the story is what got you here: Gail Caldwell and other books of summer

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I have a dream, and it is this: to make this, the summer of friendship, also the summer of books. Both things at the same time. My idea of heaven.

(Throw a few good meals in, and it would be exponential heaven.)

Recently, with readerly hopes, I went out and bought some new books. To add to the piles of books not yet read. I don't know. I could not help it. On my list:

Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us (James Nestor)

All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)

The Frangipangi Hotel (Violet Kupersmith)

Hungry (Heather Swain)

Sekret (Lindsay Smith)

I also bought Gail Caldwell's new memoir, because of course I had to; anyone who loves memoir must. Caldwell's truth talk is exemplary, which is to say that her stories are always bigger than herself. Caldwell never talks at us, as some memorists do. She draws us up at her table, gives us some tea, and makes room for conversation.

New Life, No Instructions is a slender volume—a story about a woman who has never married, who has no children, who has recently lost her best friend and her beloved parents, whose hip is finally giving way. What will send her living forward? What lessons are there in the intimacies of friendships that are built out of years and proximity?

Caldwell doesn't have all the answers; she doesn't pretend to. But she searches with such tremendous authenticity, she yields such simple and lovely vignettes, she honors those who have passed on, she is alive, she is on her river.

And she talks to us about telling the truth about the stories that have made us who we are. Words for all of us:

I've also been asked if I was resentful about getting a new diagnosis as late as I did, at least a decade beyond the initial symptoms that indicated my hip was failing. The answer is no, and not because I'm trying to be valiant. I think it's because of all the years I've spent in AA meetings, listening to people's stories. They can be terrible stories, full of anguish and fear and disrepair. But the point is not to spin the narrative; that defeats purpose, in some way, of story itself. You can't change the tale so that you turned left one day instead of right, or didn't make the mistake that might have saved your life a day later. We don't get those choices. The story is what got you here, and embracing its truth is what makes the outcome bearable.


Serena said...

OOO, so glad you picked up Kupersmith's The Frangipangi Hotel! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Katrina said...

Ah, here is your list! Doerr is on my stack, too.

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