Read Well, Feel Good
2021 is here. I am sure that it is a welcome sign to us all. As we are all aware, 2020 has been a difficult year for so many of us. From a global pandemic to the social, political, and economic crises, very few of us are likely sad to see 2020 go. Although 2021 has been met with hope and relief, there are many of us who still feel every bit of uncertainty, and that is valid.
I am going to say something a bit controversial: I feel 2020 has many blessings in disguise, unveiling a deeper need for community, connection, and healing. One important lesson is that we all need extra-tender love and care, especially for ourselves. Acts of self-care and self-love aren’t selfish, nor should we place our mental health to the side. Many of us have experienced a roller coaster of reactions, including intensifying or sudden symptoms.
I am not the only one who sees the long-neglected importance of mental health. From social media influencers to countless doctors, nurses, librarians, teachers, and other incredible people have voiced...it is even more necessary now. More than ever!
Your self-care and self-love are uniquely your own! Among other things, during this time, I had to think carefully about what is my love language.
These are five commonly discussed love languages: Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Acts of Service.
I can see a little of myself in each one, but I truly feel my dominant love language is quality time. There is nothing like catching up with people over Zoom these days, after all. One of my dear friends, who lives in Montreal and is half-Lebanese, and I talk almost every weekend! Physical touch is a bit tough these days, but something I enjoy doing is cuddling with my fifteen-year-old Aussie, Winston, and there is nothing wrong with snuggling into a blanket! It may not be the same compared to a hug, but it is cozy!
As fellow bookdragons and library lovers, you probably join me in getting a lot of comfort from books. At the Library, book recommendations are part of our love language! I have mentioned in a previous library blog post why reading (as well as libraries) mean so much to me personally. If you care to read it, you will find important reasons behind why reading is very much about loving and accepting myself. In short, books are, in every essence, magic.
Here are the top five books that have comforted me during this time and that I want to recommend to you:
Folktales from India: A Selection of Oral Tales from Twenty-Two Languages, ed. A.K. Ramanujan
This is a beautiful collection of tales from India with numerous elements from the romantic and cosmic to the mysterious. There are tales of gods in disguises, magical storytellers, talking animals, and so much more. All the tales are timeless, with the power to transport you to these magical lands of adventure, honor, wisdom, and glory.
The Wise Fool: Fables from the Islamic World, retold by Shahrukh Husain, illustrated by Micha Archer
Nasreddin (who also goes by names such as Mullah Nasreddin Hooja) was a Seljuq satirist, born in Hortu Village in Sivrihisar, Eskişehir Province, in present-day Turkey. He was and still is considered to be a Sufi and wise man, known for his insightful, humourous, witty, and foolish stories. All of them are wise. These tales will make you giggle (maybe even laugh out loud) as they did for me!
The Magic Orange Tree and Other Haitian Folktales, collected and told by Diane Wolkstein, illustrated by Elsa Henriquez
Since I'm West Indian (Jamaican), this collection of Haitian tales has given me so much comfort. Haitian tales are very close to Jamaican stories with their own richness of storytelling, cultural anecdotes, humor, and other folkloric references. These stories illuminate with mystery and delight a wondrous collection of magic orange trees that grow, at a neglected and abused child’s command, into talking fish.
The Luminous Pearl: A Chinese Folktale, retold by Betty L. Torre, illustrated by Carol Inouye
Who doesn’t love a great quest? The story centers on two brothers who journey for a pearl, a pearl of extraordinary value, to win the hand (and heart) of the Dragon King’s daughter. It is a common trope - one is selfish and greedy who wishes to become powerful and to have a beautiful wife, while the other is honorable and pure of heart and goes on the quest to assist, not to gain. What I love about this story is that the Dragon King’s daughter has agency and wishes to marry for love. As most tales go, it ends happily ever after!
Princess Academy, Shannon Hale
This is one of my favorite Shannon Hale books! The book is about a mountain village where girls of specific ages are sent to a special academy to learn how to act like princesses to marry the prince. Fourteen-year-old Miri discovers many woes - a harsh headmistress and the growing rivalry between the girls - alongside her inward desires and fears. Winning the contest could give her and her family everything she wanted, but it also means leaving everything and everyone she loves behind.
There are many great reasons to love this book. For me, the main reason is that Miri is relatable with a mixture of teenage angst, humor, inner strength, and vulnerability. I love a character who, despite her insecurities and worries (especially having imposter syndrome within her family and village life), makes her flourish, in a way, she refuses to stand down. It is admirable to me - as I used to be painfully shy.
In truth, I read many more than these five books, but these were the ones that I wanted to share with you. A gentle firm reminder: Your reading habits are your own. Your genre tastes are your own. If you are someone who finds yourself at ease reading essays, do so! The purpose of self-care and self-love is knowing what you need. Just as long as you do it in a healthy way, of course! I’ve been craving nothing, but hot chocolate lately; drinking them 24/7 isn’t healthy, but there’s nothing wrong with some indulgence either!
I feel strongly about libraries and other places that inspire community because of a deep need to connect further and take care of each other. In the same spirit, my colleague Circulation Supervisor Freddi Kpeli wrote a gorgeous piece on how life is precious and how there is some good happening during this time. He also includes credible sites with professional advice for mental self-care. We also had a conversation on Instagram Live on what we’ve been doing during the pandemic, which has certainly increased as we pass the nine-month point since it first started!
Be safe, stay well, and happy reading!