Author Archives: Anne Thériault

Heed The Call Or Let It Go To Voicemail?

Hi Literopathy,

I’m smack dab in the middle of my life; a mother, wife and dutiful employee. I have heard the call of my heart, career wise (life wise, spirit wise) but don’t know how to move from where I’m at to where I believe I need to be. The call is powerful and potent, but the restrictions are things of my own choosing and things I love and can’t give up. Do I heed the call of the universe, and do what I’m supposed to do? If so, how? Or do I tend to practical things only. It seems so late in life to make such changes. What should I read to help me make my future clear?

Sincerely, 

H

Dear H,

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a crystal ball, to just feel sure of where we’re going and what we’re doing? To have a goal, to know we’re meant for great things, that all this humdrum and routine bullshit is actually worth something, actually going somewhere? Aren’t we all adventurers in our own special ways?

And when we can’t be adventuring, when we really can’t make the endless piles of paperwork, red tape, dirty diapers and dishes turn magically into creative fodder and ambitious design, don’t we deserve to rekindle our lust for that spark? It’s that spark, after all, that joy of adventuring into the unknown, that gets us up in the morning, that drives us through the day. Don’t we all wish we could be the protagonists of our stories, constantly hurled into a set of coincidences that force us into action, plot devices that not only pause our dull lives but alter their courses forever?

The books that I’m about to recommend are not what one might call ‘works of literary genius.’ They haven’t won (too many) prizes, or brought in accolades. In fact, some of them have been criticized a fair bit, and for good reason. If you’re not willing to fly by the seat of your pants, let go of disbelief and truly adventure, these books aren’t going to do it for you. But, trust me on this one, if you’re ready for change and adventure, these are the books you’re looking for.  When I (the person writing this prescription, not the entire group) read them in my 20s, they completely turned my life around because I was able to look past the flaws in the writing and grasp the message that was being put forth. I was able to turn the inspiration inward to myself. These books gave me hope that I, too, could find that kind of hope, adventure, love, strength, definition in my life. They made me believe that I, too, could find change, if only I could even just briefly let go of the practical things in my life that needed my attention..

The important thing to remember is that to experience a change, you have to be open to it. You have to be ready to see it. And we cannot see change if we’re knee-deep in laundry, wishing that the universe would just tell us already what the heck we’re doing here. But the universe isn’t always so obliging, is it? “Be the change you want to see in the world,” someone important once said, and as trite as that sounds, sometimes it’s what we need to do in order to build the lives that we want.

With all of this in mind, dear mid-life, routinized-to-death reader, here is a book that may convince you that you don’t have to give up the daily grind in order to follow your calling. You have the ability to do both, if you just put faith in yourself and invite life and all its unpredictability in, even just a little bit.

All of this is to explain why our prescription for you is James Redfield’s The Celestine Prophecy.

Here’s the blurb on Goodreads (and I share it in its entirety for a reason, stand by.)

The Celestine Prophecy contains secrets that are currently changing our world. Drawing on ancient wisdom, it tells you how to make connections among the events happening in your own life right now…and lets you see what is going to happen to you in the years to come!

A book that has been passed from hand to hand, from friend to friend, since it first appeared in small bookshops across America, The Celestine Prophecy is a work that has come to light at a time when the world deeply needs to read its words. The story it tells is a gripping one of adventure and discovery, but it is also a guidebook that has the power to crystallize your perceptions of why you are where you are in life…and to direct your steps with a new energy and optimism as you head into tomorrow.

In 2005, a friend of mine, a reporter I knew, handed me this book (along with Tom Robbins’ Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates, which you should also read). It was wrapped with a bow and everything, but it wasn’t a present. “You need to read this now, I think,” he said.

And he was right.

A reviewer sums it up fairly well: “On first read, I wanted to throw it in the bin. On the second read, I let go of the fact that it was badly written and the characters were bad and all the other flaws. I don’t think it was ever intended to be a work of literary wonder but as an accessible vehicle for ideas.”

And that’s what it looks like you’re looking for. Ideas. Not even Redfield’s ideas, but your own ideas. In this way, your reading experience will mimic the actual prescription for you, which is, let go a little bit, let the small stuff slide, don’t be so critical (of yourself), and allow others to help you find your way.

Now, if you really, truly hate this book (because a lot of people do – I’m going out on a limb here, recommending it to you), may I also suggest the aforementioned Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. It’s like The Celestine Prophecy only better written and funnier.

Here’s a brief synopsis:

Switters is a contradiction for all seasons: an anarchist who works for the government; a pacifist who carries a gun; a vegetarian who sops up ham gravy; a cyberwhiz who hates computers; a man who, though obsessed with the preservation of innocence, is aching to deflower his high-school-age stepsister (only to become equally enamored of a nun ten years his senior). Yet there is nothing remotely wishy-washy about Switters. He doesn’t merely pack a pistol. He is a pistol. And as we dog Switters’s strangely elevated heels across four continents, in and out of love and danger, discovering in the process the “true” Third Secret of Fatima, we experience Tom Robbins—that fearless storyteller, spiritual renegade, and verbal break dancer—at the top of his game. On one level this is a fast-paced CIA adventure story with comic overtones; on another it’s a serious novel of ideas that brings the Big Picture into unexpected focus; but perhaps more than anything else, Fierce Invalids is a sexy celebration of language and life.

Should both of those books fail you, there is also and always Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach.

To wit:

This is a story for people who follow their hearts and make their own rules…people who get special pleasure out of doing something well, even if only for themselves…people who know there’s more to this living than meets the eye: they’ll be right there with Jonathan, flying higher and faster than ever they dreamed.

Hey, at least I didn’t recommend any Deepak Chopra, right?

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We must assume every event has significance and contains a message that pertains to our questions…this especially applies to what we used to call bad things…the challenge is to find the silver lining in every event, no matter how negative. – James Redfield, The Celestine Prophecy

Books To Cure Insomnia

Dear Literopathy,

I have terrible sleep deprivation … what would you suggest?

Regards,

D in the UK

Dear D,

There is absolutely nothing worse than a bad case of insomnia. Well, possibly there are a few things worse than insomnia but, in our opinion, that list is short. There’s a reason that sleep deprivation is used as a method of torture.

One of the especially awful things about insomnia is that, unless you’ve been there, you don’t get it. And honestly, not getting it is fine – as long as you realize that you don’t get it and you don’t try to offer (usually obvious) solutions for someone else’s lack of sleep. Insomniacs have to suffer through hours of well-intentioned suggestions, ranging from drinking warm milk to practicing yoga to entirely giving up caffeine (pardon us while we shudder at the thought). We here at Literopathy won’t offer you anything like that – we realize that sometimes you just can’t sleep and, short of taking horse tranquilizers (which we don’t recommend), that’s that. But we also know that sometimes, the unwilling body can be coaxed, maybe even tricked, into sleep. So we did our best to find a book that will work for both scenarios.

Our prescription for you is Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. This thousand-page tome has been called “Harry Potter for grownups” (which is ridiculous, because we all know that Harry Potter is for people of almost any age), and centres around two men determined to bring magic, which has been absent for hundreds of years, back to England. The storyline is an alternative English history set during the Napoleonic Wars, with Mr. Norrell and his pupil Jonathan Strange using their skills as magicians to aid the English campaign. Its characters are complex and the the world it’s set in is rich with historical details. Oh and it’s full of footnotes. Fascinating, often hilarious footnotes.

What we love about this book is that the magic (much like sleep) is elusive, unpredictable and otherworldly. Although humans try to harness it for their own purposes, the fact is that magic is the element of Fairy and can only truly be understood by its inhabitants. Unlike in other works of fantasy, magic in Clarke’s novel isn’t just a convenient replacement for technology, it’s a force – a frightening, dangerous force, to be treated with a great deal of respect.

We recommend this book to you for three reasons. First of all, it’s interesting enough to occupy you during a long, wakeful night. Second of all, it’s dense enough to help lull you to sleep on nights when rest is elusive but not entirely impossible. Third of all, we think that you, as a current inhabitant of the United Kingdom, will get a kick out of its exploration of the idea of Englishness. For example, as Jonathan Strange explains, an Englishman would  be respectful with how he uses magic:

“Can a magician kill a man by magic?” Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. “I suppose a magician might,” he admitted, “but a gentleman never would.”

A gentleman would, however, spend his long, sleepless nights poring over the pages of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Even if you’re not a gentleman (a term that we’re not exactly sure that we approve of, anyway, or even fully understand), we think that this book will help.

For our readers, is that what you would have suggested? Or do you have another book in mind?

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There is nothing else in magic but the wild thought of the bird as it casts itself into the void. There is no creature upon the earth with such potential for magic. Even the least of them may fly straight out of this world and come by chance to the Other Lands. Where does the wind come from that blows upon your face, that fans the pages of your book? Where the harum-scarum magic of small wild creatures meets the magic of Man, where the language of the wind and the rain and the trees can be understood, there we will find the Raven King.

“I Am 35 And Living At Home With My Parents”

Our very first letter, from J:

I’m a 35-year old single mom who had to move in with my parents. Their love and support is wonderful and I am so grateful for sure… But sometimes THEY DRIVE ME CRAZY BECAUSE I AM 35 AND LIVING AT HOME WITH MY PARENTS.

Help.

Xo,
J

Dear J,

It sounds to us like you need a coming-of-age story. And not just any coming-of-age story, but a grown up one. See, the coming-of-age genre is one of our favourites, but we’ve realized that there is a dearth of these types of stories about adults; most of them centre around teens, or people in their early twenties, because that’s when we tend to think of people as “growing up”. But honestly, do we actually do all of our growing up at once, at only one specific time or age? Or do we do it slowly, in fits and starts, over the entire course of our lives?

We here at Literopathy believe that it’s the latter.

For this reason, our prescription for you is to read Fannie Flagg’s 1987 gem, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. We think that watching Evelyn’s transformation from miserable, lonely wife to empowered fighter who wants to challenge societal norms will inspire you. We hope that Idgie, Ruth and Evelyn’s stories will help you realize that people can change and grow into their lives at any age. We’re sure that the idea that a person can be use friendship and stories to help them find themselves and break free from the things that are holding them back will resonate with you. And, finally, we believe that the theme of the importance of family, and, through our families, our connections to the past, will help ease the frustration you feel about living with your parents.

Plus, the book is also chock-full of amazing recipes. So if you ever need to take a break from reading, you can try your hand at cooking.

Another great read along the same vein is Flagg’s Welcome To The World, Baby Girl!, which is about a successful woman who suffers a breakdown and has to move back to her home town and start her life over. If you find that Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe does not alleviate your symptoms, we recommend following it up with a dose of Welcome To The World, Baby Girl! 

We hope that you enjoy this book, and look forward to hearing back from you once you’ve completed your course of treatment. Literopathy can be administered at any time of day, though we do find that it’s most effective when done just before bedtime.

We would also love to hear any other suggested literopathy treatments from our readers. Think there’s another book that would suit this patient much better than the ones we’ve recommended? Please let us know in the comments!

Fried

“You know, a heart can be broken, but it keeps on beating, just the same.” – Fannie Flagg, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

 

Literopathy

lit·er·op·a·thy

/litərˈäpəTHē/

A system for the treatment of mental, emotional or physical anguish by doses of literature, be it in the form of prose, poetry, or theatrical plays.

You tell us what’s wrong.
We’ll tell you what to read.
You’ll feel better. Or at least smarter.

Send us problems at [email protected] or Literopathy on Facebook – it’s cheaper than therapy and much more fun.

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What Would Atticus Do?

Sometimes you don’t want to write to us with your problems, even anonymously. Sometimes you just want some unsolicited advice, or a great role model, or a general guide to living. Don’t worry. We get it. Which is why we’ve put together this handy list of Atticus-isms.

Because, really, the world would be a better place if more people stopped and wondered, “What would Atticus Finch do?”

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.

Right? I mean, right?

They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions … but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.

I wish I could hire Atticus to moderate, like, the entire internet.

The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box. As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it—whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.

Oh, no big deal, that was just Atticus explaining white privilege is all.

You just hold your head high and keep those fists down. No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ’em get your goat. Try fightin’ with your head for a change.

I do kind of love how scrappy Scout was, though. She’d fight anyone.

It’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.

I need a little Atticus to sit on my shoulder and whisper stuff like this to me whenever people are being assholes. Imagine a teeny-tiny Gregory Peck in a three-piece suit, just hanging out, maybe sometimes braiding my hair and telling me secrets. The best.

We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe- some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others- some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of men.

But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal- there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court.

This  quote is just chock-full of facts. Some ladies DO make better cakes than others. That’s a fact. Some people ARE born with more opportunity. That’s a fact. And yes, people do often misuse the phrase all men are created equal, and that’s a super annoying fact.

I have a crush on Atticus. That is yet another fact.

Also, immagine if this was how our court system actually operated.

This time we aren’t fighting the Yankees, we’re fighting our friends. But remember this, no matter how bitter things get, they’re still our friends and this is still our home.

I feel like someone needs to read this to me every time I get into an argument on Facebook. Because they’re still my friends, and Facebook is still a social network that I like to frequent.

Jem, see if you can stand in Bob Ewell’s shoes a minute. I destroyed his last shred of credibility at that trial, if he had any to begin with. The man had to have some kind of comeback, his kind always does. So if spitting in my face and threatening me saved Mayella Ewell one extra beating, that’s something I’ll gladly take. He had to take it out on somebody and I’d rather it be me than that houseful of children out there. You understand?

Atticus advocates turning the other cheek. Of course. He’s basically like Jesus, only white and with a southern accent.

Atticus had said it was the polite thing to talk to people about what they were interested in, not about what you were interested in.

This is good advice for pretty much everyone.

Bad language is a stage all children go through, and it dies with time when they learn they’re not attracting attention with it.

Ignore children who cuss. Check.

Oh, and speaking of child-rearing tips, here’s another one:

When a child asks you something, answer him, for goodness sake. But don’t make a production of it. Children are children, but they can spot an evasion faster than adults, and evasion simply muddles ’em.

So, you mean, don’t make up ridiculous stories when your kid asks you where babies come from?

If this thing’s hushed up it’ll be a simple denial to Jem of the way I’ve tried to raise him. Sometimes I think I’m a total failure as a parent, but I’m all they’ve got. Before Jem looks at anyone else he looks at me, and I’ve tried to live so I can look squarely back at him … if I connived at something like this, frankly I couldn’t meet his eye, and the day I can’t do that I’ll know I’ve lost him. I don’t want to lose him and Scout, because they’re all I’ve got.

Oh, and walk your talk, lead from the front, etc., if you want your kids to respect you. That is some fucking solid advice.

And finally, something to keep in mind when fighting the good fight starts to feel overwhelming:

Simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is no reason for us not to try to win.

Here’s one last quote, this time from Miss Maudie because frig, she is just about as great as Atticus.

Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.

Seriously, though:

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That’s my new mantra.