HAPPY SUMMER! Or not. Because today is officially shite. Firstly, it is raining on an almost biblical scale. Secondly, we’re emerging from a double whammy of hate, following last week’s horrific assault on the LGBTQIA community in Orlando, and the senseless murder of Jo Cox. Finally, I’m quite convinced that we’re approximately three days from a xenophobia-fuelled self-imposed exile from the EU. Needless to say, I am not full of the joy of Summer.
Thankfully, I have Lauren Laverne and the Pool to remind me that I can always escape into another world of my choosing. Today, Laverne writes “When the world feels senseless, idiotic and unreasonable as it did last week, the only answer is to go to a bookshop.”
While work prevents me from charging to the nearest shop to peruse shelves of literary treasure (damn Capitalists!), Laverne’s words got me thinking about the books that have pulled me out of the darkness and kept me on the straight and narrow…
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig.
I raved about this book in my April Reads post, but it is entirely deserving of extra raving. There is nothing more comforting than finding the horror and confusion of your own mind staring back at you in someone else’s words. I still remember the moment I turned to the second page and found the sentence “To other people, it seems like nothing at all. You are walking around with your head on fire but no one can see the flames.”, before bursting into tears. In my darkest moments, I’ve stared into the faces of people I love and felt the crushing isolation of knowing that the pain I navigate is as invisible to them as it is real to me. Reading this book was like exhaling slowly and deeply, a moment of relief.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I remember Boyf pulling up in the Tesco car park and my notifying him I’d have to stay in the car to finish my book. He knows by now that the close of a book trumps most other things, so he shrugged and dropped the car keys into my lap before heading off to find a trolley. I had found myself sucked into Liesl’s troubled story, and preoccupied with wondering how on earth I would navigate the world if I didn’t know how to read.
My phone rang and I fiddled with the corner of a page as my Victim Liaison Officer talked me through my rapist’s application for bail. She assured me that, while the proposed destination of this man’s bail was frighteningly close to my home (that’s justice for you ladies and gents!), he would be on curfew and the chances of us running into each other would be highly unlikely. Unsurprisingly, I found little solace in her perception of the laws of probability. She hung up and I cried as I finished the last few chapters – crying for the characters as much as for myself. Months later, on Christmas Eve, his bail was granted and I remember standing in front of my bookshelf, staring at the broken spine of the Book Thief as a momentary anchor against a tidal wave of anger and sadness. It might seem a bizarre choice when it has such an association, but I’ll always remember it as providing more comfort in that moment than anything else.
My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
If you’ve read The Anxiety Diaries, you’ll know that I recently had a bad period where a number of factors – but mainly lack of sleep – wore me down and robbed me of the balance I’ve worked hard to achieve. Even after the ‘crazy’ began to recede, I still felt as if I was sleepwalking through my life, weary and bruised. It’s times like these when I find my feminism dampened, squashed down for fear of being overwhelmed by how scary and frustrating it feels to be a woman. When my mental health is unbalanced, so too is my perspective. My anger threatens to consume me; I see rapists on every corner, leering smugly as they lean against seemingly impenetrable brick walls of patriarchy. As you can imagine, reading any feminist text during such times tends to do more harm than good.
My Life on the Road, however, woke me from my sleepy fog – but gently, not angrily. This was not a rage against society, this was a guided meditation on what it is to fight for equality. Instead of losing my perspective, I found myself enriched and supported by a woman who has lived the most incredible life. Steinem has earned the right to be respected by respecting; earned the right to speak by listening. I still had the “Mind. Blown.” moments that could have previously sent me off on an angry rant; but I finished the book feeling more nourished than deprived; surer than ever that feminism is my cause, but with a new belief that I could fight for it without feeling like I was fighting at all.
What are the books that keep you going during tough times? Let me know in the comments, or you can find me on Goodreads.
If you have been affected by the events of last week, you can support the LGBTQIA community of Orlando in a number of ways and/or make a donation to the Jo Cox Fund to continue her work in uniting people. Remember that if you are struggling, there is always help. Organisations such as Mind and The Samaritans are here to remind you that you are not alone.