It’s that time of the year when reading challenges are popping up on lots of blogs. There are so many great ones and I especially love the emphasis I’m seeing on underrepresented voices. As someone who’s gotten more serious about my writing in the last year, I’ve realized that this means getting more serious about reading.
As a kid, I’d sometimes go through a book a day– Goosebumps or Babysitter’s Club. In high school, I devoured my English class reading lists, always reading ahead of the class in 1984 or 100 Years of Solitude. Though I continued to read after graduation, the demands of college, then grad school, then parenthood slowed my pace waaaay down. Now I’ve been intetionally kicking it back into gear. If you’re a writer who, like me, wants to read to improve their writing, I’ve created this challenge for YOU– I hope it encourages you to push your limits with reading in a way that maximizes your efforts and deepens your involvement in the writing community!
Beta read for another writer This will be more than worth the effort when you have a beta reader for your own book. It’s also incredibly helpful to see books in their unpolished form. Plus, won’t it be cool to be on someone’s acknowledgments page?
When I was coming up with this reading list, I toyed with several different directions that I could go. I considered a reading list comprised of novels loosely related to mine. Perhaps consisting of science fiction or dystopian reads with political themes, but with a slightly different twist. I considered other dystopian novels inspired by current events at the time they were written. Then, while turning to my bookshelf for inspiration, I thought about the various books I have reached for these past two years. About the books that helped keep me grounded or allowed me to open my eyes to the experiences of others when I was craving precisely that. I realized this was the type of list I wanted to build.
I hope a few of these books find their way onto your bookshelf, and that you reach for one when you need it. Whether you want to blanket yourself with inspiring words when anxiety is on the rise and the news is moving too fast to keep up with, or when you’re seeking to stretch those empathy muscles by pushing beyond your comfort zone, or you simply want to read a poignant story about the beauty of monarchs and the importance of conservation—this reading list is for you. Happy reading!
Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig
“Reading isn’t important because it helps to get you a job. It’s important because it gives you room to exist beyond the reality you’re given. It is how humans merge. How minds connect. Dreams. Empathy. Understanding. Escape.”
― Matt Haig, Notes on a Nervous Planet
In this series of essays, Matt Haig tackles anxiety in the age of social media and news overload. If I had to select one book to sit on tables in doctor’s offices, mental health facilities, dentist’s offices, salons, that weird spare room at the mechanic’s next to the vending machine, or anywhere else someone is left waiting… it would be this one.
It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
“More and more, as I think about history,” he pondered, “I am convinced that everything that is worth while in the world has been accomplished by the free, inquiring, critical spirit, and that the preservation of this spirit is more important than any social system whatsoever. But the men of ritual and the men of barbarism are capable of shutting up the men of science and of silencing them forever.”
― Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here
Originally written in 1935, this novel that explores how quickly democracy can be dismantled stands the test of time.
Hope Nation: YA Authors Share Personal Moments of Inspiration, edited by Rose Brock
“So what is Hope Nation? Simply, it’s a collection of unique and personal experiences shared by some of my favorite writers for teens. Stories of resilience, resistance, hardship, loss, love, tenacity, and acceptance—stories that prove that sometimes, hope can be found only on the other side of adversity. I’m so grateful to each of these talented writers for sharing their own paths to hope.”
― Rose Brock, Hope Nation
As with any compilation, some essays hit harder than others, and with a collection like this one, readers will certainly find those that reach out and pull them in for personal reasons. My favorites included The Kids Who Stick by Jason Reynolds & Brendan Kiely, Don’t Listen to the A**Holes by Atia Abawi, and Baseball Pasta by Christina Diaz Gonzalez.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
“It’s hard not to feel humorless, as a woman and a feminist, to recognize misogyny in so many forms, some great and some small, and know you’re not imagining things. It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the fuck away. The problem is not that one of these things is happening; it’s that they are all happening, concurrently and constantly.”
― Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist
In the current climate, talking directly about sexual assault, feminism, and misogyny has to happen if progress is to be made. Roxane Gay gives us the opportunity to approach these heavy topics with a dash of humor, and to recognize we are all human and we aren’t going to get it right 100% of the time.
All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds
“Had our hearts really become so numb that we needed dead bodies in order to feel the beat of compassion in our chests? Who am I if I need to be shocked back into my best self?”
― Jason Reynolds, All American Boys
This moving YA novel, written from two vastly different perspectives, transports the reader into the middle of the Black Lives Matter movement and the ongoing fight for racial equality in our country.
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
“Being privileged doesn’t mean that you are always wrong and people without privilege are always right. It means that there is a good chance you are missing a few very important pieces of the puzzle.”
― Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race
If you’re ready to dive head-first into race relations(and learn about privilege, police brutality, microaggressions, and bridging the gap), this book is for you.
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
“Science doesn’t tell us what we should do. It only tells us what is.”
― Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior
This is my favorite novel tackling the topic of climate change. Follow a young-woman’s paradigm shift as she discovers her family property now falls within the flight path of migrating monarchs.
American Like Me by America Ferrera
“I was beginning to learn that bravery is like a muscle, and once you flex it, you can’t stop. And being authentic requires a lot of bravery.”
— Reshma Saujani, American Like Me
Compelling first-hand accounts of what it is like to grow up in America for those who may not always feel like they meet the standard mold of an American. Voices such as Lin-Manuel Miranda and Issa Rae chime in.
When Mr. Gaudet approached me to talk about his book, I was immediately intrigued. He is a unique author to me, as he is someone who has suffered kidney disease for most of his life, to the point of requiring organ donation. Mr. Gaudet writes frankly and openly about his experiences, and his message is clear and important. Organ donation is a vital need for so many people out there, but it is something that has a strange stigma attached. Mr. Gaudet has taken his time and energy to write about his experiences to help educate the public about his personal journey and health for the betterment of all. Please enjoy the following interview and pick up a copy of his book, “Dancing with Rejection”.
Tell us a little bit about your book, “Dancing with Rejection”.
I particularly admire the review that was written by best-selling author Eldonna Edwards:
“Intriguing story of an enterprising muralist with an appetite for the mystical. Part magical realism, part biography, part how-to guide for the aspiring artist — Dancing With Rejection offers a unique narrative, embellished with spiritual and metaphysical undertones that border on the ethereal. Michael’s saga takes the reader on adventures that include his formative childhood, bohemian lifestyle, a near-death experience with kidney failure and eventual success as a renowned mural artist. This inspirational tale is tenderly painted with brush strokes of resilience and hope that will alter your heart’s canvas long after you put the book down.”
–Eldonna Edwards, Living Donor Advocate and Author of Lost In Transplantation: Memoir of an Unconventional Organ Donor.
As I like to say, “If you believe what you are reading, I offer irrefutable proof of ‘life after death’ in my writing. Dancing with Rejection: A Beginner’s Guide to Immortality explores the phenomenon of “After Death Contact” in a visceral, sometimes shocking way, that springs out of seemingly ordinary scenarios. Not for the feint of heart, this book can be very jarring, but always written with a loving nature that pleads for understanding and compassion.
What made you decide to write a book about your experiences with your health?
I have always written about my thoughts and observations since I was a teenager. So, I had a thick raft of long-hand on loose-leaf. I wrote about my “Near-Death Experience” at age 19, and the powerful influence that my deceased father had on my life over the years. Might sound strange, but my personal encounters with his spirit are undeniable, if not inexplicable. My brother Steven donated a life-saving kidney to me in 1979, after I was diagnosed with End Stage Renal Failure. His “Gift of Life” sustained me in excellent health for over 34 years. In May of 2014 I returned to dialysis. I purchased a laptop and began to transcribe all of my hand-written notes into a digital format. I was very determined to make the best of my twelve hours per week tethered to a machine. After all, there is no guarantee that a dialysis patient will survive the rigors of the treatment. In fact, many patients succumb to the precarious life of dialysis. So, the sense of urgency was top of mind, as I toiled away on the project to polish up my manuscript and get my story out to the world. I would not be deterred! Within about eighteen months I had succeeded in publishing my first book. About a year later, I succeeded in publishing my second book, called “A Work in Progress: The Life my Brother Saved”.
What sort of feedback have you had from others in similar circumstances?
Generally speaking, my books have been very well-received by my friends and colleagues that have experienced extreme health challenges, especially my fellow Dialysis Warriors and kidney transplant recipients, and living kidney donors. I think the big appeal is that they see their own stories reflected in a literary setting. I take this whole business very seriously, so treat the fairly delicate themes of “Near Death Experience” and “After Death Contact” with a lot of graphic detail. However, I do not mince my words; but rather, I forge head-long into that rather harrowing subject matter with unflinching honesty.
Has speaking out about your health changed you or made things easier for you in any way?
I won’t lie. It was not easy to put down in writing all of the sometimes painful memories of my long, slow decline to the point where I came so close to an early demise. I really believe that my readers have appreciated my candor. Some people have told me that they see themselves in the more “difficult” passages, and also can share my celebratory tones in the chapters that extol the human triumphs of renewed health and vitality. Now, reflecting on these places, times and (extraordinary) people can be a saving grace in and of itself. I am truly blessed that I had the opportunity and determined spirit that enabled me to record all of this for posterity.
Tell us about why it is so hard to receive organ donation.
Probably the most daunting aspect of living organ donation is dispelling the myths around the health challenges involved. Really, once the rigorous testing is completed for the potential living donor, it’s pretty smooth sailing in most instances. The actual surgery is often done “laparoscopically”, which means there are only tiny incisions, assisted by ultrasonic viewing. The recovery time is dramatically reduced, compared to the former, long incision used to harvest a kidney from a living donor. Having said that, it is still major surgery, so the willingness for a person to donate must be tempered by this knowledge. The reality is, once a willing candidate to donate a life-saving kidney to person who is dialysis-dependent is identified, a perfect tissue match is not a prerequisite! There is a protocol called “Paired Match”, where a willing, qualified donor can be paired with the best possible match in a National Recipient Pool. This activates the best possible donor from the pool to be paired to the original recipient. In some instances, the “Paired Match” protocol has brought over a dozen paired matches together!
What is it like having to go through hemodialysis?
Hemodialysis is a life-saving therapy that both cleans the blood of accumulated toxins and also, helps rid the blood of the fluids that add up between treatments. Generally speaking, the duration of treatments are prescribed to alleviate the threat of kidney failure, providing a fairly healthy lifestyle. Having said that, there are times when the dialysis patient feels “off”. Examples of this are “brain-fog”, shortness of breath, general fatigue, elevated blood pressure and of course, swelling of the extremities. In extreme cases, certain toxins such as potassium, urea and sodium accumulate and cause their own world of trouble.
I am one of the rare birds that self-cannulate, or, in other words, insert my own needles in the venus and arterial parts of my “fistula”, which are the sites on my left arm that have been surgically prepped to allow the therapy. Usually the pain involved in initiating the therapy is fairly minimal, mostly due to the fact that I am the one in the driver’s seat. Sometimes, when things go awry, the needles can “blow”, which means they pierce the fistula to allow blood to escape into the surrounding tissue, resulting in a sudden “ballooning” and then, fairly extreme bruising. The only relief is to apply an ice-pack over the site, and then move away from the spot for the next treatment, if at all possible.
My doctor has told me the my fistula is a) my lifeline, and b) the Gold Standard for dialysis. So, any tests, like blood-work or blood-pressure, must NEVER be using my left arm. My Medic-Alert bracelet states that salient fact clearly, in the event that I cannot speak for myself.
What do you think is the most important thing you want people to learn from reading your book?
I want my readers to appreciate that a healthy and very productive life can spring from out of the chaos and confusion of a near brush with death. I can only thank my loving brother Steven for insisting that he donate a life-saving kidney in my dire time of need all those years ago. “Dancing with Rejection” not only describes my own near-fatal experience, but also chronicles the heroic “Gift of Life” from my brother, and goes on to assure my readers that Steven went on to live a full and rich life in the aftermath. It is my (fervent) hope that this story will inspire many others to take the step to become a living donor, and also to reassure the millions of us living with the insidious condition of kidney failure that their day will come, when they are restored to vibrant health and wellness.
What other books have you written/are working on?
I have published my second book called, “A Work in Progress: The Life My Brother Saved”, that tracks some of my significant mural projects, portrays the “love of my life” and introduces the indomitable “Pearl”… who is my daughter. This second book terminates at the moment when I discover, after over thirty-four years of life with my “Gift of Life”, that I must return to thrice-weekly dialysis. Now, I am marinating a third book, that will constitute the complete “trilogy” of my memoirs. The third book, as of yet untitled, will be written in “real time” as I enter the next phase of my life with second “Gift of Life”, that will gain me back my seven days a week, God and all the angels willing.