“Fear is isolating for those that fear. And I have come to believe that fear is a cruelty to those who are feared” (Biss 154). This statement, like so many of Biss’ revelations in Notes From No Man’s Land, gave me pause. Fear is isolating. Fear is cruel. And, as her cousin tells us, fear is violence.
Growing up is, in many ways, about facing your fears and overcoming them. Riding a bike is scary the first time you do it. So is sleeping over at a friend’s house. And going to college. We are afraid of what is unfamiliar. To accept these fears as absolute truths would be debilitating. We would never venture into the world or try new things. And yet, as adults, we allow our fears to become immutable. We become settled in our routines, comfortable in our circles of friends, and we stagnate. We cease to push the boundaries of our fears and we are instead penned-in by them. As Biss points out, “Fear is accepted…as a kind of intelligence” (157-158). It becomes prudent to be afraid.
I do not advise imprudence. There are real dangers in the world and caution is often necessary. But I wonder, with Biss, whether “insularity is a fair price to pay for safety” (154). I strongly suspect that it is not. Fear of people, especially fear of whole groups of people, demands that we avoid those people. It demands that we do not take the bus through a particular neighborhood. It demands that we carefully separate our homes from their homes, our schools from their schools. It demands that we do not make eye contact, or smile, or offer a helping hand. It demands that we treat other humans as less-than-human. It demands that we perpetuate age-old oppressions.
None of us lives without fears, but perhaps we can mitigate the damage they cause by examining them critically, by engaging them, and by growing out of them.
Biss, Eula. Notes From No Man’s Land. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2009. Print.
Almost gone are the days of beach trips and flip flops. Too soon they will be replaced by stiff school shoes, scratchy leggings, and perfectly pleated pants. Books can feel like this. We (and by “we,” I mostly mean “I”) spent our summer reading fluff. Words like cotton candy stuck to the corners of our brains with the sticky- sweet consistency of burnt sugar. But then we realized that our children’s school sent home a summer reading list that we really ought to have started before August fifteenth. The school books, as good as they are, feel like a pair of new shoes; they are not yet broken in enough to be welcome to our warm weather frame of mind.
If you find this to be the case, I recommend trying books without words (or books with as few words as possible). Ease back into reading lists with tales that let your brain tell the story on its own terms. Soon enough, then, your syllabi will taste like warm apple pie, smell like crisp autumn air, and feel like your favorite fuzzy fleece against you skin.
Here are a few of my favorite (nearly) wordless wonders:
10. Chalk by Bill Thomson
9. Sector 7 by David Wiesner ( J-P W63s)
8. Zoom by Istvan Banyai ( J-P B227z)
7. The Arrival by Shaun Tan ( J 741.5 T153a0)
6. Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day ( J-P D323g)
5. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs ( J-P B7644s)
4. Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathman
3. The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney ( J-P P648L)
2. Flotsam by David Wiesner ( J-P W6365FL)
1. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg ( J-P V265m)
I grew up adoring the 1980s Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea TV mini-series. In my opinion, Megan Follows will forever be the perfect Anne Shirley. As a child it was a treat to catch it on my local PBS station (and luck… this was before the days of channel guides and DVR) and as an adult it’s my sick-day movie and never fails to comfort me. It wasn’t until much later in life that I read my way through L.M. Montgomery’s series starring the spirited Anne Shirley. As the book and mini-series can’t really be separated in my mind, this Style by the Book is inspired by both.
Want more Anne Shirley? The Library has Anne of Green Gables (J M76a) available in print and The Complete Chronicles of Avonlea as an e-book!
Do you have a favorite book that you want to see featured on Style by the Book? Share your suggestions in the comments!