Welcome to Off the Shelf, a monthly tasting menu of everything literary the Winning Edits team has been devouring!
In this new column, I’ll be taking you on a literary-culinary tour of the Winning Edits team’s bookshelves.
We kick off with some dry-humor classics from both sides of the Atlantic, plus three memoirs that shine a light on the plight and prospects of people facing chronic illness.
Around the World in 80 Days
First up is one on my nightstand, Around the World in 80 Days by Michael Palin of Monty Python fame. Around the World is a diary-style recounting of Palin’s 1988 attempt to replicate the journey of Phileas Fogg, the protagonist of Jules Verne’s 1873 novel Around the World in Eighty Days, who attempted to make it—wait for it—around the world in 80 days.
This print accompaniment to the 1989 BBC documentary of the same name follows Palin as he sets a course from London through the Middle East, India, East Asia, and North America via land and sea. His intention? To faithfully recreate Fogg’s route and means of transportation—meaning, notably, no air travel.
Fans of Monty Python will feel, if not right at home, in good hands here. The absurdist vein of the Python troupe’s comedy gives way to droll reflections on culture shock and the drudgery/exhaustion of terrestrial travel. (You’ll lose count of how many times Palin’s train or boat is delayed.)
Does he make it? I haven’t finished it yet, and the book’s age makes it easy to avoid spoilers…
Racing forward in time to the present, the travel tome takes on a different form in Airbnbmag, the home sharing service’s very own print magazine.
In fact, Editorial Director Janna Maron’s admiration for Airbnbmag leads her to “swear this magazine was created just for me.”
For Janna, this magazine about travel also hits close to home. “My husband and I have been Airbnb hosts for almost five years now, and this magazine encompasses everything we love about the experience. Not to mention, it’s just a gorgeous magazine with excellent design and photography.”
Much like Winning Edits’ own Hyperlink Magazine, Airbnbmag represents a growing back-to-analog trend that’s driven many digital brands to re-embrace the power of the tangible. And so Janna also finds Airbnbmag fascinating “from a content experience perspective: watching how a very well known brand harnesses the medium of a magazine to further solidify its brand identity and connection with fans and community.”
Airbnbmag is a perfect vehicle for a brand with literally the entire world in its sights.
Says Janna, “It’s kind of genius.”
The Other Side of Impossible
The first is another item on Janna’s reading shelf, The Other Side of Impossible: Ordinary People Who Faced Daunting Medical Challenges and Refused to Give Up, by Susannah Meadows. Meadows, a journalist whose son suffers from juvenile idiopathic arthritis, shares the stories of people who have chosen alternative medicine to treat diseases and conditions commonly thought of as “incurable”—including arthritis, multiple sclerosis, severe food allergies, epilepsy, and ADHD.
Meadows recounts her search to find answers for her son, and weaves in stories of other families like hers who fight against the odds of conventional thought in traditional medicine. Janna appreciates how “Meadows writes candidly about what she discovers in these stories, with a healthy dose of a journalist’s skepticism that makes hers a trustworthy voice.”
It’s Just Nerves
Another noteworthy exploration of one person’s fight against chronic illness comes to us from Associate Editor Non Wels, who is engrossed in Kelly Davio’s It’s Just Nerves: Notes on a Disability, a collection of essays that explore what it means to not just live but thrive with a disability in the 21st century.
For Non, this account of the author’s battle with the autoimmune disease myasthenia gravis—a battle that’s physical, mental, spiritual, and cultural—is poetic and heart-rending.
“There’s something so elegant and intimate about the way Davio depicts her experience living with this debilitating disease. She does so while giving the reader a pretty detailed (and at times horrifying) glimpse into the state of modern healthcare, the societally perpetuated stigma of illness, and being a woman in a world (sadly) run by men,” he says.
In a similar vein, another of my recent reads was Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery by Cathryn Jakobson Ramin. Crooked is this investigative journalist’s quest to find relief for her chronic back pain after spending “years and a small fortune on a panoply of treatments” but finding herself still hobbled and seeking an effective route to healing.
As a result, Ramin embarks on a quest to uncover the truth about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to back pain. Her journey involves interviews with all manner of clinical specialists and specialized bodywork practitioners, with the aim of giving readers a shortcut to avoid “therapeutic dead ends” that only prolong suffering.
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
A modern classic of sorts has caught Production Editor David Grabowski’s attention: Dave Eggers’ divisive 2000 memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which sets Eggers toe-to-toe with his Anglo counterparts in the wit stakes.
Since its publication at the turn of the century, A Heartbreaking Work, known to some as “AHWOSG,” has inspired a level of fandom matched only by the fervency of its detractors—and David has happily grabbed himself a spot aboard the bandwagon.
“It’s both an amusing read and laugh-out-loud funny. I can’t stop snickering whenever I’m reading it; Eggers is unrelentingly sarcastic and irreverent, yet somehow poignant and heartfelt as well.”
Eggers also manages to take literary conventions—such as the typical format and content of a book’s preface or acknowledgments section—and, as David puts it, “roll them into a paper ball, and toss them casually out the window.”
“The book is impossibly witty and manages to poke fun at the firmament of very-serious, literary memoirs—even though AHWOSG is clearly right up there too.”
The Lord Peter Wimsey Novels
We take one final detour on this month’s journey through Bookland, from wit to whimsy—or Wimsey, as in the Lord Peter Wimsey novels, a series of “classic British detective novels” that have caught Senior Web Producer Mindy Holahan Peters‘ eye.
Dorothy L. Sayers’ adventures of “gentleman detective” Peter Wimsey (described as having “straw-coloured hair, a beaked nose, and a vaguely foolish face”) and his valet/sidekick, Mervyn Bunter, plow the fertile comical-satirical ground of the British class system to satisfying effect.
For those looking for a reference point, Mindy points out that the books “fall into the same vein as Agatha Christie novels”—and she enjoys them for much the same reason she appreciates Christie’s mysteries: “The language is light and fun even though the topics are dark. Everyone seems bemused that a crime could happen near them—which is fun given that we’re in a world where everyone is sure crime lurks around every corner.”