Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Albom finds out his old college professor, Morrie Schwartz, has been diagnosed with motor neuron disease (ALS) and has only a short time left to live, and sixteen years after they last saw each other, Albom resolves to reconnect with his mentor.

Albom was burning the candle at both ends, he worked constantly and conflated busy-ness with purpose, happiness and his own self-worth. When the unions went on strike at his newspaper, he was forced to confront the emptiness of his life. Suddenly with lots of time and no excuses, he decides to visit Morrie on a Tuesday, which become regular visits until the end of his mentor’s life.

Having read Have a Little Faith (reviewed here) before this, it’s clear they share similar themes as Albom considers what it is to have lived life well. We live like our time is infinite, yet when confronted with death, many of us regret how much time we’ve wasted. Knowing that their time is limited and determined not to waste it, Albom writes a list of topics he wants to discuss with Morrie such as aging and death, wealth, consumerism and charity, friendship and marriage.

Albom doesn’t shy away from describing Morrie’s deteriorating health and the descriptions of the progression of Morrie’s disease are humbling, yet even as his body fails him, his spirit does not. Self-pity is not in Morrie’s nature, instead he’s grateful he can spend the last months of his life with the people he loves most and has the chance to say goodbye – a privilege denied to many.

Tuesdays with Morrie is about the profound influence that mentors can have on our life and the lessons they teach us, it’s an incredibly poignant but inspiring little book about living and dying. Have a lovely week. X

Have A Little Faith by Mitch Albom

For a couple who met in a bookshop, my husband and I rarely swap books, but he’s been nagging me to read Mitch Albom for years, and while he’s been reading the newest Finding Chika, I decided to read my husband’s favourite, Have A Little Faith.

The gist of Have A Little Faith is that Mich Albom is asked by Albert Lewis, the Rabbi who has known him since childhood, to give his eulogy when he dies. Albom reluctantly accepts but realises that he’d better get to know his Rabbi as a person first, and what Albom expects to be a short series of interviews, becomes regular visits and a close friendship spanning eight years.

The narrative switches between conversations with the Rabbi, the writer’s own thoughts and experience of religion, and the life of Henry Covington, and at first it’s difficult to see how they all intersect.

Henry’s story is one of redemption, as he goes from a Brooklyn drug dealer to the pastor of a dilapidated church in Detroit where homeless people congregate for food and shelter.

This isn’t a book trying to convert agnostics and atheists, but covers a range of topics that will resonate with those of all faiths and none, such as family and community, tolerance and prejudice, charity and gratitude, regret and forgiveness, mortality and grief.

Have A Little Faith was probably an unusual choice to start with but it won’t be the last of Mitch Albom’s books I read. Hope everyone reading is safe and well. X

21 Miles by Jessica Hepburn

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At the age of 43, after ten years and eleven cycles of IVF, Jessica Hepburn decides it’s time to give up on her dream of motherhood and get on with her life. Hepburn remembers an old childhood ambition and starts investigating whether or not she can actually achieve it. At first her dream of swimming across the English Channel seems as impossible and out of reach as motherhood, but Jessica turns the same dogged tenacity she put into a decade of fertility treatments into swimming. In terms of difficulty, she points out, more people have climbed Mount Everest than swam across the Channel.

One unexpected benefit of her ambition is that following the example set by Captain Matthew Webb in 1875, she won’t be able to wear a wet-suit and is encouraged by her swimming coaches to put on body fat to help her keep warm in the water. In order to help her put on weight, Jessica decides to have lunch with a list of 21 inspirational women (only some of whom are mothers) from neuroscientists and polar explorers to the founder of Mumsnet, an MP and a ballerina to discuss whether motherhood makes women happy.

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Over the course of her training, Jessica has to overcome her doubters and her own self-doubt, as well as her aversion to cold water and fear of jellyfish. Working her way slowly from swimming in the Serpentine lake in Hyde Park to open water, and finally her solo voyage across the Channel, I found myself rooting for Jessica and welling up during the description of her crossing.

Written with self-deprecating humour that had me chuckling out loud, this is also a thought-provoking and poignant book as Jessica doesn’t shy away from describing her disappointment and grief at not being able to have children, the shame and isolation of infertility, and the strain it put on her relationship. Unlike a lot of other books written about infertility, 21 Miles doesn’t end with Jessica having a baby, and yet it is life-affirming and inspiring. Throughout this book, Jessica considers the complex relationship women have with food, as well as the difficulties in her relationship with her partner, her relationship with her own parents, the social pressure to have children and the tension that sometimes exists between mothers and childfree or childless women, and in many ways, 21 Miles is as much about the modern experience of being a woman as it is about swimming or motherhood. Have a lovely week! X

I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

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I Am Malala is one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read forever and I ended up borrowing a copy from the local library. In many ways, Malala comes across as a very ordinary teenager who bickers with her little brothers and worries about her exams, and I really enjoyed her vivid descriptions of her life in Pakistan, playing with the little girl next door, listening to her father and his friends chat about politics, visiting relatives in the mountain village where her parents came from, the sense of family and community, and her dawning awareness of living in a patriarchal society.

Malala recalls being vaguely aware of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in neighbouring Afghanistan but – as I’m sure many people reading can relate – that was something happening somewhere else, until their influence slowly started spreading. Malala describes how a militant group of fundamentalists seized upon the chaos and destruction created by a devastating earthquake to extend their influence and occupy North West Pakistan where she lived, bringing terror, torture, murder and civil war to her home.

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The day that Malala was shot by a Taliban terrorist was just another day up until that event, and she recalls the confusion and disorientation of waking up in an unfamiliar place with no memory of what happened and feeling desperately worried about her family. Malala clearly expresses her humility and gratitude at being alive, reunited with her family and their new life in the U.K. with all the freedom and safety it provides, but it is also tinged with homesickness for Pakistan and all her friends there.

Malala comes across as a young woman shaped by her circumstances, she recognizes how fortunate she was that her parents supported and encouraged her education, and how her family were ordinary people caught up in the conflict between the Pakistani government and terrorists, yet instead of being cowed and frightened into submission, Malala developed a sense of purpose and her determination and courageousness shine throughout this biography. I Am Malala is every bit as powerful and thought-provoking as I expected, and ultimately Malala chooses to define herself not as the girl who was shot by the Taliban but as an advocate for education. Have a lovely week! X

The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

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For almost as long as I can remember I’ve been a Star Wars fan, and my affection for the franchise is in no small part due to the sassy, blaster-wielding Princess who bossed her male counterparts around and was always at the forefront of the action.

Carrie was apparently inspired to write The Princess Diarist when she stumbled upon the diaries she wrote while filming Star Wars: A New Hope, and decided that forty years after the event, the public revelation of her affair with Harrison Ford would cause minimal damage to those involved.

The Princess Diarist starts with Carrie recounting her decision to step out of her celebrity parents’ shadows, and how at the age of nineteen she was cast as Princess Leia in a low-budget ‚Äúspace fantasy‚ÄĚ simply called Star Wars. I sometimes wonder how faithful her recollection of events is but I can’t deny it’s entertaining to read about some of the changes in the original script, the process of finding that iconic hairstyle and various other behind the scenes moments between the cast and crew. However, for what is ostensibly a kiss-and-tell memoir, Carrie Fisher is remarkably tight-lipped about the details of her love affair with Harrison Ford.

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The mid-section contains poems and direct extracts from the diaries she wrote in 1976, and this part lags a little as the diary entries are rambling, self-indulgent and laced with Carrie’s teenage insecurities.

The final part explores the cultural phenomenon¬†Star Wars became, and some readers might be offended by the way she describes the rabid fans and their sense of entitlement for autographs and selfies, yet I suspect she probably understood why the Star Wars characters are so beloved because she admitted that there were times throughout her own life when she wished she was more like Leia. I also found it interesting reading about the different ways male and female fans respond to her character, and she doesn’t shy away from sharing details of some of her experiences and observations about Hollywood sexism (and ageism).

I suspect that Star Wars fans may be disappointed that she doesn’t share more behind the scenes secrets and people expecting a more linear biography may also be disappointed, but Carrie’s inimitable style, humour and candour still make The Princess Diarist an easy and enjoyable read. Have a lovely week! X

‘Braving the Wilderness’ by Brene Brown

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I often read books with themes that mirror something I’m¬†going through¬†in real life at the time, and I recently found myself picking Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown off the shelf. I first learned about Brene Brown’s research through her TED talks on vulnerability and shame, and over the last few years I’ve drawn so much comfort and inspiration from her books that have helped me to navigate difficult transitions and encouraged me to be more authentic, vulnerable and courageous in my personal life and career.

Braving the Wilderness builds on Brene Brown’s previous books but has a distinctly political edge as she explores how we hide who we really are in order to fit in, and how political¬†rhetoric has become increasingly intolerant, dehumanizing and divisive as leaders call upon their followers to oppose anyone who disagrees with their opinions or values. This book is very much about being curious and listening to¬†other perspectives, as well as being¬†honest about our own,¬†but it’s also about having the moral courage to stand up for what we believe is right even if it means standing alone.

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I find it so easy to relate to Brene Brown, and this is written with the same honesty, humility and humour as her other books, yet it’s not an easy read as it challenged me to reflect on the times when my own fear of criticism, conflict, loneliness and rejection lead me to settle for fitting in instead of belonging, and how sometimes the things we do to avoid feeling pain end up causing¬†us more heartache and suffering in the long run.

Braving the Wilderness didn’t have¬†the profound impact on me¬†that I Thought It Was Just Me or Rising Strong did, but it still feels like a pertinent¬†discussion on how to overcome some of the barriers to communication, understanding and connections in the current socio-political climate. Have a lovely week. X