The Memoir ‘Once More We Saw Stars’ by Jayson Greene

I listened to Jayson Greene on a podcast a while ago and noted to one day read his memoir, Once More We Saw Stars. With young children, it’s not the type of book I’d usually put on my reading list but there was something in the way he spoke about his experience that made me want to push past my discomfort and read it.

When the story begins, two-year-old Greta Greene is sitting with her grandmother on a park bench in Manhattan when a brick crumbled from a windowsill overhead, striking her. She’s rushed to hospital but dies shortly after, leading Greene and his wife Stacy into the unimaginable.

I found it unbearable at times but also felt a strange sense of commitment – if he could put such honesty and rawness out there, I had an obligation to read it. It’s a story about grief, loss, hope, healing, love, and the fragility of life.

As he tells The Guardian: “Trauma is a rip in your understanding of the universe… The idea that you can prepare for trauma is wrong. You can’t. Trauma is the unforeseen and the terrible. I think people are drawn to stories in which terrible things happen because in some ways they are one of the most proven mechanisms we have in making sense of the world and making sense of our emotions.”

Read a review of Once More We Saw Stars.

Buy it wherever you get good books.

‘Any Ordinary Day’ by Leigh Sales – A Book About Blindsides, Resilience and What Happens After the Worst Day of Your Life

We’ve all heard a tragic news story and subsequently wondered what the chances are it could happen to us, and what our life would then look like. After a personal brush with death, journalist Leigh Sales was driven to find answers about how vulnerable each of us is to a life-changing event.

Her new book, Any Ordinary Day, explores what happens when ordinary people, on an ordinary day, experience catastrophic events. She speaks with those who’ve faced the unimaginable – from terrorism, to natural disaster, to simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time – and in a warm and candid manner, asks questions that most of wonder but would be too afraid to ask.

As someone that’s led a pretty sweet existence so far, with no real trauma or grief to deal with, I’ve often pondered when my run of good luck will be up and how I’d cope if something catastrophic was forced upon me, so I found the research in this book about how the human brain processes fear and grief strangely comforting.

Far from being a depressing read, it’s an honest and beautifully written commentary on humanity and resilience. It’s also a much-needed resource for how to be helpful to others who are dealing with grief or trauma.

Read an extract of Any Ordinary Day

Buy as a book, EBook or audio

The Book ‘Factfulness – Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World And Why Things Are Better Than You Think’

I’ve been wondering why I’ve been in such a good mood recently. Is it that spring is here? Is it that my children seem to have mellowed a bit? Or is it that I finished the book ‘Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About The World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think’ a few weeks ago and as the title implies, I’ve been wrong about the world and things are better than I think?

Here’s what it’s about:

“When asked simple questions about global trends – why the world’s population is increasing; how many young women go to school; how many of us live in poverty – we systematically get the answers wrong. So wrong that a chimpanzee choosing answers at random will consistently outguess journalists, Nobel laureates, and investment bankers.

Professor of International Health and a man who can make data sing, Hans Rosling, together with his two long-time collaborators Anna and Ola, offers a radical new explanation of why this happens and reveals the ten instincts that distort our perspective.

It turns out that the world, for all its imperfections, is in a much better state than we might think. But when we worry about everything all the time instead of embracing a worldview based on facts, we can lose our ability to focus on the things that threaten us most.”

Read an edited excerpt of Factfulness.

 

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay & Disaster

If you read only one book this year, make it The Trauma Cleaner.

“A poignant and powerful celebration of one remarkable woman’s unrelenting drive to make order from chaos,” it tells the story of Sandra Pankhurst, a trauma cleaner. But before she was a trauma cleaner, she was many things: a husband and father, drag queen, gender reassignment patient, sex worker, small businesswoman and trophy wife.

As a little boy, raised in violence and excluded from the family home, Sandra just wanted to belong. Now she believes her clients deserve no less.

Sarah Krasnostein spent four years researching and writing this award-winning, extraordinary biography. If you are not moved by this book, your heart is likely made of stone.

For those in Sydney, Sarah Krasnostein is speaking about The Trauma Cleaner at the Sydney Writers Festival on 5th May.

Read an extract.
Read a review.
Learn more about The Trauma Cleaner.

Book: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air is a moving and sad yet inspiring memoir by a young neurosurgeon faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis who attempts to answer the question, ‘What makes a life worth living?

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.

When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father.

It’s an emotional investment and although it is about dying, for the most part, the indelible impression it leaves is that it is more about living.

Read a review of When Breath Becomes Air.

Buy the book.

Seven Types of Ambiguity TV Series – A Gripping Psychological Thriller

Based on the critically acclaimed novel ‘Seven Types of Ambiguity’ by award-winning author Elliot Perlman, this six-part TV series is a gripping psychological thriller told from the shifting perspective of six characters following a complicated chain of events triggered when a child is taken and relationships are thrown into crisis. The Australian cast is impressive on paper and on screen with Hugo Weaving, Alex Dimitriades, Xavier Samuel, Leeanna Walsman, Andrea Demetriades, Anthony Hayes and Susie Porter. I read the book years ago when it came out (2005), loved it, and wondered how long before someone would adapt it for the screen. Read more about Seven Types of Ambiguity. See what SMH has to say about it. Watch the trailer. Watch the series on ABC iView (until 1st June) or on iTunes.

Empathy Cards and Book

I love the idea behind this book There Is No Good Card For This: What to Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful and Unfair to People You Love. We’ve all been there and sadly the older you get, the more likely you’ll hear that crap stuff has happened to those you know and love. I doubt many of us can confidently say we’ve handled these moments with aplomb. One of the authors of the book also creates these brilliant empathy cards that are a sweet, honest and often much needed/appreciated way to tell someone you’re thinking of them and there for them when bad shit happens and you don’t quite know what to say. Like this ‘Infertility Judging‘ card or ‘Everything Happens‘ card. The creator, Emily McDowell, also has a range of cards you can send via Paperless Post to make it even easier.

Fight Like a Girl – Clementine Ford’s Debut Book

Clementine Ford‘s debut book Fight Like A Girl is personal, brave, honest and powerful. It’s described as “an essential manifesto for feminists new, old and soon-to-be, and exposes just how unequal the world continues to be for women. Crucially, it is a call to arms for all women to rediscover the fury that has been suppressed by a society that still considers feminism a threat. It will make you laugh, cry and scream… it will make you demand and fight for a world in which women have real equality and not merely the illusion of it.” I opted for the audio version (narrated by Ford) and found her voice so impactful in telling her story. A chapter in, I vowed to buy it for my daughter to gift to her when she’s old enough to read it but by the end, I felt it was an important read for everyone, regardless of gender. Watch her talk about it. Buy the book.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance – A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis – that of white working-class Americans. I’m borrowing words from Amy Chua given she sums this book up perfectly: “A beautifully and powerfully written memoir about the author’s journey from a troubled, addiction-torn Appalachian family to Yale Law School, Hillbilly Elegy is shocking, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, and hysterically funny. It’s also a profoundly important book, one that opens a window on a part of America usually hidden from view and offers genuine hope in the form of hard-hitting honesty.” Given Vance’s turbulent upbringing, it amazed me that he was able to write in a straight, honest (and at times very loving) way without ever being patronising or attempting to gain sympathy. Compelling reading. Read a reviewBuy the book.

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