The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Cultural Amnesia’

Life-Affirming Reads

September 21, 2012 | by

Dear Paris Review,

I am currently suffering from a major depression, which has caused me to lose my job and my relationship. I see a therapist and a psychiatrist, and I believe and hope I’m beginning to recover. I have been a major reader all my life, but the depression has made it difficult for me to concentrate, so I haven’t been able to read much lately. I’ve been reading bits and pieces of books I’ve read before many times (Darkness Visible, Diving Into the Wreck), trying to get something from them.

I suppose I’m looking for two different types of book as I recover: books that will show me why to live and how, and books that will allow me to escape my present torture. Both need to be pretty easy to follow—for instance, I recently bought The Myth of Sisyphus after reading William Styron’s reference too it, but it’s too difficult for my slow brain right now.

Thank you.

Dear friend,

I’ve been where you are and know exactly the state you describe: one of the many distressing aspects of depression is the inability to lose yourself—and for those of us who have always found comfort in books, this is particularly scary. It goes without saying that everyone’s recovery process is different, and without a sense of your exact tastes—although it is clear you are an ambitious and curious reader with wide-ranging interests—it is a little tricky to suggest comfort reads. (After all, that is so bound up with one’s history and associations, no?) But I can tell you what has worked for me, and for some people I know, and hope that the suggestions, and the knowledge that you are in good company, will prove helpful.

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Reading On the Road; Fiction for a Father-in-law

March 16, 2012 | by

My father-in-law, a fiercely intelligent Irishman in his late sixties, has just been diagnosed with cancer. As he is facing a long period of being confined to quarters, I'd like to send him some books to help pass the time. However, he has candidly admitted to me that his concentration is not what it once was, and he finds reading anything of extended length quite difficult. Would you have any suggestions—collections of short pieces of fiction, or tales, personal essays, travel memoirs, for example—that might be suitable? When he’s feeling like his usual self, he enjoys reading Brian Moore and John Banville, outsmarting Stephen Fry on reruns of Qi, and finishing the Irish Times cryptic crossword in half the time it takes me to struggle through the Simplex.

With thanks,
amrh

Your father-in-law sounds great. You might ask whether he’s read Brian Moore’s novella Catholics. It’s a very short read, recently back in print: he may have missed it the first time. It happens to have been a favorite of David Foster Wallace; from your description, I wonder if your father-in-law might enjoy Wallace’s essays (either A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again or Consider the Lobster) or my colleague John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead. (Read his recent essay on Ireland if you’d like a preview.) Or Geoff Dyer’s essays, as for example Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It. These are all witty essayists I read when my attention flickers low. Along the same lines, Sadie suggests Clive James’s Cultural Amnesia and Malachy McCourt’s very breezy but entertaining memoir A Monk Swimming.

Does your father-in-law have any interest in Russia? For sheer storytelling, I recommend Ken Kalfus’s PU-239 and Other Russian Fantasies or any collection by Alice Munro (I won’t bother recommending William Trevor). You mention tales; it’s an obvious one, but I’ve found Isak Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales good sickbed reading. For travel writing, maybe Richard Holmes’s Footsteps or Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes?

We wish him a speedy recovery!

I’m looking for a couple of good books—novels or short stories—to read aloud with my boyfriend as we drive from Arizona up through the Badlands to a new start in New York. (We are not—not quite—as young and idealistic as that sentence makes us sound.) What would you recommend?

We like your style.

I suggest you keep a few books going at once, so you can switch around according to the driver’s—and the reader’s—mood. Thus, in no particular order, My Antonia, Denis Johnson’s Angels, True Grit, Last Evenings On Earth, American Purgatorio, any of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels, and The White Hotel. All have a good strong voice, requiring no acrobatics on the reader’s part, most have something to do with travel, and all of them clip along. Sadie points out that the Victorians tend to be good for reading aloud—maybe the Palliser series?—and suggests the stories in Daphne du Maurier’s Don't Look Now. (She also proposed Another Roadside Attraction—and collapsed in giggles, for reasons best known to herself.) Read More »

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