The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
This one came recommended Amy Makechnie in her author newsletter. Arthur is a recent widower who feels lost and alone. When going through his wife’s things, he discovers a charm bracelet stuffed in a boot — a bracelet he’s never seen before. Arthur becomes determined to discover the meaning behind each charm. The more he uncovers the more he realizes he might not have known the woman he loved.
Even though this book dealt with some heavy topics like grief, it had a cozy and comforting tone that was lovely. I enjoyed the deep, abiding love Arthur had for his wife, Miriam, and the way the bracelet pulled Arthur out of his set patterns and assumptions. A tender read about making space for and trusting those we love.
You Could Make This Place Beautiful: A Memoir by Maggie Smith
You might remember the poem “Good Bones” that was everywhere a few years back. This is poet Maggie Smith’s memoir about the dissolution of her marriage, the happy years before, and finding her way forward after divorce. The book is written in vignettes with a bit of poetry. I listened to the audiobook as I weeded and walked and found I often couldn’t tell what was poem and what was prose. Smith’s language is distilled and powerful. She often uses imagery and repetition (“A Friend Says Every Book Begins With An Unanswerable Question” is a concept she visits and revisits) and plays with literary terms (“A Note on Setting”). She reaches a place she is “insistent on joy.”
The writing! The writing. I’m going to read another book she wrote during these same years, Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change, sometime soon.
This came to me recommended by my audiobook listening habits, perhaps because I listened to The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit. There are elements of that book in this one as well as Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild — and even a dash of Australia’s most famous novel, Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Like Krakauer, Jon Billman has written for Outside magazine. His 2017 article “How 1600 People Went Missing from Our Public Lands Without a Trace” (!!!!) led to The Cold Vanish, a deeper look into the same phenomenon. There is no database for people who disappear on federal lands (that number is thought to be a conservative estimate!). The National Park Service, the National Forest Service, and other wildland agencies are run by separate departments. This means there is little comprehensive documentation of the missing.
The central story in The Cold Vanish is about twenty-two year old Jacob Gray, who went missing in Olympic National Park in 2017. Over the months, Jon Billman combs the park and nearby national forest with Jacob’s father, Randy. Readers learn about a number of other missing people cases as well as those who work to bring them home. There was a fair amount of Sasquatch in the book, which at first surprised me, but on second thought made sense. The unknown, the mysterious, and the unexplainable converge when we ask questions that remain unanswered.
Fascinating and heartbreaking all at once.