Sunday, August 3, 2014

Thank You! (And Some Book Reviews)

A while back, I installed CentUp on my blog after a friend recommended it to me. It's a program where people can give a few cents to content that they like on the internet (blog posts, videos, music, etc.) Half of the money goes to the creator, and half goes to a charity. At the time, I wrote a post about my thoughts on money, blogging, and internet content.

Blogging is not a job for me, something that I reflected on a lot as I attended this year's BlogHer and heard talk about "monetization" and "ROI" and "SEO" bantered about. This is a work of passion, and the primary rewards are a platform for community and conversation and the chance to work out my own thoughts for other projects in my life.

It was nice, though, to get a check from my CentUp account right before I went on vacation, and with your support, I purchased two beach reads (which really meant plane reads because my daughter was much too active for me to read on the beach).

I got Cheryl Strayed's Wild and Allie Brosh's Hyperbole and a Half.

So, first of all, an immense and heartfelt thank you to everyone who has read something I've written and responded with comments, sharing, or pushing that CentUp button at the bottom. You are what makes writing this blog an interactive and rewarding endeavor. Thank you, thank you, thank you. 

Secondly, I thought I would take a few minutes to reflect on these two books, which ended up having a lot in common in very strange ways. 

Wild is the autobiographical account of Cheryl Strayed's hike up the Pacific Crest Trail, an endeavor she embarked on alone in her mid-twenties in the aftermath of drug addiction, her divorce, and her mother's quickly lost battle with cancer. She faces her inner demons along with bears, snow covered mountains, scorching and waterless miles of trail, and the utter disbelief that she's doing it as a woman on her own. 

Wild is set to become a film starring Reese Witherspoon, and the trailer was released last month:

Hyperbole and a Half is the book version of Allie Brosh's blog of the same name, and it is hilarious. Through simple but poignant illustrations and a writing style that leaves you laughing too hard to realize you should be crying, Brosh catalogues her own life stories of depression, childhood memories, and social anxiety. 

The styles of these two books could not be more different. Just watch the trailer for Wild and then go look at any random post on Brosh's blog. They are at opposite ends of the rhetorical spectrum. What Brosh attacks with sarcasm and a shrug of the shoulders, Strayed attacks with earnest and sometimes brutal honesty (there's a scene about Strayed's horse that had tears rolling down my cheeks in public). 

While the method of delivery may be very, very different, though, these two books share a lot. They are both autobiographical slices of particular moments as an attempt to make sense of the whole, and they both do that sharing with honesty, vulnerability, and sincerity. When Brosh writes that she is trying to win adult responsibility like a trophy she can display, she echoes the very same concerns that Strayed voices when she discusses not getting her BA because she failed to turn in one five-page essay that would have let her complete her degree. When Strayed discusses how the weight of her backpack digging into her hips and shoulders has left her incapable of reflecting on the life lessons she thinks she should be worried about, she echoes the same issues Brosh tackles when she imagines her identity as a do-gooder as a cloak that keeps her from admitting she's an asshole. 

Both women give authentic and personal voice to nearly ubiquitous concerns of life and loss, of pain and joy. Reading them back to back was a rewarding endeavor that made me think about how we might get to choose the methods we use for tackling life's most difficult spots, but we don't get to avoid them. 

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