When you’re on the playground with your kids, you expect to have fun and be silly. You don’t expect your entire life to change in an instant, when a small boy jumps off the jungle gym and lands on your head, breaking your neck, but that is what happened to Katherine Clark in May 2009.
Katherine was paralyzed from the neck down, and doctors diagnosed her with quadriplegia and said she’d never walk again. She had emergency spinal surgery that night, but the doctors told her husband she was no longer the same person. They expected her to be a burden for the rest of her life. They expected her to feel sorry for herself and accept her new, horrifying reality. They were wrong.
Instead, God worked a tremendous miracle in Katherine’s life. Her time in a rehab hospital was marked with frustration and tears, but her trust in God was accompanied by progress every day. By the middle of July, Katherine had learned to walk again and returned home. She experienced the deep, abiding love of God, even in the midst of overwhelming pain and trouble, and she clung to Him and His truths to see her through.
I wanted to read Where I Endbecause of the similarities to my own medical history (a stroke 4 ½ years ago because of an unsuspected birth defect, given a 98% fatality rate, told by a doctor “You’ll never be normal again.”) It is terrifying when your life changes in a single instant, but the experience can be a profound blessing. Katherine Clark tells her story with openness and honesty, and the reader feels her pain and her fear, as well as her hope and her joy. If you need something uplifting in your life, this is the book for you!
Sixteen-year-old Clara, daughter of a famous ballerina, is totally normal. Or so she thinks. But her mom’s unhealthy obsession with food—and never eating anything “unhealthy”, including carbs—has taken over Clara’s life as well, to the point where it’s all she thinks about. After a social media disaster, Clara decides to spend the summer in Paris, with her estranged father and her six-year-old brother, Alastair, who is on the autism spectrum.
Alastair and Clara explore Paris, and Clara starts to wonder about her obsession with food. A young French baker teaches her about love—both of food and the “first love” variety, but Clara still struggles with the idea. Will it take another disaster to get Clara to admit she has a problem?
On the Spectrum is a spot-on portrayal of the affect today’s social media obsession can have on people, from the Instagram-worthy pictures of thigh gaps, to staged food photos touting healthy lifestyles. Clara struggles with learning that her way of life is not healthy, and admitting she has a problem. (That’s the first step in recovery, right?) her mental battles are portrayed vividly and believable, until the reader wants to cast suspicious looks at a croissant right along with her. Clara grows so much in the book, and her struggles are truly heart-wrenching.
Jennifer Gold is both a lawyer and teacher, and has studied at York, McGill, and Harvard. On the Spectrum is her newest novel.
(Galley provided by Second Story Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Two weeks ago, I reviewed Love Sick, by Cory Martin. Today I have a lovely interview with the author, who was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions. Love Sick is a great read for anyone who has ever struggled with an illness, dating, or trying to find themselves. The author is open about her struggles, and this honesty shines through on every page. You can pick up a copy here.
(I was interested in reading Love Sick because I’ve been through health issues, too. I had a major stroke almost three years ago. Learning to live with a new reality is challenging, at best. If you’re interested, you can read about that here and here.)
Who is your favorite author and why? (Do you love being scared by Stephen King, inspired by Maya Angelou, loved by Nicholas Sparks, entertained by Jane Austen?)
You know what’s funny is I literally just looked at my bookshelves to find an answer, like I was just going to pluck one out of thin air so I could look smart, but the truth is I don’t have a favorite author. I have plenty of authors who I admire and whose books I adore, but there’s not one that I return to over and over. If I went through the books on my shelves I could probably give you a reason why I like, love or admire each and every author. But let me just give you a sampling…I love Erica Jong for her fearlessness and portrayal of women, and Curtis Sittenfeld for her well crafted character based stories, and Jeannette Walls for writing a memoir that felt like a piece of literary fiction and Jenny Lawson for making me laugh out loud on an airplane and Dave Eggers for taking his writing and parlaying that into a publishing company and an amazing non-profit (If you don’t know about his 826 program you should check it out.) and Tom Wolfe because he is such a part of history, and Fitzgerald and Austen and Hemingway and so many others. I guess I am a fan of writers in general and anyone who can persevere and not only finish writing a book but then put themselves and their art out there to be judged by all has my support.
What is your absolute favorite, read over-and-over again, book? (Mine is “Gone with Wind,” which I’ve read about 25 times, because the story and the characters are so real to me.)
The one book that has stuck with me forever is “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin. I have only read it a few times, but the way it made me feel the first time I read it has been imprinted on my soul. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to go out and change your life or do something grand and against the norm when you finish reading it.
The two other books that I have read over and over have more to do with me being a writer. They are Stephen King’s “On Writing” and Erica Jong’s “Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life”. If anyone reading this is a writer or aspiring writer, I highly recommend these books. They’re about the craft, yes, but they also make you feel less alone in your idiosyncrasies and habits that have to do with writing.
Where is your dream place to write? (Personally, I have visions of white sand and waves. Maybe a drink with an umbrella in it.)
Oh my gosh, I’ve had visions of white sand and waves too, but I know me and I would get way too lazy and comfortable there and would probably never write another word. But take me to some old flat in Europe with character and history, somewhere like Prague or Vienna and I think I might thrive. Whenever I travel I love to research the writers who were from that place, or who were ex-pats there and I try to visit the locations where they lived or wrote or got drunk on a daily basis. I have always been fascinated with the lives of writers, and to be where they once were inspires me.
How has writing changed your life? (If I’m doing “character research,” people-watching is much more socially acceptable.)
I don’t know if it’s necessarily changed my life because I’ve always been an introverted observer who loved writing, but I can definitely see now how it has affected the way I interact with the world. I think being a writer has taught me how to empathize with people. To be a writer and to be able to develop characters and write dialogue you have to really understand the way humans interact and work and think and feel, and I believe that because of this I have become a great listener and I have learned to sympathize with someone before jumping to conclusions or passing judgment.
How is your health these days? Do you feel like your body betrayed you? (One of the reasons I wanted to read your book was because I have had a major health issue myself. Almost 3 years ago, at the age of 36, I had a major stroke without warning and almost died. Overnight, my entire world changed, and it felt like my body had tried to kill me, literally, so I had to relearn how to trust it again.)
Wow. How scary. I can’t even imagine what that must’ve been like and all that you’ve probably had to go through and might still be going through as a result. That must’ve been so hard to learn to trust your body again. I hope you are doing much better and are as healthy as can be. Thank you for sharing that. Stories like yours and mine and so many others are the reason I wrote the book. I knew I couldn’t be the only woman struggling with an illness or betrayal of their body who was also trying to navigate life in the most normal way possible and I wanted to share my story in the hopes that it would at the very least make other women feel less alone.
My health these days is quite good and I feel very lucky. The one major thing I deal with is my cognition. I forget things or names of things quite frequently and there are so many mistakes in my writing these days that I swear I spend more time editing than I do writing, but this I can tolerate. However, and this is the thing that makes MS so hard to deal with, you can never predict what will happen next, so while I don’t feel like my body has betrayed me yet, I live in constant fear that one day I will wake up and it will have done so.
What is your advice for anyone interested in getting into yoga? (Because I’d like to, but I have limited time and resources. It seems like such a beneficial practice. And maybe my brain would stop talking to itself so much.)
Ah, yes, yoga is great for quieting the mind and getting your brain to stop talking to itself so much, but it definitely takes practice. My advice for anyone interested in getting into yoga is to not assume that it has to be perfect right from the get go. Try a class here and there, or just learn one or two poses you enjoy, or follow a video online or read a book (not to plug my own work, but I did write a book called Yoga for Beginners, which might be helpful). Also, know that it might take time for you to find a teacher or a type of yoga that you connect with and that’s fine. There are so many different types of yoga out there and you have to try them out to find out what works for your body. I think the problem now, especially in the US, is that yoga has become this big flashy thing you see on Instagram where yogis are tying themselves into knots or doing these poses that are displays of amazing feats of strength. And that’s great and I don’t want to take away from any of that, but the real yoga lies in being able to simply be in the moment. I practice yoga constantly, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I get on my mat and move my body into the poses. The poses are just a way to help you get to the point where you can, as you said, get your brain to stop talking to itself so much. So truthfully if you can get into one pose, which might be Sukhasana, which is basically sitting Indian style like you did as a kid, and get your mind to quiet even if just for one second, you are doing yoga and that’s the best place to start.
Thank you, Cory, for taking the time to answer these questions. I purchased “Yoga for Beginners,” and I can’t wait to start reading it. I have some cognition problems, too, but they are sporadic–and without warning–which is quite frustrating. I still worry sometimes that something else will happen, so I understand your fear. I’m happy that you are doing so well, and I hope “Love Sick” does well. I recommend it to everyone.)
Real Life Update: I started my new job last week. This week, I was in Dallas for training. Wednesday morning, I had a brief visual disturbance (double vision) that scared the crap out of me. My doc wanted me to get checked out, so I had a brief eval from paramedics, then spent several hours in the E.R. at Baylor Dallas. CT and everything was clear, so they released me. My new boss came to check on me. I was horrified, but that was awesome of him. I’m off until Monday to rest (so I missed almost all of Wednesday, and all of Thursday, but that’s it). I feel fine. No issues since, and they’re pretty sure it was stress-related, but I see my neuro next Friday to get his take on it. (In case anyone is wondering, I had a stroke two years ago without warning. Haven’t had any of these issues in about 15 months.) I took it easy yesterday–pedicure and a nap–and I’m taking it easy today as well. I feel fine, but I think a nap is next on the agenda.
Writing Update: Got my words in on Siren Song last week. I’ll get a few more today/this weekend, as well as some editing. My Personal and Professional Editing class should be interesting. This week, we learned about Style Sheets (which I’d never heard of), so I’ll be grabbing that idea and running with it. If you’re interested in how editing has changed, our textbook is Editors on Editing (ed. by Gerald Gross), and the essays are pretty fascinating to me.