Ellen Blum Barish

Ellen Blum Barish

Books are the mirrors of the soul.

Virginia Woolf

Now that I have released two books into the world and contributed to another, I have stumbled onto a thing that writers don’t talk about enough.

When the work that was ours – and only ours – for such a long time is finally out there, it’s no longer only ours.

It belongs to the reader. And becomes a mirror of that reader’s soul.

I am discovering this as my readers have generously been sharing their takeaways from the book – and what a variety of experiences they are having! Every human being absorbs a book in his or her own way. They think about it through their own lens and talk about it in their own language.

Some felt drawn to one theme over another. “A tender exploration of the shock and loss around a childhood car accident and the long-term ramifications of trauma.”

Others identified multiple themes. “How memory plays with our current lives, the serendipity of life, signs which play important roles and meaning in the bigger picture, faith and the power of writing.”

Some focused on the storyline. “A Mack truck!”

Others were curious about the structure. “Seven springs?”

Some were interested in what they saw as bravery in sharing such a personal story. “What courage and perseverance to turn tragedy into triumph.”

Others were excited by familiar details of place. “The passages about Philadelphia’s terrain verses Chicago’s in how they affect her writing knocked me out.”

Some were moved by one particular scene. “Oh that scene where your grandmother makes you a bath!”

Others were prompted to reflect on their own life. “I felt invited to consider things that may have happened in the past that continued to shape my life, whether I was aware of it or not.”

Some found themselves thinking about memory. “So interesting how things that we don’t remember affect us for a lifetime.”

Others felt pulled toward the sections on faith and doubt. “The insights drawn from her Jewish tradition and practice add wonderful depth for any reader, regardless of faith or lack of it.”

As I was writing the book, I knew that I was exploring certain themes. I thought of them as my whys.  I also thought of them in pairs, as conflict, because tension is the engine of a story. All together, I identified 10. Pain and healing. Family and friendship. Silence and voice. Doubt and faith. Memory and place.

And while many readers picked up on these themes, other readers who hadn’t read a book in a long while found themselves focused on how quickly they read the book (it’s a swift read at 140 pages) and some were moved at how I was able to bring the story to the page.

There are, perhaps, as many responses to a book as there are people.

Yet no matter what the reader takes away, for the author, there is a distinct letting go. Which can be challenging after years of ownership and laser focus.

But in order for a book to touch another soul – which I think is the mission of a book –  the author needs to step away from the mirror to allow room for a new reflection.


Upcoming Book Events (Live, In-Person around Chicago!)

Chicago Jewish Authors Series, in-person event; Monday, July 19, Max & Benny’s (Northbrook, IL), 7 pm

“Writing Trauma. Writing Faith” (single session, in-person) The Book Stall (Winnetka, IL), Sunday, September 19, 10 am.


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