I remember distinctly the moment in first-year Latin class when I registered that cura, “care,” was a word more negative than positive, that it referred to caution and anxiety more than to affection. Indeed, to care about something is to worry about it; to care for others can be painful even as it is rewarding and essential. This month, our editors’ literary picks touch on what it means to care, both for self and others — as a mother, as a caregiver to the disabled, and even as one of the disabled, struggling to recognize as well as to understand those who matter most.
Columns Editorial Assistant Irena Smith writes, “I just finished Jonathan Evison’s The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, in which the narrator, a man with the unlikely name of Benjamin Benjamin, signs on as a caregiver to Trevor, a 19-year-old boy with advanced muscular dystrophy. Ben is devastated by personal tragedy (he lost both his children in an accident, the precise nature of which we don’t know until late in the novel); Trevor is devastated by a disease that renders him increasingly immobilized in his wheelchair. The unlikely friendship between the two leads to a road trip, encounters with an unlikely cast of supporting characters (Ben’s estranged wife, Trevor’s long-absent and comically clumsy dad, and a multi-pierced teen runaway among them), and Ben’s tentative reemergence from his grief into the world of the living. The book manages to walk the very fine line between pathos and broad comedy, and Evison leaves us with an ending that is beautifully unresolved and utterly believable — and hopeful.
Kristina Riggle, Fiction Co-editor, is reading You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers, “a memoir of face-blindness and the author’s peculiar family. ‘Peculiar’ seems to be Sellers’ family euphemism for what everyone else would call ‘crazy,’ and as the author grapples with whether she has a rare neurological disorder that disrupts her ability to recognize faces — even faces of her closest loved ones, even her own — she also searches for the truth about her family of origin, whether it was full of mental illness or just quirky. The writing is wonderful, the story compelling, and if I could only stop time for a few hours, I’d sit right down and read it straight through to the end.”
Marketing and Publicity Manager Janet Okoben shares, “I’m reading Janny Scott’s A Singular Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother, the biography of Stanley Ann Dunham, whose son has been much in the news lately. I read Barack Obama’s two memoirs back in ’08, but hadn’t found the time to read this until now. Of course, the recent presidential election makes this book timely again, but the discussion of women in this election cycle made Dunham’s story all the more relevant to me. She was a truly interesting woman, if flawed (who among us isn’t?), who made difficult decisions about the direction of her life without forgetting her ideals.”