Self-Help ... Books

Monday, August 8, 2016

As I mentioned before, all I've done this summer is read. (And take care of a sick rabbit.) I went to the library about once a week, got my stack of books, took them home, read them, rinse, and repeat.

It was wonderful.

I have always loved books. I love getting lost in a story, feeling that bittersweet anticipation as I get close to the final couple of pages, wanting to know how the story resolves itself, but also dreading it being over.

As I read, I folded down the corners of pages of the books that held quotes or passages that really spoke to me. (I am sorry fellow library patrons.) I was good about transferring them to my quote book at the beginning of the summer, but after awhile I just took pictures of the pages on my phone, intending to write them all down later. I recently realized I have well over 50 photos to go through, organize, and transcribe.

Late in the spring, I was reading a blog that mentioned a book (nonfiction) that I thought I might like to read. It wasn't available at the library at the time, so I put it on hold. I was anxious about waiting because I felt like I needed the wisdom that book would provide that minute. However, when I got off the hold list about three weeks later, a couple weeks into summer, I realized I wasn't as excited as I originally had been. The book lasted on my desk through two more trips to the library before I finally took it back, unread.

I couldn't understand it. Why would this book (which I'm sure is really good) have excited me so much one minute and then failed to even inspire me to crack the cover the next?

And then it hit me. I don't really have much of a need for self-help books, because I have self-help ... books.

Novels are my self-help.

Even novels that I end up not liking that much (of which there were only five, I think, this summer, and, no I won't post which are the ones), I end up turning down the corners of at least once. The words I find in novels, the inspiration and hope and wonder I find there, are what helps me. I find myself reading some sentences over and over. Maybe I'll go back to this particular nonfiction book at some point in the future, but I didn't need it this summer like I thought I did.

As an English teacher, words are my business. And I'm so glad of that because I find so much beauty in words. Have you ever thought about how books -- at least those written in English -- are the same 26 letters rearranged over and over again? How can just 26 letters impact our lives so much?

I decided I wanted to share the beauty I found this summer by compiling in a blog post some of the things I found and was inspired by. I hope you find something beautiful here as well. (And, yes, some of these are books I didn't actually like.)


I told myself to carry this moment as a talisman of a time in my life when I was both truly content and lucky enough to realize it. 

- The Royal We by Jessica Cocks and Heather Morgan

When I'm choosing something new, though, something just for myself, my favorite kind of character is a woman in a faraway place. India. Or Bangkok. Sometimes she leaves her husband. Sometimes she never had a husband because she knew, wisely, that married life would not be for her. I like when she has multiple lovers. I like when she wears hats to block her fair skin from the sun. I like when she travels and has adventures. I like descriptions of hotels and suitcases with stickers on them. I like descriptions of food and clothes and jewelry. A little romance but not too much. The story is period.  No cell phones. No social networking. No Internet at all. Ideally, it's set in the 1920s or 1940s. Maybe there's a war going on, but it's just a backdrop. No bloodshed. Some sex but nothing too graphic. No children. Children often ruin a story for me. ... I don't mind them in real life. I just don't want to read about them. Endings can be happy or sad, I don't care anymore as long as it's earned. She can settle down, maybe open a little business, or she can drown herself in the ocean. Finally, a nice-looking jacket is important. I don't care how good the insides are. I don't want to spend any length of time with an ugly object. I'm shallow, I guess. 

As she steps off the ferry, her phone rings. She doesn't recognize the number -- none of her friends use their phones as phones anymore. Still, she is glad for the diversion and she doesn't want to become the kind of person who thinks that good news can only come from calls one was already expecting and callers one already knows. 

Maybe she didn't have a plan of where she was going. Maybe she just took the first train and then the first bus and then the first boat and this is where she ended up. 

Someday, you do not know when, you will be driving down a road. And someday, you do not know when, he, or indeed she, will be there. You will be loved because for the first time in your life, you will truly not be alone. You will have chosen to not be alone. 

- The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (thanks for the recommendation, Cindy)

You have to grow about eight hundred grapes to get just one bottle of wine. If that isn't an argument to finish the bottle, I don't know what is. 

- Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave

She was firmly in Austenland now, she reminded herself, where hoping was allowed. Did Austen herself feel this way? Was she hopeful? Jane wondered if the unmarried writer had lived inside Austenland with close to Jane's own sensibility -- amused, horrified, but in very real danger of being swept away. 

- Austenland by Shannon Hale

Once numbness shuts down a damaged heart, a miracle is required to restart it. Things would prove rough for our heroine. Her only hope was Jane Austen. 

Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

"I can't wait--," my mother begins, then stops to think. "You know what, if you're my only child who remains single until old age, I will proudly stand with you all the days of your life. If that's what you want." 

- Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani (thanks for the recommendation, Story)

"I mean, I'm always being told that I'm-- that I have-- that Jane Austen has given me--"
"A horribly warped view of the world?" Adam suggested. 
"A wonderfully warped view of the world," Kay corrected him.
"Oh, you know-- the usual stuff about happy endings and expecting to fall in love with the perfect hero."

- Dreaming of Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly

... both of them in a quiet state of chaos ... 

   "I am not an expert on love, Georgiana, but you are mistaken. If you held Mr. Wickham in regard, you would have felt foolish at your loss, but the romance would have been gone within six months. If you felt affection for him, you would again be foolish, but a year would resolve your loss. If I am correct, you felt one of these emotions rather than love. Am I not correct?"
   "Elizabeth, I can see one of these definitions fitting my situation, but then what is love?"
   "Real love, Georgiana, changes your life; your own needs no longer exist. If rejected, you never forget the person; as Fitzwilliam did, you might try to run away -- you try to find solace someplace else, but it cannot be. You might even choose another with whom to spend your life, but there is no love for it died and was replaced with regard or affection. I could not think of loving anyone but your brother; can you say the same thing about Mr. Wickham?"
   "I cannot, Elizabeth. I feel nothing for the man. I only feel my own shame at being taken in by him."
   "Then may we move on? You are not the person you were then ..."

- Darcy's Passions by Regina Jeffers

I still knew Charlotte, Emily, and Anne like no one should ever know anyone. I knew their shoe sizes and their height; I knew their stupid little secrets; I knew what they fought about and what they laughed about; I knew about the mole on Emily's right foot. Love always comes with scars, and this was mine: the knowledge that the friends I knew best were those I had never actually met. 

There was a painful silence, in which it occurred to me that I might never have a normal life. 

As I watched the two of them together, I imagined what it would be like if I were with him instead -- perhaps at a cocktail party in a black-and-white movie, telling women with long cigarette holders what a fine bridge player he was.

We entered a vast, bottomless silence. I scrambled for better conversation topics. This all would have been far less stressful in the movie version of our lives. The long silences would have been edited out. 

My lips twitched but no sound emerged. Somewhere in my mind, Samantha Whipple [character who is speaking's name] was being terribly witty. It was a shame no one could hear her. 

The purpose of literature is to teach you how to think, not how to be practical.

In the dark, I learned, silence has a way of killing you. 

"Are there any leading men in your life?"
"Several, but they're all fictional."

"Isn't there some truth in all fiction?"
"There's some fiction in all truth too."

Reading teaches you courage. The author is trying to convince you something fake is real. It's a ridiculous request, and it questions the sanity of the reader. The extent to which you believe the author depends on how willing you are to jump in headfirst. 

I find my therapy in math, just as you seem to have found yours in literature -- two disciplines that help make sense of the world. [Reminds me of Sarah and me.]

We seemed to be in Act V of a Shakespearian play that could either end in marriage or premature death.

- The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell (arguably the best book I read this summer, if the sheer amount of quotes didn't already show that to you)

I wanted to believe in happy endings again. I want to believe that I could trust a man. I wanted to believe there was a hero out there for me, worthy of the title of Darcy or Knightley, Wentworth or Tilney. 

Lots and lots of books. A refuge. A solace. Each one offering the possibility of a new beginning. 

Heartbreak is more common than happiness. No one wants to say that, but it's true. We're taught to believe not only that everyone deserves a happy ending, btu also that if we try hard enough, we will get one. That's simply not the case. Happy endings, lifelong loves, are the products of both effort and luck. We can control them, to some extent, and though our feelings always seem to have a life of their own, we can at least be open to love. But luck, the other component, well, there's nothing we can do about that one. Call it God's plan or predestination or divine intervention, but we're all at its mercy. And sometimes God doesn't seem very merciful. Jane taught me that. 

- Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Pattillo

I would self-medicate with fat, carbohydrates, and Jane Austen, my number one drug of choice, my constant companion through every breakup, every disappointment, every crisis. Men might come and go, but Jane Austen was always there. In sickness and health, for richer, for poorer, till death do us part.

Too much thinking never solved anything.

... I understand, as I have long understood through my own insatiable appetite for readings and rereadings of Jane Austen's six novels, why children want the same stories read to them a thousand times. There is comfort in the familiarity of it all, the knowledge that all will turn out well, that Elizabeth and Darcy will end up together in Pemberley, that Anne Elliot will pierce Captain Wentworth's soul, and that Mr. Elton will be stuck with his caro sposa for the rest of his life.

Just be where you are. That's the only way to get where you're supposed to go. 

- Confession of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

Partial truth is falsehood's fiercest bodyguard. 

As the reader has perhaps noticed, great care has been taken with the punctuation used in this account. For me, as regards to literature, punctuation is what separates true greatness from the merely good -- and certainly from the false. 

- Love and Friendship by Whit Stillman

... hoping that all the magic in the world was somewhat connected. 

As humans we often let our egos rule our decisions. We let fear stop us from reaching our true potential. We forget about love. But the heart? It never forgets. No matter what happens, no matter how hard things get, it always remembers. 

- The Year We Turned Forty by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

Watching her, I thought about secrets. One can grow accustomed to carrying unseeable scars, as if the tattoo one wears is inked in flesh tone over flesh tone; but nevertheless one is still covered in secret, painted with secret, stained by it. 

I hope that the epitaph of the human race when the world ends will be: Here perished a species which lived to tell stories. (Editorial comment: I feel like this might be the motto of my life.)

- Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

I never thought Marianne's devotion to Willoughby was prudent, and it wasn't, but I bet it was fun. 

For months I convinced myself that Josh's paltry version of love was all I could expect -- I wasn't worth something better. But I know there's more. I want the real thing. I can have that, can't I? Because I know it exists -- in books and in real life. 

My childhood wasn't easy. I buried myself in books. I guess I'm a recovering book addict.

- Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

You could really feel physically wounded if someone hurt your feelings badly enough. 

- Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (thanks for the recommendation, Phoebe)

When she was done, she regarded her dim reflection in the mirror, raising one pale hand to touch the silvery-looking glass with her fingertips. "Only one of us is real," she said quietly to that other Jane who sat gazing at her from the glass, "the other is but an illusion. The question is, which am I?"

I of all women would gladly trade a single moment of love for a lifetime of wondering what such a moment might have been.

- The Man Who Loved Jane Austen by Sally Smith O'Rourke

I loved the anonymity of all it. Of a sidewalk full of strangers and endless possibilities. 

Only a sane person would realize how close he or she was to the edge. Not like my dad, who didn't know when he was teetering too close to that chasm, didn't seem to notice the change in velocity as he went tumbling into the abyss. But I knew. I knew how close we all were to that edge. And if I knew, then I was fine. Those were the basic rules of holding one's shit together, according to Tyler.

- All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

Remember you're on our side now. You know: the grown-ups. 

It turned out that the only difference between children and adults was that children were prepared to put twice the energy into the project of not being sad. 

But before we sing slow for you, let's all take a moment to think of our true loves. It could be you're lucky enough to be sitting next to them right now. Or maybe they're far away, posted overseas. Maybe the two of you haven't even met yet, and you're holding the idea of each other. 

- Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleve

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