Just finished Practical Magic (by Alice Hoffman) and It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree (A.J. Jacobs) and very nearly done with A Grief Observed (C.S. Lewis).

Every time I try to just pick up a book, I feel like it ends up being about mom’s dying or dying or Alzheimer’s.  I keep picking up books so I guess I don’t mind too much.  But I was definitely like, YOU ARE KIDDING ME when I was reading It’s All Relative which is about Jacob’s hosting a Global Family Reunion with the idea of creating a little more peace in the world by showing how we’re all related to each other, and he decides to donate any proceeds from the event to Alzheimer’s research.  I mean, good pick because it is the sixth leading cause of death and we have no cure, no real treatment, and I have no words to describe its horror. But still man, come on.

Practical Magic on the other hand was a delightful escape for the most part.  I picked it up because apparently Alice Hoffman’s newest book also deals with the characters and I realized I’d never read it (and all my recent reads have been nonfiction and I needed to mix it up).  From a writing standpoint, I was really trying to figure out how she wrote it so seamlessly — the book doesn’t have chapters it has sections, and within those sections she goes for pages and pages without segregating the thoughts beyond starting a new paragraph. Everything just blends into the next part of the story.  I also enjoy the fact that it basically ends happily for everyone.  Nothing wrong with that, okay.

You need to read Vacationland, but I think you’re okay if you never read It’s All Relative. Totally your choice on Practical Magic also.

You’re probably wondering why I picked up A Grief Observed if I was looking for a delightful escape, and the answer is, of course I knew what I was getting into.  I’ve been reading a lot of books about grief and memoirs that touch heavily on grief (The Bright Hour, The Year of Magical Thinking, Grief is a Thing With Feathers (fiction), You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me — strong recommends just maybe not all at once) because, well, I’m not entirely sure.  Because it makes me feel less alone.  Because sometimes when your feelings are put into words by someone else it helps.  Because sometimes you just want to cry.  Because sometimes you want to know how someone else made it to the other side.  Because sometimes I need to remind myself (because I can be a HUGE jerk) that I’m not the first person who was ever sad, that I’m not the only person who has lost their mother or parent or loved one in a way that didn’t feel fair.  A Grief Observed doesn’t always strike home for me, although obviously he was writing about his wife, which is quite different.  I think he was spot on about life in other places though:

One never meets just Cancer, or War, or Unhappiness (or Happiness). One only meets each hour or moment that comes.  All manner of ups and downs. Many bad spots in our best times, many good ones in our worst. One never gets the total impact of what we call ‘the thing itself.’ But we call it wrongly.  The thing itself is simply all these  ups and downs; the rest is a name or an idea.

I also very much like, and was somewhat surprised by, how Lewis shuts down platitudes about death and questions his beliefs, because I find that like him, death forces you to very seriously consider what may or may not be — as he says you have no trouble believing in the strength of rope when you’re tying it around a box, but it’s another matter when that rope is going to hold you over a precipice:

The vast majority of people I meet, say at work, would certainly think she is not [anything.] Though naturally the wouldn’t press the point on me. Not just now anyway.  What do I really think? I have always been able to pray for the other dead, and I still do, with some confidence.  But when I try to pray for H., I halt.  Bewilderment and amazement come over me.  I have a ghastly sense of unreality, or speaking into a vacuum about a nonentity.

Unless of course, you can literally believe all that stuff about family reunions ‘on the further shore,’ pictured in entirely earthly terms.  But that is all unscriptural, all out of bad hymns and lithographs.  There’s not a word of it in the Bible.  And it rings false.  We know it couldn’t be like that.  Reality never repeats.

I do envy Lewis in some ways his unwavering faith in God, for although he questions where his beloved is and what her life and death meant, he never considers a world without a God.  Whereas I am regularly kept awake thinking about the void, and trying to figure out how we all go along every day not looking into the precipice, not realizing what a slender rope holds us and everyone we love from leaving this existence and then what?

Currently reading: Still Hamilton…., also It Devours, the second Nightvale novel.