Book 44 of my 2015 Reading Challenge
read from July 16 - 24
What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas
Summary (via the book jacket)
In her bestselling and beloved memoir A Three Dog Life, Abigail Thomas wrote about the tragic loss of her husband. In What Comes Next and How to Like It, she writes about aging, family, creativity, tragedy, friendship, and the richness of life. And it is exhilarating.
What comes next? What comes after the devastating loss of a spouse? What form does a lifelong friendship take after deepest betrayal? How does a mother cope with her child's dire illness? Or the death of a cherished dog?
And how to like it? How to accept, appreciate, enjoy? How to find solace and pleasure? How to sustain and be sustained by our most trusted, valuable companions?
Exquisitely observed, lush with sentences you will underline and reread, What Comes Next and How to Like It is an extraordinarily moving memoir about many of life's greatest challenges and inimitable rewards. It is also the story of the friendship between Abigail Thomas and a man she met thirty-five years ago. Through marriages, child raising, and the vicissitudes and tragedies that befall them both, this rich bond has helped her face whatever comes next with courage, exuberance, and grace.
My opinion is that I don't have much of an opinion.
It's a quiet book that reads like a journal. It was very much written for the author, not the reader, but I don't mean that as an insult. There were times when I wanted to say "wait I want to hear more about this" but the subject had changed; sometimes it was picked up again, sometimes not. But by the end, I felt strangely satisfied even though I was no closer to the answers of the many questions posed in the summary than I was when I started.
I was moved by the following excerpt, of her describing her training to become a hospice volunteer:
"Twelve of us sit around a big table. We are given a bad diagnosis and twelve squares of paper. On the first three we are to write the names of three people dear to us. On the next three, things we cherish. On the next three, stuff we enjoy. On the last three, things about ourselves we value. We spread the squares in front of us neatly on the table. Then we are given six months to live.
The instructor describes the disease's progress month by month. As each month passes, and our condition worsens, we must tear up two pieces of paper. The instructor comes around the table and collects the torn pieces in a shopping bag. By the end of the six months, when we are too weak to sit up, too weak to eat, when we have lost so much weight that our clothes hang off our bodies, we each have two pieces of paper left. The instructor comes around the table and from us she takes one of the last two pieces, tears it up, and drops it in her shopping bag. The room is quiet. We are each left with one piece of paper. Then she tells us to tear that up too."
Two random things I didn't know before reading this book: vanilla is 35% alcohol, and if something you've made is too salty (salad dressing, soup, etc.), slice a potato and drop it in and it will absorb the extra salt.
A Few Quotes from the Book
"I have been trying to remember being young, which is hard because I don't feel old until I try to get up from my chair. Or when I look at the photograph Jennifer took of me sitting on a stool next to her twins, and really, from the back, it looks as if I have an open umbrella concealed under my skirt. How did that happen? I think, but, oh well, I was young once and slender and pretty and I made the most of it. It's somebody else's turn now."
"This may be a workshop [her teaching writing to people who have cancer], but I'm the one learning. Part of what I've learned is that if it isn't life and death, it isn't life and death."