This is a guest post from Steph Auteri. Steph is a freelance writer and editor who has overshared in Playgirl, Time Out New York, Bustle, Ploughshares, and a slew of other publications. She regularly collaborates with sexuality professionals, helping them out with books, blog posts, social media, and more. Steph also blogs about motherhood for mom.me, teaches yoga, and works hard to maintain her cat lady cred. You can learn more at stephauteri.com. Follow her on Twitter @stephauteri.
Only 15 pages into my ARC of Rebecca Barry’s Recipes for a Beautiful Life: A Memoir in Stories, I was charmed. I knew I was in it for the long haul. Fifteen pages more and I was folding down the corners of pages, underlining phrases, placing entire paragraphs in parentheses. A day later, I found myself grieving over the knowledge that this book would eventually end. I could barely catch my breath knowing that this author wasn’t someone I knew in real life, wasn’t someone I could meet at my local coffee shop, sit across the table from, grasp her hand in mutual understanding as we muddled through life’s ups and downs together.
More than a platonic soul mate, this woman was me. Somehow, she had reached inside my heart and revealed myself to me, told my story far better than I ever could, despite the fact that I am also allegedly a writer.
How was I supposed to be able to go on living without her?
I had had a similar experience the week before, reading Emily Nagoski, Ph.D.’s Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life. I know. It doesn’t exactly sound like Eat, Pray, Love. But as a sex writer who had built my entire career upon a shitty experience that had occurred about 15 years ago in an attempt to “fix” myself, Nagoski’s book was like a punch to the gut. When I read the passage that made me realize—after all these years—that I was not actually broken, I began to cry. My husband was sleeping, oblivious, beside me. I clutched the comforter on my bed, holding on for dear life, wishing I could clutch Nagoski’s hand, thank her. I wished she was someone who was actively in my life, someone I could reach out to for grounding every time I momentarily forgot the lessons in her book.
It’s rare to find this in a book. Sure, all the yoga memoirs and writing how-tos on my shelves give me a little bit of this. To a far lesser degree. But mostly, I read to escape and to dream. I have written many love letters to the horror genre, for example, and my fondness for food memoirs is certainly not indicative of any aptitude I myself might have in the kitchen. There are travel memoirs I count among my favorite books, yet I’d choose a cozy staycation over another two-week trip to Europe in an instant. These books are enjoyable, but they are not me.
But then there is a book like Marci Alboher’s One Person / Multiple Careers that lets me know I’m not an unfocused mess for wanting to do ALL THE THINGS with my life. There is Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, which immediately touches the nerve in me that fears that I am, indeed, a bad feminist. There is Barry’s book, that describes perfectly a struggle parallel to my own with a big dream I am afraid let go of even though I no longer want it, afraid that others will see me as a failure.
There are these moments and jolts of epiphany and recognition as I hunch over in bed with my latest read.
In these moments, I want to reach out and hold that author’s hand. But all I can do is hold my breath and cross my fingers and pray that behind this book, there will be another one.
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