Friday Reading Rainbow

Magic, Mystery, and Enchantment

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You know when you find a novel that just fills your heart and your head at the same time, so much so that you’re thinking about the mysteries it holds even when you’re not reading it? You can’t wait to get back to it, but you also want to stretch it out so it never ends? I found that in Once Upon a River, by Diane Setterfield.

A brief synopsis: On the night of the winter solstice in 1887, an injured man and a dead little girl arrive at The Swan, a riverside inn on the Thames. As Rita, the plucky nurse, treats the man, the girl is laid up in the cold room. The Swan, famous for its storytelling, gets a surprise later that evening when the girl – soaked to the bone and barely breathing, suddenly opens her eyes – and comes back to life.

The events of this night spread out (like the tributaries of the river, according to Setterfield’s clever chapter divisions). Three different families claim (or attempt to claim) the girl as their own, but no one is really sure of the truth. Was she dead or only mostly dead? Will she speak again, and tell everyone who she is? Who had an interest in finding her or losing her?

The book is full of lovely characters, people you actually wish you knew, and their backstories are freely told (the whole idea centers around storytelling and folktale). Woven with the realities of family, love, and longing  is an air of magic and superstition, including the belief the riverfolk hold in Quietly, the ferryman who takes you “across the river” when it’s your time to go, and saves you if you have more to do in life. Along with this retelling of Chyron and the river Styx, fairy tale references abound. It’s an enchanting read, and I’m looking forward to seeing the mysteries resolve themselves (or not!)

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 I decided to dedicate this Friday’s post on what I’m reading to magic, mystery, and enchantment. I used to read lots of fantasy when I was a kid, and though I haven’t really invested my reading into adult fantasy, I really enjoy things that have a touch of magical realism or mythology. There are books that just feel special and immerse you in a different world, and they can be inspiring. Some of my favorite magical books from my childhood and young adulthood include: Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass trilogy, Half-Magic by Edward Eager, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Redwall books, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, The Harry Potter series (obviously. I’m a millennial), and so many more.

Here are some places I’m finding magic these days:

Poetry

So much poetry verges on magic, because poetry takes words and makes them new. Here’s one of my recent favorites: ““Trees and What They Whisper,”  by Lynette Mejia.

 

Film / TV

I’m so pleased that Outlander is on Netflix and I don’t have to pay extra for it. The show is based on a time-traveling nurse from 1945 who finds herself in 18th Century Scotland, and it provides steamy romance and drama. Excellent escapism.

This week I went to the theatre to see All is Well, a Kenneth Branagh-directed film about the end of Shakespeare’s life. If you’re well-versed in the bard’s work (pun intended), you’ll enjoy this homage. Branagh’s directing is just gorgeous…. this is a slow, quiet, atmospheric movie. There were so many moments that stood out to me, but I’ll share one. When Shakespeare returns home to Stratford, he decides to create a memorial garden for his son, Hamnet. For the first third or so of the movie, he toils alone in the garden, and nothing really grows for him. But as he reconnects with the people in his family and community, they start helping him in the garden, and it is then that he finds success. There are some happier moments, but on the whole, this is a sad, sad movie. Use caution.

 

Next novels on my reading list

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Though these are very different from Once Upon a River, I’m hoping to extend my sense of expansive magic by reading them. Both have a sort of mythological largeness to them, I think. Everything Under is a modernization of Orpheus and Eurydice (can that story ever be told too many times?) If you have other recommendations for me, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Have a great reading week, everyone!

I am an affiliate with IndieBound, and if you choose to purchase the books I mention by clicking on the book covers, I may earn a teeny tiny commission, at no additional cost to you 🙂
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Friday Reading Rainbow

Hello all, sorry I skipped a week! I have been super busy with lots of professional development, playing and singing in a couple of concerts, and the nascent literary magazine at school (as well as, you know, my job!). To those of you new to the blog, I like to share what I’ve been reading and I am always looking for what YOU are reading and enjoying! Leave me a comment below.

nature bird red wildlife
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Here’s what I’ve been reading the past two weeks:

Poetry

Last week read Part III of Ada Limon’s beautiful Bright Dead Things, and this week, Part IV. I like reading poetry slowly, one or two poems at a time and savoring them. Since I’m currently teaching my poetry class and I’m on a mission from the gods to teach every student to read and write poetry, I’m seeking back-up in Why Poetry, by Matthew Zapruder. I keep finding things that I deeply agree with, but haven’t put into words of my own yet. For example, he suggests that a poem is not an image that just sits pristinely on a page, but a process, an action from beginning to end. By reading poetry, we follow the writer’s action of thought, but since we are different people, we do our own action with a little difference.

Here are some particularly good poems by Limon:

“Midnight, Talking about our Exes,” which you can read on The Jet Fuel Review Blog

“State Bird” here in The New Yorker

I keep trying to read more and more and more poetry. On my coffee table right now is a copy of The American Poetry Review with the genius Jericho Brown on the cover (you can order individual copies here). I’ll share my favorites next week.

 

Fiction

A little while ago I wrote about comfort books (What books are your comfort food? ), and last weekend I indulged in two wonderful little chocolate mousse books.

Joy in the Morning is one of the Jeeves books, featuring two examples of thwarted love: Boko Fittleworth and Nobby want to marry but need the approval of the prickly Lord Worplesdon, while the serious Florence Craye thinks Bertie loves her and scorns the eager gentleman-turned-country-policeman, D’Arcy Cheeswright (aka “Stilton”). Obviously hilarity ensues and Jeeves must sort out everyone’s problems.

I consider P.G. Wodehouse to be one of the funniest writers to ever grace the world. You have to be a sort of anglophile and a sort of nerd to appreciate him, especially because so much of the draw is his clever use of language. But I think even if you don’t get all the jokes, the dynamic between Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves has appeal for all readers.

Then, because I recommended it to a student, I re-read The Silent Gondoliers, by William Goldman, who wrote The Princess Bride. Here’s my review from Goodreads:

“When someone special happens, he tends to rub off on people….”

Luigi is a gondolier with a terrible voice, back in the days when gondoliers were the best singers in the world. His dream of singing with all his heart on the Grand Canal of Venice eludes him through his life of troubles… until the day of the Killer Storm…..

William Goldman, author of The Princess Bride, spins this absorbing yarn with tremendously colloquial joy. Absolutely enchanting. Please, good people, take an hour or two to read this book.

Next on my to-be-read shelf is The Winter People, by Jennifer McMahon. It promises dark and mysterious ghost stories!

 

Nonfiction

It was fortuitous to find this gorgeous example of a creative nonfiction essay using synthesis right when I’m teaching my AP kids how to do their synthesis essay! We will be reading this together and looking for the intertwined elements: reading, writing, wolves, and honest work.
How Barry Lopez Got Me Through a Backcountry Winter, by Bryce Andrews

It fell to me to go with the government trapper when he came to hunt them. We waited at dusk on top of a hill. He had his rifle and I my treasonous thoughts. . . .

We sat on the ground under a juniper that had been browsed bare to the height of four feet. The sky darkened. Stars showed. The government hunter was patient. He had a night-vision scope on his rifle and a reputation to uphold.

And, in a completely different vein, I am looking forward to this column every month now: Franny Choi, “Periodic #1”.

 

 

What are you reading? Tell me in the comments! 

 

Reading Rainbow: Saturday morning edition

Let me tell you about Saturday mornings. I treasure them.

pancakes with strawberry blueberries and maple syrup
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Friday nights are usually the nights when I get the most rest; unlike many of my millenial compatriots, I’m a teacher, and Friday nights are when I’m most tired. They’re usually reserved for rest, recuperation, Indiana Jones movies on Netflix, and sometimes catching up on writing, especially if I’ve neglected my journal that week.

This means that Saturday mornings I am dreamy and sleepy after a long snooze, and I’m HUNGRY. Let me also tell you this: one of my seniors was quizzing his younger cousin, playing the “you don’t know Ms. Pace as well as I do – ha!” game, and the younger student reported: “Well, I remember you telling our class that on Saturday mornings you make your own big breakfast, you drink lots of coffee, and you  just READ.”

Dear readers, he’s correct. Saturday mornings are excellent for catching up on magazine reading, or looking through my favorite blogs, or reading poetry. Or for traversing more pages of whatever novel I’m reading. I rarely have as much focus to just read as I do on those mornings where I can push off all the to-do’s until later in the day. Mornings in my P.J.s can be lazy, but they’re also exciting, because I get to switch my attention (even if just for half a day) away from my work at school and towards myself, the care and keeping of my brain, and my reading and writing life.

So here are some things to entice you for your Saturday morning reading. 🌞

Poetry

A little cleverness here: The Quick Brown Fox, A Memoir, by Alex Boyd. (Little Dog Poetry) 

And beauty here: 3 poems by Roberta Williams  (I like “Drought Years” the best). (Little Dog Poetry)

And reality here: 2 poems by Amanda Laughtland (Dying Dahlia Review) 

Fiction

Currently reading: River of Stars, by Vanessa Hua

Next on my list:

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My to-read-next shelf

 

 

Friday Reading Rainbow

Friday Reading Rainbow

With an early dismissal snow day this week and then the onset of an icky cold, it was a good week for reading by windows and watching the sky and the snow. I still feel just a little pull over losing my long-ago ability to read for hours and get lost in a book, but I treasure the moments when that feeling comes back, even if for a little bit. I find that if I can zone in on reading (especially fiction), it’s like a massage for my brain. After I read for a while, I find I’m more able to do other things that require my thoughts: creative work, planning, teaching tasks. It also curbs my anxiety and keeps me from being irritable. I know if I don’t read for a couple days, my mental health deteriorates and I’m not on my game. Reading is essential to my life.

fir leaves covered in snow
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Here’s what I’m reading this week:

Poetry

Honey & Lime Lit Mag just put out their first issue, and the layout online is oh-so-lovely. I’m enjoying dipping into the poems one at a time. Read the issue here: Into the Haunting

In honor of Valentine’s Day: three great love poems:

i carry your heart with me (I carry it in – e. e. cummings

Love Is Not All – Edna St. Vincent Millay

I Am Not Yours  – Sara Teasdale

Fiction

A River of Stars

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What an incredible rush of storytelling this book throws from the very first page. Scarlett is pregnant and alone and in America, financed by the rich father of her baby boy, who wants her to bring the baby home to him after having achieved the prize of American citizenship. But Scarlett is feisty and just as likely to punch you in the face as talk sweetly to you, and when she finds out the truth of her pregnancy, she does not stick to the plan. I am excited to follow the rest of this story and watch Scarlett fight for her independence and her life.    Shop your local indie bookstore

 

And I’d like to add a note here in defense of longer, slower reads. It seems that all the book blogs I check out have people reading four and five books a week; my reading friends (especially those who read YA) tell me that if a book is really good, they almost always finish it in one sitting. As reading is my sport, I sometimes feel pressured by this, as if I’m not reading enough, or maybe I’m just reading too slow. But I am a proponent of the long, slow read. I love living with a book for weeks or even months (like the 9 weeks I took to read Anna Karenina), coming back to it for a few pages at a time, digesting the richness or its language and savoring the story. I find long books, especially historical fiction, provide me with a deeper connection with their setting- I feel like I am living there for a while, getting to know the blueprints of the hallways. This describes my relationship with Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell books. I read the first one, Wolf Hall, from November 20th to January 15th (thanks, goodreads, for helping me keep track), and I interspersed it with other, shorter reads. But I got to experience the slow, careful burn that Thomas Cromwell the character creates as he winds his way through Tudor court intrigue. Now as I step through the hallways of Bring Up the Bodies, the second book, I find myself actually turning back 60 pages at a time to reread and catch all the nuance of dramatic Boleyns and scheming Seymours. I’ve been reading this book since January 27 and I might take till the end of the month to finish it. And that is a wonderful thing.

 

What are you reading? Tell me in the comments! 

Friday Reading Rainbow

A list of what I’m reading and loving this week: 

Nonfiction:

I Was Told There’d Be Cake

 Sloane Crosley

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI’m kind of getting into this thing of reading women writers of (roughly) my own generation. Sloane Crosley is absolutely delightful…. she’s like a snarky yet hapless older cousin who introduces you to weird movies and teaches you the meaning of sex terms you weren’t really sure about. Her writing is incisive and clever and modern, yet still has heart, which I appreciate in this seemingly heartless time.
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Two incredibly entertaining articles

What Is Glitter?: A Strange Journey to the Glitter Factory” by Caity Weaver

“In Praise of Fair-Weather Fandom” by Derek Thompson

Fiction:

Bring Up the Bodies 

Hilary Mantel

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.org Having just finished Wolf Hall, I’m delighted to find that its sequel is just as engrossing and beautiful. We continue to follow Thomas Cromwell’s career as an indispensable advisor to King Henry VIII, while the Boleyns enjoy the height of their power and Thomas watches around every corner for the future windings of intrigue. He seems always to anticipate which way the wind will blow next. I think in another book I’d be bracing myself for his inevitable fall  from the tower, but I like watching him win so much that I would be satisfied if he won the whole time.
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Poetry:

Carolyn Norr’s poems “Portrait in Deep East Oakland” and “Sinkhole.”

Jo Angela Edwins in Parentheses: “The Beauty of Stark Things,” a poem I have come back to several times this week.

What are you reading this week? Tell me in the comments!