A memoir about a twenty-something woman whose life is turned upside down by her mother's death. Struggling with consuming depression, grief, and traum...moreA memoir about a twenty-something woman whose life is turned upside down by her mother's death. Struggling with consuming depression, grief, and trauma, she nearly reaches rock-bottom, destroying her marriage to a wonderful man she loves through her own infidelity and getting addicted to heroin. Then she decides to hike 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, from California to Oregon, on her own, and the struggle helps her find who she is again.
I loved this. She has a wonderful, honest, thoughtful voice as a writer, and the prose is careful, well-balanced, and original without ever going overboard into purpleness or show-offiness. I was too absorbed in her story to pay good attention to the nuances of her narrative technique, which is the sign right there of her amazing command of narrative technique - I'm not sure how she did it, but I didn't want to put this book down. And it certainly wasn't through any kind of cheesy faux cliffhanger-at-the-end-of-every-chapter structure either, but more I think through paying careful attention to what was likely to hold her readers' attention and winnowing out everything else.
This book is full of wisdom and philosophical depth without any least hint of trying for it. It was heartbreaking, funny, adventurous, and inspiring. (Though it did not inspire me to want to do any long-distance hiking myself ... I like having 10 toenails attached to my feet, thank you very much ...)
Note: One of my Goodreads friends panned this book, among many other reasons because the author's experience of losing a parent seemed so commonplace ... this is something that, thank God, thank God, thank God, I have no experience with, but I do know that grief over major life losses can take as many different shapes as there are people in the world. And I know that psychologists have not yet found a way to predict who will suffer from PTSD when people go through even identical traumatic experiences - one soldier will make it through a battle just fine, another will be fighting that battle all his life. So, I thought the author did a good job of describing the particular shape her own grief took, and her path out of it ... maybe an important part of going through a terrible experience like this is the very realization that even if your experience is a common one, still, no one will experience it just the same way you will ... which is why grief is such a lonely thing ...
Another note for my religious conservative reader friends: Some swearing, some sexual content, but it makes up a pretty tiny proportion of the book.(less)
A fascinating look at how French culture, language, identity, and borders took shape, particularly during the 1700s and 1800s. I read some chapters an...moreA fascinating look at how French culture, language, identity, and borders took shape, particularly during the 1700s and 1800s. I read some chapters and skimmed others, but on the whole I was surprised at how readable, charming, engaging, and well-written this was. Granted, I came to it with low expectations, since anything with the word "geography" in the title I automatically assume will be a slog to get through. But the author knows how to tell a story, and he weaves together a fabric of strikingly detailed anecdotes rather than organizing the material didactically point-by-point. The overall effect for me was feeling myself transported back in time, immersed in the motley patchwork of tiny villages and dialects and myths and religious practices of provincial France of centuries past. I loved this book and strongly recommend it to anyone with even the slightest interest in French history and culture.(less)