Looking on the bright side

Notes from the January Literati meeting

Our January discussion about optimism throughout the glittering world of words was speckled with memoirs of hope in the shadows, expectations being exceeded, the poetry of promise, and some practical advice on making things better. 

There’s a full list of the pieces of work we shared with each other below… along with a quote to kick us off and a bonus list of authors we love! 

“A possibility was born the day you were born and it will live as long as you live.”

Marcus Solero

Overthrowing obstacles

Life is full of difficulties and some lives have more than their fair share. These works demonstrate the insurmountable power of the human spirit and motivate us to tackle our own challenges.

Educated : a Memoir by Tara Westover
The intensely personal story of a woman who makes a decision to open herself up beyond her closed religious community. Westover’s journey is tough, but she maintains her sense of hope throughout.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Somewhat similarly to Westover’s personal tale, Walls writes about her family struggles, including an enormously complicated relationship with her mother. The story is dark in many ways, but light shines through the clouds.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
A fictional account of loneliness, trauma, and overcoming difficulties, Honeyman’s debut brims with tenderness and charm. It’s been optioned by Reese Witherspoon’s production company and we’re eagerly anticipating who’s picked to play Eleanor. 

Glittering greeness

Whether produced by a new generation, featuring teenage characters, or meant for a young audience, these emotional pieces point to the promise of youth. 

‘The Hill We Climb’ by Amanda Gorman
The first ever National Youth Poet Laureate delivered a stirring performance at Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ inauguration (if you haven’t already seen it, give it a watch!). Everything about Gorman’s delivery of the poem was hopeful; from bright yellow coat to eloquent hand gestures and passionate intonation—and, of course, the transcript of the words themselves! 

The Sun and her Flower by rupi kaur
With optimism bubbling through verse, this Instagram sensation delivers powerful poetry.  Her posts (like the one below) are filled with line drawings and beautiful words—and there’s a movie about her!

it is a blessing
to be the color of earth
do you know how often
flowers confuse me for home

— rupi kaur

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
We talked about Acevedo’s Clap When You Land in our December meeting and her work came up again related to optimism. Both poetry-in-prose novels show teenage girls experiencing previously-unthinkable situations and emotions—and emerging better and stronger. The audiobook versions are highly, highly recommended.

Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus
An illustrated novella about caterpillars finding their destiny that serves as an allegory about capitalism. 

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach
Like Hope for the Flowers, this novella was published in the 1970s and challenges the status quo of societal expectations. 

Gravity Falls, created by Alex Hirsch
This animated mystery/comedy show is child-friendly, but not childish. Kids and adults alike will get happy just watching Mabel, who is the personification of optimism. 

Light in darkness

Love by Toni Morrison
A non-linear plot follows a charismatic man and the women woven into his life. Morrison presents the three generations of women in a glowingly positive light, even as the protagonist demonstrates his unworthiness. 

Small Island by Andrea Levy 
Four primary characters deal with racism, sexism, and hardship in post-WWII London (with flashbacks to their previous lives), but somehow find hope. It was also made into a two-episode mini series starring Naomie Harris, David Oyelowo, and Benedict Cumberbatch. 

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World–and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Hans Rosling, and Ola Rosling
Data-filled exploration of how the human race is doing surprisingly well and what keeps us from seeing the world through that lens. 

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, starring Ellie Kemper 
The premise sounds more disturbing than hilarious—the main character spent 15 years in a with her sister wives and their religious fanatic ‘husband’—but somehow the show combines silliness, surrealism, and seriousness to create touching comedy. 

Be the change

The Little Unicorn: an Adventure through the Disengagement Dangerzone by Catrin Lewis
A business book with some whimsy (and pretty illustrations!) that explains transforming a toxic workplace into a healthy and productive environment. Fun to read and an approachable way of dealing with a serious topic.

How Heather got her HAT’ness back by Heather Costaras
An artist, musician, and storyteller tells the tale of losing her way and rediscovering her joy. The rhyming structure and Costaras’s own illustrations give this heavy subject wonderful lightheartedness. 

The Gift of Fear by Gavin DeBecker
A primer on how to tap into the wisdom of your unconscious with practical advice on avoiding dangerous situations might seem like an odd inclusion. The optimism comes in by knowing that you can go into any situation empowered and confident. DeBecker also wrote a companion work about Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane).

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
A call to pursue your dreams by following your heart’s desires, Coelho’s lyrical prose follows a shepherd who travels around the world to find a treasure—with an underlying message about the power of belief.

Mindset: Changing The Way You Think To Fulfil Your Potential by Carol Dweck
With decades of psychological research on achievement and success under her belt, Dweck lays out how the secret to success isn’t intelligence or talent, it’s mindset. Spoiler: positivity is key!

Awaken the Giant Within : How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny! by Tony Robbins
Old school inspiration for days when you just don’t wanna get out of bed.

Brilliant bonus suggestions

We started out the first 2021 gathering of The Literati with a quick-fire round of favourite authors, some that we return to whenever we need a lift, a few that inspire us, and more than one that simply feel comfortable. 

Our picks, in no particular order:

On the horizon

Our next gathering on March 18 will be themed around ‘Feminism’ to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8. Pick a gal pal-related work of literature and register now! (Or sign up now and select something wordy to do with feminism the day of the next meeting 😉 )

Many sunny thanks to Sandra Seitamaa for making the header photo available through Unsplash.

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