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Grapey Book Club: Care

Brooke McAlary’s Care: The Radical Art of Taking Time (2021) is an homage to the origins of self-care, before it caught on as part of the materialist and capitalist mechanisms engaged in ever-growing profits and consumption cycles. Care, she writes, is the ultimate antidote to life in a world that is fraught with disconnection and division.

McAlary believes there are two types of care: “Big Care” and “Small Care”.

“Big Care” relates to those global, gargantuan issues that are rarely solved by individuals. Issues like climate change, institutional poverty, war and violence in traditionally pillaged countries. Some individuals hold the weight of those worldly concerns in their hands, and on their shoulders. The solution to that mind- and body-crippling weight, McAlary supposes, is “Small Care”.

“Small Care” are the tiny acts of kindness and attention that are everywhere. Smiles between strangers; small moments of physical touch between loved ones; time spent mindfully in nature; a homemade meal shared with friends. These are the acts that regenerate our individual strength to revisit “Big Care” and participate in change – “Small Care” is what powers our ability to contribute to things that seem impossible. More than anything, McAlary wants to emphasise that she thinks “Small Care” is actually the solution.

I would not characterise McAlary’s book in the genre of “self-help” – whenever I hear that phrase, something in me shudders and recoils for some reason. This book, much like Hugh Van Cuylenburg’s The Resilience Project, fits into a much more specific category of “revision of the self”. In my mind, these books work together because they encourage reflection and reconstruction, like when your home has termites and you need to strip the plasterboard away in order to revise (and often replace) the foundational structures.

That is how McAlary writes about “modern life” – an infestation that doesn’t quite work for us because it works against our minds and bodies. McAlary advocates for a return to nature, a return to the roots of self-care before it became about face-masks, yoga retreats, and media campaigns.

Care: The Radical Art of Taking Time explores what it means to care in seemingly insignificant, and yet emphatically powerful ways for ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities, in ways that do not have to cost us our well-being. In any case, these are the things that can improve our welfare and connection to the world. She writes: “Community offers an antidote to loneliness”.

I listened to this book as an audiobook, and I think that is the best way to read it! McAlary reads it herself, and her voice is soothing even as it is categorically Australian (which made the experience even more enjoyable).

This book advocates for the same philosophy as that line from Savage Garden’s song, Affirmation, that “we place our happiness in other people’s hands”. It’s not such a bad thing, as so many would have us believe. With compassion, empathy, and understanding that stems from one’s newfound connection to the environment and to others, McAlary encourages us to see that caring – even in the smallest of ways – has ripple effects, and that no one needs to go it alone.


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