According to Christmas canon, AKA the 2003 film ELF, “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is by singing loud for all to hear.” Since I’m obviously not going to do that, I thought I would try something else instead. It helps me to stop once in a while, especially these days, to remember all the good things that happen all the time but might not get much attention. It’s a mad, mad world; we’re constantly bombarded by the bad things, the dangerous things, the sad things, and the truly deplorable things. Today, on Christmas, I’d like to focus on the warm things, the loving things, the friendship things, and the things that make getting up every day and trying again worth it.
So, I’m sharing three of my favorite reads from 2019, in hopes that someone else out there might also read and enjoy one or more of them, too. After that, I’ve shared a little bit about three “feel good” stories from this year. Please feel free to leave a comment with any story or message of peace, love, or joy that you think would be valuable for someone else to see/read this holiday season.
Three Books I Loved This Year
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. Yesterday, I received my signed copy of this novel, the first from poet Ocean Vuong, with an inscription that included an excerpt from one of my favorite passages in the book, and perhaps one of my favorite passages in any piece of literature. It goes, “To be clean again. To be good again. What have we become to each other if not what we’ve done to each other?” It’s such a short statement, but doesn’t it pack a punch? How much information, how much forced reflection, is jammed into that little passage? I read the book back in June and still that passage sticks with me and reminds me to think back to my 2018 word of the year, and try to see people a little bit better. To be more patient, more compassionate, and less self-absorbed. In my review, I wrote, “For me, it seems, a universe of ellipses is falling into place at exactly the right moment, and to read a perfect book in a turbulent and confusing time is perhaps the most miraculous way to think of one’s place in that universe as intentional, purposeful, and necessary.” This still holds true. This is a book I’ll carry with me into the new year. I think it will continue to inform the way I think about myself and my memory, the way I think about others and, hopefully, how I tread them, and the way I think about, and go about the business of, being a writer.
Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian. This young adult novel was far more than I expected. Unfortunately, I read it at a time when I was not writing many reviews, so I didn’t get much more down than first reactions. I say unfortunately because this is a book that deserved better attention from me and that certainly deserves the public’s attention. I wish I would have shared more about it at the time, so that some of you, particularly those who love Young Adult literature or who love LGBTQ literature/history, could learn a bit about it. Every good coming-out-story, like every good coming-of-age story manages to balance a personal, individual story with a unique experience in time and place and the larger issues this entails. What the author does best in this novel is to integrate powerful and accurate portrayals of two difficult events, the Iran revolution and the AIDS crisis, into a story about an immigrant boy’s coming-of-age and coming out. Magically, it is all held together by the unlikeliest but most appropriate of figures: Madonna.
Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson. Since I have an adult novel and a young adult novel, I also want to be sure to share some non-fiction. Brave Face is Hutchinson’s personal and powerful memoir. I have to admit to being equal parts disturbed and jealous, because this book is in so many ways the book I would like to write or have written. We share so many experiences and opinions, which is perhaps not that strange considering we are near the same age and had a similar upbringing. There are some very specific experiences in his life that I, too, experienced in an almost startlingly similar way. It was strange to feel so connected to another person’s life story, especially considering how painful much of that journey was for him. It tapped into a part of me that I keep very much to myself, and it was cathartic in a way. Brave Face is an important piece in the LGBTQ+ literary puzzle, and especially as non-fiction targeting young adult audiences, which is not a substantial genre right now.
Honorable Mentions: DIG by A.S. King (young adult); THE SIZE OF THE TRUTH by Andrew Smith (middle grade), and BURNT OFFERINGS by Timothy Liu (poetry.)
Three Stories I Loved This Year
An entire town in Turkey learned sign language so they could communicate with one of their deaf neighbors. This is a story from 2014, but I only heard about it a few months ago, and I have to admit to being brought to tears by it. Imagine struggling every day to communicate with the people around you, to feel like an outsider in your own town, and then walking outside one day and being greeted in your own language by all of your neighbors, wherever you went. This is the kind of world I still believe is possible, so thank you to the people of Turkey for reminding us of the better path.
Millennials are constantly getting a bad rap. As one myself (just barely), and as someone who has taught Millennials for many years, I’ve always wondered about this. These young people are kinder, more generous, more thoughtful, and more inspired than I ever felt I was, or my friends were, at that age (though we were good people, too.) So, why the constant ribbing? Maybe older generations always do this, but a group of Millennials in Germany proved just how wonderful these young people can be when they surprised a homeless man with an impromptu musical performance. They borrowed his bucket, turning it into a drum, and collected money from passersby as they performed. Afterward? They gave all the money to that homeless man and went on their merry ways.
Tinney Davidson, an 88-year-old woman living in British Columbia, Canada with her husband, was known to her neighbors as the woman who waved to the schoolchildren every morning for 12 years. Even after her husband passed away, she went to the window every morning to wave at the children and wish them a good day. When the neighborhood found out that she would be moving away and into an assisted living facility, hundreds of children from the local schools showed up to her house carrying flowers and signs that said things like, “We Love U Mrs. Davidson” and “Thanks 4 Being Awesome!” They gathered on her lawn and blew her one big collective kiss goodbye. Who says small acts of kindness go unremembered? And who says children don’t appreciate kindness when they experience it?
Thank you as always, for reading. I still cannot believe this little blog has nearly 11,000 subscribers, and I will forever feel grateful and humbled by your presence here. Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Fabulous Festivus, Happy Kwanzaa, or, simply, peace, love, and good health to you as we end another year and prepare to begin a new one.
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You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence. Octavia E. Butler