I fell in love with Everything Beautiful Began Afterafter having just read the Prologue and the rest of the book did not disappoint. Simon Van Booy’s beautiful poetic language is stunning and his descriptions require the reader to pause and take a deep breath to take them in. The characters are so well developed that one cannot help but love and care deeply for them. It is fascinating to watch as they argue over the existence of fate while we quietly witness fate take its toll on each of them. There is a sense of unpredictability, an unknowing that keeps the pages turning. Van Booy’s use of different points of view also adds depth to this novel. It was a genius way to create various space and distance between the reader and the characters. The cover and deckle-edged paper provides the perfect package for such a beautiful and tragic love story.
The ending felt a bit rushed to me and things seemed to be tied up a little too perfectly in the end. This may be that I just didn’t want the book to end. I was invested in these characters and wanted to spend more time with them. However, at over 400 pages, I understand Van Booy had to end the book at some point. Maybe he will write a sequel! If you want to be swept away into a beautiful love story with writing that literally takes you there as a silent witness to the unfolding lives of the characters, this book is definitely for you. I wanted to continue inside the world Van Booy created with this novel so much that I actually got up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and continued reading until it was finished.
Simon Van Booy has a new novel, Everything Beautiful Began After , being released on July 5, 2011, and from what I’ve read so far, it is a MUST READ! His use of beautiful, poetic language has a way of drawing you in and not letting go. In celebration of Van Booy’s upcoming release Harper Perennial has reduced the price of all his short stories in electronic format to $1.99 each through Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and Google Books. If you want the best introduction to Van Booy’s writing, Harper Perennial suggests you start with Love Begins in Winter. I know that you will enjoy his writing as much as I do!
*It is important to note that my review is based on the uncorrected proof.
Seeds covers author Richard Horan’s trek across America in an attempt to collect seeds from the trees of some of his favorite authors. When I was first made aware of this book, I couldn’t wait to read it. The concept sounded fascinating. For the most part, it is a great book and provides a lot of interesting information. However, there are some things that are problematic.
The book seems to alternate between two voices – Horan’s personal voice and his more professional journalistic voice that provides the factual information. It gives the narrative a feel of inconsistency. Also, there were numerous times where Horan interrupted the narrative flow and scenes with asides within parentheses that began with: “Later on I learned…” The reader is pulled completely out of scene to be given this unnecessary information and then forced to try and re-assimilate back into the scene. Nearly every sentence contained within parentheses in the book could be deleted without altering it in any way.
Horan frequently described the people he came in contact with in a condescending manner. It is off-putting to the reader. This book would have been much better if Horan had stayed with one voice consistently throughout, preferably the one that stated the facts as they were rather than the one who randomly interjected personal opinion and unnecessary asides. When Horan interjects his personal opinion it feels as if he doesn’t trust the reader to come to the same conclusions as he did. The facts he provides are enough to bring those same feelings to the reader without his personal opinion which can be quite jarring at times. The details Horan gives are also inconsistent throughout the book. Sometimes he provides minute unnecessary details about every single thing that occurred at a particular moment and sometimes he provides details in a way that feels forced and list-like. Other times he doesn’t provide enough detail and leaves the reader to make assumptions.
I did not like the “Back Home” chapters. They were also inconsistent. For example, Horan’s wife joins him at one point and the reader has to assume that he has been home to pick her up, but there is no “Back Home” section prior to her appearing. I understand the purpose of those chapters and their placement, but the information would have been better blended into the already existing chapters or in a separate chapter at the end of the book. I would also have liked to see at least some of the pictures Horan is constantly mentioning in the book. It would have been great if they were dispersed throughout the book or in a section at the end.
All that being said, I loved the information provided in Seeds and taking the journey with Horan. I especially loved his assertion that trees are living, breathing beings that have witnessed historical events long before we were here and – if we stop being so uncaring – will be witnesses to the future long after we are gone. I think it is fascinating that trees have witnessed so much important history, that they keep many secrets we will never know, and that they have served as constant companions to many of our favorite authors. Another aspect that works really well is that it’s clear Horan is very knowledgeable and passionate about the subject matter of which he writes. This adds a level of legitimacy to the book. The reader knows Horan chose to do this because he loves it not just as a stunt to get a book deal.
I read Seeds slowly and was excited to return to it each day to continue on the journey with Horan. I loved learning the history behind some of my most beloved authors. If you can get past the author’s personal opinions and unnecessary asides, I believe you will enjoy reading Seeds too.
I read Devotion in two days/two sittings. The structure of the book – chapters starting right where the last ended – made it difficult to find a place to stop reading and I loved it. Dani Shapiro’s narrative was so personal and spoke to me on such a deep level and that structure gave me permission to keep reading…just one more chapter. What Shapiro wrote about: Is this all there is to life? If so, why do I feel like something’s missing?, and the spiritual quest that she began, is something universal to many of us these days as we watch the ground we once thought was impenetrable disintegrating before our eyes. Shapiro has what seems a charmed life, but at the root of her quest are a lot of loss, deep loneliness, and an inability to relinquish control of the uncontrollable. For those who have experienced great loss and tragedy or have come through a “near miss” it is very difficult to trust that everything will be okay. Instead, they spend most of their time thinking about what bad thing might happen next and how they can avoid it. Shapiro addresses how “…we’re all complicated by the way we were raised” as she tries to come to terms with her strict religious upbringing and the guilt she feels for seeking other ways to find God and meaning in her life other than just the Judaism in which she was raised.
I loved the interweaving of samskara (our knots of energy that each tells a story) throughout Shapiro’s narrative. She says, “Release a samskara and you release that story. Release your stories, and suddenly there is more room to breathe, to feel, to experience the world” which is what she is doing by writing this book. We are all a compilation of these stories. Some we share. Some we cannot bare to acknowledge. I equally loved Sylvia Boorstein’s metta meditation chants (the condensed version). I believe it is a wonderful way to begin a meditation routine and is something so simple that we can bring it with us wherever we go. There is also a practice Shapiro discovers at a California yoga studio that she incorporates into the end of her yoga routine that is again so simple, yet extremely powerful.
There are so many stunning moments that pierced right through me, so many questions that I have asked myself sitting right there on the page. Shapiro writes in such an accessible way you feel like you are taking the journey with her, discovering what she is discovering right there with her, and equally feeling her frustration at the lack of solid answers to the existential questions that haunt us. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is unsettled and is searching for that elusive something that will help them feel more grounded. Keeping an open mind and reading about others’ experiences are the best ways to move towards that more peaceful state of being even if we find that there are no answers and we must just “live inside the questions.”
Why Our Decisions Don’t Matter is a compilation of excerpts, quotes, passages, and paintings from philosophers, writers, and artists that all address the same theme of fate, predestination, and why the decisions we make don’t matter. Included are works from Homer, Sophocles, Voltaire, Dickinson, Twain, Rilke, Sartre, and many others. Simon Van Booy gives a brief introduction of the author/artist and the piece which is often as intriguing as the piece itself. Each presentation is small and easy to understand and provides a jumping off point for further research and contemplation. Some of my favorites are Colin McGinn’s Shakespeare’s Philosophy; Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer; and Janet Frame’s The Carpathians. Both Henry Miller’s and Janet Frame’s introductions were so interesting I found I must learn more about their lives and their writings. I loved the inclusion of paintings in this book, but they were very difficult to see clearly which is important to understanding them. Dialogue and screen shots from film would have been a great addition as well. The book is small enough to carry with you and structured so you can read a small portion while waiting or even before bed. I recommend this book to anyone wanting to know a little more about philosophy and the existential question we all grapple with or those who want a quick introduction to philosophy so they can identify those they may want to research further. Still others may find this book provides all the information they need on why our decisions don’t matter.