Top Ten Reads in 2015

I enjoy reading. I have been an enthusiastic reader in my adult years. While growing up sporting interests tended to dominate restricting the time available for books.

Polls indicate that adults read on average four books a year. One in four adults read zero books. I read four books a month. I know this as I record what I have been reading and also keep a journal of any quotes that capture my attention.

Reading is beneficial on many levels. It energises the mind, enlivens the spirit, engages your imagination, and encourages the acquisition of knowledge. Reading can provide some respite from troubles and is a portable and inexpensive entertainment.

My Top Ten Reads in 2015 were

  • Viktor E. Frankel “Man’s Search for Meaning”
  • Miriam Toews “All My Puny Sorrows”
  • John Boyne “A History of Loneliness”
  • Chevy Stevens “Always Watching”
  • Clifton Crais “History Lessons”
  • Gordon Livingston “Only Spring”
  • Robyn Cadwallader “The Anchoress”
  • Sebastian Faulks “Where My Heart Used To Beat”
  • Judy Nunn “Spirits of the Ghan”
  • Penelope Wilcock “The Hardest Thing To Do”

Some of the books I read focused on the tragedy that is suicide.

All My Puny Sorrows by Canadian writer Miriam Toews introduces us to the Von Riesen sisters; Elfrieda – nicknamed ‘Elf’ and Yolandi – nicknamed ‘Yoli’. Elf is world renowned musician who is intent on death. Younger sister Yoli is committed to keeping her alive.

We learn that you can enjoy success in your chosen career, receive the adulation of many, benefit from loving and supportive relationships, and yet still be plagued by suicidal thoughts.

The following paragraph captures the difficulty we face in responding to private pain.

A friend confides to Yoli that he heard Elf playing in Prague.

“When I listened to her play I felt I should not be in the same room with her. There were hundreds of people but nobody left. It was a private pain. By private I mean to say unknowable. Only the music knew and it held secrets so that her playing was a puzzle, a whisper, and people afterward stood in the bar and drank and said nothing because they were complicit. There were no words.”

My number one read in 2015 was History Lessons: A Memoir of Madness, Memory, and the Brain by Clifton Crais who is Professor of History and Director of the Institute of African Studies at Emory University.

Crais has written a memoir that explores the intricacies of memory. What follows are some of his skilfully refined thoughts about

Lost memories:

But what happens when we can’t remember, when there are too many blank spaces? Without memories inscrutable insinuations I am a nowhere man, never certain where I am at any moment or if anything really fits together. In some basic way the past is forever lost. And yet, paradoxically, the past exists within us all, history transmitted from one generation to the next, sometimes plainly, often in whispers.

Forgotten memories:

Every one of us will lose our memory in some way that will trouble our very being. It might take place in an instant – a headache or flash before the eyes. Or forgetting will seep slowly into our minds. There will be times when we will know our histories are running away from us. Unable to tell the story of our selves, we will become absent, trapped not by our lives’ silences but by the present and its stubborn indifference to time’s relentless passing.

Traumatic memories:

Trauma obliterates time. The memory is never past. My mother’s suicide attempt remains timeless amidst all my forgetting.

Refining memories:

We are constantly altering the story of our selves, using information (however flawed or incomplete) to explain what happened a minute or a decade ago, making various assumptions about what we and others were thinking at any given point in time. Interminable revisionists, we create and recreate our lives through an endless process of addition and diminution.

Memory is not a physical ‘thing’ we can lay hold of. Memory amends itself over time, part of the endless little additions and revisions that make a life… Memory may be as delicate as a wisp of smoke and as resolute as fired clay.

Memory is important to me. Although Adam is no longer with us due to his tragic death in 2011 I am able to maintain my connection with him through memory. Memory allows me to celebrate his life, to appreciate his achievements and to be understanding of his struggles.

We have kept some of Adam’s possessions but their real value lies in the memories they evoke. His work helmet, his books, his fishing tackle, his study bible are representative of those things that were valued and formed an important part of his life

We are entrusted with the responsibility of remembering for there is a new generation who await a simple narrative of Adam’s life. We know that Adam’s life can instruct us all as we open ourselves to the lessons of history.

All My Puny Sorrows
History Lessons: A Memoir of Madness, Memory, and the Brain

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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