Grief

The May 16 blog on Reader Views is written by Megan Weiss and it’s titled: Grief, A Reflection of What We Love – A Central Role in Fiction.

She says: “I have had a passion for reading and writing since I was in junior high. Books are treasures, and I have always believed that knowledge is one of the best tools anyone can have, in any and all forms. I remember starting to write silly little stories when I was in elementary school, and gradually experimented with longer, more serious works as I grew older and got into high school. I did not initially intend to be a writer when I grew up, but the more experience I obtained and the more books I read, the further I got pulled into the literary world. I like to think that I did not find writing as a career, writing found me and taught me where I truly belong in the world.”

Megan Weiss

In the blog, Ms Weiss says, “The thing about grief is that though it has an exact definition, it has no straight path or timetable.  It does not follow psychological rules or care about what stage of your life you are going through.  Grief only cares about making you feel.

According to Psychology Today, one of the most common misconceptions we have about grieving is that there is any kind of real “process” or “correct” way to go through it.  We have all heard the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  The truth is, however, that these stages were never meant to be applied to the grief process that follows the death of a loved one.  Instead, these stages were derived in order to help people cope with being diagnosed with their own terminal illnesses.  Somewhere along the way, however, people began to draw parallels between the personal grief process that comes after receiving terrible, life changing news and the more commonly accepted grief process that comes with death. 

Grief has no stage.

It follows its own track, at its own speed, and all we can do is ride the rollercoaster until it finally comes to an end one day.  Even then, however, the feeling never truly goes away.  It stays with you, like that feeling of having your stomach drop out from under you as you hurtle down the hill of a giant coaster.  Even after your feet are back on the ground, there is part of you that is still waiting for the rest of you to catch up.

Grief is not simple.

It is not meant to be.  It is different for each person, and each loss, and that means that no one should force themselves to “feel” according to a certain schedule or rule. 

Grief plays a central role in fiction.

There is something quite intimate about reading along with a character who is going through a loss – maybe even one that a reader can relate to.  Books that feature grief, death and loss allow those who are bereaved to have a safe avenue through which to process and express their inner tangle of dark, twisty emotions.  It helps the reader to know that they are not alone in experiencing such a state of despair. 

Fiction that features grief, death and loss also goes one step further: it helps readers to see how there is still light.  The tunnel might be dark and long right in that very moment in time, but just like the main character of a book, eventually the light will come back into their lives and they will be able to live again.  And usually, once you climb up out of the black hole of grief, the life we continue living is enhanced, because we are filled with a new purpose and vigor: to live the life our loved one was not able to have.”

I like Ms Weiss’ point that there is no correct personal definition of Grief: there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and no correct formula for getting past it. In my novel, Granduncle Bertie, which will be out later this year, there is considerable exploration of death: of a child, of a brother, of an adult son, and of several older people. In spite of all that, it is not a sad book, but it is true that the affected characters all deal with their grief in different ways.

One Star for Megan

Wednesday’s edition of the Mail Online has the headline: “Meghan Markle’s children’s book The Bench is branded ‘bland’, ‘shallow’ and ‘uninspired’ by US readers as it fails to move past number 100 on Amazon’s bestseller list after being met with abysmal reviews in the UK.”

The article was written by Charlie Lankston for the Daily Mail and Harriet Johnston for the Mail Online.

“The debut book by the Duchess of Sussex 39, was inspired by a poem she wrote for Prince Harry’s first Father’s Day the month after Archie was born, and explores the ‘special bond between father and son’ as ‘seen through a mother’s eyes’. 

However readers on both side of the pond were left very unimpressed by the $18.99 tome, with one children’s librarian in the US slamming it as having ‘no characters, no fun, no adventure.  I’m a children’s librarian, and I’m chagrined this book will now be part of our library. It is not a book for children,’ the person wrote, before opining that the book was only ever published because of Meghan’s celebrity status.

They went on: ‘It’s barely a book at all actually, just a set of poorly-rhyming platitudes on how to parent. I would be shocked if anyone gave this 5 stars if the author was an anonymous person (actually, the book wouldn’t have gotten published at all). 

‘It distresses me that Meghan (excuse me, “the duchess”) reportedly received a half-million dollar advance for this drivel, when there are so many well-deserving authors who struggle to make ends meet. Please, try their works out instead. If you need help, your local library would be delighted to offer suggestions.’

No major US media outlet included an official review of the book in its coverage. There was plenty of criticism posted online however, with many Amazon users expressing extreme disappointment in its ‘bland’ and ‘uninspired’ storyline. 

‘Boring preachy storyline and lackluster illustrations. Ms Markle is not a children’s author,’ one person commented. 

Meghan dedicated the book to Prince Harry and Archie, saying they make her heart go ‘pump-pump’, and wrote alongside a picture of a father and son playing with toy dinosaurs: ‘When life feels in shambles, you’ll help him find order.’  

But some readers called out the mother-of-two for penning a book about the bond between a father and his child when she is estranged from her own dad, Thomas Markle. Another added: ‘Ugh. She hates her father and has alienated Harry from his and she writes [a] kids book about fatherhood?’ 

The Telegraph’s Claire Allfree called The Bench ‘semi-literate’, writing: ‘One wonders how any publisher could have thought fit to publish this grammar-defying set of badly rhyming cod homilies, let alone think any child anywhere would want to read it. But that’s planet Sussex for you, where even the business of raising a family is all about the brand.’ “

For me, the nail in the coffin is the dedication: “For the man and the boy who make my heart go pump – pump”. What in the world does her heart normally do? It’s drivel. I believe that it takes plenty of literary skill, a vivid imagination, and great empathy to be a successful writer of children’s books. In the long run, brand means nothing.

Where to Buy Books?

There is an article in the News York Times by Dani Blum dated April 30, 2021 and updated May 4; in investigates the conflicting when we are buying a book between the desire to support our local bookstore and the convenience and cost of buying on line.

Dani Blum is a news assistant at the New York Times. She has written for Pitchfork, GQ, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Daily Beast, MTV News, Redfinery29, Cosmopolitan, Philadelphia magazine and other publications.

Ms Blum says: ” For those who want to discover and support new writers, rather than waiting for splashy releases, independent bookstores tend to be a better option. Authors generally get paid the same amount no matter where their book is sold, said Allison Hill, the chief executive of the American Booksellers Association. But books without large marketing campaigns behind them have a greater chance of being discovered at an independent bookstore. ‘If you want to support debut authors, or mid-list authors, or certain voices, those books are going to be more apparent in an independent bookstore,’ she said.

‘Discoverability is essential, and it’s very difficult,’ said Regina Brooks, the founder and president of Serendipity Literary Agency in Brooklyn. Black bookstores, in particular, have become a space for making debut authors more visible, she said.

Independent bookstores and Barnes & Noble also host events with authors — the Booksmith in San Francisco hosted 300 events a year before the pandemic, a representative said — that can raise awareness about books and encourage sales. During the pandemic, some stores pivoted to online events; Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, for example, hosts several Zoom events per week.

‘If independent bookstores disappeared, authors would be screwed,’ said Dennis Johnson, co-founder and publisher of Melville House, a bookstore and press based in Brooklyn. ‘When there are fewer bookstores in the landscape, there are fewer book sales and fewer people just aware of books.’

If you can’t order directly from a bookstore, e-commerce sites like IndieBound and Bookshop.org allow you to purchase from independents, which receive a cut of the profits. Keeping independent bookstores in business enables them to continue to support authors. While Bookshop.org has been a lifeline for bookstores during the pandemic, it’s better to shop directly from an independent bookstore’s website if they have one, said Bradley Graham, co-owner of Politics & Prose in Washington, since they receive the full profit from your purchase. Many bookstores currently offer curbside pick up, which costs them less than shipping and delivering books.

And if you do buy from Amazon, pre-ordering books can be helpful for writers, said Kate McKean, vice president at the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency — particularly since Amazon tends to send more data to publishers about pre-orders, which can indicate a book’s popularity. Amazon designates its best-sellers, which can attract more readers to find and notice books.

Publishers usually make slightly more money when their books are bought at independent bookstores, said Andy Hunter, the founder of Bookshop.org. That’s partly because retail giants like Amazon offer different rates to different publishers, he explained. A representative from Amazon declined to comment on revenue share between Amazon and publishers.

Supporting small presses, which have strained to weather the industry’s fluctuations during the pandemic, can take the form of shopping from independent bookstores. These stores and presses often have relationships to each other, Ms. Hill said. ‘Independent bookstores support independent publishers. That’s a tight community,’ she said. ‘The book industry is such a delicate ecosystem. Supporting independent bookstores keeps the ecosystem healthy.’

Barnes & Noble is also a crucial part of the book retail ecosystem, Ms. Hill said, and a crucial outlet for writers and publishers. The key is to ‘spread it around,’ Ms. McKean said. ‘If we only shop at one retailer, that’s bad for everybody.’

If you want the fastest delivery it’s hard to beat Amazon on shipping speed. The retail giant offers free domestic shipping between five to eight days of ordering for all users and two-day shipping for Amazon prime members.

If you want the lowest cost, Amazon also largely wins out on price. ‘Most indie bookstores will be transparent with the fact that oftentimes, we can’t compete with Amazon on prices,’ said James Odum, communications director for The Strand bookstore in New York City.

If you want the best selection. For readers seeking the largest possible range of reading options, Amazon features over three million books available online. Book recommendations are surfaced through both an algorithm customized to the individual user and through an updated list from Amazon book editors.

‘Independent bookstores can order nearly any book anyone wants,’ said Mr. Graham. Beyond the breadth of selection, independent bookstores have the benefit of more curated selections, with individual booksellers advocating for their favourite books. ‘There’s really no algorithm equivalent to it, said Amy Stephenson, a representative for the Booksmith in San Francisco.”

After reading the above arguments, I’ll have to admit to having a new-found preference for shopping at the Waterstones shop in the nearby mall. Amazon may be fast and cheap, but it only sees books in monetary terms, and not in artistic terms, as book stores see them.