Wolfie began to eat my copy of War and Peace very early on my birthday morning. I was upstairs shaving. Spread out on the couch in the living room, his head rested on its arm, his usual pose. I had set Tolstoy on the edge of the cushion, about 8 inches from his mouth. What me worry? I am fortunate that Wolfie did not move on and eat words or paragraphs. I love this book.
War and Peace is a realist novel. Tolstoy’s Russia before Napoleon’s invasion of 1812, during and after, is a description of an entire society caught in a cataclysm. He concentrates on showing the travails and evolution of members of the aristocracy, the educated classes, but in 1215 pages he made a canvas so encompassing that serfs, merchants, officers and ordinary soldiers all receive their humane due – that is, their measure of Tolstoy’s capacious empathy and insight into the human condition.
It takes an initial effort to begin to read 1215 pages. It takes an effort to fight off our noisy, frenetic, globalized world and descend into an early 19th century Russia where family names, status, connections and passionate attachments undiluted by irony are the norm. Do not be put off by its length. You will do yourself a disservice if you put this novel down because of its heft and the commitment you believe is required to read it. After orienting yourself to its setting and pace, the narrative moves quickly.
Reading this novel is akin to slowly descending into a cavern. You lose the light and sounds of our world by increments as you descend, but at some point, Tolstoy’s sharply drawn characterizations and his perfectly chosen details of dress and landscape and manner and action take you over and begin to live inside you so possessively and passionately that sometimes when you raise your head from the book, when you step away from the cavern, the light of your real life can be disorienting. After a particularly powerful scene, you emerge stunned; sometimes I found myself saying aloud, “Daaamn!”
The reader begins inside a center of intrigue surrounding the deathbed illness of Count Bezukhov, one of the wealthiest men in Russia. From there it expands into other families of Counts and Princes and Princesses who all speak French, who think of marriages as unions of families and as the engines of generations of wealth and privilege — as the reader you know that an earthquake is coming, and that their lives will be shaken, erased, burned out. You listen to them express their admiration for Napoleon, their coming destroyer. Their comfortable world is coming to an end at the bayonet point of Napoleon’s 600,000 men, and no one can see it. You watch them earnestly and blithely making plans, and many of them matter so much to you that you are anxious to know that they will be safe. Many will not be safe.
Tolstoy creates characters geologically; in 1215 pages he has given himself the luxury of time, space and pressure for his men and women to take evolving shapes – his psychological perceptions are better than any other novelist I have read. His third-person narration leads us through door after door of a character’s consciousness – through layers of sensations and of shifting, minutely observed scenes and emotional, moral, and intellectual reactions. These are never dull because Tolstoy has found a way to tell the truth about all of this – you find yourself saying “Yes, even though I would not have predicted that reaction, that is what he or she would do or say. That is authentic.” For example, this three sentence paragraph gives you a sense of his method: “Anna Mikhailovna was already embracing her and weeping. The countess was also weeping. They wept because they were friends; and because they were kind; and because they, who had been friends since childhood, were concerned with such a mean subject – money; and because their youth was gone … but for both of them they were pleasant tears….” You read of their weeping, you witness their embrace, and then the cascade of impressions increases – weeping because they are childhood friends, because they are kind to each other, and ashamed of their desire for money, and aware of their lost youth, and yet their tears are “pleasant”. All of these impressions are occurring simultaneously. In separating them, Tolstoy makes us aware of our own wash of feelings, all of them moving at high speed. We move closer to them because we recognize our own consciousness in motion in them.
For example, Pierre Bezukhov, arguably the central character of the novel, captured by the French when they occupy Moscow, is taken in a forced march on the French retreat. The French are shooting those prisoners who cannot keep up with the column. Pierre had made a good friend of Karataev, a peasant soldier. Karataev becomes more and more sick and finally signals to Pierre to come to him. Pierre pretends to ignore his signal. It is implied that Pierre knew that Karataev’s end was near. Pierre moves away from him, and when the march resumes, goes on. Tolstoy tells us that “Pierre did not look any longer. He went limping up the hill.” Note the absence of any emotional reaction to the abandonment. Then, “from behind, where Karataev had been sitting, came the sound of a shot. Pierre heard the shot clearly, but the moment he heard it, he recalled that he had not finished [a] calculation … of how many marches remained to Smolensk. And he started to count.” Later still: “Like him, his soldier comrades, walking beside Pierre, did not turn to look at the place from which the shot had been heard and then the howling of the dog; but there was a stern look on all their faces.” Pierre (and Natasha) is one of two most rigorously humane characters in the novel, the ones with the deepest capacity for empathy for others, but here he and his comrades shut themselves off from sympathy. They have no control over what happens to Karataev. They focus on staying alive. They block their emotions. They seem to focus only on going on, on enduring. In my most secret admission to myself, would I not have done the same?
Powerful scene after scene passes under our astonished gaze: the description of the battles of Austerlitz and Borodino*, the cavalry officer Denisov’s attack at the bridge at Austerlitz, the burning of Moscow, the execution of the `arsonists’, Kuragin’s attempted seduction of Natasha, Prince Andrei’s death scene (I cannot believe that another novelist has written more sensitively and perceptively about death), Natasha’s rescue of her mother after her brother Petya’s death through her “… love, persistent, patient, … a summons to life.” . Prince Andrei, his sister, Princess Marya Bolkonsky, Pierre, Natasha Rostov and her brother Nicholas Rostov – these characters are alive the same way that Hamlet or Lear or Iago or Ahab or Desdemona is alive. They take up so much sympathetic space in your imagination because you spend so many intimate moments with them.
Marya finally comes out of her sorrow for the death of her brother when she understands that “life did not stop, and one had to live.” Napoleon’s army is destroyed. Peace returns. The dead are mourned. Wounds close. Life does not stop. I closed the book grudgingly. I did not want this story to come to an end. I will read it again.
*Read David Howarth’s short history Waterloo: Day of Battle for another, more direct and comprehensive description of how late 18th/early 19th century battlefields would have looked and felt.
I assume I am like many book lovers in one way. The end of the year finds me casting a wistful glance back at the many books I intended to read. Lack of time and discipline, compounded by the overwhelming distractions of daily life, and the constant need to read "forward" -- got in the way of my intentions.
Last month's publication of Transit by Rachel Cusk served as a reminder of one of my novels-never-read in 2015, Outline. Outline and Transit, both from publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux are installments in an intended trilogy by the acclaimed Cusk. The first book in the series, Outline, was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2015 by the New York Times during a year graced by the publication of so many remarkable novels.
Both Outline and Transit are highly unconventional novels. The protagonist, a writing teacher and novelist, serves as our narrator and tour guide through a series of conversations with her students, traveling companions, fellow writers and friends, hairdresser, contractor, the list goes on. A gifted listener and observer who rarely interjects commentary or questions into these conversations, she is a sounding board and mirror for her companions' stories of loss, love, self-awareness, grief and growth. Often, the stories begin innocently as -- in one example -- a breathless explanation for why a friend has arrived late to a dinner. From such innocent beginnings, the thread of each nested story unravels and the conversations serve bit by bit to reveal a larger truth in the overarching outer story of our protagonist. The stories rarely end up where you might imagine they are headed and we are afforded tiny glimpses into the life of our narrator through these largely one-sided conversations.
Rachel Cusk's writing is restrained, elegant, smart and accessible. In a time of careless and chaotic misuse of words, her writing has yielded what one reviewer termed "lethally intelligent" novels. I highly recommend purchasing both books together as you will need to pick up the second immediately after finishing the first. You will recognize the novels by their inviting dust jacket design which unifies them gracefully as a series: a simple page of lined paper lifted at the corner to expose the vivid blue of the Aegean Sea (Outline is set in Athens) and a gilded song bird in flight on the cover of Transit.
Enjoy and happy reading!
Norwegian Wood is a novel I have revisited several times. It's become a tradition to read it every year of my high school career. Each year, the book changes with me. As I gain new insights, this nostalgic story finds new meaning. Originally published in 1987, Norwegian Wood sold 3 million copies across Japan within its first year. It went on to be translated into over 40 different languages. This was the novel that transformed Murakami from a struggling artist into a major commercial success.
The story revolves around Toru, a 19 year old student, and his relationships with the people he meets in his college life. Set in 1970’s Tokyo during the education reform movement, readers share the experience with Toru and other students as they fight for their right to an education. Toru falls in love with a young woman named Naoko, whom he has known since high school. She is stuck in the past but still manages to smile. Around the same time Toru meets Midori, a woman who is the polar opposite of Naoko.
The majority of characters in Murakami’s work are college students and other people in transitional periods in their lives. Murakami is fascinated with the magic of this stage of life, and with recalling his own memories of that time. His stories are fueled by his passion for music (especially jazz). While reading Norwegian Wood, you can feel the rhythm of Murakami’s words and the melody of the story. Beautifully constructed sentences with vivid adjectives will strike your curiosity. Murakami’s ruminations on death are profound, and describe it in such a way so that it does not destroy you, but rather makes it clear. He creates a world that is so easily accessible, even to those of us who know next to nothing about Japanese culture.
Murakami’s ability to authentically capture the feeling of adolescence in this melancholy rights of passage love story has led the book to be dubbed the Japanese Catcher In the Rye. If you are new to the magical and mysterious world of Murakami, I would highly recommend starting with Norwegian Wood.
By Jen Sincero
Yes. Yes. I know. I AM a badass. Well, ok, so I am a 51-year-old suburban woman who wears cardigans, but I am convinced of my ‘bad-assery’ after reading this book. Jen Sincero, author of “You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life” thoroughly convinced me of this fact after reading her book. I am more of a memoir/novel/historical fiction reader, but every once in a while, a self-help book will pique my interest. (And by the way, can we come up with a better genre name for “self- help”? Ugh, it sounds so needy and pathetic…perhaps “personal transformation” or “motivational”?...and I can assure you that I am not needy or pathetic…especially after my newfound superhero/rock star/badass status.)
This book has been on the non-fiction bestseller list for a year now. It has caught my eye over and over again while cruising around our fabulous Wellington Square Bookshop, and then I received a copy from a friend for Christmas; so I was thoroughly excited to read it.
Interestingly, Jen Sincero’s basic rules for success already exist in all of us. She outlines:
“Doubt is resistance, faith is surrender. Worry is resistance, joy is surrender. Control is resistance, allowing is surrender. Ridicule is resistance, believing is surrender. Energy needs to flow or it stagnates. Surrender puts you in the flow.” Let it in, and be your best self. Happy 2017.
By Raymond Carver
In between school and thinking about how much I hate school and pretending I’m an adult who doesn’t have to go to school, there are weeks I don’t have much time to read. I’ll have a few spare minutes of mindless waiting here and there and in the spirit of avoiding conversation, I’ve developed a habit of always carrying a book of short stories on my person.
I’m surprised how many people seem to despise short stories, finding them frivolous, not worth the time, either too ambiguous in their morals or not ambiguous enough. Friends scoff at me, denouncing anything short as meaningless, weak, full of a lot of nothing, and I pull up the Wikipedia page of Napolean Bonaparte and drop my microphone.
“But,” you still say, “novels are so much more rewarding! Worlds and characters worth knowing cannot be crafted with sparse language.” To thee I say, “Way to use the word ‘cannot,’ and also you art wrong, sir! Hast thou not heardst of Raymond Carver?”
Or more accurately: have you seen the movie ‘Birdman,’ wherein a theatre produces a play version of Carver’s short story ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’? Michael Keaton’s in it and the camerawork, my God, is a sight for sore eyes. Rent it on Redbox or something. Or don’t. I can’t tell you how to live your life.
Carver achieved acclaim as one of the best short story writers around- he was an American Alice Munro, if you will, although his prose reads more like a curt recounting of last Friday night’s sad barhopping than Munro’s arthouse-film-worthy dialogue. In his collection ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,’ Carver focuses his snapshots on middle class America, failing relationships, men undergoing emotional transitions- but trust me, it’s not as tiring to read as it sounds.
In ‘The Bath,’ a kid gets hit by a car and his mother, well, takes a bath. In ‘Viewfinder,’ a man with a hook hand tries to sell pictures of houses. In ‘Gazebo,’ my personal favorite, a couple discusses the cesspool of nostalgic retellings that their marriage has become. The seventeen short stories in this volume all contain a faint trace of walking depression, of money woes, of the ghosts of old lovers scratching at IKEA bedposts.
If I’m being honest with myself, Carver’s imagery confronts me when I open my eyes every morning. I see his version of America when I go to the grocery store, when I people-watch at King of Prussia, when the phone rings. Maybe I’m obsessed with the notion of hidden tragedy, sure, but at least Carver’s tragedy is short and Clorox-clean, like he forgot what he was writing halfway through and wrote summaries of Russian novels instead. You can fly through Carver’s compilation in bird's eye view, soaring over rows of beige rooftops, pausing to listen as tired husbands and wives crumble like veritable Berlin walls. He’s captured suburbia and spat it out in spot-on puddles of feeling and sepia. He’s taken the complexity, the exhaustion of everyday life and condensed it into tales I can read while avoiding eye contact with that smelly guy in my english class. If literature is about escapism, if escapism is about confronting reality through the lense of a man with a gentle hand, Carver is king of the confused, disillusioned masses.
In short: I am in awe of Carver and if he were still alive I’d find out where he lived and take polaroids of him eating from inside his bushes.
“That morning she pours Teacher’s over my belly and licks it off. That afternoon she tries to jump out the window.” ~ Raymond Carver, ‘Gazebo’
I’ve been reading too many books about adultery lately.
I never thought one could read too many books about adultery- after all, what better a subject to consume the entirety of one’s waking hours- yet here I am. Arthur Miller, Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Gabriel Marquez, Fitzgerald - it seems a lot of dead dudes thought about cheating. Maybe a lot of alive dudes think about it too; I’m no clairvoyant. I’ve spent the past month reading divorce statistics in the United States, in other countries, on Mars. The whole thing’s got me thinking about what marriage is, this day and age, and what we as a society have come to hold sacred.
Sometimes I go outside to get sunlight and water my leaves. Eat a scoop of fertilizer. My friends are all like, “OMG look look look” and I’m like, “What hot guy? And do you have any thoughts about the evolution of marriage as a possibly outdated, merely economic-based institution?”
It has come to my attention that no one wants to have this discussion.
In the hopes of mending my social standing, last weekend I re-read my favorite Stephen King novel to put me in a more conversation-friendly mindset. Yeah, I realize the irony underlying this. Sometimes a girl just wants to switch from reading about adultery to death, you know? I was in the mood for either King or Twilight and come on, don't make me go down the Edward vs. Jacob road again. That was a dark time.
So. Different Seasons by the Master of Craft, Stephen King. I read this gem a few years ago during my pizza-face acne stage, and the novel almost blocked out all the nightmares I had of kids trying to eat my greasy red face. (Sometimes I dream of hordes of Abercrombie-sporting kids placing pepperonis on my cheeks while I’m tanning on a sunbathed beach, but that’s the fault of Albert Camus, not King. Thanks Camus.)
Different Seasons contains four different novellas: ‘Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption,’ ‘Apt Pupil,’ ‘The Body,’ and ‘The Breathing Method.’ Most human beings living in the US have heard of ‘Shawshank’ because of the film based off of it, and the book’s far better than that stupid movie but you knew that, you smart well-read person you.
Who cares about ‘Shawshank,’ though, when you have ‘Apt Pupil,’ which was also made into a movie I hate talking about. ‘Apt Pupil’ really is the only reason I’m writing this review. The other three novellas are stellar, typical King with some great character work to boot, but ‘Apt Pupil’ is something else.
A boy suspects his elderly immigrant neighbor of being a Nazi war criminal, and get this- the neighbor is a Nazi war criminal! It all goes awesomely twisted from there. Light reading to complement the optimistic daily news, you know?
As a deftly-crafted thriller ‘Apt Pupil’ can stand alone, but it’s so much more than a typical Tuesday night for King enthusiasts. The novella explores the manifestation of curiosity, the psychological effects of blackmail, the brain’s odd relation to control, and the origins of prejudice and hate; the story discusses where violence starts and raises the ubiquitous question: are certain people born evil, or is evil something that must be carefully crafted by the midnight recesses and playgrounds of our minds?
I haven’t decided which is worse for maintaining friendships, reading about adultery or boys obsessed with Nazis.
I’ll get back to you on that.
Great Winter Reads!
Leopard at the Door by Jennifer McVeigh
It may be icy and cold here in Chester County but I was transported to sun-drenched Kenya in Jennifer McVeigh’s Leopard at the Door. This nail biter takes place in 1952 as the Mau Mau organize with the intent of uniting the Kenyans and overthrowing the colonial British.
Eighteen-year old Rachel returns to her father at the family farm in Kenya after spending 6 years in boarding school in England after the death of her mother. She expects her idyllic childhood to resume but is quickly caught up in conflict with her father’s new love interest and with the violence between the Kenyans and local colonials.
She steps into further conflict when she begins a relationship with a young Kenyan, something totally forbidden by both cultures.
What makes this more than a trite love story is McVeigh’s skillful exploration of the complexity inherent in colonialism and human rights. The bad guys are really bad (something essential to a great story) but the reader’s challenge is to figure out just who the bad guys really are. Just who is the leopard at the door?
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Transport yourself to the edge of the Russian wilderness where winter lasts the better part of the year. This is a world where families live in harmony with household spirits who protect those within from evil creatures inhabiting the forests. Our heroine, Vasilisa, and her family prosper until Vasilisa’s mother dies and a new stepmother introduces a new priest from Moscow to the community. The old ways are left behind, the household spirits weaken, and evil stalks closer threatening all with destruction. Vasilisa was born with gifts that many see as witchcraft but it is those gifts that ultimately save the community.
I loved the fantasy element to this story – horses talk and fly, household spirits live in the hearth, and seemingly fictional fairy tale characters like Morozko (Jack Frost) display magical powers. This story is colorful and rich with culture like a matryoshka doll.
The Bear and the Nightingale is book one in a trilogy.
One of the things I love about reading is that I can be transported into lives and places I personally have not lived – reading expands my thinking, entertains my senses and broadens my view of the world.
Political monsters go beyond accepted codes of decency again and again and feel no remorse. If they are not caught, unmasked, or stopped cold, they will continue. They believe their power gives them the right to do as they wish to the powerless for “the wolf is entitled to the lamb.”*
Some are able to disguise themselves. They escape justice by relocating and fading in, by adopting a new identity, by shifting themselves into a new landscape — Mengele in Brazil, Eichmann in Argentina, Amin in Saudi Arabia. They attempt to remove their atrocities from their actions as easily as a man hangs up a hat. Often, their charisma remains, a self-assurance that gives them a compelling presence.
In The Little Red Chairs O’Brien brings us Fidelma, an Irish woman unhappy in her marriage and feeling trapped by the isolation and stifling codes of her village. She falls for a newly arrived emigrant, a large, quiet, courtly, self-proclaimed healer and poet, white-bearded as a patriarch, and a man adept in his guise, Doctor Vlad, a character modeled after Radovan Karadzic, the former leader of the Bosnian Serbs, and a war criminal responsible for thousands and thousands of deaths.
Vlad is capable of tenderness and genuine concern. He knows how to listen. That he could be the “Butcher of the Balkans” is unimaginable. He persuades a suspicious priest and police officer that he is incapable of harm, that he is benign.
When his disguise fails him (upon being recognized by a casualty of his cruelty who is working a party for a caterer), Fidelma’s life also implodes. After a terrible assault and a public shaming, she goes into exile in London, penniless, damaged, adrift. A refugee organization assists her and there she meets survivors of Vlad’s atrocities and hears their stories of torture, mass murder and rape and how they are now trying to put their lives back together. These men and women work menial jobs, and form a population of the invisible and disposable, but their compassion, perseverance and memories give them an individual humanity.
In a dream Fidelma confronts Vlad. She charges him with his crimes. She asks, “Do you have bad dreams, nightmares?” He says, “No…I sleep well…I dream well…I dream of women.” He believes himself to be a full human being. He sees himself in heroic terms and also as the victim of lies and conspiracies, but Fidelma wants to know “Was your essential nature always evil … were you ever innocent?” She does not receive an answer.
She struggles into a new life, one that is scarred and fragile but promising of solace and work.
Vlad performed his awful labor with the help of tens of thousands of his countrymen and women who drove out and murdered their own neighbors. I wonder if tyrants do not call out the cruelty already crouching within their supporters, if they do not give power to their resentments and thus justify their vengeance, if they discern how to foster their malice and ready it to be unleashed when someone finally gives them permission.
You should read this book.
*All quotations are from The Little Red Chairs.
**In Sarajevo in April of 2012, the 20th year since the siege of the city by Bosnian Serb forces had begun, “11,541 red chairs were laid out in rows” along the main street, “one for every Sarajevan killed” during its almost 4 year length; “643 small chairs represented the children killed by snipers and heavy artillery.”
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People evolve. People change. Not dramatically, but let’s face it, we all are much different than we were in college. At least I hope I am! We settle into new circumstances, surroundings, and relationships. In the book Modern Lovers by Emma Straub, the characters’ conflicts emerge because they cannot let go of their pasts. They are stuck. They never quite moved on from their glory days of college, despite being almost 50. Perhaps they could have moved on, but the old demons can’t fade away, because they remain in the relationships from the college years. What really cements them, though, is a song. As part of a semi-successful band they were a part of in college, one of the characters wrote a song which was immortalized as a timeless, one-hit-wonder classic. Decades later, Hollywood wants to recreate their college days in a movie featuring the song. They are torn about whether they want this to happen. It actually sounds great to me! Does someone want to make a movie about my life and give me boatloads of money for it (if I had done anything remotely interesting!)? I’m in! (May I please have Sarah Jessica Parker, Jennifer Aniston, or Julia Roberts play me? I wish!) But with this crew, they continue to hold onto their pasts – and fret about their secrets – because of the possibility of it being recreated on the big screen. They all have little twists and mysteries from their histories, and from their current lives.
This book is very enjoyable and thoroughly modern, which I found so refreshing. As much as I love historical fiction and stories set in the past, I loved the current, Brooklyn-dwelling, non-traditional family characters in the book. The author allows the reader to become so comfortable with each of them, and has you rooting for a peaceful outcome for all. She captures all of the characters’ personalities carefully and with great humor, from the angst-filled, bitter teenager to the middle-aged moms. This is a really enjoyable read, and I definitely will be reading Emma Straub’s other books like The Vacationers, Other People We Married, and Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures.
Disclaimer: The book I’m about to discuss is about the fantastical, supernatural experiences of a young boy who’s struggling to accept the severity of his mother’s cancer. I’ve never dealt closely with cancer but am currently trying to gain the tools to start a dialogue about it with someone I care for. For everyone affected by it and their loved one’s, my thoughts go out to you.
. . .
For those of you who don’t know me on a personal level, I’m dating a boy with dark brown hair and a dead mother. Conor likes Metallica and airplanes, orders pancakes every time we go to a diner, and drives like a grandma, two hands on the wheel, always applying careful pressure to the brake pedal.
He doesn’t like to talk about her much. His mom. It’s been over a year since her passing and he says there are times he’s still in denial about what went down; on Mother’s Day this previous year he laid flowers on her grave and when we went out for hotcakes, afterwards, we didn’t say her name.
I don’t know how to talk to Conor about it. My family, like many, has been touched by cancer, but I haven’t been affected as closely as he has- the only relative I’ve had die so far, died of old age.
In an effort to understand, I’ve spent the last few months reading everything I can find. Books on all types of cancer, grief, coping mechanisms. None of them allowed me to reach even a sliver of true understanding until I ran across Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls the other day.
Someone had left it on the floor in the library, misplaced. I leafed through it and discovered- the main character’s name is Conor. No joke. I was all, “dang. This has gotta be a sign. Fate."
I read A Monster Calls standing up in the adult romance section of the library- come on, don’t act like you don’t hang out there too- unable to move. It took me two hours and half the library’s stock of Kleenex. The checkout lady, who had a clear sight of me in her peripheral vision, kept giving me these weird, pitying looks, like she couldn’t decide if I was being a hormonal teenager or a human being experiencing something out-of-body. Something extraordinary.
There are books that change you and then there are books that elevate your entire being into a higher state of consciousness, a higher state of tangible emotion, like- like the feeling you get when you give a standing ovation. Why do we give those? Being on our feet must signal that we resonate with something to the point that it warrants a dramatic physical response. On our feet, we can run. We can dance.
We can stand in the middle of two library shelves and cry over what looks like a children’s picture book.
Starting a conversation with someone who’s been personally and deeply affected by cancer is a difficult thing to do, especially in the emotion-averse society we live in. Saying “I’m sorry” to Conor never felt like enough, but I didn’t have the tools to begin a dialogue, to truly understand a smidgen of what he’s been feeling since his mother's diagnosis came in when he was just a kid.
A Monster Calls started that discussion for me. I called Conor to tell him about the book and after hours of talking he paused. He took a breath. He said something like, “I should just hand people that book and be like: this is how I feel sometimes. This is my backstory."
A Monster Calls, this thin stack of paper and ink, seemingly lifeless on the outside, allowed me to forge a deeper connection with another human being. Patrick Ness’ prose has helped me reach out and extend a hand to someone still struggling with grief, someone who can’t always find the words to explain how he feels. Ness has given us the prompt and we are on a journey to complete it, to understand it, to make our own little story.
So read the book in one sitting. Let it sink in. Then start a dialogue with everyone you know who’s been touched by cancer, everyone who hasn’t, just everyone. tell the birds, tell the trees, tell the department store mannequins: “A Monster Calls” taught me that it’s okay to feel.
Really. It’s okay to feel.
Staff of Wellington Square Book Shop