Lauren Baratz-Logsted on ‘Breast Left Unsaid’ by Jude Callirgos
The last time I wrote a piece for Shelf Pleasure, it was about my 89-year-old mother’s obsession with That Book. Sixteen days after it ran, my mother died less than one month shy of her 90th birthday. No one should feel sorry for me. It was a good death in that it was instant and prior to that, she was still mentally sound and physically mobile. The last time I saw her we laughed and the last time I spoke with her I told her I loved her; I know this because I always did. We should all be so lucky to live so long and go so easy, loved.
Today I’m here to talk about a different book, Breast Left Unsaid: A True and Uncensored Story of Survival by Jude Callirgos.
I first met Jude over 20 years ago. It was one of those deals in which the man she married happened to be a lifelong friend of the man I married. I always liked Jude and enjoyed her company. But, as those deals also go, when she and her husband divorced, our reason to stay connected ended with her marriage.
Then, a few months ago, we reconnected on Twitter. A lot had happened to Jude in the intervening years, including a new husband and breast cancer. And Jude had written a book, a memoir about the 18-month period in her life when she was dealing with the divorce and aging parents and breast cancer, a book she had self-published.
Was I ecstatic that this had happened? Obviously I wasn’t happy that she’d had breast cancer. But beyond that, was I ecstatic that she’d written a book and self-published it? I have to confess, not necessarily.
I have nothing against my friends writing books – an astonishing number of them do – and I have nothing against self-publishing; I’ve done it a few times myself. But when you’re a writer, it seems you can’t move without a friend, an acquaintance, the mailman, a stray seatmate on a plane telling you about the book they’re going to write, and these books, when written, are sometimes not good. So I wasn’t ecstatic; let’s say I was cautious. Then I thought: but Jude had always been so smart and funny, so maybe it would be good? Then I thought: but how many times had I known smart and funny people who couldn’t capture what was good about them at a cocktail party into something other people would pay good money for? And so I was back to feeling anti-ecstatic caution.
Then I went to a reading Jude gave of her book. If nothing else tells you the affection I hold for this woman, the fact that I would drive 45 minutes to an evening event should, since I rarely go out at night unless there’s an event at my daughter’s school. Mostly, the world comes to me, preferably bearing wine.
As Jude started to read, I realized that by “a reading,” it really was going to be a reading. I was taken aback a bit by this. Whenever I talk in public, no matter if the event is billed as “a reading,” it’s mostly just me telling stories about writing and publishing, because in my experience, most of the people who come want to know the tricks of the trade; they want to know how to get from where they are to where I am, such as it is. Another problem I have with authors actually reading, apart from the fact that some just aren’t very good at it: It’s rarely the best way for me to receive the written word. My mind wanders and before you know it, I’m…well, who knows where I go?
But that’s not what happened last night. Jude wound up reading for the entire hour, excerpts from various parts of her book, and my mind didn’t wander for a second. What she’d written, and her expressive reading of what she’d written, was nothing short of amazing. You know how you pick up books and the blurb promises they “will make you laugh and cry and think”? But then you get the book home, you read the bloody thing through, and you’re incensed, flapping the pages, wondering if some were removed from your copy because: “I didn’t laugh once! I was never even sad for a second! And I know I’m not thinking right now!” Last night, though, Jude made everyone in that audience laugh and cry and think. I know, because I heard the laughter, saw the tears in their eyes. I know, because I was laughing and crying too. And now I’m thinking – I’m thinking that I wish I knew this extraordinary woman better; and I’m thinking how lucky I am, based on the harrowing and hilarious and brilliant material I heard last night, to have this book on my nightstand.
Who knows? After this, maybe I’ll be less non-ecstatic cautious the next time the UPS man tells me he’s going to write a book. Well, let’s not go that far.
Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of 31 books for adults, teens and children. Some of those books are good, some are better than good, and some you could skip. You can read more about her life and work at www.laurenbaratzlogsted.com or follow her on Twitter at @LaurenBaratzL.
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