When Literati Step Away

The essay begins with a question, “When you’ve long been identified as a ‘literary type,’ how can it be that receiving books as get-well gifts leaves you feeling empty, angry, and determined to chug YouTube straight?”

Now That Books Mean Nothing, by Nell Boeschenstein is straightforward about the answer. She is a healthy 31-year-old woman with a genetic mutation predisposing her to reproductive cancer, so she made the decision to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy. That’s how.

Boeschenstein describes her decision and the aftereffects in terms of her longstanding relationship to books. I cannot fully grasp the emotions she must be feeling, but her gift with words invites me to try. Take a look:

It’s not easy or appropriate to tell people who love you and who are trying to help you that what they are doing is not helping, that books are not what you want or need, that what you want and need right now are flowers, letters—notes, even—stupid movies, something that might help you feel pretty, emails that contain funny anecdotes from the outside world. That what you want is quiet company, conversation, to talk about you or him or her or whatever, who cares, that the last thing you want is to be left alone either with your thoughts or with a book chock full of someone else’s thoughts and into which your own encroach all too easily. Minds can become Frankensteins, and you’ve gotten gun-shy of yours and the noises it makes in the night. Of course, I don’t say any of this to those who hand me a book they say is lovely and that they hope I’ll enjoy. Instead, I say, “Thank you. I can’t wait to read it,” because that’s closer to what I hope I’ll mean in the end. […more]

Read the article. It is beautifully written, frustrating yet hopeful, and well worth your time.


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