Books Read in May.

May 2017 Books

“Marlena” a novel by Julie Buntin

Tell me what you can’t forget and I’ll tell you who you are.

Some say that we never forget our first great love. I believe we never forget our first great friendship. That friend that shines a light into our darkness and casts a shadow on our light. The friendship is deep, quick, complicated. That’s how it is between fifteen-year-old Cat and seventeen-year-old, pill-popping, seen-too-much-life-already Marlena. Cat moves with her mother and older brother to a rural town in northern Michigan. The setting itself is exquisitely wrought, becoming an accomplice to the friendship. Cat’s mother is newly divorced, her father unavailable, her brother postponing college to help out financially and emotionally. Marlena is a perfect distraction. Cat is drawn into her life, her secrets, her pain as Marlena initiates her into her first everything: kiss, drink, pill. Within a year, Marlena is found dead in the woods nearby, drowned in a mere six inches of icy water. The story weaves the past and the present, moving back and forth between Michigan and New York as adult Cat receives a call from the past, whisking her back into the summer that changed everything. This is a gorgeous story of the complications of teenage female friendship, addiction, lust, boredom and searching for something to hold onto in the midst of things falling apart.

A sentence I love:

She’s leaning into my face, her cheeks iridescent as if recently wiped clean of tears, her mouth against my chin, finding my lips, and the her tongue, something un-cooked and too wet about it, something silly, and just as I begin to formulate a word for what is happening, kissing, she disintegrates into laughter, breathing it into me until it bubbles from her throat and overflows. like her laugh is my creation. And a smell, like scratching a branch with your nail until its green flesh shows, the residue left behind on your fingers.

“American War” a novel by Omar El Akkad

When I was young, I collected postcards. 

A second American Civil War breaks out in 2076. In our current incredibly polarized country, this isn’t hard to imagine. Reading this rich, complex novel we don’t need to imagine it, we only need to drop into the near distant future he has painted for us. In this world, war is not some abstract entity but a specific atrocity that impacts the daily life of Sarat Chestnut and her family. Woven with historical documents, letters and oral history to give a full picture of how we got to civil war again and what was happening behind the scenes, “American War” often read less like a novel and more like an inevitable reality. Stunning.

As an added incentive to check this novel out, my husband rarely reads fiction. Well, he picked this up on our vacation and finished it in in less than 72 hours.

A sentence I love: 

Why was safety, anyway, but the sound of a bomb falling on someone else’s home?

She’d learned recently that solid land was not the natural skin of the world, only a kind of parasitic condition that surfaced and receded in million-year cycles. the natural skin of the world was water, and all water on earth was connected.

“The Universe Has Your Back- Transform Fear to Faith” by Gabrielle Bernstein

In the spring of 2015, I had a meltdown in a yoga class.

I chose this book for the book club I lead at our yoga studio. I had one week to read it when I finally picked it up. It turns out it was perfect (divine) timing. My low back started given me problems last Sunday. Seemingly out of the blue. I had no choice but to slow down. Way, way down. In doing so, I gave this book much more attention than I normally would have. I was able to really absorb what she was saying as well as write out the prompts and even do many of the meditations. So, because my back went out-ish, I was able to dive deep into her words. And they have had a profound effect on me. The main gift I took away was how prayer and co-creating with the Universe is a dance that can happen all day long, in any situation. I guess I usually think of prayer as a bookend to my days, not something to call on throughout the day as needed.

Even the title spoke to me. The Universe has my BACK. It’s not just all on me to figure out what is happening, to fix it, to heal it. My back has become this metaphor for fear and how I become so tentative in my life for fear of hurting it. And then, just when I was finally feeling free of that fear, it went out for no discernible reason. Transforming fear into faith was exactly what I needed to explore.

I underlined, starred and wrote in the margins of almost every single page. So much to take in, so much to explore. Seriously life-changing for me.

A sentence I love: 

As a spiritual activist, I believe that the greatest power we have to combat the terror of these times is our power to live in love. Love casts out all fear.

Books Read in February, March + April.

Feb-April Books

“The Exquisite Risk- Daring to Live an Authentic Life” by Mark Nepo

Before stories were recorded, what happened to the living was told and retold around fires, on cliffs, and in the shade of enormous trees. 

I underlined oh-so-many sentences and passages throughout this book. Many that just spoke to me, some that I want to use as themes in my yoga classes, some for the sheer beauty of the language.

I did find it hard to finish since I didn’t feel compelled to keep turning the page in spite of all the nuggets of wisdom I found there. Another reader said that is why she loved it—she could pick it up at any time and just dip into it and put it back down.

You can tell that poetry is his natural language. Such beautiful images and metaphors throughout. He weaves in his experience with cancer and other personal stories that helped him learn what he is now teaching in this book about living an authentic life.

It’s definitely not a step-by-step plan to lead that authentic life. It’s more a process of osmosis-—just sinking into the stories and wisdom he gifts us with and letting them percolate in your soul until they are ready to rise to the surface of your life.

A sentence I love:

That each time we take the exquisite risk toward being whole, toward living in the open, toward recognizing and affirming that we are, at heart, each other, we put the world back together.

“The Lifeboat” a novel by Charlotte Rogan

Today I shocked the lawyers, and it surprised me, the effect I could have on them.

It is 1914 and Grace has married Henry Winter, unbeknownst to his parents. On their way back to America from London on an ocean liner, the ship suffers an explosion and passengers and crew are forced into lifeboats. Henry arranges for Grace to get in a lifeboat without him. We learn of Grace’s experience in that lifeboat with over thirty others as well as how she met Henry. Not only do they face the relentless sea, they must deal with dwindling resources, leaks and choices that people should never be forced to make.

It’s an unforgettable story of perseverance as well as the pettiness and strength of being human in extraordinary circumstances.

A sentence I love: 

Unable to restrain my laughter, which kept lapping at my insides and bursting out of me like gigantic waves, I was not allowed to accompany the lawyers into the dining room, but had to have my meal brought to me in the cloakroom, where a wary clerk perched vigilantly on a stool in the corner as I pecked at my sandwich. 

“Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kauer

I basically inhaled these words in one sitting, letting the language and images and power of them just wash over and through me. I definitely need to read it again. Maybe many times. I love the structure of the book, how it is broken up into parts: the hurting, the loving, the breaking, the healing. I want to use each one as a jumping off point for my own writing. Then I love how each page is structured with so much white space so that the words and the story behind them have room to breathe. Words sometimes combined with simple line drawings. The words, the drawings and the white space all work together to give a certain urgency yet create an urge to pause and savor what we are reading, what we are seeing, what we are feeling.

A sentence I love: 

the first boy that kissed me

held my shoulders down

like the handlebars of

the first bicycle

he ever rode

i was five

“The Most Dangerous Place on Earth”  a novel by Lindsey Lee Johnson

Cally Broderick lingered in the doorway of the resource office, waiting to be noticed.

“Waiting to be noticed” is basically the calling card of every human on earth, but particularly for high school students. Johnson takes us deep into the social strata of of a wealthy northern San Francisco high school, where a middle school tragedy haunts the students as they struggle to live up to expectations from teachers, parents, peers and themselves. The inside jacket says it is told in a “kaleidoscopic narrative” which describes it exactly. We see the story from different dizzying perspectives that join in various designs to reveal new slices of the story. It’s a brilliant structure that taught me a lot about structuring a novel and finding the right voice(s). I am impressed that she was able to take a teenage drama and create such a dynamic story that kept this adult turning the pages.

A sentence I love:

Maybe Calista’s mind—maybe Molly’s own—was like this. An immense space, at once apart from the world and embedded within it, a secret place that was strange and dark and vast enough to make its own weather. 

“Ill Will” novel by Dan Chaon

Sometime in the first days of November the body of the young man who had disappeared sank to the bottom of the river.

I read everything Chaon writes from his stories to his novels. This latest one feels different. Not just the heft of the physical book (458 pages) but the psychological heft of it as well. Dustin Hillman is a psychologist in a Cleveland suburb. His wife died, older son is away at college and the younger one is home but drifting away from him. Or is he drifting away from his son? Dustin has a lot on his plate. Still processing his wife’s death, he gets the news that his adopted brother is being released from prison after serving 30 years for the massacre of Dustin’s parents. aunt and uncle. The case came to epitomize the  hysteria over Satanic cults that the the 1980’s spawned. On top of that, one of his patients has lured Dustin into a conspiracy theory involving the deaths of numerous drunk college boys in the area.

Chaon does an amazing job of weaving all of these threads together into a suspenseful thriller that kept me turning the pages. It is a master class in the power of using an unreliable narrator that explores all the ways memory fails us and we fail it, those around us and, most of all, ourselves. Brilliant.

A sentence I love:

But now,with my eyes opened in the dark, the clicks and hums of the house settling, the radiators stirring, the appliances doing their secret nighttime work, with my heart beating in an uncomfortable noticeable way, I couldn’t help but think: What if the dots are connected?

“Hourglass—Time, Memory, Marriage” by Dani Shapiro

From my office window I see my husband on the driveway below.

This is a beautiful, thoughtful and honest meditation on a marriage filtered through time and memory. Shapiro plays with time in a way that feels completely organic to the story, never manipulative or confusing. She explores the depths of her marriage, unafraid of exposing the cracks that inevitably arise out of a long term commitment. She is honest and the writing is beautiful. It feels like she is guiding you by hand as you both walk into the woods, unsure of what you will find but knowing what is there is better than not knowing. The trust she puts in the reader is only equaled by the trust I had in her to tell her story with a clarity that can only come from a commitment to seeing her marriage, her husband and herself as they really are. It is just stunning and I can’t wait to read it again in one glorious sitting so I can savor the entire arc of the story at one time.

A passage I love:

We know each other in a way that young couple couldn’t have imagined. Our shared vocabulary—our own language—will die with us. We are the treasure itself: fathoms deep, in the world we have made and made again.

“The Middlepause- On Life After Youth” by Marina Benjamin

I had always assumed that when the time came I would meet menopause with a certain dignity.

It used to be that menopause was never spoken about much less written about. But there is a whole new conversation being had between women and within an array of books on what it is like to age as a woman. What does it mean universally and specifically to this particular body. I, for one, am grateful that it is no longer talked about in hushed shame. With my yoga community I’ve spoken with women about hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia. We support each other, swap tips on how to deal with the changes. Mostly, it just feels good to know that we are not alone.

Middlepause is a perfect balm to the possible isolation a woman may feel as she enters middle age. Benjamin weaves her own story and experiences together with science, literature and philosophy to give us a new vision of what it means to age as women. I love the way the book is structured: Organs, Hormones, Skin, Muscle, Heart, Guts, Teeth, Head, Spine. Each chapter dissects with fresh candor her own sudden plunge into menopause and the myriad changes and losses and gains that middle age brings from aging parents to her teenage daughter mirroring her own cascade of hormones, from nostalgia to a brutal clarity about the present.

This is not a self-help book. She does not prescribe dietary changes or herbs or exercise. No, this an eloquent, intelligent, informed reflection of what it means to enter your 50s as a woman today. I found it much more valuable than any possible diet tips and tricks.

A sentence I love: 

And fifty feels heavy at some elemental level, as if dense with neurons.

And 1 more:

When you are young, a mirror is not so much a tool for self-inspection as it is a window onto a series of potential yous.

#MonthofFaves2016 ~ #WeekendReading {Picking Favorites} 

Let’s support each other by sharing your favorite post, book, or something else, mentioned on other #AMonthofFaves participant blogs.

~ Tamara of Traveling with T really piqued my interest with her reflection of “All is Not Forgotten” by Wendy Walker.

~ Love the inspiring changes Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves made this year! And I love the graphic in her header:)

~ I really like how Akilah of The Englishist gave herself specific categories of diverse books to read this winter. It’s making me want to get out of my reading comfort zone!

~ Kailana of The Written World motioned using a bullet journal as one of her favorite things. I have pinned some things on bullet journals but have yet to implement them. Maybe that will change in 2017…

~ I absolutely relate to Kristen’s (of We Be Reading) desire to seek solace and joy in books when we are in a difficult and challenging emotional space.

Check out the challenge here. 

#AMonthofFaves2016 ~ 5 Books on My Winter Reading List 

Which books are your must read this winter?

5-winter-reads

I don’t usually make a list of books I intend to read. It’s more intuitive for me, picking up what calls to me or maybe something I see on-line or in the bookstore.

But here is a tentative plan for my winter reading (and I totally reserve the right to change my mind at any time!):

I chose 5 different genres: novel, short stories, spiritual, memoir, writing craft/process

~ “The Exquisite Risk- Daring to Live an Authentic Life” by Mark Nepo (I chose this for the book club I lead at our yoga studio.)

~ “Thrill Me- Essays on Fiction” by Benjamin Percy (I love his storytelling and his incredible work ethic.)

~ “Half Wild” stories by Robin MacArthur ( a back cover blurb compared her to Annie Proulx, Raymond Carver and Flannery O’Connor so how could I not buy it?)

~ “Love Warrior” a memoir by Glennon Doyle Melton (I fell a little in love with her after “Carry On, Warrior” and following her blog.)

~ “The Book of Strange New Things” a novel by Michael Faber (Can’t have a winter reading list that doesn’t include at least one big, juicy novel. The flap copy calls it a “monumental, genre-defying novel more than ten years in the making.)

What’s on your winter reading list?

Check out the challenge here. 

 

#MonthofFaves2016 ~ The Most Unique, Weird or Most Memorable Book(s) Read This Year

Not necessarily your favorite book because it could be memorable for how bad or how much you liked or disliked the characters.

Two books stand out as most memorable.

a-little-life

~ “A Little Life” a novel by Hanya Yanagihara

I love how it portrayed a deep, abiding men complicated friendship between men. Read my reflection here.

the-chronology-of-water

~ “The Chronology of Water” by Lidia Yuknavitch

This memoir blew me away from the first sentence. She does something truly unique with the theme of water and how she uses time. It cracked open what I thought writing could do, what it could be. After I read it, I signed up for a 6-week, on-line writing class with her and one of the pieces that came from that class will be published on The Manifest-Station on December 22. You can read my reflection here.

Check out the challenge here. 

#AMonthofFaves2016 ~ Picking Favorites

amonthoffaveshome

Let’s support each other by sharing our faves from other #AMonthofFaves participant blogs, eg. your favorite posts, a book added to your reading list, or a blogger you just discovered.

~ Sharlene at Real Life Reading showed me that is possible to set a high reading goal and actually surpass it! She’s read 221 books so far this year, and the year isn’t over yet!

~ Nice tip from Kristen at We Be Reading about using Coca Butter Heel Repair of the tootsies.

~ Stacy at The Novel Life has some great blogging tool suggestions. And I just love the artwork for her header!

~ I love the graphs and charts Catherine used at The Gilmore Guide to Books. And her reading space looks cozy and beautiful. I’ve always wanted a chaise!

~ Tamara at Traveling with T had some great blogging suggestions. And took the time to explain Mr. Linky to me…thank you!! Still working on it:)

Check out the challenge here. 

 

#AMonthofFaves2016 ~ Favorite Book to Movie or TV Shows

the-perks-of-being-a-wallflower

I’m not usually a fan of the movie version of books. They always seem just a little flat, a little deflated somehow. However, I can think of four that held up to the original book and one that I found slightly better than the book (for a purely selfish reason).

  1. “Perks of Being a Wallflower” is my number one pick. It’s become one of those movies that I will watch anytime it comes on.
  2. “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Because Gregory Peck. I recently saw this at an old theatre with some friends. I remember watching it in school and not being as enamored as I am as an adult. And living in the times we are in now, it was a sobering movie to watch.
  3. “The Secret Life of Bees.” I just found myself drawn into the visual world of the movie as much as I had been drawn into the world through the book. And the cast! Dakota Fanning. Queen Latifah. Jennifer Hudson. Alicia Keyes.
  4. “The Time traveler’s Wife.” This is the one I probably enjoyed more than the book only because I found the book very confusing with, well, all the time traveling. I remember having to constantly go back and try to figure out which version of each character was meeting which version. The movie made it much more simple to follow and I really enjoyed it. A little laziness on my part, oh well…

As a sidenote, I was really excited to watch “The Handmaid’s Tale” coming to Hulu with Elisabeth Moss but now it may be hitting a little too close to home with the politics in this country the way they are. It may be just a bit too disturbing but I will watch it anyway. No more hiding from what is uncomfortable.

One more sidenote: I never buy the movie version of a book. I want the original, classic book cover. #oldschool

Check out the challenge here. 

#AMonthofFaves2016 ~ This Is How We Read

dillard-on-reading

I don’t exactly have a reading routine or structure. I read whenever I can. I read in the morning before my own writing to “keep good sentences in my ears” as Jane Kenyon advised. I like to try and read poetry before I begin writing, even reading it out loud to get beautiful language in the air around me.

I read:

~ in the middle of the day in my cozy nook by the fireplace, usually with a cup of tea and my favorite blanket. Our dog, Izzy, is usually nearby.

~ at night before bed.

~ in bed in the morning if I don’t have to leap right up and start my day.

I bring a book with me, always. You never know when there will be a pocket of time, but if there is, you can bet I’ll have a book.

Genres tend to be pretty balanced between novel/short stories, memoirs, writing inspiration (I read less craft books these days since I feel I learn my craft best by writing myself rather than reading about it) and spiritual or yoga books.

I tend to have several book going at once, usually from each of the genres mentioned above so there is always something ready to dip into no matter my mood.

giphy

When somebody tells me that they don’t have time to read, I’m sure I must have a ridiculous blank look on my face. Not have time to read? What does that even mean? It’s like saying you don’t have time to breathe. I’ve been a reader all my life. I remember sinking into the backseat of our Oldsmobile station wagon, driving up-north to the cottage with a stack of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books next to me that I had gotten for Christmas. I didn’t even care how long the drive was. Like Rory Gilmore, I take a book with me everywhere. All of my daily use purse are big enough top hold a book.

Annie Dillard’s quote above pretty much sums it up for me. Reading isn’t just something I do, it is large part of who I am.

Check out the challenge here. 

 

#AMonthofFaves 2016 ~ Popular Books Worth the Hype

As I glanced back through my blog to refresh my memory of books read this year, I see that it’s been a rather slim year of reading for me. And that is actually okay. I tend to hide behind books, rather than doing my own creative work, but think I have written more than I read this year. Here a few a few that survived the hype for me:

a-little-life

“A Little Life” a novel by Hanya Yanagihara

This title kept popping up so I finally succumbed and bought it. It didn’t disappoint.Totally worth the awkwardness of holding 720 pages. It’s a hefty book about the messy, complicated, tenacious bonds of male friendship.

big-magic

“Big Magic- Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert

I’ve probably read this three times since it was published. It’s a kick in the pants and a balm for my creative soul that i will return to again and again.

the-underground-railroad

“The Underground Railroad” a novel by Colson Whitehead

Well, Oprah was right to choose this for her book club. In this brilliant novel, the underground railroad is not a mere metaphor. It is a literal train that runs underground,  helping to free slaves, specifically Cora and Caesar. Their story is mesmerizing while shining a light on the brutal history we all share.

 

Books Read in July + August.

july-august-books

“Gonzo Girl” a novel by Cheryl Della Pietra

Everybody is laughing except for me.

Walter Reade is the infamous writer (based on Hunter S. Thompson) looking for yet another assistant to “help” him finish his next project. Recent college grad, Alley Russo, is just desperate enough to take the unpaid internship as nanny/babysitter/word coaxer/drug and alcohol enabler.

Hoping that if she hangs in long enough to get the job done, she will have the chance to help her own book see the light of day. Reade may be too far gone to help and perhaps much too dangerous.

It’s a great page-turner that explores creativity and what we are willing to do get our own art out into the world.

A sentence I love: Seizures in real life are like nothing out of the movies. They are much more awkward and far less violent.

“Blackout—Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget” by Sarah Hepola

I’m in Paris on a magazine assignment, which is exactly as great as it sounds.

In the tradition of Caroline Knapp’s, “Drinking : A Love Story,” Hepola gives us an unflinching account of her path into drinking and, eventually, out.

She plums the depths of her addiction in a matter-of-fact, I’m-no-longing-hiding-my-shit kind of way. And she doesn’t hide anything from the reader or herself. But it’s not meant to shock us. There’s a desperate sincerity behind her story. She doesn’t look away so we, as readers, don’t either.

As described on the back jacket copy, each morning after a blackout, she became a detective trying to piece together a missing chunk of her life. The whole book feels like she is detective, trying to piece together how she got there, figuring out when enough was enough and, finally, her long haul back from the edge into sobriety.

A sentence I love: Writing required hush and sharpness of vision. Drinking was roar and blur.

“How To Be Here” by Rob Bell

I once had an idea for a book.

Reading anything by Rob Bell always wakes up my soul. And makes me want to stay awake. Makes me want to be here now, every moment of my life.

Do you think that being creative means being an artist? A writer? A musician? Rob Bell is here to tell you different. He says, “All work is creative work because all work is participating in the ongoing creation of the world.”

He explores the concept of the Japanese word “ikigai.” It is “the sense you have when you wake up that this day matters, that there are new experiences to be had, that you have work to do, a contribution to make.”

He explores the importance of craft, no matter what your work is. The act of taking that first step. Of facing the blank page, whatever than may mean to you.

His writing feels effortless, easily accessible and speaks right to my heart. He connects me to my heart, to my self in this moment. If your spirit needs a pep talk, then Rob is the guy for you.

A sentence I love:

Success says, What more can I get?

Craft says, Can you believe I get to do this?

“Carry On, Warrior- The Power of Embracing your Messy, Beautiful Life” by Glennon Doyle Melton

A few years ago, strange things started happening to me at church.

This book read like I was sitting down with a dear friend, a friend who knows all of me—all the messy parts I try to hide from everyone including myself— well, she not only sees those parts, she embraces me more fully because of them. And in doing so, she makes me want to embrace all of me too. It’s quite a gift she has.

She reminds me of the badass Christianity of Anne Lamott along with the honest, wisdom-seeking of Liz Gilbert but Glennon is uniquely her own person. She brings her own voice, humor, compassion and utterly quirky and endearing authenticity to every page.

With her utter honesty she encourages the reader to be honest with herself and those around her as well. Touching on everything from marriage to parenthood, church to work, compassion to grief, these essays will make you laugh and cry and left me eager to go live my life out loud.

A sentence I love: When you write your truth, it is a love offering to the world because it helps us feel braver and less alone.

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

Okay. So, I didn’t realize that this was a play when I bought it. It jarred me, even annoyed me a little. I was ready to just sink into the Harry Potter world again through prose. Once I got over that little disappointment and found a rhythm to read the play in, I was able to proceed. Granted, a little cautiously, but I proceeded. It felt good to visit these old friends. See them grown up and raising children of their own. I enjoyed visiting the wizarding world again. The story was fine. It just felt a little thin and I’m not sure if that’s because of the plot or because of the genre of it being a play. Without the expanse of a novel to roam through the minds of the characters and their lives and world, it felt a little like skim milk when what I was craving was rich, heavy cream.

“The Seventh Book of Wonders” by Julianna Baggott

This is how the story goes: I was born dead—or so my mother was told.

I LOVED this story! It captivated me from the first sentence and the fact that it was about a writer and had a secret book woven in throughout only added to my captivation. Baggott is a storyteller in the best way, layering in complex characters with a plot that makes you want to keep turning the page, all with a beautiful gift for language. In fact, I underlined many sentences that I loved but I can’t share them since I let my best friend borrow it. You’ll just have to pick it up for yourself and see what I mean. And you should pick it up. As soon as possible.