Desperate Measures

It's autumn. My thoughts turn to the usual autumnal things like the changing leaves, apple picking, pumpkin carving...and a strange hankering for tales of desperation.

Something about this time of year tends to make some of us a bit melancholy. It's a time to fend off sleep when the sun sinks below the horizon at 5:00. We watch the leaves fall and our flowers wither with frost. We haul out the blankets and heat up the tea kettle. We bake bread and fill bowls with hearty soups as if we're bears stockpiling calories for our long winter's sleep. This time of year, reading about hardship somehow makes me feel cozier.

It's true, I'm not a reader of "happy" fiction. I don't want fluffy bunnies and people running ecstatically through fields of wildflowers. I like tales about how hard it is (or was) to be a human being.  I marvel about the sheer existence of the human species, because we naked apes sure didn't have an easy time getting here. If there's one thing that reading about harder times does for me, it's definitely that it ups my gratitude quotient. There's nothing quite like curling up with a mug of hot cider in a comfortable chair and reading about the struggles of another to put one's own travails in perspective.

I want a tale that moves me and helps me to discover something about the human condition and if I learn a few factual tidbits along the way, I'm doubly happy. Here are some books about hardship that might move you.

Impatient with Desire by Gabrielle Burton

Room by Emma Donoghue

Fires in the Dark by Louise Doughty

A Sudden Country by Karen Fisher

The Color of Lightning by Paulette Jiles

Into the Forest by Jean Hegland

Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill

The Blue Notebook by James Levine

Gap Creek by Robert Morgan

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan

Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas (memoir)

Here If You Need Me (a true story) by Kate Braestrup

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller (memoir)

This Life is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres and a Family Undone by Melissa Coleman (memoir)

Written by Jennifer on October 3, 2011

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