Another friend of the Happy Booker steps into our blogging shoes.
Recommended Reading by Jamy Bond
The first time I read an essay by Cheryl Strayed, I was sitting in a wind-swept room on the 14th floor of a high rise in Maputo, Mozambique. I had just moved there after receiving a Fulbright grant to research and write about losing my sister in a car crash. My sister had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique when she died. I was hungry for the truth then. The truth about grief, loss, loneliness. Fiction, novels, short stories just weren't enough for some reason. I wanted memoir. I wanted raw, gut-wrenching truth. I searched high and low for nonfiction that had even the slightest connection to someone dying. I arrived in Maputo with a suitcase full of books, mostly essay collections with titles such as Survival Stories and Sorrow’s Company. Grim, yes.
I spent my days reading these books cover to cover and feeling, still, that nothing quite captured MY feelings of loss. Nothing. Until I read “The Love of My Life,” by Strayed, about losing her mother to cancer. It wasn’t that our situations were the same; in fact, our situations couldn’t have been more different. It was that she managed to capture the kind of madness that had consumed me in the aftermath of my sister’s death: maddening emotions, thoughts, actions, dreams and interpretations of things.
I Googled Strayed, hoping to find more by her, but there was nothing. Two essays. So I emailed her. I had never sent a fan letter to a writer before and I felt a little silly, but I was compelled to tell her how much her essay meant to me, and how I hoped to read more by her. Well, we struck up a correspondence and, lucky me, she had a novel on the way. That novel is Torch, the story of a family rocked by cancer and death. Ok, it’s not light reading, it’s not uplifting, and there are no happy endings or tied-up loose ends, but if you are like me, you read not for escape, necessarily, but for that one moment — sometimes brief, sometimes daunting – when the words on the page manage to untangle all of the confusing forces in the universe, and you understand some small, but essential, thing about the world and your place in it. Torch does that.