Books Read in September

“My Stroke of Insight- A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey” by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.

Every brain has a story and this is mine.

This is the second time I have read this amazing book. This time I kept a pen with me to underline and mark as I read. I’ve always said that if  I could have another path or a do-over, I would want to go into brain science. The brain is absolutely fascinating and after reading this book I find it even more compelling. Taylor, a brain scientist, has a stroke at the age of 37. Because of her expertise she views her stroke through the prism of not only the patient but the scientist giving us an amazing full picture of what she and brain endured the morning of the stroke and the years afterward. The first couple of chapters delve into the simple science of the brain. If that doesn’t engage you, do not let it stop you from skipping ahead and reading this book. It is well worth it. She combines science with her personal experience as a stroke survivor and glimpses into a particular inner peace or bliss she experienced and how we can all access that part of our brains without having to endure the tragedy of a stroke.

What I learned: That the plasticity of the brain is astounding and that you can re-learn and learn new skills eight years after a stroke.

 “The Architecture of the Novel” by Jane Vandenburgh

The joke in my family is that on any car ride through even the most implausible town or countryside, I’ve always felt the need to stop the car.

With a forward by Anne Lamott, how could I not read this book? It is divided into two parts. Part One delves into plot (or what she also refers to as Architecture), story, and narrative time. Part Two is a glossary of “the tools and concepts I’ve found useful and necessary in thinking about the longer narrative”. I underlined something on the majority of pages. This is not a quick fix writing book. She manages to reveal the mysteries of the novel writing process while still acknowledging the mystery. Her advice manages to be both intuitive (“You allow the scenes from your story, the story that has been bumping you and nudging against you as if it’s emerging out of darkness, to itself begin to control the writing process.”)  as well as pragmatic (“What it means is you need to go find your characters in their next active situation.”).

 What I learned: That the story you are writing is your best teacher.

 “I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections” by Nora Ephron

I have been forgetting things for years – at least since I was in my thirties.

She is funny. That’s a fact. Funny and insightful which is a charming combination. I laughed out loud so many times but couldn’t underline anything as it was a library copy.  But here are a few of my faves:

“…it’s so easy to tell people they have spinach in their teeth. All you have to do is say, ‘You have spinach in your teeth.’”

Some of her “Twenty-five things People Have a Shocking Capacity to be Surprised by Over and Over Again:

Almost all books that are published as memoirs were initially written as novels, and then the agent/editor said, This might work better as a memoir.

There is no explaining the stock market but people try.

You can never know the truth of anyone’s marriage, including your own.”

You’ll just have to go out and read it yourself. Really. Go. Now.

What I Learned: That she almost gave up writing one of my favorite movies. No, I am not going to tell you what it is. Go read the book:)

“The Emperor’s Children” a novel by Claire Messud

Darling! Welcome! And you must be Danielle?

I haven’t sunk into a thick novel, losing myself in its characters and their stories in a while. I did with this one. At the heart of the novel are three friends from Brown (Marina, Danielle and Julius) who have stayed close as they hit their thirties, each still finding and creating a path for the kind of life they envision for themselves. The chapters alternate between the friends’ points-of-view as well as that of Marina’s famous journalist father, Murray and his nephew, Frederick “Bootie” Tubb, who enters their lives unexpectedly and whose decisions alter the trajectory of their evolving paths. The backdrop is New York City in the months leading up to September 11 and the aftermath. I was completely absorbed in their stories. They intersected beautifully, each causing ripples in the others’ lives.

 What I learned: The necessity of cause and effect. A character makes this decision then this happens, over and over again in the case of a novel.

“I Knew You’d Be Lovely” stories by Alethea Black

Earlier that evening, under the pale streetlamps, Bradley had sat on a park bench and watched a row of trees carefully gathering snow.

I knew that this collection would be lovely and I was right. The stories are also smart with an edge. They are exactly the kind of stories I hope to write, that I hope I am writing. She manipulates time beautifully, leaving the stories rich and with the depth of a novel at times.  At the end of the collection she writes a brief background on the writing of each story, revealing where the idea come from, how long it took to write, what, if anything, came from real life. I love getting a peek behind the curtain like that. Now I will patiently (or not so patiently) wait for her next book. Meanwhile, this one will live on  my permanent bookshelf.

What I learned: That an incredibly brief line that nods to the future can add such depth to a short story.

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