The other day, I was walking home from a run I probably shouldn’t have been on, when I started to hear clapping and screaming and shouting and banging. I was taken aback at first. Manhattan has become eerie, a ghost town almost, and I wondered what was going on. And then a man walked by me, and because I clearly looked perturbed, he said, “It’s for the health workers.” I had heard about this phenomenon, but just forgotten, and maybe even doubted it was real: supposedly every night at 7 PM, New Yorkers have been opening their windows and applauding the amazing and brave healthcare workers that have been battling this crisis head on.
As I kept walking, the noise continued and my heart began to swell. It was surreal, something that you’d hear about happening in the movies, but really never expect to happen in your life. I realized, later, that that uplifting feeling is important. It’s important to remember what humans are capable of and how we ultimately do stick together, especially when things get tough. It will help you stay sane. This experience made me think of some of my favorite books, one’s that have made me awe-inspired by the feats and openness of others, one’s that have made me feel inspired to be better a better person, to take on more challenges, and that have altered my perceptions of what humans are capable of doing, as well as feeling. Here are some of my favorite uplifting memoirs, so you can hopefully feel that way, too.
Yakima Native Alvarez tells his incredible story of dropping out of college to join the Peace and Dignity Journeys, a group of about a dozen Native American/First Nations runners who have embarked on an epic 6,000 mile trek from Alaska to Panama. Along the way, Alvarez tells of coming to terms with his and his people’s place in America today after their land was stolen from them. It’s a powerful memoir that combines bravery with a singular human going on a life-altering run across the western coast of the United States.
They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us
I’m calling it a memoir. It’s likely closer to autobiographical writing, but let’s just say it’s a wonderfully written memoir of a black man’s love of music throughout his life. Abdurraqib absorbs pop culture and outputs it back to you in a way that makes it seem entirely different, reworking the surrounding context with his remarkably poetic voice. You will cry while reading his essay on Fall Out Boy because of how Abdurraqib relates the power of music to the larger things in life. Because this book is about music, sure, but it’s about what it’s like to be the only black kid at a punk show, about what it was like to be at a concert finding out the news of Trayvon Martin. It’s heavy. But it’s uplifting because it will make you think about and appreciate the sounds coming from your speakers that much more, and it’ll make you want to feel the sweet release of dancing all of the emotions off, too.
Patti Smith’s writing will grab hold of you and never let you go. In Just Kids she details her singular relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. This book is about the expansiveness of love, how it takes different shapes, forms, and grows with us, rather than limiting us. Her relationship with Mapplethorpe was and is not only beautiful in and of itself, it’s also beautifully written by a master of her craft. And this illustrated version has never before seen photographs as an added bonus.
The Sun is A Compass
For six months, Caroline Van Hemert and her husband, Pat, crossed some of the most remote places on Earth, as they journeyed from the Pacific rainforest to the Arctic coast. Challenges include the ruggedness of nature itself of course, but new parenthood, a father with Parkinson’s, and whether or not to pursue a PhD, add complexity as well. For someone so knowledgeable about her surroundings, and brave in her endeavors, Van Hemert is both uniquely untrammeled and extraordinarily humble in her writing.
Brain On Fire
Susannah Cahalan’s story is jaw-dropping, to say the least. As an up-and-coming journalist for the NY Post, Cahalan was suddenly plagued by voices in her head and seizures. Doctors misdiagnosed her as crazy, but eventually, they realized she had a unique and very rare form of anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. Through this experience, she found that there was a bounty of people who were misdiagnosed or undiagnosed, and this led her to follow up on the state of psychology in her just as brilliant, and most recent work, The Great Pretender.
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