A Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

“Woman must come of age by herself…
She must find her true center alone.”

That’s the pervading message of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s classic book: a woman must find herself, define herself, in the crowded chaos of daily life. A Gift From the Sea is a meditation on life, on love, on relationships, on parenthood, but above all it’s about what it means to be a woman. Lindbergh draws inspiration from two weeks spent alone at the beach, in a simple, run-down cottage that she’s rented to reconnect with herself. Leaving her husband and children and day-to-day responsibilities behind, she embraces her new-found solitude, using the time to reflect and write. The book is, in addition to being a treatise on modern-day womanhood (albeit a 1950s-era version), a love letter to the cleansing and healing power of the sea, the sand, the ocean air. The ocean and its treasures, lessons and wisdom serve to frame her reflections–each chapter uses a different type of shell as a metaphor for the things Lindbergh is talking about, and she often finds inspiration in the things she sees each day.

I was given this book at a very timely moment in my life: my college graduation party. A close family friend gave it to me, and that couldn’t be more fitting: I’ve known her since I was two, and she is, as a result, one of the most influential women in my life. It took me a while to pick it up, though, and I can’t really figure out why (that’s a lie, actually–my never-ending pile/list of “to-reads” is the reason). I firmly believe in books coming to you when you’re ready for them, and I’m not sure I was in the right frame of mind in my chaotic post-college daze to appreciate the wisdom this book offers. Now, over two years later, Lindbergh’s struggles to find balance, independence, and strength as a woman amidst the business of day-to-day life is something I can identify with much more strongly. It also helps that my relationship with my boyfriend has grown and changed dramatically in that time, and so the emphasis on what it means to be a true partner in a mature and stable relationship resonates in a way that I don’t think it would have two years ago.

All that being said, it’s truly remarkable to me that a book written in the 1950’s as a treatise on womanhood could be so relevant six decades later. There were, as is to be expected, a few moments where I was reminded of the limitations Lindbergh and other woman of the era faced (she makes it clear that most women, especially of her social class, were housewives, with few professional opportunities), but on the whole, the message of the book transcends any single time period. I loved that, and it made me feel a comforting sense of connection to Lindbergh, to her contemporaries, to my mother and the family friend who gave me the book (they both read it when they were around my age), to my grandmother (who Lindbergh reminded me of), to all of the other women struggling to define themselves, to express themselves, to be who they were meant to be. I don’t often write in my books, just because defacing that creamy-white paper feels like a sin somehow, but I broke my rule for this one, underlining and starring passages all over the place. This book feels like a mantra, and it’s one of those very few that I knew, as soon as it was over, that I’d be revisiting time and time again for the rest of my life. I look forward to picking it up in a year, or ten, or fifty, and seeing the notes I scribbled to myself when I was just twenty-four and figuring it all out, re-reading Lindbergh’s words and finding new meaning in them.

It’s rare that a book affects me on such a profound level, makes me think and inspires me to strive for the things that I want while reassuring me that it’s possible to do so, even with a family and friends and daily obligations. A Gift From the Sea should be required reading for all women, of all ages, because it just says it all in a way I’ve never quite seen before.

Advertisements

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

responsibility12(alternate)

Allie Brosh is something of a personal hero(ine) of mine. I don’t remember how I came across her blog, but I do remember that the first time I visited it, I spent the next few hours reading her entire archive of posts, actually laughing out loud. Her blog (and the resulting book) is sort of a memoir–she’s a bit like David Sedaris, in that her stories are based in reality but clearly exaggerated and adjusted to maximize humor–and sort of an assortment of ramblings on random topics. Mostly, it’s made up of illustrated stories about her two dogs, her childhood escapades, and, especially recently (and most poignantly), her struggles with anxiety and depression.

First of all, I dare you to read one of the pieces in the book and not laugh, or at least crack a smile. It’s fundamentally impossible. Brosh is just flat-out hilarious, and this book was so much fun to read. There’s just something about the amateurish MS-Paint drawings combined with her self-deprecating and slightly sarcastic humor that just kills me, and I don’t remember the last time I had so much fun reading a book. As a fan of the blog, I was happy to see some of her classic pieces included (the birthday cake story is one of my favorites), and loved seeing some new ones, too (the pinecone hunting incident is hilarious). She manages to keep the humor consistent throughout, which I appreciated, although I don’t necessarily recommend reading straight-through like I did. Her humor is more effective in smaller doses, I think, and I’m going to have to revisit some of the pieces towards the end to fully appreciate them.

The two true stand-outs of the collection, though, are two pieces (well, technically three–one’s a two-parter) that deal with Brosh’s experiences with mental illness. You wouldn’t expect (or I didn’t, at least) for some of the most accurate, uncomfortably true-to-life depictions of living with depression to come from a cartoon. And yet that’s what Brosh has created–it’s still funny, in that awkward way when you’re recognizing yourself in what you’re reading, but it’s powerful in its honesty. Depression is generally, in my experience anyway, glossed over or dramatized to a degree that most people can’t relate to. But what Brosh portrays is the depression that feels a whole lot more real, the kind you’re almost slightly embarrassed by, because surely it could be worse. Hers (and mine, and I suspect a lot of peoples’) is not really something that feels newsworthy, or worthy of being covered in a book or a movie. It feels like something that needs to be sucked up and dealt with, or ignored, or something to be played down. And that’s one of the things I love most about Hyperbole–it’s bringing attention to the fact that depression is depression and just because one person’s might be a lot more visible, or a lot closer to what people imagine when they think of the word, doesn’t discount another person’s experience with the same illness. But despite the serious and important subject matter, Brosh is never preachy, and never gets into after school special territory, and, most importantly, never stops being funny. And that’s how I know Brosh is the real deal, and shouldn’t be discounted just because her medium is a little bit different from what’s considered the norm.

If you’re a tried-and-true Hyperbole fan, this is well worth the money to own. I would have perhaps liked more new content, but I’m also happy to have my favorite pieces from the blog in book form. If you’ve never read anything by Brosh before, this is a great place to start–and once you’re done, go check out her archives.