Friday Reading Rainbow

Sometimes I sink my teeth into one novel and become engrossed in it. Other times I read clusters of books– usually that have some connection to each other. Friends of mine find this to be a disgusting habit and abhor watching me sit at a cafe table and read 10 pages of one thing and abruptly pull out another book. Here’s a cluster that I’m working through now. What do these books have to do with each other? Intimacy? Romance? I think maybe it is something about self-discovery and its interplay with the relationships we carry or break. 

The Mountain ~ Paul Yoon

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I loved Paul Yoon’s Snow Hunters so dreadfully much that I eagerly grabbed this new short story collection from my library shelf and looked around to make sure no one would try to wrestle it from me. His writing seems to be about something in a real yet elusive way. And his sentence-level writing is sparse, intriguing, and inventive. For example, in the first story in The Mountain, called “The Willow and the Moon” he writes,  “He was smaller than I was, but he moved like a dancer to me,” and I think, towards me? Is the character moving closer? But later, he repeats, “He was strong to me,” and I realize that Yoon has embedded perception and in fact love so seamlessly into description that only the repetition explained it. Fantastic craftsmanship.

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Where Angels Fear to Tread ~ E. M. Forster

Light, light, light fiction. We are not plumbing the depths here, people. We are interested in conventionality and propriety, and we are titillated by the breaking of those things. I am reading this book (as I am keenly aware) to gloss over life and I am investing very little in it. However, some good things are happening– characters seem to be reversing their nature as they are explored by others who get to know them. And there’s a duality between Italy and England and the manners of each that Forster played with here, in his first novel (published 1905). If you’ve read A Room with a View, you’ll know that he eventually arrived at a masterful rendering of these themes.

Tremble ~ C.D. Wright

I’m a bit startled by the eroticism of most of Wright’s works here. She is undoubtedly a master. I grasp some of the poems easily, which usually results in a smile and a re-read. Others take me some time to puzzle out, and many are out of reach and I don’t understand them at all– which helps me to understand what my students sometimes feel when we read poetry that they find unforgivingly cryptic.

Writing Down the Bones ~ Natalie Goldberg
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI think I’m a little too analytical to wholeheartedly embrace Goldberg’s methods, which involves zen meditation and letting the writing flow through one in an organic, inspired way. I have not been writing much since school started, and I’m kicking myself a little to do the daily, purposeful practice that Goldberg recommends. Rejoice– today I finished a series of poems that have been brewing for two weeks!

Far From the Madding Crowd ~ Thomas Hardy

I paused my Hardy reading for quite a while, as you may remember. I’m back now, and the second part of the novel is beginning as Gabriel and Batsheba are in the flipped social position. The nonsense with the valentine, though… having been NOT one of the popular girls in school, I can’t quite get over the unkindness of sending a valentine that you didn’t really mean. But oh, such romance is awaiting me as I progress through this story. It’s quite thrilling.

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Friday Reading Rainbow

A round-up of what I’ve been reading this week. I’m looking hard for hope and resilience right now.Please comment with what I should read next! 

NONFICTION

My students and I argued over Joan Didion’s classic 1976 essay: “Why I Write”, wondering about the difference between thinking and seeing, between creating and receiving. I love her notes about grammar’s “infinite power” as she says, “Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned.” I feel the same when I teach grammar– it’s an animal we know instinctively but whose power can be unwieldy if we don’t see its crouching movements through the heath.

A story of resilience, imagination, and our changing environment, pursued through a nighttime view of magnificent fireflies Summer in the Heartsick Mountains.

FICTION

Coming home from school each day means flopping into my magenta armchair with plentiful coffee and a book. Today I grabbed Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett, and read the first 40 pages without stopping. I think this may have been the most flawless opening chapter I have ever read. It’s a party scene– a Christening that becomes soaked in gin and home-made orange juice. There is such delicious chaos in the scene: shifting perspectives between Bert and Fix as they’re both magnetized to Beverly; the need for ice on a hot day and the sense that everything must change; the effects of alcohol on adults (and on children who innocently scoop drinks from dozing adults and down them!); a priest dancing a slow drag with the slightly-less-pretty younger sister of the hostess. Amidst the turns of the narrative, there is a sense of authority from our writer as she very knowingly sets us at this starting point. It somehow feels deliberate and unexplicable at the same time. I’m so excited to slurp up this book over this weekend.

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POETRY

I’ve been slowly tiptoeing my way through C.D. Wright’s Tremble. Such grace and mystery imbue her poems; I feel I have to read each one three times to approach comprehension.

I also loved her poem “In a Word, a World,” which I will share with students to show them the weirdness and power of words.