Adventure and Resilience

“I was to have one last night in the hills: another starry one, as you will hear, but with a moist hush to the air that was like something at full draw– a breath, an arrow.” –Peace Like a River, Leif Enger

I’ve always been drawn to stories of adventure– big weather, big stories. Voyages by ship or horseback are grand. So are gunfights and swordfights and fights against fear and loneliness. I decided to start my year off by reading about what the tough do when the going gets tough.

Current Reading

Winter’s Bone
Daniel Woodrell 

This book was handed to me on Christmas Eve with the directive, “drop everything and read this.” I didn’t, but the stack of books on my nightstand suddenly seemed less entrancing, so I did pick it up the next day. What a stunning book. Ree, a 16-year-old member of a clannish and lawless Ozark family, must find her fugitive father in order to keep the house he has put up as his bond. She’s tough and sensitive at the same time– loving, determined to be on the side of righteousness, yet unafraid of the darkness that surrounds her.

Peace Like a River
Leif Enger

I first read this book over Christmas vacation of my senior year of college. It was a hard time for me. I had mono, I was struggling to finish up my fall semester papers to hand in late, I was heartsick. That year was about to get far more difficult for me. I credit this book with my return to reading for joy and love. I had been reading only for work– I needed to return to true literary elation. This book did that.

The story is one that will hook you immediately– Reuben, an 11 year old asthmatic daydreamer of a narrative, witnesses his brother commit a double murder out of a sense of nobility. Then brother Davy goes on the lam, and the loyal family (including the prodigious sister Swede, a writer of epic cowboy ballad poetry) follows him off into the West in an Airstream trailer, apparently following the will of God and the miraculous leading of their father, a school janitor who wrestles angels. It is a journey towards hope and a complicated understanding of good and evil, and towards a fateful reckoning.

Past Favorites:

The Bones of Paradise, by Jonis Agee ~ A sprawling family saga set in the sand hills of Nebraska in the years after Wounded Knee. Beautifully written, hauntingly vengeful.

The North Water, by Ian McGuire ~ Takes naturalism to a dark conclusion in a world of whaling ships and ice and murder.

To The Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey ~ Explorers in Alaska encounter danger and a world of Native myths and power. Split perspective between explorer husband and homesteading wife.

Next on My List in Adventure and Historical Fiction: 

News of the World, by Paulette Jiles
Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier
So Brave, Young, and Handsome, by Leif Enger (Separate from Peace Like a River and quite different. I think I would read anything Enger ever writes.)
The Plover, by Brian Doyle (sequel to the stunning Mink River, but this one’s about a boat.)

What are your favorite adventurous books? What do you think I should read next? 


2018 Reading Goals


4-yr-old Nora     the author, age 4, in front of her mother’s bookshelf


First, last year’s count (my students, amazed at how much I read, made me do this):
I read 52 books
I read 13,373 pages
My shortest book: Tremble, by C.D. Wright (60 pages)
My longest book: The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson (481 pages)

Favorite books of 2017:
The Book of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henriquez
Ways to Disappear, by Idra Novey
Tornado Weather, by Deborah E. Kennedy


This year I have a few interlocking goals:
1. Read 60 books
2. Choose authors of color for 25% of my fiction reading.
3. Read at least 50% women authors
4. Each month, read one book about pedagogy or the teaching profession.

What are your reading goals this year?


Snow Day News

This just in from Providence: Snow Days are excellent for reading and grading essays and armchairs and coffee and braiding and re-braiding my hair. I’m a teacher, and we’re nearing the end of the quarter, so I’m working from home today— should I take a selfie with my stack of papers to grade? I’m also taking time to myself to rest and renew and light candles.

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “snowflakes dancing,” but have you thought about what this actually looks like? I was sitting cross-legged on my bed this morning and staring out the window, and I realized that the way snowflakes dance is not individualistic — sure, they bounce around and they’re cute, but the dancing part is more than that. As the wind changes direction, the snowflakes all swerve in unison, moving with a rhythm that is collective and graceful and known only to them and the gusts of winter wind. It reminded me of contra-dancing, which I learned way back in Virginia. A caller shouts out directions, and the group all changes direction or switches hands or swaps partners in parallel motion. It’s a dance you have to do with a bunch of laughing, jolly people, and it happens either in a big circle or in lines like the Virginia Reel. Snowflakes move like that, in packs. But there’s no caller telling them which way to waltz. Or maybe there is.

Maybe that’s what snowstorms are for: a reminder that there are forces bigger and more destructive or generative than us. Maybe we should take more time to marvel at that.