I hope you all had a restful holiday weekend. 💆🏻♀️The newsletter will come later this week!
Today, help me build a reading list for future issues. What’s the one book about hardship or healing that most affected your life? Or, what was something (a book, podcast, movie, etc.) that helped you the most during a challenging time?
This year, two books affected me most.
The first was Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Greene. It's a devastating and ultimately hopeful memoir—Greene's two-year-old daughter, Greta, dies after being hit by a piece of falling building on the Upper East Side, and he and his wife, and entire family, have to learn to live with grief and find joy again. I interviewed Jason in September (https://cruelsummerbookclub.substack.com/p/jayson-greene-wrote-a-memoir-after), and he spoke about how his natural outlook on life was one of optimism, and he had to find his way back there after Greta's death. I've often wondered since then what exactly my own natural outlook on life is.
The second was When Things Fall Apart, which I also wrote about previously. (https://cruelsummerbookclub.substack.com/p/this-too-shall-pass) If there's one thing I've worked on the most during this period of hardship, it's living in the present moment. It's... really hard! And a rather alien concept to me after living in past/future for three decades. But I'm going to keep working on it—I think my lifelong happiness absolutely depends on it.
The Year Of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion was one of the most profound, beautiful, intelligent works about grief I have ever read. It has so much piercing insight, precise analysis of something as wildly hot and emotional and chaotic, but also mundane and cold and silent, as grief.
Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb. I listened to this on audible (still have two hours left and not looking forward to it ending because it’s so good). It’s about a therapist who goes to a therapist after an unexpected breakup, and stories about her clients going through terminal cancer, marital problems, breakups, etc. It’s hilarious but thought provoking.
I started listening to it after a breakup when I was completely heartbroken (I cringe every time I think about getting broken up with under the Brooklyn Bridge. Thank god for that karaoke night ❤️).
It was refreshing to hear that I’m not alone. And I related so much to the stories and it made me more self aware on some healing that I’ve done/am still doing.
"The Unwinding of the Miracle" by Julie Yip-Williams helped me process a lot about losing my mom young to cancer. Also, the recent "What Happened To You?" series on the podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking, about the effects of childhood trauma, was so thought-provoking.
Megan Devine - It's OK that you're not OK. Reading this book was such a relief and I keep re-reading it.
My therapist gifted me with a book called True Refuge by Tara Brach. It really helped me understand that pushing back and constantly struggling against what I was feeling was holding me back, and that if I leaned into what I was feeling instead of fighting it I could actually start healing. It also helped me understand the concept of false refuge and how my compulsive overthinking was creating more suffering for myself rather than solving any of my anxieties. And this book helped me develop a meditation practice. I now frequently listen to Tara Brachs meditations and talks (which are free online in podcast and video form).
I haven't had much personal experience when it comes to losing someone but I find the TTFA (Terrible, Thanks for Asking) podcast to make death and grief more... Approachable? That's not exactly the word I'm going for but along those lines. And stemming from reactions from people who have lost someone(s), it appears to help others cope and feel less alone.
While not something to put on a reading list, perhaps a community list?, I've also heard very positive reactions to the Dinner Party, the national (international?) organization that gathers strangers who have lost someone over nourishment, not necessarily to talk about death but to be with people who've traveled a similar path.
While I haven't experienced much death personally, I've had various challenges and the most impactful and supportive "tools" for me have been live talks, presentations, and storytelling from Everyday People like myself (as opposed to the famous, the rich, etc). An example would be the Get Mortified show (also a Netflix? show), where people read from their childhood diaries/journals, or The Moth, which is a storytelling show (also a podcast).
I've rec'd this for this newsletter before but Maggie Nelson's "Bluets" has gotten me through several periods of grief in my life. It's a gorgeous lyric observation of how awkward and intrusive grief can be in our view of the world and now necessary it is to evolve as a person. It contemplates pain, heartbreak, depression, sex, art, and the color blue in away that feels so accessible but so important and it's really helped me center and re-center myself time and time again.
What Remains by Carol Radziwill is a funny, patient, and heartbreaking account of life not going according to plan. Carol, a journalist in NYC, recounts her love story with her husband and his years long battle with cancer. She so effortlessly writes about caring for a sick person and the odd mix of devastation and relief she felt when he eventually dies. I sobbed through the back half as she goes through the stages of grief.
Angela's Ashes is another one that's very important to me -- Frank McCourt's memoir of his early childhood in Ireland before emigrating to New York. It's tough to read, as his family faces poverty, illness, and abuse, but illustrates the drive and resilience of children. For me, it's important to read about overcoming such darkness as a reminder that, okay bitch if Frank McCourt can survive typhoid fever, you can get through a rough work day!
Also, I have found myself returning to the Harry Potter books and movies as a source of familiar comfort throughout every pain in my life.
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk