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flying by the seat of my pants makes me feel alive
+ sixteen books for you to consider! a bonanza!
It must be the patriarchy in me. When I notice a man in the early hours watering his yard, I am delighted. When my dog Stanley and I walk in the mornings, we sometimes come upon a man, hose in one hand, coffee cup in the other, rumpled clothing, crushed slippers, a bedhead, and I experience an uptick in my well being. Maybe Stanley does too. The world is a good place! I feel tenderness toward this guy, for his struggling yard, the morning light, the limp spray of water, the way it refracts and sends rainbows into the air. More delight if his yard is a wreck! He hasn't given up. He is trying to create a little spot of joy.
Dear Reader, why do I not feel the same emotions, have the same thoughts, if I come across a woman watering her yard? Certainly I wave and say hello, but the patriarchy has baked into me that it is not unusual for a woman to be tending to anything and everything. When I see a man caring for his scraggly roses, in dire need of deadheading, it fills me with hope. First we notice our foibles and then we change, right? I’m sorry, I’ll try harder.
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We have a month (+ or - ) to fall into a book the way one does in the summer. And so, to inspire you I asked writer friends to share their favorite read of the summer, something they slipped into that made them forget the world around them, and to tell what they loved about their choice. I also include their books for you to enjoy. What a list! 16 books! Happy Reading!
Joanna Rakoff: Lydia Kiesling’s MOBILITY. Not just one of my favorite novels of the summer, or of the year, but…ever. Written with the kind of urgency, humor, and intelligence that defines great fiction, MOBILITY portrays the life of an individual woman—Bunny Glenn, daughter of a State Department official, desirer of a Normal Life—as intertwined with the realities of the international oil industry, climate change, and the global political situation. In recommending it to friends, I have used the words “virtuosic” and “masterpiece” and “amazing.”
I loved Joanna’s memoir, MY SALINGER YEAR. It actually made me a little sad because young Joanna did all the things I yearned to do but wasn’t brave enough to make the leap. She spent her days working in a plush, wood-paneled office, among writers and literary agents, and went home to another kind of glamor in my eyes, a threadbare Brooklyn apartment and her boyfriend. It all sounded so thrilling and bohemian and was what I yearned for in my early twenties.
Michelle Wildgen: This summer I got totally immersed in Elisa Albert's HUMAN BLUES, which brings back the musician/human volcano that is Aviva Rosner from Albert's novel AFTER BIRTH. Aviva goes on tour and narrates her desperation to conceive, a ball of fury, talent, and desire as she grapples with the vulnerability and the power of the female body in the 21st century.
Michelle has a new novel coming out, WINE PEOPLE, which I’ve not yet read. It’s about two ambitious young women, opposite in every way, who join forces in a competitive male-dominated industry. Wine, ambition, friendship, sounds especially wonderful just now as I write to you from Napa, where I am attending a writing conference.
Debra Spark: I loved Anne Berest's THE POSTCARD, it is one of those novels that is really true (the French seem to love such things). It's about a mysterious postcard that the Berest’s mother receives. It's addressed to the author's grandmother and has the names of the grandmother's sister and parents, all of whom died in Auschwitz. Berest waits till her own daughter experiences a minor anti-Semitic incident at school to track down the story of the postcard and in the process explore her own (largely secular) Jewish identity.
Debra has a novel coming out in March, 2024, DISCIPLINE. Which has this amazing cover:
Catherine Newman: The novel IN THE ORCHARD by Eliza Minot. It’s the most vibrant, eerie, tender, uncanny book about early motherhood I’ve ever read.
I fell in love with Catherine’s book, WE ALL WANT IMPOSSIBLE THINGS, a novel about best friends, one of whom is dying from ovarian cancer. Set mostly at the hospice, where another patient is in love the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack. It’s a constant dose of Matchmaker, Matchmaker… and, well morphine. The novel is heartbreaking and hilarious, often within the same paragraph.
Karen Karbo: I just fell down the exquisite rabbit hole of Rebecca Makkai's, THE GREAT BELIEVERS. It came out in 2018, and I'd been meaning to read it but just never did.
Mary Rechner: STARING CONTEST: Essays About Eyes, by Joshua James Amberson is a series of fascinating considerations of seeing as individual, collective, historical, physical. metaphorical, and even spiritual activities.
Mary has a book forthcoming! MARRYING FRIENDS, which I was lucky to read as an advance copy. MARRYING FRIENDS is a frank and often wry look at the bewildering bonds between women, men, siblings, parents, and children. This novel-in-stories confirms Rechner's talent for capturing how we find meaning not only in our dreams, but also in our desperations.
Lidia Yuknavitch: GREEK LESSONS, by Han Kang (i would read anything from her). This book completely absorbed me because the characters live in the in-between of things--in this case, between sight and sound, vision and voice; in that liminality where grief and beauty always collide, there is grace.
Lidia’s newest novel, THRUST, was named a best book of the year by The Washington Post. I was lucky to hear a passage in Collioure, where we taught together this summer, and was so moved by the emotional freight, and the kinship she made me feel with her characters, people on the margins--vulnerable humans leading lives of challenge and transcendence.
I've made a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you will find many of the books I've recommended in the newsletter. Buying books from my shop is another way you can be a friend to the newsletter.
I have a wonderful student who has been struggling with her memoir. The things she’s writing about are tinged with sorrow and trauma. No one writes a memoir about a happy day in happy valley, right? She has found the voice and the memories such a burden and a weight that she set the entire thing aside and decided to write about joy. Not false or manufactured joy, but the times in her life when she felt light. She found that those times mostly centered on travel. Travel/journeys became a portal to look back at her life, and, of course, because pain has long arms, some of the stories from her memoir will find their way in as well. I am so pleased that she has found a way to write while keeping her mental health at the front.
What is it about travel that invites delight into our lives? For one thing, it seems to take less to be happy when we travel. At home, immersed in our day to day, which to be sure contains drudgery, happiness is measured out in teaspoons. In a new environment, we find delight in the quotidian! Look at the color of the cafe chairs! How charming the greeting of the fruit vendor! Mystery has not ebbed from everyday life. Happiness is measured in half-gallons!
Plus, the thinking we must do in a foreign environment for the day-to-day things (Will I understand the metro? Can I actually order my food? Will I make my connection?) takes effort. We’re flying by the seat of our pants and that makes us (well, me at least) feel more alive. Another, when missteps happen, which they will—lost luggage, stolen wallet, long walk down the wrong street—they don’t seem bad because you’re on a new adventure!
I offer this idea to you as a way to find solace and a new door into work that is dragging you down. Can you examine your stories from another angle? Travel? Meals that had deep meaning to you? Friendships (human and pets)? A string of holidays? Views from a window? Remember, your reader too will delight in the light moments while they feel deep compassion and connection through the darkness.
Here’s a prompt for you:
Write about a trip you went on, about a trip you didn’t go on, and/or about your dream trip.
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A list of three snacks to keep you happy while you read and while you write.
Chocolate Covered Almonds! Though do be careful, the cocoa gets on your fingers and will smudge the pages.
Have A Corn Chips Nothing more to say. Simply the best.
If you insist on something healthy, try cucumber slices and carrot sticks dipped in this.
I’m in Napa now, at a writing workshop, which I will certainly tell you about next time. But currently, I’m missing Stanley!
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