Monday, April 23, 2012

Seize the Day: how the dying teach us to live

I’ve always read books to not only better understand the exterior world, but also my own interior world.

In doing this, I tend to read a lot of non-fiction books including biographies, autobiographies and cultural histories.

But I usually stay well away from the self help genre as I’ve always found these types of books paint a rather simplistic view of the world.

Also, I’m not really interested in the “top ten steps’ to be healthier, smarter or more successful etc.

However, after reading a thoughtful review I decided to read Marie de Hennezel’s Seize the Day: how the dying teach us to live.

Despite the title, de Hennezel’s book isn’t really a ‘self help’ book in the traditional sense and certainy doesn’t follow the genre’s standard structure.

Rather it details her experiences as a psychologist working in a palliative care home in Paris. She writes with compassion about her patients, the staff who work there and essentially what drives her to do the type of work she does.

I found great comfort in this elegantly written book, especially as I was dealing with a recent death in the family that involved palliative care.

The patient’s stories are deeply moving and told with great humanity. Moreover, de Hennezel reveals that despite each person's unique history what connects them all is the underlying theme: the need to accept death as part of life. And it is often the families of the dying patients who struggle with this acceptance.

For de Hennezel her role is to just be there for a patient, as a witness to their death but also their life. She writes about these experiences with such a strong, clear and passionate voice.

This was a deeply moving book that helped me better understand some of my own feelings, experiences and emotions.

Like all great books, it doesn't provide any easy answers because there really are no such things in our complicated exterior and interior worlds.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Young adult fiction reading spree

Over the past month or so, I’ve been really getting into my young adult (YA) fiction.

In fact it’s all I’ve been reading, so here are some highlights so far:

Started my YA reading with another dystopian teenage book, Veronica Roth’s Divergent.

This is the first in a planned trilogy, and like the Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games, focuses on a female protagonist who lives in a future world where humanity has been split into factions.

In this new world, there are five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue: Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent).

It's an interesting premise and after a rather slow start it builds up to an exciting storyline. Overall, it is a little Hunger Games-lite but I did find myself involved and will be looking for the second book, Insurgent, out in May 2012.

The only disappointing thing is the rather stereotypical romance, but then again I’m not the target audience so I need to hold my cynicism in check!

Another great fun series is Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series, which is a contemporary retelling of the Greek myths involving modern day teenagers as ‘demi-gods’ – half bloods.

It’s got action, monsters, Gods, Goddesses, mythical creatures and yes a bit of usual romance thrown in. So what’s not to like?

Plus there is so sly humour running through out Riordan’s novels, like having the entry to Hades being LA.

I’m up to the third book in the series, The Titan’s Curse and it’s really reignited my interest in Greek mythology too.

There has been a bit written about why adults are currently flocking to YA fiction, like Alyssa Rosenberg's piece in the Atlantic Monthly and Laura Miller's analysis in Salon.

For me, one of the main reasons I enjoy YA fiction is that it's a genre that is filled with great story tellers.

Put simply YA authors like Suzanne Collins, Patrick Ness, Eoin Colfer, Rick Riordan know how to tell a captivating story filled with memorable characters.

Maybe it's the fact that young adults tend to have less attention span than adults and thus far less likely to put up with endless paragraphs of detailed description, character development and scene setting.

Sometimes, when I read 'literary fiction' and get stuck on a chapter that is all exposition rather than story telling, a little voice in my head yells 'TELL ME THE STORY, pleeeeease!".

That being said, my little secret is that I can't stand teenagers in real life!

Indeed, I prefer them confined to the pages of book as there really nothing more nightmarish than been stuck on a train with a group of teenage girls.