Blankets by Craig Thompson

“We experience a discomfort that may be foreign to others, but that pain opens up a world of beauty. Wouldn’t you think?”

5/5 stars.
Paperback, 592 pages.
Read from June 21, 2021 to June 22, 2021.

Childhood and youth are often reflected on with nostalgia as we age, even for those who have had difficult upbringings. Craig Thompson’s Blankets is a coming of age story in which he reflects on his youth with reverence, sadness, longing, and regret.

Craig grew up in Wisconsin in a strict Christian household with his parents and younger brother. Craig and his brother grew up like a lot of brothers do, a mix of roughhousing, shenanigans, and rivalry but as Craig gets older he comes to some harsh realisations about the abuse that occurred in within family, a weight that he still carries. As Craig enters his teenage years he is an awkward youth who has yet to find his place among his peers. During a stint at a Christian camp for teens, he meets a curious and intriguing young woman named Raina. As Craig and Raina get to know each other, their blossoming love is beautifully described with all the familiar intensity of a teen relationship, both sexually and emotionally. However, Raina comes from her own troubled home and while the two of them maintain a long-distance relationship, their home and family lives make it difficult to maintain. Craig’s relationship with also God begins to change, as he questions and grapples with the experiences and discussions he has with Raina.

The artwork colour scheme used by the author creates a perfect dream-like tone and mimics the blustery winter weather of Wisconsin as well as the fondness and frustration of being a teenager. Craig’s work is insightful, poetic, honest, and highly relatable. The story itself doesn’t feel tragic, though it has elements of tragedy, instead, it’s Craig’s matter-of-fact recollection of times gone and of moments of love, growth, and regret that he still holds close to his heart.

At first glance, this novel may look intimidatingly large but its content and beautiful imagery is devour-worthy and makes for a quick and pleasurable read. A highly recommended read to graphic novel lovers or for those looking to enter the genre.

The Choice by Dr. Edith Eva Eger

“Our painful experiences aren’t a liability—they’re a gift. They give us perspective and meaning, an opportunity to find our unique purpose and our strength.”

5/5 stars.
ebook, 304 pages.
Read from June 10, 2021 to June 21, 2021.

I have always enjoyed books about the holocaust or WWII, whether it’s a memoir, a historical fiction, or a piece of non-fiction, I never seem to tire of them. Even among holocaust memoirs, Dr. Eger’s story is unique.

Edith was a dancer and gymnast who was likely to compete in the upcoming Olympic gymnast when the Nazi’s came to Hungary. She was only sixteen years old when her whole world was torn apart. Having been separated from her parents, who were sent to the gas chamber at Auschwitz, Edith was fortunate enough to still be with her sister. Edith counted the few blessings she had in Auschwitz. At one point Mengele himself selects her to dance and rewards her with a loaf of bread that she shares with her Jewish companions. Nearing the end of the war, Edith and her sister were transferred to Mauthausen and Gunskirchen camps in Austria, of which they barely came out alive when the American troops started liberating the camps in 1945. However, Edith and her sister’s suffering is far from over. Edith now has the insurmountable task of coming to terms with her trauma, something that would take her decades to comprehend. Edith marries and starts a family and despite a business arrangement that would have her family move further into another war-stricken country, she makes the bold decision to take her family to America, a choice that puts tension between her and her husband. Edith and her family suffer greatly the first few years in America, from learning English to trying to make a living, and even as the years pass Edith refuses to talk about what happened to her. She blames her misery on her husband and eventually leaves him and begins to pursue her education in psychology. Her educational journey also makes her look at her own traumas and the traumas of others in a different light. She chose to use her suffering as a lesson, a gift, in which she can find value and joy in aspects of her life she never imagined. Lessons that she now passes on to the people she treats.

“Your pain matters and is worth healing, you can choose to be joyful and free.” 

What made Dr Eger’s story so unique is that she also includes stories of some of the people that she treated over the years that left an impression on her and how it intermingled with her own healing journey as well as her impressive ability to forgive and reap what life has given her despite the difficult hand she was dealt. Edith was also able to meet Viktor E. Frankl, the author of Man’s Search For Meaning, which also played an important part in her journey. Edith is a solid storyteller and writer making it easy for readers to be drawn into her story. As a reader, you mourn with her as she comes to terms with the shattered hope she held onto while in the camp after her release, the mourning of her parents, her youth, and all her lost potential as an athlete and Olympian and how she ultimately addresses these emotions. Edith chooses to take what life has given her and turn it into a gift, to turn her suffering into joy and use what she knows to help others deal with their grief and trauma.

If you have not read this book and are interested in holocaust memoirs add this one to your list now. Not only is Edith’s story amazing and equally inspiring, but she also continues to try and improve other people’s lives with her work, TED talks, and continued community events with which she always ends by showing off her high-kick despite her being well into her 90s. The Choice is a true testament to the power of our minds and the strength of will our choices can have.

The Idiot by Fydor Dostoevsky

“Don’t let us forget that the causes of human actions are usually immeasurably more complex and varied than our subsequent explanations of them.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 780 pages.
Re-read from April 28, 2021 to May 25, 2021.
First read December 21, 2010 to December 28, 2010.

I never imagined that I would be rereading this classic novel 10 years down the road, however, reading this novel the second time around and with a book club gave me even more appreciation for the author and the story.

Small crew to discuss this book but the group leader got us some great mugs with which I then proceeded to drink my beer out of.

First published in 1869, the English translation wasn’t available for this book until the early 20th century. The Idiot begins with the protagonist Myshkin arriving back in Russia after a stint at a Swiss sanitorium. Perceived as an ‘idiot’ for both his epilepsy, honesty, kindness, and naivety Myshkin attempts to navigate Russia high society. Surrounded by greed, lust, drama, and power-hungry individuals, it’s no wonder Myshkin is perceived as an idiot by his peers. However, his otherworldly perspective and kindness do not go unnoticed, drawing his attention to two very different women with which, he will falls in love with them both.

The question that seems to be raised by Dostoevsky is that is it possible for someone to be completely authentic, honest, genuine, and kind without bringing ruin to others and specifically themselves? The Idiot appears to hold a mirror up to Russian society in the late 19th century which, as an exceptional realist writer, Dostoevsky pulls off beautifully. The highlights of the book come from Myshkin’s interactions with the female characters and antagonist, it’s where you feel the most invested in the book. The faults with this book are its length and an extensive cast of characters that, due to Russian naming, makes them difficult to keep track of. Each character serves a purpose in showing the faults and varying virtues of Russian society to give a deeper idea of Myshkin and his ideals. The story also makes extensive references to Christianity and Dostoevsky’s personal views on religion. The novel itself ends tragically which, is no surprise there as many Russian novels do, especially Dostoevsky’s.

While The Idiot made less of an impact on me than Crime and Punishment it is still a unique piece of Dostoevsky’s work that appears to be more personal than his other writings. While the length of the book is somewhat off-putting it made for an exceptional book club discussion. It may not be a book for your average reader but if you enjoy classics, Russian literature, or historical fiction you will find value in this book.