Wednesday, August 25, 2010

bittersweet - a review and a giveaway

When I was seventeen and deciding where to go to college, I had lots of conversations with lots of different people. I went on campus visits and read brochures and then, one weeknight, my best friend and I had a college summit at noodles & co at the deer park mall in arlington heights. We met up with our friend Shauna, who had graduated from this small school in santa barbara not too long ago. I was sold on the school; my best friend, not so much. So we walked through this time of separation--from each other, from our families, from our homes--and I waited, super uncertain of what the future would hold.

It's been seven years since that night, and with time I understand now how those bittersweet days and weeks of august years earlier had provided the dirt from which this rich life would grow - and I had no idea.

So Shauna, as fate and other things would have it, has written two absolutely lovely books - Cold Tangerines, which was published in 2007, and Bittersweet, which was just released and is the book I want to talk about briefly now.

Bittersweet is written in Shauna's typical style, which is to say: raw, funny, honest, painfully honest, poignant, and hopeful. I don't know too many writers (especially Christian writers) who have the courage to share about the deepest and darkest parts of themselves, but Shauna does this -- and does it in a way that builds God's Kingdom, because it makes you feel less alone for all your brokenness. Shauna is winsome in the best sense of the word, and that bleeds through onto every page of Bittersweet . . . you want to be her friend and her student at the same time.

One of my favorite parts of the book comes from the chapter called aurora, which is sort of a welcome letter to the people who move into their family's old house in Michigan. Read what she says:

"I believe in a very deep way that our past is what brings us to our future . . . I believe in mining through the darkest seasons in our lives and choosing to believe that we'll find something important every time. In my worst moments, I want to slam the door on the hardest part of our life. Deadbolt it, forget it, move forward, happier without it. But I don't want to lose six years of my own history behind a slammed door. So now I'm minng through, searching for the light, and the more I look the more I find. I see the moments of heartbreak that led to honesty about myself I wouldn't have been able to get to any other way."

There are many more favorites, and you would really hate to miss them, so you should really read this book. You can buy it, of course, or read below for the chance to win a copy . . .

The giveaway. Here's how it works:

1. In the 'Comments' section of this post, write about a bittersweet moment in your life. Keep it short.

2. If you Tweet about this giveaway, send me a direct message (@lauraortberg) and I'll enter your name into the drawing a second time. (With thanks to @berryman for this idea)

3. The last comment will be accepted at 9pm PST on September 31st (strict rules, right?). I'll announce the winner the next day and mail 'Bittersweet' to the winner!

Happy commenting!

((3.1 - If you live in the Bay Area and are interested in coming to an event with Shauna, let me know on Twitter and I'll make sure you get invited. Save September 13th, evening.))


Abby & Her Boys said...

Great review! I used to work for/with Shauna, and you're right; you do want to be her friend and her student at the same time.

Recent bittersweet moment was visiting my college roommate for a few hours, and realizing that we would have to part ways again. The time we did share was so filling, but sad to see her go.

Gretchen Runyan said...

My grandparents lived on a farm for 50 years, it had been in my family for over 100 years. Grandpa had a heart attack and they needed to sell the farm. It was so hard to walk through the house and know that someone else would not know the stories and the history of the farm. They probably wouldn't even care. As I walked from room to room I took small things that I could keep as mementos.
A few years later after the buildings had been torn down my cousin and drove to the property. The only thing left was a circular flower bed that had held my grandmother's favorite flowers. It seemed appropriate that the last thing we'd see would be the flower garden of our gentle grandmother. She's gone now, so is Grandpa, but the memories live on in my heart. I think of them everyday as I wake up on my own farm. And the circle continues.

Mehridith said...

This spoke to me:

"I see the moments of heartbreak that led to honesty about myself I wouldn't have been able to get to any other way."

I'll let you in, to a quite personal moment I had recently, that to me is both bitter and sweet.

I got on the scale in the morning and saw a number that made me want to cry. I felt disappointed, angry, bitter. The number was an honest reflection of who I am, in all of my imperfections. The scale is in front of the bathroom mirror, and being a woman, of course I only weigh myself completely naked, after I've peed - so I knew this number was as good as it was going to get! There was no one in the bathroom but me (thank God my husband didn't see that dreadful number!), and a million thoughts quickly flooded my mind, such as "I wonder how much XXXXX eats a day?" and "well, I guess I won't be fitting into my 'skinny jeans' today". As I stood on the scale a few moments longer and pondered my naked reflection in front of me, thankfully I recognized how far I've come. That in so many days before this day, that number has been much larger. That in fact, the number I saw that morning revealed progress.
A sweet, small smile crept across my face as I found contentment in being the weight I am.

Mehridith said...

I don't tweet - but I Facebook (is that a verb yet??). Can I get entered a second time by posting a link to this?
Hope you are well and enjoying married life!!!

Anonymous said...

I agree, when you read Shauna's writing you want to be both her friend and her student. Her advice to a 7th grade writer in Cold Tangerines seemed written for specially for me. (Thanks, Shauna.)

My bittersweet moment:
I was young, newly married and a few months into cancer treatment. My hair was coming out by the handfuls. It's a visible sign of all the loss and uncertainty you're feeling inside.

One night I was so weary but couldn't fall asleep. The hair on my pillow made it rough against my skin. I began to weep--I just wanted my fresh-washed-satiny-smooth-pillow life back.
I woke my husband and told him I couldn't stand it any longer. We were soon in our bathroom where he was drawing paths through my hair with the electric clippers. As our eyes met in the reflection of our bathroom mirror, he said, "On our wedding day, could we have ever imagined that we'd be standing here in the middle of the night and I'd be shaving your head." We laughed through our tears. It was such a tender, intimate moment. God infused that quiet middle of the night kind of sweetness into our whole walk through cancer and it's in our marriage, still.

Jessica Swanson said...

Sat in a cushy leather couch, chatted with a Chief of Staff, and then walked out of the Hill interview.

Immediately, saw a large group of energetic African-American students on their school trip to DC. Began crying.

Had just decided not to be a teacher at my inner-city school anymore because I didn't like the job of being a teacher.

Kept crying. Drove back to my school.

Seeing the visiting students reminded me that I couldn't abandon the fight to end educational inequity, even if I wasn't staying in the classroom.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Shauna's writing is very real. She doesn't pretend to have it all figured out or try to wrap everything up in a neat little package with a bow on top as far as easy Christian answers. For her, and for others of us who think deeply, the thinking and seeking to understand and processing of difficult ideas or experiences comes along with God's gift of a working brain and a need to try and understand. We struggle knowing we won't figure it all out but that trying has a lot to do with growth and becoming deeper and more real.

I could talk about many bittersweet experiences n my life. A recent one was my guide dog Maggie's thirteenth birthday. She's a fun-loving and sweet yellow Lab. She's been with me for eleven years. Our time together has included pretty much every adult first experience (last semester of college, grad school, first apartment, first job, several boyfriends, etc). She is still working and healthy, for the most part. Her birthday was a wonderful celebration and I'm so thankful that she's still with me and doing well. At the same time, I know that she is getting older and the thought of the time coming when she can no longer be my helper or companion here creates a tremendous sense of sadness. The bittersweet of it is that I love her so much and that I don't take my time with her for granted. Each day with her is a gift. We are together 24/7 in a very unique sort of relationship that most people can't begin to understand. She's such a blessing!

Carmella Broome
Author of Carmella's Quest: Taking On College Sight Unseen (Red Letter Press 2009)

Sher Sutherland said...

I had to post--even though I've already read the book and don't need a copy (ordered a dozen to pass out to friends). BUT, I needed to post a teaser for those who haven't yet read the book. The chapter entitled RAVENOUS hit me in the face, and I think maybe too many American women can relate. "...I love experiences and it makes me scared to think of missing out on anything..." Thank you Shauna. Can I be you when I grow up?

Sher Sutherland said...

I've already read BITTERSWEET so don't want to usurp someone else's chances of winning. This is just a teaser for those who haven't yet read the book. RAVENOUS hit me over the head like a hammer, and I suspect too many American women can relate. "...I love experiences, and it makes me casred to thin of missing out on anything at all."

I want to have Shauna's insight when I grow up.

Laura Ortberg Turner said...

Mehridith - Yes, consider yourself doubly entered! I'll make the big announcement tomorrow . . . Stay tuned!

Stina said...

This book is wonderful! I've stayed up far too late reading it, which is rather silly since I have a newborn that nurses every 2-3 hours at night! But really, the book is just that good that I sacrifice precious sleep for it! No need to enter into the giveaway, but I am local and would love to attend the event you're hosting. How can I invite myself?! =)

Anonymous said...

Loved Shauna's first book and hoping to have a chance to read her second....a bittersweet moment for me happened this past weekend when I dropped my son off at college for the year. I want him to grow up and become independent and I'm so proud of him and his hard work that earned the scholarship for him to attend school....but then I come home and open the bedroom door...all I see is an empty bed...and all the items in his room...each one bringing back a memory of his childhood for me...and I cry!
Fmartin816 (@) comcast (dot) net