JoAnn Fastoff’s latest book, “Two Years of Heaven (stories of rekindled happiness),” actually made me smile. And laugh a few times.
It’s a short book with a cover that melds photos of sunrise over water and leafy forest. Inside are stories – short essays, really – about the happiest two years 23 people can remember. While those stories vary widely in content and tone, they consistently convey honesty and inspiration. They also offer proof of the idea that joy is joy, regardless of the source.
She’s also filled the book with pictures she’s taken of beautiful spots in the world. The images don’t have direct connections to the stories, but they do create lovely places for the reader’s eye to rest and, perhaps, to meditate on a story just read or a happy moment brought to mind.
One of my favorite stories is from Donna, a florist, who recalls a summer in France and an invitation to decorate the East Room in the White House for Christmas. The first describes a simple, happy period from her childhood. The second tells of the fulfilment of a request she made after having her picture taken with Barak Obama before he became president.
Another is from JL, a marketing entrepreneur, who started work at GM after college graduation. He shared an elevator ride to his office on his first day of work with another new employee who questioned and critiqued JL the entire ride. I don’t want to spoil the story, but know that JL’s demeanor under fire – and under the eye of a third man in the elevator – started his career off quite well.
JoAnn’s own story, at the end of the book, is also a fun insight into the author and editor of “Two Years of Heaven.”
There are stories about overcoming difficulties, about fun vacations, about love and, yes, loss. Each writer, however, recalls moments of triumph, joy, and recovery that made up some of the happiest times in his or her life.
When JoAnn told me about the book, she said her goal was to explore what heaven might be like. She explains in her introduction that different cultures have different ideas about heaven, but that happiness is part of those descriptions. She thought sharing the happiest times in our lives might anticipate the bliss of heaven.
The book is a departure for her. She’s written mostly thrillers featuring FBI agent Howard Watson and an amazingly varied cast of characters. Yet, “Two Years of Heaven” is consistent with her fiction in drawing on people of all backgrounds, races and genders to create an enjoyable read.
I read through the book in one sitting, but it’s not really necessary. You might want leave it on the nightstand and pick up from time to time for a laugh, for some inspiration, or for a sneak preview of what heaven might be like.
By Sharon Boehnfield – President of Rockford, IL’s In-Print Magazine and Writers Association