Monthly Archives: October 2019

‘Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living” by Shauna Niequist

Brené Brown wrote beautifully about perfectionism in her book
The Gifts of Imperfection. So it is not surprising that she would write the Foreword for this book by Shauna Niequist. The message of this book is right in the title–it’s not about being perfect, it’s about being present to those around us, instead of running around with a massive to-do list and trying to do way too much in a sort of frantic frenzy. It’s a good message but might be hard for some to relate to.

Shauna talks with honesty about her struggles and failures and shares her learnings about choices. But I did read many reviews by people like single Moms living paycheck to paycheck feeling ragged because in their life there is nothing they can say no to and there is no choice but to be exhausted and overwhelmed–there is nothing in the book that addresses this. Some don’t have the privilege of making choices and this book would be hard and unhelpful for someone like that to read.

However, Niequist speaks from a place of vulnerability from her own experience (it’s really more of a memoir than a self-help book) about the dangers of over-commitment and keeping busy just to prove your worth. I found her message a bit repetitive but I did appreciate her chapter on ministry burn-out. Christians and others who are committed to a higher purpose tend to think that achieving great things for the cause (to the point of denying your own health) will be a necessary sacrifice. But if you are tired, and burned out, and negative, and critical, and envious of those who seem to have more peace, then that is not what God has intended for you.

My favourite book of hers is still Bread and Wine which focuses on the importance of gathering around dinner tables to share food and conversation. It comes complete with wisdom, some great stories and thoughts about hospitality, and recipes that have become some of my favourites!

‘After the End’ by Clare Mackintosh

Clare Macintosh is a favourite go-to author for domestic thrillers.  I Let You Go and I See You  among others, were easy to read and kept me on the edge of my seat. So I was quick to read a copy of her latest novel, but it is completely different. This emotional book is still fiction but it gets personal–it is based on her own experience of losing a child.

The premise is heart breaking. Max and Pip are the strongest couple you know. They’re best friends, lovers–unshakable. But then their son gets sick and the doctors have no choice but to make the parents choose between painful treatments to prolong his life or allow him to die naturally. For the first time, Max and Pip can’t agree. They each want a different future for their son. The matter goes to court and what happens afterwards takes up the second half of the novel.

The suspense and intrigue is in how the tragedy plays out and affects people and their relationships. It reminded me of Jodi Picoult’s bestseller My Sister’s Keeper. The first half was beautifully written and I thought this would be a great novel that would be relatable and redemptive for parents in these types of nightmare situations. But with all due respect to the author for writing from the heart, I found the second half repetitive, pointless, overlong and there were confusing bits that I never understood. The narrative arc felt weak and I almost bailed on it many times. As for parents who actually have to make such an impossible choice, I think this would be a very hard and triggering book to read because of what happens, but I can’t tell you why without giving spoilers.

‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama

“Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.”

This memoir about Michelle Obama is deeply personal and refreshingly honest and forthright. She talks about her roots, her time in the White House, her role as a daughter, mother, and wife, and about what she was able to accomplish as a professional and during the years she was First Lady. It’s a lengthy book but listening to the audio, narrated by Michelle herself, didn’t feel long at all. I appreciated her candidness, her good humour, and her ability to relate. I respected her dedication to striving to being the best possible person she could be, in all areas of her life, despite the changes that rocked her world.

“As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.”

Her descriptions and stories are compelling. She gives insight into how to cope and survive while living an unexpected life. The Obamas were a class act in the White House and this book underscores how they were dedicated to doing good and promoting decent values with dignity.  Their vision of the United States included a celebration of diversity and a seeking to promote unity and prosperity for all, in a time with increasing polarisation and partisanship. Speculation continues to circulate about whether she might herself run for president one day–she answers that question very definitively at the end of this memoir, and gives some sound reasons why. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it!

‘The Dutch House’ by Ann Patchett

Being a devout library user, rarely do I ever buy a book. This time I made an exception because it was by a favourite author and I was charmed by both the title and the lovely cover. But if I wouldn’t have bought it, I don’t think I would have finished it. As with Commonwealth (which I also oddly bought on a whim and was disappointed in), I am realising that I liked Patchett’s earlier works like Bel Canto, State of Wonder, and This is the Story of a Happy Marriage much better. I must be an outlier in this, since reviews for both of Patchett’s recent novels have been glowing. Incidentally, in case you plan to read it by listening to the audio, it is narrated by Tom Hanks.

This book is a classic example of an inanimate object taking its place as a character in the novel. I connected fully with the house and feel I could recognise it if I saw it, but sadly connected less fully with any of the people or the story line. Not much happens in this novel and I found it rather boring, to be honest, despite the flyleaf promises of suspense and a ‘tour de force.’

Danny and Maeve are exiled by their stepmother but for years and years to come they continue to park outside of the house just to stare and remember and reflect. They go on with their lives, but the obsessive stalking clearly weighs them down. The story explores relationships tainted by loss, longing, and a sense of displacement. In the end there is a bit of redemption, but for me it was too little too late.