One book you should read right now.

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I just finished reading Love and Ruin, by Paula McLain. McLain is the author of The Paris Wife — you might have read that one, about Hemingway’s first wife. (It’s a great book, too.) Love and Ruin is about his third wife, the writer and journalist Martha (Marty) Gellhorn.

The story is in Marty’s POV, organized to show her thoughts, fears and desires as a woman writing during the late 30s and 40s.

It’s historical fiction. It’s beautifully written, and Marty is honest and real. I became friends with Marty as she lived through her questions:

I’m a writer. What can I do? The world is frightening. People are fighting, killing each other. An unstable dictator is spreading propaganda. Lives are at stake. How do I write when this is happening? What can my writing do to help?

It feels prescient to be reading this book right now, for many reasons.

In Love and Ruin, Marty learns that bearing witness through her writing is her gift and her service. This is not inconsequential. It’s powerful and humane. Her work as a writer is as nourishing to readers as the work of a cook who prepares meals for hungry people.

Writers help us see the truth, and understand it in our bodies and minds. When we read a story that shows up for us, we can feel the rightness and sanity in that. Bearing witness helps to process trauma. It is how we feel connected to each other — by knowing each other, seeing each other.

Writers are uniquely equipped to put things that cannot be explained into words.

Writers can express what is inexpressible.

Writers tell the truth about the past, the present, and the future. Their superpower is their ability to be present to notice, and to craft moments in time — both imaginary and real.

Writers imagine the impossible, and create the future by writing stories and scenes that show what could happen.


“It’s up to authors to spark the imagination of their readers and help them envision alternatives to how we live.” — Ursula K LeGuin


These skills have a cost: it takes time to write, and solitude. It requires a quality of focus that feels unreasonable to the majority of conventional society, especially to all of the excellent people out there who want to get things done.

Writing is a kind of work that needs time. Holding a story in your body, crafting it as you write it on the page — this requires an athleticism of the mind.

Writers, we need to train. The world needs us to stay in shape.

If you’re distressed by the conditions you’re seeing politically, environmentally, and at the borders and remote areas where it seems nobody is paying attention: YOU CAN PAY ATTENTION.

Write. This is something you can do.

To get inspired, I recommend reading Love and Ruin this summer. It’s a beautiful story, and it’s motivating for anyone who wants to bring their gift to the world right now — especially women who write.

Thank you, Paula McLain, for showing up to write this story, and for giving us a clear-eyed Marty Gellhorn to read right now.

Love,

Sarah Selecky


Photo credit (top): Les Anderson on Unsplash.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something using one of these links, I may earn a commission. I only recommend books or products I trust.


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18 comments

Christa Van Daele

Going out to buy it today! ....... For the world we live in today, I also recommend the words of Caroline Moorehead, who wrote A Village in Winter and A Train in Winter. Both works deal with women and men who resisted the despair and the evils of their times (late 193o's and the period the war); these works keep me going. Thanks, Sarah, for sharing such works as keeping the mind of despair is a daily battle for many.
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Sarah Selecky

Thank you, Yvonne! xo S
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Sarah Selecky

Elizabeth, isn't it a wonderful book to read right now?
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Sarah Selecky

Thank you, Margaret!
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Sarah Selecky

Thanks, Esther!
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Sarah Selecky

You're so welcome, Bonnie!
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Sarah Selecky

Thanks, Jackie! I hope you like it.
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Sarah Selecky

You are completely right! In Love and Ruin, the character is written as "Marty" but she was known professionally as Martha Gellhorn. Here is a wonderful essay about her, also by Paula McLain -- the piece is subtitled, "the woman Hemingway tried to erase." Thank you for your comment! https://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/tradition/a22109842/martha-gellhorn-career-ernest-hemingway/
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Sarah Selecky

Thanks Mara!
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MaryMontanye

Just ordered it from the library and looking forward to reading it. I have struggled with some of these same questions in this current political climate.
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Awesome post, thank you!
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Thank you so much for this recommendation I'll try to get hold of it.
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Esther Bradley DeTallly

I read the book and loved it. I also am or was a writing teacher and have written two books. Best to you
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Margaret Steel

Wonderful, inspiring post, Sarah. Thank you!
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Hi, her name is MARTHA Gellhorn, not Marty. She is well known as a successful journalist in her own right, not as an appendage to him. Thanks for taking note of this.
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Elizabeth Rush Brooks

Have already read and loved it for many of the reasons you have here.
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Thank you for the invitation! Bonnie F
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Yvonne Kathleen Kipp

Lovely encouragement "en coeur" from the heart. Thank you for the recommendation. I love hearing about books from other readers. I shall find this book and enjoy.
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