Wednesday, July 15, 2015

I Wish This Book Could Have Lasted Forever

What Comes Next and How to Like It
A Memoir by Abigail Thomas

I am a memoir expert.

I don't say this lightly. I read a lot. I think I've read more memoirs than anyone I know.

There was a period of my life lasting many years, when I struggled to live with what happened to me. I read only non-fiction. I read nothing fictional. A friend in the publishing industry finally got me started with the fiction again. You can read the story of that here.

Out of all of the non-fiction I read, a lot of it was memoirs. If it was a memoir, I probably read it. Some were good. Some were amazing. Some were very bad. Almost all of them were engrossing. That's what I needed at the time.

My reading has changed somewhat, but it's still slanted toward non-fiction. Even though I will read works of fiction, I still read a lot of memoirs.

Somehow in all of my single -minded memoir reading I missed the writing of Abigail Thomas. This is a mystery to me. I learned of her latest book on Facebook. I put it at the top of the To Read list I keep.

What Comes Next and How to Like It is a masterwork.  Not just of memoir. Of writing in general.

The good news for anyone reading this is that I've done a lot of reading. You can consider that legwork I have done on your behalf. There are a lot of books you can go ahead and skip. I strongly suggest you read this one.

I'm not going to tell you what the book is about. You can read about that anywhere. Abigail Thomas can tell her own story. It's not easy to classify anyway.

I will say that this book captures things that are true but difficult to write about. People and relationships and life are messy. It's all complicated. Things don't fit neatly into boxes. The space that lives between people can be ambiguous.

In the hands of a master this is illuminating and consuming. It's a cliché but I'll say it anyway. It was hard to put the book down. My husband and children were out one day and I'll always remember this snapshot of myself, eating the rare dinner alone and reading - consuming - this book. I was as happy as a person could be in those moments.

It made me happy but it wasn't easy. Like the Olympic skaters I love to watch, what seems simple on the outside is not. I felt like I was steeping in this book. Then after it was over it stuck with me.

There was this chatter going around for a while about a New York Times book review of What Comes Next and How to Like It. I purposely didn't read it until now. The review came out right before I read the book. I heard it was scathing.

Even with advance notice, I was not prepared to read what amounted to a literary version of a classic schoolyard bully incident. My review of this review is bad. I apologize in advance.

Katherine A. Powers has her head up her ass on this one.

Katherine A. Powers writes for The New York Times. I do not. Katherine A. Powers has won awards for her reviews. I have not. She gets paid for this. I do not.

But make no mistake. In spite of everything and all of these differences, let's not forget who the real memoir expert is here. That expert is me.

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