books · On Writing · Reviews

The Option Not Taken (#AuthorToolboxBlogHop)

When I was a seven-year old girl living in suburban New Jersey, I wanted more than anything to know what it was like to be a different person. Mind melds and body switching not an option, I dove into books. There, I rode the best pony in the world, outwitted evildoers, wore silk ballgowns, outran the mean guys, and trailed fairy dust in my wake. It was joyous life writ large and felt in all its glorious, wild, full chaos.

These days, I still read with ferocious passion. I want to be moved. I want to be forever different — better — for having ridden around in the head, the heart, and experiences of another human being.

I opened Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant with that expectation. Nothing happened. I tried again. Nothing happened. I sped to the end thinking that there had to be something more, something moving and insightful. Coming to its awkward conclusion, I closed the book glad to be finished slogging through a stunning, inert read and colossal disappointment.

Somehow, this story about a woman losing a beloved life partner to death has been processed into a carefully built, artfully crafted bunch of words. There is no plot, there is no drama, there is nothing there. Where there is reflection, it is upon a study, upon anecdotes about someone else, upon obligatory acknowledgement that extraordinary resources and special circumstance spared Ms. Goldberg the common jolts and shocks that many widows experience. Possibly more of the nitty gritty specifics of her daily life complete with mess, snot, and stumbles would help bring her story to life for the rest of us.

Option B is all head and no heart. What I read was the blind pain and predictable moments of a grief observed from a safe distance resulting in an endless, soft and unfathomable mess. I kept hoping for more, wanting to see beyond the curtain to the real person doing her best to make sense of a terrible loss and figure out what comes next.

The heart and soul of her story could be there. Occasional passages do deliver — such as wedding vows and specific family moments. However, these are only rare glints of powerful, gripping story gold.

The story of a person finding a way to live well after unbearable loss is important and timely (especially as us Baby Boomers head into old age). I’ll keep looking for the one that takes me into the experience and out the other side.

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27 thoughts on “The Option Not Taken (#AuthorToolboxBlogHop)

    1. Stop reading! There are too many fantastic books out there to waste even one teeny tiny moment on something that isn’t working for you — I felt an obligation to continue with the story because I cite Sandberg in other of my work and felt it was only right to give her a chance. I’m chalking this up to … well … good idea gone horribly wrong….

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  1. That’s such a shame, I hate to put down books I’m not enjoying, but lately I’ve realised it’s a waste of valuable time when another book might give you exactly what you need. I hope you find it!

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    1. I totally agree — there is just too much wonderful prose out there to spend time with something that doesn’t work. I did finish the book and am glad that I did — it’s made me appreciate other nonfiction much more and made me wonder what else I might explore that’s out of my usual reading routine.

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  2. Do you think it’s because we’re writers that we hold other authors to such high standards, and as we learn more and more about the craft, our standards get that much harder to satisfy? Sometimes I want to step out of my writer head and just read.

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    1. R: I do think that the standards are much higher for me now — and I’m with you — I so desperately want a story to grab me and not let go. The sign that’s something is wrong is when I do start noticing craft, construction, typos, and punctuation. I know a teacher who refuses to keep reading ANYTHING if she trips over three errors.

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  3. I’m sorry that the book was a disappointment, but I’m glad that you were able to pinpoint what was so dissatisfying about it! It’s a sign that you’re a careful, generous reader, and you really gave reading your all.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  4. I have trouble not finishing what I start. Even when it initially makes no sense why a book even exists. Sometimes they turn out okay at the end and sometimes no. Sometimes they become a favorite. Those are the best experiences.

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    1. I’m like you. I do my best to finish what I start. Now that I am a full-time writer, it’s harder to force myself through something that’s not working. You’re right — sometimes they do turn out okay — and other times…not.

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      1. I get that, being a full time writer and not having the time or inclination to go through bad writing. I am more critical now than any other time of my life. The ease of reading through any surface is no longer as pleasurable.

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      2. The only other time that I remember being this critical was when I was interviewing prospects for work. Then, however, like now, I did my best to genuinely understand the gifts and talents of the individual before offering the job or wishing them well.

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      3. Yeah, maybe there are similarities. But I have always been more vested in books than people. Books, pets, people. Wonder what that says about me…😒

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      4. ..says you know what you like? I once started a story called THE INSOMNIAC’S BOOKCLUB that featured two middle-aged women who would read together in the middle of the night — no talking, no discussion of anything book, just tea and peace and reading. Now you’ve got me thinking about going back to it!

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    1. It takes substantial courage and resolve for me to remove my pretty bookmark and send the book back to the library or elsewhere. I do tend to give writers a wide margin to experiment and to play — the same thing I want from everyone.

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