Reading in (Later, Grayer) Autumn

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: my desire for reading grows as the days get shorter. It’s dark now before 5, and my chilled soul gets joyous as I turn the heat down, curl up in my armchair with coffee and a book and maybe some jazz on the tape player.

If this sounds idyllic and perfect to you, please temper your expectations with the knowledge that I only reach this hallowed state once every few days. These days are busy, busy! I’m lucky enough to adore my job, but it does take a lot out of me. Not to mention the necessity of getting a second job for the extra holiday cash and the rehearsals and concerts I’m singing in. Thanksgiving was a welcome break and calm before the storm of December time. So I am attempting to slice out little places to write and read and keep up the care of myself.

Here’s what I’m reading right now:

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgThis is a second attempt for me, which is in itself odd– usually I am of the opinion (looking at the 500+ books on my to-be-read list) that if a book doesn’t enchant me, it’s probably worth putting down for good. In this case, I think I just ran out of time to return the library copy and gave up. I’m trying again because I find Thomas Cromwell’s character intriguing (a cynic, a politician, a heartbroken moralist?) and because the world of Tudor England is so strikingly painted in such detail. The book follows Cromwell, an advisor to first Cardinal Wolsey and then King Henry VIII as Henry deliberates divorcing his first wife, Katherine, and marrying Anne Boleyn. Obviously, as with most historical fiction about well-known figures, we know what will happen, but I’m drawn into the chess-like negotiations of politics nonetheless. In terms of brutal, murderous royal intrigues, I am more a fan of this than, say, Game of Thrones…. (there are no dragons yet, though). One of the things I appreciate about a long novel is that I have to accept that I’ll be living with the book for awhile, and robbed of the immediate drive to finish the book, I instead enjoy picking it up again and again.

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The All of It, by Jeannette Haien

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I finished this odd little book today. I found it on some list of “underappreciated favorites” and decided it was intriguing. The book takes place in Ireland, with a widow, Enda, who still remembers the countryside before cars took over, telling her story to her priest. The essence of her story is that her husband, Kevin, who has just died, was the other party to a secret that’s never been shared. Once the secret is revealed, the book continues to waft through Enda’s homey way of speaking her memories. That part was lovely. What wasn’t quite lovely was the priest, who is on the edge of a conniption every other second and who has some unresolved issues which eventually get worked out through fishing. Or maybe they don’t get worked out through fishing. I don’t think I understand fishing. Anyway, I’m not going to give away what the secret was or what happens with the fishing. This book is worth reading if you want that magical feel of someone leaning in and telling you a story.

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Marina Keegan’s Story “Cold Pastoral.”

 Read it here in The New Yorker.

I found this devastatingly close to home, from the millenial classic of an undefined relationship, to the confusion of loss and the instructions on how one is supposed to grieve, to the fear of rejection and the sinking knowledge of oneself in another’s eyes. I know that some may say Keegan’s plaudits as a rising talent have been unduly magnified by her tragic death; this is the story that convinced me most of her ungodly genius. She is, I’ve concluded, not overrated. I am sad once again that she has gone. My generation needed her light.

Ada Limón – Bright Dead Things

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And I’m continuing to savor bits of Ada Limón’s book as I go through these days. My favorite so far is “State Bird,” which I’m adding to the “Love” section of my poetry class this spring.

If you were a state, I’d be that state’s bird

What could capture devotion more purely?

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Reading in Autumn

It’s late autumn now, and Rhode Island got its first snowfall last night. So it’s time for more reading, for longer stretches of pages and replacing the lightbulbs in the lamps by my reading chairs as they fizzle late at night. My reading always gets darker and more contemplative when the nights get longer, and the following grouping of books is moody and delicious.

Ada Limón – Bright Dead Things

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I picked up this book of poetry as a treat for myself at my local bookstore. I’ve been a fan of Ada Limón for a little while and decided to invest in her work. With the book in my hands I can trace the journey that goes through groups of her poems (Part I, in which I’m immersed now, is about her move to the Kentucky countryside). It’s interesting to think about how if my poems are ever published in a book, they might be grouped according to the story of life running through the background of the time in which I wrote them.
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Hannah Kent – Burial Rites

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This book is a true historical fiction gem; I feel the Icelandic chill in the air as I read, and I’m learning about life on a farm; making hay, sleeping in a room with householders and servants and farmhands alike with hay poking through the gaps in the wooden rafters. The story follows Agnes Magnusdottir, a real woman who was condemnded to death in Iceland in the 1820s. She’s a fascinating tangle of darkness, and the book is an easy, compelling read which makes me think about goodness, darkness, and the desperate acts of the powerless.
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Umberto Eco – Six Walks in the Fictional Woods

This one’s for the true literature nerds out there. Eco originally delivered these chapters as lectures. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a diagram this much. I find that I’m agreeing with him almost all the time — the interaction between author, text, and reader always intrigues me, especially because I’m attempting to teach kids to write with an audience in mind and read perceptively. Recommended reading for any English teacher out there.

I guess I should take more walks in the woods this fall, and spend more time out on my balcony watching the snow fall while wrapped in blankets. Tell me your wintry book lists!

a little snow poem

in honor of the first snow – November 15th 2018 


a little snow poem


now it has snowed
and I am peeking out
for when the squirrels with their
tender, agile feet
hop lovingly into drifts
then freeze and snapshot their eyes
at any sound, their paws to their chins,
as though any disturbance to this
quiet must mean wolves.

November Writing

I’ve loved many Novembers in my life, maybe because I improperly interpret it as Nova and embers and love the contradiction of newness with the dying of the light and the darkness that sets in so, so early.

I’ll be attempting to write every day again this month, as I did last month. I didn’t write every single day in October, but I did write quite a bit. I have many poems to harvest, a couple of interesting ideas for essays and stories that could be pursued further. And I wrote some things that I hope will make an immediate difference in the world: college recommendation letters for my beautiful seniors.

So, what’s happening next with Pace writing?

  • Why am I writing these days? What’s at stake? And especially – why write poetry?

    Mostly because I feel a compelling need.

I hope you continue to tell your own story and point to the map of your body and say, “brave.”

One of my favorite places to read about poetry is The Paris Review’s “Poetry RX” Column. Sarah Kay tears it up this week: “You Could Make this Place Beautiful”

I write to unravel my trauma, to make sense of the world, and just because it pokes my brain in all the right places.

  • Where is my writing going?

    I’m sending out poems and flash fiction whenever I can carve out time to actually complete the process of submitting. Right now I have 18 poems that are out there (ah, my little sterling silver babies!) to 9 publications, and my favorite flash piece is awaiting 2 responses. I don’t know if these numbers are good? I don’t know what other people do? But since submitting is a relatively new thing for me, I’m feeling brave everytime I send those little baby spoons out into the world.

  • Will I be doing NaNoWriMo?

    It’s tempting, sure, since I have two novels barely started and they could use a big pouring out of time. But it seems so brutalist to me — is it really about the numbers? I don’t really get along with numbers, and I really don’t want to fall into a pattern of being annoyed or disappointed with myself. My goal is not about volume, but about the consistent practice of this thing I love doing.

  • What’s the future of this blog?

    To anyone who’s been loyally reading, THANK YOU! Creating a blog was a way to force myself to show people my writing and put myself out there. I’ll still be talking about books and practicing the literary analysis that I teach to students, but I’d like to share more of my own impromptu writing, and every once in a while talk about the craft of writing.

    A year ago I wrote one of my favorite blog posts: Resuming. I still feel this way often, always coming back to things and starting over and renewing my energy.

If you’re writing this November for NaNoWriMo or for any other purpose, I’d love to follow your journey! Leave me a comment 🙂