Here’s what’s been keeping me company so far this month.
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
This was a Christmas gift from my friend Tammy and I loved it, even though I cried bittersweet tears at the end. We all know someone like Ove, a cranky oldster who has an intensely developed sense of what’s right and wrong and who has no problem voicing his opinions regardless of others’ feelings. Ove is what used to be called a “man’s man” in that he has only owned Saab’s his whole life, has a solution for every problem, and can fix anything that is broken, with the possible exception of his shattered heart after his beloved wife passed away. Just as he’s decided to end it all for good, an army of unlikely saviors invades his quiet, orderly home. These include a battered, strong-willed cat, a pregnant young Persian mother, a juvenile delinquent trying to better himself, and Rune, his oldest neighbor and occasional friend, that he’s been feuding with for too many years to count. Ove’s gradual transformation from a bitter, angry senior into a vital part of his neighborhood and community, is heartwarming without being the least bit sappy. And his ultimate victory over the Swedish bureaucracy is nothing short of miraculous. Besides that, it’s a funny book. I was hooked in the first chapter when Ove goes to the store to try to purchase an “O-Pad” from an IT guy and I found myself laughing out loud more than once after that.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
This issue of Writers Digest featured an interview with Jojo Moyes and I was instantly attracted to her professional and personal style. Since I just happened to be passing a bookstore in Pirates Alley in NOLA, I wandered in and purchased this book which Moyes says she had received more personal letters about than anything she has written in her long career. It took me a week to open the first page though. Frankly, I found the storyline of a local girl becoming a personal aide for a rich young wheelchair-bound quadriplegic, somewhat daunting, if not completely depressing. But, the novel was fantastic because it turns out that both of the characters, from polar-opposite backgrounds, actually need each other to make themselves whole again. It also offers you a unique look into the world of someone who was once physically active and now, due to a freak accident, has no use of their limbs, and the casual cruelties and indifference others can inflict on them, either purposefully or unknowingly. Despite its potential to be a major downer, the book is anything but that. It’s a romance, it treats dark subjects with humor, and it openly and compassionately addresses the “die with dignity” and quality of life issues that touch many of us in some way.
And, a retro read, Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck
I haven’t read this book since high school and I’m not sure what prompted me to pick it up this month but I absolutely loved journeying across America with Steinbeck and his French poodle, Charley for a second time. There could be a number of reasons for this. First of all, Steinbeck was sixty when he took the trip, just a little older than me, which is a far different life stage then when you drive cross-country as a young and unencumbered twenty-something. I would still like to make the trek from sea to shining sea one more time before I get too old or unhealthy so seeing him do it successfully was inspiring. Steinbeck is a realist, not only sharing the good parts of his tour, but openly discussing the bad, scary, and sad parts too. Plus, he’s such a descriptive writer that I’d find myself reading certain passages over and over again, particularly some of his observations as he travelled through the South, trying to deconstruct how he did it, how he chose and positioned words to bring out a particular feeling in the reader. Best of all, was his assertion that “people don’t take trips, trips take people”. Don’t we all want to be transported somewhere else sometimes, even if it’s only in our minds?