Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Power Of Optimism

You can’t pass a magazine stand or turn on the television without being bombarded with the latest and greatest longevity cure. The answer to a long and happy life can be found in  A Century of Wisdom.  In this book, Caroline Stoessinger conveys the life and lessons of Alice Hertz-Sommer, the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor. Alice is 108 years old. One might wonder what wisdom is left in the mind of an old woman, but for Alice, older and wiser is trite, but true.

It seems that old age is a state of mind. Recently I’ve heard about a 105-year old woman who pumps iron at Anytime Fitness and a 100-year old who went hang gliding. Over a century old herself, Alice still plays the piano. To Alice, age is simply a state of mind. “My mind is young … what you see is only the outer face of a very old woman.”  In a century she has done a lot, though I don’t think she has gone hang gliding. She has seen the best and worst of humanity and unimaginable evil. At the end of it all, she still has a smile on her face.

She was ahead of her time when she was a young woman. Her attitude about parenting, dating, and sex were far ahead of her contemporaries, which makes her relevant to todays readers. She has something to offer readers of any age.

What’s her secret to longevity? “Experts” suggest the right workout, supplement, or super fruit will ensure a long life. Alice ate a simple diet every day until recently when she started eating meals on wheels, which probably has a lot of sodium, so I doubt that is her key. Her secret is music. Whenever something goes wrong, she plays Bach, and she is transcended above even the darkest clouds. Music is life-sustaining to her; it is her escape, yet she is not disconnected from the world. She constantly learns and experiences new things.

Her entire lifetime is condensed in a little over 200 pages, but every page is jam-packed with Alice’s wit, charm, and wisdom, not to mention  Stoessinger’s elegant and surprisingly upbeat writing style. Despite losing her family, possessions, and home during the Holocaust and her son decades later, her optimism, determination, and music allow her to overcome the worst circumstances and see the humanity in everyone–even those who imprisoned her at Theresienstadt. We could all use a daily dose of optimism and learn a lesson about life from Alice.

Happy Reading

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Everyday Life After Death

It was the title that brought my attention to Anne Tyler’s latest book, The Beginner’s Goodbye. (Had the book not been front faced I wouldn’t have noticed the title because the author’s name was larger than the title on the book’s spine.) Intrigued, I cracked the cover and read the synopsis on the jacket flaps (having nothing to read on the back cover—not even a review, blurb, excerpt, or quote—just a large photo of the author). The synopsis is ordinary enough (middle-aged widow must come to terms with his wife’s death) until it mentions the deceased wife making ghostly appearances. And so, it earned a place in my cloth library sack.

The story is about Aaron Woolcott who becomes a widow when his wife dies in a freak accident. He works at a publishing company that publishes a beginner’s series (hence the book title); however, there is no beginner’s guide for this novice widower. Dorothy, his deceased wife, begins to make brief ghostly visits, seldom speaking or even interacting with him at all, but each visit helps him with his journey of loss and recovery and teaches him how his emotional withdrawal impacts his relationships.

The story hooks you from the Kafkaesque opening sentence, “The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how other people reacted.” The supernatural element is not out of place in this otherwise realistic story about every day occurences following the death of a spouse. If anything, I believe Anne Tyler allows the reader to decide if Dorothy is a ghost or if Aaron imagines her to come to terms with his loss and find peace, especially since their last moment in life together was arguing about a box of Triscuits. Despite the heavy subject and ghostly encounters, the novel is still pleasantly light, witty, and realistic, not dark or over sentimental.

With only 198 pages, the novel has been criticized for being too short, but I don’t think it needs to be any longer than it is—especially given the lack of time people have these days to devote to reading. As a full-time worker and mother of a three-year-old with a list of chores to get done, I appreciated that I was able to quickly read this in my spare time. There is one drawback to the short length: I will miss the office staff of Woolcott Publishing. They all have quirks and unique personalities, like the characters of  The Office.  I couldn’t get enough of them. There was one blemish that I couldn’t quite get over. It was difficult to imagine Aaron middle aged. He seemed older, not because of his physical disability, but because of the way he acted. Other than that, I believe  The Beginner’s Goodbye  is a unique story, and all 198 pages are worth reading.

Happy Reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized