Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center is a book about starting over. Helen Carpenter is thirty-two years old and has been divorced for a year. She is just fine with how her life is going, thank you very much, but if she actually thinks about it, she really needs to take a break to try and put herself together again. Her much younger brother, younger by ten years, mentions off-hand about a wilderness survival course. Thinking that this is exactly what she needs, Helen decides to sign up and give it a try. Right when she’s getting ready to leave, her brother’s best friend, Jake, tells her that he is also coming on the trip and just so happens to need a ride. Great. This life-changing journey has turned into a cross-country trip with her younger brother’s annoying best friend. Not what she wanted at all.

The wilderness survival course that Helen has signed up for is three weeks long and puts her and a group of people smack dab in the remotest part of a mountain range in Wyoming. Her fellow survivalists are nothing like what she was expecting. Instead of the hippie folks and rugged back-packers she was envisioning, Helen finds herself at orientation with a group of college students all significantly younger than her and who are basically doing this course as a way to get college credit. The person in charge doesn’t even look like he’s out of high school, for goodness sake! Helen is clearly out of her element. This point is further emphasized when the instructor lays out a series of very strict rules. Helen is in way over her head.

In order to begin this course with a clean slate, she tells Jake to pretend like he doesn’t even know her. She wants to begin anew. This sort of backfires on her when Helen realizes that Jake has become the popular guy and also that no one else in her group really likes her that much. Such begins Helen’s road to rediscovery, a wilderness survival course that is nothing like she thought it would be with people she wasn’t expecting. With sore, blistery feet, a medical emergency, a summer blizzard, and love blooming on rocky trails, Happiness for Beginners is a breath of fresh air as Helen works to remake herself into the new person she wants to become.

This book is also available as an Overdrive eAudiobook, which is how I listened to this book.

You’re Not Edith by Allison Gruber

you're not edithThe English student in me cringes whenever someone says, “Let’s read an essay” because in my mind, the term “essay” is still equated with the five-paragraph, three-reasons-why type essays that you had to write in high school. When I was flipping through Allison Gruber’s You’re Not Edith, a book exclusively filled with autobiographical essays, I noticed that instead of the traditional format, her essays read like chunks of a story broken apart for relief, flashback, comedy, and a wide variety of other purposes. I started reading You’re Not Edith and discovered that I was in fact reading an autobiography with much shorter chapters, something that my brain found easier to digest because there were breaks where I could stop if I had to go do something else and I found that I was able to finish this book much quicker than I was other books. Books containing autobiographical essays have begun to grow on me.

In You’re Not Edith, Allison Gruber reflects upon her entire life as she’s experienced it so far. Just like in her life, Gruber takes risks when she explodes her life into these essays for readers to dissect. She pulls no punches as she describes how she tried to use her fascination with Diane Fossey to help her win her girlfriend in high school or how she was diagnosed with breast cancer as she was teaching at the collegiate level. Gruber is a hilarious writer who speaks with shocking candor and isn’t afraid to tell the truth about her struggles with cancer and how she figured that even though she wouldn’t allow others to take care of her, she would still be able to care for Bernie, a little dachshund who didn’t fit her perfect ideal of the Edith dog, but ended up being exactly what she needed.

I encourage you to pick up this book to check out her feelings on weddings, her father’s mental problems, and how she came into her own through music, drama, English, and many other interconnected things.