commencement address. It isn’t just 18 - 22 year olds that need encouragement these days. One of my favorites is George Saunders’ 2013 speech about the failures of kindness. Read it here or watch it here.
On a personal note, my youngest just finished high school and I have many feelings. I go to words to help me through — and this blessing from Emily P. Freeman for graduates is a balm to my soul. She always has the perfect words for significant occasions.
Bloomsbury Girls is set in one of my sweet spots for historical fiction: Post WW2 England. Things are hard, but not too hard, people are grieving but also moving on in life, there is hope and usually restoration. Here Jenner returns with a character from The Jane Austen Society, who goes to work at a very well respected but stodgy London bookstore. The book centers around Bloomsbury Books and its employees, primarily the three female employees (Grace, Vivian, and Evie.) They each value their job but find they are being held back by the shop rules and their male coworkers. Yet, as each of them pushes boundaries bit by bit in an effort to make a way for themselves, things do start to change and dominos begin to fall. This book is a book lover’s dream - much of the novel takes place in the shop, there are lots of discussions about books, and cameos by famous post-war authors. Jenner writes complex characters - some that you want to root for and some you want to kick in the pants. I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the stories Jenner is telling.
This is the second book based around mountain climbing that I have read in the past two months. (I wrote about The Abominable in my April Newsletter.) Breathless is narrated by Cecily, a journalist who, though new to climbing, has been chosen to accompany one of the world's premier alpinists as he summits his final 8000 meter mountain. Charles has promised her an interview after she summits Manaslu with him. From the start things seem off to Cecily but she is not sure if she is just being paranoid. Are people having accidents or is someone out to harm the expedition? As incidents mount, Cecily wonders if maybe there is another story to be told. Her investigation puts her and others in danger but she is determined to find the truth. This thriller pulled me in and is hard to put down. My only complaint is that the ending wrapped up quickly and I wish there had been more of an epilogue. [Note: This book pairs perfectly with the 2021 film 14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible, available on Netflix.]
The Violin Conspiracy is an excellent thriller where no one dies. It centers around Ray, a gifted violinist with a complicated family. When we meet Ray, his violin has been stolen - this is no ordinary violin, it is extremely valuable. The book travels back and forth bringing the reader on Ray’s journey as a beginning mucisian: from his unsupportive mother and his difficulties being accepted in the field of classical music to the people who want to hinder his success. There are a lot of suspects and few clues. I found this book unputdownable. I was stressed the whole time reading it, and I mean that in a good way. If you are looking for an exciting book to read on a plane or by the pool this year, this could be for you.
Happy Reading and thanks for sticking with me to the end.