Friday, April 20, 2012

Female protagonists defeating all odds: spring reading review

I have been reading up a storm since February. Every book has been a page-turner and hard to put down even after reading the last chapter. This sample is a pretty good representation of my reading habits: 60% memoir, 20% self-help/spirituality, and 20% fiction. I find it interesting that all five of these titles are by women addressing identity, faith, sexuality, and values (a trend I didn't recognize until I started this post).

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
I've already raved about I Thought it Was Just Me, but I enjoyed Brene Brown's second book even more. The Gifts of Imperfection was written after she realized that her research about shame pointed to several of the things that get in the way of love, belonging and a sense of worthiness. She discovered that they were things she herself was struggling with. She writes about the process of coming to terms with these roadblocks, and what helped her through her own breakdown-turned-spiritual-awakening.

I liked this book because the chapters were short and easy to read, each one about a "guidepost" for wholehearted living (topics like authenticity, self-compassion, resiliency, and creativity). I wrote in the margins of most pages, and plan to re-read this book multiple times. It's a good deep-breath, re-focus, get-the-priorities-straight kind of book.

The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch
Back story: remember when I said I was attending a workshop about metaphors? It was great. I was one of two dozen women who attended. We spent a lot of time writing during the session and reading our brand new metaphor creations aloud to each other. The workshop was taught by Lidia Yuknavitch, who mentioned that her newly published memoir was all based on metaphor. She was so engaging, self-deprecating, encouraging, and quirky, that I bought her book the very next day.

It's a gut-wrenching, raw, and irreverent look at relationships, abuse, connection, love, and forgiveness. It's not for the faint-of-heart (I blushed more than once while reading), but I could appreciate the significance of Lidia's vulnerability in describing her love-starved childhood and self-destructive young adulthood, having just met her the day before.

Higher Ground by Carolyn Briggs
While in the UW hospital with Mom and Dad two months ago, Dad read an excerpt from an article by Carolyn Briggs. The article was a Valentine's Day message to the church she left (it's really beautiful, I hope you read it). Her honesty caught my attention and I bought her memoir a few weeks later. It affected me deeply. The day after I finished reading, I wrote her a letter. Here is an excerpt.
I finished reading Higher Ground last night. It was gripping. I am the oldest of five kids and grew up in a Fundamentalist household a little like yours. So many things brought back memories. I appreciate the way you handled each element: frugal living, patriarchy, church, family, doubt. I have a better understanding of my own history after reading about yours. I want the conversation to continue; I want to know what of your faith remains. How did you let your questions form you instead of overwhelm you?
The conversation did continue. She responded the next day with an email full of empathy and recommended reading. She writes for Religion Dispatches, and you can find more of her there.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed
I came across this title on a blog about memoirs. The review I read (which I can't find now) caught my eye because it mentioned the Pacific Crest Trail (where the majority of Wild takes place). A few days prior, Hubbins and I were in line at Costco and overheard the couple ahead of us explain to the cashier that they were stocking up for a trek on the PCT (hence the pallet-loads of protein bars and industrial-sized boxes of skittles). They were planning to mail food to themselves in advance, at landmarks along the way.

When I read the name of the trail mentioned again in that blog and learned that someone named Cheryl Strayed hiked over a thousand miles by herself, my curiosity was piqued. A few days after that, while flipping through magazines at the salon (chatting with my favorite stylist), I came across an excerpt from the book in Vogue magazine. I read it aloud while getting my hair cut. After that, I couldn't get my hands on a copy of the book fast enough.

Here's the gist: following the death of her mother and the emotional explosion of her marriage, Cheryl Strayed decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in an effort to rediscover herself. This was no small undertaking. She was from Minnesota and had spent little time on the West Coast. She over packed and couldn't lift her backpack on the day she intended to start hiking. She had never been backpacking before, much less by herself. The misadventures continue, always accompanied by a probing lesson about ambition, connection, and self awareness. The descriptions of her mom, scattered throughout the story, all hit close to home. I bookmarked several paragraphs that capture the mother-daughter bond eloquently.

Ironically, this book about wilderness survival was my first experience using an e-reader (even speedy Amazon Prime wasn't quick enough; I had to start reading).

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I picked this one up out of boredom (nothing prompts me to scramble for reading material faster than televised sporting events. Sorry, Canucks). I read 77 pages in one sitting, and got so drawn into the story and attached to the characters that I finished the book in two days. I realize the series has been out for a couple of years and I've heard the title mentioned often since the movie came to theaters. The hype didn't interest me at all. By the end of chapter one however, I was a goner.

I know there are probably parents all over the place who are horrified by the idea of their child reading this series, what with the hand-to-hand combat and fight-to-the-death themes. The fact that the books are so wildly popular shows me that adolescents are more capable of dealing with adult subject matter than they're given credit for. I think what you get out of the story depends on what you bring to it. If scenes of violence already saturate a young reader's mind (via movies, games, comics), then yeah, the book is gruesome. The Hunger Games is rife with philosophical and political messages, dystopian commentary on modern life, and predictions of a future society. But I didn't pay any attention to that. I enjoyed the suspense, the kick-ass main characters, and the intensity of the story-telling.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this reading list, Emily! I binge on books during the fishing season, and am trying to raise the bar a bit this year (past summers have been heavily trashy crime novels, pure junk food for my brain.) Your list will help!