The Book Shelf: New reads

Melisa Pressley
Special to The Black Mountain News
The Book Shelf

When times are trying, I turn to books. Some folks have a soundtrack of their life; I have a bibliography. I think back on the fall of 2008, of how I absorbed myself in "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd. The novel resonated with an apiarian hum during the round-the-clock palliative care that my aunts, sister, and I were ministering to my mother. The strong women in Kidd’s narrative mirrored the strength shown by my family, and Lily's journey to accepting her mother paralleled my letting go. Nevertheless, mom’s death numbed me for two years.

Melisa Pressley

In "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" by Rebecca Skloot, I imagined my mother as a caregiver during her mother’s treatment for terminal cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins, only a few years after Henrietta was there. "Henrietta Lacks" is a special sort of nonfiction, blending history, race, and a hint of a ghost story. (If you haven’t read it, I usually have our copy on the Staff Picks shelf at the Black Mountain Library.)

Philip Roth’s "The Dying Animal" followed as I, like Professor Kepesh, struggled with emotional connection. It’s the third of the Kepesh novels, and ultimately the most heartbreaking. I’ll spare details, but cancer is central to Kepesh’s downward spiral. It was Consuela, the love interest of Roth’s novel, who weighed my mind after an appointment at HOPE Women’s Cancer Center in 2010. I stared at Amedeo Modigliani's painting of "Le grand nu" gracing the book’s cover while holding a prescription for an antidepressant in one hand and a mastectomy brochure in the other. I was 32, and I had cancer.

Books soothed me post-surgeries, during hours of chemotherapy drips, and in rigid chairs awaiting daily radiation treatments. Reading about others with this disease empowered and enriched me. Turning pages kept me from hand-wringing.

The following titles in the Buncombe County Public Library helped me comprehend cancer, fed me (even when I didn’t want to eat), inspired me, and supported me (Jack Willis graciously answered a frantic email).

  • "A Breast Cancer Alphabet," Madhulika Sikka
  • "The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen: Nourishing Big-Flavor Recipes for Cancer Treatment and Recovery, " Rebecca Katz
  • "Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips," Kris Carr
  • "Saving Jack: A Man’s Struggle with Breast Cancer," Jack Willis


The Black Mountain Library has new breast cancer-related titles:

  • "The In-Between Days: A Memoir about Living With Cancer," Teva Harrison
  • "The Black Woman’s Breast Cancer Survival Guide:  Understanding and Healing in the Face of a Nationwide Crisis," Cheryl D. Holloway
  • "Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book," Susan M. Love, M.D.
  • "I’m Just a Person," Tig Notaro


Triumphant times call for books. I am thankful for seven years of reading since my diagnosis. My bibliography continues to grow as I turn to books, in good times and bad.

If there are titles you’d like to see on our shelves to cheer you in trying times or celebrate triumphant times, please email me at or message me on Facebook at facebook/blmtlibrary.

We’ll get through, one page at a time.