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

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

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! 

 

Friday Reading Rainbow

Happy March! I’m so glad we started off here in Rhode Island with tons of snow. No, I’m not kidding– my delicate “orchid child” psyche requires winter to thrive. I had been yearning for the snow we should have gotten earlier this year, and here it is! So delightful!

My reading life was strongest on our snow day this week, when I happened upon this little graphic:

So I’ll structure this week’s post around my answers.

Polygamist Reader 

Yes! The most promiscuous! It’s very unusual for me not to be reading multiple books. Sometimes I like to pair them together in ways that complement each other.

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Why Poetry (Matthew Zapruder) + Bright Dead Things (Ada Limon)

^ A book on how to read and enjoy poetry and a wonderful book of poems.

Other times I balance a thicker, more arduous read with shorter, more bouncy books. It helps me feel satisfied with the slower pace of the long read, because if I’m only reading one thing and it’s taking me forever, I start to feel antsy, like I’m missing out on other books because I’m stuck in one spot.

In addition to the two books above, I’m reading two books of fiction

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Joy in the Morning (P.G. Wodehouse) + A River of Stars (Vanessa Hua)
^ Two very different books! A River of Stars is an immigrant story (I’ve read a lot of those and can recommend some great ones) that has great character development and a compelling plot (I am really worried and wondering about what will happen. The Wodehouse is a farce, like all the Jeeves books, and I always love coming back to a Wodehouse to liven up my language and make me laugh.

And I’m reading a great teaching book, too, Write Beside Them (Penny Kittle)

Extrovert/ Introvert Reader 

I’d say I’m a little of both. On the introvert side, I am definitely analytical while I read (English teacher!), but that’s more about appreciating craft. I do read a wide variety of genres, but there are things I’m slightly closed off to: I don’t like horror or any apocalyptic, and I don’t usually read adult fantasty, despite being an enthusiastic fantasy reader when I was younger. One way I’m adventurous is reading diverse books — I choose at least 1/4 of my fiction each year from authors of color. This is not the same, by the way, as classifying “diverse” books as having marginalized characters. Representation is important, but I’m looking for varied perspective from different authors. It’s my job as a white person to step into other people’s shoes and learn about the world that I am often blind to because of my privilege. And, of course, writers of color are fantastic! There is so much great writing out there that doesn’t get enough attention and doesn’t get taught in schools. I love going to find it!

Altruist Reader 

You know this is me! Maybe a little too much. I try to tailor my recommendations to people’s specific tastes, but sometimes I get carried away about a book I’m reading and I just blab about it all the time.

Here are my top 5 most recommended books:

Peace Like a River (Leif Enger)
Sycamore  (Bryn Chancellor)
Like Water for Chocolates (Laura Esquivel)
We Were the Mulvaneys (Joyce Carol Oates)
Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole)

Tell me about yourself as a reader!

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!