Book Review: The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg

yearofpleasures2Title: The Year of Pleasures
Author: Elizabeth Berg
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: Random House
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my personal library
First line: I had been right to want to drive to the Midwest, taking only the back roads.

How have I never read Elizabeth Berg before? Her name has been on my radar for some time, but The Year of Pleasures is the first of her books that I’ve read. It most certainly will not be the last.

Betta Nolan is a new widow. Her husband, John, has died of cancer, and she decides to honor the plans that they had made to drive into the Midwest, find a small town, and buy a house. Betta does all of those things, looking for a new start and a place to mourn the loss of her husband and her marriage. As Betta traverses the landscape of a new town and fresh grief, she discovers the little pleasures that happen every day, even while her heart is hurting. She learns that reaching out to others – the neighbor boy, a young college student, a crotchety old lady – can help start the process of healing, and that the old friends she had let go because of the insular nature of her marriage are still there and still necessary.

I enjoyed the experience of reading this book so much that for a day after finishing, I kept wanting to pick it up and read some more. Then I remembered I’d already finished, and I was sad. Not many books make me feel like that. The plot was simple, there weren’t any surprises, and yet I’d find myself re-reading sentences and paragraphs simply to savor the beauty of them. Here are a couple that I don’t want to forget:

Some mornings when I read the newspaper, I wanted to weep or pound my fists on the table in frustration. Some mornings I actually did one or the other. But museums offered up the other side of humanity: the glory and the grace….The air around me was cool and quiet and to my mind fragrant – a mix of stone and paper and something not quite incense but close to it. I felt as though I were in a spontaneously created church, truer for its being non-denominational.

Outside, it had begun to snow: tiny flakes that made it look like the earth was being salted. Tomorrow I would need to buy a new shovel – the one John had used was too heavy for me. He’d appreciated hard manual labor, saying he liked to do work that was outside his head, for a change. I liked reading a good novel while he cleared the walks, popping up now and then to look out the window and see how he was progressing. That was my contribution. Of course, I had reciprocated – bringing him dinner on a tray when the Sox were playing an important game. Sewing on buttons for him. Finding things he insisted weren’t there when they were actually right before him. I wasn’t sure Lorraine and others like her – ones who were so despairing of marriage, ones who were so sure their expectations could never be met – understood that it was these small moments of caretaking that meant the most, that forged the real relationship. The way one pulled the blankets over the sleeping other, the way one prepared a snack for oneself but made enough to share. Such moments made for the team of two, which made for one’s sword and shield.

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23 Responses to Book Review: The Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg

  1. Wendy says:

    Carrie, I am so glad you’ve discovered Berg – all her books are like this. I consider them comfort reads, but they also capture the essence of what makes us human. My favorite of hers is Talk Before Sleep…a beautiful book.
    .-= Wendy´s last blog ..Sunday Salon – February 28, 2010 =-.

  2. Jo-Jo says:

    I have read a couple of Berg’s books and I agree with your assessment. They are simple but yet so full of life lessons. I’m glad you liked it…I think I have this one on my shelf so I guess I will have to get to it soon.
    .-= Jo-Jo´s last blog ..Winners of Black Hills!!! =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Jo-Jo – I love discovering a new author who is wonderful and knowing I have their back titles to catch up on!

  3. softdrink says:

    I haven’t read any of her books, but she is on the “someday” list.
    .-= softdrink´s last blog ..Random chatter =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Fizzy – I find more and more than when I get to authors on the someday list, I wish I hadn’t waited!

  4. amy s. says:

    It is pretty amazing you’ve never read anything by Berg. Easy reading but enjoyable.
    .-= amy s.´s last blog ..Women’s History Month: My Alma Mater =-.

  5. Andreea says:

    Hey there, I just wanted to let you know that I am sorry that I couldn’t visit your blog lately. I had my baby in November and I’ve been trying to catch up with everyone now. I hope I can visit your blog from time to time whenever my little girl allows me to do so.
    .-= Andreea´s last blog ..Iola Leroy (or Shadows Uplifted) – Published in 1892 =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Andreea – well, you have a good reason for less blogging time! Congrats. :)

  6. Melissa
    Twitter: avidreader12
    says:

    This has been on by TBR for too long. Thanks for the great review, now I’m going to have to get to it sooner.
    .-= Melissa´s last blog ..Book Reviews =-.

  7. Jennifer says:

    Definitely want to read this now. Great review. Loved the quotes you shared.
    .-= Jennifer´s last blog ..Short Story Sensation: Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime by Oscar Wilde =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Jennifer – there were so many wonderful passages in this book!

  8. heidenkind says:

    I haven’t read many books that made sad to be finished with them, either! That part of your review made me smile. :)

    Berg’s name sounds familiar, but I can’t think of anything else she’s written.
    .-= heidenkind´s last blog ..North & South =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Tasha – she’s written a bunch, and they all seem different – I’m going to look for some on audio.

  9. Belle
    Twitter: msbookish
    says:

    The Year of Pleasures is one of my favorite Berg books. I really enjoy her writing style, and I always come away from her books feeling so empowered. I’m so glad you liked this!
    .-= Belle´s last blog ..A Rambly Random Wednesday =-.

  10. Vasilly
    Twitter: Vasilly
    says:

    This has been sitting on my bookshelf for at least a year now. I’ve been wanting to read it just for the title but haven’t picked it up. I definitely will now. You wrote a great review!
    .-= Vasilly´s last blog ..Library Loot: The Blame Game =-.

  11. I won’t tell you how long I’ve had a copy of this book on my shelf. Elizabeth Berg was recommended to me years ago and so I bought a copy of this books after hearing how good it was. One of these days I will get to it. Of course, after reading your great review, I’m tempted to make that sooner than later. I am glad you enjoyed it, Carrie.
    .-= Literary Feline´s last blog ..Review: The Fairest Portion of the Globe by Frances Hunter =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Wendy – You said, “was recommended to me years ago and so I bought a copy of this books after hearing how good it was. One of these days I will get to it.” Do you know how many books i have on my shelf of which I could say the same thing? :)

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