Saturday, December 7, 2013

Survival Lessons

Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman
(Highbridge Audio, 2013)
Format: audio CD via Audiobook Jukebox (narrated by Xe Sands)

From Goodreads: "Fifteen years ago, Alice Hoffman received a diagnosis that changed everything about the life she'd been living. Most significant aside from the grueling physical ordeal she underwent was the way it changed how she felt inside and what she thought she ought to be doing with her days. Now she has written the book that she needed to read then. In this honest, wise, and upbeat guide, Alice Hoffman provides a road map for the making of one's life into the very best it can be. As she says, "In many ways I wrote this book to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that s all too easy to overlook during the crisis of illness or loss. There were many times when I forgot about roses and starry nights. I forgot that our lives are made up of equal parts sorrow and joy, and that it's impossible to have one without the other. . . . I wrote to remind myself that in the darkest hour the roses still bloom, the stars still come out at night. And to remind myself that, despite everything that was happening to me, there were still some choices I could make."

Good things come in small packages sometimes, and it's very much true in this case. After cancer and treatment and the mental blows that accompanied the physical ones, Hoffman was moved to think deeply about the choices she made with her life. I don't get the impression she was living such a bad life before the diagnosis - certainly her career was already going very strong - but it's not the overall course of things, it's the small decisions and moments that pass without a lot of thought that concern her here. 

Choices, deliberately and thoughtfully made. Choosing friends, pleasures, heroes. Choosing to accept or reject burdens, when that's possible. Choosing to eat brownies. Allowing that deliberate thoughtfulness about so many aspects of your life to strengthen and sustain you, both in fine times and in troubling times. In many ways, these aren't startling or new ideas, but Hoffman is a stylist, accessible and thoughtful and unique. It's a pleasure to have her Survival Lessons compiled like this, and though I teared up frequently listening to her words, I was left feeling peaceful and a bit wiser at the end of this short collection.

Xe Sands is a beautiful narrator for this book. Here's how much I love listening to her voice: there's a section at the end, just a few minutes, giving a knitting pattern. I'm not yarn-adept, it meant nothing to me and I could easily have skipped over it, but there was something soothing about her mellifluous voice. Purl and knit and cast off and so forth - if Sands narrated a book of knitting for dummies, I'd be tempted to learn just to have an excuse for it. 

I recommend the book, and the audiobook. If you follow my advice, you'll need the brownie recipe (and butter, and a double boiler, and possibly some doilies) so I've got it here for you:


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