It’s February, Black Heritage Month. The book that I want to share with you today is not directly related to the black heritage, but it’s relevant – I want to explore a stigma that we hope to break down in this society .
In my role as the Literacy and Readers Advisory Librarian, I have been trying to keep up with our Canadian literature, but sometimes I regrettably missed some really good titles. When I found Stranger by David Bergen, the 2005 Giller winner with many other subsequent awards, I was astonished by the profundity that his clean, short prose had offered.
The story started with a passionate love story between Dr. Eric Mann and Iso, the “keeper” of the same fertility clinic that the doctor worked for in Guatemala, with Iso thinking that Eric and his wife had been living separate lives. But one day, Eric’s wife, Susan, suddenly appeared at the clinic to take the fertility treatment. While Eric almost completely vanished from Iso during Susan’s presence, he continued to promise that he didn’t want Susan in town. When Susan left, Eric resumed his ritual with Iso, taking her on trips in his motorcycle, making love with her, enjoying the freedom without any need for responsibilities. Until one day, he hit a little boy on a country road, and at the same time, Iso found out she had had a baby growing inside her; you would think now there should be some consequence imposed on the doctor, but insanely, not quite …
I don’t want to spoil the rest of the intricate plot. But I suspect, at this point, part of the world might be questioning why Iso is so naïve, then the conversation might be steered into a very subtle and grey territory and put women in such situations at disadvantage.
In the Harry Potter universe, a sense of cold, creeping dread announces the arrival of Dementors, foul creatures of darkness who sweep away happiness and deal in despair. “Get too near a Dementor,” Professor Lupin tells Harry in The Prisoner of Azkaban, “and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you.” Dementors might be real, dangerous monsters for our wizard hero, but for author JK Rowling, Dementors are an avatar for depression. While writing the beloved series, Rowling was suffering from a bout of depression herself, which she described as “that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. The absence of hope. That very deadened feeling, which is so very different from feeling sad.” This, incidentally, is almost exactly how Lupin describes Dementors to Harry.
Unfortunately for us Muggles living in a boring, non-magical world, things like depression don’t exist in a solid form. We can’t shout “expecto patronum!” at mental illness and chase it away with a helpful Patronus. But there are some steps we can take to combat it, such as the simplest, most obvious, but often most difficult starting point: talking about it. When Harry faints upon his first encounter with a Dementor, he is filled with shame. Nobody else is fainting, so why is he? It isn’t until Professor Lupin opens the door to a conversation that Harry learns why he is so affected by the creatures, and how to fight them off. Today is Bell Let’s Talk Day, a day dedicated to breaking the silence on mental illness through conversation on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and text messaging with the hashtag #BellLetsTalk.
As we pass another decade in the 21st century, what future are we headed towards? Who knows, but Yuval Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (also on Overdrive as an e-book & e-audiobook) looks at some of the hot topics & issues to worry about that the 21st century brought in its wake and attempts to untangle them so that we can think about these issues with more clarity, less clouded by our illogical emotional responses than before. While there are some speculations as to what the future might bring, that is covered to a much greater extent in Homo Deus (while Sapiens covers the history of humankind), and the primary focus of 21 Lessons is definitely on the present. Harari covers such topics as the possible/imminent future irrelevance of people as individuals (and the consequences of irrelevance in that future society replete with AI), to terrorism and war, to religion and fake news, before tackling what one can do in light of all this – actually let’s be real, when I say tackles, I mean Harari kind of dismantles what we might first think of as the solutions: Education, Meaning, and Meditation.