Monday, 29 November 2010

Bittersweet review and win a free copy!

I discovered Shauna Niequist last spring while we were living in NZ. The bright orange cover of her first book, Cold Tangerines, was hard to miss on the Auckland library shelves so I picked it up and gave it a whirl. What can I say, it was a good grab; I appreciated what she had to say and it was all so timely.

Shauna's second book, Bittersweet, came out this year and I was fortunate to receive a copy for review. I've spent the last few evenings curled up on the futon devouring it and taking furious notes (I can't help myself!).

Like any reader, I assume, I always read memoir mentally drawing out similarities between my life and the author's. I guess that's what reading about other people's lives is about -- finding connections and shared experiences and revelations with people we've never met.

With Shauna Niequist, the list looks like this:
  • We both went to colleges in Southern California, lived away from home for many years and have recently moved back to our home towns. Shauna's love for Chicago rivals my own for Seattle.
  • We're both non-athletes who've run marathons (or in my case, a half-marathon. Whatever.)
  • We feel the same way about cats. Sorry. 
  • We're both writers married to musical husbands, proving two creatives living under one roof can remain solvent and happy. 
  • We're both blonde.
  • We've both been through seasons that were stretching for whatever reasons, and use writing to make sense and find purpose. The big difference here being that she's already written and published this writing in the form of Bittersweet.
In Bittersweet, Shauna writes about a season marked by difficulty. Things like job loss, a miscarriage, friends leaving and a steady stream of upheaval kept her and her husband in a hard season for longer than they'd choose. Bittersweet is a reflection about the bitter and the sweet of life, how both are important, but it's the bitter seasons that can make us who we are and ground us in strength.

I love this paragraph and the idea of composting for the soul:

"I don't believe that God's up in heaven making things go terribly wrong in our lives so that we learn better manners and better coping skills. But I do believe in something like composting for the soul: that if you can find life out of death, if you can use the smashed up garbage to bring about something new and good, however tiny, that's one of the most beautiful things there is."

So many times while reading the book I felt that she put into words the thoughts/ feelings/ lessons I'd learned during my own bittersweet season of life in England. If her Chicago is my Seattle, her Grand Rapids is my UK.

"I fought against that house for almost six years. It was too big, too unfamiliar. I wanted desperately to move, particularly back to Chicago, but out of that house, in any case. But staying put in that house all those years taught me something incredibly valuable: when you stay with something instead of walking away it builds something new inside of you, something solid and weighty, something durable. But you do have to wait for it. You have to earn it the hard way...There is, in grown-up life, very little black and white. I tried to cast that house and Grand Rapids as a whole as villains in our fairy tale, but they weren't. That house both drove me crazy and grew me up...Grand Rapids never did really feel like home, but it taught me some things I want to take with me wherever home is the rest of my life."

I hear you Shauna.

She also addresses a fear I've known all too well, fear that difficult is the "new normal", that things will always be like this. Neither seasons of sweetness or sadness last forever, and we have to remember that.

One thing I got out of Bittersweet as well as Cold Tangerines was encouragement to keep writing, that my story, everybody's story, is worth telling. It can seem selfish and indulgent to write about yourself (indeed, sometimes it is), but also life-giving, because our stories are not really about us. When we tell our stories we're telling the story of who God is, and that story is one that can be told a million times over with an infinite number of settings and characters and story arcs and desire lines and obstacles.

Nobody has a perfect life all the time, no matter how it appears on blogs and facebook. Life is bitter and sweet, and I love how Shauna embraces and dives into that reality.

Shauna has graciously agreed to do a book giveaway to one lucky reader. Just post a comment below (and facebook/ tweet about the giveaway for more chances to win). I'll draw the winner next Monday (December 5), and you'll have until December 9 to claim your prize. 

Check out more of Shauna's at her blog,


Anonymous said...

I, too, read memoir to draw out similarities between my life and the author's - it's such an amazing thing when someone else seems to write what you're thinking.

I'm definitely in a stretching season right now - and this book sounds like a welcome companion to such times. Thanks for the chance to win, Alisha!

Katherine said...

Just like you gravitated towards the orange cover on Cold Tangerines, I was drawn to that yummy, decadent, chocolaty, goodness on the cover of Bittersweet :)

Anonymous said...

Amazing insight! I love her writing and open honesty. She not only shares valuable life stories/lessons...but allows women to feel through it. Sometimes all you need to get through something is to know you're not the only one going through it. Hoping to win this for my best friend who really would benefit from it!

Thanks for the chance!

Heather Rae said...

I'm intrigued - definitely adding this one to the reading list. I love the idea of bittersweet, that life is combination of the two. Thanks for the review!

The Wilsons said...

"So many times while reading the book I felt that she put into words the thoughts/ feelings/ lessons I'd learned..." I feel the same way!! There were many times I wanted to phone a friend too & start reading aloud to them over the phone!!! Loved it! Great post!

Kristen said...

thank you for posting about this book, alisha. i love the quotes that you shared, and find them resonating with me right now.

i also love the image of you curled up and reading and writing down your notes along the way. so good. :)

i hope you had a wonderful thanksgiving holiday, and hope to see you around soon!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a lovely book. Thanks for the giveaway... Memoir is easily my favorite genre and this one sounds like a gem. :)

Jenny said...

Fun review and little nuggets about YOU too.

Can't wait to read don't have to include me in the drawing ;)

Rachael Randal said...

sounds like an interesting read and I could totally eat up the cover design :-)

Great review - will share on FB x

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