Memoir Book Review: An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days by Susan Wittig Albert

by Amber Lea Starfire on February 16, 2011

catnav-book-raves-active-3Post #79 – Women’s Memoirs, Book & Video Raves – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler



Memoir Book Review of An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days by Susan Wittig Albert

Reviewed by Amber Lea Starfire


Can a year’s worth of journal entries be engaging and thought-provoking? Or are journals best left as private conversations with oneself?  As a longtime journal writer and promoter of journaling, I approached An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days by Susan Wittig Albert with these questions, and came away with some surprising answers.

As we read her journal for 2008, we learn about the life of a working author, a concerned citizen, a homesteader, a woman who is passionate about writing, reading, gardening and being an active part of her family and community. A woman who cherishes her relationships and experiences loss. A woman who makes lists and struggles with balancing all the disparate parts of her life. An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days is, in fact, a window into the life — the thoughts, fears, hopes and dreams — of a woman who is both different and not so different from you or me. There is comfort in an ordinary life.

Albert writes of small town doings, rural life with roofs that need repairing, fences mending, and cars fixing. Of changing seasons, magnificent landscapes, and daily walks with her beloved dogs. Grounded in the love of her natural surroundings Albert’s prose is evocative, ranging from descriptions of spring’s redbuds, blue-eyed grass, and Indian paintbrush to haunting winter nights.

The mountains in moonlight, white shoulders bright against the black night sky, curtains of clouds like pale smoke blowing across the moon, painting moving shadows, blue across the white snow. Cold and utter, utter stillness. (201.)

She gives us insight into her love of the simple life by describing how it was to grow up on an Indiana farm with no electricity, no car, and an outdoor privy.

I loved … hot evenings in summer when green seemed to swallow every other color and the warm air clung like damp silk to my skin. And the early winter twilight when I was alone with the curious cattle and the birds and the fields, the grasses frost-bleached, the color of old bones, and the bare-limbed trees and the low, gray, all-embracing sky. (29)


[Kindle Version shown to the left] An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days is also a story about reading and writing. A voracious reader who consumes an impressive number of books each month (the book list at the end of each chapter and the resource list and index at the back of the book are alone worth the price of the book), Albert includes relevant quotes from her reading in the generous margins. She writes about plot and structure and how a story comes to a writer as much as a writer to her story. And she writes about what it’s like to be a working author, juggling the double demands of creating new material with marketing what’s already been published.

At the same time, 2008 was a year of extraordinary upheaval, and Albert’s daily entries often contain summaries of current events — financial melt down, death tolls rising in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the election of our first Black president. The journal describes the arc of Susan Wittig Albert’s rising environmental awareness about climate change, energy depletion, and the economy. As she writes so eloquently, “I can’t turn my back on the earth: if I do, there’s nothing left to turn toward. … We have to look at the everything, the beautiful, the ugly. We have to see it. We have to bear witness.” Susan Wittig Albert’s reading shifted her consciousness and habits in many ways during that year. As readers, we can’t help but be touched and influenced by her personal journey.

An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days is a book to be sipped, pondered, considered, and inspired by. Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

To find out more about Susan Wittig Albert and her experience writing a journal for publication, read today’s blog interview with her on http://www.writingthroughlife.com

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