Welcome to Third Thursday Staff Recommendations! We are starting a new blog featuring staff member reviews of their favorites books. Our fearless Assistant Director Ryan Johnson volunteered to be the first. Thank you, Ryan.
When asked to write a book recommendation, my mind instantly jumped to Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. This is not even my favorite book (although it’s probably in the top five). I think this book leapt to mind because it’s a perfect read for winter, and well, winter is practically here.
If I had to describe this book in two words, those two words would be utterly fascinating. If I had to give a third, separate word, it would be haunting. The core concept of this book is that the main character, Ursula, is instantly reborn every time she dies. Not reincarnation exactly, because she is reborn into essentially the same exact setting; same time, same place. Over the course of these rebirths Ursula develops “intuitions” about certain details from her previous lives. She is never exactly the same person in these lives either. Sometimes Ursula is the hero, sometimes the victim, sometimes she dies old, at others she dies young. Regardless, it all starts over on the day of her birth as snow falls gently from the sky.
I was reminded a lot of Stephen King’s 11/22/63 while reading this book. The mechanisms are different, but some concepts are similar. In both the main character is challenged with opportunities to “redo” history. What does one choose to do with such an opportunity? What weight anchors these decisions? It’s fun to read about, and fun to think about.
A major takeaway, for me at least, is that there is no perfect life. Even with multiple attempts at the same life, Ursula never finds “perfection.” If she can’t do it, how can we expect to?
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – What if you could live again and again, until you got it right? On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war. Does Ursula’s apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can — will she?
11/22/63 by Stephen King – On November 22, 1963, three shots rang out in Dallas, President Kennedy died, and the world changed. What if you could change it back? Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students about a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night fifty years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk. Jake’s friend Al, who runs a diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on a mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life, a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.