I needed a book like this. An uncomplicated book that in spite of how busy and complicated other aspects of my life are leaning just now, I could drop in easily and stay. When I say it’s uncomplicated, I’m talking about style. My Name Is Lucy Barton is a book that leaves a lot uncovered, and that’s part of its greatness, because the book is in part about the things we keep to ourselves because they are ours and ours alone. There are some moments of metafiction, set up by the fact that this is a story of a writer who comes to write and finds a mentor writer, who finds success in writing. Those moments are spare, but connective. In a sense, this was a story about stories, how we construct them imperfectly as we are imperfect and memory is imperfect. Hopefully though our stories “report on the human condition…tell us who we are and what we think and what we do.” The power of this story lies as much in what is not written as what is on the page, the places where Lucy can’t or won’t be specific or explain, where the reader is the one who fills in the gap with his/her imagination.
My book group picked Citizen for the month of May. One unusually sunny April weekend day, I was bopping around Powell’s dreaming of leisurely summer reads when I came across Don’t Let Me Be Lonely (published in 2004) in the new books, used prices section. I noticed the subtitle is also “An American Lyric” and I thought, hmmm, I should read this one too and I should read it first. So, I did, and now I have less than a week to read the book we are actually discussing. This doesn’t worry me since I read Don’t Let Me Be Lonely in three days. I didn’t read it straight through, though. I would read a section, then close the book to catch my breathe before opening the book again to read more. The book is a co-mingling of words, images, and footnotes. I read them all together the first time through, then flipped back and looked at each separately. I got something different each time. The book begins like a simple diary, a recording of life events and that forms the backbone of the book, which dips into image, poem, spoken word, then back to diary. Rankine meditates on television violence, pharmaceuticals, depression, death, and history to show the consequences of fear: dark, pervasive loneliness. It is in the last pages where the book becomes most clearly metapoetic: “Sometimes you read something and a thought that was floating around in your veins reorganizes itself into the sentence that reflects it.” And this is the digression that saves you from being overcome by the dark truths in the book. Rankine writes, “In order from something to be handed over a hand must extend and a hand must receive. We must both be here in this world in this life in this place indicating the presence of.” Rankine suggests the possibility of art as perhaps not an antidote, but at least a respite to the pervasive loneliness that arises from the inevitability or death, especially in our modern world.
An Atlas of the Difficult World delivers, as Rich’s collections always do. Reading her work must be ennobling; It feels as though it must. Even though so much here eluded me in the moment (i.e. I didn’t “understand”)–it is the lines that strike an immediate chord, then the reflection on the work as a whole that allow me to say I understood and was moved. To me, this collection seems to be a case for art, though it is difficult and there is so much suffering already. Art is better than memory for remembering. One line that cut right through: “because no one understood all picnics are eaten on the grave?”
I’ve been keeping track of what I’ve been reading since 2009 here on this blog. My goal for 2015 was to read 50 books. I came pretty close at 42, which is 8 more books than I read in 2014 and 22 more books than I read in 2013. During our hot, dry summer, I read a few books while walking here and there and really love to read that way. It’s different than reading on the treadmill (which I hate), so it’s not just about moving while reading, though I do think that is a part of the romance for me. Sometimes when I sit and read, my body gets antsy and I close the book to get up and move around. When I walk and read, I can read for longer stretches of time than when sitting still. And I can still take notes while I read. I only need to pause and make a note in the margin before moving on. Theoretically I could do this on the treadmill in any weather, but the treadmill is sooo boring to me and that boredom seeps into my reading. I’m not going to post a list of the particular titles I plan to read in 2016, though I will post a picture of some I have lined up by my desk that I’m interested in reading. I’d like to read a variety of books from different genres and stay open to new books too. I’d like to read a couple of books with Chris and all the books my book group chooses. I’d like to write down all the found sentences I mark when I read this time and look back at them at the end of the year. I always mark them by writing a heart in the margin, but I don’t consistently go back to pull them out later. I want to read more attentively when I’m at home, for longer stretches without checking my phone or getting up to put a load of laundry in. I’d like to spend at least one full hour a few times a week just reading without distractions. Below is a list of the books I read in 2015 (the first five I absolutely loved, and I can’t wait to see The Brothers K at Book-It in May) and a picture of some I have queued up for 2016.
How about you? What did you read? Why? What will you read in 2016? How will you read?
The Brothers K/ David James Duncan (novel)
My Year of Meats/ Ruth Ozeki (novel)
Through the Second Skin/ Derek Sheffield (poetry)
Time and Materials/ Robert Hass (poetry)
Song of Solomon/ Toni Morrison (novel)
Fun Home/ Alison Bechdel (graphic novel)
Glitter and Glue/ Kelly Corrigan (memoir)
Ice Haven/ Daniel Clowes (graphic novel)
The Interestings/ Meg Wolizer (novel)
The Blue Flower/ Penelope Fitzgerald (novel)
10:04/ Ben Lerner (novel)
Queenpin/ Meg Abbot (novel)
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man/ James Joyce (novel)
The Awakening/ Kate Chopin (novel)
The Best American Poetry of 2009 (poetry)
How to Meditate/ Pema Chodron (non-fiction)
The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo (ALSO LOVED! Non-fiction)
Praise/ Robert Hass (poetry)
Maus/ Art Spiegelman (graphic novel)
The Uninvited Guests/ Sadie Jones (novel)
Persepolis 2 (graphic novel)
The Round House/ Louise Erdrich (novel)
Far From the Madding Crowd/ Thomas Hardy (novel)
Making Shapely Fiction/ Jerome Stern (non-fiction)
The Kundalini Yoga Experience/ Dharma Singh Khalsa (non-fiction)
Between You & Me/ Mary Norris (memoir)
Vox/ Nicholson Baker (novel)
The Laughing Monsters/ Denis Johnson (novel)
Slaugherhouse-Five/ Kurt Vonnegut (novel)
My Brilliant Friend/ Elena Ferrante (novel)
Paper Towns/ John Green (novel)
Holy the Firm/ Annie Dillard (Creative Non-Fiction)
Poser/ Claire Dederer (memoir)
The Magician’s Feastletters/ Diane Wakowski (poetry)
The Wisdom of Insecurtiy/ Alan Watts (non-fiction)
It took me just over three weeks to finish this book, and I’m a slow reader. Record set! It’s not that it’s an “easy read”. The sentences are complex, the voices nuanced and differentiated, the motifs deftly woven. The text is rich, to be savored–full of scenes, letters, sermons, narrative insights, allusions, and epigraphs. At times I laughed out loud. At times, I sobbed. Particularly this morning as I sat in bed finishing the last 100 pages, tears just kept coming to my eyes. I went down to get coffee and babbled to my son about how good the book was before darting back upstairs to see what happened next. That part too is part of why it’s such a page turner. The way Duncan keeps the mystery just out of reach, plies you along with vague foreshadowing. Also the way he creates characters you care about. I even mostly liked the parts about baseball. Part epic, part romance, part philosophical fiction. Read it! Read it now. You won’t be sorry.
Oh, Ms. Dillard. I heart you. From the first time I opened Pilgrim At Tinker Creek in a nature writing class as Grays Harbor College in 1994, you have consistently demonstrated the ability to take my breath away and give it back over and over again. They way you take your observations of nature and experiences of the world and use them to explore the biggest questions amazes me. You are not for the bored or faint-hearted.
I took this little book with me to Flapjack Lakes and read it until I fell asleep and then finished it sitting on a mossy rock overlooking a lake while I drank my morning coffee out of a blue titanium camping mug. The moth! The girl! You explore the question of why there is such suffering in the world if there is a God and add that the existence of suffering is the reason for art. Well, that’s what I think anyway. You sometimes go over head in the most gorgeous way.
I finished this book a while ago and have been thinking about what to write here. This book is the first in a series of four and I felt a little jipped in the end when I realized that in order to get to the bottom of some of the books central mysteries I would have to read all four. I am tempted to do this, though as the summer draws to a close and I’m beginning to think more and more of the stories I’ll teach this coming school year and the books I really wanted to read by the end of summer, it may not be right away. When I do read them, though, I hope they’ll be page turners like the first one, that I can read them all in one long binge. The sense of place created in the story, the mystery, and the looming danger did compel me to finish this book at a faster pace. The aspect of this story that I most want to see through to the end is the strange friendship/rivalry between Elena (narrator) and Lila. Their love and envy are rendered hauntingly real. This story begins in the 1950s when the two girls are primary school friends and takes place is a poor community outside of Naples where distinctions of class, gossip and rumors, and old-world values complicate relationships. The two very different paths the two friends take as they move out of adolescence and into adulthood is a central theme.
This past year I submitted my portfolio for National Board Certification, got married, and taught summer school for the first time. Somehow, I still managed to read WAY more books than I did last year. I’d love some suggestions from you for what to read in 2015 and by the end of this week I’m going to compile a list of 15 must-reads for the year, leaving plenty of room for new possibilities to open along the way. Tell me–what should be on my must-read list? What have you read recently that you are dying to talk to someone else about because it was just that freaking good?
When I read I have to take notes, it’s a compulsion. I also love collecting sentences that strike me as particularly well-rendered and I publish them here from time to time as “found sentences”. I’m reading more and more books on a device these days, which is probably good since I really don’t have that much book shelve space left.
I’m not making any resolutions this year or any grand intentions for change. I’m happy with who I am now. I want to read a lot, write often, take walks and hikes in nature, sit and breathe, write letters, and remain open to new adventures. Just like I’m doing now.
What I Read in 2014:
1. I finished Ulysses!!! It took me years and Chris and I read the entire thing out loud together. <3
2. By Blood by Ellen Ullman –Unusual in a good way.
3. The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus
4. The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hahn
5. The Tenth of December by George Saunders — Awestruck!
6. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern — Loved!
7. Quiet by Susan Cain
8. The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith
9. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
10. On Writing by Eudora Welty
11. The Best American Poetry of 2009
12. Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III
13. Divergent by Veronica Roth
14. Wild by Cheryl Strayed
15. The Fine Print of Self Publishing by Mark Levine
16. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
17. Her Best Kept Secret by Gabrielle Glasser — Loved!
18. How To Start A Home-Based Editorial Business by Barbara Fuller
19. How The Brain Learns to Read by David Sousa
20. The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
21. Teaching With Poverty In Mind by Eric Jensen
22. Google Apps Meet Common Core by Michael Graham
23. Brain Rules by John Medina
24. Tibetan Peach Pie by Tom Robbins
25. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen
26. Mating by Norman Rush
27. Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon (Loved! Can’t wait to see the movie.)
28. Being Perfect by Anna Quindlen
29. Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
30. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (Loved!)
31. The Wife by Meg Wolitzer
32. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (Loved!)
33. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
34. Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (Loved!)
I picked this book up so that I might feel better equipped to teach a graphic novel this spring. In terms of illuminating the craft behind comics, this book definitely delivered. I have a vocabulary of the craft I didn’t have before. Additionally, this book provides a thoughtful reflection on art and the creation of art that resonated with me as a fiction writer. Part glossary, part textbook, but really more essay that explores perception, creation, and the question of why we work so hard to communicate through art.
Chris and I read this one together. We came across a preview for the movie coming out in December and, impressed by the cast and story, decided to read it.
What a fun, smart book! Every time I sat down to read, I laughed out loud and also stopped to marvel at perfect sentences. The details Pynchon paints on to build this “part noir, part psychedelic romp” are brilliant.
I can’t wait for the movie and I’m pushing the book off too as many friends as I can get to read it and go to the movie with us.
A couple of found sentences:
“Last Doc knew, his ex-old lady here had been at least a person of interest to countless levels of law enforcement, yet here she was now, same getup, same carefree attitude, as if she still hadn’t even met Mickey Wolfmann, as if some stereo needle had been lifted and set back down on some other sentimental oldie on the compilation LP of history” (261-262).
“And on she went, without waiting for an answer, twinkling like a roomful of speed-freaks hanging Christmas tinsel, about her different escapes” (172).