Saturday, January 15, 2011

Courage and Croissants

Courage and Croissants: Inspiring Joyful Living; By Suzanne Saxe-Roux and Jean Roux
(© 2010 St Rémy Press)

Today I look at a book that touts itself as "inspiring joyful living". This is the first book of 2011 for my book club and we thought we would start the year off on a positive note. While it sounded good from the back page description and had some glowing reviews, I knew I would have to make my own opinions. So I cracked the spine on this "story and life guidebook", as the subtitle suggests, and dug in to see what was on offer.

As you may have already guessed, this book is a memoir. It opens with an explanation of how to use the book. It is divided up into essentially two parts; the first being an account of their lives, the second a guidebook on how to improve your own life. I chose to read the book from front to back, so started in with a poem (of which I have a weakness for) and then was introduced to Suzanne and Jean. They chose to have inspirational quotes quotes start each chapter, and I myself like the touch. Before I even begin to read, I am taken to a positive place where I can find a touchstone of truth that relates to life. It is a gentle nudge to be kind to self and I think many need that nudge on occasion. 

After a brief prologue, where we are given quick contrasting images of Suzanne and Jean's life now and two years prior, the story begins. We are walked through a common tale of young love, where two people meet, fall in love, and make a life together. In their youth, they have great aspirations to do big and wonderful things, and their lives are fairly simple. Life is good.

As time marches on, Suzanne and Jean find success in their chosen paths and glory in all that life offers them, until one day they realize that they forgot something; children. The biological clock ticks loud as their forties begin. Always ready for a new hurdle, they decide to take a stab at raising a family as well, only to find that the prospect of getting pregnant is not as easy as they would like. A miscarriage shakes their world, followed by severe illness and death amongst their family and peers. Struggling to find a foothold amongst these emotional battles, while both working at extremely demanding jobs, starts to take its toll on them both. Desperate to find stability and happiness again, they let go of their dream to have a child, only to find themselves pregnant several months later, with Suzanne at the age of 45. Her age and other factors throw the pregnancy into the category of high-risk though, so stress continues to mount. At the same time, Suzanne's business partner, also her best friend, is rapidly deteriorating  from a battle with cancer. The death of her beloved friend is followed closely by the premature birth of their daughter.

These factors are the beginning signs that life is running away from Suzanne and Jean. With no time to schedule in meals, quality time with their daughter, or themselves, life becomes a rat race that quickly loses its joy. Never fear though, as the bleak picture that is painted in the early chapters of the book only serve as example of how anyone's life can spin out of control. Suzanne's goal in the writing of this book is to inspire you, the reader, to take stock of your own life and recognize what is not working. Her and Jean realize that they are no longer happy on their life paths and take steps to make life better. In a daring move, they sell Suzanne's business and move to France for a year. The plan; to slow down and experience all that life has to offer by way of travel, making time for themselves as individuals and as a family, and pursuing their own personal interests, such as painting and pottery. 

The book continues to highlight the process that Suzanne and Jean go through in order to reconnect with themselves and life as a whole. They explore fresh and local produce, Suzanne challenges herself to learn a language through immersion in France, and they truly take time to stop and smell the roses and baguettes along the way. She notes that obviously it is not possible for everyone to jet off to another country to find themselves, but that everyone has a way to create their own version of what life should look like. This includes taking time to eat a meal with your family at least once a week, if not daily, exploring a hobby that you have always had interest in, but never the courage to pursue, or even getting out of your daily routine, by taking a picnic to a new park where you can enjoy the fresh air and maybe the opportunity to paint a picture en plein air. With quotes and excerpts from her life journey, she encourages us all to find joy in all that life has to offer, and I cannot fault her for that in the least. 

I found Suzanne's exploration of life with fresh eyes, a simple and pleasant read. She is like so many, caught up in the fast-paced world and not recognizing that there is more to life than the bigger house, car or paycheck. Allowing herself to let go of all of her pre-conceived notions of the American Dream is a challenge to her, but what about the average person? I like to think we are in touch with ourselves, but alas that is not always the case I suppose.

The last section of the book offers some simple tips on how to make changes in your own life. I have to admit that I liked this section of the book less, as it came off slightly preachy. Some people appreciate clearly outlined steps though and I value what she is attempting. I prefer her "show; don't tell" method that is illustrated earlier in the book, but that is the writer in me griping I fear. The book does leave you with a positive feel though and I enjoyed the read. We shall see what the other ladies in my book club have to say when next we meet, but as for you, you have to form your own opinion. In the meantime, why not stop, pour yourself a glass of wine, open up a good book or blow the dust off your old paint set. Life is worth living, so why not start now...


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