Geeks Vs Loneliness: postscript from the edge

As pollen rains from the heavens, Jane bunkers down with a good book. Or three

You find me dislocated at the edge of summer this week. Windows, doors, even the curtains shut against the old enemy: grass pollen. While some dance for joy at midsummer, I head for the most sterile environments I can find that are available to a human on a budget.

With this in mind, I have been stockpiling books. Our screens and magazines are filled with recommended summer reads – killer chiller fiction, starry memoirs, heart-stirring romance. If that’s what fills your book bag with pleasure, fantastic. When I commuted two hours a day I inhaled paranormal fiction – Charlaine Harris, Kelley Armstrong, Laurel K Hamilton and the like, all of which came with a hot dollop of romance.

This month I’ve been getting down with the princess. Leia, that is. Carrie Fisher may have left this world with one fewer bright star since she passed 18 months ago. However, you can still hear her voice resonate in the books that she wrote, and in the funny snaps of wisdom and brutal self-honesty that she peppered her prose with.

Her autobiographies – Wishful Drinking (2008) and Shockaholic (2011) – are driven by dark humour. But there’s inclusiveness there, a reaching out to say, here’s why I’m writing this. As self-expression, sure, but also because so many people are suffering with mental illness, mental anguish or anxiety, which can leave a person feeling adrift and alone.

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Carrie makes the fantasy world of Hollywood accessible, paints a picture of a childhood outside the norm that many might aspire to without ever considering the consequences. She is brutally honest about addiction, and the seduction of sedation through narcotics and alcohol. It makes for amusing but often painful reading – and as the child of an alcoholic, it shines a light into a world that from the outside can seem utterly self-absorbed, while causing anguish for those caught in the slipstream of another’s addiction.

As Carrie says in Wishful Drinking, “I discover we’re not alone, but that there are, in fact, a number of other people who ail as we do – that there are actually a number of ‘accomplished’ individuals who find it necessary to seek treatment for some otherwise insurmountable inner unpleasantness.”

While she is talking to a degree about her experience of Electro Convulsive Therapy treatment, I suspect the sentiment – that we are not alone in suffering with inner demons even as we feel we are – is one that many of us identify with and take some comfort in. And it’s okay to seek support when it all becomes too much (or preferably before, as she ruefully mentions in Shockaholic).

I found Shockaholic poignant, dealing as it does with her relapse into self-medication following the death of her friend Greg Stevens. Grief waylays us; it drives us into dark spaces, which Carrie acknowledges when she uses OxyContin – the drug that killed Greg – to take her to a space where the grief couldn’t touch her but which ultimately cost her that which was most precious to her: time with her daughter Billie.

Carrie Fisher may now be dispensing her wisdom and wisecracks from another plane but it was a pleasure to step into the footprints she made when she was among us. To paraphrase Carl Sagan, she was star stuff, harvesting sunlight.  

So, summer reading. What are you guys enjoying? What new books are you looking forward to diving into? What do you enjoy while commuting? Can be any genre, any topic. Give a shout out to something older that you love but which may have bypass popular consciousness.

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Has a book surprised you by not seeming to have your name on it, but with which instantly clicks when you read it? For me, it would be Corey Feldman’s Coreyography (2014), which exposes the darker side of Hollywood in the 1980s, and the abuse and temptations that he faced during that time.

Enjoy summer. Enjoy good reading.

Thanks as always for stopping by this way.