In Times of Trouble: Great Books When You Are Down

Hello everyone, yesterday the terrible news came out that celebrity chef and tv host Anthony Bourdain had passed away. It was only a few weeks ago I was writing about Frightened Rabbit’s lead singer Scott Hutchinson who had also passed away under duress. I’m immensely saddened by the loss of these people who came into our lives and shared a bit of themselves with us. The world can be hard and hurtful at times. Politics are a mess and people seem to be at each other’s throats over the most basic things. When the world seems extra heavy, there are a few good reads I like to take a time out with that always seem to brighten my mood and I’ll share them with you now.

Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut is the tale of a 71year old painter, named Rabo Karabekian living in a 19 bedroom home he inherited from his late wife. He lets a writer move in named Circe, who actually writes under a pen name and is quit famous and successful. She eventually convinces Rabo to write an autobiography detailing his long and eventful life. The book is full of funny and heartbreaking stories from the streets of San Francisco as a young immigrant boy, to the European theater of World War II. It ends up as a lifting tale that I believe ranks with Vonnegut’s best work.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris is one of my all time favorite books. Sedaris is a humorist and essayist whom I was lucky enough to go to a reading in Dayton, Ohio when my wife bought me tickets for my 40th birthday. Sedaris signed a book for me and asked about my grandfather’s watch I was wearing. He added it into his signature in my book.

The book is chocked full of hilarious observations that start out pretty funny, but Sedaris can flip on a dime and it can be quite poignant as well. His stories often revolve around his middle class up bring in North Carolina or his hitchhiking across the country. His funniest stuff comes from a lot of the crap jobs he had while living in Chicago and New York, plus his endless, but charming quibbles with his boyfriend Hugh. However in this book the last 1/3 is dedicated to his battle to quit smoking and moving to Japan for 3months to accomplish it. I also have this book on audio, read by the author and I’ve listened to it numerous times. It’s a great companion on long drives by yourself.

If you’ve seen any of my other posts on Mid-American-Culture you may have read a couple of the Robert Frost posts I’ve done. He’s hands down my favorite poet and when the world has beaten me down, I’ll often settle down with a book of his poetry and be taken away to days on the farm around New England, or walking along the old stone wall. Here’s his poem After Apple Picking;

After Apple-Picking

BY ROBERT FROST

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree

Toward heaven still,

And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill

Beside it, and there may be two or three

Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.

But I am done with apple-picking now.

Essence of winter sleep is on the night,

The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.

I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight

I got from looking through a pane of glass

I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough

And held against the world of hoary grass.

It melted, and I let it fall and break.

But I was well

Upon my way to sleep before it fell,

And I could tell

What form my dreaming was about to take.

Magnified apples appear and disappear,

Stem end and blossom end,

And every fleck of russet showing clear.

My instep arch not only keeps the ache,

It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.

I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin

The rumbling sound

Of load on load of apples coming in.

For I have had too much

Of apple-picking: I am overtired

Of the great harvest I myself desired.

There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,

Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.

For all

That struck the earth,

No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,

Went surely to the cider-apple heap

As of no worth.

One can see what will trouble

This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.

Were he not gone,

The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his

Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,

Or just some human sleep.

Lastly Matt Fraction and David Aja had a spectacular run on Marvel’s Hawkeye where the title character and his alter ego Clint Barton battled countless Russian mob members and his own brand of depression. He reconnects with his brother Barney and has some help with his side kick Kate Bishop, AKA the other Hawkeye. Fraction delivers a tour de force character arc here and David Aja’s minimalist art is brilliant. I recommend this comic series to everyone I meet and I’ll suggest it to you as well. It’s always a great place to return too.

So there you go. Some great reads to dive into and get away from it all. But also, call your mom. Talk to your dad. Check on your friends, it’s a cold world sometimes and we could all use a hand. Don’t be ashamed of needing that hand. Someone can help you today and you return the favor tomorrow. It may sound cheesy but it works. Of course if you can’t find anyone else and you’ve reached your breaking point please call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800- 273-8255. Take care everyone and keep up to date with more Mid-American-Culture.