Politics

John Gunther, Joyce Maynard: The Books Briefing


To insist, because the journalist John Gunther did, that Death Be Not Proud deserved to be printed was to insist that the boy it memorialized deserved to be remembered, not solely by his household however by the world. As his 17-year-old son, Johnny, died of most cancers, Gunther drafted a candid portrait of his grief. When it was printed, in 1949, his stage of disclosure was nonetheless thought of uncouth, and Gunther knew it. But Death Be Not Proud was successful, resonating with a United States shocked by the tragedy of the Second World War. By transferring his anguish from the non-public sphere to the general public one, Gunther inaugurated an everlasting style: the grief memoir.

The United States is grieving, once more, because it reckons with each the acute tragedies of extra mass shootings and the prolonged trauma of a pandemic that has left tens of millions unable to correctly mourn. With funerals for 19 kids and two academics below means in Uvalde, Texas, maybe books like Gunther’s can provide Americans a lesson in grieving in public, collectively, as a substitute of shouldering the burden alone.

Years after the demise of Johnny Gunther, a falling brick struck and killed Jayson Greene’s daughter. Literature helped him discover phrases to explain shedding a toddler, culminating in his memoir, Once More We Saw Stars. Clemantine Wamariya places a whole neighborhood’s loss on the web page in The Girl Who Smiled Beads, a memoir of the Rwandan genocide (written along with Elizabeth Weil) that resists leaving readers with a facile sense of uplift. Grief, it suggests, isn’t made simpler by survival. On this level, Philippe Lançon, a journalist wounded within the 2015 capturing on the places of work of Charlie Hebdo, agrees. Laced with humor, Le Lambeau recounts Lançon’s restoration and his effort to reclaim his life.

These narratives resonate, the creator Deborah Cohen argues, as a result of they transfer past the “celebration of the ‘I’” generally related to memoir and “attempt to heal the collective ‘we.’” Not all writers handle to convey that “we” collectively, to make certain. Joyce Maynard’s The Best of Us, for instance, misses the mark: Caitlin Flanagan writes that the memoir fails to flee the shadow of its creator’s narcissism. (In a response to The Atlantic, Maynard disagreed.) But the style can provide readers connection—and instruction. “Thank God there are people like you who still realize the infinite value of one soul when the world is devising new means of mass killing,” one reader wrote to Johnny’s mom. The finest grief memoirs remind us of that worth.

Every Friday in the Books Briefing, we thread collectively Atlantic tales on books that share related concepts. Know different e-book lovers who would possibly like this information? Forward them this e mail.

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What We’re Reading

black and white photo of John Gunther wearing suit and tie, sitting in a chair, with hands in coat pockets and legs crossed

Photograph by Irving Penn | John Gunther, New York, 1947 | © The Irving Penn Foundation

The e-book that unleashed American grief
“The battle between Johnny’s fine mind and the savagery of the tumor was like the fight [Gunther had] witnessed in fascist Vienna and Berlin: ‘A primitive to-the-death struggle of reason against violence, reason against disruption, reason against brute unthinking force.’ To insist on the value of a single existence was to strike back at that shocking disregard for human life.”

+ 1997: Arthur Schlesinger Jr. on John Gunther and the writing of Inside U.S.A.


a cluster of stars on a dark field

Doug McLean

The purgatory that comes after shedding a toddler
“You slowly learn to believe in your child’s ongoing existence. Their future begins to take shape in your mind … [But] what happens to this sense when your child is swiftly killed by a runaway piece of your everyday environment, at the exact moment you had given up thinking that something could take all of this away at any moment?”


the cover of The Girl Who Smiled Beads

Crown

The Girl Who Smiled Beads defies simple uplift
“Forget raw and pure: Wamariya’s quest is to create some semblance of moral and emotional coherence out of a life that too often feels like a self-corroding performance.”


Joyce Maynard on the cover of an old issue of the New York Times Magazine

Sebastien Micke / ‘Paris Match’ / Getty

The queen of oversharing
“Fredelle Maynard once published a book about parenting in which she averred that the most important gift to give a child was the certainty that ‘never since the beginning of time has there been anybody just like you.’ It is this lesson (perhaps the ultimate Boomer credo) that animates Joyce’s collected essays and memoirs.”

+ Read Maynard’s response to Flanagan’s evaluate.


a crowd of mourners gathers outside, with some clutching a French flag

Fred Lancelot / Reuters

What the November 13 assaults taught Paris
“Of all these books that touch on the attacks of 2015, the one that is most affecting—for the beauty of its prose, the complexity of its emotions, its sense of irony and humor and pain, its ability to exist in the moment and to transcend it as a universal testimony—is Le Lambeau.”


About us: This week’s e-newsletter is written by Andrew Aoyama. The e-book he’s studying subsequent is The Ambassadors, by Henry James.

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