Reading, Reviews

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry Reviewed

Ready for a weekend read? Over the past weekend, I started and finished The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. This book came highly recommended by NPR and is the April book selection for shereads.org‘s book club.

The Storied Life of A. J. FikryA.J. Fikry is a bookseller on a remote fictional island called Alice Island, somewhere near Boston. He is a loner and an intellectual, but he is about to realize that his “no man is an island” theory on books actually applies to all of life. Through many sharp ups and downs, Fikry’s life becomes quite remarkable.

This was a fast read, and not really what I was expecting. It is nothing like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, though goodreads.com makes that comparison. The biggest pro for me from this book was the book talk. If you’re a fan of the short story, you’ll probably like this book even more than I did, as each chapter begins with a short story synopsis and A.J.’s thoughts on what he thinks are the best short stories of all time.

Beyond the many references to literature, A.J. Fikry had several cons in my reading philosophy.

Con #1 – A.J. Fikry is a prickly character that I don’t feel much empathy for at the beginning and my sentiments towards him don’t change as much as they probably should as he evolves through the novel.

Con #2 – While I’m thankful there are no graphic descriptions, the development of romantic relationships between characters begins with the physical side of romance.

Con #3 – Strong language and some substance abuse

Con #4 – There’s a general feeling of meaninglessness instead of hope, as if The Universe is at war against the characters for some reason that no one can know and that no one tries to discover.  One quote in particular stands out to me from the end of the book (not a spoiler, FYI): “I love Island Books [Fikry’s store] with all my heart. I do not believe in God. I have no religion. But this to me is as close to a church as I have known in this life.” When you read that at the end, knowing what the characters have been through, even a book lover like me (who sheds real tears when a bookstore closes) can’t help but sensing there’s an emptiness to the meaning of life presented in the book.

Getting beyond the cons, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry has a comfortable narration style, a few lovable characters, and will be a favorite for readers who enjoy literary fiction. I thought this book had a lot of similarities in style to The Time Traveler’s Wife. It also has the feel at some parts of a The Fault in Our Stars for grown-ups. I wouldn’t give A.J. Fikry more than three stars, but as Levar Burton says, “Don’t take my word for it.” I think it’s a book lots of people will love, and it’s an easy weekend or beach read that won’t feel like a waste of time, whether you end up liking it or not.

Everyday Life, Parenting

A Seagull In A Parking Lot

When we drive into the parking lot of our local grocery store, they swoop away in a nervous flapping of wings. Dozens of solid white seagulls, floating and landing around the asphalt like the pictures in children’s Bibles of manna in the desert. I guess that’s what they’re hoping for–manna. Or even better, a few stray french fries. They flutter around, up and down, always here in this parking lot, winter or summer. And I wonder, “why?” I don’t live near the ocean. I am a good 2-3 hours by car from the coast. I don’t know how they got here, and I feel sorry for them. I feel like rolling down my window to say, “Um, excuse me, but don’t you know you’re supposed to be on the beach? Why in the heck aren’t you at the beach?” If I were a seagull, I’d be at the beach.

Here’s the part when my husband starts to worry that I am going to give some kind of analogy about how I’m a seagull in a parking lot because we don’t live at the beach. Breathe easy, Mr. Mia, I’m not going in that direction. Not today, anyway…

Today I’m relating to those seagulls in parking lots when it comes to the mom life. Sometimes I feel kind of lost, like I’m not quite the right casting fit for this role. It’s not an overwhelming soul discontent; it’s a building up of little monotonies that make me feel like I’m losing my identity. It’s the peanut butter and jelly sandwich I ate for lunch (which I despise). It’s the sugary cereal I bought because I told my kids they could pick out one treat for being so good at the doctor’s office. I think sugary cereal is the worst possible way to start our day, but we’ll all be eating it tomorrow morning. It’s the four full albums of kids music in one day of errands. It’s the number of pictures of Strawberry Shortcake I’ve colored in the last week. Okay, I actually really like coloring. But it’s all those other things I do or eat or say that make me ask myself, “Who am I?”

And come Monday morning, when all of this crashes down as my husband heads to work and I struggle with feelings of inadequacy to fill this huge role in my children’s lives, the answer to the question of Who I Am is too often “Impostor.”

The definition of impostor is “a person who deceives others by pretending to be someone else.”

Yeah, that rings true on Mondays. Or Tuesdays. Or many other days in between. Days when a mom is just too tired to be enthusiastic about playing, even though deep down it’s really her favorite thing. Days when it seems like a huge, insurmountable chore to tidy up the living room and think of something to cook for dinner. Days when you’ve listened to your teenager’s music selection for weeks now and you have just had enough. You know, those days. On those days, I’m pretty sure my precocious daughter can see right through me as she thinks, “Hmph. You’re not fooling me.” Her eyes say it when I admit we’re out of milk again, or that we don’t have enough time to watch that video I promised her, or we didn’t get around to painting her fingernails like I said we would. And a voice in my head whispers,” She’s right. I am an impostor. I’m not really good at this whole full-time mom thing.”

Am I a little overly sensitive to a four-year-old’s unspoken (possibly, please Lord, imagined) criticism? Yes. Yes, I am. Because I know it. I know that I am not a natural at this. I feel like a seagull in a parking lot. Like I’m trying to get into this role I’m not really cut out for. If I fail so badly at this some days, it can’t really be what I’m cut out for, can it?

2014-03-20 19.51.43However. Those seagull-in-a-parking-lot days are not every day. There are days mixed in when there is a sense of rightness in my life as I butter the bread for grilled cheese sandwiches and wash and fold laundry. I can be doing the exact same things on different days and feel completely different about them. Possibly I’m an emotional basket case? Possibly. But I don’t think so. I think we all come at our days sometimes feeling like impostors, like this job, whatever it is, is too hard and too taxing and it can’t really be what we’re meant for. Compound this with the loss of a lot of things we used to base our identity on–careers, sports, friendships, charity work, and so on– and it really shouldn’t be a surprise that some days parents are sure they’re misfitted in an identity that is based so much on other people.

That feeling is an especially big deal to most mothers, and it’s hard to conquer those feelings that you’re lost in something too big, that you’re not suited for this mom-life, that you just want to feel like your contributing an intelligent thought in a conversation with other adults once in a while. Here’s what I and my fellow parents need to remember: who we are hasn’t completely changed, but it has altered in a lot of ways. I would be a pathetic mother if this gift-filled, hard, joyful journey hadn’t rounded off some rough edges and penetrated my heart. I wouldn’t be worth much to my children if I didn’t consider them worthy of a sacrifice in my likes and dislikes. I’m not saying you have to love reading “Moo, Baa, La La La!” five times in a row or that teaching 3rd grade math has to be your favorite pastime all of a sudden because it’s part of your life. Because you know that’s just dumb. But you’re not doing “worthless” things and you’re still you and you’re becoming somebody better than the “you” whom you used to be. And so am I.

The days aren’t always easy, but we are right where we are supposed to be. If God gave you these children and this infinitely precious opportunity to spend time with them, He made you for it. He knows you won’t always get it right, and He is okay with that. Can you and I be okay with that? Can we get our wings wet and still try to fly because He makes us able to do what He needs us to do? That’s my prayer for you and me and all the parents out there today who some days wake up feeling like they’re out of place in their own lives. You are “Mommy.” You are “Daddy.” You are right where you are supposed to be.

Reading, Reviews

March Reading

Hello! How’s life? Let’s just say, things have been busy around here. Busy with good things, but still busy. But I carved out two “we-are-going-nowhere” days this week and they are just what the doctor ordered. (Seriously, we’ve been so busy, we actually ended up at the doctor’s office with ear infections and sinus infections and he said, “You’ll probably be fine if you get some rest, but here’s a prescription if you think you need it.” He’s a great doctor.) Yesterday I vacuumed, dusted, cleaned bathrooms, and played with kids, and today I finally have a chance to think.

Restless: Because You Were Made for MoreI read an all time low of three books last month. Yowch. I mean, really, that is an all. time. low. But it’s okay! I did some other worthwhile things, and one of the books was a book I really needed to ponder. It’s called Restless, by Jennie Allen.

A small group of women introduced me to Jennie Allen’s study, StuckI get chills even now when I think of how we all started with that book study focused on getting past the places where we feel like we just can’t make any progress, whether it’s anger, sadness, busyness, discontent, or feeling broken. Some of us in the group realized some places we didn’t know we were stuck. And then my awesome friend who also blogs decided to host the IF: Gathering at her place in February. It’s amazing how we all were feeling stuck in various ways, then we were ready to move on from being stuck, and the IF: Gathering was timed right then. Because the IF: Gathering was all about moving into a place where we cast of fear and realize God has put us all here on this earth for a reason and it’s time to pursue that reason. Christine Caine talked about moving from being delivered to being free. Rebekah Lyons talked about how simple the word “calling” really is. And there was so much more. It was all awesome. Now I’m almost done with the book Restless, and it has been a continuation of that theme of realizing God knit us together in such a way that we each have something unique to offer. I highly recommend it. I’m not a Jennie Allen junkie (yet), but her stuff is really honest and relevant to women today and it’s worth looking into.

Looking for MeOn the fiction side of things, I was excited to read Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman, author of Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. I’m sorry to say, it was quite lackluster compared to her debut. Poor authors whose first books are amazing! That’s a lot of pressure. But this is an honest review, and Looking for Me seemed a little winding, wandering, and overall lacking on major themes. I’m not even sure if the main character, Teddi Overman, found herself in the end. She found a guy and bought a house, so I guess that’s something. ??? I was not a fan. But I’ll admit, I kind of checked out on searching for the deeper meaning about 3/4 of the way through when it seemed like Teddi was going in circles. I’m not against circles…as long as there’s eventually a really good ending point.

Dear Mr. KnightleyThe book that pleasantly surprised me was Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay. “What in the world?” you may ask. “Why did you read another one of those Jane Austen knock offs you hate?” Despite the title, this novel is not actually a continuation or even a variation on Emma or any of Austen’s booksIt’s actually a modernization of Jean Webster’s Dear Daddy Longlegs, which is a great book if you like old-fashioned goodness. Dear Mr. Knightley is about Samantha Moore, an orphan who grew up in foster care and books. Her reading was her world for a long time, but as she enters adulthood, she finds she has to set aside the book personas she so easily dons and embrace her real life story. What I liked the most about the book (besides all the references to classic literature), was how Reay wrote a quality book with strong characters that eventually points her heroine to God, without writing the (forgive me) often predictable Christian novel. This book was predictable in ways for me because I read the classic it’s based on, but it had a gritty realness to it mixed with the change that takes place in a person when they start to understand unconditional love. I don’t know if I can make any sense in explaining it, but it was a good read. I felt empowered as a writer by reading a book that was both clever, well-written, and based on the love of God.

So that’s what I’ve been reading lately. Now I have to scramble to find some vacation reads for two trips coming up later this month and in May. Hurrah for beach reads! Please, send me your recommendations ASAP.

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