Friday, June 16, 2017

On Reading Hard Books in Trying Times

"Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers."

- Charles William Eliot

Today we will attend the funeral of a child. Our team will hold each other close, as we've done for the past six days, as we remember our student and mourn his loss.

There are so many reasons why it's hard to be a teacher, and so many more reasons that make it hard to teach in a place where children are forced to grow up too quickly every day. Our students were not carefree from the start -- they lead hard lives, and while we teach them about history and science and mathematics, we know that there are some things that are more important for them to know -- that we love them, that our school is a safe space, and that they can come to us and we will celebrate their joy in good times and share their tears in hard times. We've seen some of them cross the threshold into an unforgiving adult reality this week.

I read Beartown by Fredrik Backman this week in anticipation of our author chat for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. I was wary of this book to begin with -- I had a rough idea of the storyline that it contained already and knew that it was a topic that I felt sensitive to from the start. There was no question of me reading it -- I trust Anne Bogel's recommendations with blind loyalty and know Backman to be both a prolific writer and an author that I revere -- but I knew that picking it up this week in particular meant that I was choosing to read a book about hard things in a hard season. 

Grieving is a peculiar process, and I've seen it play out this week in many different forms. Grief is something that catches you unexpectedly, in odd moments. I find myself strongest when I'm with my students and weakest when I least expect it -- standing in line at the coffee shop, suddenly hearing a news story about the accident on the radio, on a walk when I pause to watch the sunrise.

Grieving is an uncomfortable process, and reading Beartown was an uncomfortable experience. Though the story that Backman writes contains plenty of tragedy, it's a story of survival, and as I read I realized I noticed more and more the threads that reach out into my current reality. 

In the end, I felt glad that I read the book. It helped me to acknowledge my grief. As a lifelong reader, I've frequently turned to books in hard seasons, but I've always chosen gentle reads. I've learned this week that reading a hard book in a hard season does not add to the solemness, but that the lessons embedded only help to start the healing process.

In the spirit of healing, I've returned to gentler reads for the next few days, and while I'm grateful to Beartown for its counsel, I feel lighter from the friendship that comes with reading a book that transports me from a hard season into another time and place.


How do you go about reading in hard seasons of life?


  1. I am so sorry about the loss of your student. For a child to die so young is unimaginable to me. Thoughts and prayers for him and all those who love him.

  2. So sorry to hear about the tragedy in your life - it sounds absolutely heartbreaking. Thinking of you and all of those affected by the loss. Like you were saying, I usually turn to an "easier" book in periods of hardship in life. Beartown wrecked me emotionally, so I can only imagine how you felt reading it on top of the grief you are experiencing. I imagine it was a bit cathartic in its own way too. I hope the chat with Backman was everything you guys were expecting!! Beartown was one of the best books I've read so far this year and I am partway through Ove right now and loving that too. His writing is absolutely phenomenal.

  3. I am so, so very sorry for your loss. I'm a high school teacher, and we lost a senior in February. I definitely went through what you described, including crying in grocery stores and often in my car. I'm thinking of your school community, nothing is harder than mourning a child, I hope you can lean on each other and that summer is a time of healing. --Renee

  4. Sending love and comfort to you. As teachers we do indeed seem to hold the world in our hands, and when the world is broken, we have to stay strong for our students while we're torn apart inside. I hope you've found some sweet rest and serenity from your favorite, gentle reads.