April 24, 2008

Double Whammy

When it rains literary nonfiction, it pours: books by not one but two Tricycle contributing editors hit the stacks this July. Memoirist Mark Matousek’s When You’re Falling, Dive: Lessons in the Art of Living tracks the sorrows and triumphs of hundreds of survivors, seeking to answer the question: How does a person survive his own life? Mixed with universal stories of illness and loss are profiles of people who have suffered under extraordinary circumstances—a Tibetan nun who was tortured by Chinese soldiers at the age of thirteen; a Sudanese man who was kidnapped as a child and forced into slavery for ten years. Matousek draws from parables, scientific studies, philosophy, and literature in order to create a nuanced portrait of endurance and meaning wrought from adversity.

The Wishing Year, by Noelle Oxenhandler, tells the story of the author’s experiment with the art of wishing. One New Year’s Day, Oxenhandler decides to change her life. Her first step is to admit aloud the three things she wants most: “to heal my soul, buy a house, and find a man.” With her desires finally verbalized (and a personal wishing shrine in her bedroom), Oxenhandler’s adventure begins. The Wishing Year offers insights into the unique role desire plays in Western culture—the contradictions between the American right to the pursuit of happiness and the sense that asking for more marks us as ungrateful; whether it’s better to look for love or wait for it to come. As Oxenhandler’s wishes become surprising realities, she finds that oportunities for happiness have been present all along—all she had to do was learn to spot them.

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