Memoir Mental Health Personal Growth

Read Wintering

Read Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult T…

Sometimes you slip through the cracks: unforeseen circumstances like an abrupt illness, the death of a loved one, a break up, or a job loss can derail a life. These periods of dislocation can be lonely and unexpected. For May, her husband fell ill, her son stopped attending school, and her own medical issues led her to leave a demanding job. Wintering explores how she not only endured this painful time, but embraced the singular opportunities it offered.

A moving personal narrative shot through with lessons from literature, mythology, and the natural world, May’s story offers instruction on the transformative power of rest and retreat. Illumination emerges from many sources: solstice celebrations and dormice hibernation, C.S. Lewis and Sylvia Plath, swimming in icy waters and sailing arctic seas.

Ultimately Wintering invites us to change how we relate to our own fallow times. May models an active acceptance of sadness and finds nourishment in deep retreat, joy in the hushed beauty of winter, and encouragement in understanding life as cyclical, not linear. A secular mystic, May forms a guiding philosophy for transforming the hardships that arise before the ushering in of a new season.

Liked some of this, wasn’t sure about other parts. The second half I liked better than the first. She has a keen eye for observation and describes her feelings vividly. I liked the bits of other places and natural history — dabbling in other people’s cultures less so. I’m not sure it all pulled together for me though I thought she ended it well.

Comics Memoir

Read Ducks

Read Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands

Before there was Kate Beaton, New York Times bestselling cartoonist of Hark A Vagrant fame, there was Katie Beaton of the Cape Breton Beatons, specifically Mabou, a tight-knit seaside community where the lobster is as abundant as beaches, fiddles, and Gaelic folk songs. After university, Beaton heads out west to take advantage of Alberta’s oil rush, part of the long tradition of East Coasters who seek gainful employment elsewhere when they can’t find it in the homeland they love so much. With the singular goal of paying off her student loans, what the journey will actually cost Beaton will be far more than she anticipates.

Arriving in Fort McMurray, Beaton finds work in the lucrative camps owned and operated by the world’s largest oil companies. Being one of the few women among thousands of men, the culture shock is palpable. It does not hit home until she moves to a spartan, isolated worksite for higher pay. She encounters the harsh reality of life in the oil sands where trauma is an everyday occurrence yet never discussed. Her wounds may never heal.

Beaton’s natural cartooning prowess is on full display as she draws colossal machinery and mammoth vehicles set against a sublime Albertan backdrop of wildlife, Northern Lights, and Rocky Mountains. Her first full-length graphic narrative, Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands is an untold story of Canada: a country that prides itself on its egalitarian ethos and natural beauty while simultaneously exploiting both the riches of its land and the humanity of its people.

A powerful memoir about a complex subject that she carries complicated feelings about. She handles the telling with compassion and sensitivity despite the terrible experiences she endured. I’m of an age with her and though I never went through anything remotely close to that bad, and I didn’t have the albatross of student loans, it pisses me off that the first years after college (at least in the mid-2000s) seem to be universally wearing and exploitative, yet we all know we have to put up with it. Why does our society have to work this way? There’s a cathartic moment towards the end where she tells truth to power even though it makes no real change; the companies care as little for the impact on their workers as they do the ducks and the First Nations people downstream. Everything is done in the name of deniability and preventing liability.

Activism Memoir

Read Run: Book One

Read Run

To John Lewis, the civil rights movement came to an end with the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. But that was after more than five years as one of the preeminent figures of the movement, leading sit–in protests and fighting segregation on interstate busways as an original Freedom Rider. It was after becoming chairman of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and being the youngest speaker at the March on Washington. It was after helping organize the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the ensuing delegate challenge at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. And after coleading the march from Selma to Montgomery on what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” All too often, the depiction of history ends with a great victory. But John Lewis knew that victories are just the beginning.

It’s upsetting how relevant this is in 2021, 57 years after the start of the book. The barrage on equal voting rights is relentless and endless.

Meticulously researched and reconstructed. I’m less familiar with this time period than I was with the events in March, so I appreciated the context setting and big picture.

The thruline on this one isn’t as clear as in March, but focuses on the change in the movement away from non-violence as Black people are murdered needlessly and ruthlessly, while John Lewis remains committed to peaceful protest and resistance.

Comics Memoir

Read Gender Queer

Read Gender Queer

In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity–what it means and how to think about it–for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.

Really enjoyed this memoir. The simple art worked well for the story, which focuses on the author’s journey through eir gender identity and sexuality. Nice color work by eir sister.

It’s surprising that e was so resistant to writing autobiographically because this book was very open about super personal subjects, especially eir sexuality and turn-ons. (There are a few uncomfortable admissions that might have been better left out.)

I identify as cis and straight, but definitely have feelings about gender that overlap with eirs. I consider myself more of a tomboy, and reject a lot of what I consider toxic trappings of traditional Western gender as part of my version of feminism. It took me a long time to feel comfortable first getting married, and then saying that I was married. I didn’t change my last name, and don’t wear a wedding ring most of the time (it’s pretty so sometimes I do but I’m squiffy on the symbolism). I stopped shaving. I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a woman when I don’t want children. I have “mothering” and caregiving “instincts” (learned or genetic?) that I struggle with to find the balance between doing what I wish and following our culture’s expectation that women subsume themselves to the care of others.

How e responds to “but you’d make such a good mom!”

There’s a conversation with eir lesbian aunt where the aunt accuses em of misogyny for not identifying as a woman, which reminded me of another claim I once saw that women only enjoy m/m stories because they are too invested in masculine pleasure and can’t imagine women feeling sexual pleasure. I just don’t think women subconsciously hate themselves that much. I’ve always been attracted to dudes, and reading about two dudes is double the dude. Not identifying with the cultural trappings of femininity and what the female gender means in society seems totally legit, and choosing to use different pronouns is one way of resetting others’ cultural expectations for you.