Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of COVID-19, Jennifer Haupt (editor)

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jennifer Haupt (editor), and Central Avenue Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

The emergence of COVID-19 hit everyone in different ways. Some people struggled to understand what was going on around the world, while others panicked about how they would make a living. Jennifer Haupt capitalised on these varying sentiments and found a number of collaborators around the United States to share some of their feelings and thoughts about COVID-19 in its many forms. She collected these poems, interviews, journal entries, and essays into this collection, hoping to offer a life line to many who might feel completely alone (or those curious to see how others were coping). Additionally, she knew the importance of the written word and how it can only make it out there with strong go-betweens. While the internet is full of communication highways, many still love the idea of a book in hand and so Haupt sought to use sales of this collection to support booksellers, the essential lifeblood of the author and poet that connects them with the reading public. Within this collection, there are those who contribute and share what one might expect when discussing a pandemic; health and symptoms that appear to come out of nowhere. The reader will see how various people react when a cough turns into ‘lungs like cement’ and the ability to stay away becomes too much to handle. Other contributors talk about the isolation that forced social distancing has left the world, where there is no sense of personal interaction and relationships become about speaking to a screen. Still others talk about the struggles of being stuck behind a mask, covering who they are and how. their personalities cannot grow. COVID-19 not only created threads of alienation and self-panic, it forced the world to take notice of things that may not have been more than a blip on the screen. With little else to do but watch the news and read reports in newspapers, social movements actually rose to the forefront and were fuelled by those who bounded together, no longer too busy with work or life. Haupt’s various contributors talked about this as well, a positive that came out of so much panic and concern. Be it staring up at the sky and wondering what others are feeling, eating one’s favourite snack and not caring about the nutritional information on the package, or watching a person grieve and not be able to touch them due to social distancing, people have taken the new realities of COVID-19 and made them their own. This book offers a flickering candle to show that the arts community, particularly the written arts, has not been extinguished, even with new rules. This collection explores how we may all feel alone in our own ways, but we are together in the struggle to define what is to come! Recommended to those who want to feel that sense of togetherness by understanding the written word’s power to unite!

I am a fiction or fact-based reader for the most part, so when I was asked to read this piece by Jennifer Haupt herself, I was not sure if it would be for me. I love books and I respect booksellers are an essential piece to the delivery of this, so I agreed, in hopes of getting others interested and supporting those who sell books. Admittedly, poetry does not usually prove to be something that brings me home sooner to explore sentiment or expression, but those contained within the pages of this book seemed to speak to me. I have emotions and do share them, though I am not one who usually flocks to books with a central tenet of discussing them. These poems spoke to me, they pulled me in and showed me that I, too, have felt some of these feelings over the past number of months. The essays and journal entries fascinated me, particularly by those who have faced the illness side of things head-on. I became even more curious when discussion of social movements came to the forefront, especially how lack of outside interaction allowed them to gain momentum with people stuck seeing the images and words before them with little else to do in their day. I suppose what I am trying to say here is that the collaborators in this book spoke to me in ways I did not expect and kept me wanting to know more. I felt as though I could actually engage in a small discussion with them about struggles, feelings, insights, worries, happiness on the other side of it, and curiosity about what the new ‘norm’ might become. Jennifer Haupt has chosen well with a great cross-section of people to contribute to this piece, each offering their own flavouring to this behemoth that has taken over our lives. Symbolically and literally, the world has been masked by rules and worry and uncertainty, but there is also hope, albeit slow and socially distance driven. Some of the entries are a handful of pages, while others barely fill a few lines. This mix leaves something for everyone and the reader can pick what works for them to heal, entertain, or engage. Whatever that might be, the themes that arise here are well sorted and keeps the reader thinking from the outset. A great piece that I can only hope unites as well as supports those who need it most. Refreshing in its delivery, I can admit that I was not expecting to enjoy this book as much as I did, but am glad I took the time to read it from cover to cover.

Kudos, Madam Haupt and all your collaborators, for opening my eyes to the various sides of this pandemic!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: