Life Advice for Book Lovers: Mourning Possibility and Leaping Into New Life
Book Recommendations to Help the Troubled Soul
Welcome to Life Advice for Book Lovers, Lit Hub’s advice column. You tell me what’s eating you in an email to email@example.com, and I’ll tell you what you should read next.
What a fabulous idea!
So, I have, as of yesterday, just moved to a new country, immigrated… not a short stint, which I’ve done before… but this is a big one, new empty nester and though I’ve been here before and it’s not completely foreign, it IS and I am really desiring to be curious, to face my fears, but I am starting from scratch in so many ways and would love some literary guidance as to “how” to be present with the full catastrophe and beauty of this moment…
Dear New Immigrant,
Congratulations on your big move! This is no small feat. Shaking things up is a brave thing to do. (I’m imagining a life like a snow globe now. Turn it upside down and watch the storm, and then watch everything fall beautifully into place. That’s what it’s there for.)
You might consider picking up Dorthe Nors’ Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, which is about a woman who moves to Copenhagen hoping for a fresh start. She starts taking driving lessons—a manageable way to exercise control, to get her hands on the wheel. The writing is quiet and cutting, and I think this character makes for good company.
Also well worth your time: Nell Painter’s Old in Art School. (The subtitle is “a memoir of starting over.”) I know this isn’t quite the same as your situation, but this one follows a 60-year-old woman as she goes back to school to pursue her passion for painting. It’s very much a book about appreciating, as you so wonderfully phrased it, “the beauty of this moment.” It’s one of those rare stories that reminds you that there is no “right” window during which things will happen in life.
As you get settled, I’m wishing you daily courage as you navigate your new routine. I hope you find the little things that tell you you’re on the right track: the friendly waiter at the corner restaurant where you take to enjoying your own company, maybe, or the way the sun streams into your new home like it can’t wait to see you.
Sending solace and sanctuary,
How dumb is it to mourn a relationship that never quite materialized? We became friends years ago, sharing books and movies (he said he didn’t read women back then, I took it as a personal challenge to change his mind and I did), but the timing for anything else never worked out. We both moved abroad and back home at different times, and I left the city for my hometown during the pandemic. He recently left the country again to study, while I am trying to get my writing career off the ground. We’re still friends and we still talk regularly, but I do think it might be time to move on and give up on this thing that never worked out.
I’m sad and melancholic, and have always used books as a way to process my feelings. Can you think of something that is as melancholic as it is hopeful? I’d love to read myself out of this weird feeling.
Kind of Stuck
Dear Kind of Stuck,
It is never dumb to mourn a relationship that never quite materialized! In fact, those are sometimes the hardest to let go of, because they exist in this ethereal space—a realm of infinite possibilities and what-ifs. It’s easy to romanticize them without reality creeping in to ground you. That dream of that relationship exists on a pedestal.
Also, it’s worth noting that you’re not just letting go of this thing; you’re mourning the version of yourself that could have bloomed in it. That’s not an easy thing to say goodbye to.
A writer you might enjoy—one who never shies away from feeling and earnest and honest explorations of love and heartache—is Jeanette Winterson. When you’re in the throes of romantic entanglements, she’s the one to call upon. For your situation, I’d recommend The PowerBook, which is about a romantic named Ali who will write epic love stories on email to anyone who requests one. But participants beware: the story might change you. Ali has a tendency to appear in these stories, too—steadfast in the belief that you can be the hero of your own story—and The PowerBook ends up being a wild ride through myth and and history, with characters meeting and re-meeting and falling in and out of love in various incarnations. It explores the flimsy line between reality and imagination. (Sometimes the things we think up are even more real and true than what’s actually happened.) It’s a story of love lost, yes, but also of reinvention.
Much luck and love to you,