by Kailee Haong
For me, and likely for many, reading can be an excellent source of self-care. If I find my mind racing, or find myself in a creative rut, or just need a break from constantly being on a screen like we tend to be these days, I know the power that picking up a book can wield.
Where my reading taste might set me apart, however, is in genre. I was never able to get into reading books within the “self-help” genre. Something about the content never sits right with me, and the motivational-type advice or storytelling doesn’t allow me to achieve that sense of reflection I always hope to find in a good book.
Enough about what I don’t like to read when winding down for a day or night of self care. I want to recommend three different books for you to consider for your next self-care read: a collection of poetry and prose, a graphic novel, and a memoir. A loose theme tying these three books together would be grief–the ways in which we deal with it, learn from it, grow from it, and sometimes get stuck in it. While it might sound antithetical to read books on hard topics as a form of self-care, I find that leaning into and embracing things that are challenging is actually the best way to care for oneself.
Mindful Reads That Spark Self-Exploration
Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief by Victoria Chang
This mixed-media collection of poetry and prose is moving and undeniably provoking. Photos and poetry sit next to each other on each page, creating a scrapbook of sorts, a memorial to family and history. Ever since I read Obit by Victoria Chang, I’ve been enthralled by the way she uses space–negative, liminal–to tell a story.
These poems present a challenge. What do you we remember, how do we remember, and are we remembering correctly? Throughout this collection Chang plays with the faultiness and fragility of memory, and the implications of what that might mean for those trying to remember.
Purchase Dear Memory: Letters on Writing, Silence, and Grief by Victoria Chang by using the following links:
Heavy by Kiese Laymon
Admittedly, it took me a few pages to really get into this memoir, but as soon as I hit my stride, I couldn’t put it down. Heavy quite literally weighed on me–brought me down into the weeds to examine things like the policing of Black bodies, eating disorders, the general culture of violence and addiction.
This memoir is one that is so culturally significant, I think it should be a required read for everybody. It’s not often when a book is able to cover so many topics in a way that does each of those topics justice without losing anything or taking away anything. We follow Laymon from childhood into adulthood and explore every complicated thing that happens in between. It is a magnifying glass to a painful past, a reflection of personal growth. It moved me to my core.
Stone Fruit by Lee Lai
Stone Fruit has everything I desire in a graphic novel: aesthetic drawings, a limited color palette, and most importantly, a deep and memorable story. We get an intimate peek inside of four worlds–Ray, Bron (Ray’s partner), Nessie (Ray’s niece), and Amanda (Ray’s sister). Ray and Bron being the “fun aunties” where Nessie can truly unleash her wildness–figuratively and literally.
With her aunts, Nessie transforms into a beast-like creature, roaming forests, having adventures, being free. What is nestled in this world is heartbreak, moving on from a relationship, grief, depression. We can learn from Nessie a bit about letting go, about embracing the hurt but not losing parts of who we are. It was a tear-jerker for me, a graphic novel that will sit with me always.
Kailee Haong is a queer writer and editor. She holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University. Her work has been published in Split Lip, Moss, The Inlander, Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living Magazine, Lilac City Fairy Tales, and elsewhere. She writes & resides in the Pacific NW.