Top Ten Reads in 2016

Why read?

Anne Lamott suggests,

“Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”

For me, reading is beneficial on many levels. It calms my mind, broadens my outlook, energises my thinking, and inspires greater understanding and compassion.

Annie Dillard captures the essence of reading when she says,

“Why are we reading if not in hope that the writer will magnify and dramatise our days, will illuminate and inspire us with wisdom, courage, and the possibility of meaningfulness, and will press upon our minds the deepest mysteries, so that we may feel again their majesty and power?”

I have also discovered the critical relationship that exists between reading and writing.  As Stephen King says,

“Reading is the creative centre of a writer’s life.”

During 2016 I was fortunate to read 63 books. Without exception, they were all beneficial; shedding light on the human drama we call life. I discovered the works of Michael Faber, Alan Furst, Hugh Mackay and Marilyn Robinson and savoured the recent releases of trusted writers like Tim Winton, Tom Keneally, Tony Park, David Baldacci and Tracey Chevalier.

I have selected ten books that explore the themes of trauma, grief and loss and how these experiences shape who we are and how we see God.

Michael Faber – The Book of Strange New Things

On surviving:

We are all specialised forms of survivor. We lack what we fundamentally need and forge ahead regardless, hurriedly hiding our wounds, disguising our ineptitude, bluffing our way through our weaknesses.

Arnold Zable – The Fighter

On fleeing the terrors of war:

She is a fierce guardian of secrets; she can never utter what became of her mother and of her father and her brother as she fled. Not speak of her violation. She has buried it. Yet the price she has paid is terrifying – a journey from vast exteriors to dark interiors, from the commerce of daily life to silences.

Jackie French – To Love a Sunburnt Country

On the solitary nature of surviving:

She opened her eyes, but there were only strangers in the carriage. It was still hard to smile at strangers, after years with just themselves, so close at the end that they were almost one person. Only me, she thought. How can I live with only me?

Ann Voskamp – One Thousand Gifts

On negotiating personal tragedy:

From my own beginning, my sister’s death tears a hole in the canvas of the world. Losses do that. One life-loss can infect the whole of life. Like a rash that wears through our days, our sight becomes peppered with black voids. Now everywhere we look, we only see all that isn’t: holes, lack, deficiency…

Tim Winton – The Boy behind the Curtain

On coping with upheaval:

How quick children are to absorb the unexpressed anxieties of their parents, how fluent they become in the unconscious act of compensation, and how instinctive is their assumption of responsibility. The margins between coping and not coping, between psychological survival and total collapse, are so narrow and often so arbitrary that it’s uncomfortable to look back and consider what might have been.

Robert Dykstra – She Never Said Goodbye

On dealing with death by suicide:

Death strikes with an all-or-nothing finality; it is the non-negotiable transaction that no one barters for; it is the finish of all finishes. The stunning, shuddering, incontrovertible fact pushes us around as a cat does a mouse. Death doesn’t listen to reason, hears no cries for mercy, knows no pity. Sorrow is our only response to its ugly and persistent pressure, our feeble effort to keep living and somehow justify the agony, to understand the unfathomable and senseless.

Annie Proulx – Barkskins

On the destruction of habitat:

As he cut, the wildness of the world receded, the vast invisible web of filaments that connected human life to animals, trees to flesh and bones to grass shivered as each tree fell and one by one the web strands snapped.

Marilyn Robinson – Gilead

On living with sorrow:

I believe there is a dignity in sorrow simply because it is God’s good pleasure that there should be. He is forever raising up those he has brought low.

Paul Heaney – One Wild Song

On finding courage to face the future:

I have made two of my life’s toughest voyages in the past few years… Both involved letting go of one world, and finding the courage to live in the next. One is the long trek, under sail, to one of the most profoundly remote parts of the world; to an often bleak land of rock, ice and near overwhelming storms – these are the waters of the infamous Cape Horn. The other is the long, hard journey through the death of my son, Nicholas, who took his own life at the age of twenty-three; to travel this road is to suffer desolation that no earthly place can inflict upon you. The two voyages are not unconnected… They both begin with finding the courage to face the future, reserving the past as a fond memory and not something you should cling to like a drowning soul.

Shusako Endo – Silence

On maintaining hope:

Man is a strange being. He always has a feeling somewhere in his heart that whatever the danger he will pull though. It’s just like when on a rainy day you imagine the faint rays of the sun shining on a distant hill.

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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