ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: The Realistic Optimist – A Collection of Essays by Ellie Bushweller

457827 Ellie Bushweller cover


This book was written by a person who has a full and active life as a wife, mother, grandmother, nurse, counselor and freelance writer. She has been a keen observer of many aspects of human interest.

It is a collection of essays that are concerned with a wide variety of topics. The essays are insightful, informative, humorous and hopeful.

This book should appeal to all those who are intrigued by all the joys and concerns that impact people’s daily lives.


There are many essays out there in the world, and books like The Realistic Optimist are the best possible kind of persuasion I need to read more of them. Like many readers, my main exposure to the form came in college–first, as an undergraduate learning the basic definitions and structure, and then as a graduate student experimenting with genre expectations and strengthening my sentences. There were essays on supersonic planes, on oranges, on eclipses, on eating unprocessed foods, on shopping every store in the Mall of America, on sports, on hunting, and the list goes on. What there wasn’t, for the most part, was a collection of essays from a single author that captured my interest and felt like something more than a couple of really good works surrounded by filler.

Until now.

For most of a decade, Ellie Bushweller essayed for her local South Burlington’s The Other Paper. Her columns chronicled the daily lives of not just the people she met and the scenes she witnessed, but also the comings and goings of squirrels. Of seasons. Of one’s fellow bench-mates in the park. Of the tools and technologies that pass through our lives. Of time itself. Each of the roughly one hundred essays in this collection were written with conviction and heart, and while the occasional line indicates an essay’s origin in a newspaper column, the collection does not suffer from the change in delivery method.

It is fitting, I think, that The Other Paper would cover this collection of essays which it helped bring into the world with warmth and affection. There’s simply no reading of this book … and no encountering of Bushweller herself … without feeling touched by sunshine. One can easily see why and how she developed a loyal following among the newspaper subscribers of South Burlington.

Which isn’t to say that Bushweller hasn’t walked through some valleys and shadows and maybe even done dark alleys. After a childhood in Brooklyn, she grew into an adulthood as a nurse working to care for children and adults in a dilapidated city housing project. Still, despite life’s hardships witnessed and experienced daily, she clearly never closed her heart to the possibility of doing some good simply by being … a realistic optimist.


Come for the squirrel stories but stay for the bittersweet authenticity of a life lived with gusto and conviction, gentleness and generosity. The Realistic Optimist is rich with spirit and a balm in tough times. It is also a love letter to a decade of life in a specific time and place–South Burlington–that deserves witness.


You can find The Realistic Optimist wherever good books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about Ellie Bushweller’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.


I’ll be going back to one of my wheelhouses, which is to say novel-length works of memoir and nonfiction. (Although frankly, I can fall in love with any genre if the writing is strong.) I’m working on a memoir of combat in Vietnam: God, Me and the Blackhorse by Barry Beaven. I tend to be deeply affected by stories of war, so I’m taking it slow and checking in and out of some other, lighter works … but I think Beaven’s will be the next book to make it into my reviews. You can catch those thoughts on Beaven’s book in two weeks here on Self Publishing Advisor.


I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Amazon book listing.


ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

2 thoughts on “ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: The Realistic Optimist – A Collection of Essays by Ellie Bushweller

  1. Kendra,
    Thank you very much for the review you did for my book. I appreciate the very positive and detailed review you wrote. It is my hope that this book of essays will reach out to many people and provide a much needed uplift, in a variety of ways.Particularly at this time when so many people are dealing with so many challenges, i.e. the coronavirus, loss of jobs, death of loved ones and so much more.

    1. You are so very welcome, Ellie. It was an absolute pleasure reading your book! -Kendra

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