Candidly Reading #4: How Could She, Lauren Mechling

Candidly Reading #4: How Could She, Lauren Mechling

What makes a friendship? And to further that question: what makes a friendship last? What gives it that stickiness, that emotional glue to keep two (or three) people invested in each other’s welfare beyond the tit-for-tat of initial contact? Is there an inevitable and inherent expiration date to these bonds? Or do we have the free will to stand up and choose that relationship again, much like we are expected to do in our romantic ties? What is to say that our friendships aren’t our great love affairs?

Of course, none of these questions are novel. In fact, they are wildly, exquisitely clichéd. I, for one, have faulted to posting quotes celebrating female friendship from Sex and The City, Bride Wars, and — ever on brand — The Bold Type under Instagram posts about the closest in my “tribe.” And rarely will you meet a woman in her twenties who hasn’t endured the brutal reality of losing a girlfriend over unfortunate circumstances, minor or major causes aside. But to take these lingering questions on in an engaging way that does not shy away from that fourth question (i.e. is there an inevitable and inherent expiration) is what Lauren Mechling’s How Could She sets out to explore.

I won’t lie and say it was the most thought provoking book I’ve ever read. Following Orringer’s The Flight Portfolio and battling my desire to reread Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch before the September 13th launch of the film, I found myself frustrated with the characters’ continually selfish behavior. The story alternates third person focused omniscient narration chapters on friends Geraldine, Sunny, and Rachel as they all navigate their late thirties and their respective career, social, and romantic arenas. Geraldine at the start is floundering with no real roots and pining after a life that has passed her by, but by the end has a successful career in podcasts and has left behind her good-for-nothing ex-fiancé. Sunny transforms from the top of her career and from having a stable (yet loveless) marriage to…well, not. And Rachel, well, Rachel just kind of floats. As for the prose, it was purposeful but not striking. I saved maybe four sentences from it, a shockingly low amount for me as a typically overly complimentary reader.

Perhaps it was the way that these women eviscerated each other at a dinner, years of betrayals and alienations being brought to the forefront of conversation, but it make me starkly aware of how my relationships now could transform into those relationships by the mid-to-late thirties without proper care and precaution.

I hope I never reach the point of disdain for those I hold dearest that Geraldine, Sunny, and Rachel reached. That paradox of holding onto someone with white knuckles while also holding that person at arms’ length so they can’t inflict any damage on you. Walking that tightrope sounds — quite frankly — exhausting.

If not a lyrical masterpiece or a philosophical wonder, How Could She serves as a cautionary tale to keep your friends closest. Without a doubt, they are the ones who will love you but you must act out of love towards them too.

Candidly Reading #1: Recommitting Myself to My Inner Bookworm

Candidly Reading #1: Recommitting Myself to My Inner Bookworm

One must always be careful of books and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.

Cassandra Clare

To acquire the habit of reading is the construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.

W. Somerset Maugham

I am the daughter of two generous and inspiring bibliophiles.

My father frequently recounts opening the door to my bedroom an hour after my mother would usher my four year old self into the coverlet only to discover she was still sitting on the seams of the mattress, picture book in hand, a pile of previous reads at her feet, an enraptured child perched at her side. There was certainly no sleep, and no foreseeable end.

But my father got his own turn at bestowing the magic when it came to chapter books, which we would alternate reading pages out of when it came to my grade school years. And, when it came time for me to read on my own, we would “parallel” read, choosing the same texts and conversing about our progresses.

My mother, meanwhile, continued to stoke the fire of my voraciousness. From an early age, I would go to the library with a small rolling suitcase and be encouraged to take all I could fit. By middle school, my mother was facilitating the Scholastic catalog distribution to not only my grade but my brother’s and occasionally those of our teachers she felt a certain bond with even after our matriculation from their classrooms. This filled my home once a month with the inventory of a small bookstore. Speaking of, to this day, if I even remotely suggest a Barnes & Noble road trip, I can rely on little reluctance when I show up at the cashier counter with not one but two (or three) novels.

I started academically pursuing literature fervently in high school. My electives were commonly literary — notably, my seven-person class of Shakespeare in Senior year which earned me the Distinction in English award at graduation — and I even willingly and enthusiastically attended an academic camp where, yes, again I studied Shakespeare.

This all considered, I was reluctant to pursue my Bachelor’s in English. I know — contradictory! But I felt it was the easy choice, the given, the expected. I realized, however, that as soon as I took my first English elective — “Medieval Romances: Knights, Ladies, Etc” — there was no course of action other than to give into where my heart belonged. And in my heart, I have always been a true and chronic reader.  

And while professionally I do plan on returning to the Publishing world, this time in a recruitment capacity to best shape the futures of those hopefuls that I was once a member, until an hour ago I was jaded. I could hardly pick up a book without thinking of the ones I would binge in preparation for publisher interviews so I would be informed about a certain genre or house catalog.

But in the meantime, I need to pick up a damn book.

I’m thrilled to say I made the first commitment to myself today by subscribing to Book of the Month club and ordering not one but two of their offerings. I’ll be checking back in with reviews when I complete the reads, a book club of one, just to say hello and give thoughts, and undoubtedly a quote.

I am ready to be the bookworm daughter again who was read countless picture books, who read alternate pages, who sat and shared progress over breakfast, who packaged classmates’ books with care. I am ready to be me.  

On what it takes to live

Today, I don’t write on my own contemplations. Instead, I want to share with you a beautiful passage that I found in Matt Haig’s How To Stop Time, something I picked up for a book club I’m attending next week. It goes like this:

And, just as it only takes a moment to die, it only takes a moment to live. You just close your eyes and let every futile fear slip away. And then, in this new state, free from fear, you ask yourself: who am I? If I could live without doubt what would I do? If I could be kind without the fear of being fucked over? If I could love without fear of being hurt? If I could taste the sweetness of today without thinking of how I will miss that taste tomorrow? If I could not fear the passing of time and the people it will steal? Yes. What would I do? Which paths would I step down? What joys would I allow myself? What internal mysteries would I solve? How, in short, would I live?

How To Stop Time, Matt Haig pg. 318

On the intersectionality of fear, courage and friendship

Strange, though; because he is afraid of everything, nothing is harder than anything else. Taking a trip around the world is no more terrifying than buying a stick of gum. The daily dose of courage.

– Less, Andrew Sean Greer

I distinctly remember in my Christian Morals class of 11th grade — I know, again with the Catholic school thing — learning the distinction between bravery and courage. Bravery was paired with its near homophones brazenness and brashness, indicating a lack of thought and a lack of sensible fear. Shamelessly, they used Frodo from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings as their example of a courageous hero. Their reasoning? He was courageous precisely because he was afraid and because he did not seek glory. He was on his quest because for no other reason than it was his burden to bear and his burden to bear alone…excluding, you know, that entire band of brothers that travels with him, namely good ol’ Sam, but I digress.

I hadn’t thought about that example until today, when I sat down and looked at this quote from Greer’s Less. I had highlighted it in my kindle (how bourgeoisie) because the example of fearing buying a stick of gum reminded me of fearing grocery shopping at one point in my life and I fully intended to unpack that experience, but on second glance that isn’t what this quote is about at all.

This quote is about Frodo and that quest to throw that damn ring into the fiery pit of Mordor.

When you reach a point in your life in which you fear everything, you simultaneously reach a point in which you surrender control. This invariably takes several forms, not all of them healthy. Many have succumbed to some terrible, terrible choices in this: drugs, radicalism, low self-esteem, to name a few and that’s not even exhaustive with my bias. I did for a little bit (ah, see, there we go with the mental health reference).

The important thing is to find healthy fears. Fears that give motivation and purpose. Fears that propel you, that guide you, that give you credence and boundaries. Fears that say “no, not today” quietly when you veer to far to the left or right, or a hard “NOT TODAY, SATAN” when you do a complete 180-degree turn from the path. And if that means you fear everything for a little bit, until you hit that numbness, so be it — but have the resources like (and I hate myself for saying this) Frodo with his Gandalf and Legolas and underappreciated and reliable Sam — did I mention Sam?

And yes, I know this is easier said than done. And I certainly know that when you are in the place of complete fear, of overwhelming fear, of fear so strong you’re even fearing buying that stick of gum let alone traveling the world (feared both), you definitely don’t want the help of anyone. In fact, you want to be left the hell alone to be paralyzed.

Don’t let yourself be left the hell alone.

This is where I go a little extra preacher-like, so bear with me. A few months back, I read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, which I would also quote above if I hadn’t taken my copy back from my apartment to my childhood home for safekeeping I loved it so much. In it, Eleanor hits rock bottom — shocker! But she has good people, really good people around her who care enough to pull her back up. And that’s one of the beautiful things about the world. If you let yourself be helped, chances are there will be people there to ferry you upwards when you can’t carry yourself any further on your own. Sometimes the most courageous thing is admitting you can’t do it on your own.

I’m excited to keep reading Less because I know that Arthur, the protagonist, will find his ferrying people like Eleanor, his tribe like me, his band of brothers like Frodo, and will be able to face the encompassing fear that he is running from so fervently in the early chapters. And I hope you, dear reader, know that you will too, if you have the courage to do it together.