This month, our editors are reading about struggles to understand, define and shape identity– in the eyes of others, and for oneself. The unique handful of recommendations below takes us through bewildering territory, delving into the challenges of personality, sexuality, physical deformity and the loss of self that follows from the loss of loved ones.
Blog Editor Karna Converse writes, “I just finished reading Quiet by Susan Cain and it made me proud to claim the side of my personality that leans toward introvert. Cain is a lawyer-turned-writer who decided to leave a 10-year career and figure out why she was as uncomfortable in it as she was. Her research led her to psychologists, sociologists and educators; Quiet is the compilation of what she discovered. I found the book a bit heavy on research at times, but it’s worth wading through, especially when you consider that one out of every two or three people you know is an introvert. I thought her opening chapter, which compares the Culture of Character with the Culture of Personality, especially eye-opening. Here, she traces the history of Dale Carnegie and his 1913 book, Public Speaking and Influencing Men in Business, and notes how the industrial revolution and mass immigration from country to city in the mid- to late-1800s transformed who we were. Cain ends the book with lots of suggestions– for introverts, for spouses, parents, or co-workers of introverts, and for teachers.”
Editor-in-Chief Caroline Grant suggests a book that might take courage to open: “I was hesitant about reading Sonali Deraniyagala’s Wave, tentative about exposing myself to the story of her survival and grief after losing her parents, husband, and two young sons in 2004’s Indian Ocean tsunami. But Deraniyagala’s writing is so fierce and compelling, the memoir riveted me. She writes physically of her loss: she is battered by the wave, of course, but then tumbled, blurred, punched, drilled, toppled, and — shiveringly — cindered by grief. She writes matter-of-factly of planning her suicide; she tells her friends to sod off and let her die. But they don’t, and she doesn’t, of course, and instead, she conjures her family so beautifully in these pages that you ache for her loss. It’s hard to choose a single passage to share, but here’s one, from 6 years after the wave: ‘When it comes to pancakes, my mind goes blank. Try as I might, I can’t remember how to make a pancake. I am thrown by this, I who made pancakes so often. Am I so estranged from who I was? The boys ate their pancakes with a syrup of lemon juice and sugar. Steve had his with chicken curry and dhal. And they haven’t done this in six years now. I startle myself as I say this. As though it’s a new truth, I am stunned. I want to put a fist through these last six years and grab our life. Claim it back.’”
Heidi Scrimgeour, Literary Reflections Editorial Assistant, is equally engrossed by a difficult story: “I am reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio. To paraphrase the publisher’s description, it’s about August (Auggie) Pullman, born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school— until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep. Auggie’s an ordinary kid with an extraordinary face, hoping to convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, despite appearances. I’m finding it a compelling but discomfiting read– a story that pulls you in by the guts from the opening sentence and holds you spellbound throughout.”
Senior Editor Maria Scala offers a novel with a bit of humor to soften the tougher aspects of its topic: “I am reading John Irving’s In One Person. In Irving’s own words, it’s ‘about a young bisexual man who falls in love with an older transgender woman— Miss Frost, the librarian in a Vermont public library. The bi guy is the main character, but two transgender women are the heroes of this novel— in the sense that these two characters are the ones my bisexual narrator, Billy Abbott, most looks up to.’ I have always appreciated Irving’s unique take on the world, and his inside jokes (‘Definitely not a ballroom’ is one of the best) keep me coming back for more.”