Unfashionable Fears

October 5th, 2007

AlbertSoup du Jour:

Today we look at a “clump” of three books that shed soft light on social fears.

Ingredients (books discussed):

Camilla's New HairdoSuggested Side Dishes (related books):

Jump into Today’s Soup (feedback):

Join the conversation by clicking the Comments link below or sending an email to justonemorebook@gmail.com.

Second Helpings (transcript of podcast):

EmilyTemperatures are dropping, leaves are turning red and, where I live, front porches are filling up with skeletons, ghosts and spiderwebs. I love Hallowe’en.

No wait — I love the Hallowe’en season.

I love the books. I love the preparations. I love the way the anticipation pulls the community together. What I don’t love – what is absolute agony for me — is the main event. Trick-or-treating scares me stiff.

And it’s not the blood and gore, the safety issues or the dental bills – it’s the free-for-all of friendly interaction that scares me. I suffer from social anxiety so, for me, trick-or-treating is right up there on the scariness scale with mingling and small talk.

Serious social anxiety is a solitary scariness. It’s not easily recognized, accepted or understood. And, unlike the more fashionable first-day-of-school and going-to-the-doctor fears, it’s not easily represented children’s books.

Luckily, over time I have stumbled across a handful of books brave enough to tackle this topic. Today we look at a “clump” of three books that offer a peek into the world of social anxiety, where the basic need for companionship can be outweighed by noiseless, gnawing social fear.

AlbertAlbert (Donna Jo Napoli Illustrated by Jim LaMarche; 2005 Harcourt Books) tells the tale of a wiry young man whose longing to leap into life is thwarted daily by nagging fears. Each morning he stands at his barred window and assesses the sounds, sights and sensations on the bustling street below him. Each morning the many pleasures that beckon him are squelched by the first hint of unpleasantness — and Albert returns to his solitude. Through magical circumstances that only great fables can provide, he is detained at his window by a family of cardinals. Forced to witness the textured ups and downs of the world around him, he learns (or decides) that although the outside world can be both beautiful and scary, it is worth the risk. This inspiring book captures, with softness and honesty, that tireless tussle between longing and fear and, although sudden and unrealistic, the magical cracking of Albert’s shell invites us to strive for and celebrate small, ongoing victories over social fear.
Camilla's New HairdoCamilla’s New Hairdo (Tricia Tusa; 1991 Farrar, Straus and Giroux) presents a variation on the solitary life shaped by fear. Camilla is an eccentric older woman who confines herself to a tall doorless tower, happily styling and re-styling her Rapunzelesque hair. Only when a spunky young friend falls into her life does Camilla realize that — fear or no fear — watching life is far less thrilling than living life. Camilla’s resulting leap into life is literal — where Albert’s was figurative — and I love that both books use the flying metaphor to so effectively describe the dizzying effect of stepping into the sweeping expanse of social risk.

EmilyEmily (Michael Bedard Illustrated by Barbara Cooney; 1992 Dell Dragonfly Books) is a fictional remembering of reclusive poet, Emily Dickinson. This gorgeously illustrated and beautifully told story reflects on the inexplicable magic and mystery of individual personalities and compares the obvious longing and odd, frightened, solitary behavior of the eccentric poet with the beauty and mystery of music, poetry and life. Emily’s obvious desire for and fondness of company, however limited her capacity to tolerate it, vividly demonstrates that fear of social interactions does not arise from unfriendliness or hard feelings. This stirring and inspiring book is full of sadness, intrigue and hope and leaves us with Emily’s own heartfelt words urging us to recognize and seize the heaven-like happiness in the world around us. It’s left to us to decide how.

These books give us three small, delicate windows into the world of social fears. I do hope you’ll tell me about others…

Thanks for listening. I’m Andrea Ross from the Just One More Book! Podcast and we’ve been Swimming in Literary Soup.

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