Reading Roundup: February 2021

For where can one find more noble distraction, more entertaining company, more delightful enchantment than in literature?

Muriel Barbery, Elegance of the Hedgehog

As my motivation to write returns in leaps and bounds, so to does my willingness to drink deeply of the fountain of literature. For me, literature does not only mean fiction but blogs, articles, non-fiction, op-eds, anything in the written word that piques my curiosity.

From here on out, on the first of every month I will be publishing an account of the most moving, interesting, fascinating, striking pieces of literature I read over the course of the last 30 days. In trying to keep these entries as short as possible, I’ll attempt to stick to a quick recap of what struck me about the work and a favourite quote. No promises that these blogs won’t be characteristically long though…

So, without further ado, let’s get to it!

Articles

Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com
Interview with Patricia Lockwood, by Hadley freeman

A fascinating interview with an author who proclaims herself as one of the Extremely Online masses, engrossed in numbers during this Covid-19 pandemic. Her writing style is unique and arresting and her commentary on how online our society has become, and the problems this has caused, juxtaposed with the fact that she found fame on Twitter is intriguing to say the least. I’ve added her books to my very long “to read” list.

You have to look for where the language goes crunchy, where everybody starts saying the same things and formulating their reactions in the same way – and step out of it…

Patricia Lockwood
“I enjoyed researching the Bloody history of childbirth – then i had a baby,” by Anna north

Anna writes about her experience doing the research for her latest book, Outlawed, about a midwife’s daughter in the old American west. She researched and wrote the book before becoming pregnant herself and went through the editing process after the birth of her son. In this piece she describes how her outlook on pregnancy and birth was much less emotionally fraught before experiencing the two phenomena herself and how different it was to read the more difficult passages of her book after having herself given birth. It’s interesting to see how an author’s own life experiences have such an important effect on the way they write and the subjects they’re willing to tackle.

I began my novel with an intellectual sense of childbirth, and I finished it with a visceral understanding

Anna North
“i’ve been called satan”: Dr. rachel clarke on facing abuse in the covid crisis

I know the title of this makes it sound extremely doom and gloom, and believe me, it is not always an easy read. The proliferation of Covid-deniers spurred on by pandemic fatigue and conspiracy theories, appears to be growing not just in the UK but throughout the globe. While I can understand their frustrations and their pain, the solution is not to lash out at the front-liners who are doing their very best to keep our society functioning and as healthy as possible during this lockdown. This article, an introduction to Dr. Clarke’s book Breathtaking: Inside the NHS in a Time of Pandemic, faces this pandemic of denial head-on, chastising the harm its afflicted are doing not only to their fellow humans attempting to stem the tide of the disease but also to the chance of ending as soon as possible the very situation whose existence they so fervently deny. It had me in tears in many parts but especially at the very end when the good doctor offers a message of hope and humanity. I will certainly be buying her book…but likely won’t be able to bring myself to read it until this whole crisis is well behind us.

I may be tired and angry and sometimes mad with grief, but every single day at work, I see more kindness, more sweetness, more compassion, more courage, more resilience, more steel, more diamond-plated love than you could ever, ever imagine. And this means more and lasts more than anything else, and it cannot be stolen by Covid.

Dr. Rachel Clarke
interview with isabel allende, The Guardian

Though my list of “To Read” authors and books is already overlong, I could not but help adding Isabel Allende to it after reading this interview. It’s a fascinating look at a septuagenarian feminist who has seen the immense damage wrought by the patriarchy (including a woman in India, a stranger, trying to hand her a newborn baby girl simply because she felt her best hope for her child was to give her away – baby girls not being desirable…) and yet has an incredible amount of hope for society’s future. At 72 she has learned to ask her non-binary grandchildren’s friends for their preferred pronouns when she meets them. I mean, if that isn’t progressive as all hell I don’t know what is. Honestly, I may even bump her to the top of my list. Sigh. So many books, so little time.

[Ending the patriarchy will require] a jump in evolution. It will be a completely different civilisation, and I will not see it. Like all revolutions, we start with great anger and a feeling of injustice that we need to make things right. And we fight like crazy without always knowing where we are going. But you continue to work for that final goal, and it will be achieved. We will do it, I’m sure.

Isabel Allende
What we can learn from Elizabeth barrett browning’s years in lockdown, by fiona sampson

This was a fascinating and timely article on the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s experience with self-isolation in Victorian England. While she was isolating due to her own respiratory health issues as opposed to a global pandemic, she experienced much of the same frustration and fear that many of us are fighting as the Covid-19 crisis drags on and on. Her life was tragically short but the work she produced in her 55 years on this earth was truly ground-breaking: a testament to the power of human creativity. I found it helpful to read about someone who eventually broke out of isolation; it gave me hope for the future of our society now.

The escape from pangs of heart & bodily weakness … when you throw off yourself … what you feel to be yourself … into another atmosphere & into other relations, where your life may spread its wings out new

[on escaping into a virtual life during isolation] Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Writer’s Blockdown: After a year inside, novelists are struggling to write, by Alison Flood

This one really hit home for me. Despite having more time at home than ever, and having my husband here with me to help with the care of our only child, I have written less this year than ever before in my writing career. As a compilation of thoughts from various novelists on why writing has been so hard during the last year, it really opened my eyes to just why I may be struggling so much. It was also nice to think that I’m not the only writer out there grappling with these challenges…

The problem with writing is it’s just another screen, and that’s all there is … I can’t connect with my imagination. I can’t connect with any creativity. My whole brain is tied up with processing, processing, processing what’s going on in the world.

Linda Grant
Seven ways to cope until the end of lockdown, by Matt Haig, Ella Risbridger, Adam Phillips, Anita Sethi, Philippa Perry, Mollie Goodfellow and Nikesh Shukla

I know, I know, another guardian article. But this is the only newsletter I am still subscribing to after hitting a wall of too many things to read and too little time. And besides, there’s some great writing in this publication! This one looks at ways to cope with the seemingly never-ending nature of self-isolation and social distancing from the perspective of several creative individuals. I found their advice helpful and heartwarming (and reminiscent of some of the coping mechanisms I came up with in my own posts here and here!) I will definitely be trying some of these strategies out, and adding the successful ones to my list of ways to make it through this pandemic.

We will survive this, those of us who do, in whatever way we have to. We have to make our lives easier, and not feel bad about it. We have, I think, to give ourselves space to be sad; and space to love what we have, without pressure to make it more, to make it stand in for all that we have (temporarily) lost. We have to allow ourselves to miss things. We have to allow ourselves – and I use this word on purpose – to grieve. And as with all grief, we have to let it take the form it takes. Don’t push it; don’t force it; don’t try to make it look like anyone else’s.

Ella Risbridger

blogs

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com
10 mental health lessons learned from 2020

This blog really hit home due to the exploration of my own mental health and self-care needs over the past year. Most of these 10 mental health lessons really resonated with me and led to a therapeutic journal entry on some lessons I have learnt this year as far as my own mental health is concerned. The quote below was my favourite because I’ve never heard it put quite like this – rising to every occasion, even the ones that aren’t meant for you. Brilliant writing. And so very poignant.

If you’re like me and find yourself rising to every occasion, even the ones that aren’t meant for you; Let it go.

Jenny in Neverland
A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH” – A REFLECTION ON THE 1918-19 PANDEMIC’S AFTERMATH IN WILKES-BARRE

What was fascinating about this blog was the link to what we are all experiencing right now in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis. Reading about the last global pandemic, the so called “Spanish Flu” pandemic of 1918, was both eye-opening and a little comforting; not the thought of a third wave to come but rather if one focuses on the fact that the catastrophe DID end and life DID go back to normal. The quote I selected below stood out to me as these words were written in July of 1919 and yet they are just as applicable to today’s situation. Eerie, isn’t it?

By getting ready wisely, effectively, and universally, we may prevent the recurrence, or we may lessen the number of stricken or the severity of the visitation, and fewer influenza patients will die.

Wynning History

books

Photo by Erin of the Hills

On top of the articles and blogs above, and countless others that didn’t make the list, I also read two books. My English read for the month was The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World by Stephen Mansfield while my French read for the month was La Trahison des dieux by Marion Zimmer Bradley (translated from the English novel entitled The Firebrand). Look for a review of the Guinness book coming soon on my blog!


And that’s my reading roundup for the month! If you give any of these a read, tell me what you think. And if you have any recommendations that didn’t make the list, especially newsletters with more reading material for me to get lost in, please send them my way.

Until next time, remember, Life is beautiful

xo Erin

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