#WeekendReads: Night Beast by Ruth Joffre

The past two weeks have been a bit weird. I’ve been spending a lot of time with Lexi and out in my garden. My anxiety is high right now for a number of reasons, so I’ve also been making time to sit on my porch and read in the evenings. All of this helps, but it’s still a process. It will always be a process.

Thankfully, there are books. Reading centers me, grounds me, makes me feel connected to my innermost self (the self that I can only really express through writing fiction). Recently, I was lucky enough to receive a digital ARC (advanced reading copy) of Ruth Joffre’s debut short story collection, Night Beast and Other Stories.”

cover of Night Beast

I blew through this collection. I inhaled it as if it were air. It is so, so good. You can read my full review on the Ploughshares Blog, but here’s a snippet:

Reading this collection feels like looking at the world through water—the angles don’t quite match what you expect and the light is diffuse, except when a ripple catches it and momentarily robs you of vision. Joffre’s characters are wispy and insubstantial in the way ghosts of past selves feel when we look back through the haze of time. If you turn your head or look away, they will shift into something else, something new. Something dangerous.

Joffre is one of those writers who makes me go “I WANT TO WRITE LIKE THAT!!” I read this collection once for the journey it took me on, but I will definitely read it again for the craft lessons hiding in its pages (some of which I do address in my review).

If you like strange, queer, unnerving, mysterious fiction with a bite, you absolutely have to read Night Beast and Other Stories. That is a non-negotiable fact.

#FridayReads: Shirtless Bear-Fighter

I was over at a friend’s house to watch hockey, and on my way out after the game I saw a copy of a comic called Shirtless Bear-Fighter. The cover depicts a shirtless man in raggedy pants with exaggerated masculine features (seriously, his feet are huge). I paged through it and saw that this was, yes indeed, a comic about a man who fights bears while decidedly not wearing any clothes (his junk is pixelated so it remains PG-13, sort of). Curious reader that I am, I checked out Shirtless Bear-Fighter from the library via Hoopla and read it in under an hour.

Cover for the first issue of Shirtless Bear Fighter

I have several takeaways:

  1. WHAT IS THIS COMIC I DON’T EVEN KNOW
  2. BUT IT’S REALLY FUCKING FUNNY
  3. “Bear” is not limited to the large omnivorous mammal
  4. There are a lot of toilet paper and poop jokes (WHICH ARE HILARIOUS)
  5. The whole thing can be read as a fable about environmentalism and toxic masculinity
  6. ALSO IT’S REALLY FUCKING FUNNY
  7. Magic bacon.

First, if you find crude humor beneath you, don’t bother with this book. Second, if you can’t tell the difference between straight tropes and the skewering of said tropes, also probably don’t bother with this book. Still with me? GREAT.

Shirtless Bear-Fighter tells the story of a man named Shirtless, who was raised by bears in a lush mountain forest. The bears betrayed him when they killed his lover, and after that he vowed to fight every bear. Now, enraged bears are attacking major cities across the US, and the FBI calls in Shirtless to handle the problem. In the process he discovers that past events weren’t what they seemed and uncovers a plot by a greedy toilet-paper-company logger to turn the whole forest into TP. On the way Shirtless has to deal with multiple betrayals, bears high on magic bacon, and the fact that he probably definitely has a thing for Silva, the female FBI agent.

The creative team (Jody Leheup, Sebastian GirnerNil Vendrell, and Mike Spicer) do not take anything seriously. Shirtless is a hyperbole of our culture’s idea of what men should be, and that’s exactly what gets him into trouble. The issue of Shirtless’s dead lover reveals the cavalier way men treat women and highlights exactly why that is terrible and we should maybe stop doing that right now. Silva is not hyper sexualized and proves herself to be smart and resourceful–without her, Shirtless would fail his mission to save the forest.

So, here’s a comic that takes the most exaggerated masculine tropes and handles them in a subtle, brilliant, hilarious way. I’m definitely on board for a second volume (though it seems the creators are working on other projects right now, but a girl can hope).

Miss Migraine: Freeing Yourself From Anxiety by Tamar E. Chansky

Banner that says "The Adventures of Miss Migraine"

The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. This post appeared first on my blog of the same name on September 4, 2012.

Freeing Yourself From Anxiety, Tamar ChanskyTitle: Freeing Yourself From Anxiety
Author: Tamar E. Chansky, Ph.D.
Publisher: Da Capo Lifelong Books
Format: Trade Paperback
ISBN: 978-0738214832
List Price: $16.00

Freeing Yourself From Anxiety isn’t the kind of book I look for (as the possibility of it featuring explosions in space is right around zero). But my library, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, recently released a smart phone app that lets you download and listen to electronic audio books on your phone, among other cool features. As an unabashed book junkie, I have been, pardon my French, using the shit out of this app.

The app’s only flaw is that it presents you with a list of every audio book currently available for check out and download (2018 update: This is now fixed). You can search for a specific book, but can’t, say, browse for science fiction books. So one day, Dr. Tamar E. Chansky‘s book came up on the first page of the long list of books available for download, and I thought, what the hell, stress is a huge migraine trigger for me, maybe this will help.

Although I felt the book could have been organized better, the information and strategies for dealing with anxiety, stress, and “negative” emotions more than made up for that shortcoming. At the book’s heart are four steps to help the reader overcome anxiety. These steps work both in the moment of anxiety and as a daily practice to help reduce the overall incidence of anxiety.

And here is the book’s real strength: Chansky doesn’t simply provide direction for calming the mind and body down when anxiety grips both, but direction and ideas for daily practice to train the body not to overreact to ordinary stressors and stimuli. Examples include instituting a time for regular, deep breathing to calm the body, keeping a gratitude journal to remind us of good things, and creating positive moments of joy (like playing with a pet) instead of waiting for them to simply happen.

Throughout the book, Chansky focuses on “possible thinking.” She actually advocates against false positive thinking, because studies have shown that telling yourself things are okay when they are not is just as bad as thinking negatively. Instead, she suggests re-focusing on reality: What is the actual situation? What do you truly believe will happen? Then, we can prepare ourselves for that situation instead of becoming stressed about out unlikely possibilities.

Admittedly, I haven’t been as dedicated in applying these strategies to my life as I should be (again, because stress is a huge migraine trigger for me), but even in my casual application I’ve seen a reduction in my stress and anxiety levels, at least in the moment. Just making myself pause and ask, “Kelly, do you really think that will happen?” is enough to calm me down. This book is overflowing with strategies, so I imagine almost every reader could find several that would work for him or her.

If you suffer from migraine or another chronic illness, and stress or anxiety trigger symptoms — or if you suffer from an anxiety disorder or simple depression — this book will provide you with something to fall back on when it feels like the world is slipping away from you, fast. I would, however, suggest reading a paper copy, because I often found myself wishing I could go back and re-read sections that I liked, and that’s a little more difficult with an audio book. This is an unpaid, unsponsored review.

How do you deal with stress and anxiety?