Books Read in September.

IMG_0698.jpg

“Future Home of the Living God” a novel by Louise Erdrich

When I tell you the my white name is Cedar Hawk Songmaker and that I am the adopted child of Minneapolis liberals, and that when I went looking for my Ojibwe parents and found that I was born Mary Potts I hid the knowledge, maybe you’ll understand. Or not.

Continuing my dystopian fascination, Erdrich leads us into a future where evolution has stopped. Pregnancy and childbearing become matters of state security and concern. 

Cedar is four months pregnant when the world begins to dissolve. She is on a journey to bring her child into the world, to find her birth family all while navigating  a new society where pregnant women become a commodity.

Fiercely moving and original, I couldn’t stop turning the pages. 

A sentence that gave me chills:

The first thing that happens at the end of the world is the we don’t know what is happening.

A sentence I love:

Perhaps we function as neurons ourselves, interconnecting thoughts in the giant mind of God.

“Sober Curious” by Ruby Warrington

When I first got Sober Curious, one persistent question kept blinking into view, like a lighthouse on a stormy night:

Would life be better without alcohol?

That same question blinks at me.

Warrington coined the term “sober curious” which I like. It allows someone like me who has not hit a dark rock bottom to find a space in which to begin to question my drinking. To rethink the role it plays in my life, own my health, in my body. 

She weaves her own sober curious journey with research and interviews, laying out a possible path for each of us to find on our own. No judgment.

She is honest, funny, engaging and invites us on this path she has lit for us, but always encouraging us to find our own way. This is what works for her and she is generous in sharing it with the world.

A sentence that makes so much sense:

Thinking back to Marc Lewis’s theory that all human behavior stems from our desire to seek out pleasure or to avoid pain, it seems obvious that our specific FOMA (fear of missing alcohol) triggers will be individual for each of us, even if they are rooted in the same basic needs.

“Ursula K. LeGuin- Conversations on Writing” by Ursula K. LeGuin with David Naimon

The interviewers I fear most are the ones who’ve read what the publisher’s PR people say about your book, along with some handy pull quotes.

Divided into 3 parts with passages of her own writing interspersed, Naimon discusses Fiction, Poetry and Non-fiction with LeGuin. The title is accurate in describing them as conversations rather that interviews. Luckily, Naimon is not the kind of interviewer she fears most. Each conversation ends up being a dance between two intelligent people about literature and its role in society.

I am ashamed to say I have read very little of her but that will be changing. She has a fascinating mind and is not afraid to say what needs to be said. 

One of my favorite pieces was “On Serious Literature” in which she responds to a review of a Michael Chabon book and it is clear that the reviewer is not a fan of so-called genre fiction. The lesson? It was never a good idea to piss off LeGuin.

A passage I love:

Science describes accurately from outside, poetry describes accurately from inside. Since explicates, poetry implicates. Both celebrate what they describe. We need languages of both science and poetry to save us from merely stocking endless “information” that fails to inform our ignorance or our irresponsibility.

“I Remember” by Joe Brainard

I remember the first time I got a letter that said “After Five Days Return To” on the envelope, and I thought that after I had kept the letter for five days I was supposed to return it to the sender.

Those two little words create a life. 

Those two little words were the first writing prompt I used. It opened a flood of words and images and memories that I then spilled onto the page. It is a prompt i still use to this day, along with the opposite: I don’t remember. 

When Dani Shapiro recommended this book, I immediately went on-line and found it. 

It’s truly amazing how an entire life can be revealed through memories. What we choose to remember, what we don’t. How one memory leads to the next. 

I can’t tell you how many times I read his words and thought, “Me, too!” like this one:

I remember milkmen. Postmen. Guest towels. “Welcome” mats. Avon ladies. 

This is an original book that reads like a path of memories laid out like breadcrumbs to reveal this particular human soul that is both universal and deeply personal sometimes humorous, sometimes deeply moving. Just like life.

A sentence I love:

I remember trying not to look lonely in restaurants alone.

“Awakening the Spine” by Vanda Scaravelli

This is not really a yoga book, nor is it a book on how to do the asanas.

This is a beautifully written and designed book that feeds both the eyes, the body and spirit. 

I can already feel how I carry my differently, or how it carries me. I feel like I am much more aware of my spine and how it moves. So, yes, reading this book helped me to awaken my spine. 

A sentence I love:

You have to learn how to listen to your body, going with it and not against it, avoiding all effort or strain and centering your attention on that very delicate point, the back of the wist (where the spine moves in two opposite directions).

“The Pursuit of Alice Thrift” a novel by Elinor Lipman

You may have seen us in “Vows” in the New York Times: me, alone smoking a cigarette and contemplating my crossed ankles, and a larger blurry shot of us, postceremony, ducking and squinting through a hail of birdseed.

I pulled this gem out of my stacks and am so glad I did. I don’t remember laughing out loud while reading a novel in a long, long time. 

Alice Thrift is a surgical intern, very smart but also very awkwardly social. In fact, at one point her own mother wonders if she might be on the spectrum. 

The life of an intern, doesn’t leave much room for romance but that doesn’t stop Ray Russo, fudge salesman and extreme extrovert, from pursuing her. 

Filled with memorable characters, this novel was hard to put down.

A sentence that made me laugh out loud:

Finding Ray’s chin hooked on her shoulder while asleep:

Didn’t heads belong on pillows? Hadn’t beds evolved to queen-and king-sized so that body integrity could be maintained during sleep?

“Her Body and Other Parties” stories by Carmen Maria Machado

(If you read this story out loud, please use the following voices:)

I don’t even know where to start with this remarkable collection of stories. They are mesmerizing, startling, lush and stake out new territory in this genre.

I began each story as if carefully opening a precious gift, never quite sure what I would find inside. I discovered worlds that (and I have to quote the back jacket) “blithely demolish the borders between psychological realism and science fiction.” A mysterious green ribbon around a woman neck tempts her husband. An inventory of lovers is revealed in the wake of a world catastrophe. Smack in the middle is this enthralling yet disturbing rendition of “Law and Order: SVU.”

Reading this collection as a writer reminded me to go where the characters take you, allow the writing to twist and turn and writhe on the page. And, most importantly, don’t be afraid to take risks.

A description of a baby that I loved:

She smells clean, but chemical. And behind it, an edge of milk, bodily and sour, like something tipped askance.

A description of being put under anesthesia:

As they put me to sleep, my mouth fills with the dust of the moon.

A description of autumn that took my breath away:

And then, autumn, the first autumn, our first autumn, the first squash dish, the sweaters, the burning smell of the space heater, never leaving the heavy blankets, the scent of smoke that reminds me of being a Girl Scout and being twelve and camping with girls who hate me. The leaves catch fire, color burning away green like a disease. More rain, another carpet of leaves, yellow as dandelions, red as pomegranate skin, orange as carrot peels. There are strange evenings when the sun sets but it rains anyway, and the sky is gold and peach and also gray and purple like a bruise. Every morning, a fine mist coats the grove. Some nights, a bloody harvest moon rises over the horizon and stains the clouds like an alien sunrise.