I’m now officially 15% into my 2016 book challenge, which was marked by finishing the very thought provoking posthumous collection of essays and stories (a mix of fiction and non-fiction) by Marina Keegan, titled ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’.
Whilst at work one day, I decided to wander into town on my lunch break and chose to browse Waterstones. I absolutely love doing this for some reason, I find it quite calming, just flicking through books, occasionally finding one which I might like to read and then having an argument with myself as to whether or not I’ll actually finish the book, let alone start it.
To tell you the truth, I’m not entirely sure why I picked this book off the shelve in the first place, I imagine it was probably something to do with the beautiful bright yellow coat which Marina is wearing. And then of course, the title. Something which grabbed me.
As I stood in the shop, I started to read the blurb printed inside the dust jacket and could feel my eyes well up. I couldn’t quite believe what I had read, ‘Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash’, and in fact, I distinctly remember having to read it a couple of times to check that the book wasn’t a fictional novel. Nope, it was definitely about a budding writer who had been lost far too early. But Marina wasn’t just a budding writer, she was a published writer with a job waiting for her at the New Yorker following her graduation. Had Marina been around today, I am certain that her writing would be as celebrated and that the ‘hype’ surrounding this book is not just because of the sad truth that lies behind it.
The Opposite of Loneliness
Marina wrote the essay ‘The Opposite of Loneliness’ as a commencement piece for when she and her class graduated from Yale University in 2012. When I read this piece I felt astonished that someone else had shared the same feelings that I had when my time at university was coming to an end. That dread that things will never be the same again, and the prospect of being so far away from the huge community you had been surrounded with for the past three years. She voices all of the concerns and more but also reassures her peers that they’re still young, and still free to choose to follow an alternative path. This is not the end, merely the beginning of a new chapter. What makes this particular essay even more poignant is that only five days after she graduated, she died in a car accident, no longer able to chose a different career path and no longer able to strive for the opposite of loneliness.
My favourite bit?
This book is full of beautiful pieces of writing which Marina had written as part of her classes or just for fun. Some are stories, others are essays about her thoughts on her gluten free diet or observations from family travels. I think her essay ‘Why we care about whales’ is probably the chapter which gripped me the most. Marina wrote with such eloquence and it’s easy to forget how young she was, but with a very mature head on her. The essay explores our relationships with struggling animals and compares them with how we respond to struggling people around the world. Marina questions why we show more compassion for animals than what we do for the homeless or people who have had to flee atrocities in their own country. She also questions why we choose to be sentimental to specific animals, and yet turn a blind eye to what happens to animals which quite regularly frequent our dinner plate. To me, she sums up how hypocritical humans as a race can be and how we struggle to relate to our own.
What did I learn?
Life is short and fragile.
I didn’t learn anything new from this book, but it certainly helped to cement the feeling that life is short and that complacency really isn’t a good thing. Just because we’re here today, doesn’t mean we’ll all be here tomorrow. Which scares me so much, but its such a reminder to make sure we experience life, to do what we want (within reason!) and to spend our time with those we want to be surrounded with.
Have you read Marina’s book – what did you think of it? I’d love to know!