Oh my good gracious—this book. Hold on while I catch my breath. Three days to read about three days in the life of this woman, Nurse Julia Power. When I started it, I’d been reading light airy reads that made me happy and I wasn’t sure I was ready for darkness, especially a book about the 1918 pandemic. I was over this pandemic, why read about another? Then I started to read and I thought, I can’t be here in this stuffy maternity fever ward all claustrophobic and sick and I felt like I needed air and I felt the pull of the regency romances on my shelf. Then I kept reading and reading and I couldn’t stop. The minutiae of this nurses life caring for three pregnant woman during a pandemic in Ireland is detailed in short bursts of sentences. The author carries you along until you are completely ensconced in this little world and the characters—and the babies! I’ve never read an account about child birth so real ever and somehow so like it is now. Medicines change but the care and the movement and the pace, all captured exactly as it is when you are there that I couldn’t stop reading, again. The author brings the reader though the paces of this life like the contractions of labour. Slow at first, then faster and more painful, and releases the tension with small breaks while the female characters talk and learn and share. So many female characters. All the men are secondary, static. The woman soar here with lives and joy and death. A beautiful book. A terrifying book. I would have wept at the end if it weren’t for having to catch my breath.
I just read your book, It Ends with Us, and I read Verity last month. I read a lot. I’m a grade 11 and 12 English teacher. I love books. But when this thing started, my ability to read evaporated. I’m working online. I’m parenting a 14 mo and a 4 yo, who aren’t used to me working from home at all hours, and I’m worried about their dad who’s an essential worker. It’s been hard. But I’m also so grateful. Still, I couldn’t read.
I started small, a few Lisa Gardner books here and there. And then my daughter, 4, picked up your novel. My aunt had gifted me a bag of books and two of yours were in the bag. My daughter said that your book was so beautiful that I had to read it.
I tucked into It Ends with Us and fell in love with your characters. I cried. I was reminded of my own heartbreaks. I thought a lot about my own children.
Beyond loving the story, I started to think about my own writing. I’m a 38 yo English teacher with two English Lit degrees—no surprise about those writer aspirations! But, I’ve had starts and stalls for a decade. Small children definitely stall those starts. Exhaustion comes a close second. But a couple of years ago I started writing a story I was passionate about. I fell in love with my protagonist and I wrote her from my heart not from what I’ve learned about stories and publishing.
I’ve put her story on pause this past year—premature newborn, motherhood, back to work, pandemic! I love so much what your book did for me. I’ve been revived not just for reading but I am going back to my own writing. Because ultimately I want to write so that I can do for readers what your books do.
So, thank you. Thank you for firing up a part of me I’d buried under all this anxiety of working and parenting and living in this pandemic. Your writing dug out a little bit of me that I worried I’d lost.
I am about to turn 37, and it has taken me the past year to begin healing a body image I’ve held on to since I was twelve years old. The “spur to prick the sides of my intent” was having a daughter. I saw the young woman I was, the young women my students are becoming, and the girl my daughter is and deep inside me erupted a rage against the unrealistic beauty standards of our world. I had never been one to shy away from a good diet tip or miracle cure for fatness, and if it came in pill form, I was in. When I really delve into my diet-obsessed teen years and early adulthood there are five momentous ways I gave in to thin culture.
At 33 I couldn’t do those things because I was pregnant and then caring for an infant. I discovered how great it was to just eat food and exercise in a comfortable way. At the same time I mourned my restrictive pre-baby body. It was around the time I was 35 that I started to see little ripples in society about body acceptance and fat shaming. I realised I’d rather be a role model for my students and my daughter instead of someone who only focuses on the shell.
I was embarrassed as I learned about body acceptance because I discovered that my reluctance to gain weight had put me at the top of the shamers. I had become the body shaming persona of those who tormented me in school and in the media. I fully take the responsibility for my own self-image. Still, I know that my body image issues stem from junior high school, a time when your body becomes the most picked apart thing in your world. Being smart and quiet and fat meant I was a target for bullies, and I never stood up to it. Here are a few formative moments to my self-loathing.
And then at 35 I gave up (or, started to). I thought: why am I doing this? Why do I care so much? And how can I fix this for my daughter and my students? I started seeing things online about body acceptance, I read posts on FB mom groups about body shaming, and I learned about fat acceptance. Then, I started to read. I read and read and read. And now I can’t stop.
Here are my top six favourite books that sent me on a path to retrain my brain and accept my body. I’m not there yet, but I am working on it.
My favourite go-to blog for body acceptance is “Dances with Fat” by Ragen Chastain.
My favourite instagram accounts to follow to help retrain those images in my brain are:
My favourite documentary about body positivity is Embrace by Taryn Brumfitt.
I’ve discovered a new purpose in my thirties, and that is instead of finding new ways to diet, I need to find new ways to love my body, and I hope to help others accept theirs. If the narrative changes, so that instead of being told there is only one way to look and to act and to be, won’t we do our children one better than the way we grew up? Admittedly, I am a work in progess, but that’s okay.
This is a post for those who’ve stayed silent when people make destructive comments about their body because we think we deserve it for not being the standard, and because there doesn't seem to be an alternative. There is a better way, and we need to retrain our thinking to move forward. I’d like to reclaim JB’s “talk like Tara” refrain to be one of body acceptance, because I’m not going to shut up about it.
*I am no way saying these aren't legitimate food choices, but I tried it to be thin.
The books I’ve read so far this month have inspired me in one way or another. All of these books were either borrowed or bought from my local library. Here’s the list:
At the end of May I hit my head. I was, of all things, shelving books in my classroom. Stubborn at first, I hadn’t realized that a bump to the head would result in a long recovery period. Concussions, I learned, are insidious, persistent, and require lots of time and care. So, I took a break from reading, writing, and updating my site. Only now, in July, do I feel I can type for about twenty minutes at a time. And much of my reading habits have changed to accomodate the recovery. I listen to audio books, give myself lots of breaks between chapters, read slower, and I am allowing myself to heal. Here are the highlights from the books I read in April, May, and June.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: I read this book while reading others. I needed breaks, but I always came back to it. I discovered so much about a history I’d never learned about before. This family saga will stay with you.
Writing with Intent by Margaret Atwood: Why did I not read this when I bought it over a decade ago? I once thought I loved Atwood’s books, ideas, work--now I have an even deeper appreciation for her. Each essay taught me about books and writing, and my to read list was much longer by the time I completed the book.
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler: This was my first Anne Tyler read. She is most certainly now on my list of favourite authors. A family drama captured over the years is so in my wheelhouse that I can't fathom why it’s taken me this long to read one of her books.
American War by Omar El Akkad: This book is timely, terrifying, and so important to read. Go read it, now.
I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron: Again, my new(ish) love for women’s memoir made this book a must read when I found a pristine copy for a dollar at the library book sale. A wonderful life shared, Ephron’s memoir writing is more like being told a story by someone you know. I loved this little book, and so I gave it to my mother, who also loved it.
Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum: A coworker recommended this book, and I immediately put it on hold at the library. Set in WWII, the narrative of past and present overtake the reader until the end. I promptly recommended it to everyone looking for a book, and especially for those who read Historical Fiction. Go to your library, and place a hold, because this book should be high on your to read list.
The Friend by Teresa Driscoll: This is the second book by Driscoll that I purchased through Amazon Kindle, and enjoyed so much. Mystery, suspense, and unputdownable: I look forward to following this author’s works.
Happiness by Heather Harpham: The first audio book I listened to while I recovered my brain. I so loved this book, made more powerful by the author’s narration. I have really grown a great love for memoir writing over the past year, and especially in hearing the stories of women. I feel empowered, and a kinship in these powerful memoirs, and Harpham’s story will surely stick with me.
Brain on Fire by Susannah Calahan: My second audio read and so powerful to hear. I am looking forward to watching the new Netflix film based on this engrossing memoir. This is the first book I borrowed using Overdrive for audio books. Borrowed directly from my library and listened to over the Libby app on my phone. I listened in the car, on the treadmill, and at home.
Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse: A student recommended this on her year-end blog for my Journalism course. I added it to my library holds, and I devoured this YA Historical Fiction. Set in WWII, this story was haunting, engaging, and beautifully written. I hope to purchase copies for my classroom.
The Seven Husband’s of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid: In an effort to read something light for more brain recovering time, I saw this book was recommended by a few coworkers on Goodreads. Again, I put it on hold. This book is so delightful, engrossing, and hard to put down. But, easy reading aside, the story of a strong female protagonist is equally refreshing.
A Stolen Life by Jaycee Lee Dugard: I spotted this book at the library book sale (have you sensed a theme where I find the best books?). A student had recently told me about her experience reading this memoir, so I bought it. I read it over a couple of days. I remember the story in the news over the years, because Jaycee is my age. And her likeness to me horrified me as I read, and yet I was left feeling uplifted. Her personal tragedy is written with honesty, and her triumph in how she views her life and her daughters's life is astonishing. Once again, women’s memoir has made it to the top of my favourite reads.
And my final review is for the New Brunswick Public Library. Most of the books above were placed using the holds feature and shipped to my local library from all over the province. When I go pick up my holds, I always check out the cheap books for sale. Often, I find a book for me, someone I love, or my classroom. I also used Overdrive and the Libby app to download a borrowed audio book. On rainy days, or hot and humid ones, I bring my two year old to play in the children's section. The library is one of her favourite destinations already--just wait until she starts to read! The diversity of options, the inclusive atmosphere, and the range of things you can get from your local library might astonish you. Go check it out!
These writings are comprised of my creative nonfiction, and books, books, books. This blog is a exploration of the books I read, the people I meet, and my life as a backyard homesteader.