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Reading for uncertain times

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NEW FICTION Ballina author Faith Hogan signing copies of her book in Tertulia bookshop.


Bríd Conroy

My two book choices this week deal with the themes of uncertainty and change. Both books allow the reader to explore how good we really are at understanding others and indeed ourselves.

‘What Happened to Us?’
‘What happened to us?’ is a new fiction from Ballina-based author Faith Hogan. I started reading fiction at the age of seven, when my Grandmother’s voracious appetite for books necessitated twice weekly visits to Capel Street Library. Since then, books have been a constant companion in my life. However, some books more than others hold that companion space, and ‘What happened to us?’ is definitely one of those.
The opening scene is set in Dublin on a wet November evening. Kevin and Carrie, the main characters, share a successful business and life together, but a sequence of catastrophic events leaves the lives of all involved in turmoil. The story explores how we respond when change is forced upon us, who we blame and how we decide what really matters to us at the end of the day.
I was struck by how gently Faith dealt with her characters as they often fail to cope with changed circumstances. (On a recent visit to our shop from her home in Ballina, Faith spoke with fondness about her characters and said how she misses them). As the story unfolds, we too become absorbed by the characters, we relate to them and we care what happens to them.  A successful book promotes empathy and a better understanding of others, and ‘What happened to us?’ does just that.

Uncertainty Rules
The second book choice is non-fiction entitled ‘Uncertainty Rules’, by Richard Plenty and Terri Morrissey, part of a MindYourSelf series published by Cork University Press. The aim of the series is to provide relevant evidence-based information about humans and uncertainty from professionals with a background in psychology.
This book looks at how we react to uncertainty in our lives and in society in general. Seeking certainty can, for example, become a person’s default position rather than seeking the truth or what is actually best for them. Also, as uncertainty increases, our capacity to make decisions can be further flawed. We may rely solely on intuition or adopt a defensive stance, which in so doing denies us the opportunity to change. We can also be accepting, disruptive, explorative or imposing.
Plenty and Morrissey take us through an understanding of these reactions and the mental models we may have developed as a result. A number of courses of action are proposed in relation to coping with uncertaintly, including taking time out to clarify and develop our own sense of purpose, maybe adjust the way we think, explore our core values, being mindful of others and the bigger picture. There are many examples, case studies, thought provoking points and arguments in this book. It is easy to read and there is something in it for everyone.
At a time, when we have all been forced in some way or other to face up to uncertainty, both ‘What happened to us?’ and ‘Uncertainty Rules’ offer the promise of turning uncertainty into an opportunity.

Bríd Conroy and her husband Neil Paul run Tertulia – A Bookshop Like No Other at Westport Quay.

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