New Read: Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

“What to read next…” Finger trailing along the books stacked neatly on my, now over-flowing, TBR shelf. I’ve been feeling a bit “old” since my 50th birthday last month, and being sick put my attitude further down the negativity road. Old Baggage feels apropos.

old baggage book cover

I’ll tell you one strange side-effect of my bout with covid. I got angry about it. At first it was depression. The timing of it caused us all to have to postpone our Christmas celebration and that’s just sad. But my son reminded me that life is full of disappointments and sadness, but we don’t die from them. Nothing is wrong, needing to be fixed. It just is. Besides, we were ALL together on Thanksgiving. Maybe asking for two perfect holidays in a row was too much!

I perked up at that, but then the next day became irrationally angry. About what? My body failing me for too long. I take care of you! I gave you plenty of rest! Now heal up and let’s get going, dammit! Crazy, right? My husband felt the same way. Will we be sick and tired FOREVER?! No. It was only one week of sick and one week of very tired. Not bad for two over-the-hill peeps battling a newly evolved virus. We’re still alive and ready to keep going! This week I feel much differently, more like a prize-fighter that kicked some serious butt.

But I digress.

I heard an interview on BBC Book Club with the author Lissa Evans back in September. I wrote about it on a Podcast Roundup.

“Suffragettes and old women friends! Yes, please! This one is a comedy, too. Bonus. What do you do when you’ve accomplished your goals and now you must move on? My ears perked up when I heard the author say, “The character had been treading water since they got the vote for women and was still trying to find her new thing.” Hey! That’s a bit like me!”

That’s what I wrote in my journal.

So, let’s talk about the word “comedy” for a moment, because on the cover of the book it says, “moving, funny…  A delight to read from start to finish.” I’ve heard that the English have a different sense of humor, but this is so strange. So far, this book does have some funny interactions between characters, but I wouldn’t describe the book as funny at all. Beautiful, heart-wrenching at times, inciteful, full of strong and intelligent female characters, but funny? I don’t think so.

Yesterday, during the rain storm, the power went out for most of the day. Since I had started reading Old Baggage before the sun came up, and was falling in love with it, I decided to spend my time reading instead of doing my housework. It just felt right. And today I’m nearly done with it. If I had tried just a little bit harder, I could have finished it in a day.

But now I’m sitting here wondering how to convey how beautiful a book it is. What can I quote? How do I describe the characters and plot? Hmm…

How about this? I’ll do like I usually do, tell you how much I loved the book in general and assume you can look up descriptions and reviews yourself, and then pull a few of my favorite quotes and express to you what they brought up to my mind. That’s my favorite thing to do here!

Here’s the first one, but I think this will be a two or three post book, even though I read it all at once!

“Moodiness has always baffled her – the way that it place onus on the other person to gauge which breeze of circumstance was the cause of this particular weathercock twirl. If one were cross about something, then one should simply say so; conversation should not be a guessing game.”

I’m one of those moody people. In the past, I’ve used it as a weapon. If you can’t guess what I’m upset about, or even notice that I am upset and not come fawning on me to make me happy, why are we even here!? You clearly don’t care at all. Yeah… not fun. These days, I’m still moody. Who isn’t? But I’ve changed the way I use it. Yes, you’re on my nerves at the moment, but it has nothing really to do with you, so I’ll withdraw a bit and self-sooth. If the issue is still a problem for me once I take some time, then I bring it up in conversation and attempt to resolve it. It’s much nicer way to live with other humans.

BUT, Mattie, sometimes people just need space, not conversation, and The Flea is trying her best to get along with you. I think Mattie needs to think a little bit more about others instead of herself sometimes.

“…he had been as much a brother to her as Stephen or Angus – this being one of the reasons (and the one she had chosen to give him) why she had refused his proposals. For she would never have wanted him to know that, for her, a husband would have required not only steadfast kindliness but actual brilliance, or a rare magnetism; her brothers has spoiled her for more ordinary men. And neither did she choose to share the reason that underpinned it all – a kind of horror at the idea of standing still, of choosing a single existence, as if life were a sprint across quicksand and stasis meant a slow extinction.”

My dear, you only get a single existence, no matter what life you choose: married or single, mother or career, for or not-for profit. This list goes on and on.

And why is it that so many women believe married with children is a stand-still? Remaining married for 23 years has been the challenge of a lifetime, and we’re still working at it. And children? Raising my children changed me in ways I didn’t know were possible. I am the person I am today because of my choices in the past, everyone is.

This book is full of some very powerful feminist thoughts and ideas, things I’ve never even considered, probably because of the work they did back then. The world has changed. There are many things I don’t have to deal with like they did (birth control is a BIG one), and there are many things I still have to deal with as a woman. Some of those things are cultural and some are simply biological. Women are different than men, and I believe we should be complementing each other as partners in the world, not as adversaries.

I’d like to write more about feminism, but I’ll have to collect my thoughts a bit. Besides, this is getting a tad long. Tomorrow, I’ll focus on quotes that triggered my inner feminist. I know you’ll love that!

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