What I’ve Been Listening To: justice, cancer, depression, and octopuses

After my rocky start to audio books, I am on a roll. I would recommend all of these, except maybe don’t listen to the two cancer memoirs and depression memoir back to back to back like I did.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

This book is as good as everyone says it is. Even now, almost eight years later. I learned so much about how the law works and how slow it is to change, and how ancient and nonsensical and racist some laws still are. I think this Bryan Stevenson guy is pretty much a hero. Does anyone know if we have something in Canada that compares to this?

Everything Happens For a Reason by Kate Bowler

Kate and her husband had been trying for years to have a baby, and when they were finally blessed with one, she was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. As a Divinity professor with an interest in “American prosperity gospel,” Kate explores what it means to believe in “miracle” cures, and how other peoples’ well-meaning positivity is not always helpful. For now, she is just trying to spend as much time with her husband and son as she can. You will cry.

This is Not the End of Me by Dakshana Bascaramurty

“Layton Reid was a globe-trotting, risk-taking, sunshine-addicted bachelor – then came a melanoma diagnosis.” He marries Candace and moves home to Halifax to be closer to family. They have a son, and Layton spends the next years of his life desperately trying to stay alive as long as possible to be with him. Then Layton embarks on an ambitious project to leave behind for his son when he’s gone. Excerpts from Layton’s journals are read aloud, and some are so raw and candid. Even though you know how it ends, you hope with all your heart that you’re wrong. You will cry, but you will also laugh.

Hello, I Want to Die, Please Fix Me by Anna Mehler Paperny

I don’t know what I was thinking when I went straight from the heartache of two cancer memoirs to one about living with depression. Anna has the kind of depression that doesn’t seem to have a reason to be. It also doesn’t seem to respond well enough to any treatments Anna has tried. It’s stubborn, isolating, and life-draining. But Anna is a journalist, so she does what she’s good at and explores the mental illness health system in Canada–treatment options, inpatient care versus outpatient care, what it’s like to live on a psych ward–while contending with her own illness and shame that goes along with it. She’s fortunate enough to have a loving family and support system – what of the patients who have no one, or are single parents, or who can’t afford to stop working long enough to get treatment? Everything you might ever want to know about depression, and more.

Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

What better than octopuses to give me a respite from the heartache of illness? And this book did not disappoint me – I learned so many fascinating things about octopuses as well as some of the other sea animals they had at the aquarium where Montgomery did much of her research. I had no idea that octopuses were so smart, and even mischievous. They squirt water at people they don’t like and have been seen escaping their tanks and scuttling across the floor. Most of the octopus behaviour in the book is based on the ones Montgomery interacted with at the aquarium and stories from other aquariums, but treat yourself to the documentary “My Octopus Teacher” and you’ll get a nice balance of captive versus wild. It was incredible to see the octopus being chased by a shark and all the crafty ways it found to hide. My kids while I was reading this book: “OMG you are obsessed with octopuses, Mom. Are they your new favourite animal? Are you going to get one as a pet?” Octopuses are truly amazing, but I don’t think I’m ready to bring one into my house. Not yet, anyway.

What have you been listening to?

18 thoughts on “What I’ve Been Listening To: justice, cancer, depression, and octopuses

  1. kimbofo says:

    Oh my, not sure I’m in the right head space to listen to memoirs of this ilk! I can’t “do” audio books… my mind wanders, I want to keep my hands busy doing stuff and I get distracted from the stuff I’m supposed to be listening to. Did you do something differently to suddenly get into audio books? Any tricks or tips to pass on?

    • Naomi says:

      I always felt the same way as you, but decided to try it again. I have my own tricks… 1) I can only listen to nonfiction – it doesn’t bother me nearly as much if I miss something when I’m listening to nonfiction, but if I try listening to fiction, I feel like I have to keep “rewinding.” Which makes sense for me, because I often re-read sentences and whole paragraphs as I read. 2) I can only listen while doing mindless activities like dishes, cleaning the counter, hand-washing the masks, and walking the dog. Even if I just listen while doing dishes and tidying the kitchen I can fit in 45+ minutes per day. I guess the other trick is to have a lot of dishes to do!

    • Naomi says:

      I just explained all my strategies in my reply to Kim, if you want to read them! I can’t sit and listen, either, I like to be doing something at the same time. But something has to be mindless like the dishes or walking the dog. These things also take up big chunks of my day, which they might not for everyone. We have a lot of dirty dishes here!

  2. madamebibilophile says:

    Some heavy listens there Naomi! My job involves end of life so I rarely read books about it as I need to think about other things in my free time, but the octopus book is very tempting. They sound fascinating!

    • Naomi says:

      I don’t think I knew that about you. You must find that very hard at times. It actually puts a whole new perspective on the books you most often read! 🙂

  3. Rebecca Foster says:

    So interesting that you’ve taken to nonfiction on audio. I love Kate Bowler. There’s a brand-new sequel out to this book if you’re interested. It’s pretty similar and overlaps a bit on content, but it was nice to hear about what she’s done with her unexpected extra time.

    All the rest of these would interest me, too. I love the cover of This is Not the End of Me. So that was a biography, or did it start as a memoir but someone else had to finish the book when he died?

    My neighbour got a stuffed octopus toy for her birthday! At a folk concert we went to last weekend we heard that the singer’s favourite animal is the eel (she has a song about them), and she asked people to tell her their favourite during the intermission.

    • Naomi says:

      I’m a big kid when it comes to stuffed sea animals. But octopus are especially adorable because of all their arms. 🙂

      You’re right, This is Not the End of Me is more of a biography. He asked someone to write the book for him and she would come to their house for visits periodically during the process. I loved that one so much.

      Audiobooks have been such a great way of catching up on my nonfiction reading! I did try fiction once, but it was a disaster.

  4. wadholloway says:

    I listen to audiobooks all the time, but then I’m driving so yes, I have something to do with my hands, just not much to do with my brain (endless deserts and all that). I very rarely just sit on my bed and listen, even to get to the end of a book, so I agree about that. I listen to some non-fiction, Women in White Coats about the first women doctors, most recently, but have no interest in misery memoirs (and I don’t believe anything happens for a reason). Octopuses though, that might be fun.

    • Naomi says:

      I wouldn’t call them misery memoirs – they always seem to be more about living than dying. The ones I’ve read, anyway. I think I’ve seen Rebecca at bookishbeck call them bereavement memoirs, and I can see how they might be helpful/comforting to people going through the same life events. And the memoir about depression is also mixed up with a lot of medical information about depression. But, yes, there is a limit to how many I wanted to listen to in a row. Although, it often happens that way… one often leads to another.

      I’m not sure if I dare to listen and drive – I’m afraid I would prioritize the listening and drive off the road!

    • Naomi says:

      I saw that she has a podcast, but I haven’t listened to it. Maybe podcasts could be my next goal?
      I bet Harry Potter is fun to listen to!

  5. buriedinprint says:

    Nooooo, you can’t just tell people to watch that octopus movie. You have to follow the No-Spoiler-Except-When-We-Must-Know-if-the-Animal-Doesn’t-Survive rule: it’s a rule about the rule.

    I find it much harder to listen to sad stories than to read them. My eye can scan ahead to see if I need to take a break from a story, when it’s on the page, whereas I’m not as handy with electronic FFing (or RWing)…always end up just missing the mark a little.

    Have you experimented with the playback speed at all as a listener? I think it’s funny that dedicated listeners often describe their listening habits with their playback speed (usually faster than 1.0)!

    • Naomi says:

      Right away, my very first book, I adjusted the speed to 1.25. Her reading was too slow! And I find it just right now for almost all the books I’ve listened to. The only exception so far has been George Elliott Clarke’s book – he’s so careful to pronounce everything that I had to turn it up to 1.35!

      I hardly ever FF or RW. I don’t like having to stop and fiddle. So, yes, sometimes I am forced to listen to something sad, but I don’t usually stop myself when I’m reading either, so instead I just let myself cry a little. 🙂

      Does that mean you want to know if the octopus dies? I can’t remember if you’ve watched that one… In my opinion, it’s worth watching either way because it’s so beautiful. (Does that kinda give it away?)

  6. Liz Dexter says:

    Gosh, some hard reads there, well done for getting through them. I can’t do illness memoirs and depression is too close to home at the moment too. But I’m glad people share their experiences and others share their experiences of reading their books.

  7. annelogan17 says:

    Whew that does sound like a difficult go. I’m sort of the same way though, I find myself getting into ‘themes’ in a way with my reading, and when I emerge from them I realize how I probably shouldn’t have read them all together. Oh well! That book about the couple finally having a baby then getting cancer probably would have undone me. Octopuses are so fascinating! I love that image of them scuttling across the floor haha

    • Naomi says:

      I know! Don’t they look so cute inside your head? 🙂
      I enjoy reading on a theme – I like comparing the books as I read and it’s easier to do that if you read them back-to-back. But then, yes, it’s time for a break. Lol

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