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Posts Tagged ‘marriage’

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I’ve been reading a lot of great books about marriage lately, and decided to highlight a couple of them for a recent column in Shelf Awareness, which appears below.

They may go together like a horse and carriage, as the song has it. But love, when it’s meant to last a lifetime, can be messy, painful, even deadly dull. Two new books offer a complicated take on marriage that’s much more genuine – and more interesting – than the traditional fairy-tale narrative.

Essayist Ada Calhoun admits the truth: marriage is foundational and nourishing, but it’s also frustrating and just plain hard. Calhoun’s collection Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give delves into the facets of marriage that starry-eyed couples don’t always want to acknowledge. These include paying (literally) for a spouse’s mistakes, daydreaming about other partners (and other lives) and slogging through what she bluntly calls “the boring parts” of wedded bliss.

“Dating is poetry,” Calhoun writes. “Marriage is a novel. There are times, maybe years, that are all exposition.” Her mock “toasts” brim with wit, wisdom and gut-level honesty about the trials of staying married and the quiet rewards of remaining faithful, however imperfectly.

Renowned couples therapist Esther Perel explores a more dramatic but no less sticky aspect of long-term commitment–infidelity and its fallout–in The State of Affairs. Drawing on her years of work with couples (of various ethnicities and sexual orientations) who have dealt with infidelity, Perel explores the reasons people seek extramarital relationships and analyzes their effects.

Despite the pain they cause, she insists that affairs provide “a window, like none other, into the crevices of the human heart.” Her clients’ stories have many different endings, but most, encouragingly, are still in progress: an affair can expose the fault lines in a marriage, but doesn’t have to mean total destruction.

Both Calhoun and Perel present clear-eyed yet ultimately hopeful perspectives on marriage as a tough, flexible and ultimately life-giving endeavor.

Have you read either of these authors? What are your favorite books about marriage?

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ordinary light book journal

This February was up and down: weather-wise, work-wise, sleep-wise (the Olympics messed with that last one). But it included some fantastic books. Here’s the latest roundup:

Love and Ruin, Paula McLain
I loved McLain’s novel The Paris Wife, about Hadley and Ernest Hemingway, but frankly wasn’t sure I was up for another novel about the man. But the narrative voice of Martha Gellhorn, a fiery journalist who became his third wife, captivated me. McLain charts their passionate, stormy relationship and Martha’s fierce battle to build her career while living in Ernest’s shadow. Great writing, lots of drama (world and personal) and a searing portrait of complicated love. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 1).

Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill
This short novel garnered a lot of hype a few years ago, and I finally read it for my book club. It’s a string of vignettes and musings by a highly anxious woman in NYC whose marriage hits a rough patch. The viewpoint flips about halfway through from first to third person. I can see why others found this one compelling, but it didn’t work for me.

Ordinary Light, Tracy K. Smith
Smith, the U.S. poet laureate, turns to prose in this memoir, which chronicles her childhood in California and her mother’s powerful influence on her life. It started slowly for me, but I took my time and enjoyed it, especially the later sections. A few beautiful passages (one set in Lamont Library) and a thoughtful exploration of loss, belief and growing into ourselves. I also read Smith’s striking new collection, Wade in the Water (out in April), for review.

I Shall Not Want, Julia Spencer-Fleming
Russ Van Alstyne is grieving a great loss, and Clare Fergusson is balancing ministry and her assignment in the National Guard. They and the Millers Kill PD, including brand-new officer Hadley Knox, are swept up in a case involving undocumented immigrants, drug smuggling and murder. I can’t get enough of this series; this book was possibly the most powerful and honest yet.

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
This novel opens with teenage arson: a shocking act in most places, but especially in Shaker Heights, Ohio, a meticulously planned, rule-following community. Ng explores the interplay of two contrasting families: the stable, self-assured Richardsons, and newcomer Mia Warren (an itinerant artist) and her daughter Pearl. A page-turner with some compelling characters. I loved Ng’s debut, Everything I Never Told You, and this is a solid second novel.

To Be Where You Are, Jan Karon
I’m a longtime repeat visitor to Mitford, Karon’s fictional North Carolina town. In this latest novel (#14), retired priest Father Tim finds himself with a new job, as his son and daughter-in-law struggle with their own challenges. I always love visiting Mitford; it’s small and homey, but the struggles are very real. Funny, comforting and wise.

One Was a Soldier, Julia Spencer-Fleming
Clare Fergusson is struggling to readjust to civilian life after a year in Iraq. She joins a local veterans’ group, and when one of her compatriots ends up dead, she (of course) dives into the investigation. Meanwhile, the other group members are wrestling their own demons, and it’s a small town, so it’s all connected. Powerful and heartbreaking; the seventh in a fantastic series.

Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory, Deena Kastor (with Michelle Hamilton)
I’m a novice enthusiastic runner; Kastor is a pro and an Olympic medalist. I was fascinated by her memoir of running: her early career, the wisdom she gained from coaches and teammates, and her focus on mental toughness. She’s relentlessly positive but not trite, and I loved following her journey. To review for Shelf Awareness (out April 10).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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daffodils books ruth fitzmaurice

January was a long month – which, thank goodness, contained so many books that I needed a third roundup, for the first time in a while. Here’s the last batch:

A Perilous Path: Talking Race, Inequality, and the Law, Sherrilyn Ifill, Loretta Lynch, Bryan Stevenson and Anthony C. Thompson
In February 2017, these four brilliant black thinkers gathered at NYU for a conversation on systemic racism in the U.S.: its long history, the complicated gains under President Obama and their fears of what might happen under Donald Trump. This book is a transcript of that conversation: it’s short, but powerful and insightful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 6).

Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, Ada Calhoun
I loved Calhoun’s candid, witty, clear-eyed essays on the long game of marriage. With chapters like “The Boring Parts,” she delves into the nitty-gritty of staying not only physically near, but committed to and considerate of – even devoted to – one person. I’ve been married nine (and a half) years, and Calhoun’s perspective rang so true. Inspired by her Modern Love essay, and recommended by Rebecca on All the Books!.

The Inheritance, Charles Finch
Reading The Woman in the Water (the upcoming prequel to the Charles Lenox series) reminded me that I’d missed this latest installment. Lenox’s 10th adventure involves an old school friend, the Royal Society of naturalists and a mysterious inheritance. I always enjoy spending time with Lenox and his supporting cast, and this was a pleasantly twisty case.

Out of the Deep I Cry, Julia Spencer-Fleming
This third mystery featuring Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne finds them trying to solve two missing-persons cases: one present-day, one decades-old. A layered plot involving land use, vaccinations and family secrets. I’m loving this series, which (so far) is compelling and also honest about the struggles of living a faithful life.

I Found My Tribe, Ruth Fitzmaurice
Ruth’s life changed drastically when her husband Simon was diagnosed with motor neuron disease (MND). She’s kept her sanity by chasing her five rambunctious children, wrangling a never-ending stream of nurses, and jumping into the frigid Irish Sea with her two dear friends. This memoir of swimming, grief and never-ending change is fragmented but lovely, like the sea glass her son Arden gathers on the beach. Honest and tender, sometimes raw, often beautiful. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 6). I also enjoyed Simon’s memoir, It’s Not Yet Dark.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading this winter?

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not afraid shirt ocean brave

It’s been a year, hasn’t it, friends?

These past months have been crowded and stressful, both in the world and in my own life. But they’ve also held beauty and laughter and joy. Here’s my annual (long but non-comprehensive) list of what has happened this year.

In 2017, I have:

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  • spent a long October weekend introducing my parents to New York City.
  • returned to PEI with the hubs for our third blissful stretch of days there.
  • spent a week wandering Oxford, city of my heart.
  • tried my first boot camp workout – a six-week series taught by my favorite yoga instructor – and loved it.
  • surprised myself by taking up running.
  • run my first 5K (in the snow!).
  • moved (again) and settled into our new apartment, a lovely third-floor eyrie in Dorchester.
  • fallen in love with the river trail near our house.

river trail asters

midtown nyc skyscrapers blue sky

  • gone on a few weekend escapes with the hubs: a Florida beach, a wee Connecticut town, the Maine woods.
  • spoken (once) and listened (on many days) at Morning Prayers at Memorial Church.
  • done a lot of church work, as ever: sending emails, organizing events, reading Scripture, washing dishes.
  • learned a thing or two about protesting.
  • marked nine years of marriage.
  • helped my best friends pack up their apartment, and sent them on their way to Idaho with many tears.
  • finished paying off our little silver car (we call her Adele).
  • celebrated my eighth (!) Turkeypalooza with church friends.
  • filled up half a dozen journals.

I’m looking forward to turning the calendar on 2018: I love the idea of a fresh start, but there’s also some good stuff I want to carry over from 2017. Wishing you a peaceful, hopeful start to the New Year.

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disappearance damascus book plum

How is it mid-September already? I love this golden month, but my brain is all over the place lately. I have finished a few books, though, and here they are:

The Unlikelies, Carrie Firestone
Sadie Sullivan is bummed: the summer before her senior year looks like a dud. But when she saves a baby from her drunk father (and gets badly beaten up), Sadie becomes a “homegrown hero.” She and four other local teens (the Unlikelies) band together to fight hate and do some good in their town. I read this sweet, sharp, funny YA novel in one night. Recommended by my colleagues at Shelf Awareness.

Blackbird House, Alice Hoffman
I picked up this linked story collection after loving Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic: I just wanted to stay in her world a while longer. The stories wind around the titular house, on Cape Cod, and its occupants over generations. Deeply bittersweet, with a fairy-tale quality and beautiful, melancholy descriptions.

The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, Esther Perel
Infidelity is as common as it is heartbreaking, and Perel, a renowned couples therapist, argues that we need a new conversation around it. She delves into many facets of affairs: secrecy, lies, jealousy, the effects of modern technology, the politics of open marriages and the ways marriage and infidelity shape our sense of identity. Fascinating and thoughtful; a sensitive take on a really sensitive topic. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 10).

A Disappearance in Damascus, Deborah Campbell
Soon after Campbell landed in Damascus on assignment for Harper’s in 2007, she met Ahlam, an Iraqi refugee and “fixer” who worked with journalists and humanitarian groups to help tell the story of Iraqis who had fled to Syria after Saddam Hussein was overthrown. When Ahlam was arrested and imprisoned, Campbell became determined to find her, however long it took. Vivid and compelling. To review for Shelf Awareness (published Sept. 5).

On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service, Rhys Bowen
Lady Georgiana, a minor British royal, ends up in Italy trying to help out a friend and doing a(nother) small errand for the queen. Of course, the house party she’s attending doesn’t go as planned: there’s a murder, and Georgie tries to solve it before the killer strikes again. A really fun entry in this highly entertaining series.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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Nine years

katie jer xmas 2016

Marriage hath in it less of beauty but more of safety, than the single life; it hath more care, but less danger; it is more merry, and more sad; it is fuller of sorrows, and fuller of joys; it lies under more burdens, but it is supported by all the strengths of love and charity, and those burdens are delightful.

—Bishop Jeremy Taylor

I heard these lines years ago, at the very end of the movie Forces of Nature: an odd place, I admit, to pick up wisdom about marriage. I wasn’t married then, or even thinking about it. But I tucked those words into my heart, and they have resurfaced in recent months, as my husband and I have navigated our ninth year of married life.

We were married nine years ago today, in a ceremony filled with pink roses and a cappella music and rows of people we love, sitting in black folding chairs in a spacious atrium on our West Texas college campus. Our friends Tim and Julie (who are the older, wiser, more grace-filled versions of us) took turns reading aloud from 1 Corinthians 13: love is patient, love is kind, love never fails.

The groomsmen, four of our dear college friends, slung their arms around each other’s shoulders as we sang “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” and I choked up at the sight. (I could hear at least one of my bridesmaids – my dear friend Bethany – sniffling, behind me.) Our friend and minister, Mike, who grew up with my dad, spoke a few wise, simple words over us, and told a couple of jokes.

We walked back down the aisle to an exuberant James Taylor song, grinning at the truth of his words: How sweet it is to be loved by you. Afterward, there were fajitas and iced tea, toasts and dancing, and a brief downpour during the reception followed by a dramatic sunset. We drove to a B&B down the street, owned by friends of ours, and headed for our honeymoon in Ruidoso, N.M., the next day.

That was a beginning, but also a continuation: we have been husband and wife for nine years, but loved each other now for nearly 14.

The trick in many long-term relationships seems to be loving the other person as they are, while holding space for them to grow and change. It can be hard, sometimes, to allow for those changes after knowing each other so long and so well. We are, and yet we are not, the same people who met as college freshmen, started dating long-distance as sophomores, got engaged at 23. We have fought (though not against each other) to declare our independence, to carve out a place for ourselves in the world. We haven’t always known what that place will look like, except that we want to inhabit it together.

It isn’t always easy, this work of building a common life: it requires grace, grit, compromise, lots of forgiveness and so much listening. In our case, it is also held together by so many bowls of chips and salsa; countless loads of laundry and sinkfuls of dishes; years’ and years’ worth of inside jokes; and numberless days of blowing each other a kiss when I get out of the car in the mornings. It is rolling over to kiss one another good night when we’re half asleep at the end of a long day. It is checking in via text or a quick phone call in the middle of the workday. It is remaining near, as my friend Lindsey noted a few summers ago. It is choosing each other, over and over again – whether we are tired or frustrated, furious or sad or delighted.

I love Taylor’s words about marriage because they capture the all of it: marriage is full of both dailiness and magic moments, tears and laughter, deep sorrow and overwhelming joy. It is a burden I’m grateful to carry alongside the man who carries so many of mine.

Nine years feels like a moment and a lifetime all at once – especially when I pause to consider the whole arc of it. And yet, in some ways (I hope), we are still at the beginning.

Happy anniversary, love. Here’s to many more.

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birds art life mug

“I found myself with a broken part,” Kyo Maclear writes in the introduction to her luminous memoir, Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation. During a year of dealing with her father’s illness and other challenges, Maclear found herself unmoored. “I had lost the beat,” she writes. Struggling with her responsibilities to her father, husband and sons, she found herself with no words: a troubling state of affairs for a writer.

Searching for a way to relocate herself in the everyday, Maclear met a musician whose passion was urban birdwatching. Birds Art Life chronicles the year they spent watching birds in and around her home city of Toronto.

I’m back at Great New Books today talking about how much I loved Maclear’s quiet, gorgeous memoir, which I picked up at Idlewild Books in NYC this winter. Please join me over there to read the rest of my review.

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