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New Kid on the Blog

Saturday, March 24, 2012
Posted in: willaful

Hey, everyone. I’m known in these parts as Willaful, though my willfulness sadly does not come with fiery red-hair, violet eyes, or a tendency to pound men with my tiny fists. I’m an avid romance reader and have been reviewing at GoodReads for a few years.

When Karen invited me to participate in her blog, my first thought (after “holy shit!”) was “This is really bad timing. I’m busy. I’m sad. Reading and reviewing have been very weird lately, because I’m busy and sad.”  But who am I to argue with Karen? I said I’d like to try, Karen suggested I could write about why I’m sad, if I wanted to, and since my feelings have had a lot of impact on my reading — and vice-versa — that made sense.

So here it is. Around two months ago I got the news that my friend J, who was battling cancer, was not going to win.  It kind of amazed me that the world didn’t just stop, especially amongst our group of friends. Parties kept happening. People kept right on posting silly links on Facebook. But possibly my reaction would seem just as strange to them: I pulled out my Nook and started reading a freebie ebook I’d picked up months before, The Reluctant Dom by Tymber Dalton. It’s a D/s novel about a man whose best friend is dying, who is chosen by the friend to take over as Dom to his sub wife.

Choosing to read this had nothing at all to do with my friend, or his wife, or my feelings towards them in any sexual or perverse way. It had to do with the fact that right then, I needed to share the space in my head with someone who understood how I was feeling. I needed solemnity, helplessness, desperate bargaining, grief. The fact that it came packaged with whips and leather really didn’t seem important, although having the comfort of my favorite genre probably didn’t hurt.

I also read another book, which serendipitously came out at just the right time: a romance between two teens with cancer, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. That book provided laughter and romantic sighs along with the grief, which also turned out to be just what I needed, because grieving non-stop is exhausting.

Having exactly the right book to read at the right time in your life is an amazing gift. It can make relatively impartial reviewing complex or impossible; I didn’t attempt a real review of The Fault in Our Stars, because my reaction to it was so visceral.  I could probably dig up some reasons why I think it’s actually a good book; I just didn’t feel the need or desire to.

Which is why I’ve been stewing a little bit over a line in a very popular GoodReads review of The Fault in Our Stars: “I understand why so many readers would have such an emotional response to the book. Nothing will get the ladies crying quicker than a kid dying of cancer.”

I dunno, but something about being judged by what I read makes me a little crazy. I suppose it might just have something to do with the fact that I’m a middle-aged stay-at-home mom who loves romance novels? In this case, of course, that line felt particularly like a slap in the face, since I wasn’t really crying over a kid in the book who was dying of cancer, but over a man in real life who was dying of cancer.

But what if I hadn’t read the book just then? What if I’d just picked it up on a normal day, because I happen to like John Green? It still would have made me cry, I bet — and so the fuck what? Who doesn’t have something in their life to cry about?  Books that help me cry are also an amazing gift.

My idea in writing this is not to suggest that reviewers ever pull their punches — how ludicrous would that be, coming from me, on this blog?!  I just could have done without the wholesale stereotyping and denigration of a group of readers based on what they enjoy reading.  I will graciously allow the readers who appreciated the book on a more intellectual level to be pissed off too.

Back to real life.  A friend’s long, slow, painful death provides a lot of time for processing. Every day I woke up wondering, “is this going to be the day?” Until the morning two weeks ago that my husband came into the bedroom while I was sleeping, and gently put his arms around me, and I knew that today was the day. And I discovered that I still had massive amounts of processing to do.

Reading has been hard, since then; I haven’t been as “lucky” as I was when I first got the news. I start books constantly and get no more than a page in before giving up and starting another. I listen to audiobooks, because somehow it’s so much less work. I’ve never been a fan of frothy books, but now it’s almost impossible to put up with them.  Finding that I’m reading a book without constantly checking its page numbers is another small gift. Finding a book actually inspires a review is a comforting sojourn in normal life. I love reviewing and I hate losing the ability or drive to do it.

Like I said earlier, the timing of the invitation wasn’t the best. But I’m thrilled to have been asked,  and honored by the trust Karen has shown me in giving me access to her blog. And the prospect of a good ranting space — gotta love that. I’ll aim to be more coherent and organized in future posts. For now, thanks for reading my ramblings. And goodbye J. We miss you.


  • Welcome to KKB Central, lovely and moving first post.



  • I don’t know if it helps to say, “I’ve been there.”, but I have. Grief and loss that effects you so deeply that you feel you’re not the same person you were before… Well, it’s not easy to appreciate the things that were once so simple. Reading a book doesn’t sound like it’s a ton of work, but it is. Books require us to slip into them. To lose ourselves in their fantasy and take us on an experience. But when your current experience is holding you in a fist in reality, well, it’s a fight you’re going to have trouble winning.

    I thought your post was beautiful. And from my experience, I can tell you that it does come back, that enjoyment of the frothy things. It’s a different enjoyment, but it’s there. The happy things do come back, even if the sad things are never quite gone. Many, many hugs on the loss of your friend and I look forward to seeing you here on the blog. 🙂



  • Welcome to KKB and thank you for sharing such a personal story. It’s so hard to get your bearings after you lose someone you love and sometimes you never return to where you were.

    You’ll find your way. Just don’t hold yourself to a time-table. And the community Karen’s created here is a great place to talk and share.


  • I am sorry to hear about your friend.

    I found reading to be the best coping mechanism for me, particularly once my mom decided that she didn’t want to continue chemo. My choices were entirely different to yours but I fully understand what you are saying.

    Looking forward to reading your posts.



  • {{{{hugs}}}}} to you, Willaful. My return to romance after a long hiatus came under similar circumstances to yours.


  • Thanks so much for the welcomes and sympathy. Oddly enough, writing this post was really great for my reading and reviewing mojo; I guess it was cathartic. I haven’t felt comfortable indulging my grief in my usual outlets, because they’re filled with people grieving even more.


  • Welcome to KKB, Willaful. Thank you for sharing this with us–and I’m very happy you found it cathartic to do so.


  • I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your friend and what you have been going through.

    You are such a wonderful contributor every where you go online, I can’t wait to see more of what you have to say here.



  • Thank you Jessica, that is an incredible compliment.


  • Patrice
    March 26
    2:52 am

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts Willaful. Big Hugs on the loss of your friend. My husband and I also lost a good friend to cancer in January. We adopted his dog, which is a bittersweet joy. I thought I was going crazy “still” having trouble concentrating enough to read more than a few pages at a time, even in favorite books, losing objects around the house and feeling like I start 100 things a day but don’t finish 1. So your post really struck a chord with me. I look forward to your reviews! XO


  • I’m so sorry for your loss. Cancer is such a horrible, indiscriminate killer.

    I’m so happy to see you over here at KKB. Can’t wait to hear more about what’s up with you, your reading, and all else.


  • Patrice, it’s kind of comforting to know it’s not just me. I have been able to enjoy some books and have a review coming up tomorrow, but today I’m all over the place again. Read a snippet of this, a few pages of that.

    Thanks for the welcome, Lori. It’s too true. We had several losses to cancer last year as well, though not people we were as close to. So far, this decade bites.


  • I’m so sorry about your friend and all the other losses you have experienced lately. ((((((hugs))))))

    Getting through a dark period in one’s life does take time – in my experience it’s very much an uphill battle: one day you win a bit of ground, the next you might lose a bit again. But eventually, those strips of time when you feel happy and can enjoy lighthearted things again, will get longer and longer.

    I’m looking forward to your posts here at KKB


  • Felicia
    March 27
    2:09 pm

    Willaful, glad you decided to take the plunge and accept Karen’s offer. You honor your friend’s memory by allowing yourself to mourn the place in your life and the hole left by the passing. Just as you honor the memory by taking a small step forward. I lost my very bestest friend 11 years ago, cancer sucks, and your post took me back to those days of wondering when would be her last.

    I look forward to your reviews.


  • Anon 76
    March 28
    10:00 pm

    Good to have you here, Willaful.

    The Arts and even nature provide you with trigger points that bring back memories you sometimes want to forget…or revel in. Books that hit home to me at certain points of my life don’t often seem so “spot on” now. It’s natural. Same with songs. Same with the beginning of spring smells in NE Ohio US. (One of my old triggers.)

    After a while they become “nostalgia” in your memories and you can revisit them without true pain, just a bittersweet smile over things past.

    It does take a while though.

    Again, just saying a hello and welcome.


  • […] still 100 more pages left, and groaned out loud. (I’m not going to identify the book, since my current weird state of mind might have contributed to how little I was enjoying it.) Thank goodness Trouble At the Wedding came […]

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