April Book Review: The Year of Pleasures

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For this month’s book review I’d searched for a quick read that was uplifting, and for a lack of better words, simple. The last couple of books I’d read for book club required 100% of my attention, incredibly involved, and long (The Night Circus by Erin Moregenstern, which I highly recommend, and Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger). I asked A for recommendations and she pointed me to Elizabeth Berg’s The Year of Pleasures. After reading the synopsis via Goodreads I was sold.

The Year of Pleasures follows Betta Nolan over the 4 months after her husband of 20+ years has passed away. Betta immediately picks up from Boston and settles into a tiny town in Illinois on a whim. She grieves by finding joy in the little things, rekindling friendships that she gave up when she got married, opening herself up to new friendships, all while experiencing random fits of grief upon remembering her beloved husband.

“But it seemed to me that this was the way we all lived: full to the brim with gratitude and joy one day, wrecked on the rocks the next. Finding the balance between the two was the art and the salvation.”

Overall I can say I enjoyed Berg’s story of Betta Nolan. There were a couple of moments in which I felt overcome with emotion thinking of the inevitable, and not just for me, but thinking of the recent passing of my grandfather and getting a glimpse into the world that my grandmother is living. Berg writes,

“I saw in a way I never had before the beauty and diversity of our earnest labor on the earth, and also our ultimate separateness. This helped my pain metamorphose into something less personal and more universal, something organic and natural. And that helped give me strength. Someone had to die first. It turned out to be John. Nothing more. Nothing less. What fell to me now, what I was driving toward, was the creation of a new kind of life, minus the ongoing influence of what I had loved and depended upon most in the world. In a way, my situation reminded me of a little girl I’d once seen exiting a roller coaster at a state fair, all wide eyes and pale face and shaky knees. When her brother asked if shed like to ride again, she said, “Not until I’m way readier.” I felt myself trapped in line for a ride I was not nearly ready for, looking back but moving forward I the only direction I could go.”

There were a couple of moments in the book that I didn’t find believable and a little un-relatable, but to be fair those were few and far in between. I will admit that prior to reading this story I had anticipated a story of a Betta Nolan taking a year to enjoy the simple pleasures in life, which isn’t the case because this story only spans over 4 months. But it made me think about the way we live life and forgetting the simple pleasures and getting caught up in the hustle and bustle of every day. I found myself agreeing with Betta,

“John and I had often talked about how focused our culture was on distractions, about how ill-suited we were to staying with things, following them through in a respectful and thorough way. There was a great discomfort with quiet, with stillness, at the same time that there was acknowledgement of how valuable these things could be. I once read an essay about a woman who spent an entire day simply looking at what she had, really seeing all the things she’d put in her house. I was as guilty as anyone else of buying books I never read, of rushing through days without ever looking up, of taking for granted things for which I should give thanks every day.”

In honor of Betta’s story I decided to pick three things on this Friday that I am grateful for, or that I find pleasure in:

  1. A good hard rain that washes all the pollen away and makes everything a little brighter and greener
  2. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ Can’t Hold Us, for pumping me up on my drive into work
  3. Bounce lint rollers that have the fresh scent of Febreze

Happy Friday, enjoy your weekend, take joy in simple pleasures! xoxo ‘n lols, Crystal

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