Confronting Our Fears Through Literature
Books to Help Us Face Our Demons
So Halloween, it's a time where we dress up as things we fear, and a time where the things we don't want to talk about come to our doorstep asking for candy -- no not the children, but the grim reaper, or witches, or corpses, or (name your demon here).
The parade of costumes last week, and a recent conversation during which one of our teens lamented, "Why can't I have parents who don't talk about uncomfortable things?" has us thinking -- How does one develop comfort talking about uncomfortable topics?
Our answer, of course, is reading great books helps get these conversations started. So today, we are recommending books to help you think and ideally talk about some uncomfortable topics. May they all lead to great conversations.
Three items to note: 1) We experienced frustrating technical difficulties yesterday, denying us the chance to keep to our posting schedule of Mondays. 2) In our attempt to include all readers, we generated a long list of books (graphic novel, YA, nonfiction, poetry) and topics for this post. 3) We are making lemonade out of lemons and using some creative flexibility, by posting on two Tuesdays - today and next week. Today, we tackle death, mental health, addiction, and sexual assault. Next week - race, sexual identity, and politics. We truly hope these reviews lead to books that help us all have difficult conversations more often (or at least to better understand the news of late).
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast (2014) - First brought to our attention by Lucinda Walker, town librarian extraordinaire, this memoir is funny, poignant, and helpful. It truly offers a superbly humorous way to approach failing health and ultimately death. As Lucinda said in her six-word review during the 2014 Pages in the Pub, "Laugh. Cry. Laugh again. Then talk". ~ Lisa Christie
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi (2016) – (First reviewed in the summer of 2016.) At the outset, we know that the author, 36-year old Paul will succumb to lung cancer at the height of his career as a neurosurgeon. Don’t let this deter you from reading his incredible story and from benefiting from the insights he gleaned during his short life. Dr. Kalinithi is a brilliant writer who was curious from a young age about the workings of the mind and it’s connection to our soul. He studied philosophy and creative writing before committing to medicine. These studies give him other lenses from which to explore profound questions. He is candid with the reader about his personal and professional struggles. Ultimately, I found this book hopeful and inspiring. When I turned the last page I immediately wanted to share it with loved ones. ~ Lisa Cadow (and seconded by Lisa Christie)
Turtles All The Way Down by John Green (2017) - As someone for whom Mr. Green's novel The Fault in Our Stars devastated and sustained me because I read it while a lovely, young friend died from cancer, and as someone for whom his An Abundance of Katherines, had me laughing aloud as I pictured the text as an old-fashioned buddy movie (with a Muslim teen in a starring role), I hesitated to read Mr. Green's latest novel as I was afraid it would disappoint. It does not. The main character - Aza and her best friend Daisy - a writer of Star Wars fan fiction, meander through high school, first loves, and math in Indianapolis. However, Aza also suffers from spiralling thoughts that take over her life, a mental health condition treated in a straightforward and insightful manner as this lovely tale unfolds. The characters feel real, the situations are not cliche, and Mr. Green's writing about teen life propels the reader forward faster than he or she might wish -- savoring a good story is a gift we all can benefit from. Perhaps, what touched me the most was his matter of fact acknowledgement at the end of the novel that mental illness affects Mr. Green's own life. I also appreciated his gift of providing resources in his end notes, and second his hope that those who suffer from mental illness are not alone in their journeys. ~ Lisa Christie
The Outrun by Amy Liptrot (2017) - When Amy Liptrot decides to confront her alcoholism head on, she makes a beeline from the bright lights and big city of London to her home in the Orkney Islands of northern Scotland. She grew up there on a farm; the "outrun" refers to a remote pasture on her parents' land. In this frank memoir (one reviewers and readers alike have compared to Helen MacDonald's phenomenal 2015 H Is For Hawk) Ms. Liptrot reflects on her sense of place and the role her upbringing played in her addiction. Her journey shares her triumphs, learnings, and challenges. She brings us to the brink -- and to the northernmost reaches of Scotland, writing at one point from an isolated cottage on the island of Papa Westray, where Scotland's oldest dwelling is located dating from 3500BC. Highly moving, haunting, and recommended. ~Lisa Cadow
Missoula by Jon Krakauer (2015) – It took awhile for this to get to the top of my bedside stack of books, but once I started I could not put it down. Mr. Krakauer’s rigorously researched analysis of 52 months of reported sexual assaults around the University of Montana is enlightening, sad, anger-provoking and most tragically could have been written in so many college towns. This is important, read it, ponder it, and somehow act to end a culture in which victims are punished over and over again. ~ Lisa Christie
the sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur (2017) - Somehow we missed Ms. Kaur's first best-selling book, but in a time where the news is full of people behaving horribly and many of us feel angst and hopelessness, Ms. Kaur's honest poems about heart-break, loss, rape, love, relationships, and hope seem needed. This collection is divided into five sections wilting, falling, rooting, rising, and blooming; falling deals with sexual assault and it's aftermath. We leave you with a quote from this collection, "to hate is an easy, lazy thing, but to love takes strength everyone has, but not all are willing to practice". ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie
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