Tag Archives: Self-Help

Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “Learning All the Time” & Others by John Holt

carefree child enjoyment field
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John Holt is a homeschooling and alternative education advocate who is well-known in that community. He promotes the idea of “unschooling,” which is a hands-off way of teaching children that involves providing plenty of time, space and opportunities to learn, but not much direct teaching. Learning All the Time is just one of his written offerings, most of which make the same basic points.

I love John Holt, and I love his sweet perspective on children, and also, as a mother, I know that there is more to the story.

Read this book because you want a beautiful, caring, perspective-shifting understanding of how homeschooling can benefit children.

Key Takeaways

  • In these and other books, educator John Holt critically examines the shortcomings of traditional education and highlights the ways in which it can stifle children’s natural desire to learn. He argues that children often fail to thrive academically because they are subjected to rigid curricula, excessive testing, and a lack of autonomy in their learning process. He believed that children learn best in an environment that, by contrast, nurtures their natural curiosity and provides opportunities for self-directed learning.
  • Holt writes about the problems and pitfalls of teaching, saying, “Anytime that, without being invited, without being asked, we try to teach somebody else something, we convey to that person, whether we know it or not, a double message … The first part of the message is: I am teaching you something important, but you’re not smart enough to see how important it is. Unless I teach it to you, you’d probably never bother to find out. The second message is: What I’m teaching you is so difficult that, if I didn’t teach it to you, you couldn’t learn it.”
  • Kids don’t need, and shouldn’t receive, an excessive amount of praise. About a praise-happy school he once taught at, the author writes, “By the time I came to know them in the fifth grade, all but a few of the children were so totally dependent on continued adult approval that they were terrified of not getting it, terrified of making mistakes.”
  • The best way to teach a child to read is: don’t. Let them be exposed to books until they show interest, then hold them while they work through teaching themselves. Many reading rules are too often broken to be worth teaching. Sometimes, though, moving a finger under words while reading to kids supports their learning.
  • For learning times tables, make a grid and let the child fill it in at their own pace, without correcting it. Let them correct it later as they realize how the puzzle can be completed. Keep the grid on the fridge and have them do it over and over.
  • “Babies do not learn in order to please us, but because it’s their instinct and nature to want to find out about the world. If we praise them in everything they do, after a while they are going to start learning, doing things, just to please us, the next step so that they are going to become worried about not pleasing us … What children want and need from us is thoughtful attention. They want us to notice them and pay some kind of attention to what they do, to take them seriously, to trust and respect them as human beings. They want courtesy and politeness, but they don’t need much praise.”

About the Author

John Holt (1923-1985) was an American educator, author, and advocate for educational reform. He is best known for his progressive views on education and for his influential writings on homeschooling and unschooling. Holt’s books, including How Children Fail, How Children Learn, Teach Your Own and Learning All the Time continue to be influential resources for homeschooling families and educators seeking alternative approaches to education.

Holt began his career as a schoolteacher but became disillusioned with traditional education methods. He believed that the traditional schooling system hindered children’s natural love for learning and creativity. Holt advocated for a more child-centered approach to education, emphasizing the importance of individualized learning and allowing children to pursue their interests and curiosities.

John Holt’s work has inspired generations of parents, educators, and researchers to question traditional educational practices and explore alternative methods that prioritize the needs and interests of individual learners.


Can’t quite get to all the nonfiction and self-help books that interest you? Read Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday here.

Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “Love Warrior” and “Carry On, Warrior” by Glennon Doyle

heart hand on shallow focus lens
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So many quotable quotes. Just the most quotable memoirist … ever. That’s author Glennon Doyle, and lots of women are secretly in love with her. See what I’m talking about in her first two books, Love Warrior: A Memoir and Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life. Then move on to Untamed, where things get even more juicy.

Key Quotes from “Love Warrior”

  • “My mom’s voice quivers as she and my dad ask the usual questions: Why do you keep doing this to us? Why do you keep lying? Do you even love us? I sit on the couch and I try to receive their questions, but I’m a catcher without a mitt. My face is neutral, but the part of my heart that’s not spoiled is aching. I do love them. I love them and I love my sister and I love my friends. I think I love my people more than normal people love their people. My love is so overwhelming and terrifying and uncomfortable and complicated that I need to hide from it. Life and love simply ask too much of me. Everything hurts. I don’t know how people can just let it all hurt so much. I am just not up for all this hurting. I have to do whatever it takes not to feel the hurt.”
  • “I sit and stare at my hands and I remember a story I saw on the news about a woman who had a stroke and lost all her language overnight. When she woke up, her mind functioned perfectly, but she couldn’t speak. So she just lay there and tried to use her eyes to communicate her terror about being trapped inside herself. Her family couldn’t translate what her eyes were saying. They thought she was brain-dead. It’s like that for me, too. I’m in here. I am good on the inside. I have things to say. I need help getting out. I do love you. My secret is that I’m good in here. I am not heart-dead. This is a secret that no one knows but me.”
  • “We begin to understand that to coparent is to one day look up and notice that you are on a roller coaster with another human being. You are in the same car, strapped down side by side and you can never, ever get off. There will never be another moment in your lives when your hearts don’t rise and fall together, when your minds don’t race and panic together, when your stomachs don’t churn in tandem, when you stop seeing huge hills emerge in the distance and simultaneously grab the side of the car and hold on tight. No one except for the one strapped down beside you will ever understand the particular thrills and terrors of your ride.”
  • “As we walk out into the sun, Craig says, ‘Is it going to be okay? He’s going to be okay, right?’ I look at him and understand that when your coaster partner gets scared you must quickly hide your own fear. You can’t panic at the same time. You must take turns. I grab Craig’s arm, hold tight, and say, ‘Yes. Absolutely. It’s all going to be okay. He is going to be amazing. This is just part of our ride.'”
  • “I do know what to do, just never more than one moment at a time. I stop explaining myself, because I learn that making decisions is never about doing the right thing or the wrong thing. It’s about doing the precise thing. The precise thing is always incredibly personal and often makes no sense to anyone else.”
  • “Just as an experiment, what if—just for a week—you tried on the hypothesis that Craig is a deeply flawed but good man who loves you and is working hard to keep you? If you decide he’s that man, you might find proof to back it up.”
  • “Allison tells me to do something with my legs, ‘Settle into Warrior Two, stand firm, ground your legs and you won’t fall; balance is created by equal forces pressing in on an object.’ I stand there, pressing my legs together, and it hits me: Wait, what? I’ve been trying to find my balance by eliminating pressure from my life. The demands of work, friendship, and family all felt so heavy. But what if all this pressure isn’t what’s throwing me off, but what’s holding me steady? What if pressure is just love and love is what keeps me anchored? Complete shift. My body is teaching my mind.”
  • “We use bodies and drugs and food to try to end our loneliness, because we don’t understand that we’re lonely down here because we are supposed to be lonely. Because we’re in pieces. To be human is to be incomplete and constantly yearning for reunion. Some reunions just require a long, kind patience.”
  • “I tell them that I’m finally proud of who I am. I understand now that I’m not a mess but a deeply feeling person in a messy world. I explain that now, when someone asks me why I cry so often, I say, ‘For the same reason I laugh so often—because I’m paying attention.’ I tell them that we can choose to be perfect and admired or to be real and loved. We must decide. If we choose to be perfect and admired, we must send our representatives out to live our lives. If we choose to be real and loved, we must send out our true, tender selves.”
  • “I’d been angry and ashamed because my marriage was so far from perfect. But perfect just means: works exactly the way it is designed to work. If marriage is an institution designed to nurture the growth of two people—then, in our own broken way, our marriage is perfect.”

Key Quotes from “Carry On, Warrior”

  • “Life is a quest to find an unfindable thing. This is the problem. Life is a bit of a setup. We are put here needing something that doesn’t exist here. And that, as my friend Adrianne says, is some bullshit.”
  • “So last week, I snuggled in bed with Chase and told him all about the embarrassing, sad, scary little things that happened to me in elementary school. I told him that I never gave Bubba and Tisha a chance to help me, because I kept my worries in my heart. And by keeping my worries secret, they became problems. I explained to Chase that every night, he and I were going to lie in bed together and try to remember any sadness or worries that he had during the day. I told him that we were going to talk about them and then ask God to help us with them. Then he’d be able to relax and sleep soundly, knowing that God and Mommy and Daddy were on it.” 
  • “Also, there’s an older girl on the bus who’s a bit of a bully, and Chase is scared of her. I told him that on Monday, his job was to find out what color her eyes were. That’s all. Just find out what color her eyes are, Chase. Chase came home yesterday and said, ‘MOM! Her eyes are BLUE! But listen, while I was looking at her eyes to find out what color they are for you, she quit her mean face and looked away! And she didn’t look at me mean the rest of the bus ride! And then on the way home, she didn’t look at me at all! She just passed right by!’ Yep. Always look them in the eye, buddy. Mean can’t handle the truth.”
  • “I think this worry talk is a ritual worth keeping. Because if we empty our hearts every night, they won’t get too heavy or cluttered. Our hearts will stay light and open with lots of room for good new things to come.”
  • “I wanted so badly to tell Chase that it was okay, that we would replace Jacob with a new fish, a bigger fish, a whole school of fish, but I didn’t. This was his first experience with death, and I wouldn’t suggest to him that death can be cheated through replacement. I wouldn’t teach him that pain should be avoided, dodged, or danced around. He needed to learn that death is worthy of grief because it’s final, for now. So we just sat on his bottom bunk and held each other tight.”
  • “Sometimes the only way to transcend grief is to help someone littler transcend hers. I stepped gratefully through the door of hope that Chase had opened for us. I had been waiting for his permission, because the one closest to the departed has to be the first to step from despair to hope. Nobody else is allowed to jump ahead and shove open the door. That’s the rule.”
  • “Every single child is gifted. And every child has challenges. It’s just that in the educational system, some gifts and challenges are harder to see. And teachers are working on this problem. Lots of schools are trying to find ways to make all children’s gifts visible and celebrated. And as parents, we can help. We can help our kids who struggle in school believe that they’re okay. It’s just that there’s only one way to help them. And it’s hard. We have to actually believe that our kids are okay. I know. Tough. But it can be done. We can start believing by erasing the idea that education is a race. It’s not. Education is like Christmas. We’re all just opening our gifts, one at a time.”
  • “Because here’s what I believe: a child can survive a teacher or other children accidentally suggesting that he’s not okay, as long as when he comes home, he looks at his mama and knows by her face that he really is okay … In the end, a child will call the rest of the world liars and believe his mama.”
  • “Even though I feel like a lost cause in regard to this confidence/humility issue, I do think it’s an important thing to explore. Because if we are humble without confidence, we miss the opportunity to become what we want to be when we grow up. And if we are confident without humility, we miss out on becoming who we want to be when we grow up.”
  • “Robin P. Williams said, ‘You’re only given a spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.’ And maybe the world needs some crazy love. And I am embracing my spark of madness. Fanning it, even. And I’m bowing. And something’s happening because of it. It’s working. I’m starting to see God everywhere. It’s like that little bow of my head snaps me out of the horrible trance I allow myself to get lulled into each day, in which I forget that everything and everyone is magic. Including me. Namaste.”

About the Author

Glennon Doyle is an American author, speaker, and activist known for her honest and vulnerable writing on topics such as motherhood, faith, mental health, and feminism. Doyle began her career as a blogger, gaining a following through her blog, Momastery. Her writing resonated with readers as she openly shared her struggles, triumphs, and journey of self-discovery. She gained widespread attention with her memoirs Love Warrior and Carry On, Warrior. In these books, she explores her experiences with addiction, marriage, motherhood, and spirituality, offering readers inspiration and encouragement to embrace their authentic selves.

In addition to her books, Doyle is a sought-after speaker and has given TED Talks that have garnered millions of views. She is an advocate for various social causes, including women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights, and mental health awareness.


Can’t quite get to all the nonfiction and self-help books that interest you? Read Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday here.

Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “Love Is Never Enough” by Aaron Beck

Image from the law of attraction book list featuring all major law of attraction authors at lawofattractionproject.com

Aaron Beck isn’t just another self-help writer; he is one of the most influential minds in modern psychology. He created cognitive therapy, one of the most well-regarded and proven therapy techniques, and while most of his books are written for psychologists, this one is a gift to the masses. Love Is Never Enough: How Couples Can Overcome Misunderstanding outlines cognitive therapy and applies it to one of our most important areas of life: our partnerships. It’s perhaps one of the best books on marriage out there–and could help you in other aspects of life, too.

Key Takeaways

  • Love Is Never Enough applies cognitive therapy to relationship issues, showing how cognitive distortions and other negative assumptions can derail a relationship.
  • “One of the main reasons we argue with our spouses is that we misunderstand them and judge them unfairly,” Beck writes. “We do this because of our cognitive distortions–the flaws in our logic that occur frequently when we’re upset.” These distortions include: mind reading, framing, overgeneralizations, labeling, defensiveness, tunnel vision, catastrophizing (making a small issue into a big one), personalization, negative bias, all-or-nothing thinking, either-or thinking and more.
  • There are three main steps to changing your story about your partner. “Step One: Recognize and correct your automatic thoughts. Listen to your thoughts about your mate and determine what your thought spiral is. Step Two: Test your predictions. Step Three: Reframe your perspective of your mate.”
  • Start by noticing any automatic thoughts you might regularly have about your partner–thoughts like “He is so uncaring.” “Examine them and look for supporting evidence, contradictory evidence, alternative explanations, and more logical inferences … Ask: What is the evidence in favor of my interpretation? What evidence is there contrary to my interpretation? Does it logically follow from my spouse’s actions that my spouse has the motive that I assign to him or her? Is there an alternative explanation? What evidence is there on the other side? Have there been times, recently, when my spouse has been friendly or loving?”
  • The cognitive distortion of personalization is what happens when you consider yourself the cause of your spouse’s behavior despite the fact that it has nothing to do with you. An example of this type of thinking is: “She’s in a bad mood. It must be because she’s angry at me.”
  • Labeling is another cognitive distortion. This is what happens when you label someone’s entire character negatively rather than labeling their behavior or actions negatively. This often involves name calling. Some examples of this are: “She’s a weakling because he did not ask for a raise.” “He’s a nag because she wants me to quit drinking.” “He’s a slob because he doesn’t pick up his clothes.” People also may use the same type of flawed thinking in evaluating themselves as well, as in: “I never do anything properly. I always antagonize people. I’m a failure.”
  • All-or-nothing thinking will also get you in trouble in your relationship. “If your spouse is less loving than usual, for example, you might conclude that he or she no longer loves you … There is either total love or total rejection, total consideration or total inconsideration—nothing in between.” Avoid this trap by reminding yourself that what’s happening is what’s happening now and it likely hasn’t and won’t happen forever.
  • In particularly difficult moments, snowballing thoughts often occur. An example of this distortion is as follows: “Why is he silent? He must be angry at me. I must have done something to offend him. He will continue to be angry at me. He is always angry at me. I always offend people. Nobody will ever like me. I will always be alone.”
  • Mind reading is dangerous, too. That’s when we make assumptions about our partner’s intentions instead of staying curious and open-minded.
  • Overgeneralization occurs when a partner uses “always” or “never” statements. Try using the word “sometimes” instead, and see if your partner becomes less defensive.
  • Tunnel vision, or screening, occurs when one negative detail is selected at the expense of the larger experience. This happens when after a party a couple attends together, one partner points out the one thing they didn’t like about their partner’s behavior in the car on the way home.
  • Taken together, these and other cognitive distortions can lead to the formation of a negative cognitive set: an overall negative perspective of your partner. Clearly, this is not ideal. The goal of questioning your assumptions and distortions and changing your thinking about your partner is to build a new overall perspective of them–one that is fair but also positive. With this change, fewer misunderstandings will occur. And cognitive changes can be made by just one partner will greatly affect both people’s perspectives of each other and of the relationship, even if the second partner doesn’t do cognitive therapy exercises themselves.
  • Creating a new perspective on your partner is the difference between reacting to your partner being late with the internal response, “Something may have happened to her” rather than, “If she really cared about my feelings, he would be on time.”
  • The book also discusses some differences between genders in communication patterns, saying that women seem to be more likely to ask personal questions, to use encouraging utterances during a conversation and to respond more fully and enthusiastically to their partner. On the other hand, they might be less likely to question their partner or argue for a different perspective. They might value getting along over getting ahead.

About the Author

Aaron Beck is an American psychiatrist and psychotherapist who helped pioneer the field of cognitive therapy. He developed cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in the 1960s as a result of his research and clinical work. He proposed that our thoughts, beliefs, and interpretations of events significantly impact our emotions and behaviors. Beck’s cognitive therapy focuses on identifying and challenging negative or distorted thoughts and replacing them with more realistic and adaptive thinking patterns.

His approach to therapy has been widely influential and has proven effective in the treatment of various mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders. Beck’s work has expanded beyond therapy and has been applied to areas such as stress management, relationship issues, and personal growth.

Beck has authored numerous books on cognitive therapy, including Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders and Prisoners of Hate: The Cognitive Basis of Anger, Hostility, and Violence. He has also received several prestigious awards for his contributions to the field, including the Lasker Award for Clinical Medical Research.


Can’t quite get to all the nonfiction and self-help books that interest you? Read Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday here.

Get “The Naked House: Five Principles for a Minimalist Home” Today

The solution is almost always fewer things.

That’s the Naked House philosophy in a nutshell, though the importance of top-notch organization (a place for everything and everything in its place), design unity, cleanliness and quality round out this book’s description of the most desirable, peaceful home in which to live.

With a tongue-in-cheek, personal style, and featuring interviews with minimalist rock stars, The Naked House: Five Principles for a Minimalist Home is an inspiring but not-too-serious primer on cleaning, organizing and reducing clutter—and on changing the way you view the purpose and soul of your home.

With over 150 Amazon reviews, The Naked House is my best-selling book. Get your copy at Amazon or at your online retailer of choice.

Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande

grayscale photo of a coffin

To date, I’ve discussed Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End at least three separate times at at least three separate parties. Author and doctor Atul Gawande is everyone’s favorite author-doctor right now, and for good reason: he takes on a subject that no one likes to discuss but that everyone will one day face, offering valuable and practical advice. Two thumbs and two big toes up. (Questionably tasteful imagery intended.)

Key Takeaways

  • Being Mortal’s main premise: We need to address end-of-life issues openly–preferably before the end of one’s life. Doctors shy away from notifying their patients about life expectancy, even (sadly) to the point of dishonesty at times. Families, similarly, don’t always want to face these realities honestly. And it doesn’t help that there’s always some new surgery, drug or other treatment to try.
  • Hospice is underrated, undervalued and underutilized. It shouldn’t be. Palliative care leads to more peaceful deaths.
  • Contrary to the opinions of some, old age can be a meaningful time of life. Older people seem to have better health outcomes when they have a greater sense of control over their environment and activities. The problem is, this takes creative problem-solving, and sometimes, safety is deprioritized in favor of independence.
  • The author discussed the history of retirement and assisted living facilities and how these homes can improve.
  • Another helpful section of the book goes into detail about the physical changes old age inevitably brings. It makes the point that the admirable character we all seem to believe in–the mentally and physically vibrant octagenarian who seems as healthy as a 40-year-old–is a cultural myth. The body breaks down in unpreventable ways, and when we deny this reality, our treatment of the elderly suffers, and our expectations of ourselves are often unrealistic. “Eventually, one too many joints are damaged, one too many arteries calcify. There are no more backups. We wear down until we can’t wear down anymore. It happens in a bewildering array of ways …” Gawande writes.
  • Sometimes, less medical intervention is more. Some treatments do more harm than good, and it’s important to ask all the right questions and be fully informed.
  • The author addresses doctors in the book as well, advising them on how to best approach end-of-life concerns. His description of the difficulty of treating senior citizens, with their multiplicity of small and large concerns, is admirably done.
  • In conclusion, the author writes, “… People who had substantive discussions with their doctor about their end-of-life preferences were far more likely to die at peace and in control of their situation and to spare their family anguish.”

About the Author

Atul Gawande is an American surgeon, writer, and public health researcher. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in biology and political science from Stanford University, his medical degree from Harvard Medical School, and completed his surgical residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. He is a practicing general and endocrine surgeon and has held positions at prominent institutions such as Harvard Medical School and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In addition to his medical career, Gawande is widely acclaimed for his compelling and thought-provoking writing. His articles and essays have appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Lancet. He has also authored several influential books, including Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science, Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, and Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. In these works, he combines personal anecdotes, rigorous research, and insights from his medical career to shed light on the successes and failures of modern medicine and to advocate for improvements in patient care.


Can’t quite get to all the nonfiction and self-help books that interest you? Read Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday here.

Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “Telling Yourself the Truth” by William Backus and Marie Chapian

a woman in a gay pride shirt covering her mouth
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Telling Yourself the Truth: Find Your Way Out of Depression, Anxiety, Fear, Anger, and Other Common Problems by Applying the Principles of Misbelief Therapy by William Backus and Marie Chapian was my introduction to cognitive therapy. At the time, I didn’t realize it; I thought I was reading about a uniquely Christian approach to overcoming depression. It helped me greatly at a time I believed therapy was less effective than religion, and for that, it holds a place in my heart forever. It was what was needed.

Read this book if you need a simple, inspiring introduction to cognitive therapy–one that doesn’t involve worksheets or lengthy explanations of common cognitive distortions. Also read it if you appreciate the biblical references.

Key Takeaways

  • Telling Yourself the Truth is a book is about just that: learning how to balance your long-held negative stories with more realistic, logical truths. The authors call this “Misbelief Therapy” and posit that much of one’s low mood is related to the misbeliefs they have about the world and about themselves.
  • Question your self-talk, they preach in this work. Sweep away your misbeliefs by consistently reminding yourself of larger truths that can bring peace. These truths might include: “God loves me and forgives me,” “Life has purpose” and many more.
  • An example the authors provide is that of Jerry, who changed his self-talk from “I’m a failure and no good” to “The marriage failed, but I am deeply loved by God.”
  • The authors recommend relentlessly committing onesself to the new story, no matter how the story feels to you, until you are able to fully believe the new, more objective truth.
  • On self-esteem, the authors quote psychiatrist Willard Gaylin, who said, “A denigrated self-image is a tar baby. The more we play with it, embrace it, the more bound we are to it.” Don’t play with negative thoughts about yourself. Leave them on the curb and walk away.
  • It can be hard to retrain our beliefs, say the authors: “Misbeliefs generally appear as truth to the person repeating them to himself. They might even seem to be true to an untrained counselor. That is partly because they often do contain some shred of truth, and partly because the sufferer has never examined or questioned these erroneous assumptions.”
  • It’s important to question the assumptions that lie underneath our negative thoughts, to challenge the basic truths we’ve long held.
  • On relationships, the authors write, “Often, but not always, relationships change dramatically when one person drops the misbeliefs that generate and perpetuate bitterness and anger. Always the person who works to change misbeliefs will benefit even if the other person does not change.”
  • A final tip: Anger isn’t something anyone else makes you feel. “One psychologist tells his patients that the truthful statement to make when you’re angry is, ‘I make myself angry.’”

About the Authors

William Backus was a licensed psychologist and the founder of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF). He held a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Minnesota and was an advocate for integrating biblical principles with psychological understanding. Backus believed in the power of faith in helping individuals overcome emotional and psychological struggles. He authored and co-authored several books, including Telling Yourself the Truth and What Your Counselor Never Told You, which provide practical guidance for addressing negative thoughts and emotions from a Christian perspective.

Marie Chapian, an author and speaker, has collaborated with William Backus on multiple books. She holds a Ph.D. in psychology and has written extensively on topics related to personal growth, faith, and emotional healing. Chapian’s contributions to their collaborative works often bring a compassionate and empathetic perspective to the challenges individuals face in their emotional and spiritual journeys.


Can’t quite get to all the nonfiction and self-help books that interest you? Read Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday here.

Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “Good Prose” by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd

person holding gray twist pen and white printer paper on brown wooden table
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While most writing advice books seem to focus on fiction writing, Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd delves into the subtleties of fiction’s counterpart. It’s a genre I particularly appreciate, as evidenced by this blog series. Some of their advice goes against the writing wisdom we’ve heard over and over, and it’s nice to hear a different perspective.

Read this book to peek under the hood of how narrative nonfiction works, and to hone your ability to write a better article or essay–or even a blog post or written argument.

Key Takeaways

  • Written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of narrative nonfiction and his esteemed editor, Good Prose explores the craft of writing in this increasingly competitive genre. The book provides practical tips on structure, character development, and the importance of revision. Some of their advice is as follows.
  • In writing nonfiction, be ruthlessly honest, even in the details. This is a matter of ethics as well as of earning and keeping the reader’s trust. “We’re sticklers on fact,” write the authors. “If it happened on Tuesday, that’s when it happened, even if Thursday would make for a tidier story. (And in our experience, at least, Tuesday usually turns out to make for a more interesting story.)”
  • Your reader might not be an expert in the topic of your work, but that doesn’t mean they’re not smart. Write as if your reader is at least as intelligent as you. This will help you avoid subtle condescension. It will also help your reader trust you and your level of intelligence.
  • Don’t worry so much about hooking the reader in the first sentence, as you’ve been told to do. Quiet beginnings are often just fine. The main goal is that you don’t lose the reader right away: “You can’t make the reader love you in the first sentence or paragraph, but you can lose the reader right away. You don’t expect the doctor to cure you at once, but the doctor can surely alienate you at once, with brusqueness or bravado or indifference or confusion.”
  • You’ve also been told to have a one-sentence elevator pitch that summarizes your story. But these authors believe that this advice is also misleading at times. “I tend to worry now when a story is easily summarized and in summary sounds interesting or, even worse, exciting. This may be superstition, but I believe there is one sure dictum about judging one’s material, a cocktail party rule so to speak: it isn’t always a bad sign when a potential story doesn’t talk well.”
  • Conflict isn’t just about bad guys and good guys. The most important conflict in any story is the main character’s internal one. A good story is a “narrative of revelation.” Without revelation, the reader doesn’t see the point.
  • A story is exciting when a character has a something important at stake. “A car chase is not required.”
  • “Although many are simplistic, all rules of writing share a worthy goal: clear and vigorous prose.”
  • Another mark of good writing is the development of an individual style, one that is not copied from another writer or set of writers. “The world brims over with temptations for the writer, modish words, unexamined phrases, borrowed tones, and the habits of thought they all represent. The creation of a style often begins with a negative achievement. Only by rejecting what comes too easily can you clear a space for yourself.”
  • Pay a lot of attention to the rhythm of each sentence. Short sentences can actually feel more difficult to mentally process, while longer sentences are sometimes exhausting.
  • Be careful not to automatically imitate the breezy, casual tone that many writers take in articles and blog posts these days. “The colloquial writer seeks intimacy, but the discerning reader, resisting that friendly hand on the shoulder, that winning grin, is apt to back away.” 
  • Don’t write the way you talk. But here’s a good rule of thumb: “If you can’t imagine yourself saying something aloud, then you probably shouldn’t write it.”
  • Don’t eschew the tasks of marketing and promotion. These are now part of the writer’s job, too.
  • Enjoy the process of writing. Not just because the writing may not be received well, or received at all, but because when you are rewarded by the process, that feeling comes through your words.”
  • Smooth out the bumps. A bump isn’t something you drive over then move on from. It’s a place in the story in which events aren’t connected, that could interfere with the story’s logic.
  • “Don’t try to tell the reader how to feel.” Don’t spin it. 

About the Author

Tracy Kidder is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author known for his immersive and detailed works of narrative nonfiction. Some of his notable books include The Soul of a New Machine, Mountains Beyond Mountains, and Strength in What Remains. Kidder’s writing often delves into the lives of individuals and their experiences, tackling complex subjects with depth and empathy.

Richard Todd is an accomplished writer, editor, and teacher of writing. He has worked as an editor at The Atlantic Monthly and is known for his expertise in the field of nonfiction. Todd has collaborated with Tracy Kidder on multiple projects, bringing his editorial insight and writing skills to their joint efforts.


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Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “Breaking Free from Emotional Eating” by Geneen Roth

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Geneen Roth is a beautiful writer. Her books offer two of the things I love best: careful, flowing prose and intimate true stories. Through her books you get to know her story and her struggles—and you come out of it believing that what she did is something that you can do, too.

Overcoming Emotional Overeating is an introduction to the intuitive eating approach to diet. It’s a memoir as well as a diet book, offering practical guidelines for implementing the intuitive eating approach and Roth’s personal stories learning the same. Read it for the insight she shares, but also read it for inspiration. Changing unhelpful food-related habits is hard, and Roth can be your advocate.

Key Takeaways

Intuitive eating is the ultimate non-diet. Intuitive eaters eat anything they want, anytime they want to—as long as they’re truly hungry, and what they’re eating is what they sense their body is asking for (you know, intuitively).

Geneen Roth’s eating guidelines are as follows:

  • Eat only when you are hungry.
  • Eat sitting down in a calm environment (not in the car).
  • Eat without distractions.
  • Eat only what your body wants.
  • Eat until you are satisfied, not until you are full.
  • Eat with the intention of being in full view of others. (Meaning, don’t scarf.)
  • Eat with enjoyment.

In her inspiring, emotionally intelligent and highly vulnerable style, Roth encourages the reader to think differently about food, their body–and even how to enjoy a more meaningful, connected life.

About the Author

Geneen Roth is the author of several books on weight loss and weight management, particularly the emotional components of these challenges. She encourages people struggling with extra weight to explore their underlying emotional and psychological concerns and shares stories from her personal experiences to illustrate her points. Roth also hosts talks and workshops on the subject. Some of her notable works include When Food Is Love and Lost and Found: Unexpected Revelations about Food and Money. Her goal is to bring positive transformation in people’s mindsets around food and body image.


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Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “Your Life Is A Book” by Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann

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Your Life Is A Book: How To Craft & Publish Your Memoir by Brenda Peterson and Sarah Jane Freymann is my favorite book on memoir writing. Written by women in the publishing business, it’s heavy on the practicalities and light on the sappy “dig deep inside” stuff.

Read it because your life is a memoir, and you’re just waiting to see how it turns out before you write it.

Key Takeaways

  • My favorite quote of the book: “Start anywhere. Because no matter where you start, you’ll end up where you’re meant to be.”
  • Consider these subjects: gender, race, politics, class, culture, religion, location, food, sex. All can provide a thread for the narrative.
  • Memoir must include epiphanies that you build up to after which the person’s life is changed.
  • Read other memoirs. Educate yourself on the genre before taking it on yourself.
  • Ask: What is the story you’re telling to yourself about yourself? Write it down in a few pages, then see if that’s your main theme.
  • Write down your dreams.
  • Reread your old letters.
  • Your journal is not your memoir! This is important.
  • Here’s a helpful writing prompt: What is one scene from your life that explains your whole life? Jot down your thoughts on this and see if that’s your story.
  • Each scene has three jobs: To advance the plot, to deepen the characterization, and to engage a major theme. Don’t leave any of these three functions out.
  • Don’t start with waking up or with the weather–these are the oldest cliches in the genre. Start with a unique scene, and follow it with more unique scenes.
  • Bring in a sense of place and time–good settling details. Consider your settling to be another character in the book.
  • Make your stories memorable. Don’t be in “no time.” Engage the senses, and ground the narrative in place. Tell what the person’s body is doing, what year is, and the like.
  • Write about food! When in doubt, it’s a go-to. Describing meal details is very emotionally provocative and symbolic, as well as relatable.
  • Write about a journey. Where did you start, and where are you going?
  • Finally, write about moral dilemmas. These are relatable and bring up strong emotional responses in the reader.

About the Authors

Brenda Peterson is an American author, wildlife advocate, and writing teacher. She was born in Seattle, Washington, and has written numerous books, including memoirs, novels, and nature writing. Peterson’s work often explores themes of nature, animals, and the human connection to the natural world. She is known for her evocative writing style and her ability to blend personal experience with environmental and social issues.

Sarah Jane Freymann is an American literary agent and co-founder of the literary agency Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency. With her extensive experience in the publishing industry, Freymann brings a wealth of knowledge and insight into the process of crafting and publishing memoirs.

In Your Life is a Book, Peterson and Freymann draw on their expertise to guide readers through the various stages of writing a memoir. They cover topics such as identifying key moments, creating compelling characters, developing a narrative structure, and finding one’s authentic voice. The book also offers practical guidance on editing, revising, and navigating the publishing industry.


Can’t quite get to all the nonfiction and self-help books that interest you? Read Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday here.

Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “Unschooling Rules” by Clark Aldrich

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Unschooling Rules by Clark Aldrich sn’t just about unschooling. It’s about all kinds of teaching situations—about the art of learning through exploration. What could be more inspiring than that?

Key Takeaways

“Unschooling” is the term commonly used to describe a way of homeschooling that is highly play-based and child-led—what some would call “organic” learning. Unschooled kids don’t do worksheets, and may or may not attend formal classes. They just do things and learn along the way.

The rules:

  • Do what you love.
  • Use microcosms as much as possible.
  • Use internships.
  • Embrace all technologies.
  • Excel is awesome for math.
  • Formally learn only what will be reinforced in the next 14 days.
  • Explore first. Play second. Teach third.
  • Only work on one or two subjects per day.
  • Keep a focused journal.
  • Underschedule.
  • Play outside.

About the Author

Clark Aldrich is an author, speaker, and expert in the field of educational technology and simulations. He has made significant contributions to the development and implementation of innovative learning solutions that combine technology, simulations, and game-based approaches.

His work emphasizes the importance of active, experiential learning, where learners are actively engaged in realistic scenarios and problem-solving activities. Aldrich believes that well-designed simulations and games can provide learners with opportunities to practice skills, make decisions, and learn from their experiences in a safe and immersive environment.

As a speaker and consultant, Aldrich has worked with numerous organizations and educational institutions to implement innovative learning solutions. He has delivered presentations and workshops worldwide, sharing his expertise and insights on the transformative potential of simulations and game-based learning.


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Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “Growing Up Amish” by Ira Wagler

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No, it’s not a must-read. But Growing Up Amish: A Memoir and other religious memoirs like it offer fascinating and educational insight into other people’s lives and minds. Ira Wagler doesn’t needlessly berate his former belief system or the people who maintain it. He gives a well-written, objective account, as do many others. I, for one, can’t get enough of this type of book.

Key Takeaways

  • This memoir chronicles Wagler’s experiences growing up in a strict Amish community and the internal struggles he faced as he questioned the beliefs and lifestyle he was raised in. Itprovides insights into the Amish way of life, their traditions, and the challenges of leaving the community behind.
  • “We were also repelled by what we saw and heard around us every day. Most of the adults—those securely anchored in the faith—didn’t seem any too happy in their daily lives. In fact, they were mostly downright grumpy. There was little in our own world that attracted us, made us stop and think, That’s what I want. To live like that. We were stuck in a stifling, hostile culture consisting of myriad complex rules and restrictions. More things were forbidden than were allowed. And that’s not to mention the drama, the dictatorial decrees, the strife among so-called brothers, and the seemingly endless emotional turmoil that resulted. We had seen and lived it all.”
  • “In fact, the Amish church does everything in its power to maintain its grip on the youth, including applying some of the most guilt-based pressure tactics in existence anywhere in the world. After all, there’s no sense encouraging young people to taste the outside world …”
  • “With some prodding, there might be a reluctant admission that yes, others not of our particular faith might make it to heaven, but only because they were not born Amish and didn’t know any better. Those who were born in the faith had better stay, or they would surely face a terrible Judgment Day. That’s what we heard. What we were told by our parents and what we heard in the sermons at church. But they never explained why.”
  • “That kind of pressure is a brutal thing, really, a severe mental strain. And it’s the reason that in most communities, when Amish kids run wild, they usually run hard and mean. Because once that line is crossed, there are no others.”
  • “From a distance, or from outside, my decision [to return to the faith] makes no sense. But it made all the sense in the world to me in that moment, to keep slogging on, to walk the road that equated eternal life with earthly misery.”

About the Author

Ira Wagler is an American author known for his memoir “Growing Up Amish: A Memoir.” Born in Aylmer, Ontario, Canada, in 1961, Wagler grew up in a traditional Old Order Amish community. However, as a young man, he made the difficult decision to leave his Amish upbringing and pursue a different path.


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Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “Endurance” by Scott Kelly

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Someone lived in space for a year. His name is Scott Kelly, and Endurance: My Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery is his story. I think that pretty much sums up the value of this book. Side note: the quotes I selected below don’t do the book justice; the beauty of it is in Kelly’s descriptions of the mundane, daily activities of life in space.

Key Takeaways

  • On the International Space Station: “The ISS is a remarkable achievement of technology and international cooperation. It has been inhabited nonstop since November 2, 2000; put another way, it has been more than fourteen years since all humans were on the Earth at once. It is by far the longest-inhabited structure in space and has been visited by more than two hundred people from sixteen nations. It’s the largest peacetime international project in history.”
  • On landing the space shuttle: “The very complexity of the space shuttle was why I wanted to fly it. But learning these systems and practicing in the simulators—learning how to respond to the myriad of interrelated malfunctions in the right way—showed me how much more complicated this spacecraft was than anything I could have imagined. There were more than two thousand switches and circuit breakers in the cockpit, more than a million parts, and almost as many ways for me to screw up. The amount I learned in order to go from a new ASCAN to a pilot on my first mission was, from what I could observe, an education comparable to getting a PhD. Our days were packed with classes, simulations, and other training.”
  • On the moments before takeoff: “The space shuttle, fully fueled with cryogenic liquid, creaked and groaned. Soon this sixteen-story structure was going to lift off the Earth in a controlled explosion. For a moment I thought to myself, Boy, this is a really dumb thing to be doing.”
  • “There is a NASA tradition, which some crews follow more closely than others, of pulling pranks on rookies. When the Astrovan pulled up to the launchpad, I said offhandedly to Tracy, Barb, and Alvin, “Hey, you guys remembered to bring your boarding passes, right?” They looked at one another quizzically as the four of us veterans pulled preprinted boarding passes out of our pockets. ‘Don’t tell me you didn’t bring your boarding passes! They won’t let you on the space shuttle without one!’ I insisted. After an initial look of panic crossed their faces, the three rookies quickly caught on.”
  • “On his fourth flight, in 2008, Yuri’s Soyuz landed so far from his intended touchdown point, the local Kazakh farmers who came upon his steaming spacecraft had no idea what it was. When he and his two female crewmates, Peggy Whitson and Yi So-yeon, emerged from the capsule, the Kazakhs mistook him for an alien god who had come from space with his own supply of women. Had the rescue forces not arrived, I suspect the farmers would have appointed him their leader.”

About the Author

Scott Kelly is an American astronaut, engineer, and retired U.S. Navy captain. He was born on February 21, 1964, in Orange, New Jersey, United States. Kelly is renowned for his contributions to space exploration and his record-breaking mission on the International Space Station (ISS).

Kelly joined NASA in 1996 and became an astronaut in 1999. Throughout his career, he participated in several space missions, including space shuttle flights and long-duration stays on the ISS. However, his most notable achievement came during his year-long mission on the ISS from March 2015 to March 2016. This mission, known as the “One-Year Mission,” aimed to study the effects of long-term spaceflight on the human body, specifically comparing Kelly’s physiological and psychological changes with his identical twin brother Mark Kelly, who remained on Earth.

During his year in space, Scott Kelly conducted various scientific experiments, participated in spacewalks, and documented his experiences through photographs and social media. His mission provided valuable insights into the physical and psychological challenges of long-duration space travel and helped pave the way for future manned missions to Mars and beyond.

Scott Kelly’s achievements in space and his contributions to scientific research have earned him numerous accolades, including the NASA Distinguished Service Medal and the Russian Medal for Merit in Space Exploration. He is recognized as a prominent figure in the field of space exploration and continues to inspire others with his remarkable journey and dedication to pushing the boundaries of human exploration in space.


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Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “The Fire In Fiction” by Donald Maas

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In case you didn’t already know, Donald Maass is a legend of the book publishing world. In his mature, wise, yet conversational way, he’s written a slew of books on writing and publishing, including How To Be Your Own Literary Agent. I love the emphasis in The Fire In Fiction: Passion, Purpose, and Technique To Make Your Novel Great on making your fiction (and nonfiction) snap, crackle and pop. This is one of the most practical and specific books on writing I’ve ever read.

Key Takeaways

  • There is a big difference between storytellers–people who hone their craft relentlessly–and status seekers, who publish for money and recognition. Be the former, and avoid the latter trap.
  • Great novels happen because the author is committed to making every scene, every line, not just technically good, but infused with the author’s own passion.
  • Protagonists shouldn’t be just Jane and John Does. They should be people we admire and want to spend time with, like the few friends we have that we would cancel plans and drop everything for. Even antiheroes should be admirable in some way.
  • Similarly, every hero or protagonist needs flaws. Balance the bad and good in every character in the book–even the minor ones. Make no one flat.
  • Secondary characters are often one-dimensional, cliché. This is a major missed opportunity. Each should be 3D and memorable.
  • When editing scenes, look for their turning points and focus the whole scene around them. This will clarify the purpose of each scene. In each, something or several somethings should change. A story is always in motion. Remember: change.
  • Your book should include the “tornado effect.” This is the big event in the book that affects all of the characters. Show how it affects them, too; don’t just assume the reader gets it. Make it clear how the tornado changed everything.
  • Good description attaches emotions to detail. Both are found together. Don’t have flat detail; have evocative detail.
  • Characters should have opinions. This makes us want to get to know them. Don’t worry about being too controversial; remember, they’re just characters, not you.
  • “The world of story is hyperreality. In a passionately told tale, characters are larger than life, what’s happening matters profoundly … and even the words on the page have a Day Go fluorescence.”
  • “Great books are fast reads because there is tension in every line. Characters are always at odds, even if just mildly, as with conflict between friends. This is the secret to page-turning fiction.”
  • “Micro-tension is the moment-by-moment tension that keeps the reader in a constant state of suspense over what will happen, not in the story but in the next few seconds.” Knowing whether or not guy gets girls doesn’t us for three hundred pages. Knowing who will win this little battle of minds in this scene keeps us there for that scene.

About the Author

Donald Maass is an American literary agent, author, and teacher known for his expertise in the field of writing and storytelling. He is also the founder and president of the Donald Maass Literary Agency, which represents a wide range of fiction and non-fiction authors. He has worked in the publishing industry for over forty years, helping authors navigate the publishing world and negotiate book deals.

In addition to his work as a literary agent, Maass is also a prolific author. He has written several books on writing and craft, including Writing the Breakout Novel, The Fire in Fiction, and The Emotional Craft of Fiction. These books offer insights, techniques, and exercises to help writers create compelling and emotionally resonant stories.

Maass is known for his deep understanding of storytelling and his ability to identify what makes a book stand out and connect with readers. He encourages authors to dig deeper, take risks, and infuse their writing with emotional depth and resonance.


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Chapters Four and Five (“What I Learned from Jane,” part three)

This is part three of a story I wrote after the death of my daughter in 2011 called What I Learned from Jane. Read parts one, two and three here.

Chapter Four

On Tuesday, David and I got to the hospital around noon again. This time there was no meeting. 

It was Jane’s last day. 

As I had the day before, as soon as I saw her lying in her bed, I started to cry, and, as soon as I could, I sat down to hold her. After a short time the nurse asked if I wanted to be skin-to-skin again. 

“There are visitors,” I said, but she told me she could pin some blankets over my shoulders, so I said yes. She called in another nurse to help and they put Jane’s body on mine and I placed each of her arms on my breasts and wrapped her legs around my waist, then leaned back in the chair. 

After a while, there was a call on the room’s intercom. 

“David’s boss is here with his family,” the receptionist told us. “Can they come in?” 

I smiled. “Yes,” I said. “Let them in.”

He and his wife and daughter came in the room and saw my bare arms and saw my tears and they were very nice and they understood. 

A few hours went by and more visitors came. Eventually, I had to use the bathroom so I got dressed and gave the baby to David. He took off his shirt and held Jane skin-to-skin, too, and, as he did so, his face was very happy and very sweet. Then David’s sister held her for a while, and, after that, Andrea. 

When Andrea held her, David and his family were already out of the room, so I decided to leave, too, and give them some time alone. I went to the waiting room for a while, then went back inside. 

Andrea was still holding Jane and she looked very happy and very sad at the same time.  

We sat quietly for a while. Then we started talking about the meaning of Jane’s life.

“Do you think she knows we’re here?” I asked. 

“Yes,” Andrea said. “I think that the important part of her is still here, even though her mind is gone; who she really is is here.”

We were quiet again. Then, after a while, I said, “I used to be religious.” I didn’t just say it for no reason; I wanted to find out what she believed about such things. “Anyone this good and this kind,” I thought, “Must know something I don’t.”

“You were?” she said. 

“Yeah,” I said. “It was nice.”

She nodded. 

“What do you think about religion?” I asked.

She paused and looked away. Then, slowly and carefully, she gave me her answer. 

“I am a very spiritual person,” she said. “I read about it and I meditate and it is important to me, but I am not religious in the typical sense of the word.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I like that.”

And, right then—right at that moment—I think I came back to God.


I have always believed in God. Ever since I was old enough to believe anything, I’ve believed in something beyond this great green place. When I was maybe six years old, in fact, I spoke in tongues for the first time. If you don’t already know about speaking in tongues, I’ll just mention that it is believed to be a way to communicate with God in words that you yourself may not be able to interpret. 

When I spoke in tongues for the first time, I was not thinking. I was not speaking on my own. The words just came out without me even knowing what had happened. 

I guess that’s what is so great about being a child. 

My sister was sitting next to me and after I was done, she asked my mother if she could do it, too. So, my mom prayed for her and the same thing happened to her that happened to me and I saw it happen, and it was amazing. 

And nothing like it has ever happened to me since. 

But I kept believing. And I’ve never stopped. Not because I spoke in tongues, though. 

Because I think that belief makes sense. 

Now, I won’t start preaching to you—after all, it won’t change your mind about anything and anyway I like you just the way you are, I really do. But I do want to tell you a little more about this because after all, this is a story about what happened to my baby and what happened to me after that. 

As I said, I’ve always believed in God and I’ve always been a spiritual person. But when I was in high school and for my first few years of college, I was really spiritual. I wasn’t just inclined to believe a certain way; I was actually trying really hard to change myself and to be a better person. 

And, as I said to Andrea, it was nice. 

No matter what I was doing, there was always a purpose to it—a real purpose, not just a love-others-and-be-kind kind of purpose. Everything I did meant something—or seemed to, anyway.  

Then things happened. I won’t go into the details here as they are unimportant, but I will just say that as a result of these things, I could no longer believe the same things I used to believe and, as is so common among college students, I lost my faith. Not all of it—but all of the part that, at the time, made it meaningful. 

And then, I graduated. And then, I did the usual things and learned how to be happy without the help of religion.

I became like everybody else. 

I got married, which made me happy for a while. I got divorced, which also made me happy. I went onto the internet and found a very good man, David, who is either an atheist or an agnostic depending on how you phrase the question, and soon after that I knew that no matter what, I would never let him get away from me, even if it meant losing my religion entirely. 

And then, at some point—maybe a while into the relationship or maybe at the very beginning, when I first fell in love with him, long before I knew for sure we’d be together for good, but just knew I wanted to be—David became my religion.

Not literally, of course. He was still just David. 

But I lived for him. He did not ever hurt me, and our love was as real as I’ve ever known love could be, and I am an old-fashioned girl anyway who likes looking up to someone I think is better than me and so, I let my love for him take over a great part of the meaning of my life.

In other words, I lived to be happy.

By that time I had learned a lot about the subject of happiness. I had made a lot of mistakes and assumed a lot of things that weren’t true. For instance, I used to believe that if you were very good, and very spiritual, happiness would just come to you as a matter of course. As it turned out, though, life isn’t like that; if I wanted to be happy, I realized, I’d have to make myself that way. 

And I did. I looked for a good partner, which, fortunately, I found. I looked for a good city and I moved there. I started doing the kind of work I loved—all in the same year. 

And, finally, I was happy. 

And happiness—living the good life, as I called it—became everything to me. 

Then came Jane. 

And somehow, in the time that I knew her, I realized something: I wanted to be spiritual again.

I wanted to believe in something higher than myself. 

I wanted to believe in miracles.

And that is why spirituality, to me, is relevant again. It’s not just something I think about or an interesting topic of conversation; right now, it feels like a lifeline, like a rope thrown out to a drowning person. 

I don’t know where the rope came from. I don’t know where it will lead me. 

But now isn’t the time to question all that. 

Now is the time to just grab onto the rope. 

I’ll figure the rest out later. 


Andrea and I talked for a while longer. Then, she went back to the waiting room and I undressed and took Jane again. 

It was the last time we would be able to sit like that together. We were there for about an hour and a half, but it seemed much, much shorter. 

I cried a lot. I sang to Jane in a cracked and terrible voice. I told her I loved her and tried to do all of the last things. 

I asked her why she didn’t want to stay.

When David came back, he told me that it was almost time. Since we didn’t have any baby girl clothes, some of our visitors had given us some nice things for her to wear for her last moments. Before we put them on, though, the nurse asked us if we wanted to give her a sponge bath. We said we did. 

We washed her whole body, one part at a time. David changed her diaper and we both washed and combed her hair. Her hair was so long and so soft and so beautiful. 

She would have been so beautiful. 

After that, David left the room and I put on her clothes while he waited with the others in the lobby. When I was done she looked very fat and very healthy and she looked like the perfect baby girl. David came in.

“Are you ready?” he asked. 

“Yes,” I said.

It was about nine thirty. 

The visitors came in and we took turns standing by the bedside with the baby, looking at her and touching her for the last time. All of the women cried and maybe both of the men, too. Someone brought her a stuffed dog and I said, “She must like dogs because that’s the second one she’s gotten.” We all talked about how pretty and healthy she looked and how the nurses had told us that her feet were big for a newborn. 

“Maybe she would’ve been tall,” David said.

“She probably would’ve been,” I said. Then we were quiet. 

After about half an hour everyone left the room except me.

It was now the end. 

The nurses moved some chairs to the balcony where I told them I wanted to be and, saying it was cold outside, wrapped Jane and I in blankets. They undid most of her tubes so just the respirator was left. Then they brought in a mobile oxygen tank and attached her to it. One of the nurses showed me how to open the little iodine tubes and rub it on the tape before removing the respirator.

After that they put Jane in my arms and we all walked out of the room, down the hallway and onto the balcony. We walked very slowly. To my surprise, I was not crying yet.

I sat in the chair that faced the city. One of the nurses asked me if I was ready for them to take the oxygen tank away, and I said yes. She did so, then both of the nurses left, saying they would be right inside the door if I needed anything.

And then, for the last time, we were alone. 

Next to me there was a railing and on top of it there were the iodine tubes and a wet nap to wipe her face with. I picked up one of the tubes but I couldn’t make it work so I put it back down and began to pull the tape off Jane’s mouth without it. It came off easily and, in a way, I was relieved. 

Then I took the respirator out of her mouth. 

The nurses told me later it would’ve happened a few seconds after that but at the time I couldn’t tell; there was no change. 

I looked at Jane’s face without the respirator. 

It was beautiful. 

It was perfect. 

It had depth. 

It said something to me that I don’t think that any other face could say so well. 

It said, “I know you. I understand you. I love you. “You’re my mother.”


After a while, I opened the wet wipe and began to wash Jane’s face. Her lips were still pinched in a little from the respirator and I wanted to smooth them out so I rubbed the cloth over them again and again. 

It didn’t work; they would not go back to the way they were when she was born. Still, I kept wiping them and the rest of her face, over and over and over. At the time I didn’t know why I was doing it—it just felt right. Later, though, as I was telling someone about that moment I said, “It felt like it was the last thing I could do for her as her mother.”

After a half hour or so the nurse came out with a wet wash cloth and exchanged it for the wet nap and went back inside. 

I wiped her face some more.


After a while, I pulled Jane close to my chest for the last time. Then I kissed her. 

My last words to her were, “Please don’t leave me.”

I said it many, many times.

It was all I said. 


Another half hour or so went by. Finally, I decided I was ready, and shortly after that it started to rain, so I gathered Jane’s blanket around her head and mine around my shoulders and we went inside. 

I took Jane back to her room and put her on the bed. By this time her face was very yellow. The nurse that was there said that I could undress her, so I did. Then a doctor came in and looked for a heartbeat. There was none, she said. 

It was over. 

We looked at the clock. It was ten forty-five. 

I started gathering Jane’s things and mine. The nurse offered me her comb and the clothes they had given her to wear during her first days in the hospital and some other things, too. I took them all and put them in my purse. Then I put her blanket around my shoulders.

After that, Jane was naked again on the bed with just a hospital blanket over her lower half. 

I kissed her goodbye and walked to the door. At the door I turned around and looked at her for the last time. 

Then, I left. 

In the lobby, the visitors were still waiting with David. I hugged everyone and they had some food for me so I ate some food and drank some water and soon after that we went home. 

Chapter Five

The next few days were busy. I was still in some pain from the episiotomy but I didn’t want to rest. On Wednesday we went to the funeral home to make arrangements and I cried in front of the lady we talked to there. Then David and I got a massage and I cried while lying on the table. The next day I cried at the dentist, and the day after that in the bank lobby while waiting for someone to help us. 

And every single day for that first week, I wondered: If I stop crying, will I lose her?

I don’t want to stop crying for my little girl, I thought. Not even when it seems like the right time.

I want to bleed forever.

Besides the pictures, and her clothing, and two locks of hair, the tears are all I have left. 


The day after Jane died, a Wednesday, I talked to my sister on the phone. I told her about Jane’s last day and I sobbed and after a while I said, “I know it sounds crazy because she never spoke and I don’t know if she ever heard me speak except in the womb but looking at her, especially those last two days, it felt like her soul was there and it spoke to me instead. 

“It felt like she was my soul mate, someone who understood me better than I even understand myself,” I said. “It was like she came for a reason and she knew exactly what I needed—something I maybe used to have but somehow didn’t anymore—and she knew exactly how much time I needed with her to get it back. So she decided to come for just that reason and nothing else, to give me a gift I couldn’t have received in any other way, and now she’s gone.”

I could not accept that her death was a result of random chance—and her life, too. It had to mean something. 

There had to be a reason. 

And I still believe that. 

It’s unspecific, I know. It’s not a perfect philosophy or explanation. But, so far, it’s as close to a theology as I have come in a long time.

And I think it makes sense. 

I think it really makes sense.


  That night was hard, but Friday night, two nights later, was even harder. I could not sleep and as I lay in bed I thought about all of the things I didn’t do that I should have done. 

I should have held her more, I thought. I should have stayed with her at the hospital every night.

“It was too short,” I kept saying to David as I cried. “It was too short.”


The following Sunday, I went to church for the first time in a long time. It was a non-traditional church where people believe things like karma and reincarnation—and Jesus, too. 

I liked it a lot. 

During the service, I cried a little. Then, after the service, I prayed with someone and cried a lot more. The minister saw me and came over to talk. I told her what happened and said through my tears, “I want to know where she is.”

“Why do you ask that?” she said. “Why is it so important for you to know?”

“I don’t want to believe she’s in heaven,” I said. “I don’t think she is. I think she is still with me.”

The minister said that she believed I could be right; Jane could still be here.

“I don’t believe in heaven,” she said. “I believe that those that pass on are still with us, but they’re on a different level, one that we can’t see right now.” 

“Can I talk to her?” I asked. 

“Yes,” she said. “You can talk to her, even out loud, and I think she will hear you.” 

That helped.


The next day was a Monday. That night, as David and I were sitting next to each other on the living room floor, warming up by the heater, it suddenly occurred to me that he probably didn’t know how much I loved him. 

I looked at him. My face softened into that right-before-crying look and I said, “I love you, David. Do you know how much I love you? I love you so much. I love you so, so much.”

I cried for a long time as he held me. 


And that, my friend, is the story of what I learned from Jane.

Now, I still don’t have a religion. I probably never will again. But I have something else, and it is, as I said before, something big. 

Something much bigger than any one thing can be on its own. 

I feel more now. I love people more. But more important than all that: I have, once again, learned to expect miracles.

I don’t know what the miracles will be, of course. Right now, I don’t even have a guess. But I am going somewhere that I wasn’t going before, and my life is larger than it used to be: larger than my own happiness and larger, even, than the happiness I can bring to others. 

It is as large as my soul.


Of course, I am not always full of faith, even now.

The truth is, I only have this kind of faith part of the time. The rest of the time, there is nothing—only emptiness, and when I see Jane’s picture, I just see what could have been, not what is, still, somewhere, wanting me and waiting for me to be with her again. 

The truth is, most of the time I have very little faith or none at all. 

But I want more. 

Maybe someday I will have it. 

Maybe that will be my miracle.

Oh, I hope so. 

Oh, God, I hope so. 

Please, Jane, please let it be. I want to talk to you and believe that you can hear me. I want to have something more to live for again. 

Something big. 

Please, Jane, if you are reading this, please give me that faith.


And with that, this story is almost done. Before I end, though, I should add one more thing. It isn’t something Jane taught me, but it is something she gave to me, something very simple and yet very beautiful and, I think, important:

She made me a mother.

And for that, I am grateful. 

Even if it had to be for only four days, I am grateful. 

And I have no other explanation for how it feels to have given birth to a person and then spent a few days with them before letting them go other than that: 

It feels like being a mother probably feels every day. 

It felt like being a mother. 


And so. This is the end of the story. But only technically. Only in the literary sense of the word “end,” as in, “And they all lived happily ever after. The end.” 

But actually, I don’t think this is the end, not really. Maybe it is for you—if you want it to be, that is. 

But not for me. 

Because there is something that I have now that I didn’t have before—not enough, anyway. 

I have purpose. I have emotions. I have love. 

And I know what it feels like to be a mother.

I am changed. 

And that is all I have to say. For now. Except: Thank you for reading, dear reader. And thank you for being my friend. You have been kind to me, and I want you to know that I’ve noticed, and that I’m grateful.

You are dear. 

Chapters Two and Three (“What I Learned from Jane,” part two)

This is part two of a story I wrote after the death of my daughter in 2011 called What I Learned from Jane. Read parts one, two and three here.

Chapter Two

At this point in the story, there is something that maybe you should know: I have always been a shy person. Now, for the past ten years or so, I have pretended pretty well that I’m not. People even say that I’m confident. And actually, I am. I love myself way, way too much, possibly as a result of good parenting. But even though I’m confident, I am shy, too, and insecure, and deep down inside, as they say, I’m really unconvinced that people like me, or maybe even really convinced that they don’t. And so, sometimes—often, maybe—I have just decided—even before really knowing someone I have decided—I will not like them back. 

That way I’d be, of course, invulnerable.

When I was going to the birth center for my baby appointments, the midwives there told me that I’d have to write a birth plan. I had read about birth plans but I didn’t know what to put in one, so I asked the midwife about it. 

“Write about how comfortable you are with affectionate gestures from the midwives,” she said, “And about how you think you’ll react to pain.” She said that the midwives would all read it once when I gave it to them, then once again before coming to the birth. 

So, that is what I did. 

“…Touch and massage welcomed from David but no touching by midwife of an affectionate nature,” I wrote. “Excessive smiling also not preferred.” 

After that, when we were in the hospital together going through all of this, all of the midwives would ask me for permission whenever they wanted to hold my hand or give me a hug.

And that is what I was before Jane. 

Now, things are different. I’m not quite myself anymore, I’ve realized. I cry pretty often, and, a lot of the time, the tears are sudden—they come without any warning at all. Often, I am with other people when it happens and I should say now that if you’ve seen me do this already, you have been very kind to me and at least pretended very well to understand, and I have noticed, and I am grateful. 

But please don’t take this as an apology. I haven’t been myself lately, but, somehow, I don’t think that that is such a bad thing. 

And I should say, too, that sadness isn’t the only thing I feel more of lately. I’m more emotional about everything now. I get mad sometimes. And I get really bothered by mean things or unfair things. And I feel like I’m bleeding all the time, and needy, and I get embarrassed more easily, and I am embarrassed to even admit this right now.  

And I love people more. And I see them not as just people I know: I see them as people I could really like a lot if they let me. 

Overall, I think having more feelings is worth it. 

And that is the first thing I learned from Jane. 


The next morning, a Saturday morning, David and I got out of bed around ten o’clock. I was very stiff all over, I remember, and I was bloody, too. I stood up just long enough to take a shower and the rest of the time I was in the wheelchair. Doors felt very heavy to me and I had to move very slow. 

The shower, however, was nice. It felt good to get rid of all of the blood and sweat from the day before. David’s parents had brought us some clothes and putting them on I felt even better. I looked at my deflated belly in the mirror and felt very small and very light even though I still had some pain.

For breakfast, David and I ate some bananas and apples that someone had given us the night before. As we ate, I said, “Do you think we should give her a name?” Now that we knew she’d be with us for at least a few days it seemed like the right thing to do, and he agreed. 

“I was kind of thinking Lily,” I said. 

“That’s nice,” he said. “I actually liked the name they gave her at the hospital, though—the first one we went to. They called her Jane.”

“Jane,” I said. “An old-fashioned name. Let’s call her that.”

And so, from then on, she was Jane. Sometimes, too, she was Baby Jane. 

We liked the sound of that.


A little while later David’s visitors arrived. He went downstairs to see them while I stayed in bed and rested. I had a breast pump with me and I wondered whether I should start using it but I was too tired right then and so I decided to wait. 

After a while, David came back to our room with the visitors and we all went downstairs to the NICU to see the baby together. She was still on the cooling blanket so we couldn’t hold her all the way yet but we touched her feet and hands and forehead and soft, soft skin and talked about how beautiful she was. 

After a while, Andrea came into the room. I was a little surprised she was there; I knew she had a family and even though she said she’d be back I thought she wouldn’t have time. 

I was also surprised by how she looked, and David must have been too because when he saw her he said, “Did you get any sleep?”

“I slept,” she replied, but we both knew what she meant. “How are you guys doing?” Her voice was very kind and caring and I thought, “Maybe she really is as nice as she pretends.”

At four o’clock there was another meeting with the doctors. This time Christine and Andrea came as well. 

First, they told us that they had done the MRI. Only one doctor had looked at it so far and another one would review it the next day, they said. “So far, though, it confirms what we already suspected. There is almost no activity in the brain—just at the very base, the part that controls the heart.”

“That explains her strong heart rate during labor,” we said. “But do you know what could have caused this kind of damage?” 

They did not, they said. They couldn’t even make a guess. “We have never seen anything like this before.”

Then we asked them if they at least knew when it occurred, but again the answer was no. 

“We do know that it didn’t happen at the time of delivery,” they added, explaining that there was some blood on the outside of the brain that seemed to have been there for a while before birth. 

Andrea and Christine went over the details of the delivery, and again the doctor assured them that they had done nothing wrong, and neither had the paramedics. 

And neither, they said, had I. 

“How do you know?” I said. “If you don’t know how it happened, how do you know what caused it?”

“Nothing that we know of could have caused it,” one of the doctors said. “Nothing that is within our current understanding of medicine explains it.”

Did that include genetic problems? we asked.

“There is no developmental problem that we can find,” they said. “We don’t think it was caused by genetics.”

Before the meeting ended, they told us they’d have another specialist look at the MRI the next day and that he might be able to give us more information. 

When we left the meeting, we were all relieved. 

It was nobody’s fault. 


That evening, David and I ate dinner with some of our visitors in the hospital cafeteria. We talked about the meeting, trying to explain what the doctors had said without really understanding it ourselves. 

We didn’t only talk about Jane, though. We talked about other things, too, and even joked and laughed a bit, and we took a little break and it was nice.

After dinner, around eight thirty, the nurses told us that Jane could come off the cooling blanket for a little while. 

“Do you want to hold her?” they asked. 

“Yes,” I said. 

So they arranged a chair for me by the bed and moved all the cords and machines and after that I held my baby for the first time. 

Her head was heavy and limp. The only thing that visibly moved was her chest as air was pumped into her lungs one breath at a time. I looked at her face, studied it, admired her big fish lips and enjoyed the way her body felt in my lap. I wondered about what had happened to her, and what could have caused it, but I still didn’t know what to think about it all.  

And I still didn’t know what to feel.

After a while, I asked to be alone. I remember that for some reason, I thought this would be my only chance to hold her, ever, so I tried to think of everything I wanted to say. 

First, I prayed that God would bring her back. Then, I asked her to come back.

I asked her many times. 

I wanted her to hear me.

And yet, I did not cry. 


Later that evening, David told me that he had talked to some of the nurses about breastfeeding. 

“They don’t think you should start pumping,” he said. 

“Why not?” I asked. 

“They said that if you do it will be very hard for you to stop. The milk will just keep coming.”

“I will ask them about it later,” I said, and the next time we went downstairs, I did. 

“I don’t think you should try,” one of the nurses said. “It hurts and you could get an infection.”

Before we went to bed that night, I told David I would decide the next day. 


The next day was Sunday. Once again, David and I woke up around ten o’clock and took a long time to shower and get dressed. I found that I could walk on my own again, though, and that made it easier. 

Around noon, more visitors arrived. Again, I wanted to rest so I let David stay with them while I stayed in bed. 

After a while, Andrea came into the room with David. At first, when I saw her, I thought, “I don’t want to see anyone right now.” I didn’t tell her that, though, so she sat on the bed and we started talking. 

And as we did, suddenly, I had a thought. It was more like a feeling than a thought, though—more like a realization, and even before I was sure what the right words were to describe it I said to Andrea, “Andrea, I have to apologize to you.”

“Why do you have to apologize?” she asked. 

“I have been cold,” I said. 

She said she didn’t think I was cold, but I went on. “I don’t usually expect people to be so kind and really mean it. I didn’t expect you to come today.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“I am glad you’re here,” I said.

And, after that, we were friends.


And there was something else that happened in the few minutes that she and I spent in that room, too, something very important and meaningful, something that I’ll never forget, ever, and if I do, please, please remind me of this that I’m writing to you right now:

I started to feel again.

Chapter Three

A little while later, Andrea and I went downstairs to see Jane. As I sat next to her bed, holding her foot in my hand, I wondered again what to do about breastfeeding. 

 “What would you do?” I asked Andrea. I was a little nervous to ask; I knew how stupid it sounded. 

“I don’t know,” she said. “Why do you want to breastfeed?” She said it in a sympathetic way, a way that showed she understood but wanted me to tell her anyway.

I looked down at the floor, hiding my face with my hair.

“When David and I were making plans for the baby, the one thing I always said I would never, never do is give up on breastfeeding. No matter how hard it got, I swore that I’d keep at it. It’s the thing I looked forward to more than anything else.” 

After I said that, something wonderful happened. 

I started to cry. Not just a little, either.

I cried a lot. 

“Now that all this has happened,” I said, “It feels like it’s the only thing I have left. 

“It’s the only thing I can do that would make me feel like a mother.” 

It was then that, for the first time, I knew I loved my baby.

I might have loved her before that, of course. 

But I don’t think I knew it until then. 

Not really. 

That is the advantage of having people to talk to sometimes. Without them, I don’t think I would have learned how to feel what I felt.

Without them, I may not have learned how to grieve.


And that was the beginning of my feelings—the real beginning. 

And after that, I couldn’t keep them away if I tried. 

But, I soon realized, I didn’t want to keep them away. No matter what I was feeling, I decided, it was better than feeling nothing at all.  

Much better, actually. 

It was wonderful. 


 At three o’clock that afternoon, we had another meeting with the doctors. They told us what we all expected to hear. 

“There is no reason to continue with the cooling treatment,” they said. “She will not live.”

They still had no explanation for what happened to her, and neither did the other specialist who had looked over the MRI that morning. 

“Do you want us to keep her alive if something happens during the night?” one of the doctors asked. “Would you want her resuscitated?”

We said no. 

Several of us asked the doctors more questions, trying to pin down the cause of the injury, but all of our theories were ruled out; they would do an autopsy, but it was unlikely we’d ever understand what had happened.

After the meeting ended we went back to the lounge area where some of our friends were waiting for us. We told them what had happened and all I could think was, “It is settled now. She is really going to die.”

Soon after that I went back to Jane’s room and as soon as I saw her I started crying again. And I can’t quite explain it but that time, as I looked at her, something was different. Her eyes were still closed and she still did not move or breathe on her own and the respirator was still there, and she looked in every way exactly the same way she had before, but somehow, in that moment, she was a total person to me just like everyone else.

For the first time, I felt like I knew my daughter.

I knew her.

And she was mine.


That night David and I decided not to stay in the hospital anymore, but to go home to sleep instead. We went out to dinner, then came back to the hospital to pack our things. I don’t remember if we saw Jane again before we left but I know I didn’t hold her again and I regret that now. 

I should have held her again. 

I should have held her all night. 

As we drove home we I noticed the Christmas lights that had been put up in our absence. 

We went home and slept very badly and very long. 


The next day, a Monday, we arrived at the hospital around noon. As soon as we got there we were ushered into another meeting. This time there were just two doctors, David’s parents, David and I. They told us that now that Jane was off the cooling blanket we could hold her as long as we wanted. 

We asked them some more questions. We told them about the ultrasound I’d had the day before I went into labor and how everything was normal. They said that that may help narrow down the time period in which the damage could have been done, but nothing else about their diagnosis had changed. 

When the meeting ended, we went to Jane’s room right away. 

As soon as I saw her, the tears came again. 

“I want to hold her,” I said, so the nurses arranged all the cords and I sat in the chair by her bed with my feet up and held her for several hours while people came in and out of the room to visit. 

I stroked her back over and over. I held my lips and cheek to the top of her head. I admired her arms and legs, noticing how long they were. “You’re my little monkey,” I said. I looked at her face for a long time. 

I thought, “She looks just like me.” 


That afternoon there were a lot of decisions to be made. David and I had to plan Jane’s baptism, her photo session and, finally, her last moments. 

“When do you want to let her go?” David asked me.

“We can do it tomorrow,” I said. 

“Do you want to be there?”

“Yes,” I said, and he was surprised. “Do you want to be there?” I asked.

“No,” he said, and I was surprised, too.  

Sometime after that, the nurse asked me if I wanted to change Jane’s diaper. 

“Yes, I do,” I said. It was the first time I’d ever done this and she had to show me how.  

A little after three o’clock, we held Jane’s baptism. Several friends and family members were there. 

During the baptism, I held Jane in my lap. When the chaplain read the verse “. . . And Jesus said unto them, let the little children come unto me,” I started to cry. “I don’t want her to go to him,” I thought. Then, when he put the water on her forehead and said, “I now baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,” I cried harder and Jane’s body shook with each sob. 

Most of the other people there cried, too. 


When the baptism was over Christine and Andrea stayed in the room with me while everyone else did other things. We talked a little, but we also stopped talking some of the time and I knew that they understood.

“We were going to hold her all the time,” I said after a silence. “I was going to hold her all day, and when David came home from work I was going to give her to him to hold, too. We weren’t even going to wear shirts when we held her so that we could be as close to her as possible and she could feel our skin on her skin all the time.” I smiled at the thought.

Then Andrea said, “Do you want to hold her like that now?” and it may have been the best thing that anyone has ever said to me.

At first, though, when she said it, I didn’t think it was a good idea. “I can’t do that here, like this,” I thought. I looked down at Jane and didn’t say anything.  

But after a moment, Andrea asked me again. 

“Do you want to hold her like that?” she said, quietly. 

This time, I nodded.

Then I started to cry.  

Andrea and Christine called the nurses in and told them what I wanted to do. They didn’t think it was strange at all and while they took the baby I took off my sweater and shirt and bra and sat back down in the chair. Then they put the baby on my chest with her head between my breasts and her arms and legs wrapped around my stomach. 

After that, they left, and we were alone. 


Before I met Jane, when she was just a body inside me, someone I was with all the time but never actually saw, and even before that, long before I was even expecting a baby, or expecting to ever have a baby—even back when I didn’t want a baby at all—I dreamt about babies. Not often—just often enough that I woke up during a significant number of them, thus remembering the details.

They were never good dreams. The first part was wonderful, but they never ended well. 

Though the specifics varied, the general outline was always the same. First, I loved my baby more than anything else in the world. I felt the kind of feeling that I used to think you can only feel in dreams, namely, complete love. Complete surrender of every other emotion to this one of total bliss as I held the baby in my arms. 

After that, though, something would happen that would take her away from me. In one dream, she grew up right before my eyes and she was too big to hold. In another, I left her in the supermarket, only to remember her hours later in a sudden panic. 

In all of these dreams, I never got the baby back. 

Now, I don’t think these dreams were a way for the universe to warn me about what would happen to Jane—I think they were just dreams. But what I do know is that in each of them, for just a short time, I knew what it was like to be a mother. And I knew, a little, what it was like to lose a baby. And now when I remember having them, I think to myself, those feelings I had when holding the baby in my dreams don’t even compare to the feelings I had when I held my baby skin-to-skin for the first time. 

And losing the baby in my dreams was not as bad.


After a while, David came into the room where I was holding Jane. 

“We’re all going out to dinner,” he said. “Do you want to come?”

“No,” I said. “I’ll be fine.” 

He left and I stayed with Jane for about two more hours after that and they were the best two hours of my life. 


Around eight thirty, the photographer came. I put my clothes back on and we had our pictures taken. After that, someone asked if I wanted to make a Christmas ornament with Jane’s hand prints on it, so I did. One of the nurses had also made one for her the day before so I put mine in the box next to hers and we gathered up our things and went home. 

When we got home it was about midnight. I still wasn’t walking very well and on my way to the door I dropped one of the Christmas ornaments and it broke. David wondered what was taking so long so he came back to find me. 

“Are you coming in?” he asked. 

I didn’t say anything; I was just looking at the ground and crying. 

He said, “Oh, the ornament broke.” 

Then he took me in his arms and held me for a long time. 

Later that night after we had gone to bed I told David that I wasn’t sad about losing the ornament. 

“It just seemed so symbolic,” I said. “She’s broken.”


And that was the end of the fourth day I knew Jane. And that is the story of how, in a very short time and without saying one word, she taught me things I didn’t even know I needed to learn.

But that is not all that I learned from Jane. 

Jane’s short life of only four days not only taught me greater love and greater feeling; it taught me to expect miracles.

Prologue and Chapter One (“What I Learned from Jane,” part one)

This is part one of a story I wrote after the death of my daughter in 2011 called What I Learned from Jane. Read parts one, two and three here.

Prologue: Dear Reader

Dear reader,

I want to write what happened to me and to my husband, David, and to our beautiful daughter, Jane (who is still with us now, I believe) as not just a story, but a letter—a long letter (much too long, probably)—but nevertheless a letter, which is sometimes essentially the same thing as a story, except that there are not only a lot of “I’s” in it, but some “you’s” as well. 

And the “you’s” are important. Because I don’t want what happened to us to be only for me and for David; I want it to be for someone else, too. 

And maybe that someone is you. 

Anyway, even if it isn’t, for now, just because I need to, I will pretend that it is. And so today I am writing this story as a letter to you: to my “dear reader.” 

And when I say “dear reader,” please know that I mean exactly that. I may not know you, personally, or I may, but either way, I do know one thing: You are dear. 

You are completely and absolutely dear. 

That is something that Jane taught me and I hope that I never forget it. 

And I want to say it again just in case you didn’t fully hear it the first time: you are dear. You are completely and absolutely dear. If you came to the hospital and stayed with David and I during those four precious days we spent there, or if you came to the memorial service we held and greeted us as we mourned, at some point I looked at your eyes and I remember what I saw—even weeks later I remember—and it was special and precious and irreplaceable and perfect. And if you weren’t one of those people, you are dear anyway because God is in you and even if you somehow don’t see that right now, please understand that there is someone who does, and that is me. And there are probably a lot of others who see it, too, and I bet if you asked them, they would tell you themselves. 

Okay. I know I promised you a story—a real story, not just a very long, very wordy, very sappy letter, so I guess I’ll begin. But first, because I just can’t help it, and because I’m still pretty sure you didn’t understand what I meant the first time, please let me say it again:

You are dear.  

Chapter One

Jane came to us on the twenty-fifth of November, the day after Thanksgiving. She lived for four and one-third days. They were wonderful. They were indescribable, really. 

They were the best days of my life.

But they were too short. They were too brief. 

They were too, too short. 

And so, I find that now, one month later, I want to relive those days again. And not only do I want to relive them myself, I want to have someone else who has lived them, too, with me, even if just in a way, and so I’m writing this letter to you, who is my friend, and maybe now about to become a better friend, because I want someone else to understand what happened in those days that I knew her and, maybe, a little, understand. I want to tell you about those days, which were the best and worst, as they say, that I’ve ever had, and I want explain to you why knowing Jane has been one of the most profound experiences of my life. And I want you to know that I am thankful for her coming, even if it had to be for only four and one-third days.

She made me different. And, for that, I am grateful. 

There is another reason I’m writing this letter, though: I am writing it for you. Maybe you have grieved, too, and even if you haven’t, most likely, you will—someday. And maybe, someday, you, my friend, will find it comforting to read about these things that happened to me and, maybe, also, they will make you feel less alone. 

It’s worth a try, anyway, I think. 

But, I admit, those aren’t my number one reasons for writing this letter. My number one reason for writing about what I learned from Jane is to think more about what happened, and, in doing so, maybe—just maybe—understand it.  


Ever since I met Jane, I have known there was a purpose to her life. Not a small purpose, either, like helping me “be a better person” or “learn how to let go.” Not a small thing like that.

Something big. 

And so, for a while now, I’ve been asking myself this question: What was this purpose? What is the meaning of her life?  

It has been almost one month since she came, and in that time, I have learned a lot about grieving—definitely more than I ever used to know. And one of the things I’ve learned is that it is much easier to grieve when you think there is a reason for what happened—a good reason; that, somehow, what happened to you will make you better.

So, I search for meaning. I look for it everywhere I go. I pray. I even tried meditation. I think, and think, and think. Sometimes, I feel like I’m getting closer to an answer. But most of the time, I don’t. Most days are just days, with nothing special in them at all. 

But still, I search. I pray. I read. I try to figure it out. 

I ask myself why. 

I even talk to Jane, and ask her why. 

She may be giving me an answer, I think, but I just can’t hear it. So I listen harder, pray more.

And I write. 

And, even though it’s hard to do, I’m writing this letter about her life and about what I learned from it, because even though I don’t have the whole answer yet, I think I have, at least, found part of it. 

And the rest, I believe, will come. 


As I said before, Jane came to us on the twenty-fifth of November, the day after Thanksgiving. The day before I went into labor—a Wednesday—I had an ultrasound and some other tests, too, and we saw the pictures and the needles on the paper and we saw that everything was perfectly fine. 

We saw something else, too: I was having contractions. They were coming about every fifteen minutes, the doctor said, but until she said that and told me what to look for I did not know it was happening and even after that I still couldn’t feel them. 

David could, though. While we were there at the doctor’s he touched my belly and learned how to tell when the contraction was coming and after a while I learned to feel them, too. So, that night, we sat on the couch together and watched TV and he kept his hand on my stomach and we noticed them together when they came—he by feeling outside and me by the slight tightness that happened inside. 

When I woke up the next morning, I was still feeling them. I called my family and told them that finally, twelve days after my due date, I was having contractions. They thought it meant that I would be going into labor right away and they were so excited they screamed. 

“But I don’t know if they’re real,” I said.

“Do they feel kind of like gas pains?” my mom asked. 

“Yes,” I said. 

“Okay,” she said. “They are real.”  

David was sitting next to me at his computer and after I got off the phone I said, “Did you hear them screaming?” 

“I thought I heard something like that,” he said. 

“They think I’m going into labor,” I said. “The contractions aren’t regular yet but it could be almost time.”

“It would happen on my day off,” he said. 

He is dear.


A few hours later David and I decided to take a drive. The contractions had become more noticeable by then and by about three in the afternoon while we were still in the car I was really hurting. 

Around that time, my sister called again to ask about how I was feeling. While talking to her I had to take a couple of breaks to breathe better, and after that I knew it was time to go home.  

We drove back home and as soon as we got there I went to bed. After that I felt pretty good; there was pain but it was a normal kind of pain. David and I timed my contractions for a while but even though they were getting stronger they still weren’t regular so we thought we had plenty of time. 

Sometime that evening, we called the midwife, Christine. She told me to relax my breathing more and to call again when the pain was less manageable. 

During the night the pain got much worse. David came to bed but I didn’t want to keep him up so I took a bath then walked around the living room for a while. When I went back to bed he woke up and we decided to call Christine again. 

When we called her, though, she gave us some unexpected news. 

“I am at another birth,” she said. “I’m not going to be done in time. Is it okay if Andrea goes instead?”

“Of course,” we said. I knew all of the midwives at the birth center so I thought it wouldn’t really matter either way. 

As it turned out, though, it did matter. 

It mattered a lot. 

David and I got ready to go. While I put on my shoes, he packed up my things and a few things for the baby. Then he helped me to the car. 

When we arrived at the birth center it was about six forty-five in the morning. Andrea and her assistant, Jamie, were already there. They helped me onto the bed and even though my head was at the wrong end when I lay down it was so hard to move that I didn’t turn around. Right after that, Andrea and Jamie both did an exam and said I was nine centimeters already and I was ready to get into the tub. David and I had planned a water birth so we took this as a good sign.

I undressed and got into the water. People brought me ice and wet towels and I had a few more contractions but they seemed to be coming less often. So, after an hour or more of this, Andrea tried to speed things up. She told me to move to other places and positions, and that is when the pushing started and it got really hard. I won’t describe all of the positions to you but the midwives were taking pictures so there is evidence anyway. 

During the labor, David was so strong. I gripped his hands and arms constantly. I pushed the bottoms of my feet against his hands and body. He held up my head and neck from behind. Each time I had to get up and move to another place in the room, he had to lift me almost entirely on his own. 

For each of the positions, Andrea told me everything to do: how to breathe, how to push, even what to imagine as I did so. At one point, she said she wanted me to push the baby up to the ceiling, kind of like a yoga instructor would say to try to improve your form and even though I hate yoga—and visualization, too—it worked. She was calm and precise, but used urgency in her voice to show me how I needed to push. 

“I need you to push harder, even harder,” she said many times. “Push through the pain.” Then, on a good push, she would say, “There you go. I want you to do that again, just like that.” 

Also, whenever the baby made some progress, she made sure to tell me about it. She would say the baby was “plus one” or “plus four,” but I didn’t want to ask what the last number was. Eventually David asked, though, and she told us that plus five is out. By that time I was already at plus four, though, so it was good news. 

Sometime after getting to plus four, my legs started shaking. I tried to relax them, especially between contractions, but they would not stop—they shook and shook and breathing got harder, too. David asked Andrea if I was cold but she said I was just tired. 

Between the contractions, especially for the last few hours, there was barely a minute of rest and it wasn’t really rest. I could breathe a little better but I couldn’t relax my body. Andrea said, “Use the break, use the break,” and I tried but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to stop pushing; I just wanted it to end.  

By then it was afternoon and I was close. Before every contraction Andrea would tell me that the next one could be the last one and I made myself believe her, but it didn’t help. I couldn’t push hard enough to make the baby come. When my breath ran out on a push and I had to take in more air, the baby stopped moving down and sometimes even moved back up a little. Andrea said later that it was like the baby just wasn’t helping. “She could have just lifted her head up at any moment and she would have been out,” she said. Now we know why that didn’t happen.

At the time, though, Andrea still thought it would be soon. The head was showing and she told David and I that we could touch it, so we did. Jamie brought a mirror so I could see it but I didn’t have my glasses on so I couldn’t see it very well and anyway I didn’t want to look—I just wanted to push. After that, Andrea asked David if he wanted to catch the baby and he asked some questions and said that he might. Then she told me that after the head was out she would have me ease up on the pushing for a little while so the baby didn’t come too fast. By this time they were measuring the heart rate after every push. It was always normal. 

Around two o’clock, the other midwife, Christine, came into the room. She hadn’t planned on coming, she told me later. She just happened to stop by the birth center to drop something off and wanted to see how I was doing. 

“I don’t ever do that,” she told me.

“You came at exactly the right time,” I said, and it was true, because soon after that we got the first sign of trouble: the baby’s heart rate dropped to ninety. At that point, we all knew we needed to get the baby out fast. 

Both of the midwives and Jamie went immediately to work. First, they put an oxygen mask on me. Then, they moved me from the bed into a squatting position on a stool with arm rests that I could push down on. Someone put a bowl and some pads underneath me for the blood. David sat behind me on the bed and held me while Christine and Andrea sat on the floor in front of me. Then someone brought some scissors and other supplies. 

“I’m going to give you one more push to get the baby out,” Andrea said. “If it doesn’t come, we are going to have to cut you.”

“She will have to cut me, then,” I thought. “There is nothing more I can do.” 

I told her okay, though, and when the next contraction came I pushed as hard as I could.

Nothing happened. 

Immediately after that, Christine took the scissors and made a cut. I thought it would hurt, but it didn’t. There was a slight burning, but it didn’t feel like I expected it to. 

Another contraction came—the last one. I pushed again, as hard as I could, and this time, there was a relief at the end and the feeling of a knotty cord winding out of me. It felt like the baby had shot out very quickly and gone a long way but I don’t think my eyes were open at the time so I didn’t really see her being caught.

It was two thirty in the afternoon exactly. 

I opened my eyes and looked for the baby. She was there, I knew, but I could barely tell where; I couldn’t focus my eyes. Then, someone started to hand her to me and I saw that she was near my right side. 

Behind me, David said, “Hold the baby, honey.” 

“I can’t,” I said, surprised that they thought I could hold anything right then.

Right then, Christine must have realized something was wrong because she pulled the baby back. I thought she was just taking her away because I couldn’t hold her but then I saw that the baby was on the floor and they were doing CPR and I, too, realized that something was wrong. 

At first, David and I did not look at each other or say anything; we just watched what they were doing and wondered what was going to happen. Then Christine told us to talk to the baby so we did. We said, “You’re okay, baby. You’re okay.” There was nothing else we could think of to say. 

The longer it went on the more we realized how serious it was. After a few minutes Andrea said to Jamie, “Call 9-1-1.” I don’t remember my exact thoughts but I knew that the baby had never taken a breath and I was very afraid.

At some point, I asked David for my glasses. He didn’t want to give them to me, though; he said I didn’t want to see. But I did want to see. The glasses were next to me on the bedside table so I found them easily and put them on. 

And then I saw my baby for the first time. 

The first thing I noticed was how gray she was. Her whole body was gray, not just her face or some part of her. Also, she was completely still. Her eyes were closed and no part of her moved on its own. 

Strangely, I don’t remember being surprised at her not breathing. I think if my labor had been shorter or easier I would have been, but as it was, it must have seemed to make sense.

Something that did surprise me, though, was how big she was. She was much bigger than I’d imagined—much bigger than any doll. Then, after a while, when one of the midwives moved out of the way and I saw that she was a girl, that surprised me, too. I had guessed she would be a boy and seeing her I thought, “I don’t know this person.” I studied her face. I tried to see something I would recognize in it, but I didn’t.  

She looked like a stranger. 


After what seemed like a long time, the ambulance came. Four or five men rushed into the room. I was still naked and the bowl that was under me was full of blood but I don’t think anyone was looking at me anyway. Christine told Andrea and David to go with the baby and Jamie to stay and help with me. David gathered his things and went outside but Andrea was still breathing for the baby with the oxygen mask until they got into the ambulance so she had to leave without her shoes, cell phone or keys. 

After they were gone I lay down on the bed and Christine told me I would need to deliver the placenta. She told me to push it out but I couldn’t—my muscles wouldn’t do what I wanted anymore. 

After a while, she started looking worried. She asked Jamie how long it had been since the birth and Jamie said forty-five minutes. She felt inside me and pushed around a bit, trying to make it come out but it still didn’t, so they gave me a Pitocin drip and after that my muscles contracted and I was able to give a little push and, finally, the placenta came out. It hurt but afterwards I was relieved that all of the pain was over. 

Christine said, “Do you want me to stitch you up now or do you need a break?” 

I said, “I don’t need a break.” 

She and Jamie prepared their things. Then she gave me some numbing shots. She said they would hurt but they didn’t, much, and I didn’t feel the stitches at all. 

At some point, Christine got a phone call and I knew it was from someone at the hospital. She didn’t tell me right away what they said so I thought it must have been bad news and I didn’t ask. After she stitched me up she said that it was time to go to the hospital to see David and the baby and I was surprised. 

“Is she okay?” I asked. 

“She is alive and she is stable,” Christine said. 

Suddenly I couldn’t breathe right; I started panting really hard and couldn’t stop. 

“There is still a chance,” I thought. “There is still a chance.”

There were tears in my eyes but I did not cry.

After I calmed down, Christine asked me if I wanted to take a shower. 

“I won’t be able to stand,” I told her. So she wiped some of the blood off my legs and helped me get dressed. While we were doing that Jamie asked if I wanted to see the placenta and I said I did and I suggested they take a picture of it but she said they would keep it for me and David instead. They packaged it and put it in a bowl.

Then, it was time to go. Both of the women helped me to the car. I walked very slowly and when I got to the car I couldn’t sit down directly so I put my knees down on the seat first, then sat with my hip on one leg. Someone put my seatbelt on for me and Jamie and I went to the hospital while Christine stayed behind.

At the hospital, Jamie left me in the car and went inside to see what was going on. After a while she came back with some doctors and I rolled down the window and they talked to me there in the parking lot. They explained that the baby was stable on life support and she would now be transferred to Seattle Children’s Hospital. I said okay and thanked them, and they left and Jamie went with them. 

A little while later, David got into the car. The first thing he said was, “She is so beautiful, Mollie. Her skin is very pink now and it’s just perfect.” I asked him if he thought she would make it and he said that she wasn’t responding to any of their tests so far. 

“And if she lives, she will have brain damage,” I said. I hadn’t thought of it before, but somehow right then I knew it was true.

“Yes,” he said. “There will be some, but they don’t know yet whether it will be permanent.” 

Then he told me what happened at the hospital. 

“They took a long time to resuscitate her,” he said. “I watched for a while but eventually I couldn’t anymore so I went into a little waiting room. After a while of being in there I started crying uncontrollably and hyperventilating and shivering all over. Someone had to turn the lights down for me to help me calm down. 

“I have never cried that hard before,” he said.

When Jamie got back to the car she told me that I could ride in the ambulance with the baby if I wanted to. “One person is allowed to go,” she said. “You can ride with her or you can go with David.”

“I don’t want to go with her,” I said. “I’ll ride with David.”

When we arrived at Children’s Hospital, David brought me a wheelchair from outside the front door and helped me get out of the car and sit down again. Then he and Jamie and I went inside to the front desk. There, they gave us all ID badges and told us where the NICU was. Jamie’s badge said “Visitor” and David’s and mine said “Parent.”

At the NICU we asked where the baby was and they said she hadn’t arrived yet. I had to use the bathroom anyway so David and Jamie took me and helped me onto the toilet. I was bleeding a lot and I needed new clothes already so it was a long time before we were done. When we finally got out, we were told that the baby was at the hospital. By then, David’s parents had arrived, too. It was nearly evening. 

A short time later, a nurse came to get us and take us to the baby’s room. David, David’s parents, Jamie and I walked through the double doors, down the hall and into one of the rooms. Just inside the door there was a high bed surrounded by machines, and in it was the baby, breathing and still.

And she looked perfect. 

Her skin was pink and soft. Her cheeks were fat. Her hair was long. The nurses told us she weighed over eight pounds and was twenty-one inches—a big baby, they said. Her little fingernails had grown well past the ends of her fingers and there was fat on every part of her.

She looked healthy. 

Of course, she had tubes in her, too, and some patches on her head and chest that were linked to monitors. Also, there was a respirator in her mouth; she still wasn’t breathing on her own. The respirator was pretty large and with the tape on her cheeks that held it in it hid a good part of her face. It also held her lips in a puckered position, like very big fish lips, but even with that, you could see what they looked like and they were beautiful. 

Almost as soon they saw her, David’s parents and the nurses, too, said that she looked like me. They said she had my forehead, nose and mouth. When they said that, I studied her face and tried to see what they were seeing. I agreed that she had my features, but I didn’t think she looked like me. I couldn’t believe that this was the person I had known for nine months already. 

I still didn’t recognize her at all. 


After an hour or so, the doctors came into the room. They talked to us for a while about the baby’s condition and said that we would have a meeting later that night after all of their tests were done. At that time, we all thought that the damage had happened during the labor or in the minutes just following it before she was resuscitated. It seemed to be the only explanation. 

By then, Andrea had arrived at the hospital. When David and I went to the lobby to wait for the meeting she sat next to me and took my hands and said, “I’m so sorry this is happening to you.” 

I nodded.

“I’m so sorry this is happening to you,” she said again.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I know you feel bad. It’s okay.”

“You don’t have to be so strong,” she said. “You can be angry.”

I shook my head. “Don’t worry,” I thought. “I don’t get angry.”


While we waited, one of the nurses asked us if the baby had a name. 

“No,” I said. “I don’t want to give her a name.” 

David agreed. “It’s probably better that way,” he said. We didn’t know then whether she would make it through the night.

After that, the doctors took David, David’s parents and I to a conference room for the meeting. The conference room was small and they had to move one of the chairs out to make room for my wheelchair.

We all sat down and introduced ourselves. Then the doctors told us what they knew so far: the baby still wasn’t responding to any of their tests, which suggested serious brain damage.

“Her condition is very concerning,” one of them said.

 “What could have caused this?” we asked. 

They didn’t know. “We will do an MRI in the morning.” 

Meanwhile, they told us, they had put her on a cooling blanket to help slow her deterioration. It was an experimental treatment, but it was all they could do. After two days of this, they would warm her up again, then observe her for another day or so after that. 

“If her brain activity returns, it will likely return then,” they said.

“What is going to happen to her?” we asked. “What are her chances?” 

“There is no way for us to predict that,” the doctors said. “Every baby is different.” 

Then they said that though the baby had to stay cool for now, David and I would have a chance to hold her the next day.

When they said that, for some reason, I was surprised. 

After the meeting David and I went back to the baby’s room. As we stared at her and held her hands, I said to David, “Do you think there’s even a ten percent chance she’ll live?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

Later that night, the nurses told us they had a room for us to stay in so eventually we went upstairs. The room was very small with a twin bed but it was nice to be there. 

As we were settling in, people kept asking us if we needed anything. We said we could probably eat a little so they brought us a lot of food and left it in our room. After they left we ate, then got undressed and went to bed. As we took off our ID badges I read mine to David.

“Parent/Caregiver,” I said. “I don’t feel like either one of those things.”

“Neither do I,” he said.

I don’t remember all of my thoughts that night but I was very tired and very sore and it didn’t take me long to fall asleep. 

The next morning I woke up very early and I remembered they said I would be able to hold the baby later that day and, for the first time, I cried.

Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “Manuscript Makeover” by Elizabeth Lyon

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Photo by 𝐕𝐞𝐧𝐮𝐬 𝐇𝐃 𝐌𝐚𝐤𝐞- 𝐮𝐩 & 𝐏𝐞𝐫𝐟𝐮𝐦𝐞 on Pexels.com

Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore by Elizabeth Lyon isn’t just about revision; it’s about writing. It’s a book on writing, with the revision angle. And it’s solid.

Read it because you want to learn the writing craft … or you just want to tell a better story.

Key Takeaways

  • Know the difference between style and voice. Voice is unique to each author. Style can be captured in phrases or descriptions that apply to many different authors.
  • When you do a read-aloud of your script, don’t perform it. Read it straight.
  • Practice riff-writing. Riff writing is when you quickly flesh out a portion of an early draft that needs more depth or room. The author writes: “Most early drafts are ‘tight’—they are shells of what they need to be, outlines or condensed revisions of the full story … In twenty years as an independent editor, I ‘have rarely seen a manuscript overwritten …” Most are underwritten.
  • Add conflict to every single page. Even in quiet scenes, show inner conflict. Conflict shouldn’t be too up and down, either—it should rise slowly, evenly.
  • Avoid sagging middles. When conflict flattens out, or starts to go up and down, up and down endlessly without building, “… the reader will at some point get tired rather than more deeply worried about the outcome.”
  • The first chapter should raise lots of questions in the mind of the reader. Hook them good, right away with the main question of the book that’s not answered till the end.
  • The protagonist needs a backstory wound (one that is emotional in nature), as well as a universal need or personal yearning.
  • To learn more about great storytelling, read Newberry Award-winning books. Young adults are a hard audience to capture, and the way these books do it is highly instructive.

About the Author

A writing teacher and book editor since 1988, Elizabeth Lyon is the author of half a dozen books on how to write, revise, and market novels and nonfiction. In Manuscript Makeover, Lyon offers aspiring novelists the guidance and instruction they need to write and edit well-crafted and compelling stories that will stand out from the competition and attract the attention of agents and publishers.


Can’t quite get to all the nonfiction and self-help books that interest you? Read Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday here.

Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “Home Grown” by Ben Hewitt

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Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World is a book by one of my favorite people I’ve never met. Ben Hewitt is a homesteader, a homeschooling parent and a damn good writer. Everything of his is inspiring. Here he describes the unique way he raised his kids: on a large farm, with lots of books and a little tutoring.

Key Quotes

  • “I think of the way I’m so often caught off guard by some small, commonplace moment: the sight of our pet Muscovy duck, Web, waddling across the pasture; or seeing Fin and Rye moving over the land together on their way to or from the woods. From the way their heads are tipped just the slightest bit toward one another, I know they are talking. Sometimes, I cannot even identify a trigger, like when I am walking down the farm road and I am suddenly swept by a sense of knowing my place. Not just in the here and now, but in the grand, infinite scheme of things and forces far beyond my capacity to even imagine.”
  • “What I gain from these moments—the quick bloom of warmth they bring, the quiet sense of knowing that there is nothing else I need—cannot be readily measured, and because it cannot be measured, it cannot be traded. It is my own wealth. It is unique to me and therefore it is secure.”
  • “When I explain my children’s unconventional educational path, I am often confronted with skepticism. ‘What if they want to be doctors?’ people say. ‘How do they learn?’ I am asked. ‘What if they want to go to college? Don’t you worry about socialization?’ I have heard these questions so often that it is almost as if I can see the thought as it migrates from brain to tongue. I can hear the question before the question has been asked. The answers to these questions are at once simple (respectively: ‘If they want to be doctors, they will.’ ‘They learn because learning cannot be helped.’ ‘If they want to go to college, no one will be able to stop them.’ And ‘No, we are not worried about their socialization. Don’t you worry about what schoolchildren are socialized to?’) and complex.”
  • “Still, I can’t help but think of how my own sense of discernment over my time has shaped my life, and generally for the better. I did not like school, so I walked away from it. I did not like working for others, so I chose not to. I do not like to spend a lot of time indoors, so I don’t. The truth is, I want to live the way I want to live, conventions be damned, and I can only hope for my sons to know they can be so free.”
  • “I have no doubt that if Fin had been sent to a public school, he would have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and summarily prescribed behavior-modifying drugs.”
  • “And what we observed was that the son we worried would never be able to quiet his body and mind enough to concentrate on a particular task was actually capable of tremendous focus. Liberated from paint, paper, and all assumptions about how he should learn, Fin immersed himself in projects that seemed to blossom from some primal place deep inside him. At first, these projects had no discernible end: He spent hours hammering nails into a single piece of wood, or whittling a stick until it was so thin it splintered in his hand. But gradually, his pursuits became tangible. He built bows, spending hours carving and sanding. He became an expert at making cordage from gossamer threads of cedar bark.”
  • “Sometimes the greatest blessings come disguised as inconveniences.”
  • “There’s another part to it, and I think it’s that chores are an assumption of responsibility in a world that can sometimes feel devoid of such a thing. In a sense, chores are homage to the animals and crops under our care, the fulfillment of a silent promise not only to them but also to ourselves. It’s a promise not to take anything for granted, and that we won’t forget—for this one day, at least—that we are merely a part of something bigger than we can even imagine.”
  • “You might ask, ‘What is the point of knowing these things?’ To which I can only answer, ‘What is the point of knowing anything?’ By extension, we might both ask, ‘What is the point of an education?’ Is it to be socialized to a particular set of expectations? Is it to continue sawing at the few frayed strands still connecting us to the natural world? Is it to learn that learning happens best under the gaze of a specialist? If so, then perhaps you are correct. There is no point to my sons knowing what fox pee smells like, or which of the wild mushrooms in our forest are edible, or how to make fire from sticks. There is no point to the ease and comfort with which they move through the wilderness. There is no point to their desire to help our neighbor get his hay under cover before the rain comes. There is no point to their boundless curiosity regarding the habits of the woodland animals. There is no point to all the little shelters and tools they’ve built.”

About the Author

Ben Hewitt is an American author, journalist, and homesteader known for his works exploring alternative lifestyles, sustainable living, and the connection between humans and the natural world. He resides in Vermont, where he and his family have embraced a self-sufficient and off-grid lifestyle.

Hewitt has written several books that offer insights into his personal experiences and reflections on living close to nature and pursuing a simpler way of life. His works often blend memoir, philosophy, and environmentalism to explore themes such as sustainable agriculture, homeschooling, and the importance of community.


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Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert

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There are a lot of inspirational books on creativity out there, but my favorite is this one: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by the wonderful Elizabeth Gilbert. The reason I like it is that it doesn’t talk about how hard it is to be creative. It talks about inner resistance a bit, with the author concluding that writer’s block and other names given to the resistance is a bit … overrated.

Work hard, Gilbert advises. Be consistent. Show up. Do that, and you’re most of the way there. Woody Allen said that, but Gilbert expands on the idea in that authentic, heartfelt voice we love her for.

Key Takeaways

  • Perfectionism is ego. Don’t fall into this trap. Make peace with the paradox that what you’re doing is infinitely important, and at the same time, completely irrelevant to anyone but you.
  • You don’t need permission to create. You also don’t need feedback, or fans.
  • Originality is not possible; all ideas have been done. Instead, reach for authenticity.
  • Don’t create in order to help people or make money. Create because you like it. Then you’ll accidentally make stuff that help people, or at least entertain them genuinely.
  • The suffering artist is a myth. Depression is demotivating. People who created alongside depression and despair probably did it in spite of their emotional state, not because of it.
  • You are qualified enough. Men tend to think they’re qualified enough if they’re 41 percent of the way there. Women tend to wait till they’re 99 percent of the way there to consider feeling qualified enough.
  • Creativity comes in many forms. So does art. Don’t limit yourself.
  • The best artists often don’t seem to be the best or smartest or most educated. Talent picks randomly and surprises us.
  • Fear might always be with you as you create. Welcome it. Acknowledge its presence. It’s along for the ride and part of the family. But it doesn’t get to choose the station, fiddle with the A/C … and it certainly doesn’t get to drive. That’d be like giving the wheel to a three-year-old.

About the Author

Elizabeth Gilbert is an American author, best known for her memoir “Eat, Pray, Love,” which became a worldwide bestseller and was later adapted into a film starring Julia Roberts. The memoir chronicled Gilbert’s personal journey of self-discovery, as she traveled to Italy, India, and Indonesia after a difficult divorce. The book resonated with readers around the world, becoming a phenomenal success and remaining on the New York Times Best Seller list for more than 200 weeks.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing often explores themes of love, spirituality, self-discovery, and personal growth. Her works have been praised for their honesty, wit, and ability to resonate with readers on a deep emotional level. Gilbert continues to write and speak publicly about creativity, personal development, and the pursuit of a fulfilling life.


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Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday: “Grapevine” by Dave Balter and John Butman

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Grapevine: The New Art of Word-of-Mouth Marketing by Dave Balter and John Butman makes an excellent point: the best marketing in the world—the most effective, the most reliable—is word-of-mouth marketing. The problem: advertisers can’t drum it up, no matter how hard they try. Lasting, powerful word-of-mouth happens only when products and services are the real deal.

Read this book because you’re interested in marketing and business … or maybe because you just want people to start commenting on your YouTube videos already.

Key Takeaways

  • Genuine word-of-mouth is not “buzz.” It’s not the latest thing that everyone is talking about right now. It goes far deeper than that, and lasts longer.
  • People love talking about the stuff they buy. We do it all of the time. But why? The reasons are discussed in Grapevine. They include: the desire to educate or help, the desire to prove our knowledge, the desire to find common ground, the desire to validate our own opinions, and the pride of ownership.
  • Notable quote: “There’s a tiny part of the brain, the hypothalamus, that among other things helps regulate sexual urges, thirst and hunger, maternal behavior, aggression, pleasure, and to some degree your prosperity to refer. The hypothalamus likes validation – it registers pleasure in doing good and being recognized for it, and it’s home to the need to belong to something greater than ourselves. This is the social drive for making referrals.”

About the Authors

Dave Balter is a seasoned entrepreneur and founder of multiple successful companies. He has a deep understanding of consumer behavior and marketing strategies, with a particular focus on word-of-mouth marketing and customer engagement. Balter is known for his innovative approaches to building brands and creating impactful marketing campaigns. He has authored the book “Grapevine: The New Art of Word-of-Mouth Marketing,” where he shares insights and strategies for harnessing the power of word-of-mouth to drive business growth.

John Butman is a renowned author and storytelling expert. He specializes in helping individuals and organizations communicate their ideas effectively through compelling narratives. Butman’s expertise lies in the intersection of business, leadership, and storytelling, and he has collaborated with numerous executives and entrepreneurs to develop their communication skills and craft powerful narratives. He has co-authored several books, including “Breaking Out: How to Build Influence in a World of Competing Ideas,” which offers practical advice on storytelling and thought leadership.


Can’t quite get to all the nonfiction and self-help books that interest you? Read Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday here.