May 16, 2011
Joy for Beginners
Joy For Beginners by Erica Bauermeister
2011 G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Finished on 2/27/11
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
FTC Disclosure: Received ARC via publicity agent
Available on June 9, 2011
Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
~ Christopher Robin to Pooh”
At an intimate, festive dinner party in Seattle, six women gather to celebrate their friend Kate’s recovery from cancer. Wineglass in hand, Kate strikes a bargain with them: to celebrate her new lease on life, she’ll do the one thing that’s always terrified her: white-water rafting. But if she goes, all of them will also do something they always swore they’d never do—and Kate is going to choose their adventures.
Shimmering with warmth, wit, and insight, Joy for Beginners is a celebration of life; unexpected, lyrical, and deeply satisfying.
The other night, as we were driving home from a lovely evening spent with new friends, my husband and I began chatting about our community and our circle of friends. We’ve lived in Lincoln since 1992 (with a brief stint in Texas in the late ‘90s) and have lived on an acreage just outside of the city limits, as well as in town in a lovely old neighborhood where front porches, hundred-year-old trees and a corner market (where one can still sign for groceries and receive a monthly bill!) are commonplace. We have friends that we met that very first year, thanks to our daughter’s outgoing nature on and off the soccer field, folks we’ve met through both of our jobs, and friends we were introduced to by mutual friends. When we moved back to Lincoln in 2000, we were amazed to meet well over a dozen people in our beautiful new neighborhood even as the movers unloaded our possessions into our new home. Some of those neighbors have since moved away, but all the new folks have been just as friendly and neighborly as their predecessors.
And so our circle of friends continues to widen. We gather for coffee and scones at a neighborhood café on Saturday mornings. We host progressive dinner parties and cookouts or meet up at our favorite restaurants. We discuss books, play board games, float in pools, play tennis, ride bikes, or shoot guns (!) with these friends. We support their children’s fundraising ventures, rub their dogs’ bellies, watch out for their homes when they go out of town, and admire their gardens.
We rejoice over births, graduations, marriages, job promotions, and new puppies.
And, we comfort each other through divorces, illnesses and deaths.
We are very blessed to know the friends we’ve met (both in person and via the Internet) over the years. They have brought us joy, filled us with laughter, held us when we needed to cry, and taught us how to be better friends ourselves.
Joy For Beginners is a book about the loyalty and love of friends, about taking risks and believing in oneself, and about being present in one’s life.
Stephanie Kallos (Sing Them Home) writes, “This book is a joy to read. Bauermeister gives us characters who revel in the best of what life has to offer—loving relationships, fine food, good books, and travel—and she writes with keen observance and a wry wit.”
My copy of Joy for Beginners is littered with dozens of Post-It flags, but I’ve decided to let you discover those passages on your own. Well, maybe I'll share just one...
It was almost midnight. The tables were cluttered with napkins and used silverware, tablecloths rumpled like bed-sheets. The diners reclined in their chairs, hands drifting leisurely back and forth between espresso cups and the last sips of port. Tips of fingers caressed the surface of white plates, snaring the last flakes of chocolate left from cinnamon-dusted truffles. Smells lingered in the air, sliding across bare shoulders, nestling into the curls of hair—risotto and chanterelle mushrooms, sweet and rich and buttery, the bite of Parmesan, the rosemary and white wine and garlic of a slow-cooked pork roast. And bread, of course, the long loaves having been passed hand to hand, chunks pulled off, dipped in small white dishes of green olive oil with dark, molten drops of balsamic vinegar floating in its midst. Wine bottles had long ago lost their ownership, traveling up and down the tables like porters on a train. Artists had met book dealers had met plumbers had met research scientists, people getting up between courses and changing places. Over in the corner, a couple was forming, their heads bending slowly toward each other like candles melting.
I read this novel almost three months ago and I have been so eager to share it with all of you. I was tempted to read it in one sitting, but enjoyed it so much, and not wanting to see it end, set it aside for an entire week before returning to read the final chapter. I loved Erica’s first novel, The School of Essential Ingredients, and Joy for Beginners is just as beautifully written, peopled with characters you’ll wish you had in your own circle of friends.
Final thoughts: I can think of a few challenges for some of my friends, but I wonder what challenge my friends would give me? Tattoo? Sky-diving?