Saturday, June 28, 2014

How to get out of a reading slump

I seem to have reached a slump in my reading at the moment. Even books I wanted to read, and was looking forward to, just didn’t do it for me. Whenever that happens, I have to shake myself out of it. I read what I call “popcorn books”, something light and fluffy. Or I do the complete opposite. I start to read non-fiction that makes me think and ponder things. Right now, it seems that biographies are the books that are calling to me. Maybe these titles might appeal to you.

People are raving about the book The Fault of Our Stars by John Green and the film based on it. What people may not realize is both were inspired by a real person. This Star Won’t Go Out is the life and words of Esther Earl. John Green initially met Esther Earl, a young girl with thyroid cancer, at a Harry Potter convention. Green had been working for years on a book about kids with cancer at the time of the meeting. While he realized Esther had cancer he did not want to pry or make his friendship with Esther a research project. Green is often asked if the main character of his novel is based on Esther. He has replied “I’ve said many times that The Fault in Our Stars, while dedicated to Esther, is not about her…. Esther inspired the story in the sense that my anger after her death pushed me to write constantly…but the character of Hazel is very different from Esther, and Hazel’s story is not Esther’s”. He has also stated “…I wish she’d read The Fault of Our Stars….but the person I most wanted to read it never will.” I have read both books and admit that there were parts in both that made me laugh, cry and reflected upon. Esther’s book is not just her journal and thoughts and drawings. It includes articles written by John Green, as well as, her parents, friends and doctors. Yet it is Esther’s words that shine through. There were times that I had a hard time believing that it was young girl who wrote the words. But illness can bring wisdom to a person no matter their age. Her parents, Lori and Wayne, are founders of the nonprofit organization This Star Won’t Go out ( The name came from the meaning of the name Esther, which means star. Its goal is to provide financial assistance to families with children living with cancer. To date they have given away more than $130,000. The publishers of Esther’s book, Dutton, have donated funds to this charity.

Now in its second season, the television show Orange is the New Black is based on Piper Kerman’s #1 New York Times bestselling biography of the same name. Like all things for the big or small screen, there are differences between the two. I read the book before seeing the series and won’t go into the differences between the two but for me The facts from the book are more interesting than the drama created for the screen. Kerman was a spoiled young woman who recklessly threw her freedom away due to bad judgment in a love relationship. Piper delivered a suitcase of drug money for her girlfriend 10 years before the book takes place. She is convicted and sentenced to 15 months in Danbury Correctional facility. Despite being a well-heeled Smith College graduate she now is known as inmate # 11187-424. In prison, she meets women from all walks of life. She enters a world with arbitrary rules by the inmates and the strictly enforced rules of the penal system. I admit that I got a bit impatient with Piper. She had a huge support system outside the prison that sent her books and other goods. The privileged anger at “mistreatment” sometimes made me shout at the book “Oh, grow up! Where do you think you are !?” The other prisoners I felt more sympathy for. I was surprised by the generosity they showed to Piper and each other. I do not believe that it is a typical prison memoir but perhaps it is typical for minimum security prisons. I hope I never have to personally find out.

After those  books I felt I needed a change of pace. It came in the form of PaperBoy : a memoir of 70s Belfast. On the cover of the book it states”parallel trousers, Brut aftershave and a Burnt Jimmy Joe’. This reminded me of the boys in my junior high class, except some of them were wearing Hia Karate! There are those who will question my taste of books, especially if I am trying to get away from serious books. After all, Ireland during “the troubles” was not exactly the best place on earth. But Tony Macaulay manages to write a very funny book about this time in his life. I admit that I first picked up this book to recommending it to someone but ended up reading it first. Macaulay was raised at the top of Shankill Road in Belfast, during the heart of the conflict between the Loyalists and Republicans. His memoir balances Northern Ireland’s turbulent history with entertaining insights, wit and humour. Quite frankly, when I think of growing up in the 70’s it was a weird time. This decade started with peace and love and ended up with anarchy of punk music. At the age of 12, Macaulay got a job as a paperboy for The Belfast Telegram, even though he was too young. And come rain or shine – or bombs or mortar – it was his job to deliver the papers. Even with all the political chaos around him, Macaulay lived in the world of Doctor Who, the Bay City Rollers, Top of the Pops, and fish suppers. His battles were against acne, the dentist, bullies who try to rob him of his paper money and his attempts to get Sharon Burgess’ attention. His parents were a huge influence in his childhood and his adult life. They were volunteer youth leaders who worked to keep children off the streets and safe during the height of the violence. Macaulay has spent the last 28 years working to building peace and reconciliation at home and abroad. His memoir will charm you and have you laughing out loud and, if you are of a certain age bring back your own memories of the time.

So these are the biographies that pulled me out of my reading slump. Remember, your local librarians will be able to suggest something for you, if you ever get that way. Happy reading!

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