Reading Through the Year

Sunday Salon: Who Do You Think You Are?

When the topic of ancestry arises, I usually joke that I’m a “real American,” meaning my gene pool reflects a melting pot of Middle Eastern and Western European ingredients, with a splash of Jewish and a pinch of Native American thrown in for added variety. I took a DNA test a few years ago, not because I was terribly curious, but mostly because I wanted to have a written copy of my own personal DNA recipe.

I expected a pretty clear 50/50 split between Armenian (my dad was second generation American, born of two native Armenian parents) and a predominant mixture of Scotch-Irish from my mother’s side.

The results weren’t exactly like that, though, and I was puzzled.

Sunday Salon: Saving Grace

“February is the beginning of my New Year,” one of my friends wrote the other day. “January was just a free trial month.”

Had January been a free trial month for me, I would have cancelled my subscription for the remainder of 2019. Thankfully we spent half of it in Florida, escaping the vicious Polar Vortex that slapped the midwest with a sharp, stinging hand. But this year has flattened me already, friends. I won’t go into details, but there are trials aplenty to contend with.

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“What’s saving you right now?” another friend asked. A good question. I’ve been paying close attention, taking my emotional temperature often, taking note of times when my spirit seems to rise. You won’t be surprised to hear my most reliable saving grace is READING.

In fact, I can say with all sincerity that in the past month books have saved my life.

The notion had already crossed my mind, probably during one of the many sleepless nights I’ve had lately, where I wander from room to room, book in hand, trying to get comfortable somewhere. Losing myself in one good story after another kept the whirling dervish of nighttime anxiety at bay. It sounds melodramatic, but getting involved in the lives of other people, even fictitious people, helped me put my own problems in perspective.

Then, in one of those serendipitous moments, this essay appeared in the New York Times. Maura Kelly writes from the blackness of her own depression, writes of describing her abject despair to a counselor at a crisis hotline who asked her “Do you have something good to read?”

To anyone but a reader, that would sound like a completely ridiculous question in those circumstances. But Kelly, a writer, immediately got it.

“A good book,” she thinks. “Usually, that does help. A good novel is great company, less an escape from life than a different way to engage. A good novel is reassurance that other people have endured tragedies, long ordeals, bad odds. It’s evidence I’m not alone — not in the history of humanity, at least. A good novel often ends on an ambiguous note — yet every novel also implies a survivor still alive to tell the tale. A good novel is a form of hope.”

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So I’m thankful for the titles I read in January - the novels and especially the memoirs. Books that helped me step aside from my own worries and concerns, helped me think about the way carefully crafted words can tame feelings gone dangerously wild.

In the novel I’m reading right now, (Gone So Long, by Andre DuBus), Susan Dunn writes of spending her life feeling “trapped” by her surroundings, her family history, and her “Enemy,” the name she has given to the anomie of depression, a “black hook that lifted her then hung her just out of reach of whatever it was she thought she loved.”

“What helps?” her husband wants to know.

“Books,” she answers. “Books always help.”

As I continue Reading Through the Year, it’s comforting to know books can be my saving grace.

How about you? What’s saving you these days?



Reading List, January 2019

Nine Perfect Strangers, Liane Moriarty

Becoming Mrs. Lewis, Patti Callahan

Virgil Wander, Leif Enger

A Spark of Light, Jodi Picoult

Good-bye and Amen, Beth Gutcheon

Inheritance, Dani Shapiro

Souvenir, Therese Ann Fowler

Without A Map, Meredith Hall