Sunday 2 July 2017

Brona's Salon

Brona's Salon is a new meme which aims to gather a group of like-minded bookish people 'under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation.'

I will provide a bookish prompt or two to inspire our conversation.
However please feel free to discuss your current read or join in the conversation in any way that you see fit.
Amusement, refinement and knowledge will surely follow!

I'm not sure there will be much amusement in this particular post.

A big part of my recent blah, blah, blah feelings have stemmed from the ill health of a much loved family member. Her peaceful passing this weekend now allows us to move onto what comes next.

As it turns out, one of the things that does not come next is Max Porter's Grief is the Thing With Feathers.

Two of my colleagues adored this book, so I'm not going to say don't read this book, ever.
Obviously it has some amazing qualities, that failed to move me at all, if the many Goodreads reviews are to be believed.

But don't read this book if you are in the early stages of grief yourself.
Or you have no knowledge whatsoever about Ted Hughes.
Or if clever, experimental literature is not your thing.
Or if you're feeling 'meh' about pretty much everything.

Which leads me to wonder about all the books about dying out there at the moment.
Why are we so obsessed with this topic right now?

The inevitable, unstoppable journey to our deaths is what defines all our lives.
It is the stuff of stories.

But right now, in the world of literature, we seem to be focused on the specifics of how we die.
What happens when we get that diagnosis, how do we face the treatments and the decline, why is this happening and what have we learnt along the way?

It's curious that the title of this book called to me this afternoon.
Evidently, I was looking for some kind of solace, or deeper meaning.

I'm used to finding empathy and understanding and fellowship in my reading.
But I didn't find it here.

Perhaps it's too soon.

I was looking for a warm, comforting embrace.
Instead, this intellectual exercise left me cold, bemused and confused.

Is grief such a personal thing, that no one book can ever match our circumstances or describe our particular experience? Are we searching for something that cannot be found except in the hard-won, day-by-day process of just going through it?

I'm not looking for sympathy, answers or enlightenment, however for the first time in ages, I felt compelled to write something.

It didn't feel right to confine this post to my usual Salon framework.
But if you'd like to share your latest read with us, then feel free to join in with the questions below in any way that suits you best.
Or if you'd like to share your thoughts on my book choice or topic, then please leave a comment.

I've been reminded this weekend that life is too short to read a book you don't like, but sometimes they help us to define what we are really looking for.

What are you currently reading?

How did you find out about this book?

Why are you reading it now? 

First impressions? 

Which character do you relate to so far?

Final Thoughts


  1. Let me start by saying my deepest sympathy for your loss.
    At times like these words are comforting and I hope you find
    the book that will help you deal with your grief.
    Give your self the time to recover....
    Perhaps I can share the review of Updike's short story
    'You'll Never Know, Dear, How Much I Love You'
    I try to answer in the post ...all the questions in Brona's Salon.
    Review Current Read for Brona's Salon

    1. Thank you Nancy.

      For now I've settled into a surprisingly gorgeous children's book called The Murderer's Ape (recently translated from Swedish) and full of lovely black and white illustrations. It was just what I needed. Engaging but easy. Well-written with a fascinating idea and heart warming. A bit quirky and unusual yet also comforting.

      Updike's title made me smile - 14 yrs ago I lost a dear friend and an aunt within a month of each other. You Are My Sunshine was one of their favourite songs and I think of both of them whenever I hear it now. Your post helped to remind me that time does indeed heal. You never forget but you learn to live with it.

  2. Anonymous3/7/17

    Very sorry to hear about your loss - it might indeed be too soon to seek comfort in books like that. I set it aside myself after reading the first few pages, as I think I need to be in a stronger frame of mind. There is a bit of an upsurge in books on death and grieving lately, perhaps because it was a taboo subject for so long and was only dealt with indirectly. The best I've read on the topic is A Monster Calls and Didion's Year of Magical Thinking.

    1. Thank you Marina.

      A Monster Calls was a wonderful story wasn't it? And I have Didion's book somewhere on my TBR pile for later. Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Became Air was also well done - a thoughtful contemplation and search for meaning during a challenging time.

      But as with most books, timing is everything.

      Now is too soon.

  3. Sorry to hear about your loss. I think that book is probably too intellectual and clever to give comfort in the immediate time after a loss, when you need easy comfortable books, not challenges. I'm glad you've found a jolly one to read.

    I have Oxford Mourning which is a crime caper by a woman writer set in Oxford with the sleuth a novelist - I don't read much crime but this series is fun. And about to start a Stuart Maconie about following the path of the Jarrow Marchers which should be good. I'm away at the weekend so packing some easy, fun reads for the train.

  4. Anonymous21/7/17

    So sorry to hear about your loss! I just discovered your series. I must have missed it when you posted earlier this month. I love the idea. I have not read Max Porter's book, but I recently finished Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders that also addresses grief. I decided to read it because I have experienced the death of a child (not my own, but a child in my family), so I figured reading the book would be a cathartic experience. The chapters on President Lincoln mourning the death of his son were powerful but the eccentric ghosts destroyed the reading experience for me. I disliked the experimental narrative style. I needed the book to speak to me, and it felt too pretentious in its style. Grief can be a lonely experience. Books that deal well with grief and are relatable are priceless. Lincoln in the Bardo wasn't that book. Baby by Patricia MacLachlan was. "Baby" was a highly unpleasant experience. I was so upset I almost quit reading the book. It opened all the wounds. I was in fetal position bawling my eyes out, but I guess it was what I needed at the time. Amazing that this was a YA book too. I hope you find the right book.

    1. Thanks for your comments.
      I think you nailed it when you said grief is a lonely experience. But the right book for the right moment is out there. It sounds like Baby was a cathartic experience for you just when you needed it.

      I've heard that Joan Didion's book is wonderful many, many times, but have never felt like it was the right time for me to pick it up.

      For children (& the adults in their life) I like to recommend Mem Fox's book Tough Boris. It touches a deep vein in almost everyone I know - being given permission to grieve and cry is a powerful thing for all of us.


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