The books in this month’s lifestyles column will deepen your understanding of the world and broaden your compassion for the humans you share it with.
★ How to Suffer Outside
“If you can walk, put stuff in a bag, and remember to eat, you can backpack,” declares Diana Helmuth in the perfectly titled How to Suffer Outside: A Beginner’s Guide to Hiking and Backpacking. I’m not entirely sure I buy this statement, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the heck out of Helmuth’s funny, frank writing. Her perspective is a breath of fresh air on the whole fresh-air-and-nature thing. While she claims to be no expert backpacker herself, she drops all kinds of useful, earned wisdom in these pages, spinning tales from her own hiking adventures along the way. A random sample: “One of the saddest things about backpacking is that no matter how clean the water looks, you probably can’t drink it. Even deep in the wilderness, tiny dregs of civilization are there to ruin your good time.” Were I a bookseller, I would press this book on customers regardless of their interest in backpacking. I would recommend it for the voice and storytelling: Here, stay inside if you want. Turn off Netflix, and read this.
The disabled community is vast and diverse, and society is due for a paradigm shift in thinking and talking about its members. With Demystifying Disability: What to Know, What to Say, and How to Be an Ally, activist and writer Emily Ladau is a responsible guide and advocate for change, and her book is one that everyone could benefit from reading. Ladau recognizes that just as there are multitudes of disabilities, there is room for all of us to learn more about disabled people’s varied experiences and make our world more inclusive and accessible. Changes in vocabulary—like opting for disabled instead of euphemistic words like handi-capable (a particular peeve of Ladau’s), or avoiding words like lame and idiot as common pejoratives—help shift mindsets one word at a time. Changes in media norms are necessary as well. Landau explains how feel-good stories about disabled people “overcoming” their disabilities actually reinforce the bias toward able-bodied people. Right now, ableist beliefs and behaviors still fly under the radar, and Ladau’s careful treatment of this subject is a corrective that can help us all be better humans.
Forget Prayers, Bring Cake
While the title is pleasingly cheeky, Forget Prayers, Bring Cake: A Single Woman’s Guide to Grieving never loses sight of the fact that there’s nothing funny about the death of a loved one. Grieving is always difficult, but it can be immeasurably more painful if you’re a single woman, argues Merissa Nathan Gerson—on top of all the ways our culture is ill-suited, period, for allowing us the time and space and voice that grief demands. After learning that in other cultures there’s an individual known as a moirologist—“a non-married woman hired . . . to strike the earth, tear at her hair, scream and wail and provoke others to grieve for the dead”—Gerson offers herself, with this book, as a compassionate, experienced voice for those who have suffered a loss. Her advice and personal stories offer solace and insight for any mourner but are shared with a keen eye toward the unique experience of losing a loved one when you are young and single.