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  • Miwa Messer 4:00 pm on 2018/07/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Memoirs   

    “Wonderfully Clear”: Christian Donlon on MS and parenting 

    “My daughter took her first steps on the day I was diagnosed—a juxtaposition so perfect, so trite, so filled with the tacky artifice of real life that I am generally too embarrassed to tell anybody about it.”

    Journalist Christian Donlon writes about his MS and his daughter’s development with incredible grace and candor in his memoir, The Inward Empire: Mapping the Worlds of Mortality and Fatherhood, a Summer 2018 Discover Great New Writers selection that’s often very funny despite its serious subject. We asked Christian how he keeps his sense of humor in the midst of chaos and pain, and this is what he said:

    My daughter Leontine, who is now almost five, has just discovered jokes. Well, it is a partial discovery at least. She gets the two-part format of many jokes and she gets the social anxiety involved. (I can tell, after she has said the joke’s opener, that she is filled with tension regarding the closer; she understands innately that getting a joke right is a terribly serious business.) But I don’t know if she knows why the jokes she has learned are funny—why it is funny, say, that the way to get Pikachu onto a bus is to poke him on—and she doesn’t understand that a joke is a bit like a firework: it can only go off once with any particular audience.

    The thing is, jokes are hardly essential with a girl like Leon. She has been making me laugh since she was born, it seems. Since she could express herself I got a sense that here was a girl who saw the world in a slightly different way, who would watch most things out of the corner of her eye and find them ridiculous. Ridiculous and strange. Out walking on the way to school recently, my wife and Leon found one of Leon’s name labels long detached from whatever bag or lunchbox it had once been fixed to and blowing around in the wind. “That’s strange?” Leon asked, more for confirmation of her reading of it than anything else. And then: “I love it when things are strange.”

    I think my daughter’s presence in my life probably explains why people sometimes tell me that I have written a funny book, or rather that my book has made them laugh despite themselves. I am always delighted to hear this, even if it was not entirely my intention. On the surface my book is about fairly serious things: it’s about my diagnosis, shortly after my daughter’s birth, with multiple sclerosis, a maddeningly unpredictable and frequently brutal neurological disease in which the protective coatings of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are accidentally shredded by the immune system. When you have MS, people start to describe you as a sufferer, and so I assumed that I had written a sufferer’s book.

    If I haven’t, it’s because of Leon’s influence. Because of my fantastic, unprecedented, bewildering, and glorious daughter who has grown up alongside my disease, and whose explosion of life and new ideas and new cognitive abilities has been a vital pleasure to me as my own mental equipment has started to falter. I have wanted to mope theatrically at times, but it is hard to mope when you have a daughter who wants you to show them how to draw the really hard parts of a pony – always the back hooves—and who finds your moping hilarious anyway. Even at its worst, when I am stuck in bed with sore legs or muddled vision—the sheer range of things that MS can do is baffling—I can hear her elsewhere in our house, arguing with a cat or mis-singing the latest chart songs with a wonderful scatterbrained innocence.

    Practically, I would say two things about all this. Firstly, while I worry about my own diminishing agency as an MS patient who is also a father of a young child, Leon makes it wonderfully clear what my priorities are, and she gives me the humour I think you need to hold onto when you have been dropped into the bewildering world of neurology, where simple things are suddenly not so simple, and when the entire landscape around you can occasionally feel like a Victorian stage magician’s set filled with trick staircases and tilted mirrors.

    Secondly, I was talking with another MS patient the other day and we remarked on the fact that public understanding of this disease has progressed over the last few years from pretty much nothing to an appreciation that MS is a very complicated thing. Then, public understanding has sort of halted, and perhaps people are tempted to look away from MS because complicated things often make them feel foolish and powerless and sad.

    Humour, though, or at least a certain amount of easy wit, or a willingness to admit that some awful things do have undeniably funny aspects, might be a good way to make people look again at a thing they have already decided they don’t want to look at. A sense of humour—often, more specifically, my daughter’s sense of humour—has not just helped me understand my new world a little more, it might allow other people in, too.

     

    The post “Wonderfully Clear”: Christian Donlon on MS and parenting appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Melissa Albert 2:00 pm on 2018/07/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Memoirs   

    “Wonderfully Clear”: Christian Donlon on MS and parenting 

    “My daughter took her first steps on the day I was diagnosed—a juxtaposition so perfect, so trite, so filled with the tacky artifice of real life that I am generally too embarrassed to tell anybody about it.”

    Journalist Christian Donlon writes about his MS and his daughter’s development with incredible grace and candor in his memoir, The Inward Empire: Mapping the Wolds of Mortality and Fatherhood, a Summer 2018 Discover Great New Writers selection that’s often very funny despite its serious subject. We asked Christian how he keeps his sense of humor in the midst of chaos and pain, and this is what he said:

    My daughter Leontine, who is now almost five, has just discovered jokes. Well, it is a partial discovery at least. She gets the two-part format of many jokes and she gets the social anxiety involved. (I can tell, after she has said the joke’s opener, that she is filled with tension regarding the closer; she understands innately that getting a joke right is a terribly serious business.) But I don’t know if she knows why the jokes she has learned are funny—why it is funny, say, that the way to get Pikachu onto a bus is to poke him on—and she doesn’t understand that a joke is a bit like a firework: it can only go off once with any particular audience.

    The thing is, jokes are hardly essential with a girl like Leon. She has been making me laugh since she was born, it seems. Since she could express herself I got a sense that here was a girl who saw the world in a slightly different way, who would watch most things out of the corner of her eye and find them ridiculous. Ridiculous and strange. Out walking on the way to school recently, my wife and Leon found one of Leon’s name labels long detached from whatever bag or lunchbox it had once been fixed to and blowing around in the wind. “That’s strange?” Leon asked, more for confirmation of her reading of it than anything else. And then: “I love it when things are strange.”

    I think my daughter’s presence in my life probably explains why people sometimes tell me that I have written a funny book, or rather that my book has made them laugh despite themselves. I am always delighted to hear this, even if it was not entirely my intention. On the surface my book is about fairly serious things: it’s about my diagnosis, shortly after my daughter’s birth, with multiple sclerosis, a maddeningly unpredictable and frequently brutal neurological disease in which the protective coatings of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are accidentally shredded by the immune system. When you have MS, people start to describe you as a sufferer, and so I assumed that I had written a sufferer’s book.

    If I haven’t, it’s because of Leon’s influence. Because of my fantastic, unprecedented, bewildering, and glorious daughter who has grown up alongside my disease, and whose explosion of life and new ideas and new cognitive abilities has been a vital pleasure to me as my own mental equipment has started to falter. I have wanted to mope theatrically at times, but it is hard to mope when you have a daughter who wants you to show them how to draw the really hard parts of a pony – always the back hooves—and who finds your moping hilarious anyway. Even at its worst, when I am stuck in bed with sore legs or muddled vision—the sheer range of things that MS can do is baffling—I can hear her elsewhere in our house, arguing with a cat or mis-singing the latest chart songs with a wonderful scatterbrained innocence.

    Practically, I would say two things about all this. Firstly, while I worry about my own diminishing agency as an MS patient who is also a father of a young child, Leon makes it wonderfully clear what my priorities are, and she gives me the humour I think you need to hold onto when you have been dropped into the bewildering world of neurology, where simple things are suddenly not so simple, and when the entire landscape around you can occasionally feel like a Victorian stage magician’s set filled with trick staircases and tilted mirrors.

    Secondly, I was talking with another MS patient the other day and we remarked on the fact that public understanding of this disease has progressed over the last few years from pretty much nothing to an appreciation that MS is a very complicated thing. Then, public understanding has sort of halted, and perhaps people are tempted to look away from MS because complicated things often make them feel foolish and powerless and sad.

    Humour, though, or at least a certain amount of easy wit, or a willingness to admit that some awful things do have undeniably funny aspects, might be a good way to make people look again at a thing they have already decided they don’t want to look at. A sense of humour—often, more specifically, my daughter’s sense of humour—has not just helped me understand my new world a little more, it might allow other people in, too.

     

    The post “Wonderfully Clear”: Christian Donlon on MS and parenting appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Molly Schoemann-McCann 4:00 pm on 2018/06/28 Permalink
    Tags: an astronaut's guide to life on earth, chris hadfield, earthrise: my adventures as an apollo 14 astronaut, edgar mitchell, endurance: a year in space a lifetime of discovery, floating 'round my tin can, flying to the moon: an astronaut's story, Memoirs, , , sally ride, scott kelly, to space and back   

    Books in Space: 5 Great Astronaut Memoirs 

    There’s just no cooler resume line item in the world than “astronaut.” You can take your actors, your rock stars, your Nobel Prize winners. Yeah, sure they made art and connected with millions, but the one thing none of those people ever did was leave the Earth in a marvel of science and engineering and visit outer space.

    Blasting off to the infinity and beyond (or at the least the moon, or Earth’s orbit) is something only a few hundred people in history have ever done. And until consumer space flights and Mars colonization become a thing, being an astronaut is such a unique and fascinating experience that we’ll have to look to the thoughts and recollections of others to get even a taste of what it’s actually like to gaze at Earth from above. Here are six astronauts who went to space, returned, and then wrote about it.

    Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery, by Scott Kelly
    For some, going to space is a once- or twice-in-a-career occurrence. For Scott Kelly, going to space is his career. This dude has spent about as much time in space as you’ve spent in an office. He’s been on four different space flights and no American has ever spent more time in space. He’s the perfect guinea pig—and now literary expert—on the effects of long-term spaceflight on the human body, brain, and spirit. He writes unflinchingly about being in space, and the difficulty of returning to civilian life. Especially interesting is Kelly’s report of a fascinating experiment in which he took part. To study exactly what space does to the body, NASA studied his earthbound twin brother and compared his aging process to that of Kelly…who spent an entire year in the outer limits.

    An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, by Chris Hadfield
    Not only is Chris Hadfield an astronaut with more than 4,000 space hours to his credit, he’s an unabashedly joyful and welcoming ambassador (and fan) of space programs. He revived widespread interest in space travel with his dispatches from space, satellite hookups to classrooms, and viral video of himself singing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” aboard the International Space Station. In his book, the perpetually-wonder-filled Hadfield details his journey from an Ontario corn farm to the world’s most famous modern-day spaceman. He’s also remarkably frank—and fantastically detailed—about the process of going into space, and the day-to-day, moment-to-moment realities of living in space.

    Flying to the Moon: An Astronaut’s Story, by Michael Collins
    Of the three men to successfully reach the moon for the first time in July 1969—Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins—only Collins didn’t get to actually set foot on that sweet, sweet green cheese surface. As the Command Module Pilot for the Apollo 11 spacecraft, Collins dropped off Armstrong and Aldrin in their Lunar Module and then he orbited the moon. That means Collins was the only one of the historic trio to spend time in space alone, placing him in the embedded observer role on the NASA moon mission. He was uniquely qualified, then, to give this fascinating, first-hand, well-measured journalistic account on what it was like to go to the moon and back.

    To Space and Back, by Sally Ride
    It’s a memoir in the form of a coffee table book…for kids! The extra-large full-color format allows for tons of remarkable photos taken in space, adding an extra dimension (and something to contemplate) while one reads the words and memories of Ride, the first American woman in space. The copy is geared towards children, and the questions they’d have about space, such as how it feels to be weightless, the unique strangeness of blasting off, and what (and how) astronauts on the Space Shuttle eat.

    Earthrise: My Adventures as an Apollo 14 Astronaut, by Edgar Mitchell
    Mitchell was part of the Apollo 14 crew in 1971, one of NASA’s final moonshots and one that was relatively (but not completely) uneventful when compared to Apollo 11 (the first one that landed on the moon) and Apollo 13 (which was so notably disastrous they made a movie about it). Mitchell covers the nerve-wracking experience that is flying to the moon, but that’s just part of this The Right Stuff-esque account of a man who was a career astronaut and who had a knack for being in the right place at the right time. For example, he spent a great deal of time in Roswell, New Mexico—when the government was conducting nuclear testing, and when a UFO supposedly crashed there—and served as a Navy fighter pilot. Mitchell isn’t afraid to get profound either, waxing poetic as he does about looking down on one’s own home planet.

    What astronaut memoirs would you recommend?

    The post Books in Space: 5 Great Astronaut Memoirs appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Miwa Messer 1:30 pm on 2018/06/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , Memoirs, ,   

    Oprah’s New Book Club Pick Is an Unforgettable Story of Faith, Hope, and Justice 

    The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row, by Anthony Ray Hinton with Lara Love Hardin, is the unforgettable and inspiring true story of a wrongly convicted man who survived solitary confinement on death row for more than three decades—and it’s the latest pick of the Oprah Book Club.

    Thirty-three years ago, Anthony Ray Hinton was arrested.

    The charges: Capital murder. Two counts.

    Anthony Ray Hinton was convicted and sentenced to death via electrocution.

    But he was innocent.

    Anthony Ray Hinton’s nightmare begins with a horrible case of mistaken identity; he knew he was innocent, and believed it was only a matter of time until the mistake was uncovered and he was released. But the judicial system didn’t believe him. Living under a system with a separate standard for poor black men, the truth was not enough to set twenty-nine-year-old Hinton free.

    The Sun Does Shine is, ultimately, a triumphant example of a man reclaiming own life, as best he can under horrific circumstances. Hinton’s first three years on death row were marked by silence, anger, and despair. But then he made a decision, to not only accept his fate on death row, but to live on death row. And that’s when this becomes a remarkable story of acceptance, fortitude, compassion—and humor.

    This is also the story of our country’s deeply flawed judicial system—separate and not equal—and the realities of systemic racial bias and its deep impact on all of us. Hinton is one of “the longest-serving condemned prisoners facing execution in America to be proved innocent and released,” according to Bryan Stevenson, the attorney who worked to secure Hinton’s freedom. (Stevenson is also the bestselling author of Just Mercy, and wrote the foreword to The Sun Does Shine.)

    The Sun Does Shine is a thoughtful and deeply emotional book that’s sure to spark conversation, which makes it a terrific book club pick. As you’ll see in the exclusive clip below, featuring the author and Oprah Winfrey, Anthony Ray Hinton’s story is a powerful one, full of faith, hope, and love.

    The Sun Does Shine is on sale now.

    The post Oprah’s New Book Club Pick Is an Unforgettable Story of Faith, Hope, and Justice appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Miwa Messer 4:15 pm on 2018/02/22 Permalink
    Tags: , , Memoirs, ,   

    Educated: A Memoir Author Tara Westover Shares The Books That Taught Her the Most About Writing 

    It’s no exaggeration to say that Mary Karr’s The Liars’ Club set the world on fire when it was first published in 1995; a national bestseller for over a year, the darkly comic story of Mary’s East Texas childhood made memoir as we know it today, well, a thing. Then came Jeanette Walls with The Glass Castle in 2005, a powerful account of the author’s unconventional, impoverished childhood that went on to spend a total of 261 weeks atop the New York Times bestseller list. Joining those books in 2012 was Cheryl Strayed’s massive, massive hit, Wild, winner of our Discover Award.

    To this trio of indelible voices add Tara Westover and her profound, deeply inspirational debut, Educated: A Memoir, a Spring 2018 Discover Great New Writers selection. This is storytelling at its finest: emotionally honest and frank, beautifully written, driven by a narrative velocity that had the Discover selection committee readers holding their breath. Tara is unsparing—of herself, her family, and her community—as she recounts her extraordinary journey from an Idaho junkyard to a master’s program at England’s Cambridge University and doctoral program at Harvard. Tara might still be living and working with her family on an Idaho mountain had things continued as her parents—and she herself—once imagined; she only began to think of leaving after her older brother turned violent. This shockingly original story is not only a testament to the power reading has to change a person’s trajectory, but also an intensely honest and often heartbreaking story of one young woman’s decision to save her own life.

    We can’t wait for readers everywhere to meet Westover. Here, she shares her own picks for the life-changing books that taught her about writing.

    So here’s the thing: some people grow up reading all kinds of literature, so by the time they think about writing a book, they have, it seems, read a whole library. I was not one of those people. I grew up in a family where reading was very much encouraged; however, the texts to hand were most often scriptures or sermons (those weren’t the only books in the house, but they made up the bulk of what I read). After that, I read academic papers and textbooks until I was twenty-eight, which is the age when I decided to write my own book and realized that, sadly, I really hadn’t read enough of them.

    Luckily, there isn’t any magic combination of books that a person needs to read to learn how to write. There is no definitive list. Writing is like painting: every book you read gives your prose a different hue, a new color with which you can paint your words. These are the books I found most helpful in painting mine.

    Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
    Austen’s writing is elegant—every sentence seems designed with the care of an architect—but what I found most instructive about it was the pace of it, and the careful construction of the plot. All the characters are just where they need to be, doing just what they need to do, for the story to unfold. Jane must become ill so Lizzy can visit her, so she can become trapped at Netherfield long enough for Mr. Darcy to fall in love with her. Mr. Collins must visit, and during that visit he must be utterly ridiculous, augmenting the ridiculousness of Mrs. Bennet, so Mr. Darcy can display his outrageous pride and insult Lizzy when he proposes. And ultimately, Mr. Wickham must run away with Lydia so Mr. Darcy has the opportunity to put away his pride and do the thing which is most distasteful to him, in order to help Lizzie, in order to prove himself to the reader. There is a rhythm to the unfolding of these events that is so perfect as to be reminiscent of the ball at Netherfield.

    The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
    From Toni Morrison, I first began to comprehend point of view and the importance of finding the right narrator for a story. The Bluest Eye is about a young girl, Pecola, who is used sexually by her father and becomes pregnant, but while much of the novel is told in the first person, the first person is not Pecola but another girl her age, named Claudia. This allows the reader to see Pecola as peripheral, to see her brushed aside by other characters with swifter bodies and louder voices. Since that brushing aside is part of the tragedy of Pecola and what happened to her, this point of view is powerful, more powerful than if the story were told by Pecola. We get a sense of sadness, even of regret, from the narrator of Claudia, who is telling this story as an adult, that the child Claudia does not seem to feel. To her child self Pecola is a nuisance; to her adult self, Pecola is a regret. This layering of perspectives creates tension and adds a richness to the atmosphere of the story. 

    Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls, by David Sedaris
    I read “Loggerheads” when I was first trying to wrap my head around the concept of the “short story,” and what I took from it was the classic principle that sometimes the best narratives are not about what they seem to be about; they are about something else. “Loggerheads” seems to be the story of some baby turtles the author and his friend Shaun found on a beach, then slowly starved to death. In the story’s structure, the turtles are in the foreground. They set the pace of the story. But the emotional punch comes not with the death of the turtles, and not with the death of Shaun’s father, but with the revelation, some eighteen years later, that Shaun’s father had drunk himself to death, and Shaun had never told the author. You could read these parallel stories any number of ways: you could make the turtles into metaphors, or take them more literally as straightforward evidence of the boys’ cruelty. However you choose to conceptualize it, the story of Shaun and the author is enhanced by situating the two together. For me, the two narratives come together powerfully on the final page, when the author goes to a library to research turtles and discovers the following: “A female might reach four hundred pounds, and, of all the eggs she lays in a lifetime, only one in a thousand will make it to adulthood. Pretty slim odds when, by ‘making it,’ you mean simply surviving.”

    The White Album, by Joan Didion
    Joan Didion taught me that I cannot write like Joan Didion. The first time I read “On Self-Respect,” Didion’s voice seemed so strong it was overpowering—it echoed in my head as if God were speaking the words. I tried for a time to write like Didion, but the results were dreadful. It wasn’t that the mimicry was wrong, although it certainly was. Actually, some of the worst sentences I wrote were those that, on a technical or grammatical level, were closest to hers. But they sounded false, like the words themselves were in disguise, somehow impersonating other words. In time I accepted the reality that, although I admired her writing very much, so much it thrilled me to read it, hers was not a voice I could imitate in my search for my own. I was looking for something else. Funnily enough, once I’d found it, I realized that more and more of Didion began creeping into my writing in ways I loved.

    The post Educated: A Memoir Author Tara Westover Shares The Books That Taught Her the Most About Writing appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
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