This past week I read two memoirs, both of which cover very specific periods of the author’s life — in Glynnis Macnicol’s No One Tells You This we hear about Macinol’s early forties as she creates her own way to be a woman alone and okay with it and in Peter Sagal’s The Incomplete Book of Running we hear mostly about Sagal’s rebirth as a runner in his 40’s as he was getting divorced.

I enjoyed both, and although there was sadness in The Incomplete Book of Running it was a nice counterbalance to No One Tells You This, which I found quite sad. Now, don’t get me wrong, Macnicol’s book is very powerful as well — about how we live in this moment where for the first time really women have choices and can choose to be alone and childless and not be say, doomed to be eaten by their cat. That’s not the life Macnicol lives and she is not at all worried about being eaten by her cat. BUT. Her mother dies, of Parkinson’s, but of a variant of Parkinson’s that presents very strongly with dementia. And that hits me hard. Usually when I read about other people struggling with losing family members to dementia, I don’t relate all that much. My Mom was very young, I was very young, and her illness while interminable while it was happening, moved very very quickly and took her in only four years. But crappily for both of us, Macnicol’s mother’s illness had a lot of similarities, and well, it seems like we just really saw the illness in similar ways. That made this a very sad book for me, even if I was bookmarking every page like, SHE GETS IT.

So most people I think will read this as an interesting and powerful story of new options that are open to women. Macnicol takes us through the years where she started figuring this out:

I reveled in the fact that I was being jetted away on someone else’s dime and that I’d finally reached the point in my life where my career, and to some degree, financial has aligned to produce the life I’d fantasized about, though I couldn’t help but lament the fact that I was likely going to be doing it alone. All my other halves now had their own other halves to travel with or young kids who made travel difficult. Just as my life was catapulting me into some great beyond, theirs were tying them down to routines and caregiving – decades of both. … I had to be prepared to have adventures alone.

I loved her take down of, you’re going to regret not getting married, not having a kid, etc:

I wasn’t going to have a baby as an insurance policy against some future remorse I couldn’t yet imagine. I had more respect for myself than that. The truth was, no one knows what they’re missing in the end. You can only live your own life, and do your best with the outcome when you roll the dice.

This is sort of the crux of her book — no choices are bad. The power of this book is in telling the story of a woman choosing differently, and realizing there are different paths for women than have ever truly been available before. Although she is very honest about the emotional labor that is expected of a woman, and how sometimes when you don’t hit your own milestones, it can feel difficult to keep showing up for others again and again. But not because she’s bitter, or because she wants what they have, so much as because, when you have a baby, people know what to do and how to act (sort of…). But when you’re just sinking for some other reason, it can be hard to ask for help, and there’s no automatic jumping in of your friends as there can be for other life events.

Additionally, Macnicol isn’t anti-kid, and her story shows just how much kids and caregiving can be a part of your life, even if you don’t choose wife/mom — I loved her description of her nephew:

Babies are like that. They appear, tear themselves a hole in the world, and somehow it becomes immediately impossible to remember a time when that space did not exist.

If you read and enjoyed Rebecca Traister’s All The Single Ladies, this feels very much like a companion book to that to me.

Peter Sagal’s book is perhaps not as funny as you’d expect if you’re only familiar with him from the NPR news quiz Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me. But I happened to catch him talking about this book on RadioTimes (yeah… I listen to a lot of NPR and I read The New Yorker, I am very much that person…) and it was a great interview, so I found this book at my library.

There’s a fair amount of sadness in the book because of Sagal’s divorce (“Instead of a ‘conscious uncoupling’ it was turning into a brush war”), his honestly about his depression and body image issues, and the fact that he was about a 100 yards away when the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon in 2013. All that said, Sagal doesn’t want to force you to look at his pain, he kind of wants to make you laugh. So this somehow is not that intense of a book.

I am a runner, and so I enjoyed reading about Sagal’s love of running, and I related to some of what he says (but not all, despite not being a 50 year old man, I am much slower than he is, I do not think I will ever run a sub-5 hour marathon let alone a 3:09):

By the time I got to mile 22 … I would have quit happily, except that if I ever wanted to finish a marathon, I’d have to run twenty-two miles allover again and that seemed far more painful than the measly four miles I had to limp through now. … [At the finish line] I said to myself something I did not expect to hear myself say, something that became a hinge between my former life and my present, and led to, among many, many other things, the writing of this book.

“I wonder if I could do that faster.”

I totally relate to wanting to give up at mile 22 of a marathon, but I didn’t finish and decide to do another. I finished and decided half-marathons were great and you can finish them, take a nap, and feel fine! But, I did end up running my one and only marathon because I finished a half-marathon and thought, huh, I could do more.

I think a lot of people,sadly, will also relate to Sagal’s feeling about his body, although I love how he can make it sort of funny:

“If you’ve ever been fat, you will either be fat for the rest of your life or you will worry about being fat for the rest of your life.” I came across those words in the manuscript of the place Fighting International Fat, by Jonathan Reynolds, a pretty obscure place to find the underlying thesis of your waking life … That casual observation struck me then and now with the profound power of its obvious truth, much like Kafka’s observation: “The meaning of life is that it ends.” But of course, Kafka did not add that once you’re dead, you won’t gain weight. Which is a comfort to me, sometimes.

This is pretty much the tone of the whole book, walk up to a serious subject, poke it with a stick, and get out with a laugh. But maybe if that’s the way to be honest about how you feel, that’s the way to do it. The book doesn’t feel raw and honest quite the same way as Macnicol’s does, but well, they are rather different people.

Currently reading: Salvage the Bones and The Interestings (yeah, going back a few years to read more by Wolitzer and Ward).