Having read and enjoyed The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary, I was eager to read another one of her novels — The Switch. And it didn’t disappoint.
The premise was charming — an eighty-year-old grandmother living in a small village trades places with her twenty-something granddaughter living in London.
Of course adjustments must be made. Granddaughter Leena must revert back to using a flip phone (her grandmother’s), while grandmother Eileen must learn to use her granddaughter’s smartphone. And that’s just for starters.
Not only was this a fun read, it was also endearing and heartfelt. (Note – there were also some serious, sad aspects to the story.)
Here are just a few of the passages I marked:
“Beneath my excitement there’s a thrum of nerves. I’ve felt plenty of dread, this last year or so, but I haven’t felt the thrill of not knowing what’s to come for a long, long time.” (Grandmother)
“It takes all my effort not to cry as I take the keys from a very worried-looking Penelope and sit myself down in the driver’s seat. These people. There’s such a fierceness to them, such a lovingness. When I got here, I thought their lives were small and silly, but I was wrong. They’re some of the biggest people I know.” (Granddaughter)
“I take a shaky breath and go on. ‘When people talk about loss, they always say that you’ll never be the same, that it will change you, leave a hole in your life.’ My voice is choked with tears now. ‘And those things are undoubtedly true. But when you lose someone you love, you don’t lose everything they gave you. They leave something with you.’” (Grandmother)
Which kind of feels like a joke. Because, I have a close-and-personal relationship with pain. I am very aware of pain — every month of the year.
Pain is a part of me — night and day. Weekdays and weekends. It doesn’t even take major holidays off.
My pain is commanding and assertive. It does what it wants to do, and it doesn’t care if I’m in the privacy of my home or walking to my neighborhood Coffee Bean.
Or at my son’s Cubing Competition.
About a year ago, my son became interested in Rubik’s Cubes after watching one of his very good friends solve them. (Who knew there were so many cubes? Some of them aren’t even cube shaped!) This past Saturday, my son participated in his first Cubing Competition which involved five different events.
The competition was held in a high school gymnasium about an hour away from home. Our family didn’t know exactly what to expect, because since this was our son’s first experience competing, it was the first time my husband and I were spectators at such an event.
There’s a lot of sitting around — on bleachers.
Then there’s a lot of standing and moving around so we could get a good view of our son cubing which would then make for good photos and good videos.
And that’s when my pain decided to make a grand entrance. During one round, and thankfully my son wasn’t competing at the time, I felt like my leg was about to buckle under me. A strong muscle cramp gripped my left thigh.
This was new for me. Usually cramps hit me in my left calf. And usually they happen at home. Just a few weeks ago, I had a cramp in my calf during my virtual appointment with my therapist. Sometimes cramps wake me from sleep. At home, I can cry and bang the mattress, bite on the blanket in an attempt not to wake my son.
But we were at a high school gymnasium, with about 100 participants and their families. My husband and I went outside and found a bench. I couldn’t sit without excruciating pain, I couldn’t stand and stretch without feeling like I was going to fall. I couldn’t walk it off or massage it away. And I couldn’t cry or make a scene, because there were a few other parents outside on their phones and dealing with younger siblings. And, most importantly, my son was inside waiting for us.
I was very aware of the time, knowing my son’s next round was happening very soon, and I certainly wasn’t going to miss it because of a cramp.
My husband and I went back inside. Underneath my double masks, I pursed my lips. I tried to take deep breaths and tried to calm myself down.
I tried to focus on the moment and watch nearby competitors as my son waited his turn. But I had a hard time standing and had to lean heavily on my husband.
I was aware of my pain. Very aware of my pain.
And that’s probably one of the hardest things about my Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease. The randomness of it. The fact that I never quite know how I’ll be feeling from one day to another. Or in Saturday’s case, from one hour to another.
As my therapist and I have talked about, the only thing predictable about my autoimmune disease is its unpredictability.
These Precious Days: Essays by Ann Patchett is one of those books that, while you’re reading, you stop and marvel at what you have just read. Not just the idea, but the way the idea was expressed.
These Precious Days: Essays is one of those books you think about after you’ve finished reading it.
Though I admit, I struggled a bit in the beginning. Many of the essays seemed disjointed, and I couldn’t quite figure out how they fit together into one essay collection. I kept looking for the common thread, and it wasn’t until I was finished reading, that I realized I may have been looking too hard.
“These precious days” — the phrase itself. Our days are precious. Whether it’s a chore day, a run-errands day, a have-coffee-with-a-friend day, all our days are precious. And sometimes, those days, my days, do feel disjointed.
Let me share with you some of the gems I marked as I read this book:
“The things we buy and buy and buy are like a thick coat of Vaseline smeared on glass: we can see some shapes out there, light and dark, but in our constant craving for what we may still want, we miss too many of life’s details.”
“I was an introverted kid, and not a strong reader. My grandmother had a stock of mass-market ‘Peanuts’ books she’d bought off a drugstore spinner. Titles like You’ve Had It, Charlie Brown and All This and Snoopy, Too were exactly my speed. I memorized those books. I found Snoopy in Paradise the way another kid might have found God. Influence is a combination of circumstance and luck: what we are shown and what we stumble upon in those brief years when our hearts and minds are fully open.”
“Did I become a novelist because I was a loser kid who wanted to be more like the cartoon dog I admired, the confident dog I associated with the happiest days of my otherwise haphazard youth? Or did I have some nascent sense that I would be a writer, and so gravitated towards Snoopy, the dog-novelist? It’s hard to know how influence works. One thing I’m sure of is that through Snoopy, Charles Schulz raised the value of imagination, not just for me but for everyone who read him.”
“How I came not to care about other people’s opinions is something of a mystery even to me. I was born with a compass. It was the luck of my draw. This compass has been incalculably beneficial for writing —for everything, really— and for that reason I take very good care of it. How do you take care of your internal compass? You don’t listen to anyone who tells you to do something as consequential as having a child. Think about that one for a second.”
“I’d been afraid the stories of my youth would be as bad as my youthful poetry. I’d been afraid I’d somehow been given a life I hadn’t deserved, but that’s ridiculous. We don’t deserve anything — not the suffering and not the golden light. It just comes.”
“When I went to graduate school, hoping to be a writer, I had no idea that owning a bookstore was one of my career options. But I believe I’ve done more good on behalf of culture by opening Parnassus than I have writing novels. I’ve made a place in my community where everyone is welcome. We have story time and poetry readings and demonstrations from cookbooks. I’ve interviewed more authors than you could even imagine. Many of them sleep at my house. I promote the books I love tirelessly, because a book can so easily get lost in the mad shuffle of the world and it needs someone with a loud voice to hold it up and praise it. I am that person.”
“Where books are concerned, covers are what we have to go on. We might be familiar with the author’s name or like the title, but absent that information, it’s the jacket design — the size and shape of the font, the color, the image or absence of image — that makes us stop at the new releases table of our local independent bookstore and pick up one novel instead of another. Book covers should entice readers the way roses entice bees — like their survival depends on it.”
“In the twenty-six years that Karl and I had been together, I’d never had the experience of coming home to dinner being made. It was a minor footnote considering everything I got from Karl, but still, the warmth of it, the love, to walk in the door after a long two days and see that someone had imagined that I might be hungry knocked me sideways. This was what marriage must look like from the other side.”
I am in the process of reorganizing my bookcase. I’m running out of space (which I’ve already written about in a blog post titled “So Many Books, Not Enough Space” and I’m hoping that my reorganizing will make some more space, and maybe reveal some books I no longer wish to keep in my personal library. (I usually donate these books to my local public library or my neighborhood little free library.)
I have too many books to list them all here, but here’s an A to Z List of Books on my white Ikea bookcase. Are any of these titles on your bookcase? Let me know in the comments.
A The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel. Such a good book, providing this look into the lives of these incredible women.
B Beyond the Diaper Bag edited by Megan Bekkedahl and Melaina Lausen. The first time one of my essays was published in an anthology.
C Chronic Resilience: 10 Sanity-Saving Strategies for Women Coping with the Stress of Illness by Danea Horn. Should be required reading for all those living with chronic illness and those living with someone who has a chronic illness.
D Dream When You’re Feeling Blue by Elizabeth Berg. A touching story full of rich images and sensory details. The relationship these sisters have, the sacrifice one can make for another, the forms true love can take — beautiful.
E Everyone is Beautiful by Katherine Center. This book captivated me at the first sentence: “The day I decided to change my life, I was wearing sweatpants and an old oxford of Peter’s with a coffee stain down the front.“ It was the first book I read by Katherine Center, and now, anything she writes, I definitely buy. More than that, I pre-order it, in hardcover, from her favorite independent hometown bookstore because she signs them!
F The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary. Such a delightful read while at the same time touching upon some serious topics.
G Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert. This novel remains on my haven’t-read-yet shelf. But I am looking forward to diving into this friend-recommended book that features a protagonist who lives with a chronic illness.
H Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. I admit to watching the movie before buying and reading the book.
IInstant Mom by Nia Vardolos. The specifics may vary, but I found so much of what Ms. Vardolos wrote — about parenting, about living with an autoimmune disease —so very relatable.
J Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Sophie Cousens. So much more than the delightful, escape sort-of-read I thought it would be.
K Kicking in the Wall: A Year of Writing Exercises, Prompts, and Quotes to Help You Break Through Your Blocks and Reach Your Writing Goalsby Barbara Abercrombie. A book I have read more than once, filled with writing prompts that I utilize during my daily five-minute writing exercises.
L Leaving Orbit: Notes From the Last Days of American Spaceflight by Margaret Lazarus Dean. What an incredible “inside scoop” sort of book. The young girl in me, the girl who dreamed of becoming an astronaut, so enjoyed this book!
M Mr. Perfect on Paper by Jean Meltzer. I really enjoyed Ms. Meltzer’s first novel (The Matzah Ball) and am excited to read this one. For now, my pre-ordered signed copy remains on my to-be-read shelf.
NNo Cure for Being Human: And Other Truths I Need to Hear by Kate Bowler. My copy of this book is full of sticky notes! Which reminds me — I still haven’t read Ms. Bowler’s other book Everything Happens For a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. (I love these titles!)
O Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott. I remember reading this book during those first few months of my son’s life. When Ryan woke during the night, I fed him, kissed, him, and placed him back in his crib. Then I’d sit in the next room reading Operating Instructions until I knew Ryan had fallen back asleep and it was safe for me to go back to bed.
P People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry. Not just an enjoyable book, but it’s the book I read on our family vacation to Maui.
Q Quint and Drik’s Hero Quest by Max Brallier. I admit — this book is on my son’s bookcase, because I couldn’t find any “Q” books on my bookcase. I have read this book with my son, so this feels like an okay cheat-of-sorts.
R Reaching for the Stars: The Inspiring Story of a Migrant Farmworker Turned Astronaut by José Moreno Hernández. I love reading about the paths astronauts have taken, the decisions and challenges that led them to outer space.
SSurviving and Thriving with an Invisible Chronic Illness: How to Stay Sane and Live One Step Ahead of Your Symptoms by Ilana Jacqueline. I do wish I had found this book closer to when I received my diagnosis.
T The Things We Don’t Say edited by Julie Morgenlender. Though one of my personal essays is included in this anthology, and you may think I’m biased, I really do believe I’ve never come across another book quite like this one. The chronic illnesses may vary, but many of the emotions and experiences are so universal.
U Untamed by Glennon Doyle. A friend gave me this book, but it still remains on my to-be-read shelf.
V The Victoria’s Secret Catalog Never Stops Comingand Other Lessons I Learned from Breast Cancer by Jennie Nash. Many years ago, I took a class Jennie Nash taught through the Writers’ Program at UCLA Extension. Now Jennie is the CEO of Author Accelerator.
W The Wildwater Walking Club by Claire Cook. A story about the power of walking and the power of female friendship. (And if you like this one, there are two more books in this series.)
X Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss. I’m really stretching it here. This book isn’t even on my son’s bookcase anymore. But it is packed away with other childhood favorites. Such a fun book to read, it was on constant rotation here at home and when I taught kindergarten.
Y Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes. When I read this book, I marked many pages with sticky notes. Sometimes I think about reading it again, but then I look at my to-be-read shelf, and decide to read one of those first.
Z Bookends: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Literature by Zibby Owens. I admit, I’m cheating on this one a bit, because the author’s name, and not the title of the book, starts with a Z.