Category Archives: reading

2019 Reading List (in progress)

Trevor Noah memoir. I just love him. What else do I need to say?

I read Frank for her wonderful descriptions of the Lowland landscape.

Read Myles’s “Afterglow” after getting it for Christmas. I’m going to be a die hard fan. Why hadn’t I heard of her? She kinda blew the top of my head off.

(Already have an e-version of this. Husband reading, January ’17).

(2017 Christmas gift) (read “Remains of the Day” years ago)

(2017 Christmas gift) (read “Bel Canto” years back).

The novel begins with an illicit kiss that leads to an affair that destroys two marriages and creates a reluctantly blended family. In a series of vignettes spanning fifty years, it tells the story of the six children whose lives were disrupted and how they intertwined. Wikipedia

These two books on writing came from article listing 16 texts on subject.

Choose Listen

A fluffy snow fell. I slept late. Tried not to feel guilty. On our walk (trusty ear buds in place) a little of my soul was restored by the smart pundits behind “Pod Save America”.

(this morning’s main point: pleeeease people! It’s not the fucking profanity that offends, it’s the underlying racial animus).

Off to the page. This morning already written a few paragraphs wondering what it’ve been like to see your breath for the first time as an underdressed bondwoman from Africa?

I will leave you with with an excerpt from this week’s reading:

“We follow the speaker and their shifting states, look at their shirt (do I want it?) carefully examining their shoes, taking their pulse in terms of the rhythmic pitch, the seismic by which we know what is going on in the ocean on earth right here in the room in terms of information mattering. Each of us is a cell of that potential knowledge cluster, that mammoth great dog being lead right now through the cosmos.

More and more of us came and the patterns got swifter and the knowing entirely disassembled and we will never reassemble it again but instead we now return to knowing’s just before. It is attractive.

To add. I did this in my childhood too. And you too else you would not be here. In adulthood we must relearn the wisdom of the young who feels her inside while she is being taught she is wrong. To abide in the totalitarian, to survive one must look straight into the face of the nun or whoever and muse. Yet this brought so much upon me. Warily I learned not to absorb their enmity. Choose listen.”

Eileen Myles, Afterglow (a dog memoir).

PS if you’re an SNL fan, there are strong echoes with Aidy Bryant’s recent Weekend Update performance, in which Aidy Bryant apologizes every other second and tries to craft her message about equality in a manner palatable to men.

Ward and Northup

I finished four books in the first week of 2018, a fact that’s a little less impressive given that I’d already read 2/3’s of one and 1/2 of another and that one of them was a slender volume of poems. And Shakespeare? The text is limited to the facing pages, so that went fast, too. Also: I tend to be terrific out of the gate, flag at the mid-range and die towards the end. The real test for this challenge (#theunreadshelfproject2018) will be mid-summer and fall.

Jesmyn Ward’s book, “Sing, Unburied, Sing” has everything (except sex): addiction, death, redemption, a road trip, one character’s coming of age, parenting (both deficient and exemplary), prison and release, the long shadow of slavery, and ghosts.

Set in contemporary Mississippi, the story features three generations and centers on themes of caregiving, racism, and secrets. There are acts of self-destruction and acts of mercy. The author also takes an interesting look at the porous line between death and life.

The elders, who are both African Americans, take care of their two bi-racial grandchildren. Their drug addicted daughter, Leoni, drives north to pick up her white husband, who’s about to be released from Parchman Prison. Leoni gathers up her 13 year old son, her toddler daughter, and a friend for the drive. That journey parallels two others that are happening simultaneously: the journey of her cancer-ridden mother toward death and that of her son, who approaches adulthood by grappling with the harsh truths around him, some of which have previously been secret.

I can tell you without spoiling too much that the novel features two ghosts. Early on, we learn that Leoni’s brother was “accidentally” killed by her husband’s cousin (we are meant to see it otherwise). She can see her brother’s ghost, but only when she’s high, a fact that made her addiction both more complicated and understandable. The other ghost appears to her son during the drive to Parchman. He is a former inmate and will be instrumental in releasing a long-held secret of Leoni’s father.

The 13 year old boy is a better caretaker of his sister than their mother, something that causes Leoni no end of defeated bitterness. The scenes of mother lashing out in frustration are rendered well and, for obvious reasons, hard to take. We see one of the costs of drug abuse up close and personal.

The author shifts point of view by chapter so that we get different perspectives throughout, but every chapter features haunting, gritty, and lyrical prose.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

To follow Jesmyn Ward’s book with a slave narrative made for powerful and damning echoes. [Trump’s “shithole countries” comment came two days ago, so there is no escaping the specter of white supremacy these days, said a person with white privilege].

One of the most startling parallels between Ward’s novel and Northup’s narrative can be found in the labor scenes. It was shocking but not shocking that the field work scenes depicted at Parchman Prison were barely distinguishable from those of a plantation (think: patrollers and dogs; unpaid labor. Think: Ava DuVernay’s “The Thirteenth”).

Both Ward’s novel and Solomon Northup’s story contain details of racially animated violence almost too awful to bear.

I won’t go more into the slim and eloquent “Twelve Years a Slave” because I imagine many of you have seen the film, except to say this : reading the narrative is very worthwhile even if you’ve seen Steve McQueen’s movie. To hear the words of this free black is powerful. To slow down and see the world through his eyes, also powerful.

Also read: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and an issue of the literary journal, Rattle.

Literary intentions

Here are the books I want to read this year. They’ve been culled from the many, many unread books in the house.

There are two complementary goals in #theunreadshelfproject: one is to read books already in possession and the other is to put the brakes on book-buying. For me, there’s a tertiary goal: to finish books I’ve already started (about 1/3 of those pictured).

And of course, I want to read more.

Our current political nightmare has turned me into a news consumer, a fact both good and bad. Good, because I need to know what’s going on. Bad, because — well, you know why — because it’s all so overwhelming, alarming and disturbing. Also bad, because it means sacrificing other reading.

Seeing “Top Ten Books of 2017” on Instagram this week made me wonder: had I even read ten books over the previous twelve months? (I had and then some, but lax tracking also wants improving).

So. My shelf is sagging with weighty non-fiction, and since I prefer as a rule to read fiction, these 30 books represent an unbelievably ambitious goal.

And look at the size of the James and Mathiesson novels!

That’s okay. This is about intention and focus and not about making myself miserable. It’s also about changing my relationship to COMPLETION.

Each of the two books that I’ve already finished this year (yes! that’s two books in two days!) spawned ideas for future reading. I could just line titles up on an Amazon wishlist or a Goodreads TBR shelf, but the former is inescapably a shopping site and the latter bugs me for a bunch of reasons, so I’ll make a standing post here instead.

Bear with me while I figure this out.

Meanwhile, we’re bracing for a “bomb cyclone” : up to 12” of snow is on the way, along with nearly hurricane force winds (more the Cape and the Islands, but also here), all to be followed by record shattering cold (they’re predicting -10 to -20 for the weekend). Because of the Super Full Moon two days ago, flooding from storm surge is a real possibility along the coast, too.

I just hope we don’t lose power.

At 17 degrees, Finn and I worked up a good sweat playing fetch this morning. I sniffed the air. Doesn’t smell like snow yet!

you seem restless


Sometimes being a disorganized word-scribbler has its benefits — like when I’m cleaning up and find some random scrap of paper or flip through a long forgotten half filled notebook and land on treasure. Here are a few: the record of toddler C saying he ‘had to pee like ABCD’ (because he may have heard his mother saying she ‘had to pee like you read about’); the quote of him yelling out to the goats at Drumlin Farm: “Hey you gumdrops!” and toddler D’s announcement as his father walked in the door: “Mom got dead fish today!” (trout was on the menu). Whether these scrawled messages point to a place and time I’d forgotten about or inform anew, there’s usually a sense of delight and discovery, and sometimes, synchronicity.

Last week I found this movie quote: “You seem restless but in a permanent kind of way.” I had to google the movie title (“Take This Waltz“) because I’d forgotten it, but I remembered the characters well enough.

“You seem restless but in a permanent kind of way” keeps echoing. I hear it even as I am relaxing on the shores of Rock Pond in New Hampshire. A pretty spot. Quiet. Lots of reading. Some sun. Tasty food, including the first delectably fresh corn of the summer.

But there’s no getting away from any of it. There just isn’t.

In spite of long walks in the woods with “my guys” and swimming two or three times a day, I feel restless and I wonder: is it in a permanent kind of way?


The other quote came from Representative John Lewis and it was simply: “Pray with your feet.”

Newsweek photo of Boston

In that regard, I am so proud of the friends, peers, and other progressives who showed up at Boston Common to counter-protest a “free speech” rally today. They prayed with their feet. This could have gone another way and not just because a huge percentage of Republicans in Massachusetts voted for Trump, but because hate dwells everywhere and has been energized by the monsters at the helm. More than 40,000 counter protesters of all ages and colors showed up.

I’m also proud of the amazing work that the ACLU does.

Off to make dinner. I’ll be back after the eclipse. I hope you all have proper eye protection!

PS. Finished this novel yesterday. Wow did it turn out to be relevant! About a white nationalist and an African American nurse. He has a baby. Baby dies. Nurse is charged with murder. Nurse’s white lawyer comes to grips with her own racism. It goes from there.

to submit to something

Last week, a PBS News Hour interviewer asked our new poet laureate, Tracy K. Smith, why she wrote poetry. Her answer? ‘Because it forces you to submit to something’.

The evocative phrase has lingered.

What do you submit to and why — and if enduring something is different from submitting to it, is there a way to convert one to the other? Maybe reverence is involved. Silence? I might cleverly suggest that karma dictates what we endure, while our gifts and aspirations determine places of submission, but that seems facile. Oversimplification is not what’s called for here.

An examination of distractions, might be, though.

TV-viewing habits are ‘up’ right now, starting with a disastrous re-boot about a week ago, after which I was left with sound but no picture (well, and another entry in the annals called, “Only When K is in China”).  I submitted (wrong word!) to watching a little local, live TV in the kitchen now and then. There was a mood of nostalgia and curious forbearance. I read more.

Next came a four or five hour power outage, leaving me with no TV whatsoever. It wasn’t like I was dying to watch local news or catch up on reruns of ‘Get Smart’, but if the reboot was a nudge, the subsequent power outage was a kick in the shins. I wanted to read the synchronicity for the fullness of its message — to submit to it.

The power outage was precipitated by a dramatic shorting wire out front. It was a real emergency.  After hearing a loud crackle and seeing a lightening-like flash, I went to investigate, thinking I’d be reassuring myself that it wasn’t electrical.

reddressblur_deemallon - CopyInstead, I was greeted by a series of violent flashes up in my neighbor’s maple tree. Ill-positioned wires had heated up the bark, igniting it in two places. I dashed in to take shelter behind my neighbor’s front door while she called 911. Children and nanny clustered ’round. “It might’ve used me to go to ground,” I said in slight panic.

Soon, the zapping melted the wires, leaving one end dangling from the pole nearest our driveway and draping the other along the road like a venomous snake playing dead. A teen-aged boy emerged from across the street. I quipped, “You can tell E. is home alone,” but then as he approached stuck my head out to holler, “Stay back! That wire might be live!”I could tell my neighbor thought me a little hysterical. Perhaps because I cussed out her landscaper last week? No matter. Thanks to my electrical engineer father’s pragmatic warnings about current and conductivity over the course of my entire childhood, I knew mine was not an overwrought assessment of the danger.

Firemen arrived, police set up yellow tape, etc.

Once the wires were severed, it was safe to return home and await the restoration of power. Then, two thunderstorms rolled through.

As if it wasn’t enough for the elements to cut off my power, the first storm filled the house with a preternatural dark. I donned a ‘miner’s lamp’ and carefully climbed the garage-attic ladder to fetch our camping lantern, although I’m not sure why, since my last solo attempt at lighting it nearly set the Sangre de Cristo mountains on fire. I wasn’t likely to give it another try.

I gathered a few candles for later and made myself a tasty chicken salad. I wondered if our hot water heater held enough hot water for a bath (it does). Soon sun flooded the back room again and I read Smith’s memoir “Ordinary Light.”*

OrdinaryLight_deemallonphoto

Not long after, the canopy out back set up a noisy rattle, signaling imminent rain. The display made me wonder: when had I stopped submitting myself to summer storms?

The metaphors swirl, still — restoration of power, providing ground, a live wire, electrical storms rolling through, sudden, zapping current.

The repair guy arrived at the height of it. Seeing him up in his metal bucket, head in the trees and handling electrical wires was unnerving, but I had to assume he knew all the safety precautions. As the sky pulsed with lightening, the power came back on in three waves. The fridge resumed its humming. I padded about, resetting the digital clocks, glad to be capable of that at least.

 

*I’ll refrain from commenting until I’m done. How my opinion of Plum Johnson changed between when posting and finishing her memoir!

 

Heavenly, challenging prose

From “Unexplained Presence” by Tisa Bryant:

What we have is Woolf’s then in our now. Parse the registers. The cusp between them dark as oil, snaking and slick, cleaving the land with a liquid that moves dusky beings on ships and barges from one country to the next. We talk to the page, the screen, or the scrim of imagination. How to be a man? A woman? See to the mark: there, there, and there. And we are? Where? Reading the figures of time, image after image after image.

We add our voices to history and bodies move across time. Lineage, not forgetfulness, is spoken and does not define and demarcate “us” from “them”.

Her prose blows the top of my head off. I love it that I can’t even really say what she means. I love that I will read the 8 or 9 page piece more than once and let the words flow over me in a delirium of appreciation (much the way I did with Woolf’s fiction in college) and STILL not necessarily know what she means.

Here is a link exploring Tisa Bryant‘s, including some taped remarks.

And there’s this.