Introducing Good Coupled Books by Tracy Rittmueller

Do you sometimes wonder whether we humans, as individuals and as a species, will ever manage to stop deceiving and warring? I do. And I’ve learned that if we long for peace and justice, we have a responsibility to start by changing our belief that violence and force could ever work to create and keep the peace. But, are we capable of imagining, and then are we capable of becoming the kind of people who tell and “live in a story that is both more true and more hopeful”? (Gareth Higgins)

I believe it’s possible.

You and I, good reader can commit to the work of imagining and creating a better story about who we are and who we want to be to each other. We can tell and live a better story.

As the founding director of Lyricality, an arts organization with a mission to foster the art of empathy through poetry and story, I have been working in community to build our capacity to tell better stories. As a writer, I have been working on my own story, searching for the way to tell it that creates the possibility of finding peace while living with and caring for a spouse who has been radically changed by dementia. To support our quest for a better way of being, in service of the common good, I am sharing books that I have found transformational. I’m coupling them because coupling, even when it becomes challenging, can be indescribably beautiful.

What are good coupled books?

Good coupled books is a blog series where I (Tracy Rittmueller) pair an imaginative work of literature with a contemporary “storied-how-to” book with a focus on creating meaning, connection, and healing.

What is the purpose of good coupled books?

Inspired by Gareth Higgins life-changing book How Not to Be Afraid: Seven Ways To Live When Everything Seems Terrifying, I will be pairing good coupled books ”to help us discover [and accept] a more complex [truthful] story in which boundless hope and proportionate lament exist alongside finite trouble.” 

What is a storied-how-to book?

Storied-how-to books are not the kind of self-help books that perpetuate toxic optimism and reinforce the harmful delusion that we can and ought to control our lives. I like Kathleen Norris’s explanation for the kind of book I call a “storied-how-to.” Referring to Gareth Higgins’ book, the inspiration behind this series, she writes about “a gentle, open invitation, full of hospitable storytelling that allows us to find ourselves in its pages. As we read…we are challenged to reflect on our own fears and to imagine a way to a better self, a better story” (in her forward to How Not To Be Afraid).

Why pair a storied-how-to book with a work of literature?

In addition to the the simplest and possibly most valid answer—why not?—and besides that it’s fun, when I find a storied-how-to book I really love, I’ll tell you about it, and pair it with a work of imaginative literature. Good coupling generates creative power. And story helps us transform abstract ideas into imagined and then lived experience. 

I am not alone in believing that reading imaginative literature (works that lead us into the complex, ambiguous world of beautiful metaphor) initiates and fosters the changing of our hearts, minds, and lives. If you wish to dig into the link between literature and transformation, follow the links below (there’s a dash of poetry in that…into the link / follow the links. Ha-ha!)

Also, I write and read from the heart/mind-perspective of a poet/writer, with the soul-perspective of a Benedictine associate (I am not a monk living in a monastery but I a monastic way of life in affiliation with a Benedictine monastery). These are my biases and I want to disclose them. But one of the hallmarks of being Benedictine is an ecumenical sensibility. We don’t say we are the only way to live a meaningful life, we say we are a way that works. There are other ways, other cultures, other languages. The literature I pair with a storied-how-to book will echo and reinforce Benedictine or spiritual wisdom, but in secular stories and images, making us aware of the myriad ways we are connected despite our apparent differences, opening us to the truth that we all have gifts to offer.

The why for readers who want the psychology

For readers who want the psychology behind it: this Psychology Today article points out that reading fiction can help increase cognitive empathy and teach us about ourselves.

The why in a 5-minute video

For viewers who want a 5-minute A/V, British philosopher Alain de Botton with The School of Life discusses why we should we spend our time reading novels and poems when, out there, big things are going on.

The why for delvers and scholars

For those who want to go deep into why, this book, Literature and Transformation: A Narrative Study of Life-Changing Reading Experiences, claims to uncover the relationships between life-crises, being moved by literature, and transformation of the self.

What is the first pairing of Good Coupled Books and where/when can I find it?

The First Pairing of Good Coupled Books will be How to Be: A Monk and a Journalist Reflect on Living & Dying, Purpose & Prayer, Forgiveness & Friendship by Judith Valente and Paul Quenon, OCSO with the 2020 novel Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. It will appear here on my blog on healing on Tuesday, (Two-sday!) April 5, 2022. Could

Future pairings will appear quarterly on a Two-sday:

How Not To Be Afraid by Gareth Higgins with the 1947 novel I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith; July 5, 2022.

and Benedictine Options: Learning to Live from the Sons and Daughters of Saints Benedict and Scholastica by Patrick Henry with the 2020 novel Anxious by Fredrik Backman; October 4, 2022.