I Know This Much is True

I surprised myself with this one since this is not the kind of book I usually read. I even had doubts whether I would finish it. But 30% (I use Kindle) into the book and I decided to push through. 

What I liked about the book is how invested I could get with Dominick.  I read about his past hurts, misfortunes and struggles then journeyed with him in his road to “renovation.”  

Renovate your life, the old myths say, and the universe is yours – Dominick Birdsey

He was not dealt with the best set of circumstances and I felt for him as I read through the book.  I, at times, even had to put down the book since the anger and grief can be overwhelming. In some ways, I shared the same thoughts with Dominick as (a) he tried to go through his grandfather’s story – what was the point of learning about all this pride, self righteousness and arrogance, (b) he tried to deal with his family – schizoprenic twin brother, secret filled family and unknown father, and (c) he tried to navigate his personal life – divorce, death of first born child and career.  

But what are stories if not the mirrors we hold up to our fears?

By the end of it, I was rooting for him to find the strength and support to tie loose ends and just live on, which I was glad that he managed eventually in time. I guess there is something about inner resilience of individuals that can be very inspiring, especially for Dominick who has entertained the thoughts of suicide at one point.

Embedded throughout this book was the anger felt by Dominick and how he was able to eventually able to manage it with the help of professionals (i.e., shrink). He was able to navigate his past and reconcile with his present. This is more ably put by Dr. Patel as:

Life is not a series of isolated ponds and puddles; life is this river you see below, before you. It flows from the past through the present on its way to the future.

But my biggest takeaway is how growing up can lead to a lot of eureka moments, which are actually glaring realities but takes time to sink in. As Ray puts it, “things get clearer when you get older”. Some of my favorite quotes in this book are as follows:

Love grows from the rich loam of forgiveness – Dominick Birdsey

To be human is to be humble. What choice is there, really? Let none of us attempt God’s work. – Father Guglielmo

Would it not be futile for you to make such a command? To assume that the river would ignore its inevitable course and bend to your wishes? You are limited, my friend, in what you can and cannot control, as are we all. If you are to become healthy, you must acknowledge the indeluctability of your brother’s course. Acknowledge your limitations in directing it, Dominick. And that will free you. That will help to make you well. – Dr. Patel

Be humble and forgive. Then, peace of mind follows.

The Bookshop on the Corner

The opening lines of Jenny Colgan’s message to the readers adequately captures what this book was all about:

Because this book is about reading and books, and how these things can change your life, always, I would argue, for the better. It’s also about what it feels like to move and start over (something I’ve done quite a lot in my life), and the effect that where we choose to live has on how we feel; and can falling in love in real life be like falling in love in stories, xxx

This book builds a good case for anyone to try and pick up a book… somewhere out there is a book that would peak and suit your interests – may it be a children story book, a series about cowboys and aliens, an end of the world apocalyptic novel or simply the bestsellers (either fiction or non-fiction).

There was a universe inside every human being every bit as big as the universe outside them. Books were the best way Nina knew—apart from, sometimes, music—to breach the barrier, to connect the internal universe with the external, the words acting merely as a conduit between the two worlds.

If only Nina, the protagonist, can talk to us; finding those books would have been easy. Scattered in the story are anecdotes on how she was able to touch the lives of various characters just by finding the right books.

But the key takeaway for me of the story is how readers actually need to manage real life.

Some people buried their fears in food, she knew, and some in booze, and some in planning elaborate engagements and weddings and other life events that took up every spare moment of their time in case unpleasant thoughts intruded. But for Nina, whenever reality, or the grimmer side of reality, threatened to invade, she always turned to a book. Books had been her solace when she was sad, her friends when she was lonely. They had mended her heart when it was broken, and encouraged her to hope when she was down. Yet much as she disputed the fact, it was time to admit that books were not real life.

As much as we want it to be, books are not real life. 

I am not arguing against reading books.  I could personally attest on its value in helping me cope with whatever struggles I was facing. However, this book reminds us that there is still real life out there to manage and how complicated it will be if we mix our literary journeys with reality.

“It’s not about fricking romantic picnics and moonlit walks and storybook stuff! This is real life.

To end, I really liked this book. It was a refreshing feature of various contrasts – urban versus rural living and reality versus “storybook stuff”.  There were some parts I wish were not included but overall well told. 

Nina got very lucky with her friends, acquaintances that became friends (and lovers), and timing.  A lot of things could have gone wrong but Nina had her happy-ever-after after all. 

Now, back to real life I go.