Feelings, Feelings, Feelings

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Feelings, Feelings, Feelings

The important thing to remember about feelings is that despite the manifestations they find in the world, and/or the actions taken to express them, they only truly exist in your head. There are a lot of methods for managing the way these feelings impact your life, and finding someone to talk to is invaluable. But another way to move forward is to look at things through another lens. Engaging with stories and their characters is a low-impact emotional exercise that allows you to see yourself reflected back, even if you exist in the blank space of the page, and not the text itself.

The universality of a character’s personal journey, despite the specificity that colors its experience, lends itself to our own self-understanding. The books below focus on feelings in a way that I find meaningful -- and hope you do too.
 
The first three books on this list are written from the real life experience of the author (either as biographies or a collection of essays), and the subsequent two fiction books that speak to this theme are slightly less straightforward, but are equally entertaining and introspective.
 
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Humor and pathos go hand in hand, especially in this very funny book by David Sedaris. One of the first humor memoirs I remember ever coming across, this book still feels groundbreaking in its intimacy. Sedaris uses his pointed wittiness to expose himself and everyone/everything in his life to the essential absurdity at their/its core. That it’s set in France is a pleasant, summery bonus. And that it throws him into unique and unfamiliar territory is a very human and grounding frame into which we can choose, perhaps, to place ourselves.
 
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen
Bruce Springsteen’s music is part of both the American and outsider narrative for many people who have grown up listening to and appreciating music, so much so that his influence is the subject of a new movie. In this book, Springsteen’s life is presented in a more straightforward way than even his very open songs allow. He uses his book to talk about growing up, mental health, and the passion that empowers him to recognize himself in his actions.
 
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed is no stranger to inner demons. They are the backdrop of her story Wild which talks in a candid and emotional way about drug use, bad relationships, and the personal reckoning that has to happen in order for us to move forward. Much more bare-boned than many other “starting-over” stories (due in part to the sensate and physically intensive descriptions), this book does not reach its conclusion in a light-hearted way. Strayed isn’t just a writer of memoir, and it shows. Moving forward emotionally for her involved moving her physical body and learning new ways to engage with herself at a very basic level. This book speaks to reprogramming our sensibilities when things go wrong and learning to trust ourselves. It’s a rewarding read.
 
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
 A classic written in 1868, Little Women is a book about self-recognition as much as it is about sisterhood and the meticulous documentation of America from a particular viewpoint at a particular time. The heart of the story is the coming-of-age for Jo March, which involves primarily two main points of conflict: career success and romantic entanglements. Held up by her idealism and independent nature, the story’s plot carefully depicts a year in her life and then speeds up to find what comes of all the feelings that year leaves in its wake. Throughout the book, Jo (mirroring Louisa May Alcott, at least to some extent) has to navigate her emotions and friendship with Laurie (a neighbor boy) as she seeks to build a life for herself that she finds meaningful. It is about self-determination, but also about standing on the edge of a pool in which you can’t see the bottom with someone -- and never jumping in. It is truly a coming of age story, but it also presents interesting philosophical questions. Most essentially, in my opinion, it offers an interesting perspective on how and why we make the choices we make.
 
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Being self-conscious while lacking self-awareness seems a quality of youth, but to believe that these two notions fade as we reach adulthood is probably an example of both. Dodie Smith wrote I Capture the Castle while homesick for England, and its richly atmospheric setting gives that impression. In the book, Cassandra lives with her family and navigates poverty in 1930s England. The crux of the story (as with Little Women) hinges on creative ambitions and misguided romantic feelings. Two sisters, a neighboring family with two brothers, and a lot of complicated misunderstandings are all present as the girls’ father struggles with writer’s block and they dream about new lives for themselves. Although it can venture into quirky, almost surrealistic territory, it stays grounded through the characters’ very human motivations, insecurities, and attempts at deflection. If you know what (or who) you want, but can’t quite say, this book is, perhaps, motivation to just take the chance and be honest.