I want you to panic

If you don’t read anything else from this overly long blog post, read this article by Bittman about Iowa and Food. There’s not much that is more important than food & water, although you’d never know that by how we treat people, animals and the environment.

Have you heard of Greta Thunberg? The 15 year old powerhouse speaks truth to power – she’s created a youth climate movement. I keep thinking of this line from her speech at the World Economic Forum last winter:

“Adults keep saying we owe it to the
young people, to give them hope, but I
don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to
be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want
you to feel the fear I feel every day. I
want you to act. I want you to act as you
would in a crisis. I want you to act as if
the house is on fire, because it is.”
– Greta Thunberg

This convo between AOC and Greta Thurnberg! Two young people who are eloquent and not afraid to call out bullshit.

Wendell Berry has a new interview and (of course) it’s a must read – “I had a wonderful life and I had nothing to do with it,” farmer = artist. Every sentence from him is a gift. And another Wendell Berry Interview in Orion Magazine. He is the absolute best.

This interview with Mary Philpott – love the idea of Literary citizenship.

This vegan recipe series in the Guardian provides tons of ideas for what to eat for dinner.

The person doing some of the most important writing right now may be Rebecca Solnit. Every American should be reading her columns. She nails our culture, and she is a prophet for our time. Climate, equal rights, hope, community… In Patriachy No One Can Hear You Scream – start with this one, and then more of her essays are here.

The poem I am reading over and over lately is A Brave and Startling Truth by Maya Angelou.

I love these 2019 Audubon photos!

The first 4 episodes of the HBO show Years and Years have been released and I can’t stop thinking about it – it may be one of the most important shows ever?! It’s shocking and not shocking at the same time. It takes place in the near future and the overarching idea is a family reaching out to each other as the world falls apart around them. They keep telling each other it will be okay – will it really be okay? All the bad things happen to other people…and then it happens to them. And so much happens. Episode 4 made me sob. I can’t wait to see how the final 2 episodes go.

The Highwomen – with 2 of my faves Brandi Carlile and Amanda Shires!! If you haven’t heard of them and love old-school country music like the Judds, Trisha Yearwood, Tanya Tucker…check them out. Their first song was just released, and I can’t wait for the whole album which comes out September 6th.

Over the last week, as the racist president continued to appeal to the lowest common denominator with racist attacks I finished The Guest Book by Sarah Blake. What a painful, and perfect, book to be reading at this moment as we watch how people react when a racist leader is in charge. We are watching a large amount stay silent, excusing the rhetoric, or (horrifically) chant racist tropes. In The Guest Book, we see a younger generation discover truths about beloved grandparents during WWII – how much do people need to see and hear to actually believe what is going on, especially because most are not paying attention. I really loved this book and I discovered hard truths about myself as I read it.

The perfect summer book is Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Escapism, fun, light reading – sex, drugs, and rock n roll. It’s written as an oral history and the characters will remind you of Stevie Nicks, the Eagles, and the California music of the 70’s. After I finished this, I listened to her other book The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – and it is so, so good!

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin is one of the “Read with Jenna” picks (the Bush women are great readers!) – it explores siblings, love, family, depression. Also, Save me the Plums by Ruth Reichl is a must-read, as is On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by the poet Ocean Vuong. Ouch, this is a painful novel. It physically hurts to read it. Also, the title is amazing.

I finally read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and I liked the unpredictable ending and the nature scenes. The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell is an interesting multi-generational, magical realist novel set in Africa. And Inheritance by Dani Shapiro is a super-fast memoir about what can go wrong when you take those DNA tests…

I just read three books in a row about women who have STEM careers. All three of these books are great, interesting reads about smart, driven women who deal with loss, grief, and ambition. Light from Other Stars by Erika Swiller involves space travel and time travel elements. Lost and Wanted by Nell Freudenberger (probably my favorite of the 3) hooked me immediately with its small mysterious elements and strong writing. Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung looks at genius, gender, and race in a beautiful way.

Everyone was talking about A.J. Finn’s book Woman in the Window, so I read it and it was BLAH. Same with Normal People by Sally Rooney! Same with Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken.

And I am SO excited that my friend has a book on LitHub’s most anticipated reads of summer. The Churchgoer by Patrick Coleman – read it! I loved church when I was a kid and teenager – youth group, church camp, cross-country trips. The absolute best part about it was the certainty about heaven and everlasting life. I could go on and on about church stuff, but those are my own issues and I am not brave enough to write a book, or anything, about it – that’s one of the reasons why I admire this book. This book explores seedy Southern California, loss of faith, mega-churches, institutional corruption, and more. It’s all wrapped up in dark mystery that kept me reading late into the night.

Also books coming out in the next few months by Atwood, Hoffman, Strout, Patchett, Whitehead, and Russo. Another book on Eating Animals and its effect on climate change by Safran Foer. And a book by Patti Smith chronicling 2016 and essay collections by Solnit and Jamison. Some people look forward to vacations or events – I look forward to book releases!!

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Attention

We’ve been having a lot of rainbow weather this winter. You know, the kind of weather where it pours for a bit, and then the sun comes out and it seems brighter than it ever has, and everything is shiny and smells fresh – and sometimes, when you’re paying attention, you can spot a rainbow or two. This morning, walking Ruby in rainbow weather, I noticed a flowering succulent with delicate pink bell-looking buds glowing at the corner of my street. I have never noticed this plant before, and by my count, I’ve done this walk at least 700 times over the last 2 years. This was not a new plant – it was settled and sprawling and looked like it had been in bloom for awhile. I can’t stop thinking about how I have never noticed it before. I can’t stop thinking about all of the other things I probably miss all of the time.

I keep thinking of Mary Oliver, and how she writes “Attention is Devotion.”

I wrote the above paragraph the day before Mary Oliver died in January. Then a few days later I read Wendell Berry’s essay A Native Hill, where he describes an incident similiar to what I had just experienced as he walks upon bluebells in the woods by his home, “Though I had been familiar for years with most spring woods flowers, I had never seen these and had never known they were here. Looking at them, I felt a strange loss and sorrow that I had never seen them before, but I was also exultant that I saw them now – that they were here.”

Life is so weird when these coincidences happen. When what we are reading or listening to appears in our lives over and over again. We are given so many signs and messages. How many do we miss?

Every week I notice AT LEAST 10 hawks gliding in the sky or sitting in a tree when I am taking neighborhood walks, driving to work, or walking across campus. The other day one flew right in front of my face as I got out of my car. This started happening about two years ago. I am positive that they have always been around, but I am just now noticing them everywhere I look.

How many things do I miss every single day? Words intended a certain way, reactions from others. A hint of something. Corruption on all levels. A bump or mole somewhere on my body. Humans take so much of what is around us for granted.

Attention is Devotion, Attention is Devotion, Attention is Devotion.

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In the midst of reading lots of Mary Oliver and Wendell Berry, I’ve picked up some amazing books. In particular, I loved the immersive experience of the criminal reform system and power structures in Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room. It is uncomfortable and dirty – and completely unique writing. Peter Heller’s The River is poetry, mystery, and another immersive experience – this time into the natural world. Like he does in so much of his writing, he looks at the destructive nature of humans and the wild – one of my favorite authors right now.

Books about complicated women always make me happy. In Red Clocks by Leni Zumas abortion is illegal in the US and women are affected by decisions made when they had “been too tired to care.” The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker explores the Iliad and vain Achilles through the eyes of a enslaved girl. The short, darkly funny My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite explores physical beauty and the things some people can get away with. And it won the TOB of this year – that alone makes it worth reading!

I loved the memoir I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O’Donnell. I obsessively listened to the audio version as she described close-encounters with death including miscarriage, near-misses with violent crime, anaphalaxis, and so much more. Beautiful, truthful, and brave. Another great memoir is All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung – it explores adoption and deep truths about family.

Other good books I read the last few months include: Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) is the 4th book in the Cormoran Strike series and it is hopelessly addicting and fun to read. The Dreamers by Karen Walker Thompson is an eerie fairy tale about a fast-moving sleeping virus. The Wildlands by Abby Geni looks at a family torn apart by a devastating tornado, poverty and animal rights. The House of Broken Angels by Luis Martin Urrea takes place in San Diego and centers around a Mexican-American family as their patriarch nears death. Funny, heartwarming, and a book for right now.

Currently, I am reading The Library Book by Susan Orlean – if you are a library lover like me, go get this book! It is a mystery about arson, an ode to libraries, and a fascinating history read. I’m also slowly reading the essays in The Ends of the Ends of the Earth by Jonathan Franzen. The essays look at climate change as a privileged westerner and a birder – some of the essays are a bit annoying, but the title essay is pretty much perfect.

I also listened to Grisham’s The Reckoning and Morton’s The House at Riverton on my commute – I don’t recommend them unless you are all out of other things to listen to…

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Did you read Christopher Pike as a kid? Slumber Party terrified me, and hooked me onto all of his books. I was obsessed! If you were, read this interview

More than anything, I always think about the way our society treats animals illustrates our overall blindness to cruelty. Great article on the emotional lives of animals.

This article about work expresses a lot of the ways I feel – read it if you need some help putting things in perspective.

This article by Bill McKibben about Diane Feinstein and her encounter with the child protestors. Sigh. He captures it perfectly.

So glad Brandi Carlile is everywhere lately. “[Trump] is so aggressive and loud and ugly — we don’t need more aggression and loud and ugly,” Carlile says. “We need debilitating empathy.” Debilitating empathy – what a concept. Read more here. Also check out the CBS Sunday Morning piece on her band.

Mark Bittman has a new online magazine – here, here on the goals…Food should be fair to people and animals, affordable for everyone, and procured in a way that respects our natural resources. Food should make us healthy, and in an ideal world, it should taste good

2018

Amidst all of the very shitty things that happened over the last year, there is much to be grateful for. Highlights include celebrating my Great-Aunt Nanc’s 100th birthday, spending a relaxing weekend in a hammock in Idyllwild, discovering Bend, Oregon with a good friend, a road trip across Sedona, Taos, and Denver for Thanksgiving with my family.

Also, the Black Phoebe on my front porch who sings hello to me every day. Ruby giving us a health scare (for the millionth time), and then recovering. Discovering that I love to watercolor, and then discovering the amazing Lets Make Art tutorials.  Second Saturday Sanghas with Sarah Clark. Stopping for a beer in my neighborhood while we’re walking the pup. A Star is Born. My husband. Women Activists (Alyssa Milano, young women in House of Reps, Christine Blasey Ford, Emma Gonzalez, Oprah’s Golden Globe Speech). Coffee. Trampled by Turtles, Brandi Carlile, Greensky Bluegrass. Marvelous Mrs Maisel. Black Panther. Champagne. The library. Yoga with Adriene. My neighborhood book store.

And, as always, getting lost in books. These are my favorites of the year – they helped me escape. Don’t miss them!:

  1. Overstory by Richard Powers
  2. Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver “He’s exactly what she expects of her elders at this historical moment. He’s legitimizing personal greed as the principal religion of our country.”
  3. Florida by Lauren Groff “I have somehow become a woman who yells, and because I do not want to be a woman who yells, whose little children walk around with frozen, watchful faces, I have taken to lacing on my running shoes after dinner and going out into the twilit streets for a walk, leaving the undressing and sluicing and reading and singing and tucking in of the boys to my husband, a man who does not yell.”
  4. Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
  5. There There by Tommy Orange
  6. The Recovery: Intoxication and its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison
  7. Circe by Madeline Miller
  8. Educated by Tara Westover “All my studying, reading, thinking, traveling, had it transformed me into someone who no longer belonged anywhere?” and “When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?”
  9. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser

I have a stack of great books from the library I’m plowing through right now.  Loved re-visiting Rilke and exploring grief with a dog character in The Friend by Nunez, and Assymetry by Halliday unexpectedly hooked me with the juicy Phillip Roth character (who Halliday actually had a love affair with). I loved both of these books and the way they explored writing. I’m almost done with the Clock-Makers Wife by Kate Morton and I can’t wait to snuggle under a blanket today and finish it up. I listened to 22 hours of the psychological thriller Witch Elm by Tana French on my commute – it explores privilege, memory, #metoo.

Red Clocks, The Mars Room, The Silence of the Girls, Everything Under, Becoming, All You Can Ever Know, and The Wildlands are sitting next to my couch waiting to be read next.

Here’s some more fun lists of the best books of 2018:

2019 Books:

Let’s hope 2019 is as good of a book year as 2018. Books are coming from Elizabeth Gilbert, Karen Thompson Walker (The Age of Miracles), Margaret Atwood (a sequel to The Handmaidens Tale), Julie Orringer (The Invisible Bridge), and my friend Patrick Coleman has a book coming out in the summer, in addition to his gorgeous book of prose poems that was just released. 

Mood

The weight of this sad time we must obey, speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.

-King Lear

The Kavanaugh stuff left me, and many of those I love, raw and bruised. A male will be believed until 25, 50 or 100 people come forward – and that was reinforced on a national stage by a partisan, unhinged judge. The whole thing sucked. All the women I know, knew his confirmation would go through. This is why women don’t say anything.

Another shooting happened in a synagogue, this one incited by a President (not my President) who spews conspiracy theories and nasty innuendos that embolden Fox News that then embolden pathetic white men. And another shooting in Thousand Oaks, and soon there will be another one. I take active shooter training at work, my nieces and nephews do gun drills at school, and we all plot ways to escape in crowded spaces. How is everyone not out in the streets protesting? Why are we resigned to letting it happen?

A terrifying climate report came out a few months ago and another one came out a few days ago, and for those of us that believe in science, it’s heart-aching. Brazil elected a nationalist President who endangers the remaining necessary rainforest there; and after the hottest summer on record, California burned. Last year the state had the largest fire on record, and, horrifically, we beat that record this year.

We spent billions on the elections and we’ll spend trillions on Christmas this year and there are migrants at the border that are being dehumanized through rhetoric and policies made up on the fly. Every day the unbearable news makes the unbearable news from the previous day fall by the wayside.

You know all this, and maybe you’re feeling the same as me. It’s hard to stay positive and hopeful right now with so many overwhelming external forces happening. Woe, melancholy, gloom. It’s my mood and I wonder when (if?) it will change.

“We are not wired to see slow background change, when something bright and colorful is in our faces.” That’s a line from my FAVORITE book this year (so far – still a few weeks left), The Overstory by Richard Powers. I can not recommend this book enough. It matches my mood – it is melancholy, it is contemplative, it is angsty. It reminds you of all the miraculous beauty AND all the utter stupidity in the world. I think about both of these things all the time – always trying to focus on the miraculous beauty, even on the days when it is hard to.

In the first section, different kinds of Americans (male, female, immigrants, veterans, handicapped, rich, poor) and their connection to Oaks, Aspens, Willows, Chestnuts or other trees are individually highlighted in short stories. Eventually, they are brought together helping demonstrate the connectedness of everything. The book explores psychology, technology, physical and social science, art, history, activism and so much more. All of this human activity with the overarching story being the trees that have been here for millennia before us, and will be here after all the humans are gone.

I love that one of my favorite authors (the brilliant Barbara Kingsolver) is also madly in love with this book. Her NYT book review is perfect, and this interview between the two authors is a must-read. This line about what they are trying to do in their writing wowed me, “You are experiencing the world through the eyes and mostly the nose of a coyote, and that’s really where I want to take people—out of their humanness. It is the ultimate act of empathy.” They are naturalists who believe in the power of story. As Powers writes in The Overstory as activists try to save ancient forests, “The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.”

This book is long, it is a commitment. It requires an attention span that I seem to only have some of the time nowadays as I get distracted by thoughts of the news, what should I make for dinner, where should we live, how should I invest money in a corrupt system, did I return that work email…Give this book your attention. It can take you out of your humanness for a bit, and that’s what we all need right now.

So many good books right now…

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai – I love this book so much. It looks at the first years of the AIDS crisis in Chicago, the people left behind, and the lasting repercussions. It veers between the first years of the crisis and Paris during the terrorism attacks in 2015. The characters are well-drawn, believable, and you will fall in love with a few of them. Makkai write,  “It’s always a matter, isn’t it, of waiting for the world to come unraveled? When things hold together, isn’t it always only temporary”

Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness – Escapist fantasy continuing the All Souls Trilogy about witches, vampires, and demons. Not the best writing in the world, but the world-building and soap-opera quality to it are addictive and fun.

Less by Andrew Greer – This short, beautiful book about a gay man who travels the world to escape his recent break-up won the Pulitzer last year. Gaugin’s art “Be in Love and You will be Happy” (look it up) runs through the book in an interesting way.

Incediaries by RO Kwon – I can’t stop thinking about the “God Sized Hole” that Kwon writes about in this book about college students struggling with different kinds of belief. It is eerie, a little violent, haunting, and thought-provoking.

Transcription by Kate Atkinson – Atkinson is a master of historical fiction. This book about WWII intelligence activities and the aftermath is spooky and creepy – I don’t love this book as much as her others, but I’m glad I read it.

A Place For Us by Fatima Mirza – A family drama about an Indian family living in America and trying to continue their traditional beliefs. The story is told from different viewpoints where we realize that everyone thinks family issues are their fault.

Still Lives by Maria Hummel  – I’ve been reading a lot of creepy books lately – and this one is really good. A mystery set in the art world where violence against women is explored in multiple ways.

An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim – Speculative fiction about time traveling to try to escape disaster. How strong is the power of love? We are all so close to disaster and everything changes all of the time.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah – I listened to the audiobook version – I probably would not have finished this book about multiple forms of survival if I didn’t have a monstrous commute. I listened to it during a heat wave and descriptions of the Alaska winter kept me cool. Books where women are hit or emotionally battered are hard for me to read, so be prepared for lots of that if you pick this up.

The Distance Home by Paula Saunders – This  slow-moving book by the wife of George Saunders is an exploration of a mid-western family. Kinda boring with some good writing in it.

Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams – Another book I listened to on my commute that I would never have picked up. A soapy, fun, Gatsbyish drama about star-crossed lovers.

Michelle Obama…

is everywhere right now and she has so much to say – podcasts, TV interviews, magazine covers, book readings across the country. I LOVE listening to her. Intelligence, humor (you have to be smart to be funny!), and class. She says what I feel in such a dignified way – I learn from her every time she speaks. I can’t wait to read Becoming.

“We have to feel that optimism. For the kids. We’re setting the table for them, and we can’t hand them crap. We have to hand them hope. Progress isn’t made through fear. We’re experiencing that right now. Fear is the coward’s way of leadership. But kids are born into this world with a sense of hope and optimism. No matter where they’re from. Or how tough their stories are. They think they can be anything because we tell them that. So we have a responsibility to be optimistic. And to operate in the world in that way.”

You should read this if you have the stomach for it…

How Extreme Weather is Shrinking the Planet – the latest from McKibben in the New Yorker

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sisters

Growing up my mom constantly told my sisters and me that we were so lucky to have sisters – it was her ongoing mantra with us, she said that more than anything else. When we argued or said something nasty to one other, she’d repeat over and over that we were so lucky (and then she’d make us say 3 nice things to each other).

In June my extended family gathered in Michigan from California, Colorado, Virginia & Ohio to celebrate my Great-Aunt’s 100th birthday with a wonderful, happy, perfect party. At the party, as I laughed with my 2 amazing sisters, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the shining example of sisterhood that my great-aunt and her sister (my grandma) continually demonstrated. Along with my mom’s mantra, we were given the invaluable gift of role  models who showed us the way.

 

 

 

 

My great-aunt & grandma lived on the same street as adults, they slept in the same bed growing up. They vacationed & celebrated holidays together. They share a lot of friends, a love of cheese & crackers and Canadian Mist whiskey, and a beautiful family that they delight in together. They have a unique bond and share many similar traits and interests (politics, books, love of nature), however they both have their own (strong) personalities and hobbies. At times they irritate one another with their quirks and idiosyncrasies, and at other times they laugh in delight at a memory. They’ve lost their parents, husbands, and many family & friends over the years. They’ve grown really, really old and have done all of this together.

What a gift having both of them in our life has been. What a gift to have sisters that are our very best friends. To quote my great-aunt, and my mom’s mantra, “We are so, so lucky.”

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Two deaths hit hard over the last month…the former poet laureate, Donald Hall, who passed away on the day of my great-aunt’s bday party. He was married to Jane Kenyon, another poet that we both love very much and who passed away much too young. I love this blog post about Hall by Patchett, also this compilation of Fresh Air interviews with him. I just finished Essays After Eighty, and I’m reading A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety which explores the indiginities of getting old. He got to live a long life, and sometimes that is not a gift.

Anthony Bourdain died about a month ago and I am still not over it. I loved his truth-telling, empathetic, completely unique intelligence. He was not an extremist and he constantly evolved as a human being. I am really going to miss him. I love this article he wrote about #metoo and how in certain circumstances one must pick a side. I also love this article that Darren Aronfsky wrote about Bourdain, especially this line “You turned a light on what it means to be a human right now, right here on planet Earth.” I’ll be re-watching all my fave Parts Unknown episodes (Detroit, Vietnam w/Obama, Iran, Charleston…) as soon as I can watch him walking around a city and talking to people without tears welling up in my eyes.

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America stinks right now, and it’s so damn hot and wild-firey.  Couple things I love are:

This tweet…

No wonder I love Obama so much – we were brainwashed by all the same books! 

This interview on Fresh Air about Flint with an amazing woman I went to high school with.

New Kingsolver book coming out SOON. Love this piece on her with the perfect title.

This interview with the poet Ada Limon.

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What I’ve been reading

The best first…

The Recovering: Intoxications and its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison is one of the most powerful accounts of addiction that I have ever read (and I’ve read a lot of them!). Jamison  (The Empathy Exams) writes with unflinching honesty about realizing she was an alcoholic at a young age. A writer who revered many writers who drank a lot, she goes deep into her love for alcohol and why she needed to stop drinking.

Florida by Lauren Groff is an intense, pretty-much perfect collection of short stories by one of my favorites. I usually like to read short story collections slow – but I devoured these in a weekend. I love this interview with her in Esquire, especially this part: “My first narrative love was the Old Testament: I was a pretty fervent little girl and believed in Bible stories, which are rich and beautiful and strange and often contradictory, everything that makes for great literature. Ever since I became an adult, though religion has been replaced by an equally deep (and despairing) love for humanity. Fiction–reading it and writing it–is the greatest, most beautiful exploration of humanity that I know.” 

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer is a great read about female relationships, mentors, wisdom, generational dynamics, and power. It’s a book for right now. I love this  part when someone gives water to another during trauma: “It couldn’t put out anyones fire, but it could make a person remember: I am part of the real world, a person holding a glass. I haven’t lost that ability.”

Circe by Madeline Miller took me back to my love of Greek Mythology. It made me want to re-read Homer and dig out notes from my college classes on Greek & Roman History. This is a fantastic story that re-tells the myth about Circe (a minor character in the myths) and makes her the lead character. It deals with women’s rage, patriarchal societies that over-consume and use people, and female empowerment.

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horwitz – What is it about a good mystery that makes it all you can think about? My favorite book store (Book Catapult) recommended this author and I’m hooked. I have not guessed the correct murderer yet for any of his writing!

There There by Tommy Orange about Native Americans going to a Pow Wow in Oakland. It is so good, and incredibly depressing and I can’t stop thinking about it.

It’s hot, so I’ve been lying on my couch zipping through books…some other good ones that I recently read (in order of how much I liked them):

Love and Ruin by Paula McClain If you loved McClain’s The Paris Wife, pick this one up.

White Houses by Amy Bloom Historical fiction about Eleanor Roosevelt’s love for journalist Lorna Hickok

Warlight by Michael Onnadtje Beautiful, haunting, lyrical

Sunburn by Laura Lippman Noir crime fiction

Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan Crazy medical story! I was most interested in the fact that the author has memories of her hallucinations that still seem real after recovery. Memory doesn’t work – for more on that check out, This Revisionist History Podcast about memory and Brian Williams

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller I attended my first-ever book club meeting with this book. Surprisingly, I liked the book, and I liked the book club meeting.

Tangerine by Christine Mangan Single White Female set in Morocco

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler I’ve been an Anne Tyler fan ever since I read my mom’s copy of “The Accidental Tourist” when I was about 10 years old. Always a good, though occasionally too sweet, read.

House Among Trees by Julia Glass I’ll read anything by her. Reliably a good story.

Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer 

 

 

 

Year of the Bird

The first time I witnessed a Bald Eagle magically swooping through the sky was over the Ausable River in Upper Michigan in the late 80’s or early 90’s. I was with my Dad visiting my grandparents, who were so excited to take us to see the nest way up on top of a huge tree.  They explained that Bald Eagles were making a comeback after years of near extinction due to DDT and other pesticides. We weren’t allowed to get near the nest due to federal regulations that protected the beautiful bird to help with breeding and raising their babies. Federal regulations eventually brought back the Bald Eagles and other birds.

I remember being horrified that something so magnificent had ever been in danger. Shortly after witnessing that, I read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (I love this recent Jill Lepore article about her!) and I’ve had a life-long, on-going, back-and-forth obsession in my head for the last 30 years about environmental and animal issues. Our collective human apathy amazes me.

The birds that make a regular appearance in my urban, So-Cal neighborhood are Nutall woodpeckers, a Red-Shouldered hawk couple (Sean’s fave), American crows (my fave), Northern mockingbirds, Anna’s hummingbirds, Black Phoebes, purple finches, sparrows, and doves. We also have a pair of squawking parrots that are breeding and multiplying at a staggering pace and some lucky people have chicken clucking loudly in their yards. A few weeks ago, at the estuary near us, we spotted Great egrets, a Snowy egret, osprey and a lone flamingo that escaped from somewhere. Our neighborhood is 1000x better because of all the birds that reside in it.

National Geographic & the Audubon declare this the Year of Bird. It is the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which has protected birds as they migrate for 100 years. Like so many other important policies (66 Environmental Rules on the Way out under Trump), this one is threatened under the current administration. Several articles remind us that if the new amendment had been in effect when the Deepwater Horizon disaster happened, B.P. would not have had to spend millions of dollars to clean up where the birds live.  If you care about this – take some SUPER simple online actions here. Literally takes 5 minutes.

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Image credits: Daniel Biber/lensculture This photo is INCREDIBLE! Like a murmuration of Starlings we need to keep organizing.

I’m finding myself able to get lost in books again lately. And I’m so grateful for the escape they have always offered me.

Reese Witherspoon has a book club and her picks are pretty good. I zipped through Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (suburban drama) and The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo (love story). Both of the books are fast reads that are perfect, escapist beach or weekend reading. I LOVED Celine by Peter Heller – it’s a detective story with an older, refined, sassy female in the lead role who travels from NYC to Yellowstone to solve a decades long mystery. Heller writes beautifully about nature and humanity (Dog Stars is even better than this, but you need to be okay with apocalyptic books to pick it up).

Books that have a small supernatural element in them are my favorite (Time Traveler’s Wife, anything by Alice Hoffman or David Mitchell). Eternal Life by Dara Horn is about a woman who has been alive for centuries and has watched generations of her family live and die. The book explores the “gift” of dying and the gift of being alive. The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin follows four siblings who are told the date that they will die by a gypsy when they are in elementary school. Each chapter follows one of the siblings and the impact that this has on their life. I couldn’t put this book down! Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin  is a super-small, one-sitting book about our inability to protect children or others. This book (surprisingly) killed it in the Tournament of Books this year! It’s an environmental horror story that is creepy and weird and lingers long after the book is put down.

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker is a story about female friendship, animation, drugs & drinking, trying to escape your past, and making art out of your life (and who that effects). Super good book. I’m currently reading Oprah’s latest pick, An American Marriage by Tayari Jones, and I can’t stop thinking about it. It explores our racist legal system, being black in America, marriage, independence, and so much more. The writing  and story are perfect.

Other stuff I’m reading & thinking about…

This article by Kim Stanley Robinson about population and how we can all live on Earth, and this article by Jeff Vandermeer on Cli-Fi.

Huge upsets this year in the Tournament of Books! I’m also following The Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks on Food 52.

Excited for the Great American Read.

We’ve been watching a lot of creepy Twilight Zone-like anthology TV shows lately. My fave episodes are Black Mirror – San Junipero, Black Mirror – Hang the DJ, and almost all of the episodes of Amazon’s Electric Dreams. I try not to watch them before bed because they are nightmare inducing.

On Being Podcast with guest Naomi Shihab Nye –  I swooned when she stated “You are living in a poem.” Most of the On Being Podcasts are great (love the Mary Oliver) and make me feel better when I’m losing hope or feel disconnected.

I love this blog post by Ann Patchett about her stepfather.

So far away but…Barbara Kingsolver and Kate Atkinson have new books coming out in the Fall!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Matters

This week the stunning Obama portraits at the National Portrait Gallery were unveiled and Michelle Obama released this Valentine’s Day playlist titled “Forever Mine: Michelle to Barack”:

The importance that the Obama’s always placed on art of all kinds matters. It matters a lot.

They both chose African-American artists to paint their portraits and they did not do traditional portraits. Like his presidency, they are rich with symbolism; the Washington Post writes “these portraits will remind future generations how much wish fulfillment was embodied in the Obamas, and how gracefully they bore that burden.”  As I listened to the Spotify playlist at work I thought about Michelle and Barack dancing in their living room to Calvin Harris, Leon Bridges, Alabama Shakes, Van Morrison, Kendrick Lamar, Tim McGraw and all of the other amazing artists on their playlist. I’m not sure what you do, but I turn on music (KTAO Radio) the minute I wake up, and we constantly have music on in our home and car. My whole life, and probably yours, has a soundtrack. It matters.

It starts with the inauguration, Obama had a poet at both of his. I listened to Robert Blanco reciting “One Today” over and over again after the 2013 inauguration.  It matters that he chose a gay immigrant to deliver the inaugural poem. It matters that the Kennedy’s had Frost read a poem; and man, can I remember when the incomparable Maya Angelou recited “On the Pulse of Morning” at Clinton’s inauguration.

From the iconic poster of the youthful Barack’s face with the words “Hope,” to the yearly favorite books and playlists that were released, to the cultural food movement Michelle tried to accomplish (with resistance from lobbyists), to the references to history & pop culture that were a constant in Obama’s speeches. It matters.

We SEE one another in art. In books, poems, music, paintings, photographs, film. Story telling in all forms is an integral part of the human experience. It matters.

I don’t think I need to say this, but maybe I do (we humans seem to be stupider than ever these days, and yes, I am feeling snarky) – contrast all of the above to the current President who only believes in power, money, whiteness, and objectifying woman. An inauguration that focused on american carnage and the size of the crowd without a poet in sight. The man does not have a cultural bone in his (unhealthy) body – he doesn’t even believe in exercising or in eating unprocessed food (i.e. his love of fast food and desire to give poor people a box of processed yumminess). Again, he is trying to eliminate arts and humanities funding in his latest budget.

It matters who Americans elected as President. It filters down and out and around. Art matters and I miss having a President who knew that.

You know what’s crazy – Laura Ingalls Wilder probably would have voted for Donald Trump. I can’t stop thinking about Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser. It is a book for right now. Like so many little girls, Laura Ingalls Wilder was an integral part of my childhood. I wanted to live in a little house on the prairie and travel around in a covered wagon.

As Fraser describes Wilder’s life in vivid detail several myths are shattered over and over again. The myth of the romantic American West. The myth of surviving by homesteading. The myth of American Exceptionalism. The myth that a farmer can make it on their own. There is huckster fantasy, and then there is reality. Which, of course, is what we are seeing right now.

Wilder lived during an incredible time and Fraser takes us through all of it. She delves into the man-made Dust Bowl, reactions to the New Deal, yellow journalism, Little House books used as propaganda in Japan, “Indians”, the TV show, and politics. So, so much politics. Charles Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder both lost (several) homes and, perhaps, it was easier to blame the government than their bad decisions when this happened. This led to Wilder and her daughter to have very strong (and interesting and often hypocritical) political feelings. An article in the New Republic talking about the book “Ultimately, that same drive to be alone with the wilderness got converted to a founding myth of individualism, out of which emerged an ideology that visualized freedom from government as an equivalent of freedom itself. The descendants of that myth are among us still. If Laura Ingalls Wilder were alive today she would be a member of the Tea Party. She would almost certainly have voted for Donald Trump, many of whose followers yet believe that he will restore to them the dubious glory of the frontier America that Wilder so passionately celebrated in her books.”

More stuff to make you think…

Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward – Devastating and beautiful. My heart broke so much as I read it. Reminded me of Toni Morrison. Much-deserved National Book Award winner.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz – I can’t believe how much I loved this delightful, Agatha Christie type book. A mystery within a mystery to get totally lost in. A book I could recommend to almost anyone.

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman – Main character has a familiar (not a pet!) that is a crow. I am so jealous of her… another great Hoffman book full of dreamy, magical enchantment. It takes place in the 60’s and is a companion piece to Practical Magic.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent – A story of survival in a shitty world. The cruelty of family members, nature, the world at large. Be prepared for horrible abuse scenes like last year’s A Little Life.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo – Utterly depressing book by a Nigerian writer about infertility and desperately needing/wanting baby. Extreme measures with repercussions.

Improvement by Joan Silber – Little linked stories about one decision affecting multiple people. Short, good read.

Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich – this is a frustrating, dystopian book with really good parts. Somehow it feels very real even with the lack of all the details and the unknown parts of the story. Loved this: “Some men smell right and others don’t. You know what I mean if you are a woman who breathes in the fragrance of the stem end of a melon to choose it or if the odor of mock orange or lilac transfixes or if you pass a piece of woody earth and know from a gulp of air that the soft, wet, fleshy foot of a mushroom has thrust from the earth somewhere close. Men smell good in all different ways. Salty vanilla. Hot dirt. New grass. Bitter lead…” and also loved this: “I can’t bear it – crackers and cheese! It reminds me of all the wonderful, normal times that I have eaten crackers and cheese with my parents or friends. So many times in my past life and I’ve never appreciated how comforting and convivial those times were.”

Also this discussion between Atwood & Erdich where they bring up the 2000 election…which was determined by a handful of votes like the current one. Imagine if Gore had been elected and climate change was addressed, the strides that could have been made over last 16 years. The world would look completely different.

I Used to Insist I Didn’t Get Angry. Not Anymore. by Leslie Jamison – Article in the NY Times. I identify, do you?

Look and See – Netflix documentary on Wendell Berry, farming and the Kentucky county where he has lived most of his life. It floored me. How are we humans going to fix the problems we’ve made?