Books Read in September + October.

Sept. Oct. books

“Vox” a novel by Christina Dalcher

If anyone told me I could bring down the president, and the Pure Movement, and that incompetent little shit Morgan LeBron in a week’s time, I wouldn’t believe them. But I wouldn’t argue. I wouldn’t say a thing.

Just like watching “The Handmaid’s Tale,” reading this book scared the crap out of me. I read it with equal parts fascination and horror. 

America is now governed by a far-right Christian idealogue whispering in the president’s ear about the role of women and how they need to know their place and be quiet. Nothing new, right? Only now, the ideas have taken hold and are being  advanced in the most insidious ways possible.

Women are removed from the workforce and replaced with men.

Adultery and same sex relationships invite cruel and unusual punishment.

Far right Christian theology is taught in schools.

And, most insdious of all, females are given a mere 100 words a day to use.

100 words. Total.

They are given word counters to wear on their wrists and if they go over the limit they receive increasingly strong shocks.

Cameras are everywhere so even sign language or non-verbal signals of any kind are abusing the rules.

They aren’t allowed access to the internet, books, pen and paper, the mail. Everything must go through the male of the house.

Dalcher created a world based in reality. I saw echoes of what we are currently living through and it chilled me to the bone.

It was a very hard read but also, an incredibly necessary one.

A sentence that made me gasp in recognition:  “…you can’t protest what you don’t see coming.”

“The Slippery Year- A Meditation on Happily Ever After” a memoir by Melanie Gideon

One day when I was sitting in the carpool line waiting to pick my son up from school, it occurred to me that I had been sleepwalking through my life.”

I am in the process of reading books that have been on my shelf for years. Pretty sure this one called to me back when my daughters were younger and that first sentence grabbed me. When I look back at videos of that time, I see this vacant almost stepford-wife look in my eyes. Back then, while I desperately tried to enjoy every moment, mostly I was just trying to back it through each day.

Now my daughters are about to graduate college. My youngest leaves for a semester abroad this week. I am in a whole other phase of life but parts of this book still resonated with me. Each year feels slippery to me. Each years slips away and I find myself standing there dazed, trying to find my footing. By the time I get used to a particular phase of being a mom or a family, it changes.

I no longer feel like I am sleepwalking through my life. Yoga and writing have changed that. Instead, I am awake to everything, which can be a challenge.

Gideon rises to that challenge as she examines her life, her family and marriage as well as her thoughts and actions even when they don’t reflect her in the most shining light. But that’s what being awake is all about: shining a light into the darkness of ourselves, bringing it out of the shadows so we can live from a space of awareness rather than sleepwalk  through our lives.

A sentence on marriage that really resonated: This is what happens when you’ve been together for nearly twenty years. You become strangers and then you recognize each other and then you become strangers again and you repeat this pattern this loop this skein over and over again.

“Waking Up in Winter- In Search of What Really Matters at Midlife” by Cheryl Richardson 

I woke up to a cool breeze drifting through the bedroom window.

September is  month of transitions. Transitioning into fall, back into a routine, back to school. Midlfe is a transition I am currently examining, exploring, living it so I am drawn to books that do the same.

I love that Richardson was inspired by the journals of May Sarton. I discovered her back in my thirties but I think now may be a good time to read her again.

Richardson sets out on year of discovery as she dives into her life by writing in a journal, trying to get beneath the surface of things, finding depth where life feels shallow, discovering who she is and what she wants at this midpoint of her life. 

I absolutely relate to this. It makes me want to keep a similar journal, one that isn’t morning pages or writing practice but a space to meander and really explore my life as I navigate this latest transition.

Sentences that resonated: 

Autumn will soon give way to winter, the perfect time to hole up and explore the inner world.

I’ve never been motivated to do more by feeling less than, I’ve never been inspired to reach higher by putting myself in the one-down position. I’ve never ever done my best after berating myself for not being good enough.

Today has been a tender day.

“Journal of a Solitude-The intimate diary of a year in the life of a creative woman” by May Sarton

Begin here. It is raining.

So, after being inspired by the previous book, I picked up this one to reread. I don’t often reread books anymore because so many books, not nearly enough time. But this one was worth it.

I first read it when I was in my thirties, now I am in my fifties. Not quite as old as Sarton was when she wrote it, but definitely in a totally different stage of my own life.

Some passages that I underlined then still resonated but so many new ones emerged that didn’t resonate at all 20 year ago.

One big thing  I noticed is that the last time I read it I completely related to her struggles with her temper. It’ s a big theme in this book and back then it was something I struggled with as well. Now, at 53, I no longer struggle with it. Oh, I get angry for sure but it never feels out of my control. I never feel this shame afterward like I used to. It might be age but I really think it is yoga. Living my yoga both on and off the mat has had the biggest impact on me.

I love how she is so connected to nature and the weather and the seasons–it becomes almost another character in her journal, in her life. It makes me want to create that same awareness in my own life.

A sentence that still resonates: 

I have written every poem, every novel, for the same purpose—to find out what I think, to know where I stand.

A sentence that resonates now:

The ash has lost its leaves and when I went out to get the mail and stopped to look up at it, I reduced to think that soon everything here will be honed down to structure.

P.S. After reading the next book I stumbled across this passage that perfect captures how I felt upon rereading this book: 

“When we revisit a book we’ve read before, we see how life has woken us up to understand passages that previously went over our heads. The book itself highlights the gap between who I am and who I used to be.”

“I’d Rather Be Reading-The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life” by Anne Bogel

“Can you recommend a good book?”

I couldn’t fall asleep the other night so I picked up this new little book to read until I got sleepy. Big mistake. I stayed up until two in the morning getting more than half way through. And yes, I get the irony of staying up late reading a book about reading books.

I identified with pretty much every word: finding sanctuary in libraries and bookstores, recommending books, not reading the books people have loaned to me, rereading books and connecting with them in a new way, the joy and soothing quality of organizing my book shelves, my fascination with the acknowledgments in books, crossing the line from being told what to read by parents and teachers to finding the books I want to read.

I could go on and on but I’ll just say that if you love books, then read this one.

A passage I love (and explains perfectly why I’ve been keeping this reading log for so many years):

“We are readers. Books grace our shelves and fill our homes with beauty; they dwell in our minds and occupy our thoughts. Books prompt us to spend pleasant hours alone and connect us with fellow readers. They invite us to escape into their pages for an afternoon, and they inspire us to reimagine our lives. Good reading journals provide glimpses of how we’ve spent our days, and they tell the story of our lives.”

“Miss Portland” novel by David Ebenbach

Zoe knew what other people didn’t: she knew that life wasn’t perfectible.

I discovered this awesome writer and human when he graciously reached out to let me know how much he enjoyed reading a story of mine he found at literarymama.com. He’s a generous writer who seeks to connect and support the creative community around him.

This novel is a beautiful journey into the depths of Zoe Tussler, a character I won’t soon forget. Always seeking something, some key that will turn things around for her, Zoe moves her life to Portland, Maine where she sill be near Gordy but insists she didn’t move for him.

She hopes to follow through on their plan to open a mindfulness center but when Gordy doesn’t seem to be moving in that direction, Zoe tries to round up a few clients on her own, hoping to build some momentum that will finally propel her into being the person she desperately longs to be. 

Always feeling out of place, Zoe attempts to find her place there in Portland where people seem to keep to themselves, and she tries to find her place within Gordy’s life.

Exploring from deep inside the experience of mental illness, I found myself deeply connected to her internal dialogue and her internal struggles while rooting for her to find a peace within herself.

A sentence I loved: 

Late at night, Zoe would keep the main lights off in her room so that her roommate, who was a generally exasperated woman from Missouri somewhere, could sleep, and Zoe would turn on a little clip-on book light and huddle over one of her books from this religion class she was taking, or over her spiral-bound journal, writing so intensely that the force of the ball-point pen grooved many pages underneath the one she was writing on, like her ideas were already creating ripples in the universe.

“Inadvertent” by Karl Ove Knausguaard

The question of why I write sounds simple, but simple is treacherous, for now I have been sitting here in front of my desk in southern Sweden for three days without making any headway.

Part of the “Why Write”series, Knausguaard explores exactly that but it’s not a linear trail from point A to Point B. Instead, he takes us on a journey from the inside out, circling in and zooming back out as he wrestles with this question of why he writes. What propels him to put marks on a page? What is his intention? It’s a beautifully complex exploration that takes us deep into his psyche, as well as deep into literature and reading and ultimately what is the purpose of stories at all.

A sentence I love:

To read is to be the citizen of another country, in a parallel realm which every book is a door to.

“Good and Mad-The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger” by Rebecca Traister

The contemporary reemergence of women’s rage as a mass impulse comes after decades of feminist deep freeze.

I found this book in the middle of the Kavanaugh hearings when my own rage was reaching its peak. (Though, I think that every week and it only gets bigger and deeper and stronger.) I tossed out an invite to local women who might want to read it and gather at some point to discuss and almost every single one was in. 

Women’s rage is a thing, people. A thing to take seriously. A thing to dismiss at your own peril.

Traister is a brilliant researcher and writer. She not only lays out all the reasons we currently have to be angry but she maps out the history of our rage and how it has changed the course of history. From suffragettes who chained themselves to the White House to Rosa Parks. She thoughtfully examines the ways that white women have let down women of color over the decades and why that can’t happen now. She explores the double standard that we saw on full display at the hearings where men are revered for their righteous anger while women are held in contempt if they allow their anger to leak out at all.

Reading this book was infuriating, enlightening and empowering.

A must read. For everyone.

I underlined and starred and stuck post-it notes and scrawled WTF?! in the margins of so many pages so here is just one passage I will share:

This is one of anger’s most important roles: it is a mode of connection, a way for women to find each other and realize that their struggles and their frustrations are shared, that they are not alone, not crazy. If they are quiet, they will remain isolated. But if they howl in rage. someone else who shares their fury will hear them, might start howling along. This is, of course, partly why those who oppress women work to stifle their anger.

“Made by May” a novel by Laura Catherine Brown

Unfortunately, we are unable to consider you as adoptive parents on our register at this time. 

After the heaviness of Traister’s book, I needed to escape and this novel (that came on radar via David Ebenbach) did just the trick. I took it on vacation with me (a highly coveted role for my books) and fell into the world of Mary and Ann and their search for connection with each other and the world.

Because of a medical condition, Ann is unable to conceive, because of other reasons, they are unable to adopt. Her mother, Mary, a hippie, pagan, sensual woman steps forward to offer the ultimate gift. She will be a surrogate for Ann and Joel. Together they all enter the ethical minefield of surrogacy, parenthood and technology all swirled within the world of Goddesses and crystals and tarot cards and magic.

It’s a beautiful story of finding your path, straying off of it, finding a new path and connecting with what you most deeply desire and those you love.

A description I love:

The house appeared uninhabited, its raw wood exposed like naked skin beneath flecks of peeling paint. A torn sofa commanded half the porch. Dead plants drooped in pots suspended from the porch eaves, as if someone had once made an effort.

“Almost Everything-Notes on Hope” by Anne Lamott

l am stockpiling antibiotics for the apocalypse, even as I await the blossoming of paper whites on the windowsill in the kitchen.

Anne Lamott is one of those writers who if she wrote a grocery list, I’d want to read it. She has been getting me through challenging times since I first discovered her book “Operating Instructions” when my children were little and she helped me feel a little less crazy when I read that not every moment of motherhood is a Hallmark moment. 

She continues to soothe my battered soul today with this new book on hope. I went to see her in Ann Arbor and she is just what I needed. Her presence, her wisdom, her truth, her humor lifted me briefly out the stew of perpetual angst I’ve found myself in for the last two years.

Reading her words is like sitting down with a dear, tough friend who knows exactly how to talk you off whatever ledge you find yourself on. She never sugarcoats it, but still manages to find the bloom of hope in even the bleakest of times.

Must-read for these times.

The best description of God I’ve ever come across:

“We are talking about a higher power, a power that might be called Not Me, a kindness, a patience, a hope, which is everywhere, even in our annoying, self-centered, fraudulent selves.”

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Books Read in December

“The Newlyweds”  a novel by Nell Freudenberger

She hadn’t heard the mailman, but Amina decided to go out and check.

Amina and George meet on-line. She lives in Bangledesh while he lives in Rochester, New York. Amina moves to the states to marry George but also to provide a better life for her and, hopefully, her parents. Not only does Amina need to adjust to a whole new culture but she and George are both learning to navigate the often bewildering geography of marriage. They both have secrets and only when they are separated by an entire ocean again are they able to discover if they can actually build a life together or not.

What I learned: To always respond to people and situations that resonate with you in real life. Freudenberger met a woman on a plane who became the catalyst for this beautiful novel.

“The Opposite of Hallelujah” a YA novel by Anna Jarzab

When I was twelve, I started telling people at school that my older sister, Hannah, was dead.

I love a strong first sentence that just pulls you in immediately to a plot and voice. This does both for me.  Caro feels like an only child. Her older sister, Hannah, left home years ago and has had very little contact with them since. So when Hannah is suddenly coming home, Caro is confused, angry and unwilling to cut her sister the amount of incredible slack that her parents are willing to do.  This is a story of  the complicated ties that bind family, the complicated issues of faith and ultimately redemption.

What I learned: To nail that first sentence.

 “Revived” a YA novel by Cat Patrick

I’m flattened and thrashing on the sun-warmed track next to the football field, lying on what looks like asphalt but what I realize now that I’m down here is actually that fake spongy stuff.

What if you died when you were a little girl in a bus accident and were brought back to life? What if you then became part of covert government program designed to test the possible miracle drug, Revive? That is the story of Daisy who has died and been revived five separate times, each time causing her and her “family” to change locations and names. When she lands in a new town and school and meets Audrey and her brother, Matt, for once Daisy feels a part of something beyond the program. How far will she go to stay and try to have a normal life?

What  I learned: How fun it would be to come up with a premise like that and follow it through the lives of characters.

 “Fingerprints of You” a YA novel by Kristen-Paige Madonia

My mother got her third tattoo on my seventeenth birthday, a small navy hummingbird she had inked above her left shoulder blade, and though she said she picked it to mark my flight from childhood, it mostly had to do with her wanting to sleep with Johnny Drinko, the tattoo artist who worked in the shop outside town.

Yet another great first sentence. You get a sense of Lemon’s voice, her mother and their entire relationship in just one sentence. Lemon’s mother, Stella, has moved them often in her seventeen years, usually away from a bad situation in hopes of making a better life. When Lemon finds herself pregnant and about to follow in her mother’s footsteps, she decides it’s time to make some of her own decisions. She embarks on a road trip to San Francisco with her best friend Emmy in hopes of connecting with the father she never knew.  A road trip is the ultimate metaphor for change and this one fulfills its task as Lemon discovers more and grows in ways she never expected.

What I learned: How important it is to have your character keep bumping into people. That’s where stuff happens. So often I have them in a room alone or I am stuck in their head.

“Wife 22” a novel by Melanie Gideon

I stare into the bathroom mirror and wonder why nobody has told me my left eyelid has grown a little hood.

Alice and William have been married for almost twenty years. Things are…fine. A little distant, maybe disconnected but that’s to be expected, right? When she is invited to participate in an online study about marriage, Alice jumps at the chance. She becomes Wife 22 and is partnered with Researcher  101. Soon she finds herself confiding in this stranger more than her own husband. That can’t be good, right? Gideon explores the energy of a marriage within the confines of our tech savvy lifestyle. One night I was telling my husband about the book and he guessed at the outcome and I said, “No, that would be cheesy.” I got home that night and read through to the end and he had called it! At first I did think it was cheesy. A little too convenient. But then the ending grew on me. I’m curious to hear what anyone else thinks.

What I learned: Unique chapter structures really intrigue me. I should try using them in my own work.

“Ask the Passengers” a YA novel by A.S. King

Every airplane, no matter how far it is up there, I send love to it.

Sending love to airplanes, to the passengers in those airplanes is Astrid’s hobby. It’s a way of controlling what is uncontrollable in her life. It steadies her. It connects her at a time when she is feeling very disconnected from herself, her family, her friends and community. Interspersed between chapters revealing Astrid’s life are glimpses into the lives of the passengers who happen to be on the receiving end of her messages of love. It’s a novel about identity. Labels, love, prejudice over who we choose to love.

What I learned: That it’s okay to weave in bits of magical realism into a realistic story.

“Thrive- Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way” by Dan Buettner

It’s ten o’clock on a Sunday morning in Hojancha, a small town in rural Costa Rica, and I’m on a mission.

Buettner’s mission is to discover why certain pockets of our worldwide population are so much happier than others.  He visits Denmark, Singapore, northeastern Mexico and San Luis Obispo, California. Along the way he meets with residents of these place along with politicians, sociologists, economists, psychologists and other experts trying to discern what is at work that makes these people so much happier than the average person. The research is fascinating and rarely what you might guess.

What I learned: A strong social network and feeling safe are two of the biggest contributors to happiness.