Thursday, 30 April 2020

One Good Reason by Séan McCann



I finished reading One Good Reason a few days ago, and I still cannot stop carrying this book around. (Not that I'm really going anywhere, pandemic and all, but still, it keeps making its way around the house with me.) And when I'm not carrying it from the kitchen to the living room to the bedroom, I'm thinking about it.

I knew this book was going to be a different flavour than the memoirs from his ex-bandmates, but I was not prepared to so profoundly feel while I was reading it.

One Good Reason is written by both Séan McCann and his wife Andrea Aragon. It is the story of the abuse he suffered as a teen, his subsequent addiction to alcohol, and his inspiring recovery. It is a book that proves we can do hard things and that those hard things become easier when we are connected to others, when we hope, and when we never give up.



Reading these honest stories can be an act of empathy, and it can also be unsettling.

Can I still look back at those Great Big Sea concerts with the extreme happiness I felt when I was there? Can I still remember the moments I had with roommates, dancing away to their CDs, with joy? How do I reconcile these memories now knowing they came fuelled from someone's pain? These are questions for which I have no answers.

One Good Reason is full of stories, songs, and art. I could not stop reading and yet I wanted to slow down and savour every word. I especially enjoyed the lyrics and drawings peppered throughout the pages. It added so much to my reading experience to pause and listen to the songs when they appeared in the book.




One Good Reason is deeply personal for both Séan and Andrea, and I admire how open they are willing to be as voices for hope, mental illness, and recovery.

One chapter in the book that really touched me was when Séan wrote about his speaking event at the London Recovery Breakfast in Ontario, September 2014. Inspired by the speaker before him that morning, Séan finally spoke his full truth aloud to the room and shared the secret that had been haunting him for more than 30 years, the story of his own sexual abuse from a priest and family friend. It was heartbreaking to read, and I can only imagine what the energy in the room that morning must have been.

Séan then writes that that same evening he had solo singing event booked at a small room in the bar C'est What in Toronto.

"I have no memory of the show itself, only a feeling of euphoria and release. I let my songs fly like arrows of love and I felt every heart in that tiny room melt together into one. With every song I grew stronger, and for the first time in twenty-five years the stage felt like exactly the place where I was supposed to be. My mask had come off and the people in the audience would finally witness the real me as I evolved into the best version of myself."
Séan McCann, One Good Reason

Friends, I was at C'est What for that show.

These were my pre-Twitter days, so I had no idea what Séan had revealed at the Recovery Breakfast that morning, and while he may not remember the show itself, I do.

Sebastian was only one, and Rob and I still weren't going out much, but when I saw that Séan was coming to Toronto, I thought this was the perfect opportunity for us to get a babysitter and plan a date night.

I remember showing up at the "doors open" time listed on the tickets only to find that there were no seats left in the tiny, little room. C'est What is a restaurant/bar, and many people had arrived for the show early. I had come ready to listen to music, sing along, and enjoy my favourite musician. However, I was still a new mom to a very young child, and my days of standing all evening long in a bar were behind me. I remember feeling a very real panic that we'd have to leave, and I nearly cried (likely from the lack of sleep throughout the year). Saving the day, my calm, easy-going husband, went to speak with the wait staff. I don't know or care what he said, but he somehow convinced them to create some space for us at the centre table. This room was small, friends. There was one longer table in the centre of the room, a few small ones along the side, a simple stage, and that was it.

Matt Wells played a few songs to start. I hadn't heard of him before, but we all enjoyed his set. Then, Séan came on and sang songs from his album, Help Your Self. We sang, we drank, we listened, and there definitely was a special feeling in the room that night. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I could sense that there was something big happening behind the scenes, and yet Séan sang his heart out for all of us. To make the evening even more special, he patiently and happily chatted with every single person who wished to say "hi" after the show.




Reading in One Good Reason about just how special that show was to Séan, and knowing that I was a witness (dare I say participant?) to that event gives me chills and makes me teary, to be honest. His intimate show was perfect, and I left the bar that night with joy and music filling my heart.

One Good Reason is a story of hope. It reminds us that showing up for our loved ones is what matters in the end and that recovery is possible, even after the most darkest of days.

I believe that when we're able to share our struggles with others, it helps everyone feel less alone, and isn't that what we all ultimately need to survive? Connection? Whether it's sharing a meal, singing along with a musician at a concert, or chatting with a friend through Zoom, I think these invisible threads bind us and keep us going from one day to the next.

One Good Reason is out now and available from your favourite bookseller. It's sold out in hardcover on Amazon, so now may be the perfect time to support your local indie. You can also get your hands on a personalized, signed copy when ordering from Séan's website.

xo
Jenn

PS - For any other Séan McCan and Great Big Sea fans reading this, I have a few previous posts about Séan and the band here and here from waaaay back in 2013 when I started writing this little blog.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger


People seem to be either reading more than usual during the quarantine or much less than usual. I am weirdly falling into the camp of reading more than usual. It's productive procrastination. I feel good about reading a book because when I'm done, it feels like "I finished something".

My most recent read is The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger. The Gifted School was pretty popular when it released last year, and, as a teacher in a private school, I've been curious about this novel.

The story centres around four mothers who have been friends for over a decade. Their children have grown up together, and when an elite school for exceptional children starts taking applications for their first cohort, tensions rise and drama ensues.

Told through prose, news articles, and even a teen vlog, The Gifted School is juicy, entertaining, and compulsively readable. It calls out class, race, and privilege and is timely given the recent college admissions scandal. The characters aren't especially likeable, but I don't think they are supposed to be likeable. Instead, they are representative of many parents today.

This book is perfect for parents, educators, and lovers of literary and contemporary fiction.

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me a copy to review.

xo
Jenn

Thursday, 2 April 2020

Postscript by Cecelia Ahern



Postscript is the sequel to the bestselling novel P.S. I Love You by Cecelia Ahern. Postscript (which can be read as a standalone) meets up with Holly seven years after the death of her husband, Gerry. After hearing about her story on a podcast, a small group of terminally ill acquaintances seek out Holly's help. They are inspired by Gerry, and they'd like to prepare special goodbyes for the own loved ones. Their own special messages and gifts for their families to comfort them in a time of sorrow.

I never read P.S. I Love You, but I did watch the movie before reading Postscript. I had avoided this book/movie, because I thought it would be too heartbreaking, and I was pleasantly surprised by the movie. I found it to be touching and hopeful.

Postscript is an emotional book. The messages about grief and loss are powerful, and the moments Holly spends with the different patients in the book are heartfelt and moving.

Unfortunately, I think this book is a victim of me reading it at the wrong time. This is not a comfort read, and I found it much more heartbreaking than the P.S. I Love You movie. Additionally, I didn't alway agree or understand Holly's perspective, but I've also never experienced profound grief the way she has, so it's difficult for me to judge.

If you loved Holly and Gerry in the first book, definitely read Postscript. There are many flashbacks to the two of them and a few more surprises in store for the reader. Be warned that the theme of death and loss will pull deeply at your heart, so maybe save it until after our pandemic is over.

xo
Jenn

Disclaimer - I received a complementary copy of this book from Read Forever and Grand Central Publishing for review purposes. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

ShareThis