Tuesday, February 23, 2016

This Is Happy by Camilla Gibb

Reasons why I engaged with Camilla Gibb's memoir that explores the meaning of family, This Is Happy:

  • elegant prose
  • struggles with mental illness
  • her unusual childhood situation
  • her lesbian marriage and divorce
  • demonstrated gift for empathy
  • finding of emotional support
  • context for her novels (which I have also loved)

Gibb writes about being in the midst of a major depression while doing graduate studies in England, feeling "not just unseen, but unseeable."

"Perhaps it was the need to know whether I still had a body that led me to open my door to relative strangers: my door, my bed, my legs. To men, women, couples. The net result of a lot of random sex was that what was left of me disappeared."

Coincidentally, immediately prior to reading this memoir, I encountered a fictional protagonist who preferred having sex with couples: Ameera, in Farzana Doctor's All Inclusive.

That's just an aside, because Gibb's compelling story has little to do with her sexuality. She was pregnant when her wife left her and their daughter was born shortly afterwards. It's about what happens when you are devastated but now have a child as well as yourself to look after. It's about finding a way forward, partly through storytelling.

Gibb reminds us that storytelling is vital to our humanity, that we are a narrative species. Stories "make us knowable to others" and give children "the tools to help them know themselves." We are "bound for better or worse, in all sorts of complex and beautiful ways, where we become ourselves in relation to each other and carry something of the other - visceral, embodied - within us."

This Is Happy is a "story without an ending at all. And this, I know, is happy."

Readalike: Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald. 
See also my review of The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Thunder and Lightning by Lauren Redniss

When art and science get married, I am first in line with the confetti. That's why I want to shower Lauren Redniss' work with rose petals. Thunder and Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future is full of fascinating information about weather, the font and unusual page layout are all part of the author's design and it's illustrated with hand-coloured photogravure and photopolymer prints. So gorgeous!

"I hoped to [...] capture a certain feeling - a sensation of strangeness, wonder, terror - that we experience in the presence of nature, most powerfully perhaps when encountering the forces of the elements: a howling wind, a thunderstorm, the beating sun."

Yes, Redniss captures that feeling very well. She also steps up to the challenge "to embrace the whole sky with the mind." (This is from a Latin inscription 'Totum animo comprendere caelum" on the wall at the National Weather Center on the University of Oklahoma's Norman campus.)

From Arctic explorations to desert ecology to classic Greek literature to meteorological warfare to interviews with folks at the Old Farmer's Almanac, Redniss covers a whole lot of ground. With such range, it should not have surprised me to encounter mention of the Humboldt current while I concurrently was listening to the audiobook about Alexander von Humboldt, The Invention of Nature (by Andrea Wulf). Redniss also writes about endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, whom I've recently encountered in other books: The Thing About Jellyfish (Ali Benjamin) and The Argonauts (Margo Nelson).

Thunder and Lightning is a book that can be revisited with much pleasure and enjoyed by curious minds age 12 and up.

Readalikes: Maps (Aleksandra Mizielinska & Daniel Mizielinski); Animalium (Jenny Broom & Katie Scott); The Where, The Why and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science (Jenny Volvovski et al) and Unflattening (Nick Sousanis).

See also my review of Lauren Redniss' book about Marie Curie, Radioactive.