The Back Forty
I wasn’t sure what to expect of this morning—I only know that it far exceeded what I could have imagined. My husband of 11 years woke me up with the best birthday card I’ve ever received. I was ugly crying before I even got out of bed. Then he led me around the house while I found and opened 50 gifts. Forty of them were wee baggies of candy with slips of paper describing beautiful, touching reasons he loves me. I was, still am, overwhelmed by them. It’s really amazing to see yourself the way someone who loves you see you. The rest of the gifts were treats to spoil me with. There was lots more ugly crying in my pjs and tons of bear hugs and so much freaking happiness!
I put 40 years of life behind me today. This was never going to be a big deal—until a couple of months ago when suddenly it was. Before that, I laughed about it. It sounded ridiculous. After all, I still thought I was going to be in my thirties forever, invincible, even. I look younger than forty, I think younger, I act younger, I feel younger. But as the days passed, I suddenly found myself saying “forty” with emphasis, like this: FORTY. It sounds fat and old and ominous. Rationally, I know it’s not. But now I feel left behind by time. As though it’s passing without letting me do and be and have the things I want now. It’s leaving me in the dust. I don’t want to turn 50 and never have been on a tropical vacation! I wanted things to be different by now! But there’s no point in denying it: you can’t think that the day before. It’s happening whether I’m ready or not.
Over the past few months I’ve found myself questioning everything, unable to make decisions because what I once knew and liked and saw and did no longer hold the same certainty of interest. Whereas I simply went for the things I always went for, because they were me, now I’m not so sure about what I like and want to do and where I want to be. I’m not so sure of who I am. Plus I’m…softer. Just a little. Okay, ten pounds. Anyway, I’m in the process of some major shift (with any luck it will be more than just a gravitational pull of skin). I’m changing. I FEEL IT. I’m in the back forty, that wild or rough terrain adjacent to a developed area (the fifties, seventies, nineties?). This isn’t the time I’ve got everything figured out, even after thirty years. Hang on, Self, you’re in for a bumpy ride (that will likely, hopefully? never end!).
Today, though, instead of grabbing the sick bag, I’ve decided to raise my arms in the air and yell “Yeehaw!” That might be the Jack Daniel’s talking already, but it’s also reflective of the choice I want to make. For this new time to be fun. For the bumps to be so ridiculous I’m airborne and laughing. Hello, 40, and welcome! Let’s be fabulous. Let’s write better stories than we did in our thirties—and publish. Let’s go on that tropical vacation we’ve never had. Let’s help others write better stories. Let’s read more fantastic books out of which we’ll get more because we’re older and wiser and more empathetic. Let’s just do everything, only better, because now we can. Let’s celebrate!
That’s a pretty good segue into what I want to do next. One of my favourite things to do on my birthday is give. It makes me feel good, of course, and I love the anticipation and seeing others happy. I bought my sister and my husband a gift for today. They don’t know it yet (unless they’re reading this post or I’ve given it to them already). Admittedly, neither gift was a book, but that’s only because today I didn’t want to be predictable—to them.
To you, I’m going to be somewhat predictable. First I’m going to list forty books on my shelves that I really love. They’re not all of my absolute favourites, of which I have an insane number, and they’re in no particular order. They’re just forty books I very much enjoyed for various reasons.
Second, one of you will receive a SIGNED (to you!) copy of Sarah Selecky’s superb collection This Cake is for the Party! (Finalist for the 2010 Giller, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Fiction, longlisted for the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award, CBC Bookie Award for Best New Writer, and Globe 100 Best Canadian Fiction). No, it’s not a new book, but it’s a great book. The writing is crystal clean, strong, evocative, and memorable. This book did so much for me, I can’t even tell you, not least of which was to introduce me to Sarah, a wonderful, beautiful, talented woman who has inspired me, hired me, and made me a better person. I’m celebrating with her cake.
To win: comment and tell me your best birthday ever. I’ll pick one of you and let you know you won. And then I’ll send you the book. (If you’d like to comment without entering the contest, you can! Simply let me know you don’t want to enter.)
Thank you all for reading and supporting and encouraging and sharing the book love!
Forty Books I Recommend
- The Carnivore, by Mark Sinnet (ECW Press)
- The End of the Alphabet, by C.S. Richardson (Anchor Canada)
- Half-Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan (Thomas Allen)
- The Bear, by Claire Cameron (Doubleday Canada)
- A Blessed Snarl, by Samual Thomas Martin (Breakwater Books)
- Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine (Europa Editions)
- Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh (Simon and Schuster)
- Ablutions, by Patrick deWitt (Anansi Press)
- Sandra Beck, by John Lavery (Anansi Press)
- Dead Politician’s Society, by Robin Spano (ECW Press)
- The House on Sugarbush Lane, by Méira Cook (Enfield and Wizenty)
- On Sal Mal Lane, by Ru Freeman (Anansi International)
- The Kept, by James Scott (HarperCollins)
- The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride (Riverhead Books)
- The Outlaw Album, by Daniel Woodrell (short stories) (Little, Brown)
- A Land More Kind than Home, by Wiley Cash (William Morrow)
- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce (Anchor Canada)
- The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly (Simon & Schuster)
- The Beggar’s Garden, by Michael Christie (short stories) (HarperCollins)
- Sleeping Funny, by Miranda Hill (short stories) (Anchor Canada)
- Mad Hope, by Heather Birrell (short stories) (Coach House)
- Clear Skies, No Wind, 100% Visibility, by Théodora Armstrong (short stories) (Anansi)
- Radio Belly, by Buffy Cram (short stories) (Douglas & McIntyre)
- Bird Eat Bird, by Katrina Best (short stories) (Insomniac Press)
- The Divinity Gene, by Matthew Trafford (short stories) (Douglas & McIntyre)
- A Matter of Life and Death or Something, by Ben Stephenson (Douglas & McIntyre)
- And Also Sharks, by Jessica Westhead (short stories) (Cormorant)
- All We Want is Everything, by Andrew F. Sullivan (short stories) (Arbeiter Ring Pub)
- The Miracles of Ordinary Men, by Amanda Leduc (ECW Press)
- Once You Break a Knuckle, by D.W. Wilson (short stories) (Penguin Canada)
- Bull Head, by John Vigna (short stories) (Arsenal Pulp Press)
- Pilgrims, by Elizabeth Gilbert (short stories) (Penguin)
- I Want to Show You More, by Jamie Quatro (short stories) (Grove Press)
- Tenth of December, by George Saunders (short stories) (Random House)
- We Live in Water, by Jess Walter (short stories) (Harper Perennial)
- How to Get Along with Women, by Elisabeth de Mariaffi (short stories) (Invisible Pub)
- Welding with Children, by Tim Gautreaux (short stories) (Picador)
- The Help, by Kathleen Stockett (Berkley Trade)
- Bobcat, by Rebecca Lee (short stories) (Hamish Hamilton)
- The Odious Child, by Carolyn Black (short stories) (Nightwood Press)
Shit! Am I at forty already?? (SEE WHAT I MEAN?)
There are so many I missed. There may be some overlap but you can check my reviews page, and also always feel free to ask me for recommendations. I have SO MANY to recommend beyond these forty here.
Thank you again, everyone, for reading! I look forward to your b-day stories!