Essay, Personal, writing

The Note I Never Wrote

I first started coming out to people when I was sixteen.

It began with a friend who, as it turns out, didn’t deserve to be told first, but who was nevertheless mostly supportive in the beginning. A few months after telling a second friend, I told my sister. And that was the limit for a little over a year, until I went to college and came out more broadly to a whole bunch of friends and family back home, all at once during the first semester of my freshman year. I used a ridiculously cheap but safe-to-me method, one of those “How Well Do You Know Me?” personal surveys that were all the rage for a while back in the early-2000s.

For me, the process was mostly painless and undramatic, with the exception of a couple family members who did not take the news well. I didn’t expect it all to go very badly, but I also didn’t expect it to go as easily as it did. There are still some people who are uncomfortable with the fact that I’m gay, but for the most part I have been very fortunate to have a loving and supportive family and to have surrounded myself with good people, both before and after coming out, who never saw that one part of my personality as anything other than what it is, a normal aspect of who I am. I know how very lucky that makes me, which has always made this next part confusing and embarrassing to me.

After 20 years of being “out” in some form or another, I sit here during Pride month and realize that there is one coming out I have yet to achieve. It’s an even more painful one, something that I’ve hidden or avoided talking about for 15 years; only two people have known anything about it, all this time. I started to think about this while walking the mall a few days ago. I noticed so many stores have their PRIDE colors out and their love/equality merchandise on display. The commercialism of it is a double-edged sword, but for the most part I choose to look on the bright side: visibility is a good thing. To feel welcome in public spaces is a good thing.

As I walked through one store, though, I took a closer look at their Pride displays and read that they are partnering with The Trevor Project this year. With every purchase, customers can choose to “round up” to the next dollar, and all of those donations then go to help this organization prevent teen suicide in the LGBTQ community, where the issue remains severe and far too common. The juxtaposition of all those joyful, vibrant Pride colors with the reminder that, every day, there are queer kids out there contemplating suicide, was jarring to say the least, and it dragged me back to one of the most painful times in my life.

During my second year of college, I was, by all appearances, the happiest and healthiest I had ever been. As a kid who struggled his whole life with obesity and body issues, I suddenly found myself rather fit, making close friends, and doing crazy things like learning how to dance, performing on stage, going to parties, and all sorts of other activities I had only dreamed about since childhood. But, doing all of those things took a great deal of energy for me. I didn’t realize at the time what it meant to be as anxious and introverted as I am, so I ignored the pain of being in public and among people all the time, even though my mind and body were trying to tell me, again and again, that I was doing too much.

Eventually, I would listen, though, and retreat into an even unhealthier environment.

I was also dating for the first time. There’s a lot that could be said about who I chose to date and how those experiences went. It suffices to say for now that, none of those choices were healthy or right, and that I was looking for something to make me feel better, not realizing that this was just adding to the problem. It would take a long, long time to understand that what would make me feel better, feel like me, and feel like I deserved to be alright, wasn’t something I could ever find in someone or something else; not in a guy, not in a friend, and not in an activity. I realize now that I was overcompensating for the fact that I was not as happy or comfortable as I pretended to be, and that even though I was out and had been surrounded by friends who accepted me completely, I hadn’t ever accepted myself.

The combination of persistent, paralyzing body issues and lack of self-esteem plus the fact that I hadn’t yet accepted my sexuality, despite pretending confidence in both of these things, led me to long-distance online dating. There was something wonderful, I thought, about this opportunity. Here, I could be as romantic and loving as I wanted to be and fulfill any fantasies I had, emotionally and imaginatively anyway, but not have to risk being with someone physically. This meant I could “be me” in the safest way possible, and in the only way I thought would work for someone like me. Deep down, I was convinced nobody really wanted to be with me physically. I was so uncomfortable about my body, so unwilling to give myself up to another person, and so completely unsure of how I was supposed to “be” with another man, that I sacrificed the opportunity to heal those issues and learn more about myself. Instead, I would hide behind a screen and pretend to be happy in a digital relationship.

What I first thought to be the answer, turned out to be one of the worst mistakes of my life. The relationship I entered was an abusive one. I didn’t realize it at first, and even after coming to a slow and steady awareness about the kind of person I was dealing with, I couldn’t get myself to leave. Yes, it was a long-distance, digital relationship. Yes, eventually, I realized I was being manipulated by a sociopathic narcissist. But because my self-esteem was so low and because I had convinced myself that this kind of romance was the kind that I deserved, I stayed. I endured endless cruelties and started to doubt myself even more, even the things I actually was confident about. I started to question my own sanity and intelligence, and to berate myself for knowing the truth of the situation I was in but not being “smart” enough to get out of it. I started to blame myself and to hurt myself because I had convinced myself that if this person could make me accept these abuses, then some part of me must deserve the punishment and the pain.

After far too long, that relationship came to an end. It was, as can probably be imagined, not a pleasant parting of ways. But when it ended, I was left empty and devastated, and less in control of myself or my emotions than I had been before it all began. I know now that anytime a relationship ends, there is some pain and grief, some regret, even if things are amicable. But there should also be some growth, some path forward. Unfortunately, at that moment in my life, because I had been avoiding so many truths about myself in the first place and because I had been ground down by months and months of the worst kind of toxicity, I was left completely unprepared for the fallout and incapable of handling the loneliness and despair that followed. And because I hadn’t been honest with anyone about what I’d been going through, none of my friends even knew that I had been in this relationship in the first place. I felt quite literally all alone.

The night of the fallout, I was by myself in my dormitory room. A few months earlier, I had had my wisdom teeth pulled and there was a full bottle of pain killers left over in my closet. Never before that moment and never since have I ever had a desire to die. But that night, after 20 years of pretending to be happy, pretending to be normal, pretending to be that “ideal gay” who has his shit together and could do anything and be accepted by everyone, my inner pain spilled out, and I broke. I shattered completely and deeply, and in a way that I never knew a human being could break.

The tears started falling before I took the first pill and before I stepped out of my dorm room and started walking aimlessly in circles around campus. I remember the black and red hoodie I was wearing, because I kept the pill bottle in the front pocket, for easy reach. I walked around at midnight, at 1am, at 2am… popping another pill every few minutes and swallowing it with a sip of water from the bottle I’d remembered to bring with me. I passed the same group of students from my dorm three or four times. They were hanging out in the “smoker’s spot” near one of the back entryways, shielding themselves from the cold midwestern winds, and eventually one of them realized there must be something wrong with me, because he called out to ask if I was alright. Invited me to join them.

I waved him off.

Finally, I reached the bottom of that pill bottle. I don’t remember how many I had taken, but I do know it was mostly full to start. And nothing was happening. I thought the pills would have had an immediate effect. I thought I would be passed out in a field somewhere, or laying face-down on the sidewalk. But, mostly, I was just utterly exhausted and I couldn’t keep going. I felt a little dizzy and disoriented, and I was tired from all the walking. But I was still awake and still alive. Why? Another failure.

With the bottle empty and nothing happening, I went back to my dorm and sat down on a couch in the common room. A few minutes later, the guy who had called out to me wandered in and sat next to me. He started to talk to me, but I have no recollection of what he said. All I remember is the way it felt to have my hand wrapped tightly around that empty pill bottle, inside the front pocket of my hoodie. I can still feel the heat returning to my hand and making my fingertips tingle. I can feel the sweat making that small plastic bottle slippery as I debated taking it out of my pocket and showing it to this guy, which is what I finally did. I couldn’t speak. I didn’t know what to say. I was desperately confused, terribly embarrassed, and suddenly very aware of what I’d done. I was stunned.

He saw the bottle and immediately ran the few steps to the director’s apartment, pounding on it until she awoke. An ambulance was called, and I remember most of that ride, the questions they asked and the looks they gave me. I remember my boss riding with me, being supportive and asking me what happened, was it about a boy? And I remember the sidelong glances from the paramedics, the looks that I took to be disgust, and the way they spit out, “Ma’am, please stop talking.” I remember how humiliated I was when they inserted the catheter, how they took my blood, and when they asked me who they should call. And I remember my mom and my sister showing up. I remember their faces, most of all, though the face of the hospital psychologist completely escapes me.

All these things I will remember, but most of all, I remember how alone and confused I felt. Not just that night but, in retrospect, all the time.

When people talk about suicide, when they ask how anyone could do that to themselves, to their friends and family, I think back to that loneliness and confusion. I think about the façade I wore day in and day out, and the way that people saw me but did not know me. I think about how easy it is for us to imagine we understand the people in our lives, especially the ones closest to us, whom we love, and yet I know, intimately, that we may not know anything at all.

We say “things get better” and they do. We say “things are better” now than they were 100, 50, and even 5 years ago. And in many ways, that is true. But some things haven’t changed. The strength it takes to get up every day, knowing you’re different, is exhausting. The pain of having to come out not just once, but almost every day, in every public space or whenever you meet someone new, is ever-present, because the assumption of straightness remains. And the confusion about what it means to be gay, to be a boy or a girl, to be in a relationship or not, to be a friend, to be a son or daughter… that confusion is something, I think, almost everyone is trying to work out, all the time. It’s just especially difficult for those who are also questioning who they are and living in fear about being rejected or attacked for it at any given moment.

I never wrote a suicide note, so I’d like to think of this as a note of a different kind. A note I get to write because I failed. It’s a reminder, mostly to myself, to check in on people and to pay more attention. It’s nobody’s fault, what I did. Not that horrible guy, not the friends I kept at a distance, and not even mine. When you get to a point of true misery, you’re no longer in control. You’re not even yourself anymore. You’re lost and there seems only one way out. So, you take that route. You find that exit. In that moment, it seems entirely logical.

I can’t imagine, now, having tried to commit suicide. I can’t imagine, now, ever trying it again. But what I can imagine is the many seemingly valid and justified reasons why people, and LGBTQ+ teens in particular, make that choice every single day. I can imagine their pain, their loneliness, their fear. Because I’ve felt it, too.

I’m glad I’m still here. The friends I made in the months following that suicide attempt are still my best friends to this day. I met and married the love of my life. I went further in my education than my dreams ever really allowed, and now I spend my life educating others. I try my best, now, to really look at people. To see them in a way that I felt unseen, because I know what it’s like not to be able to look at yourself or show yourself to anyone else. I don’t know if it will ever make a difference, but I can’t risk closing my eyes.

I’m glad I’m still here. I’m glad I could write this suicide note.


To learn more about The Trevor Project and how you can help prevent suicide in LGBTQ+ youth, please visit: https://www.thetrevorproject.org

If you think you or someone you know might be contemplating suicide, please visit: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org

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Abdi Nazemian, charity, Hope In A box, Jane DeLynn, Jeff Garvin, LGBT, Michael Barakiva, Michel Tournier, pride month

Pride and Hope in a Box

June is pride month and I’ll be spending it reading a bunch of LGBTQ+ books from new-to-me authors. I posted the photo above (of this month’s TBR) to Twitter a few days ago and received some fun replies, so I thought I would share it here as well. I’m also going to be sharing about/donating to some worthy causes, like the Trevor Project and Hope in a Box (more about this below.)

Pride Month Reading

I’m currently reading Michel Tournier’s GEMINI and, so far, it is quite the trip. First of all, it is brilliant and beautifully written. It’s about a forbidden love between identical twins, but much of the story so far (and I’m about half-way through at this point) is narrated by another character, Alexandre Surin, who inherits his brother’s estate and becomes a kind of city refuse guru (yes, a genius trash disposal man). He’s also a gay man with wild disdain for heterosexuals, which is often articulated in hilarious ways. This one is hard to describe, but maybe I’ll have more words when I’ve finished (otherwise I’ll just share a bunch of insane quotes from the novel itself to help me explain it.)

In the top left, there is Jane DeLynn’s DON JUAN IN THE VILLAGE, which I assigned for my Queer Lit course last year. Unfortunately, that class required a last-minute change and I never got around to reading this one, so I’m going to do so now and hopefully re-assign the book again in the future. Spring 2020? It’s apparently a lesbian, Latina masterpiece of dark comedy, so I’m looking forward to it.

In the top right is Jeff Garvin’s SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN, which is the story of Riley Cavanaugh, a non-binary person’s coming out and coming-of-age. I’m particularly looking forward to this one after reading and enjoying Mason Deaver’s I WISH YOU ALL THE BEST, another story about a non-binary individual’s coming out journey.

In the bottom left is Abdi Nazemian’s LIKE A LOVE STORY, which is blurbed by Mackenzi Lee (author of The Gentleman’s Guide to Virtue and Vice) as a book “for warriors, divas, artists, queens, activists, and anyone searching for the courage to be themselves.” What’s not to love about that? The book is about growing up gay (and otherwise) in 1989 New York City and is narrated by Reza, a gay Iranian immigrant boy.

Finally, to the bottom right, is the book I’ll probably read next. It’s Michael Barakiva’s HOLD MY HAND, and the book is about Alek Khederian, an “out and proud” gay Armenian-American who is about to celebrate his six-month anniversary by losing his virginity to his boyfriend, Ethan.

One of the things I’m most “proud” of in selecting these texts for pride month reading is that they cover a lot of bases, from stories about immigrants and white gays, to coming out and coming of age; from gritty Latina lesbians to non-binary teenagers, and from historical perspectives to the present day. I’m pretty excited about my June reading plans!

Hope In A Box

The other thing I wanted to write about today is an organization called HOPE IN A BOX. This is a group that “collaborates with rural public schools to make English classrooms more LGBT-friendly.” They take donations from individuals and corporations and turn those funds into libraries and resources for classrooms and teachers that need it the most.

In addition to making physical books with LGBT-themes available to students in rural communities, Hope In A Box also designs inclusive curriculum guides and provides coaching for teachers and educators.

As the organization makes clear, “This lack of representation has proven consequences for LGBT youth. At school, 66% of LGBT students experience discrimination. One in ten have been threatened or injured with a weapon. Such victimization is linked to lower GPAs, graduation rates, and college matriculation.”

Hope In A Box “works with librarians, teachers, and administrators to cultivate environments that put lgbt students on track for success.” Their “goal is to help every student—queer or straight—feel comfortable celebrating their identity.”

This is an incredible organization doing important work, and I hope you will consider learning more about them and, if you can, making a contribution to their cause. They are my new charity of choice this year.

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Monthly Review, Rainer Maria Rilke, Shaun David Hutchinson, Timothy Liu, Victor Frankl, Yevgeny Zamyatin

May 2019 In Review

My focus lately has been everywhere besides this blog, despite the fact that I have “re-branded” my website and social media presence from Roof Beam Reader to He Writes Words. It’s been a slow and confusing transition, though, which might explain why I’ve been silent/distant. That said, I do want to dip my toes back in and share a little bit about what’s been going on lately.

Reading

As of this moment, Goodreads tells me that I am “5 books ahead of schedule” in my annual reading challenge, which is pretty impressive because I usually play catch-up during the summer months. I guess I’ll probably end up going beyond my goal of 52 books this year. In the month of May, specifically, I managed to read a total of six books. I’ve been way behind on reviewing, as the desire to write formal reviews has pretty much evaporated at this point. I’m not sure why (maybe because I’m focused on other things.) Some notes on what I’ve read, though:

Timothy Liu’s Burnt Offeringsa collection of poetry by a gay Asian man, was interesting and mostly wonderful. There were a few poems that moved me deeply and many that provided food for thought. In fact, I’ve been inspired to read more poetry because of it (even picking up Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, which I will use to help me refresh before teaching poetry in one of my literature courses this fall). Speaking of poetry, I also read Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. I’ve never read any Rilke, and that might have been to my detriment in this case. While the letters to this aspiring poet were interesting, and the supplementary biographical material about Rilke’s life revealing, I was nevertheless mostly disinterested because I wasn’t interested in Rilke in the first place. I went into this one thinking it was more of an “on writing” type of book, so it didn’t do for me what I hoped it would. Still, there were plenty of nuggets for writers, especially about expectations and the personal nature of writing, as when he comments, “he could not bear to publish the things he really cared for and put forth only the least personal.” That’s something I’m struggling with a lot right now.

The Rilke was one book from my 2019 TBR Pile Challenge, and another that I finished this month is Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. This one is considered the father, or uncle (?), of the dystopian literary genre, having inspired the likes of Orwell and Huxley. I can definitely understand why people think so highly of it, especially because it was written in the 1920s, pre-dystopia craze. Some of its direct influences are Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World; as a story, I don’t think it quite succeeds as those two do, however, even though Orwell seems to think more highly of the Zamyatin than he did of Brave New World. Sorry, Orwell, but I disagree! That said, the study of the battle between individualism and collectivism, the self versus the community, are really fascinatingly explored, and my favorite element is probably the antagonist-state’s attack on the imagination. Imagine living in a world where the capacity for any creative and original thought is eliminated.

I also read Philippe Besson’s Lie With Me and Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Neither of these quite lived up to my expectations, either, which makes me think I’ve either become a much more discriminating reader, lately, or I just have not been in the mood to read and have been somehow forcing myself through it. Besson’s Lie With Me is a French novel about a gay man who meets the son of his former lover and begins to reflect on his youth. The writing is beautiful but the story itself is rather sparse, and its ending is disappointing and expected. One fun surprise about it, though, was learning that it is translated by Molly Ringwald! As an ’80s kid, I couldn’t help but be thrilled by that. Man’s Search for Meaning was simply not what I thought it would be. I was expecting some kind of philosophical tome, which of course it is, but it’s really two books, the first of which is a recounting of Frankl’s life in a Jewish concentration camp during World War II. The second part is about his psychological theory of logotherapy, which is a kind of optimism, or accepting that everything that happens can be a learning opportunity and an opportunity for growth–not necessarily that it is meant to be, but that one can find the good in anything and, if finding the good, will discover that his attitude determines his happiness, even in the worst of times.

I did read one book this month that absolutely blew me away, which was Shaun David Hutchinson’s new memoir, Brave Face. 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 (though in different parts of the country.) 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. I was first almost angry at how good this memoir is, but having sit with it for a while, I find that what it really did for me was to inspire me to plot my own story, and for that I’m grateful. I’m also so proud of Hutchinson for finding the courage to write this important and beautiful book.

Writing

I’ve been telling myself every single day that I would start posting more regularly here on the blog and that I would get started with this book I want to write (or essays? Or whatever?) I’ve been getting exactly that far, though: waking up and telling myself, “Okay, it’s going to happen!” Oops. On the bright side, I have been journaling regularly through my 100 Days of Journaling project. I reached day 89 today and have written 220 pages (1 1/2 journals) of, well, whatever it is. Most of the daily entries are devoted to my “brain dumping” whatever comes out. A couple of important and helpful things have come up, though, including a personal breakthrough on something I’ve been conflicted about for many, many years, as well as a clear chapter outline for the memoir I want to write. (At the moment I’m thinking of it as memoir, anyway, but I keep debating on whether I want to fictionalize it instead. See the Rilke quote above!) The practice itself has been really helpful, so I’m proud of myself for doing it every day, and for nearly 100 days already. When I finish this first 100-days, I plan to move on to another activity called the “Q&A For Writers” project, where instead of considering a writing prompt every day, I consider a question.

Teaching

May also saw the end of the spring semester. I’ve been teaching for 7 years and find that the spring semester is always, always the most difficult semester. I think this is because, in the fall term, everyone is returning refreshed from summer, there are a lot of new students with fresh and positive attitudes and excitement, and the semester is even one week shorter (because spring break technically adds* a week to the spring semester.) This was by far my best spring semester, ever, though. While classes never go perfectly, I had some really strong sections this term and some really thoughtful, motivated, interesting students to work with. I couldn’t help everybody, I never can, but I do think I reached some students, and that’s always enough. They taught me a whole lot, too, about a variety of subjects, but also about certain things in my methods that I want to reassess. I always struggle with this profession because it demands so much without providing as much (financially) in return, but these other personally rewarding experiences and moments are usually more than enough to make up for the economic struggles. I can’t imagine another career that would be as rewarding to me in this way.

I was supposed to be teaching two classes this summer, but both have been canceled. It’s our lowest enrollment in nearly two decades, apparently, and I’m wondering if this is the experience at other institutions as well? There seems to be little explanation for it, especially considering the rather consistent growth we have seen year-over-year for quite some time. Anyhow, I’ll miss teaching and I’ll definitely be missing the salary (that’s a big OUCH), but at the same time, this is the first summer I’ll have “free” (minus lesson planning and course designing/prepping for the fall) since I started teaching 7 years ago. I think I need to be grateful for this opportunity, too, and it might be rewarding in its own way, not to mention refreshing. I hope to use the bonus time to work on my own writing and see if I can draft something (or most of something) by start of fall term. Wouldn’t that be nice?

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LGBT, Mason Deaver, non-binary, Young Adult

I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver

Ben De Backer is your typical modern American teenager. They have a pretty good relationship with their parents, at least as good as a parent-teenager relationships tend to be. They have an estranged sister who they miss and close friends who they met online and dream of meeting in person someday. And they have a big, life-altering secret. Ben De Backer is non-binary.

The fallout from this confession, which seems like it will go well at first, is swift and severe. Ben is forced out of his house and must scramble on a late winter’s night to find somewhere to go. They reach out to the first and only person that comes to mind, a sister who left years ago, without explanation.

What transpires in the pages that follow is the story of Ben’s slow and painful coming out and coming to terms with what it means to be Ben-the-person. This is the kind of story that reminds me just how important the “own voices” movement is right now, especially in Young Adult literature, where so much powerful and significant work is being done to help readers (young and old) make sense of the ever-more complex world around us.

Mason Deaver’s novel is groundbreaking for its portrayal of a non-binary protagonist, but it is also simply a darn good story. The author crafts a complicated narrator with a difficult background and invites the reader to figure things out right along with them. We cannot always root for Ben, or at least this reader couldn’t, because they sometimes overreact and make mistakes, sometimes become too self-pitying or indulgent, and sometimes seem to judge others a bit too harshly even though they, too, are in pain for being judged by others. But that’s the beauty of it. Ben, the character, is a real person. We can all, cis or not, gay or straight, young or old, recognize a bit of ourselves in Ben’s coming-of-age, because none of us did it quite as well as we could have.

I first heard about I Wish You All the Best some few months ago and added it to my “to read” list right away. I knew that reading a non-binary character’s story as written by a non-binary author was going to be a powerful and enlightening experience, and that certainly proved true. While I sometimes felt like I was missing too much of the backstory, particularly regarding Ben and his sister’s relationship with their parents, I found the story enjoyable overall. It is also helping to fill in a critical missing piece in contemporary fiction.

Ben’s struggle to balance privacy and authenticity, to find and accept love when they haven’t yet accepted themselves, and to pursue a path of their own rather than the one laid out for them, is an inspiring journey, and the added reality that this is a non-binary person dealing with all these very human experiences made the reading experience even richer.

This is the kind of book to be enjoyed for its universal appeal and for its specific concerns, ones that very few people can fully understand, but from which we all can learn.

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Anne Goodwin

Becoming Someone by Anne Goodwin

I was fortunate to receive a copy of Anne Goodwin’s Becoming Someone from the publisher, Inspired Quill, for review. Anne Goodwin is a prolific writer and has been short-listed for the Polari Prize, among other accolades. Upon reading six-part collection, it becomes quite clear how and why she has been so recognized.

One of the great successes for Goodwin’s collection is that the author manages to balance a wide array of topics and narrators without losing cohesion. Her narrators are male and female, young and old, and yet Goodwin’s voice centers and grounds them all in a common worldview and purpose. It is a kind of hopeful cynicism, the type one might recognize from the likes of Vonnegut who, despite seeing the world for what it is (when it is often not much to speak of), still wades through each day and experience from a place of love. So, while many of the stories in Goodwin’s collection are critical, even superficially hopeless, there is an underlying belief in something more and bigger than what we feel is possible on our own bad days.

This balance is on display immediately in the first story, “Madonna and Child.” While the plot describes one of the most terrible situations a person might ever have to face, it is supported by a character whose presence makes the situation survivable, both for the main character and for the reader. Similarly, in “How’s Your Sister?”, Goodwin describes the worst kind of family tension and a mental illness that seems unimaginable to most, but couches this in the very realistic, everyday way that many of us would indeed bring to the situation. Goodwin’s grasp of our social awareness (or lack thereof) and how we deal with trauma, pain, and embarrassment is on full display in these stories, and it reminds us to remind ourselves that, perhaps, there is a better way to treat ourselves and each other.

Some of the stories I enjoyed most from this collection are the ones that dip into the bizarre realm of sci-fi/fantasy realism. Goodwin has particular interest in marrying the real world with fantastical situations in a way that makes the bizarre seem common, and this turns out to be a simply fun and effective way of driving home important points about social issues, like gender equality, sexuality, aging and abuse, among other things. Two stories, in particular, “Telling the Parents” and “Heir to the Throne,” stand out in my mind as particularly accomplished in this way.

If you are a fan of the short story, enjoy reading about the human condition from a paradoxically cynical but hopeful perspective, or like a little dose of the uncanny with your realism, this collection is a fun ride. Many thanks to Inspired Quill, an ethical indie publisher with a big heart, for the chance to read and review it.

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Books

May Checkpoint! #TBR2019RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

Welcome to the 5th checkpoint for our annual TBR Pile Challenge! I hope you are all making good progress and enjoying yourselves (and your reading selections! We have 169 reviews/check-in posts linked up already, with 7 months to go, and I think that’s beyond awesome! Way to go, you all! 

I’m pleased to report that, in this 5th month of the challenge, I have read 5 of my 12 books! That puts me right on pace, with summer freedom (ha!) coming up. I hope to get a little bit ahead during the summer months, so this actually puts me in a good place. The only problem is that I’m behind on reviewing — I have to get some thoughts down for the last two books I’ve read for this challenge. I’ve been in a bit of a blog-writing slump, to be honest, so we’ll see if I can kick that soon.

Progress: 5 of 12 Completed / 3 of 12 Reviewed

As you can see, I need to write reviews for Letters to a Young Poet and for We, and then link them up. I think the next book up from my list might be Gemini (1998) by Michel Tournier, which I’ve wanted to read for a long time; I’ve held off on it so far this year, though, because it is very long and I wanted to make sure I had enough free time to devote to it. In other words, I needed this semester to end! 

Books read:

How are you doing?

index

Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated!

MINI-CHALLENGE #2 WINNER: Linday from Three Good Rats! 

LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS! 

 

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Historical Fiction, Samantha Silva

Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

“A good biography tells us the truth about a person; a good story, the truth about ourselves.” 

Where to begin with this charming little historical fiction novel, based on the life and work of one Mr. Charles Dickens? I’m told that, “to begin at the beginning,” is usually the best place, so let’s give that a try. 

First, Samantha Silva is upfront about the fact that this is historical fiction, mostly imagined but based on real people and events. I originally mistook the novel for something more on the “historical” side than the “fictional” side, which left me at first feeling a little disappointed by the reaches, the suggestions, and the supernatural elements. (Yes, I said supernatural!)

But when I took a moment to reflect on the fact that this is historical fiction and to concentrate on the work as fiction, Mr. Dickens and His Carol revealed itself to me to be a charming, honest, and loving work by an author who clearly knows, respects, and admires Dickens the writer and historical figure. Much of his real life struggles and successes are represented, here, including his problematic family members, his issues with marriage, his debts, and his interesting relationship with the mysterious.

One element in particular that almost turned me off is that supernatural component, but then I considered how fascinated Dickens himself was with these sorts of phenomena and how his later works incorporated many similar devices; this made the presence of a “real life” Dickensian brush with the inhuman bizarrely realistic and a little bit fun. 

I do think Dickens’s wife gets a rather harsh treatment in this work, but I admit to not knowing much about her (if it’s based in reality, well, okay; if this is one of the more fictional elements, then ouch.) His rivals, too, such as Thackeray and Collins, are made out to be rather petty and pompous. He himself is also rather delicately handle; he is not written without flaws, but in most situations he comes out the better figure, and I’m not sure how realistic that is, either. Still, if you like Dickens and if you like the idea of a Dickensian version of A Christmas Carol, which is a kind of meta-fiction simultaneously about A Christmas Carol and about its creator, then this one is worth the read. I find it especially appropriate as a holiday read, but perhaps that much should be obvious. 

Notable Quotes

“Children were an act of optimism—sheer belief that the future will outshine the present.”

“Words were inadequate, but all he had. He didn’t know where they came from or why, but it was how we told one another what the world was and might be. Who we were, and might become. It was the only magic he had.”

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