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 supposed to be an Oedipus retake? I’m troubled but intrigued.  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 🙂

Friday Reading Rainbow

FICTION – BLACK AUTHORS EDITION

Focusing my reading this spring on black authors because 1) Black Lives Matter, 2) the African-American literary tradition is incredibly rich and fertile, and I’ve been neglecting the deep reading I began with my Toni Morrison class in college and with other favorite authors since, and 3) I like having a ‘theme’ to my reading each season, because it’s cool to see how books pair together and resonate with each other.

Right now, I’m enveloped in the wonderfully told story of The Turner House, by Angela Flournoy. To steal the words of NPR’s reviewer, which are featured on the front cover: “Flournoy’s knockout debut is one of those books that should, by rights, be described as the Great American Novel.” I agree. She is the heir to Toni Morrison and Lorraine Hansberry, an expert on the black family and this particular family and this lost, broken city (Detroit) that still has so much life in it. It’s a ghost story and a family saga and a bunch of love stories, too. Here’s an excerpt for you to enjoy:

Humans haunt more houses than ghosts do. Men and women assign value to brick and mortar, link their identities to mortgages paid on time. On frigid winter nights, young mothers walk their fussy babies from room to room, learning where the rooms catch drafts and where the floorboards creak. In the warm damp of summer, fathers sit on porches, sometimes worried and often tired but comforted by the fact that a roof is up there providing shelter. Children smudge up walls with dirty handprints, find nooks to hide their particular treasure, or hide themselves if need be. We live and die in houses, dream of getting back to houses, take great care in considering who will inherit the houses when we’re gone. Cha-Cha knew his family was no different. The house on Yarrow Street was their sedentary mascot, its crumbling facade the Turner coat of arms. But it disintegrated by the hour. Mold in the basement, asbestos hiding in the walls, a garage stolen. He understood these things pointed to abandonment. He knew he should walk away from the place, let it become one more blasted-out house in a city plagued by them. but what to do with the house and what to do about his mother’s sickness were problems to which Cha-Cha possessed no simple solution. In both cases, his impulse leaned toward preservation, but at what cost?

The next books on my list:

Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

Americanah – Chimamanda Adichie

Sing, Unburied, Sing – Jesmyn Ward

The Farming of Bones – Edwidge Danticat

If Sons, Then Heirs – Lorene Cary

Jam on the Vine – LaShonda Katrice Barnett

 

close up photo of purple lilac flowers
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NONFICTION – QUEER WOMXN EDITION

“Why I Take All My Dates to Olive Garden” by Kristin Arnett.

Kristin Arnett is a lesbian twitter queen and Floridian author. In this hilarious essay, she explains why she takes first dates to Olive Garden: “to chill out and avoid the problems in my life.”

Two people eating means you get three sticks total. I like to think Olive Garden did that on purpose, so that you’re forced to break bread with your date. You must share with each other, touch hands. It’s all very romantic, if romance is deciding who gets to take the bigger share of the carbs. Also, if I eat my first breadstick quick enough, I can pick up the second one before my date even notices it’s missing.

 

“Periodic #2”  by Franny Choi over at Palette Poetry

I continue to be in love with this monthly column from Franny Choi, which this time I read a bit late (in time for my own “monthly column”)

 

“Mattress Shopping” by Em Rowene in Honey and Lime. 

I’m not even going to say anything about this one, because it is so surprising and gorgeous that I want you to discover it for yourself.

 

As always, I’d love to hear what you’re reading this week! 

 

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! 

What books are your comfort food?

What books are your comfort food?

I’m going to note, first, that I posted this question on twitter and my student replied, “books are difficult to eat.” Now that we’ve gotten that exceptional moment of snark out of the way…..

Comforting books are good things to have around, because life (at least in my experience) occasionally or often gets tough. Grief hits in waves when you least expect it, or sometimes when you most expect it. Stress and depression and loneliness are part of the variabilities of being human, but I’m of the opinion that we don’t have to treat this as calamity every time it happens. We can move upwards and onwards and make life better and fight for happiness. It’s really good to get up the next day and say, “hey. I’m still here. I’m going to try again.” It is also really good to let ourselves be in the moment, feel whatever we are feeling, and accept that we’re not quite doing okay at the moment.

There’s a song by the singer-songwriter-lover duo, Johnnyswim, “Let it Matter,” which insists on this honor. “If it matters, let it matter. If your heart’s breaking, let it ache.” We are allowed to let ourselves feel crummy, and treat ourselves with exceptional kindness. Chocolate, a little wine, and a nice blanket on the couch go a long way. Maybe for you it’s a haircut, or a big bag of popcorn, or one of those fancy face-mask things  to which I always tend to be allergic. And of course, you need a good self-care book on hand.

I have two candidates for comforting books. Both tend towards lighter fare and hopefulness, and both emphasize the delights of food, but neither copy is edible. For me, reading lists are tinted by the seasons.

Title:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, by Ann Shaffer and Mary Ann Barrows

Season:

Winter

Why it’s comfort food:

This is my second time reading this book, and I am again made joyful by its quick pace, its richness of character, and its insistence on the value of reading. The story is about an English writer, Juliet, who begins corresponding with residents on the channel island of Guernsey, which was occupied by the Germans in WWII. She learns about the literary society they accidentally formed, and eventually becomes their friend. The book isn’t all light fun, as occupation was a miserable time and there are real human tragedies and hardships. They’re given their due, but the book’s message seems to be that there is still good in the world, that there are places where life is simpler, and that forming connections with one another is a way to survive and heal.  I tend to recommend this book a lot to friends who aren’t as willing to slog through **literature** as I am, and I also recommend it as a cure for sadness. It seems to be working for me right now.

 

Title:

A Year in Provence, by Peter Mayle

Season:

Summer

Why it’s comfort food:

Everything about this nonfiction book is lovely. Each chapter follows a month of the author’s hijinx living in the French countryside with his wife. There is much mouth-watering description of food and landscape; the antics of locals and invited guests (and uninvited guests). The quest (which is obviously influenced by the easy wealth of the author) is just to enjoy the goodness that life has to offer. I love Mayle’s writing because he is a world-champion Noticer of Things and he has a great sense of humor.

 

Honorable Mention:

Any of the Jeeves / Wooster books, by P.G. Wodehouse.

 

I asked this question on facebook, too, and was really interested by the answers I got. Some seemed reasonable: To Kill a Mockingbird, Harry Potter, Ella Enchanted (all those are excellent books from my childhood and would certainly bring warm feelings if I were to re-read them). Others shared books that I would have never thought of in this manner. Great books, masterful books, but really comforting? Are these the books we read to take care of ourselves?

I guess this raises the companion question: what makes a book comfort food? What distinguishes the books we come back to over and over again? Is it something about the values they preach (I think that’s apparent from my own answers)? Is it that we know them so well, or they’re so easy to read, that the cognitive load is eased and we float through the book nicely? Is it just that we already have read them a bunch of times and we know what happens, and the absence of surprise is welcome? (If that’s true, a fifth reading of Frankenstein would fill some kind of void for me).

Whatever the answer for you, I hope you are reading something that brings you joy and reassurance, and that you have a few failsafe books around to re-read when you need them. And as always, I’d love to hear what’s on your list.

Love, Pace

 

 

 

Saturday Reading – 2018 Wrap-up and a Review

Saturday Reading – 2018 Wrap-up and a Review

8 Incredible books I read this year:

  • The Friend, by Sigrid Nunez
  • Treeborne, by Caleb Johnson
  • Sycamore, by Bryn Chancellor
  • News of the World, by Paulette Jiles
  • Brass, by Xhenet Aliu
  • Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent
  • The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

Reading is my Sport:

41 books
11,936 pages
20 books by women
10 books by people of color

Book I recommended most:

Sycamore, by Bryn Chancellor.
This was a great, engrossing read both for its suspenseful plot and its intricately drawn characters. I loved Jess the same way I love my students; I wanted her to have an amazing and full life. Her self-discovery was just beginning and she was a truly interesting individual. What happens to Jess creates ripples throughout her town in sadly beautiful ways. The book this most reminded me of was The Weight of Blood, by Laura McHugh (also a great read).

I recommended this to a dear student with the requirement that she HATE Paul as much as I did. The cool thing is that she then recommended to a junior in my AP class, who chose it for her independent reading book. It’s like I’m a book grandma!!

Book that was recommended to me:

So Much Blue, by Percival Everett

My friend / former teacher, Trisha, sent this to me about a year ago, and I found it really cool. She and I both love art and artists, and I found it creepy, cool, confusing to spend time inside the mind of an artist for a while.

Review: The Friend, by Sigrid Nunez

CW: Suicide, loss

This is really a magnificent little book — like a diary of grief, filled with a curious writer’s encyclopedia entries of writers, suicides, dogs, and loves. The narrator is erudite, yet relatable in her little life that gets filled with outsize grief, and her little apartment that gets filled with an outsize dog. The story goes that her friend, a famous writer, commits suicide and unexpectedly leaves the care of his dog Apollo, a harlequin Great Dane, to her. She’s also a writer, and she starts to come undone, especially by the question of whether writing is a way of coping with grief or whether writing cannot possibly heal you and will in fact drive you to torture. I’m not sure she answers that question, but she does provide hope in a very real way for a grief that feels startlingly accurate to the actual experience of grief.

I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that the penultimate chapter, in which Nunez or the narrator (unclear which!) provides a belated purported narrative frame for the story she’s telling, astounded me. It was really, really well done. And it upgraded my rating from four stars to five. What a masterful turn of craft from Sigrid Nunez. I very much want to read more of her work.

 

9 Books I want to read in 2019

  • Fruit of the Drunken Tree, by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
  • Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel (for once in my life I think I’ll attempt to read a sequel immediately after I read the first book??)
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
  • The Midnight Cool, by Lydia Peele
  • Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee
  • Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
  • The Steady Running of the Hour, by Justin Go
  • The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas
  • Virgil Wander, by Leif Enger

 

What are some incredible books you read in 2018? What are your reading goals for this year? Anyone want to gush about these titles with me? Comment below!!