And read they did, all three of them, several hours each day, sitting still and silent in the den or the living room, absorbed in print and pages, and whisked away to heaven knows where in their imaginations.
When I passed through the room, I was several times struck again by a thought that has recurred throughout the years: Few sights touch me more deeply than to see a reader completely entranced by a book. Whether in the classroom where I used to teach or in the coffee shop I enjoy, the sight of a reader moves me. There is a beauty in those faces comparable to those vistas I find at the shore or in the mountains.
Now on to this week’s review.
In Didn’t See That Coming: Putting Life Back Together When Your World Falls Apart (William Morrow, 2020, 227 pages), motivational speaker and best-selling author Rachel Hollis looks at how we can survive catastrophes: the death of a loved one, divorce, lost jobs, failed relationships, and other personal disasters. Through chapters like “Stop Questioning Your Suffering,” “Try On Another Perspective,” “Get Real About Your Finances,” and “Chose Joy Even When Life Sucks,” Hollis offers readers a multitude of stories and anecdotes, many of them personal, about suffering and pain, and advice on how to keep going through the darkness these hardships bring.
At the end of each chapter, Hollis includes a short section “Things That Helped Me.” Here she both summarizes the points of the chapter and gives the reader specific steps to take in handling their emotions and their difficulties. Regarding finances, for example, she directs them to seek out guidance if they feel unable to save money or control their spending. Writing about guilt, she advises her audience to “pretend you’re counseling someone else,” to “imagine that a friend of yours has come to share that they did exactly what you did …. What would you tell them?” She adds, “Chances are you’d be way more gracious and likely, much more constructive when giving them advice than you are with yourself.”
There is much to admire in Didn’t See That Coming. Hollis writes as if she were speaking directly to the reader, she’s often clear and blunt with her advice, and most of the examples she uses to shore up her points are valuable. Her account of her brother’s death by suicide is sweet, sad, and instructive; she’s the one who as a teenager was in the house when he shot himself, and Hollis takes the reader through the emotional turmoil that tragedy brought to her in the years following.
Hollis also exhibits a lively sense of humor. Here’s part of her description of a juice cleanse she underwent with some friends:
“You’re so hungry you want to die. You’re so hungry you begin to obsess over your next juice — even though it’s three hours away and made of, like, beetroot and seaweed. As I recall we were allowed to have one solid ‘meal’ a day, but it could only be leafy greens.
“Who designed this plan for us? Satan, I’m sure.”
We might have done without the “whole pooping-my-pants episode” brought on by this diet, but otherwise she had me smiling in this part of the book.
I had two objections to the book. First, in offering advice and revealing part of her own story, Hollis tells readers that as she was editing Didn’t See That Coming her 16-year-old marriage fell apart. Though she returns to this crisis several times, her account of that breakup is muddled. The reader leaves her description feeling as if she has softened or hidden certain incidents, which is strange coming from a woman who prides herself on her truth telling.
And in her Prologue, Hollis writes, “Don’t fear your own weakness, fear drowning in despair for the rest of your time on earth because you were too afraid to confront your pain. In the following pages I will try to do my best to do just that. I will examine the pain and break it apart and laugh at it when possible and cry over it when necessary, but I will not — ever again in my life — cover up my pain to make other people more comfortable.
“And neither should you.”
Here I must partially disagree. Hollis is of the confessional crowd, believing in the value of counseling — she’s apparently spent 23 years in therapy — and I agree we can find hope and help by sharing our emotions with family and friends. But I’m also a believer in restraint, and that includes holding back my pain with certain people, those I don’t know well, for example, or those who either are suffering their own mishaps or who are themselves uncomfortable dealing with another’s tragedy.
Those quarrels aside, Didn’t See That Coming offers guidance and comfort to those suffering through a hard season.