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
Photo by kendall hoopes on Pexels.com

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! 

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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! 

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

 

 

 

Friday Reading Rainbow (1st of 2019!)

Friday Reading Rainbow (1st of 2019!)

Greetings, 2019 people! You are so shiny!

Some Reading Resolutions

  • I want to read 52 books this year! That’s one for every week, but since I usually read more than one book, I think I can do it.
  • I should read more of the books that I actually own (and maybe make room for some new ones).
  • Post more frequent reviews and recommendations here

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

Currently Reading

FICTION:

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

I’m approaching the last pages of this epic saga. I’m still so wrapped up in Cromwell’s schemes, and I like how little inner monologue he has — we kind of have to figure him out without much help from him (he has bigger things to worry about). I’ve been fascinating with Anne Boleyn since I was a little contrarian / anarchist child and since I have a mole on my neck (a sign of being a witch, or so they said with her!). She’s portrayed here as capricious, savage, and ambitious to an extreme. It’s delightful to watch her smash things.

NONFCTION:

Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad, by Eric Foner

The American Civil War is one of my favorite eras of history; it’s conceptually rich and dramatic, and there is so much evil and violence, yet so much hope. I want this book to shed some light on the human experience of enslaved people. It also doubles as some preliminary research for the novel I’m writing (The Western).

POETRY:

“Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning,”  by Beth Gordon in Into the Void. 

 

Marriage,” by Luisa Muradyan.

 

What are you reading this weekend? I hope it brings you joy (and a warm mug of coffee!) 

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!!