Depression isn’t forever

Writing of a personal nature— sharing a part of my life, I take the risk of allowing myself to be exposed.

I grew up in a big family and as a kid I felt loved and secure, but once I got into my teens my world turned upside down. During those years music and books impacted me. The spellbinding music of the 60’s and 70’s coupled with books like Go Ask Alice, published anonymously in 1971, and I Never Promised You A Rose Garden, published in 1964, fueled my young easily-influenced brain, tightening the tentacles of darkness. I experienced a deep depression and was ripe for self-destruction. I considered thoughts of taking my life.

Sadly, there are many people (young, old and in between) who out of desperation view suicide as the only solution to their pain. Depression is a tough subject to discuss, yet it’s a conversation that cannot be ignored. Consider the character of Eleanor in Gail Honeyman’s debut novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. The reader quickly discovers that Eleanor is not fine. She fastidiously maintains her Monday through Friday job keeping to herself, then on Friday night with equal purpose she stops off to pick-up a frozen pizza and 2 bottles of Vodka which she proceeds to drink over the weekend.

It is easier to discuss a complex character in a book than it is to admit you may be struggling with depression or suicide. It’s awkward, no one knows what to say, so often nothing is said at all — It is my sincere intent to open up the dialogue in hopes that lives may be saved. Indeed it is a hard subject to discuss because those who suffer feel stuck and weighed down by the stigma of shame.

Today more and more resources are becoming available, which is encouraging, because the truth is that mental illness comes in a multitude of manifestations, depression being one of them. I recently came across two books in the Library’s collection that offer insight and hope.

Just Peachy: Comics About Depression, Anxiety, Love, and Finding the Humor In Being Sad by Holly Chisholm is a great little book, a quick read and an outstanding example of the power of art as a tool for recovery.

If You Feel too Much: Thoughts on Things Found and Lost and Hoped for is a collection of personal essays by Jamie Tworkowski. The book evolved after he wrote an earlier story about helping a friend in her struggle with depression, drugs and self-injury. The piece was called “To Write Love on Her Arms.The piece went viral and the outcome led to the organization TWLOHA an internationally recognized leader in suicide prevention worldwide.

Grace June’s “Phil”

Last October my daughter-in-law, who bravely admits her own struggle with depression, received grant funding to develop a forum bringing light on the subject of suicide. She used the medium of photography to convey a message of hope and healing dubbing the project Survivor Series. The photo essay was compiled into a book of individuals who had either lost a loved one to suicide or had contemplated taking their own life.

For the culmination of her yearlong project, she hosted an event inviting the community and those photographed for the project. Photos were on display with a brief synopsis of each story. A portion of the evening was an open mic in a second building where a poetry group kicked things off, followed by anyone who wanted to standing up and share their story.

The evening was successful and affirming for those in the infancy of their grief as well as for others who, like my husband who lost his brother 20 years ago, have been grieving for a much longer time. It also was a catalyst for change in the Spokane community. The exhibit is currently on display at the Spokane Public Library.

Next month my husband and daughter will team up with hundreds of people to walk through the night on the streets of San Francisco in the Out of Darkness Overnight. The walk serves to raise money and bring attention and support to our nation’s increasing number of suicide deaths.

Thank you for reading this blog. It takes courage and honesty to admit the need for help. We’re not meant to walk this life alone. If you want more information on suicide prevention, there are people who are trained to help at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Heartwood 9:2 – The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

You don’t have to wait for the summer to enjoy The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. This brief novel follows the day-to-day activities of Sophia, a girl of six, and her grandmother, as they summer on a small island off the Gulf of Finland where the family has long had a modest cottage.

Sophia’s mother has recently died, but this is mentioned so quietly that it would be easy to miss. Her father is also with them on the island, but he speaks little (maybe not at all?) and is mostly occupied at his desk, or with carrying out household chores, or with attempting to landscape the challenging island terrain. What fills the pages are the activities and interactions of the mercurial Sophia and her forthright grandmother.

The book is constructed of twenty-two finely honed vignettes, beginning with “The Morning Swim,” in which Sophia expects her proposal to go swimming to meet with her grandmother’s opposition but she gets none; on her part, the grandmother discovers Sophia’s discomfort at venturing into the deeper water. This chapter sets the tone for what’s to come in terms of the jockeying of independence and cooperation between the two characters who are at the opposite edges of the typical lifespan. Their dialogue with each other is generally quite minimal, sometimes crisp and pointed, but full of resonance, laden with feeling. And their conversations don’t always go as they might wish (the turns of which can also surprise the reader), sometimes resulting in tensions that are gradually (or speedily) put to rest.

A few chapters bring them together to accomplish a common task, such as building a miniature Venice, or one where Sophia is shocked to see that she’s cut a worm in half while helping in the garden. After the garden incident, the grandmother tries to calm the girl and tells her how both broken ends will heal, and she coaxes Sophia to work through her feelings. Eventually Sophia, whose writing can’t keep pace with her thoughts, dictates to her a treatise which the girl calls A Study of Angleworms That Have Come Apart. This chapter is a beautiful example of the connection and individuality the characters possess as Jansson melds the shocked realization of the six-year-old with the worldly-wise experience of the grandmother, while silently appearing to acknowledge their surviving the death of Sophia’s mother.

Just as Jansson brings these two characters to life with just a few brushstrokes, she also excels at making the island come alive, with her attention to the topography, the seascape, storms, specific birds, and plants (her line drawings also add to the ambience).

Other chapters involve such things as Sophia’s first experience sleeping alone in a tent, the adoption of a cat, discussions of God and death. Their skerry also has visitors at times, and outings by boat are launched both for pleasure and to get supplies from the village.These chapters add dimension and appropriately fill out the summer season on the island.

Like Sophia, Jansson spent much of her life living in a small cabin on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland. And she wrote The Summer Book in the year or two after her mother’s death. This might help explain why the scenes and sensibility in the book feel so authentic.

I am so grateful this book introduced me to the life and works of Tove Jansson who, in addition to writing thirteen books for adults, was also a painter, illustrator, and writer of the children’s Moomin books. The Summer Book is notable for its marvelous handling of character, setting, and what it means to be human, but also for its tone, concision, clarity, insights, and way of capturing mood shifts (you’ll find these traits also on display in her wonderful collection of selected stories, The Woman Who Borrowed Memories).

More about Tove Jansson, the island where she summered, and her artwork can be found here.

Spot-Lit for May 2019

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

(And remember, the links below the cover gallery will take you to some of the best fiction of the year so far along with great new novelists!)

Notable New Fiction 2019 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction | 2019 Debuts

Must-Reads of 2019 So Far…

I’ve never recapped my personal best-of reading list so early in the year before, but 2019 is already off to such a great start I’m making an exception. The biggest silver lining of February’s snow show was getting more time to read. Here are just a few of my faves so far, in no particular order because these books are amazing and I refuse to rank my favorite children books.

Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson & Ellen Hagan
Recommended for fans of Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu.

I’m convinced I will always 100% love everything Renée Watson writes. This book hit so many high notes and addressed so many topics important to me that I really just want to read it again.

Best friends Jasmine and Chelsea are fed up with the way female students are treated at their supposedly progressive high school, so they start a Women’s Rights Club. Poems, essays, and videos go into their club’s online blog, Write Like a Girl. The blog goes viral, but online trolls escalate tensions in real life and the blog gets shut down by a condescending school administration. Jasmine and Chelsea aren’t ready to go quietly into the night–not when they know they are reaching other students who are facing the same misogynist treatment. How will they balance their need to help and be creative while not further angering their school’s administration?

The way that feminism, racism, body shaming, and everything else is addressed was just 10/10 perfect. The essays, poems, and playlists that the characters create for the Write Like a Girl blog were my absolute favorite part. It was like getting a very rad nonfiction bonus in my fiction book.

I fought for them. I cried for them. I cheered them on and didn’t want their story to end. These are multidimensional characters written authentically and I’m so here for it.

Cold Day in the Sun by Sara Biren Recommended for fans of The Cutting Edge and The Everett Silvertips.

This book is for anyone like me who was completely obsessed with the film The Cutting Edge–where a hockey player and a figure skater are paired up for the Olympics–who also wanted a sequel to be about hockey.

Holland is the only girl on her high school’s hockey team and she’s used to holding her own skating with the guys–even though it means dealing with the misogynist insults from the small hockey town’s good ole’ boys. But when she’s selected to represent her team on national television to help sway the public to vote for a major hockey tournament to be held in her hometown, Holland will have to confront her own self-doubts and fears that she might not be good enough to be on the boys’ team.

Oh, and she’ll also have to deal with her changing feelings towards her bossy team captain who she’s starting to realize might not be her frenemy after all. Maybe, just maybe, her frustrations stem from strong romantic feelings for him that she’s ignored for too long.

Cold Day in the Sun is full of feminism, the Midwest, small-town life, and a romance that will hook you and not let you go.

The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye
Recommended for fans of historical fiction with a sharp social justice edge.

As soon as I finished this smashing book I immediately missed the residents of The Paragon Hotel. Especially Blossom. And Max. And Nobody. And okay, everyone. It’s literally everyone.

I spent several days utterly invested in this story of a white woman who goes by the name Nobody. She flees the Mob in 1921 after having to fake her death. Rescued by a concerned train porter, she is allowed to stay in an all-African American hotel in Portland. The Paragon Hotel’s residents are reluctant to welcome her, as having a white woman in their rooms will only draw negative attention from the bigoted community. Soon these fears become reality. Nobody and the hotel’s staff and residents are thrust under the KKK’s magnifying glass as they all search for a missing 6 year old foundling they’ve all been collectively raising from infanthood.

The pacing is great, dipping back into Nobody’s past when relevant, and showing how she learned to survive. The author turns phrases like pancakes and if I were highlighting all the clever passages the pages in my copy would be nearly solid yellow.

This book destroyed me in a good way.

Even though this is fiction, I learned a lot of disturbing things about the KKK’s nonfictional influence in Oregon. I’m likely to start digging into the Northwest Room for more information about this time period in Oregon’s past.

Death Prefers Blondes by Caleb Roehrig
Recommended for fans of Leverage, RuPaul’s Drag Race, and heist novels.

I was immediately hooked at the premise of a heist novel starring teenage drag queens, and it only went up from there.

Margo isn’t your typical teen. By day she’s a socialite the paparazzi can’t get enough of. By night she’s a highly successful cat burglar. She and her four best friends, all of whom are teenage drag queens, each have their own reasons for doing what they do. The one thing they have in common? They’re damn good at stealing. But when a routine job goes wrong, they’ll need all their skills, training, and friendship to not only survive but to stop the mastermind who is determined to out them all.

There’s love, sex, violence, friendship, redemption, and huge helpings of both snark and bonding. If you’re looking for a fast-paced wild ride of a novel–look no further.

So let’s hear it. Which books have hit the tippity top of your favorites so far this year? Leave your recommendations in the comments. Who knows? Maybe one of your favorites will hit my next best-of list. Which judging by the way this year is shaping up might be sooner than we both expect.

Hey! You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away

Whenever I hear the Beatles song “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” I think of the loneliest 3 A.M. soul huddled in bed scribbling in a notebook about how much in love they are but they can’t tell anyone and it’s eating them alive. Or maybe that’s just me. Last week.

We live in an age when we can declare our feelings from the rooftops, hire a sky writer, and hire a four man mariachi band to follow our love interest around (for some reason all of my ideas would probably land me in jail or with a glovebox full of restraining orders.) We don’t have to hide our love. Unless that love is for your sister’s husband. But that’s a story for another day.

In John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies, Cyril Avery is born in Ireland at the end of WWII. His mother, a 16-year-old unwed mother, is chased out of town by the parish priest. She travels a few hours away and has her child. She gives him up for adoption. Cyril is adopted by two people who should have never been parents. They aren’t cruel to him, but they aren’t very loving and always remind him he’s not a ‘real Avery.’

When Cyril is 8 he meets Julián Woodbede, a boy who is everything Cyril is not: beautiful, bubbly, and beloved by almost everyone. When Cyril reaches his teens he realizes he’s in love with Julián. But this is 1950s Ireland where God’s hand is in everything and being gay is illegal. Cyril never confesses his love to Julián, although that love is the only thing he holds onto as he grows up.

Sex is never a loving event but furtive and quick, something done in the shadows or bathrooms. The threat of police raids hangs over every encounter. Cyril makes a life changing decision that sets him on a path he never expected, throwing his life into chaos. Will Cyril become loved and be able to love in return or will he spend the rest of his life sitting on his bed and scribbling about love in a notebook? Will he return to a changed Ireland where loving a man is considered a heavier sin than birth control?

The Heart’s Invisible Furies left me in tears. And I don’t cry uncontrollably. Unless I’m watching Dumbo. God, cue the water works on that one. But this book still has me wondering how Cyril’s doing and if he ever truly found the love he needed. I wonder if any of us find the love we’ve always needed.

Spot-Lit for April 2019

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2019 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction | 2019 Debuts

A Quiet Apocalypse

Books and movies depicting the apocalypse have a tendency to go big. I understand that the end of civilization would be a pretty big deal, but does it always have to be so dramatic? Be it zombies, plague, natural disaster or aliens, ‘the end’ comes storming onto the scene and everyone runs screaming. Because of this, I’ve always appreciated works that depict the world’s upcoming doom as just one event among many in a character’s everyday life. It just seems more realistic to me. Admittedly, wanting realism when it comes to the apocalypse might seem a bit odd. But hey, I am what I am.

In Severance by Ling Ma, the apocalypse is a quiet one. It takes the form of Shen Fever, which is a highly contagious disease, turning people into zombies but not the bloodthirsty brain eating kind. Instead, Shen Fever is a ‘disease of remembering’ that renders its victims harmless, but doomed to repeat the routines they performed in life, until they slowly waste away. But even this catastrophic event is not the center of the book. Instead, it is the life of the protagonist Candace that is of most importance.

Alternating between Candace’s life before and after the pandemic, you come to know her as a quirky twenty-something coming to terms with a world that is drastically altered, yet strangely the same. Before the pandemic, she works for a Manhattan book publisher in the ‘specialty Bibles division’ and lives with her on again off again boyfriend Jonathan in Brooklyn. Both have vague artistic ambitions, but Candace has resigned herself to a more mundane job to pay the bills. Once Shen Fever hits the city, and the number of people in her office slowly starts to decline, she actually has a chance to indulge her creative side. She founds the blog NY Ghost and captures haunting images of an empty New York City for those who have fled.

Once things really start to fall apart, with food and the internet in short supply, she is forced to leave and try to find a new way of living. She eventually comes across a group of survivors led by Bob, a former IT specialist with some rather odd ideas about the new world and his role in it. The group continues in search of a safe place, that only Bob knows about. On the way, they scavenge homes for supplies, filled with victims of the fever who are continually performing the same routine tasks they did when healthy.

Severance is an odd but rewarding read. By focusing on character rather than catastrophe, it produces a convincing portrait of a young woman trying to make sense of a possibly dying world and her place in it.