Tag Archive | YA literature

Grief Takes Away So Much

This morning, as I lazed on the couch with my cup of tea, I was idly scrolling through Twitter when a tweet caught my eye. “It didn’t surprise me, when my parents were dying, that I couldn’t write. But it shocked me…that I couldn’t read.” It was a teaser with a link to a NY times column, and it was so unexpected, and so close to home.

Four years ago, I was working full-time as a retail manager, but I was also a bookaholic. I read as much as I could. I’d grown up with books, worked in my mother’s used-book store for years, even went to a seminar for antiquarian book dealers. And even though I was no longer in the business, I still loved books. All kinds of books. My parents and I shared a lot of authors, too, mostly mysteries/thrillers. We shared Ridley Pearson, Carol O’Connell, Philip Margolin, Michael Connelly, Dennis Lehane, Kathy Reichs, Linda Fairstein, and so many more. I shared a lot of fiction with my mom: Maeve Binchy, Nancy Thayer, Elin Hilderbrand, Kristin Hannah.

Then, as many of you know, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer. I still worked, but managed to get out to Arizona for a few visits. I remember one trip, on the way there, I read my first Lee Child book. Lee Child was my dad’s absolute favorite author, and he’d said this book was the best. I read it, and it was thrilling and gripping and tense, and I had a grand time talking to my dad about it when I got there.

My dad died in spring of 2012, and I stopped reading. For a very long time, I didn’t really read anything. I watched a lot of TV, I played stupid games on my phone. I learned to crochet a few months after my dad died, and that was my outlet. Then knitting. It was creative and soothing, and didn’t remind me of him at all.

Over time, I started picking up books again. My mom and I still share a fondness for fiction, and we swapped what we called “light, frothy books”. They were fun, didn’t require much thought, didn’t challenge me or push any of those grief buttons. I’m so glad I had you, Jane Green and Emily Giffin, Sophie Kinsella and Susan Wiggs, Debbie Macomber. I still love you, still read you all religiously.

I shared some YA books with my daughter. I’ve always loved YA books, and even though these were often darker subject matter, it was okay because it was different. Thank you, Sarah Dessen, Rainbow Rowell, Laurie Halse Anderson, Veronica Roth, Suzanne Collins.

After a couple of years, I started reading heavier books again, ones that made me think and cry and feel extreme emotions, and it was good. And just the other day, the boy and I went to the library, and I came home with six books, and I plowed through five of them within a week. It felt marvelous to fall into books like that again, to get that feeling of utter escape, that feeling where you close the book and you’re still thinking about the characters hours later.

For so long, I wrapped myself in the soft cushion of yarn crafts, and it saved me. I still love it, still knit more than I read, probably. But I think I’m at a point where there’s more of a balance. I can be a knitter AND a reader. A yarnaholic AND a bookaholic.

But I still can’t read mysteries. Well, no. I take that back; I’ve read a few. Harlan Coben is still a favorite. But they’re few and far between. I’ve never read another Lee Child book. I have an O’Connell and two Fairsteins in my To-Be-Read stash, and I pick them up periodically, read the description, and put them back. They’re too dark. There’s too much pain and anger and ugliness in those worlds. And of course, they still remind me of my dad. I think I’ll get back to them, someday. Until then, there’s still a whole wide world of books to explore, and I’m so relieved that I could find my way back to it.

Those are just “girl” books, he says

A few days ago I was at Barnes & Noble with my teenage daughter and one of her friends. They had just come from seeing “Divergent” and we met up with the other girl’s parents at the bookstore. We’re all readers, so the conversation veered from the Divergent series to other books. The friend (we’ll call her Tris for this story) brought up a book she wanted to read, the second in a series. Her mom said, “Oh yeah, I remember you telling me about that book.” Her dad glanced at the jacket art featuring stylized colorful swirls and sneered…and Tris put the book back.

The conversation moved to the Hunger Games series, which most of us had read and loved. Tris’s dad then said, with disdain in his voice, “Those books were girl books. They were too much about relationships. The parts about politics were interesting, but there wasn’t enough of that.”

Wow. Now, to be fair, I don’t remember whether he said he read the whole series or just the first one. (Though also to be fair, I’m not sure if that matters. How can you judge what you have not read?) I do remember there being quite a bit about the political issues in the series as a whole. I also remember the love relationship angle being only one small part of a much larger story. But despite the fact that he is overlooking so much meaning in the series, there is more at play that is disturbing to me.

Girls aren’t allowed to be interested in politics? Or is it that he thinks girls aren’t smart enough to understand politics? Tell that to Hillary Rodham Clinton, or Angela Merkel or Condoleeza Rice or Margaret Thatcher or…the list is too long. Does he realize that with his attitude, and his comments, he runs the risk of limiting his daughter? She’s smart, inquisitive, clever, funny–she can probably succeed in any field…unless she starts to believe that only certain things are acceptable for girls.

For that matter, boys have to be interested in politics? They’re not allowed to explore relationships in their reading? Huh. From what I remember of teenage (and young adult, and some adult) boys, their thoughts are consumed much more by relationships than politics. Being a teenager is a hard thing to go through, and I believe that reading about similar people and experiences can truly help a person cope with their struggles. What’s the good in removing that tool from an entire gender?

This wasn’t my first uncomfortable run-in with this guy. A few months ago, I was picking my daughter up from Tris’s house. My daughter and I both crochet and knit, and we were talking about teaching Tris how to do it. The dad scoffed at us, prompting Tris to point out that he used to crochet. “Yeah, I learned how once but then I figured out that it was stupid. Boys don’t crochet.” My 10-year-old son was with me, a boy who was actually learning to crochet. I spoke up and said that actually, they do, that one in particular is quite well-known (Hello there Crochet Dude Drew Emborsky) and he interrupted, “Oh, yeah, okay, one guy, sure.”

It’s truly infuriating. Thankfully, both my kids are enlightened enough that they realize the ludicrousness of what this guy says. I talked to my son about boys crocheting afterward, that actually a lot of guys do crochet and knit (like the fabulous Mad Man Knitting), and he casually said, “Oh yeah, I know.” Likewise, I talked to my daughter after the book incident. I asked her if she likes Tris’s dad, and she said, “Yeah, he’s really nice!” I murmured noncommittally and said I thought what he was saying about “girl books” was actually really sexist. She replied, “Well, yeah,” as if I was telling her something completely obvious…which I was, and I was glad that she recognized that.

I know there’s little I can do to combat attitudes like his. I wish I was better in the moment, to challenge him when he spouts idiocies like those, though it would probably do no good seeing as how I’m “just a girl”. So I’m doing what I can by teaching my kids to embrace what they love, regardless of stereotypes. Don’t close yourself off from creating wondrous things because one person says you can’t. I’m teaching them to respect others in the same way. Be open to what they’re doing, because you might learn something fantastic from them. Even though it’s true that we’re boys and girls, we’re all people. We all have thoughts and emotions and feelings and interests and passions. Life is so much more joyous when you have the freedom to embrace those things that make you who you are, as well as those things that connect you to others.