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Erica Bauermeister – Joy for Beginners

June 6, 2011

71. Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister (2011)

Length: 273 pages
Genre: General Fiction

Started: 25 May 2011
Finished: 27 May 2011

Where did it come from? From the publishers for review.
Why do I have it? I really enjoyed Bauermeister’s first novel, The School of Essential Ingredients, so I definitely wanted to read her new book.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 18 February 2011.

To celebrate not
dying, Kate challenges her
friends to start living.

Summary: At a dinner party to celebrate Kate’s recovery from cancer, she announces that she’s going to do something that has always scared her: go white-water rafting in the Grand Canyon with her daughter. But she’s only going to do it if each of the six other women at the party agrees to do something that’s always terrified them, something they’ve always avoided… and Kate gets to pick each of their tasks. The things she choses may seem small and not particularly momentous to outsiders – learn to bake bread, take a vacation – but in their doing, each woman must face her fears and learn to really live her life.

Review: Lovely, absolutely lovely. I enjoyed the heck out of this book, a reaction that’s even more striking when you consider how far out of my normal reading range it falls. Most fiction I read involves either extraordinary people or extraordinary events, or both; Joy for Beginners features a group of ordinary women, living ordinary lives. However, Bauermeister takes all this ordinariness and transforms it into something wonderful and moving and magical, through the sheer power of her storytelling and her prose.

I had thought that most of the reason I liked The School of Essential Ingredients so much was because it was about food and cooking, but it turns out that Bauermeister’s skill at evoking the senses through prose is not just limited to writing about food. Her language is lush and sensual (in the sense of “involving the senses”), and it was easy to get completely enveloped in the world she was creating. She’s also got an excellent feel for relationships and friendships and moments of human connection, and I found most of this book very moving; even though it wasn’t a sad book, I still finished it with tears in my eyes.

Telling the story from the point-of-view of one woman at a time was an effective way to keep the book moving along quickly, although there were occasionally places where it wasn’t clear how the timelines of the various sections related. And, while most of the women’s stories felt complete in and of themselves, there were a few places where I felt like a chapter ended with me still wanting to know what came next. Overall, though, these are minor, minor gripes; as a whole, this book was simply wonderful. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Highly recommended. Even if this sort of book isn’t your normal cup of tea, give Bauermeister a chance; I bet you’ll find it worth your while.

Also, man alive do I want to raft the Grand Canyon now. I remember talking about it with my dad a few years ago; I’ll have to see if he’s still interested.

Also also, this book reminded me of a quote that I love (and that I have taped over my desk):

“Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand – and melting like a snowflake.” –Marie Beyon Ray

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Erica’s website

Other Reviews: Lesley’s Book Nook
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Life came back slowly, Kate realized.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. June 6, 2011 10:02 am

    I’m looking forward to reading this book because of another review, but yours makes me long for it even more. I’ve got a copy ordered – it just hasn’t arrived. Love, love, love the quote.

    • June 6, 2011 10:14 am

      Kay – Seeing as this book doesn’t technically come out until Thursday, it’s no surprise your copy hasn’t arrived yet… but when it does show up, I hope you love it as much as I did!

  2. June 6, 2011 4:13 pm

    I love to read about ordinary people – maybe because I am one? You’ve made this book sound marvelous!

    • June 9, 2011 9:31 am

      Kathy – It *is* marvelous, so I guess I did my job well. :)

  3. June 6, 2011 9:39 pm

    I absolutely loved this book, too – I devoured it, even though my tour date isn’t until the 15th!

    • June 9, 2011 9:32 am

      Carrie – Oh yes, I flew through this book! I’m glad to see I’m not the only one… I suspect it’s going to be a huge hit.

  4. June 7, 2011 6:38 pm

    Oh, I’m a sucker for that kind of book, don’t tell anyone! And thanks for the review.

    • June 9, 2011 9:33 am

      Carrie – Your secret’s safe with me! I don’t normally go for this kind of book, but Bauermeister’s writing is just irresistible.

  5. June 8, 2011 1:18 pm

    I loved her first book, so I’m glad to hear this one is just as good! Thanks for the review.

    • June 9, 2011 9:35 am

      Anna – My pleasure! (Truly.) I hope you get a chance to pick it up soon.

  6. June 9, 2011 9:14 pm

    I was concerned that the pattern of each character’s ‘journey’ being told in a single chapter might be abrupt/unfulfilling.

    Like you, I found JOY FOR BEGINNERS to be a wonderful read – it really touched me (and, yes, I grabbed for tissues on 3 occasions!).

    Now, to go back and read SCHOOL OF ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS :)

    • June 13, 2011 1:22 pm

      Dawn – You’re going to LOVE The School of Essential Ingredients; I’m a wee bit jealous that you get to read it for the first time!

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