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.

Find a copy of Commonwealth at IndieBound

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.

Friday Reading Rainbow

A weekly round-up of what I’ve been reading, for interested parties 

FICTION

The Fever Tree, by Jennifer McVeigh

Frances Irvine, set adrift by her father’s death and financial ruin, has two options. She can work as a free-labor nanny and housemaid for her poor, brash Irish aunt, or she can marry Edwin Matthews, a doctor working in South Africa, who has been desperate to marry Frances since she was a child. Accustomed to the finer things in life, Frances chooses the latter. On the way to marry a man she doesn’t love, she meets the charming yet cutthroat William Westbrook. Passion ensues, but Frances’s fate is yet to be determined. South Africa is, needless to say, not what she expected.

I rarely say no to a well-written, romantic work of historical fiction. If you like flawed protagonists, well Frances is about as flawed as you can get (she’s spoiled, unaware of her own privilege, racist, gullible, and selfish). The background of the book is intricately constructed and fascinating– diamond mining, smallpox epidemic, labor exploitation, and the wildlife of South Africa. I am especially interested in how Frances’s dawning awareness and appreciation of the natural world fosters her own self-knowledge. I do hope that she turns out to be redeemable, and that she finds a way to dig beyond superficiality.

Side note– in terms of racial issues, this isn’t the most radical book. It does show Frances questioning her assumptions, and there’s a strong contrast between the game hunter mentality of brutal William and the charitable Edwin. Certainly a “white savior” complex going on here, and problematic use of non-white people as background.

Find a copy at Indiebound

POETRY

In honor of immigrant families, and in defense of DACA:

“Sympathy for foreign mothers” by Threa Almontasar.

The Book List

My 11th grade AP students will be doing independent reading this quarter, and I put together a book list for them. The goal was to find as many books as possible that would be challenging, engaging, and maybe even life-altering. I’ve read many of these titles, but others have been heartily recommended by people who love books. Thanks to all who contributed ideas! 

THE LIST

Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro

Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini

Atonement Ian McEwan

Kindred Octavia Butler

The Book of Unknown Americans Cristina Henriquez

Ways to Disappear Idra Novey

Like Water for Chocolate Laura Esquivel

The Bird Artist Howard Norman

A Prayer for Owen Meany John Irving

Last Night in Twisted River John Irving

The Things They Carried Tim O’Brien

We Were the Mulvaneys Joyce Carol Oates

The Bean Trees Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible Barbara Kingsolver

The Bluest Eye Toni Morrison

Home Toni Morrison

The Beet Queen Louise Erdrich

The Round House Louise Erdrich

A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy Toole

The Weight of Blood Laura McHugh

The Mothers Brit Bennett

The Past Tessa Hadley

To the Bright Edge of the World Eowyn Ivey

The Bones of Paradise Jonis Agee

Snow Hunters Paul Yoon

Ruby Cynthia Bond

The Fishermen Chigozie Obioma

The Namesake Jhumpa Lahiri

The Glass Palace Amitav Ghosh

The Kitchen God’s Wife Amy Tan

Buddha in the Attic Julie Otsuka

Neverhome Laird Hunt

Gilead Marilynne Robinson

The Shipping News Annie Proulx

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant Anne Tyler

Playing in the Light Zoe Wicomb

Peace Like a River Leif Enger

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Jonathan Safran Foer

Let the Great World Spin Colum McCann

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao Junot Diaz

The Sparrow Mary Doria Russell

Oryx and Crake Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood

Station Eleven Emily St. John Mandel

The Summer We Got Free Mia McKenzie

The Dew Breaker Edwidge Danticat

White Oleander Janet Fitch

Burial Rites Hannah Kent

The Art of Fielding Chad Harbach

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay Michael Chabon

The Kitchen House Kathleen Grissom

Middlesex Jeffrey Eugenides

Half of a Yellow Sun Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Snow Falling on Cedars David Guterson

Homegoing Yaa Gyasi

The Sellout Paul Beatty

The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears Dinaw Mengestu

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Julia Alvarez

All the Light We Cannot See Anthony Doerr

The Steady Running of the Hour Justin Go

 

What do you think? What books should be added to this list? 

Sunday Sentence

The best sentence I’ve read this week, out of context and without commentary.

On the day of the conference, Leonie hissed: He ain’t stupid. Jojo, let’s go. And I winced at the way she used ain’t and the way she leaned in to the teacher without even knowing it, and the teacher blinked and stepped away from the latent violence coiled in Leonie’s arm, running from her shoulder down to her elbow and to her fist.

Jesmyn Ward

Sing, Unburied, Sing 

I read an excerpt of this new novel after reading an interview with Jesmyn Ward .