What I’ve Been Reading Lately – Sept 2012

Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup

This book by a widowed mother of four who becomes a chaplain for search and rescue missions is a soothing read even if you can’t exactly relate. Her voice is sincere, thoughtful, and humane. The scene that touched me most was when she counseled a man whose sister had committed suicide by taking barbiturates and walking into the cold woods. The dead woman’s minister had told her that all suicides go to hell. When her brother expressed distress about this, Chaplain Kate responded, “The game wardens have been walking in the rain all day in the freezing rain to find your sister. They would have walked for the rest of the week. And if there is one thing I am sure of, it is that God is not less kind, less committed, or less merciful than a Maine game warden.” She went on to assure him that his sister is safe, forgiven and “free at last from all her pain.” (p. 112).

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

People keep giving me Anne Fadiman books as gifts, so I must be making it clear that I like to read well-researched writing that still manages to be personal and creative. About the joys and quirks of being a book-lover, there are lots of obscure yet entertaining tidbits in here. I most enjoyed the essay about carnal versus courtly lovers of books, who are distinguished most starkly by whether or not one would ever lay a book face down on its spine. I also learned some new sesquipedalians that made me realize my goals are to have a diapason, adapertile jars, and a team of agathodemons looking out for me.

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
The title of this book, first published in 1949, is meant not to denigrate but to honestly represent how women were viewed at the time: as an imperfect version of the prototypical human specimen, the male. In her introduction, she asks “Are there women, really?” And certainly, decades of health and psychology research that included only male (and white, Anglo-Saxon, educated, i.e., WEIRD) subjects, would seem to indicate that for many scholars in the early 20th century, the answer was a bizarre “no.”

Side note: In Ex Libris (see above), Anne Fadiman points out in her chapter on “True Womanhood,” noting that “…although my father and E. B. White were not misogynists, they didn’t really see women, and their language reflected and reinforced that blind spot.” (p. 76).

I’m through the chapter on biology and found it a helpful reminder of the physical and physiological limitations of female-hood. S. d B.’s prose reminds me that while women’s moods and anxieties help define our daily experience as more variable than a man’s, this does not define us, our humanity, or our possibilities. Rather, I’m striving, as I read this book, and as I grow into myself (to quote a dear friend), to accept the ups and downs of my emotional brain, and to use these experience to become more compassionate and present with myself and with others.

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