What Stacy’s Reading Now: Bittersweet
Ahhh…Christmas Break. The time when all English professors take a break from grading and lesson plans and meetings and …. read. (Hmmm…maybe we need new hobbies?) At least for me, the kind of reading I do during the three weeks in between the end of our Fall semester and the start of my January session is different. It’s catching up on the stack of “fun” books sitting in a pile patiently since August. It’s reading on the couch under a blanket while the Christmas cookies bake in the oven or my family watches tv. It’s about connecting with meaning and words instead of writing notes for class. It’s also a time for trading books with one of my favorite English professors/book lovers: my twin sister, Sara.
I picked up the book Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist during my holiday visit to Sara’s house in Illinois. I’d already recently read Niequist’s other two books, Bread and Wine and Cold Tangerines (this one in a signed copy after the author’s visit to my sister’s local bookstore). It was Lettered Lady Ann who first recommended Bread and Wine. Ann was confident that I’d love Bread and Wine as much as she did — essays about food and family and faith and running!? YES — and I added it to my summer reading list. Niequist’s books are perfect for relaxed vacation reading — short essays that I read in the sometimes brief moments of quiet amidst the chaos of the holidays and entertaining an 8-year-old and reluctantly preparing for said January class.
I finished Bittersweet on my own couch a few days after Christmas — finally done with the preparations and traveling and feeling out of sorts without my routine. It was this book of Niequist’s in particular that really connected with me (I may have commented to Ann and Sara that I’m pretty sure she was writing directly to me). As I’ve mentioned before, reading is a way for me to process grief and pain and to think about the larger meaning for things that have happened. Bittersweet is Niequist’s own musing on exactly that – how we reconcile the mixture of happy and sad and overwhelming and confusing. The essays are tough to read sometimes and are full of death (of people and pregnancies and jobs and dreams) and sadness, and pain. But, they are also full of life and fun and stories about toddlers and food and friends. And, the importance of maintaining a deep faith and commitment to the future within all of it.
Niequist writes, “I don’t know anyone who has an easy life forever. Everyone I know gets their heart broken sometime, by something. The question is not, will my life be easy or will my heart break? But rather, when my heart breaks, will I choose to grow?”
Another passage struck me more personally. At one point, Niequist recalls telling her friend Jenny that she was pregnant. I connected with Jenny’s pained reaction, having for many years been the “single friend” among the married ladies and mommies with all the happy news and future plans. Niequist writes, “When I talk to Jenny… I hear the deep yearning for something that hasn’t yet come to be. We’ve all felt it as different as our stories are.” Yes. We all have different stories and paths and pain. But, we can connect through that pain and uncertainty.
Thanks for the wonderful thought-provoking vacation read, Shauna. I guess it’s back to lesson plans now. Or maybe doing all of my post-holiday laundry and ironing and cleaning. Sigh.