The House on Teacher's Lane: A Memoir of Home, Healing, and Love's Hardest Questions

Synopsis

The House On Teacher's Lane is one of those rare books where readers dog-ear pages and send quotes to friends. Within its pages, you'll discover your own unspoken thoughts, recognize your own hopes and dreams, and be inspired to ponder your own most difficult relationships. You'll laugh and be moved throughout the book, and will come to feel that Rachel Simon is your kindred spirit.

The story opens when Rachel and her architect husband Hal begin to renovate their house on Teacher's Lane, and she braces herself for the ups and downs that often accompany such projects. But to her surprise, as the old walls fall, and new paint appears, she is propelled into a transformative journey that encompasses the deepest issues of life and love. With compassion and humor, The House On Teacher's Lane shimmers with memorable insights into the power of forgiveness, the struggle to find meaning and purpose, the compatibility of imperfection and happiness, and the ways broken bonds can be mended. Home renovation becomes a beautiful allegory for re-evaluating and repairing the most intimate of relationships.

Rachel Simon's warm and hopeful narrative will resonate with anyone who's ever cherished a friend, grown apart from a sibling, felt disappointed by a parent, searched for true love, questioned their life choices, or wondered where to go from here. The House On Teacher's Lane is for everyone who's ever experienced love in its many forms-and wrestled with its hardest questions.

The House On Teacher's Lane is the paperback edition of the 2009 book Building A Home With My Husband. ...First chapter Excerpt

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Reviews and Praise

From Kirkus:
Simon poignantly documents the next phase of her life (Riding the Bus with My Sister, 2002, etc.), in which the home becomes a metaphor for the soul.
After their row house in Wilmington, Del., was burglarized, Simon and her husband, an architect, resurrected an old argument about their living situation—he loved their urban neighborhood; she wanted more room. Since a new house was beyond their financial reach, they decided to stay and renovate. Thus begins a spiritual pilgrimage that Simon dubs the “Search for Life Purpose 2.0.” From the beginning, though, she makes it clear that she will not be wielding tools or even selecting paint. In an early scene at a hardware store, her husband was shocked by her indifference to plumbing displays. “Because Hal thinks in terms of things you can see or hear,” she writes, “he was sure I was exaggerating, despite the fact that my conversation seldom strayed from emotions and memory and relationships and the meaning of life.” As she does what she can—pack and unpack, mostly—she reviews her life: childhood wracked by the disappearance of her father, then her mother; her rocky relationships, culminating in marriage to Hal, “after nineteen years of one of the most ridiculous courtships in the history of love”; reconciliations with her mother, her father and her siblings. Because the requirements of the renovations made her more fully involved in the project that she initially planned, she began to see the beauty in the design of her life: “Just keep paying attention. Look around. See all that you don't let yourself see.” An unsentimental, poetic appraisal of life's big questions. 
(Agent: Anne Edelstein/Anne Edelstein Literary Agency)

From Publishers Weekly:
In her second memoir (after Riding the Bus with My Sister), Simon writes about her relationship with her husband, Hal. The two married after 19 years together (including a breakup and reunion) and moved into Hal's historic row house in Wilmington, Del. When the house is burglarized, the couple considers moving, but decide to renovate instead, both to save money and give Hal, an architect, the opportunity to design their abode. The decision, Simon writes, “will blow open the tight seal around everything I think I know about myself, about family, about the misunderstandings and resilience of love.” It makes for an intriguing narrative, punctuated by musings on everything from quitting to the definition of design to her life as a writer and public speaker. In this inspirational book, readers who have completed or are contemplating remodeling will empathize with Simon's frustration-induced fits of pique or the couple's rush of gratitude for a lovely home. (June)

“This book is a treasure the likes of which I never expected. Rachel Simon is a great writer and has incredible skill at describing inner life.  She is a wise soul.”
Dan Gottlieb, author of Letters to Sam and Learning from the Heart



Riding the Bus With My Sister

Synopsis

Rachel Simon's sister Beth is a spirited woman who lives intensely and often joyfully. Beth, who has an intellectual disability, spends her days riding the buses in her Pennsylvania city. The drivers, a lively group, are her mentors; her fellow passengers are her community. One day, Beth asked Rachel to accompany her on the buses for an entire year. This wise, funny, deeply affecting book is the chronicle of that remarkable time. Rachel, a writer and college teacher whose hyperbusy life camouflaged her emotional isolation, had much to learn in her sister's extraordinary world. These are life lessons from which every reader can profit: how to live in the moment, how to pay attention to what really matters, how to change, how to love—and how to slow down and enjoy the ride.

Elegantly woven throughout the odyssey are riveting memories of terrifying maternal abandonment, fierce sisterly loyalty, and astonishing forgiveness. Rachel Simon brings to light the almost invisible world of developmental disabilities, finds unlikely heroes in everyday life, and, without sentimentality, portrays Beth as the endearing, feisty, independent person she is. This heartwarming book about the unbreakable bond between two very different sisters takes the reader on an inspirational journey at once unique and universal. ...First chapter Excerpt

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Reviews and Praise

From Kirkus:
Family relationships and forgiveness converge in this true-life chronicle by novelist Simon (The Magic Touch, 1994) of a year that gave her better understanding of her mentally retarded sister. Beth Simon has ridden buses for years. Not the way most people do, to get from point A to point B, but "a dozen a day, some for five minutes, others for hours." When hyper-busy, thirtysomething Rachel comes for a visit, Beth asks for a holiday gift: for one year, several times a month, her sister will ride the buses with her. Reluctantly, Rachel agrees. Over the course of the year, she slowly comes to appreciate Beth's ingenuity and stops viewing her solely as a burden. The author gracefully avoids sounding preachy or didactic; she reveals herself to be at times supremely frustrated with her sister's behavior. ("On seventeen buses, over twelve hours, Beth's talk brims with spite about the brutes she encounters. . . . Her babble is unceasing, booming, and unvarying from bus to bus.") The real heroes here are the drivers, who include Beth in family outings, visit her in the hospital, encourage her to try new things, provide her with stability and human connections absent in her highly dysfunctional family. Rachel begins to see that her own life consists of nothing but work; she shut out friends and lovers long ago. This realization, along with Beth's helpful matchmaking ("I want to have a driver as a Brother in law," she writes), leads to a significant relationship. Rachel's reflections on her own life are interspersed with memories of a far-from-ideal childhood: undiagnosed depression exacerbated by Beth's condition toppled their mother, who took up with a violent ex-con after a nasty divorce. The three disparate narratives come together quite well and leave the reader cheering for a reconciliation between the sisters and the rest of the family.

From Publishers Weekly:
This perceptive, uplifting chronicle shows how much Simon, a creative writing professor at Bryn Mawr College, had to learn from her mentally retarded sister, Beth, about life, love and happiness. Beth lives independently and is in a long-term romantic relationship, but perhaps the most surprising thing about her, certainly to her (mostly) supportive family, is how she spends her days riding buses. Six days a week (the buses don't run on Sundays in her unnamed Pennsylvania city), all day, she cruises around, chatting up her favorite drivers, dispensing advice and holding her ground against those who find her a nuisance. Rachel joined Beth on her rides for a year, a few days every two weeks, in an attempt to mend their distanced relationship and gain some insight into Beth's daily life. She wound up learning a great deal about herself and how narrowly she'd been seeing the world. Beth's community within the transit system is a much stronger network than the one Rachel has in her hectic world, and some of the portraits of drivers and the other people in Beth's life are unforgettable. Rachel juxtaposes this with the story of their childhood, including the dissolution of their parents' marriage and the devastating abandonment by their mother, the effect of which is tied poignantly to the sisters' present relationship. Although she is honest about the frustrations of relating to her stubborn sister, Rachel comes to a new appreciation of her, and it is a pleasure for readers to share in that discovery. Agent, Anne Edelstein.

From Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Award Review:
We don't typically make a practice of "discovering" a writer twice. In fact, we have a rule about such things. In Rachel Simon's case, we were caught by surprise. She was originally "discovered" in 1994 for her novel The Magic Touch, but her new publisher was unaware of her Discover distinction when submitting her memoir for consideration. It was so enthusiastically received by our reading group that we forgot to check to see if her previous work had run the Discover gauntlet. Eventually, we learned that it had; but Riding the Bus with My Sister was just too good for us to pass up, even if we're not "discovering" this talented writer for the very first time.

In her late 30s, Rachel Simon made a decision to end one relationship and to reconsider another. Unattached and work-obsessed, with a single-minded focus on "becoming a Somebody who would live a Big Life," Simon came to realize she'd erected barriers around herself, creating little room for others. But during a visit to her mentally retarded sister, Beth, a challenge is issued, and Rachel reluctantly makes a commitment — to "ride the bus" with her sister for one year, recording her experiences.

With candor and newfound wisdom, gleaned both from her sister's straightforward and childlike approach to life, and surprisingly from the numerous bus drivers themselves (!), Simon alternates her bus-riding adventures with memories of her family's life. The resulting memoir is a touching journey to a richer, more meaningful life, and a story with a universal appeal.
(Fall 2002 Selection) School Library Journal Adult/High School

When she received an invitation to her mentally retarded sister's annual Plan of Care review, Simon realized that this was Beth's way of attempting to bring her back into her life. Beth challenged the author to give a year of her life to riding "her" buses with her. Even though Simon didn't know where it would take her, she accepted. During that time, she came to see her sister as a person in her own right with strong feelings about how she wanted to live her life, despite what others thought. Not everyone on the buses, drivers or passengers, liked or even tolerated Beth, and it shamed the author to realize that she sometimes felt the same way about her sibling. As the year passed, Simon came to the realization that "No one can be a good sister all the time. I can only try my best. Just because I am not a saint does not mean that I am a demon." The time together became a year of personal discovery, of acceptance, and of renewed sibling love and closeness. Clear writing and repeated conversations allow readers to hear the voices of both sisters. There is much to mull over, to enjoy, and to savor in this book.
—Peggy Bercher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA Copyright 2003 Cahners Business Information.

“A heartwarming, life-affirming journey through both the present and the past. . . . Read this book. It might just change your life.”
—Boston Herald

“You couldn't get off this bus if you tried.”
—Arizona Republic

“Slow down to savor Simon's keen insights, humor, and evocative storytelling.”
—Newsday

“Wonderfully crafted.”
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Stirring. . . . authentic and impressive, an enriching story of reconciliation and rediscovery. A terrific, heartwarming ride.”
—Rocky Mountain News

"Funny and poignant...This is one bus you won't want to miss."
—Don Meyer, Director of The Sibling Support Project




The Writer's Survival Guide

Synopsis

This inspirational guide for aspiring and experienced writers was published by Story Press in 1997. Written in a friendly, hopeful, and gently humorous tone, it focuses on the creative process and the emotional ups and downs of the creative life, providing insights into how to persist in the face of rejection, frustration, feelings of inadequacy, lack of support from loved ones, and more. It also offers practical advice, from how to organize your time so you actually sit down and write to how to read as a writer. Soon after publishing this book, Rachel wrote a companion volume, The Writer's Writing Guide, which covers the basics of craft, from character to dialogue to scene to showing versus telling. She never published the latter book, and instead made it, as well as the Writer's Survival Guide, available online for free. You can find them on this site. Just click on Tips On Writing.





The Magic Touch

Synopsis

This wild ride of a novel, published by Viking in 1994, is funny, sexy, satirical, linguistically exuberant, and utterly unique. Written as a fictional biography, it tells the life story of a woman with magical sexual powers that she uses to heal people: during the act of making love, her partners re-experience their most painful memories, and as she lives their memories with them, she removes their suffering and takes it into herself, leaving them cleaned, strong, and youthful. Woven through her story is that of her grandmother, whose own mysterious background propels the story forward in ways that begin as Faustian and end up as spiritual. The story culminates in an unforgettable, earth-shattering showdown between the forces of good and evil. Fay Weldon called The Magic Touch "the best book in ages." The New York Times said, "The various narratives are reminiscent of the work of Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan ... The storytelling reflects a giddy pleasure in the sounds of words and a taste for fantasy with heavy overlays of popular culture. It's as if the language itself has taken off its clothes and is dancing naked in the moonlight." You can read the New York Times book review here: http://bit.ly/zz1c.




Little Nightmares, Little Dreams

Synopsis

Rachel Simon's debut, published in 1990 by Houghton Mifflin, was a collection of stories about the struggle to find, or hold onto, love and intimacy. Most of these tales are told from the point of view of adolescent girls wrestling with their sexuality or elderly women fearing the loss of their husbands or family. Some are firmly rooted in reality, while others tread into magical realism, with the entire book being written in such a wide range of voices – from sassy to tender to bossy to vulnerable to irascible – that the Philadelphia Inquirer hailed Rachel Simon as "a literary ventriloquist." The title story, "Little Nightmares, Little Dreams", was presented on NPR's program Selected Shorts, and was adapted for the Lifetime program "The Hidden Room." Another story, "Paint", was adapted for the stage by the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia. ...Title story