I have fickle and impatient taste in books. Not necessarily in an intellectual, deep thinking way, but if a book does not entertain me from page one, I’m out; so when I started to read “The Nest” by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, I was thrilled when it drew me in right away. “The Nest” is a little bit “The Family Stone,” “This Is Where I Leave You,” and “Love Actually” to name a few of my favorite books and movies.
At the start of the book, a dramatic event occurs because of the poor judgement of one member of the Plumb family. Of course it is the sibling who is always botching things up and always the shyster. Because of his actions, the anticipated family inheritance is compromised…well, more like gone. The Nest is what the adult children have fondly named their inheritance, and they reverently refer to it frequently, like it is another functioning member of the family. All of the siblings are counting on this money, and the knowledge of the cash in their futures has dictated many important decisions in their separate lives. They have been waiting a long time for the money. As per their deceased father’s will, they do not receive the inheritance until the youngest in the family turns forty. Because of the anticipation of the Nest, each member of this family was on a trajectory to failure.
About a maladjusted family with many backstories thrown in, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney writes with great humor, depth, and character development. The writing is comical but not shallow. The author writes about the matriarch of the family, “For years, the Plumbs had told one another that their mother was just a mean drunk. If she would just stop drinking! They’d say, She’ll be fine. They eagerly awaited her transformation only to discover that they already knew her true nature: She was just a little mean.” So this is a glimpse of the head of this family, and the story unfolds along with everyone’s share of drama, dysfunction, and angst.
Pick up this great read. It will make you feel good about your own flawed and quirky families, and it will make you happy that you will stay grounded because you do not have a huge family inheritance in your future…well, maybe not!
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius- Yes, Really
Let’s pretend for a second that the world ends in either fire or ice- did Robert Frost predict the upcoming 2016 presidential election? - and only one book can be salvaged. This book, taken to the moon where a few select humans will rebuild society, is the only record of the past thousands of years of literary achievement.
Dave Egger’s “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”- that’s the book I’d want on the moon.
You don’t have to agree with me. I mean, look, I love Diary of A Wimpy Kid just as much as the next guy; that stuff was arguably the best stuff ever written. But at least hear me out.
A customer once brought “A Heartbreaking Work” up to the register, intending to buy it, and I threw my arms towards the sky and shouted, “I am so excited for you! Congratulations!” Like it was her wedding day or something. I said, “You are going to be a better person after reading this,” which I now realize may have come off as an insult.
So Dear Valued Customer,
I apologize, as my goal was not to hurt your feelings by insinuating that you need Eggers’ memoir to make you a valuable homo sapien. I bet you’re a really awesome person who buys shelter dogs on National Adoption Day and only drinks out of reusable water bottles.
The Psycho You Encountered at the Register That Day
My point being: “A Heartbreaking Work” changed my life. I can only say that of novels far and few between, the ones that really make you question why you wake up every morning- cough cough Junie B. Jones and the Big Smelly Bus cough- and this memoir, this story of an everyday underdog learning to map the world around him, wormed into my head a year ago and still won’t let up.
For weeks upon first reading it, I carved my favorite sentence from the book into my arm with a ballpoint pen and went over the letters every morning with fresh ink so they wouldn’t fade.
“We lose weeks like buttons, like pencils.”
This was the most beautiful sentence I had ever encountered, for some reason.
So here’s the deal. After Eggers’ parents died, he became the caretaker of his younger brother Toph at a time when he was still in the midst of a coming-of-age saga of his own. The dichotomy of being in his 20’s and having to provide for a dependent prove an introspective battleground for Eggers’ discussion of what it means to live for yourself and someone else simultaneously.
I read this book under my desk during chemistry class. I had to tell my teacher I was crying because organic molecules are just so beautiful, like I can’t even process how something so pure can exist in a world that created Cheez Whiz.
I guess that’s how I feel about Eggers too. I’m astounded by- I hate to make this pun, believe me- his staggering genius. There’s an honesty in his prose that’s unmatched by his contemporaries, drawing upon the morbid humour of David Foster Wallace and the Bandaid-ripping, curtain-opening revelations of Kafka. Eggers is all 90’s grunge feelings and post World War Two manic insecurity, wrapped up in a nice warm burrito shell of musings on final testaments and adolescent libido.
This book makes me feel less alone. I hope it can provide you some semblance of the same comfort. Maybe a laugh or three.
The title alone, bleeding a sarcastic self-assurance that you’ll discover upon opening the pages is a mask for some raw insights on the nature of all of us, is worth the buy.
“I like the dark part of the night, after midnight and before four-thirty, when it's hollow, when ceilings are harder and farther away. Then I can breathe, and can think while others are sleeping, in a way can stop time, can have it so – this has always been my dream – so that while everyone else is frozen, I can work busily about them, doing whatever it is that needs to be done, like the elves who make the shoes while children sleep.”
Working at Wellington Square Book Shop these past few years has provided me with many happy days! Lucky for you some may say! Enjoying your work? It is truly a pleasure to work with such fantastic people who all share the love and joy that reading brings. It is a magical atmosphere to be ensconced in books that are new, used, classic and all genres in between. There are unique gifts throughout that are available to be enjoyed by young and old.
But we all know that it’s the human experience we crave, the connection to community and a community we are building! We have welcomed many new faces of late due to the closing of Chester County Book Company and to our being awarded Best of Philly Indie Book Shop. I am thrilled to share with you two new customers I met recently.
A couple came in and were enjoying a drink and treats at the café counter. We began engaging in conversation and sharing our book interests. It turns out he is one of my favorite authors! I nearly hopped over the counter! But I gathered myself together, walked around and greeted Robert and Michaele Wicks with a warm embrace!
Robert Wicks is a renowned psychologist, author and speaker. He has written over 50 books for professionals and the general public. Robert Wicks has spoken all over the world to many types of professionals and students. He brings his message of valuing our strengths, taking charge of self -care and to developing a practice of mindfulness. I have personally read three of his books and have gifted them to others. They are little gems of wisdom offering very practical ways to incorporate his teachings. He draws in the wisdom of not only Western traditions but brings in the teaching of the Desert Fathers and Buddhism. His book “Riding the Dragon:10 Lessons for Inner Strength in Challenging Times” has sold over 50,000 copies! “It is an indispensable spiritual and psychological guide to readers experiencing seasons of adversity”. I love the line from this book that states, “Don’t try to slay your dragons, learn to ride them”. A few of his other books are titled “Everyday Simplicity”, a reviewer writes “Perfect for beginning spiritual seekers and a welcome companion for continuing pilgrims”. Another book is “Perspective: The Calm Within the Storm”. Author Alexandra Fuller states, “This is the kind of book that you can’t put down because it is so necessary”.
In our overly stressed, overly “connected” world Robert Wicks’ books offer us a roadmap to keeping ourselves present to our center by grounding ourselves in prayer and meditation. His writing style is very warm and direct. Give yourself a gift (your first one for self care) and buy one or two of his books. You won’t be sorry!
P.S. We are hoping to have “Bob” to the shop one night in the near future to discuss and sign one of his books. Stay tuned…
We are all on a journey, right? Young or old(er), we are finding our way in life through our routine, everyday experiences, from our traumatic terrible lows to our life-changing, exhilarating highs. Lately, I’ve felt the need to read more about people’s journeys, whether it be memoirs, biographies or spiritual reflections on life, here and “there”.
Many of you have probably read The Alchemist. Required reading in high school or college, or a friend said to you, “hey, you’ve got to read this book - it’s life changing”. It’s the story of a shepherd, a simple man, who goes off in search of buried treasure in the Egyptian pyramids. (Something we all think about doing, right?) Well, in a way, we do journey in search of those treasures, we just might not encounter a gypsy, a king, and an alchemist along the way. Santiago does. He doesn’t falter in his desire to find the treasure. Along the way, he discovers so much more than he set out to find. Obviously, I won’t spoil the ending for you if you haven’t read it yet, but here’s the wonderful thing about this book, it opens up your mind, your world, to thinking bigger, thinking more open, to larger than life understandings about what our journey is all about.
And then there’s Jalamanta. This was a great find. Okay, I know, another desert story. It has been ridiculously hot this summer, so reading about the desert seemed perfectly appropriate. This man’s story differs from Santiago’s because Amado (his earlier name) has been banished to the desert for thirty years because of his religious views and opinions and he is not in search of a physical treasure, but rather enlightenment. Spoiler alert: he finds it. (You learn that early on in the book, so it’s not really a spoiler.)
During his 30 year exile, he has to learn to “trust the power within ourselves”. He discovers, “our purpose in life is to arrive at new levels of awareness and clarity, and the clarity that we create in the soul becomes part of the consciousness of the universe.” Jalamanta chooses to follow the “Path of the Sun” to obtain that clarity. It’s a nature-filled book, how we relate to the Universe and the plants and animals in it, and it’s a peaceful existence that Jalamanta pursues.
I don’t know about you, but these days, with all the unrest in the country and beyond, I find myself seeking simplicity, soulful thinking and stories that calm me, rather than ones that get me angry and fuel the growing fire of bitterness and negativity. Reading a book that is well written always takes my mind to the places that the author describes, and in these two cases, I was taken along a path of hope and peace and goodwill. I enjoyed those journeys - both the shepherd’s and the man called Jalamanta, “one who strips away the veils that blind the soul”.
If you’re seeking some soulful introspection, or just want to pick up a book that has real substance about life’s purpose and how to obtain some real peace in your life, either of these books offer a means to that end.
Staff of Wellington Square Book Shop