Between Two Kingdoms

Sometimes you read a book, and long after you’ve finished it, and read the acknowledgements, and re-visited the author’s note at the beginning, the book stays with you.

You can’t seem to get the author’s voice and story out of your head.

That’s what happened with me and Suleika Jaouad’s memoir Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted.

While the specifics of Ms. Jaouad’s life vary greatly from mine — her travels, her leukemia diagnosis, her epic road trip — so much of what she wrote really touched me. So much so, that my library copy is full of sticky notes.

Allow me to share some of these passages with you:

“How do you react to a cancer diagnosis at age twenty-two?
Do you break down in sobs?
Do you faint, or scream?
In that moment, a feeling flooded through my body, unexpected and perverse: relief. After the bewildering months of misdiagnosis, I finally had an explanation for my itch, for my mouth sores, for my unraveling. I wasn’t a hypochondriac, after all, making up symptoms.”

“While my medical team was intent on saving my life, preserving my chance to be a mother someday hadn’t seemed to be on their radar. It was my first indication that, no matter how brilliant and compassionate my doctors might be, I would have to be proactive and learn to advocate for myself.”

“I understood now why so many writers and artists, while in the thick of illness, became memoirists. It provided a sense of control, a way to reshape your circumstances on your own terms, in your own words.”

“We were both forging unlikely careers: Melissa painted self-portraits from bed; I wrote self-portraits from bed. Watercolors and words were the drugs we preferred for our pain. We were learning that sometimes the only way to endure suffering is to transform it into art.”

“As a patient, there was pressure to perform, to be someone who suffers well, to act with heroism, and to put on a stoic façade all the time.”

“To be a patient is to relinquish control — to your medical team and their decisions, to your body and its unscheduled breakdowns.”

“I used to think healing meant ridding the body and the heart of anything that hurt. It meant putting your pain behind you, leaving it in the past. But I’m learning that’s not how it works. Healing is figuring out how to coexist with the pain that will always live inside of you, without pretending it isn’t there or allowing it to hijack your day. It is learning to confront ghosts and to carry what lingers. It is learning to embrace the people I love now instead of protecting against a future in which I am gutted by their loss.”

In Celebration of National Book Month

Missing from the photo – March’s book (I read a library copy) and June’s book (Another library copy, though I plan to buy it and add it to my almost-full bookcase.)

October.

Time for pumpkin-flavored everything it seems. 

Time for small bite-sized candy bars. 

And time to talk about books.

Because October is also National Book Month.

I tried to think about how to commemorate the month. So in honor of National Book Month, I’m taking a look back at the books I have read during 2021. I’m sharing one stand-out book from each month. Maybe you’ll find yourself adding to your “want-to-read” list. 

Or maybe you’ll find yourself adding to your holiday gift list. Because October also means the holiday season is just around the corner.

January:

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

I’ve read this book more than once. It’s that good. From a reader’s standpoint, and a writer’s standpoint, I’m just in awe.

February:

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

A true test that I really enjoyed a book? When I order my own copy after reading a library copy. And that’s what happened with this novel. I just found myself really caring for these characters. And, it’s another good reminder that people are often not what they seem at first glance. You can’t know what someone is really dealing with just by looking at them.

March:

How to Astronaut: An Insider’s Guide to Leaving Planet Earth by Terry Virts

For most of my childhood, actually until my junior year of high school, my career goal was to become an astronaut. And all these years later, I’m still incredibly curious and interested in learning about astronauts’ lives. This isn’t a dry memoir at all. You’ll find lots of humor and fun observations.  

April:

Beach Read by Emily Henry

Such a delight to read about these two authors and go along on this journey with them. This was my first novel by Ms. Henry, but certainly not my last. (People We Meet on Vacation was published in May and is on my ever-growing want-to-read list.)

May:

Bravey: Chasing Dreams, Befriending Pain, and Other Big Ideas by Alexi Pappas

I was reading a copy of Bravey I had borrowed from the library. But, I found I was putting sticky notes on so many pages, that I ordered my own copy before I had even finished reading this powerful memoir. Honest, raw, touching. 

June:

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Mixed within this sweet, original love story are some serious topics – emotional abuse, wrongful incarceration. It’s a story I didn’t want to end. And now I’ve added Ms. O’Leary’s other novels (The Switch, The Road Trip) onto my want-to-read list.

July:

Surviving and Thriving with an Invisible Chronic Illness: How to Stay Sane and Live One Step Ahead of Your Symptoms by Ilana Jacqueline

When a patient is given a chronic illness diagnosis, they should also be given this book. It’s an important, valuable resource that would have been so helpful when I first became ill.

August:

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Wow! This book is everything — heartbreaking, funny, touching, devastating, enlightening. I didn’t realize how little I knew about South Africa and Apartheid. Just an incredible read. 

September:

Dusk, Night, Dawn: On Revival and Courage by Anne Lamott

There is no one quite like Anne Lamott. It’s that rare combination of what she says and how she says it. She writes with such warmth and honesty about the big things (climate change) and the small things (like pants not fitting).

October:

I’m still reading the first book of October. Stay tuned!

Readers, have you read any books that blew you away? That touched you? That made you smile? That you can’t stop telling your friends about? Please, do share.