I have always loved great books. I was excited when the BookMobile came to elementary school. Later, I belonged to a "Great Books" club, and remember the feeling of being let in on an adult-like secret every time I opened one of the hard-bound, blue leatherette-covered volumes. In high school, I read all the time (largely in an effort to enliven my life in suburban Detroit where I grew up).
In divorce, many of us once again turn to books to get through—self-help books, divorce memoirs, novels, (Splitopia!)—anything that opens up our perspective, distracts us from our own struggles, and reminds us that there is a huge world out there that is not about our divorce.
Writer and writing coach Jeffrey Davis runs a blog called TrackingWonder. On it, he has a regular feature called "Books That Matter." I talked to Jeff about some of the literature I've loved over the years.
He has also written about his own loss for Splitopia. Read Jeffrey's moving essay on finding "Wonder in a Time of Adversity."
Here's an excerpt from our interview about great books:
Jeffrey: What one book most took off the top of your head (Dickinson on poetry) or was “the axe for the frozen sea within” you (Kafka) or otherwise just changed something profound within you? What did it do for you? Maybe a book that lit you up as a child or that turned you on as a young adult or last week that salved some pain or turned your thinking upside-down.
Wendy: Okay, this is going to sound sappy and self-happy–but, actually before I get to the ONE book—let me say that I could list a trove of books I clung to or felt enlightened by at different stages of my life. I think the book that “takes off the top of your head” changes, as you go through different ages, which is one thing that’s so great about books. There’s always one out there that speaks just to you, at that moment.
As a kid, I loved the All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor, and felt it connected me to some part of my almost mythological heritage. I loved the somewhat obscure Beany Malone series by Lenora Mattingly Weber. A friend and I both read it, and we’d talk about Beany on the bus to school, as if we knew her. I loved Anne of Greene Gables and got up to write a fan note to author Lucy Maud Montgomery, only to discover she’d long since died. As a young adult, I loved From Bauhaus to Our House by Tom Wolfe. As a not-so-young adult, I loved (and still love) the essays of E.B. White and also the essays of George Orwell and the hilarious My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley.
But now, for the past 10 years or so, whenever I find myself emotionally drifting, feeling unpinned and discouraged, I pick up Embracing Your Potential by Terry Orlick, a psychologist who coaches Olympic-level athletes on their mental game. He uses sports as a measure and a metaphor of how we can take charge of our mindset and feel more powerful, or even “athletic” emotionally. I quote the book in my chapter on loss and coping and post-traumatic growth.
The two months before my book came out were really stressful. I felt totally alone out here, trying to promote my book without enough support. I’m promoting a book about divorce as a divorced woman, by myself. I started a morning practice of sitting on the balcony in the sun, reading a page or two of Embracing Your Potential, to help shift me into a more positive mental state. Then I’d go do yoga. Promoting a book can feel like a massive emotion management project.
What one detail do you still recall from that book?
I have on my wall this quote from a World Cup skier, Kate Pace, he interviews: “I am really enjoying getting into the state where I am expecting something good to happen.”
To read the rest of our conversation, click on Books That Matter.
* This post originally appeared on Wendyparis.com.