Tuesday is the day new books go on sale, whether audio, digital, or in print. Little wonder, with my hunger for books, books and more books, that it’s my favorite. (Well, okay, tied with the other six, which all have engaging qualities of their own.) I mostly buy audiobooks these days, as I’ve mentioned, and this week, I’ve discovered a new (to me) author, Elizabeth Berg. I know, I know–she’s hugely popular, an Oprah’s Book Club veteran, but somehow, I missed her. Here’s how I got there: after listening to “The End of Your Life Book Club”, I was inspired to read or listen to several books, also previously mentioned on this blog. One subject of particular interest to me was etiquette, as it relates to illness and tragedy in general. I think we’ve all felt awkward around sick friends and loved ones at times, wondering if we’re imposing by visiting, if we’ve stayed too long or not long enough, which questions and comments are appropriate and which are not, what to bring or do and what not to bring or do, etc. We love these people, and we want to help and encourage them, but it’s all too easy to lose sight of the most important fact of all: this is about the person suffering, not about us. If ever the Golden Rule applied, it’s in situations like this.
I decided to explore the topic, thinking of my aging mother and a very dear friend who is coping with a serious illness, and ways I might might show love and support in real and viable ways, respectful ways. Too often, wordsmith though I am, I get tongue-tied, or put my foot in my mouth, or tiptoe around the painful stuff, as in, not knowing what to say on the matter, I don’t say anything at all. I’m sure you get the idea.
Anyway, I downloaded Lettie Cottin Pogrebin’s excellent book, “How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who is Sick” and I’m glad I did. Pogrebin, a first class writer, tells of her own experience while being treated for breast cancer, and those of other patients suffering from a wide variety of ailments and injuries. She explains what friends did or said to comfort her–or send her into fits of anger or despondency. Gifts that pleased and cheered her, and those that didn’t. There is a lot of warmth in this book, and a great deal of humor, along with the heartbreak, and it is worth reading. She happened to quote Elizabeth Berg’s “Talk Before Sleep”, a novel about a woman and her best friend, who is dying. I listened to it, loved it, and immediately went to Audible.com for more Berg. Talk about taking the long way around to why I finally discovered one of the world’s favorite authors, but there you go. For me, books work this way–rather like dominos; one leads to another. It’s still true: word of mouth (or print) sells books.
I read a LOT of self-help books, to the point that it concerns some of my friends. Bless their hearts, they worry about my self-esteem, thinking I must feel pretty badly about myself, if I’m into so much self-improvement material. The truth is, I don’t devour motivational stuff because I feel “less than”, I do it because I always learn something important about myself and people in general in the process, and it’s a rare tome that doesn’t reveal at least one better way to do things, or think about things, or paint them, or cook them….I love to learn. I’m into experiments, big time. Win or lose, succeed or fail, every attempt teaches me something–even if, to paraphrase Thomas Edison, I can only say, “Well, at least I know 10,000 things that don’t work.” If a cake falls, or a painting turns out to suck, I don’t feel like a failure. I feel a sort of thrill, because I’ve learned from the experience, and I don’t have to make the same mistake again–I can go out there and make new ones! (And believe me, I make plenty.)
And now, back to the Civil War Pennsylvania…the story people in “North of Eden” have a lot to tell me. In the summer of 2018, I’ll let you in on everything they say and do. In the meantime, there are hundreds of great books out there, waiting to teach, to touch, to encourage, to console, to draw attention to situations crying out to be changed. Let’s grab a book or an MP3 player when we can, and take a ride on the magic carpet.