Monthly Archives: March 2017

Arthur Pepper Stands on His Own

With his beloved Miriam 12 months removed from this life and on to the next, Arthur Pepper discovers a charm bracelet he has never seen before and thus his adventure begins.

I will admit as much as I enjoyed this book – and I did, very much – there were times I found it predictable,  I also found no harm or foul in that.  Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt and sometimes it has its place.  

I would, however, gently caution you with one thing…and this is NOT a spoiler.  WhenTheCuriousCharmsofArthurPepper-USAcover.jpgothers make comparisons to books like A Man Called OveThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold FryLillian Boxfish Takes a Walk or the heartbreakingly beautiful novella And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer, it is my opinion that they shouldn’t.  I will tell you they have two things in common, which are.  (1) It is a story of someone in the autumn of their years and (2) our protagonist is a beautiful human being.

But they are different.  Ove is not Harold, nor are Lillian and Grandpa anything alike.  Same goes for Arthur.  They are all their own people, with their own set of circumstances, with their own sense of humor and troubles and family.  Outside the two similarities I noted, I think that’s about it.  

My point?  The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper stands on its own.  The book’s author is Phaedra Patrick and this is her debut novel.

A small confession on my part, I have found after reading this I seem to be drawn to books about those who are in the twilight of their years.  Books like the ones I mentioned above always seem to occupy that same spot in my heart, and The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper was no exception.

The short story is this: A year after a man in his late 60s has buried his wife of 40 years he comes across a charm bracelet of hers he had never seen before.  One charm leads to the next in its own way, providing vague/eerie/cryptic clues to a life before Arthur and Miriam became Arthur and Miriam.

I loved Arthur immediately.  Then I found I loved  his spirit and break from the routine as I got to know him.   I warmed at his patience in listening to others regale him with stories of this woman he spent the better part of his life with; this woman he thought he knew. This woman, the love of his life, who lived a life he never knew.

That may have been my favorite part of the book, his emotional growth.  Watching him separate himself from whom he has always been.  He became inspired by the memory of his wife.  Even at times when he seemed hesitant in wanting to know her history, he pushed to learn it anyway.  I think that was hard for him.   When he made those decisions it was if his own personal feelings no longer mattered.   Knowing more of his beloved Miriam was what he wanted  There was love, deep love, that persuaded him to reach further, and dig deeper.  I admired that in him.  He might be a bit of a stronger man than I, if I am being truthful.

A Book Group Discussion question I found asked if I were bereaved after a long marriage would I devise strategies and routines just to get through the day?  I singled out this question because I wondered the same thing as I was reading the book.

The answer is an indisputable yes.  I have already spent nearly eight years with Stacy and I have never known happiness like this in my first 40 years of living.  Give me 40 years hence with this same woman, growing together in love, friendship and companionship at the same pace we have been going at, then yes, I would lock myself away in my house too.  Like Arthur, I too would behind curtains when someone knocks at the door.  

Arthur Pepper is a fine man.  The spirit and sense of adventure his Miriam lived with as a younger woman is akin to what I see Arthur doing today in his later years.  If he is blessed to get a few experiences of travelling and adventure of his own, then all the better.  At least this way, when called to meet his maker, Arthur and Miriam will have no shortage of new topics to discuss over tea.

Dear Me, Get Outta My Way. Love, Me

RH_bookWriting about a self-help book is an awkward experience.  I am exposing my own weaknesses online, while it is also terribly subjective.

Nevertheless, I found Resisting Happiness to run both hot, and cold.  But since I only care about positives, that’s what my focus will be on.  Written by Matthew Kelly, Resisting Happiness made me stop, and truly think, of how I live my life.

First as a man who believes in God, and next as a Catholic who could use a little work at his practice of faith. 

But it wasn’t until I became acutely aware how much I need to put more stock in myself, and less in the expectations of others, that this book had its biggest impact on me.  Basically, I need to become a better version of myself.

This Catholic-based self-help book was a recommendation from a friend of my fiancée and mine. In her text, she sent a picture of her copy with nearly 90+ sheets dog-eared.  The book is 186 pages, people.  She was diggin’ it.

I gave it a go and enjoyed it, too.  In the interest of brevity, I will bullet point my favorite thoughts.  Some triggered an internal “OMG, yes!” and, others serving as gentle reminders.

  1. Everyone I meet is fighting a hard battle.  Be kind to them.
  2. Be gentle with ourselves.  If we cannot forgive ourselves, we will struggle to forgive others.  When we are gentle and patient with ourselves, we develop awareness, and awareness breeds compassion.  Everyone needs a little compassion.
  3. Take note of the moments when I was challenged to grow.  Be mindful of the decisions I made which left me in need of healing (this one is harder than it looks to me).
  4. Thy will be done.  I would pretty much call this an absolute imperative if I want to be better at the Catholic thing.
  5. It only takes 10 minutes a day to pray.
  6. Our lives change when our habits change.
  7. Wherever we find excellence, we find continuous learning.
  8. How many Sundays do I have left?  With the average life expectancy of 78.74 years, I have 1,536 left.  Life is short.  Never waste a day – Sunday or any other.
  9. Any type of inner slavery limits our ability to love ourselves, to love our God, and to love others.
  10. Delay gratification.   All of life’s regrets come from not having the discipline to overcome resistance and delay gratification in order to build a bigger future. 

Additionally, I was influenced by the things people wished they had done when they learned they were dying.  He gives us 24, but there were only five that hit me hardest.

  • I wish I had paid less attention to other people’s expectations
  • I wish I hadn’t spent so much time worrying about things that never happened
  • I wish I had cared less about what other people thought
  • I wish I had realized earlier that happiness is a choice
  • I wish I had taken better care of myself

Don’t get the wrong idea here.  I am not about to light an incense candle and dive impetuously into the glory and beauty of life and make a hundred changes.  What it does mean, however, is that as a man in his 40’s I can now have a deeper appreciation of those regrets.  It means that I have learned, once again, that I need to be patient with myself.  Lord knows, I need to not be as hard on myself as I am.  Possibly kinder?  Maybe more aware?  Then who knows what the future will hold.  Maybe this wonderfully blessed life of mine can become even better over time …

… provided I get out of my own way, and no longer resist my own happiness.

The Winter in Anna: Dark. Painful. Beautifully Written

To be drawn into a well-written story is the very reason I read books.  To read fiction and believe it as nonfiction.

The Winter in Anna was one of those well written stories.

I will tell you, I shudder to think of the dark places author Reed Karaim had to go in order write this book.  Yikes.

You see, on page one in paragraph one Anna commits suicide in a manner I would have never imagined.  I literally needed to step away from the book before turning to page two.  Yes, the shock of the act was part of it, but what was most dominant was the sorrow that washed over me.

Her death was horrible.

Why choose that way?

My God, how painful!

Then 256 pages later, there was closure, and understanding.

*                      *                      *

TheWinterinAnnaImageAnna.  This beautiful and unspeakably pained woman.  How my heart hurt for her and yet how many times I admired her, all at the same time.

Karaim wastes no time in showing us Anna is a woman of many scars – physical and emotional.   As dark as this may sound, his ability to take that pain and show its evolutionary process over the years was something I really enjoyed about his writing.

She struggled from her teenage years until she decided to die, but her role as mother, and the responsibility of giving her children the life they deserved was a relentless pursuit of hers. At least, that is my opinion.  I’m sure one can make an argument to the contrary, but all in all she adored, and did all she could, for those kids of hers.

Our narrator is Eric. He tells us of Anna’s suicide, shortly after he learns about it himself.  For the next 250+ pages, he recalls his time in getting to know her, or rather, as much as she would permit him to know.  When she would close the emotional door on him, he told us more of himself.

I have to tell you, when we see Eric as a 20/21-year-old kid, he isn’t very likable.  Not at all.  Furthermore, I don’t think he realizes it.  Today, it is a mature Eric that tells us this story and I found him very easy to like.  He grew into a good man.  I have a sneaking suspicion that was the author’s intent.

When the time came to close the book, and the story had been told, I wanted to know them both.

I wanted to visit Anna’s final resting place.  To sit with her, pray she found peace, and trace the outline of her headstone (similar to that day she and Eric visited the cemetery).

On the other hand, the testosterone driven part of me wanted to save her.  To locate the nearest phone booth, change into my cape and fly into that woeful motel room.  I would swoop in and whisk her away.  Fly her off to paradise … or Bismarck, ND … either/or… just somewhere else, with the hope she will find reason to live for another day, week, month, year …

But the main problem with the latter is this: “Who am I to interfere with someone’s decision on life or death?”

No one.  Besides, I can’t fly.  Therefore, it’s moot, and I remain on the outside looking in.

I do not want this to sound like I am giving her suicide a shrug of the shoulders and call her a victim, though.  The decisions Anna made in her life were her own.  She is responsible for her life.  But I will also tell you there were a number of circumstances that were not her doing that had a serious impact on her well being.  I think it is how we react to tragedy – and all of life’s events – that serves as the chisel, which carves the sculpture of who we are to become over the years.

You can argue she should have been a better mother, but I would contend she did put the kids first.  There were times that may have been a significant challenge but she took responsibility for herself as a mother.

My fiancé is reading this now and so far her reaction is markedly different from mine.  Only halfway through, it has not gripped her yet.  This is equal parts surprising and interesting to me because we are usually on the same page when it comes to books.  We like and dislike the same ones.  But every now and again one comes along, and we differ.  I very much look forward to her finishing. I want to see if her opinion changes.  I want to talk at length about the book I enjoyed so much.

I reckon that is the telltale sign of a good book, don’t you?  The kind that stays with you days after you have finished it?  The kind you cannot wait to talk to others about ad nauseam.

I’d say so about The Winter in Anna.

This is the second book by Reed Karaim.


Words I learned while reading:  As I have said in a previous blog, one of my favorite parts of reading is constantly learning words I have either (a) never heard before (b) words I have heard and possess only a vague understanding of and (c) words I thought I knew but discovered I didn’t.  Here is the contribution that I received from Reed Karaim’s The Winter in Anna.

Furtive – attempting to avoid notice or attention, typically because of guilt or a belief that discovery would lead to trouble; secretive.  Prow – the forward most part of a ship’s bow that cuts through the water.  Desiccated – lacking interest, passion, or energy AND dehydrated or powdered.  Profligacy [prof-li-guh-see] – a noun meaning reckless extravagance or wastefulness in the use of resources.  Archipelago* [ahr-kuh-pel-uh-goh] a large group or chain of islands or any large body of water with many islands.   Chasm* – an adjective that is a profound difference between people, viewpoints, feelings, etc.  It can also mean a sundering breach in relations, as a divergence of opinions, beliefs, etc., between persons or groups.  Obsidian – a hard, dark, glass-like volcanic rock formed by the rapid solidification of lava without crystallization.  Somnolent – sleepy, drowsy.  Torpor – a state of decreased physiological activity in an animal, usually by a reduced body temperature and metabolic rate. Torpor enables animals to survive periods of reduced food availability.  Photogravure /fōdəɡrəˈvyo͝or/ – an image produced from a photographic negative transferred to a metal plate and etched in from which ink reproductions are made.  Staccato – with each sound or note sharply detached or separated from the others.  Scimitar /ˈsimədər,ˈsiməˌtär/ a short sword with a curved blade that broadens toward the point, used originally in Eastern countries.  Crenellation – a pattern along the top of a parapet (fortified wall), most often in the form of multiple, regular, rectangular spaces in the top of the wall, through which arrows or other weaponry may be shot, especially as used in medieval European architecture.  Phantasmagorical [fan-taz-muh-gawr-ik, -gor-] (sometimes phantasmagorical) having a fantastic or deceptive appearance, as something in a dream or created by the imagination.  Sere dry; withered.