By Jennifer Haupt
Rated: 4 stars ****
Candid and emotional with plenty that people can relate to or at least begin to understand that Covid 19 has affected everyone in some way or another or you might know someone who has been affected. In so many ways, I too have been affected by Covid 19 and that’s without actually (so far), having had it myself.
This book was created also to help Indie bookstores hit by lockdowns, but also to give writers and poets a “voice” and outlet. Its content is, however, relatable to many people, whatever your position and wherever you are in the world.
Thanks to Jennifer Haupt and Central Avenue Publishing for accepting my request to review.
Check out the blurb and review below.
ALONE TOGETHER: Love, Grief, and Comfort During the Time of COVID-19 is a collection of essays, poems, and interviews to serve as a lifeline for negotiating how to connect and thrive during this stressful time of isolation as well as a historical perspective that will remain relevant for years to come. All contributing authors and business partners are donating their share to The Book Industry Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit organization that coordinates charitable programs to strengthen the book-selling community.
The roster of diverse voices includes Faith Adiele, Kwame Alexander, Jenna Blum, Andre Dubus III, Jamie Ford, Nikki Giovanni, Pam Houston, Jean Kwok, Major Jackson, Devi S. Laskar, Caroline Leavitt, Ada Limón, Dani Shapiro, David Sheff, Garth Stein, Luis Alberto Urrea, Steve Yarbrough, and Lidia Yuknavitch.
ALONE TOGETHER is divided into five sections: What Now?, Grieve, Comfort, Connect, And Don’t Stop. The overarching theme is how this age of isolation and uncertainty is changing us as individuals and a society.
Alone Together shows the coming together of people with all sorts of experiences . What they are experiencing may be alone in one sense, but in another sense, it is a coming together of people who are sharing their experiences on the page in the Alone Together book. There are just so many stories and poems within this book from so many people’s experiences, whether it is from a political or work angle or a relationship angle or the sadness of death. Each one personal to the writer and yet people will be able to find, at least some that are relatable to their own experiences of quarantine and of Covid 19 and its effects. I think some may find reading this book cathartic in a way, or perhaps it will give people time to pause, to gather their own thoughts. It perhaps it could bring some more kindness and compassion into the world from even more people who, after reading through these stories, might start to understand a little more about how another person is feeling. Not everyone will have lost something or someone during the pandemic and, whilst it is true that no one can really know what that feels like until it has been experienced, this book can and does at least shed some light on things like this. Everyone has experienced the pandemic that bit differently from the next. I have from all of my neighbours, very, very differently and this book also shows that there are so many experiences and so many stories to be told and so many that may be untold.
Jennifer Haupt introduces herself as an introvert, but one who also has positive interactions with others. She doesn’t completely shut herself away. She talks of how her connections when quarantine hit, had somewhat frayed and she felt a desire to take some sort of action to help others. She documents a conversation between herself and Kwame Alexander. Kwame Alexander is the Innovator-in-Residence of London, and the New York Times bestselling author of 34 books. They believe people’s shared experiences, with the help of technology, such as Zoom are bringing people together. Now, this I can agree on as I have also had the opportunity to talk to people on Zoom, I may never have before, because of circumstance or because I didn’t know of their existence until now.
There is a section, demonstrating how introverts are happy to “shelter” in one place and do the whole Netflix, bake bread etc and staying in becomes the norm…. until…. the other half wants to venture outside!!!
She candidly talks about her experiences of all this and the changes that have to be made.
She then moves onto those, identified most at risk of Covid 19 and how amongst them are people of different backgrounds. She also documents the life of a man who was killed.
She also writes about weaponry, it seems to be both in physical form and in the language used. Neither of which is useful of course. It really shows the US in not the best of lights at all. There seems to be a rawness and truth about the book.
There is a beautiful poem (For Maya Angelou) by Nikki Giovanni. It is beautiful and full of truth. I love the verse about how her friend died. Not because I love death, I do not. It’s because it is so matter of fact and almost like she is fed-up of people using different ways of describing it, such as “lost”. This poem is also full of love and compassion and real feeling that so many people who have a dead loved one can relate to. I certainly can.
Shedding is another poem, this time it focuses on the virus, but also about how we as humans can take time to lose the unimportant things and instead, focus and do what is important to each other and to show compassion.
Sit The Hell Down by Dinty W. Moore is about her deciding to retire from teaching…. Then the pandemic arrived and it isn’t at all what she expected. Instead of doing lots of things, she stares out the window as she stays home. It’s moving and poignant. Her writing, of how this time is described is creative.
Kevin Sempsell demonstrates Books On Pause as events were cancelled. It’s also about feeling helpless and how he’s afraid about what might happen in the publishing world.
There is an interview between Jennifer Haupt and David Sheff about grieving and it highlights drug addiction as someone in his family died of this. They also talk of how the US had, what seemed like optimism and high hopes, only to see them dashed, so many times and how this too can cause a certain type of grief and anger and sometimes, activism. It’s an interesting, wide-ranging interview with grief at the heart of its subject.
Kelli Russell Agodon and Melissa Studdard have over-indulged in chocolate, but it isn’t really about that. It gives a sense of helplessness and yet also a desire to help the entire world and to someone hold it all, encapsulated someway, but they say “I Kind Of Want To Love The World, But I Have No Idea How to Hold It.”
There is a River of Grief by Grace Tulusan. It’s beautifully written and described. It says how it is. That when someone dies, there is no one around to hug and the rituals of burial that cannot happen how they used to. It captures so much of what so many people are experiencing/have experienced.
Jennifer Haupt also interviewed Dani Shapiro, which focuses on Comfort and how people in the medical world and beyond want to help and don’t wish to be called heroes, they see it as their job.
Three O’Clock by Jennie Shortridge is altogether alarming and brave at the response of panic that Covid 19 has evoked as the flight or fight reaction kicked in and yet seems grateful for those who helped.
Jean Kwok is Searching For Grace in her story of dance and kindness of family. The way it is told is interesting as different parts of life merge.
In the section called Connect, there’s a story of just a few pages called Zooming The Subtle Body and it is creatively written. The use of imagery is fascinating. This appears to be a type of Yoga.
And Do Not Stop is all about exactly that. It seems to be about still continuing to celebrate the days that are special for America (and of course whatever country you are in.
Postcard From New York however also shows in-contrast how some things did stop and traffic depleted. It’s amazing and happened in cities all around the world. New York was so busy and then she writes about the contrast so immediately, so strikingly that it was like a line had been drawn between pre-covid and present covid times and although quieter, people do still take the chance to roam around the city.
This is a book that will touch everyone is some way as everyone has experiences in Covid 19 that aren’t just personal to them, but may be similar to some you read in this book. The book can be treated as a coming together, even though you may not have written within it. Although people may be alone just now, there can be a certain type of togetherness found within these pages. There are many other pieces of writing within this book, which are also very good. The ones I selected to focus on for the review are those I thought resonated most and were the ones I thought demonstrated the topic well, to give you, the next readers, a taste of what you can expect.
I wish to conclude my review of this by saying this:
As the world opens up more and more, the pandemic has not gone away and is still infectious and deadly. I hope everyone stays well.
Please note that this is not related to Alone Together Group that (if in the UK), you may have seen on news programmes.