Monthly Archives: December 2011

‘The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade,’ by Thomas Lynch

“Grief is the tax we pay on our attachments.”   Thomas Lynch

Those who take care of our bodies, either in sickness or in death, see us at our most vulnerable. We are intrigued about how people can do these noble jobs: nursing home carers, intensive care nurses, surgeons, pastors, and funeral directors. Dealing every day with death and near death seems most difficult at best, morbid at worst. However, oddly enough, when we finally come to grips with our mortality, we begin to embrace life in all of its wonder and brevity. And when we hear how those in the caring professions manage, it takes away some of the mystery and brings new perspective.

Thomas Lynch, in ‘The Undertaking’, provides us with an insiders look into the daily life of  a funeral director, ‘undertaking’ a task which was a promise he made to his father: writing about their family business in the dismal trade. Lynch is a poet and an eloquent writer giving us a unique glimpse into how he and his family have been dedicated to burying members of a their small Michigan town for many years. Funeral directors perform necessary tasks and whether we love them or hate them, their mysterious business is intriguing and well articulated in this book. In Lynch’s words, what he does is “serving the living by caring for the dead.”

‘Before I Go to Sleep’ by S.J. Watson

Imagine that every morning when you wake up, your brain has erased all of the memories that were there. You don’t know who you are or where you are. The house you live in is unfamiliar and there is a stranger in your bed.

Like the movie ’50 First Dates’ Christine and her husband Ben start each day this way, basically starting over, due to Christine’s amnesia. A terrifying thought, but it gets even worse.

This thriller drew me in and though a bit repetitive in the middle, it is actually well crafted and clever and propelled me forward to the end. Who to trust, what to believe, what is true? So much depends on our memory – our relationships, our ability to love, and our sense of self.

‘Before I Go to Sleep’ is a runaway bestseller here in Britain and I would venture to guess that it will be a movie as well. I will not say more. The less you know, the better it is.

‘Life’s Too Short to Fold Fitted Sheets’ by Lisa Quinn

Here is a delightful anti-Martha Stewart guide to domestic liberation. Life is short and you need to make time for yourself, have fun, and enjoy your friends and family. In our busy age (where exactly IS all that time that our time-saving devices save us….?), who has time to keep a perfect household and set immaculate tables? Unless, of course, those things are a pleasure to you. Then, by all means, go for it! But I think that many of us feel that we are expected to do these things, when it is not really something that makes us very happy. We would much rather be doing other things, like reading books! And let’s not ever be afraid to show hospitality to others because we think our house is not clean or well decorated enough.

Lisa Quinn writes with a delightful sense of humour and gives a bit of practical advice, tips and tricks that simultaneously help to boost your home as well as your self-esteem. Read it cover to cover, or keep it on your coffee table for quick consultation. If you are looking for a comprehensive cleaning manual, this is not your book. But in terms of attitude and permission to cut corners, I found it helpful indeed. Here is what Chapters says about it:

Full of shortcuts and tricks for cleaning, decor, and entertaining, such as: the top 10 things you have to clean if you have company coming in 30 minutes; interior finishes that hide the most dirt; 17 meals made from a deli chicken; and much more, this wickedly funny guide helps people create the life they want without all the hard labor and without compromising style. 

This is not a definitive guide, but a perky reminder that we can be freed from perfectionism when it comes to our homes. This book would make a great gift for a wedding or baby shower, or give it to that single guy or gal who is always on the run, but loves having people over. I love it when people drop over unexpectedly, and if my house is a bit messy, I just smile and  say “you’ve caught me in the act of living!”

‘Sister’ by Rosamund Lupton

The British are huge crime fiction fans…me, not so much. So I tried one that was supposed to be literary as well as scary. Well, not so much…

Beatrice receives a call from London when her sister goes missing. She leaves New York and flies over to help. As Beatrice discovers what happened to Tess, she also discovers more about their relationship. The whole story is a report to the police from Beatrice, who has become the detective in her sister’s case.  So at the beginning the reader knows that a solution was found, a criminal was caught, and that Beatrice, though shaken, is ok now. Much of her narration is directed towards her sister, speaking to her, which is a bit of an annoying style.

However, I did keep reading and was turning pages because of little reveals and clues along the way. Towards the end there is a surprise and a thriller bit, but for me it was too little, too late. The sisters’ relationship was overly sentimental and seemed contrived. Can you really reconnect in new ways with someone through memory? And though there were plenty of possible bad guys along the way, there was not really enough action. So, I found it lacking on all fronts. If you have read this book and disagree, I would love to hear from you since maybe it was just the space I was in when I read it. That does happen, I did find some good reviews.  Goodreads gave it a 3.79, in my opinion that was generous.