Reading Kelly Corrigan

Book Review: The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan

I sent a message to the English faculty about the local reading initiative I’m involved in, and one of them–a young whippersnapper, at that–sent me back a link to Kelly Corrigan’s TEDtalk, “More Reading.”  (  )

Loved that talk.  Oh, some of the facts just struck me,–imagine designing prisons based on the reading scores of fourth graders–how scary is that?  And how wonderful to acknowledge that reading reduces stress levels…my one dependency with good health effects! (Well, but chocolate and coffee are getting some new kudos, though, aren’t they?)

Corrigan herself was humble and funny and engaging. I looked her up and found she is a writer and that she has a bestselling memoir about surviving cancer called The Middle Place.

I put The Middle Place on my list, and, when we went to the Half Price Books’ annual clearance sale this year–everything two bucks or less!–Ha! Score!!-I found it!

I enjoyed the book, even though the voice was different from what I’d anticipated based on the voice I heard, live, in the TEDtalk.

The Middle Place  is brash and wise-cracking, that weird American response to a horrendous situation—make a slightly off-color joke, laugh–Bwahaha!–in the face of danger.  I appreciated Corrigan’s vigor and her spirit, but there were times I wanted her to let up a little, relax. Stop, now; I wanted to say, with an encouraging hug; stop pushing quite so hard.

The story is not just Corrigan’s cancer tale; it’s the tale of her dad’s battle with the disease, and that Corrigan worships her father is at the core of the book.  She was compelled not just to own and control her disease, but his, too.  He had to–he just had to–come out on the other side.

The miracle of the book is that both did recover, and what a celebration that is, of life and spirit and unquenchable hope.

I enjoyed the reading, despite the brave wise-cracking, and despite the fact that I thought Corrigan was just a little mean to her mother in parts.  With the recent passing of a dear man, who at age 94, was still a force of nature, and the subsequent flowering of his wife (a youngster at 81), I have been pondering ‘couple-ness’. It seems to me that for one half to shine so brightly, the other half has to do a considerable amount of behind-the-scenes stagecraft.  I suspect that Corrigan didn’t give her mother enough credit for allowing that dad to be so well-loved.

As a mom who struggles to do her best (and as the daughter of a charismatic father and a hard-working mother, God rest their lovely souls), and who knows she makes mistakes,–as half of a couple who tries to help the other half shine, at least a lot of the time–I want to say, “Kelly.  Whoa there, girl!  Remember, darlin’, you’re a mom and a couple-half, too. Do a precarious ponder, here.”

But.  The final essay in the book redeems this; it’s a meditation on women and their tight bonds and it centers on Corrigan’s mom and her friends, a group that calls itself ‘The Pigeons.’ And it showcases the wonderful bonds that women create, and the wonderful ripples those make in our lives.

Okay, then.  She’s forgiven.

Corrigan does NOT say in her book that anyone can conquer cancer if she just has the right spirit, the indomitable attitude; she acknowledges luck and circumstance, and I appreciate that very much. I am reading, right now, a women’s health book by a doctor I admire; this doc seems to be saying that we cause our own health issues by not owning our emotions, by not getting rid of our stress.

We give ourselves cancer?? We prevent ourselves from healing?

I do believe the connection between mental, emotional, and physical health is there.  But, as I watch a dear friend live valiantly in Stage Four, I know too that a good attitude, a belief in healing, is not the sole basis for a cure.

Okay, this is wandering and meandering, and I’m traveling far from the fact that The Middle Place is a wonderful read and a heartwarming book. And just look at the ‘considers’ it brought to my surface…any book that churns up so much thought is a book worth reading.

If you haven’t yet read The Middle Place, I hope you will!  I’m going to be watching for more by Corrigan.


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