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Dinners on the back porch. That feeling of expansion that comes with the warmer months, when home is no longer limited to four closed-off walls — it’s the porch, the neighborhood park, the botanical garden, the river. Yours to savor.

Homemade banana bread for breakfast.

Sundress weather, the answer to all my late-pregnancy wardrobe prayers.

Knobby baby parts gliding around under my skin like a sea monster, poking out and retracting, a constant reminder that she’s healthy and growing, something I take for granted.

Long, cathartic talks with sisters. The bonding over shared experiences that holds you together after years of annoying the heck out of each other.

A beautiful new writing desk in the bay window of our living room where I can feel the breeze and look outside while I work. A small thing that makes such a difference in how our apartment and my work day feels.

A clean, quiet place to live. A loving husband. Whole days to fill however I want. Enough to get by. Things I overlook now that were, at one time, all I ever wanted.

 

It’s been a while since my last book review, but I’m catching up! A trick I’ve learned to get back on track with reading is to check out the “lucky day” books from our library (popular new books that you have to return within a week, no renewals). The hard deadline helps. Also, modern books are just so much easier to read than classics. Here’s what I’ve read lately:

 

Commonwealth – Ann Patchett

“People are scared of the wrong things… For the vast majority of the people on this planet, the thing that’s going to kill them is already on the inside.”

A story following a blended family through the decades, in and out of everyone’s heads, through their past and present. Fluidly written with lots of characters and vivid, interesting descriptions of mundane scenes. The interesting thing (and maybe the only letdown) was how the author doesn’t seem to say anything in particular about the novel’s events or pass any judgment. She just kind of puts the characters on display, lets you sympathize with everyone, and then the story ends a bit abruptly. Still, I really liked this book and I like Ann Patchett as a person. I’d be willing to read more by her.

* * *

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi

“Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?” she asked. “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?” “Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.

Oh, that line just kills me. Memoir of a 36-year-old neurosurgery resident suddenly diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, grappling with the question of what to live for now that his life plan has gone up in smoke. An incredibly thoughtful, intelligent person and an excellent writer. I was frustrated that the story felt unfinished (where’s the pretty bow to wrap things up?), but of course, the real story went unfinished because he died. I think the gaps are what help us engage with these questions ourselves. This is just one of those books everyone should read.

* * *

Anything Is Possible – Elizabeth Strout

“Having met in their late thirties, they’d had only eight years together. No children. Patty had never known a better man.”

Nine interconnected short stories about characters who suffer written in the typical, modern style that I’m not a fan of: lots of shock-value language and plot details sprinkled into uninteresting prose, with a vague sense of unresolved bleakness that presumably means something deep but just comes off as lazy to me. There were some touching characters and interesting stories, but to me there’s no point in reading books like this. Similar to Commonwealth but not as good.

Thinking today about potential — the potential all things start out with, when the future is all hopes and intentions, a glorious blank to be filled, something to be speculated over (and really, truly, it could be anything) — and about how, gradually, time marches on until you look back and there is more behind you than in front. Thinking, too, about how to live in such a way that the result of all that potential, the daily, moment-to-moment reality of life, is where I find my satisfaction, not the speculative wish-dreams.

Because, if I am honest, it’s sad to see those wish-dreams go. It’s hard to move from a time of open-ended potential into a time where all the blanks have been filled in. I have a tendency to miss the early days of everything (college, dating, wedding planning, the newlywed years, early pregnancy) and feel bittersweet to see those plans finally carved into stone and made real, even if that is the proper culmination of all my dreaming.

Still, as CS Lewis said, “there are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” And that is a comfort I cling to.