Thursday, June 9, 2011

Book Review: Joy for Beginners

Erica Bauermeister is one of those authors who just resonates with me. After reading her The School of Essential Ingredients (read the review here), I knew she would instantly hold the title of my favorite author. This is no small feat, as I find it nearly impossible to narrow down anything or anyone to a favorite.

Upon finishing that book, I found myself speaking more eloquently, seeking out the beauty in life, and researching cooking classes in NYC. As I actively searched for beautiful writing reminiscent of Bauermeister's in other novels or blogs, I happily embraced the delivery of a little treat from the kind folks over at Putnam Books. Enclosed was an uncorrected proof of her new novel, set to be released June 8th. The whole experience made me feel fancy, and immediately began reading.

I was somewhat wary, knowing that sometimes you can have an incredibly romantic experience with one book, but nowhere near the same magic with an author’s sophomore release. However, I am so happy to report that is not the case with Joy for Beginners. Once again, I found myself marking up the margins with notes, highlighting and dog-earring my favorite passages, and having strong emotional reactions to the characters and their stories.

The book takes you on a journey through a moment in time for seven women, one of which is a cancer survivor. Kate, the survivor, finds herself challenged to take a risk by her daughter, and in return challenges her six best friends. We are then seamlessly brought into the lives of Caroline, Daria, Sara, Hadley, Marion, and Ava. Their challenges (which varied from gardening to tattooing) are both life changing and everlasting; each chapter left me weepy with hopefulness.

The thing I love most about Bauermeister's work is that suddenly a chapter, a character, a moment sneaks up on you. You catch yourself gazing off with thoughts about how the story circles back to your own reality with tears in your eyes and a hand over your heart (honestly, I have caught myself in this pose numerous times reading her writing). You scribble "love!" or "beautiful" across a page and close it briefly. And you smile at the feeling it leaves you with. This is the sort of visceral reaction Joy for Beginners caused me to have.

Incredibly moving, inspirational, and stunning to read, Joy for Beginners is a must-own because you'll simply love it too much to not have it in your possession forever.

"You know," Marion said, "I met a woman once when I was a teenager. I knew she had gone through a lot but she was so strong, so compassionate. I asked her how she could be the way she was, and you know what she told me?"

Hadley shook her head.

"She said, 'You can be broken, or broken open. That choice is yours.'"

Article first published as Book Review:Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister on Blogcritics.

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