Woman in red dress holding gold coins

Which is the greatest wealth?

Notes from the April Literati Meeting 

While the official theme was ‘Health’ in honour of World Health Day, our recommendations ventured into ‘Motherhood’ (March’s topic), and we found some that touch on both! As the discussion flowed between talking about health (or ill-health) and motherhood, the question remained: Is health the greatest wealth? Or is family worth its weight in gold?

Perhaps the answer is in the list of suggestions below. And, of course, there are a few literary goodies from when we inevitably strayed from the theme (or themes). 

The most personal of narratives

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
About Zauner’s experiences after her mother dies, this memoir is an honest look at the grieving process and how long it can take (and if it ever ends). The author-narrated audiobook is particularly recommended. 

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Eggers recounts losing both parents to cancer within weeks of each other and becoming his younger brother’s guardian. The hysterical realism of the work highlights how families endure and points to Eggers’ countercultural leanings. 

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
A non-linear account of how intimate partner abuse wreaks havoc on mental health. It’s rare to see stories of abuse in same sex partnerships and Machado’s second-person narration makes it ever more engrossing. 

In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi
The discovery that her estranged father has come out as transgender and undergone sex reassignment surgery provides the backdrop for Faludi’s attempt to understand her parent and the nature of gender. 

Prescriptions for health?

The Edge Effect: Achieve Total Health and Longevity with the Balanced Brain Advantage by Eric R. Braverman
Positing that the secret lies with knowing which of the brain’s four important neurotransmitters is dominant, Braverman lays out how proper brain nourishment creates optimal health. There’s an online Braverman Personality Type Assessment if you want to know where your brain is dominant.  

The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in “Healthy” Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain by Steven R. Gundry
Gundry theorises that lectins (which are found mostly in plants like grains, beans, and nightshade vegetables) cause all kinds of health problems and suggests staying away from a wide range of foods. 

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
Kimmerer’s blend of botanical history, Indigenous culture, and scientific perspective speaks to the importance of nurturing (and being nurtured) and elicits intense feelings of gratitude. 

Muddying the waters of motherhood

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
An accessible hard science fiction work with plenty of chemistry and physics details that manage not to be overwhelming. The theme of ‘motherhood’ shows up in the most fascinating way!

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
An absorbing collection of varied short stories, many drawing on magical realism. The third story in the book, ‘Mothers,’ is an obvious fit for April’s discussion, but the whole thing is worth reading. Get a taste with ‘The Husband Stitch.’ 

I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness by Claire Vaye Watkins
An original novel (described as ‘surreal autofiction’) about a perhaps-more-common-than-we-know phenomenon (a mother wanting to abandon her baby and partner). Complicated, messy, and urgent. 

The Lost Daughter, directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal
Based on the novel by Elena Ferrante, this psychological drama considers regretting parenthood from the perspective of a mother who didn’t want to be one. The film leaves a thought-provoking uneasiness and is well worth a watch. 

We’re Here, staring Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka O’Hara, and Shangela Laquifa Wadley 
A feel-good HBO series where drag queens visit small American towns and transform three residents for a one-night performance. The makeover subjects and their drag mothers are charming—and the end result often tear-jerking. 

In Every Mirror She’s Black by Lola Akinmade Åkerström
Through the perspectives of three Black women in Sweden, Åkerström explores what it means to navigate a white-dominated society. One of the characters struggles with her changing identity and if motherhood means the end of her sense of self. 

Location, location, location

Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
We wondered why this took place in Hong Kong as the setting didn’t play a role in the internal conflict and love triangle of an Irish expat, but enjoyed it as a non-taxing read. 

We Run the Tides by Vendela Vida
This engaging story of two teenagers and a mysterious disappearance could only be set in San Francisco, and the narrative is very much of the place. 

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
An impactful look at a Syrian-American man dealing with Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, this non-fiction book came up while talking about Eggers’ debut work—along with our sense that Eggers’ non-fic stuff is better than his fiction.

Unrelated, but not irrelevant

Adrian Tchaikovsky
With works from across science fiction, fantasy, and alternate history, the consensus is that all of Tchaikovsky’s stuff is worth reading. 

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
“Like being punched in the most human way.” Didion’s recollection of the first year after her husband’s death is a grief classic. 

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
A novella exploring Auri (a character from Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicle series) and her everyday life in an almost poetic fashion. A gentle read. 

Bridgerton
Is anyone not talking about Netflix’s adaptation of Julia Quinn’s romance novels? Our discussion centred on gloriously detailed costumes, constantly blooming flowers, and the magnificence of the music. (Here’s every pop song turned classical in season two—contains many spoilers!)

Bring out the skeletons

The theme for the May gathering of The Literati is ‘Secrets,’ and I bet we’ll unearth some interesting examples from books, poetry, podcasts, films, and the like. Fingers crossed we’ll be able to meet on a patio on Wednesday, May 18, but perhaps the weather will have other plans! Regardless of where we get together, our conversation is sure to generate a wealth of mysterious recommendations. 

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Imaged adapted from a photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash.

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