Book Club BanterReading suggestion: 'Here if You Need Me: A True Story' by Kate Braestrup
I recently took a vacation to Maine. Maine has so many of my favorite things—mountains, ocean, antiques stores, seafood, blueberries, ice cream and book stores! There are new bookstores, used bookstores and rare bookstores. In Maine, you can drive down a country road and see a sign in front of a barn that says “Books for Sale.”
I ran out of books to read and decided to search for a book by a Maine author. We visited a book store in Camden that had been in business since 1886. I asked the bookseller who his favorite Maine author was. He told me that he didn’t have one because he loved them all equally. I didn’t buy a book there.
In Belfast, Maine, population 6,660, there are at least six bookstores. I asked for a book suggestion at one of the stores in Belfast and bought "Here if you Need Me" by Kate Braestrup. The bookseller who recommended it has similar tastes to mine, enjoying memoirs written by non-celebrities.
The book begins with a story that is typical in the work routine for Braestrup, a Unitarian minister who serves as a chaplain for the Maine Warden Service. A Maine warden is similar to what I think of as a wildlife officer or park ranger. Braestrup’s first husband was a law enforcement officer who planned to become a minister after his retirement.
After his sudden death, Braestrup changed her life plans, went back to school, was ordained as a minister and sought work as a law enforcement chaplain. She became one of the first chaplain’s of the warden service.
Much of her work involves being with the families of victims who are injured or lost in the Maine wilderness and the officers who search for and rescue them. Braestrup uses stories of these events as well as other encounters with officers to discuss her personal journey from the grief that came with the death of her husband, to the fulfillment she found in her family and work.
For me, there are two kinds of good books. The first kind is the book that is so good that you can’t put it down and you just can’t finish it fast enough. This one is the second kind of good book. I read it slowly, not wanting to finish it, because I knew I’d be disappointed when it was over.
As I said, I enjoy memoirs written by “real” people. Someone who hasn’t been singled out by the media as talented or entertaining, but someone who can tell the story and lessons of their life and what it means to be human. That’s what I enjoyed about Braestrup’s book.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:
Braestrup discusses the experience of grief in this book. She experiences grief in her personal life after the death of her husband and in her job she is with families and warden after people are injured or killed. In what ways have you seen people deal with grief that are similar or different from what is described in the book?
Braestrup chooses to handle her husband’s death in a way that is very different from our modern customs. How did you feel about that? In what ways has our society changed the way we handle death and has that affected the way in which we grieve?
Much of Braestrup’s work time is spent out of doors. She discusses both how she feels close to God when she is nature and why hunting is an important part of the culture in Maine. Do either of these discussions resonate with you?
BOOK CLUB TIP: When you are looking for books for your book club to read, consider the following publications: New York Times Book Review, Book Page and Bookmarks magazine.
Brought to you by The Haywood County Library and Blue Ridge Books