Hummingbird

A hummingbird (an “Anna’s Hummingbird” to be exact) built a nest outside of our living room window a few weeks ago.  You could pass by the nest a hundred times and not see it. The nest is a teeny tiny fragile collection of spiderwebs and twigs that could easily be crushed by a human hand. For a few weeks, all of the leaves were missing from the tree, and the tan nest blended in with the branches.  The hummingbird mama rotated about 90 degrees every 30 seconds and her head constantly looked around. The only time she stopped moving is when we passed by the nest on our way out the door. Like a mannequin, she stayed still to blend into the branches.

We had 6 solid days of miserable weather about 2 weeks ago. Windy, stormy, rainy, hail. It was non-stop and the worst weather week I remember in the time that we’ve lived in San Diego. The mama sat on that tree branch, moving in the wild wind, all through those long days and nights of rain. We were so worried about her and debated building something to cover her up. Every morning we expected her to be gone, yet she remained.

We think the chicks were born on my birthday. Her behavior changed and all of a sudden she was poking her long beak into the nest. We’ve spotted the chicks (2!!) several times, and every day they get bigger & bigger. It’s one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The tree that she lives in just bloomed a bright white amazing blanket of flowers (although they stink like chlorine because it is a Callery pear tree). Her nest seems to be more protected now – the blooms, the babies, and the mama are all making me hopeful that it’ll be okay. I really hope it will.

It’s been a rough couple weeks with an ignorant, corrupt tyrant in charge. The hummingbird was a gift. We’re madly in love with her and will miss her so much when she is gone.

 

For more on hummingbirds, I love this article by Barbara Kingsolver.

I just finished Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days on the War on Drugs by Johann Hari– it blew my mind over and over again. It is a fascinating book about the war on drugs. Infuriating, mind-blowing, astounding. I am re-thinking so much after reading it.

One of the most interesting parts of the book are the descriptions of Harry Anslinger – the first “drug czar” of the U.S. Hari writes: “The drug war was born in the United States – but so was the resistance to it. Right at the start, there were people who saw the drug war was not what we were being told. It was something else entirely…Harry Anslinger wanted to make sure we would never put these pieces together.” Also, they “worked hard to keep the country in a state of panic on the subject of drugs so that nobody would ever again see the logical contradictions” (sound familiar?) and the first drug czar would snap “I’ve made up my mind – don’t confuse me with facts.”

Hari uncovers so much of the hypocrisy and heartbreak of the drug war. I love this: “It is no longer: How do we stop addiction through threats and force, and scare people away from drugs in the first place? It becomes: How do we start to rebuild a society where we don’t feel so alone and afraid, and where we can form healthier bonds? How do we build a society where we look for happiness in one another rather than in consumption?”

Read the book all the way to the end. The last few paragraphs bring the hypocrisy of the “war” on drugs all together.

I read another Alice Hoffman book, Faithful. As always, it is a solid read with lots of animals, heartbreak, and 2nd chances.

I LOVED Jonathan Safran Foer’s latest novel Here I Am – I have always been a huge Foer fan. Eating Animals was life-changing for me and the rest of his books have broke my heart. His latest is about a family falling apart while the Middle East is also falling apart. Deep, beautiful, insightful and thought-provoking.

And I finished the Tearling series with Fate of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. It is not a great ending to the series – but, it’s okay and still an interesting series that thinks about utopia, religion, power, magic. This line resonates: “He’s scared of everything…it makes him easy to manipulate…entire countries would close their borders and build walls to keep out phantom threats. Can you imagine?”

More good reading:

Upcoming books on Huff Post – I can’t wait to read Saunders books!

And I’m pretty terrified about America right now. This article in the Guardian on the writers who imagined a fascist future hit me hard.

Finally, reading is cool. And the coolest people do it. Love this article.

 

READ: Susan Ager

Growing up we had a subscription to the Detroit Free Press that was delivered 7 days a week. Before school I’d skim the headlines and read the comics –  but, the real reason to read the paper was the LIFE section where 2 or 3 days a week there would be a column by Susan Ager (yes, the Free Press also has Mitch Albom – but believe me, Ager’s column topped his!). Ager wrote for the Free Press for about 16 years, and I’m sure I read at least 80% of her columns.

fullsizerender-2

I have about 12 Ager columns that have traveled with me over the last 10-15 years. They are columns that I’ve shared with other people, or that were sent to me by family members in Michigan after I moved to California. For many years, family conversations would involve the words “Did you read the Susan Ager column about…”

Ager opened up my mind many, many times as I was growing up. She wrote passionately about marriage equality in the 1990’s before it was a conversation that people were regularly having. She introduced me to my climate hero, Bill McKibben, with a column she wrote about his awesome (and somewhat controversial) book “Maybe One: A Case for Smaller Families.” I’ve seen McKibben speak multiple times and I’ve read everything he writes. I wonder when I would have learned about him if she had not brokered the introduction.

I also partly thank Ager for my love of poetry, particularly the poems of Jane Kenyon. In 1995 she wrote a column (Simple life’s end stirs words of loss) that my Aunt Nanc loved about Kenyon and her untimely death from cancer. My Aunt Nanc asked me to send her the full book of poetry (which I read before putting in the mail) and since then I have read her poems over and over. Here’s a few if you are interested: Let Evening Come, Otherwise, Coming Home at Twilight in Late Summer, and After an Illness, Walking the Dog.

I also think that Ager introduced me to Wendell Berry, but I can’t remember the specific column for that. Overall, her columns explored our shared humanity, the small kindnesses that people are capable of, and a strong appreciation of nature and a simple life with everyday pleasures. This morning I stood in a pounding hot shower looking out the high window at the clouds changing from light blue to dark violet to bright, hot pink as the sun rose. A group of over a 100 crows passed by, squawking and joyful. A great way to start the day, and a simple pleasure that I fully appreciated. I thought to myself that Susan Ager could write an entire column about this one moment.

In a 2003 column titled A man who just can’t live on $145,000 Ager opens with “Last month, while Republicans scrambled to prove they’re not racists, a man named Nicholas Calio was able to quietly quit his White House job for a god-awful reason. He was George W. Bush’s liaison with Congress. He earned $145,00 a year. And he told reporters he had to quit because “I can’t pay my bills.” Ager then goes on to ponder how a person can not live on $145,000/year and the utter absurdity of it.

After George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004 her column (Day after big mess brings fear, hope) began with “My first thoughts the morning after: Congratulations George W. Bush. The mess you’ve made remains yours to clean up. The mess in Iraq is yours. The deficit mess is yours. The health care mess is yours…”  Her frustration with so-called “moral values” is evident throughout the column.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Susan Ager lately because I wish she was writing during this insane election. We need her clear, reasonable voice over the coming years. It’s amazing how someone I have never met can mean so much to me.

To read some of Ager’s best-loved column, check out her website here.

Lately, all I want to read is escapist fiction -here’s some good stuff…

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler- A well-written novel injected with pieces of poetry about the restaurant industry, New York City, and being young and naive. Juicy and a little scandalous.

My Last Continent by Midge Raymond – This may have been my favorite book of the year and I read it in one day. It’s a love story. It’s an environmental warning. It’s main character is a woman researcher. And there are penguins…go read it.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley – A tragic plane crash occurs with 2 survivors and lots of questions about what happened. A great read (with the caveat that the ending is not the best part of the book).

The Nest by Cynthia Sweeney – Family drama involving an inheritance.

I read this little story by Ted Chiang (author who wrote the story that ended up being the movie Arrival) the other day. I loved it – maybe you will too?

This interview with Anthony Bourdain is precisely why I love watching his show Parts Unknown.

This interview with Megyn Kelley on Fresh Air is the best podcast I have listened to in a long time. She is eloquent and strong and impressive. Unbelievable that the man who bullied her is now going to be our President.

October

I can’t wait for this election to be over. I am horrified by the vitriol and despicible-ness that the Trump campaign has helped “normalize.” White male privilege & power has never been more on display. When I hear “Make America Great Again” all I hear is “Make America White Again.” What does it mean and what does “Again” mean? What period is being referred to?

In the midst of all the racist and nasty rhetoric I’ve been reading some fantastic books that address the history and the current situation of black and brown people in America. Books like the ones below are exactly why I read. In an essay in his new collection The View from the Cheap Seats, Neil Gaiman writes: “You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.” The following books changed me. They are all well-written novels that I am so glad exist!

  • Oprah’s latest book club pick, Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead crushed me. I read the first chapter and then I put it aside for a few days. I picked it back up, and then I could not put it down. When I was a kid I remember thinking that the underground railroad was a real mode of transportation that helped slaves escape to the north – apparently Whitehead thought the same thing. Whitehead uses creative license to write a slave narrative that invokes traditional models, yet it is something completely different. He imagines a world where there is a real underground railroad that is carefully hidden and navigated by his narrator, Cora. Like Gulliver, she navigates different stops on a journey that illuminate absurdities. This book made me uncomfortable, it made me sick to my stomach – yet, it is essential and I’m so glad I read it. Check out his interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air.
  • Right before Underground Railroad, I read Ben Winters’ speculative fiction/noir detective/slave narrative novel Underground Airlines. Like Phillip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (we just finished the 1st season Amazon Prime & it is OUTSTANDING), an alternative version of history is explored. In Underground Airlines the Civil War did not happen, and in the present day several states still have slavery. Imagine several states having slaves in this modern world of capitalism and greed – its horrifying and it hits a little close to home. “… their shit is pretty cheap, wherever it’s coming from. It’s pretty cheap and it’s pretty good. Nothing would change. People shaking their heads, shrugging their shoulders, slaves suffering somewhere far away, the Earth turning around the sun.” 
  • Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing explores slavery over a period of 300 years and multiple generations. In linked chapters, the reader is introduced to the multi-generational lines that run from 2 sisters in Ghana who were separated by random circumstance – one stays in Africa, and one is put on a slave ship. The lasting effects of slavery & racism carry on from generation to generation. Homegoing is an emotional, heartbreaking journey.
  • Like Homegoing, Annie Proulx’s enormous novel Barkskins, follows 300 years from the perspective of the family trees of 2 linked people. In this case, it is French men who come to America as indentured servants. Their lives take different turns as one escapes, and the other stays and marries a Native American woman. Over and over, this novel reminds us America was built on so many deaths and the destruction of natural resources. It’s a sweeping tale with hundreds of characters (if you get lost, check out the family trees at the end) who are all at the mercy of circumstance and luck.  Proulx writes, “People streamed into the country – almost a million Irish in twenty years, half a million Germans. They came from all over the world, Germans, Canadians, English, Irish, French, Norwegians, Swedes. The world had heard of the rich continent with its inexhaustible coverlet of forests, its earth streaked as a moldy cheese with veins of valuable metals, fish and game in numbers too great to be compassed, hundreds of millions of acres of empty land waiting to be taken and a beckoning, generous government too enchanted with its own democratic image to deal with shrewd men whose people had lived by their wits for centuries. Everything was there for the taking – it was the chance of a lifetime and it would never come again.” 
  • I can’t believe it took me so long to pick up Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s amazing novel Americanah. Adichie follows the lives of a young Nigerian couple who are divided by the Post 9/11 immigration policies in America. Race and identity are explored in such a powerful, thought-provoking way. I was floored by this novel.

For some lighter reading, check out Emma Straub’s Modern Lovers, J Ryan Stradal’s Kitchens of the Great Midwest, and Charlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky

If you want to figure out what to read next, check out the blog Book Marks. It compiles book reviews and grades books. Great place to find something to read.

Watch this…Hamiltons America. Holy crap, it is good. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius and this documentary is AMAZING!

I could watch this speech over and over and over…I want to hang out with Michelle Obama and talk over a glass (or two) of wine. Seriously, she is the coolest!!

 

 

READ: Lots & lots of books

It’s June. The summer solstice. Life is speeding up. It is not slowing down. This time of year makes time feel even more fleeting. Wasn’t it just Christmas break? I remember summer vacation as a kid feeling long and endless, now it is over before it even starts.

If you read this blog or know me at all, you’ve heard about my 97 year old Great-Aunt Nancy. I’ve asked her many times if life slows down again when you get old – do those long summer days that we had as kids ever return? They must return after retirement, right?  Unfortunately, she says life gets even faster. It doesn’t slow down.

I have become the kind of person who says that youth is wasted on the young (George Bernard Shaw). Like T.S. Eliot, I often feel like I am measuring out my life with coffee spoons…and, of course, the books I am reading. As time passes, I read. I read, and I read.

Here’s some of the best things I have read the last few months – you might want to add a few of them to your summer reading list:

Versions of Us and The Atomic Weight of Love – 2 GREAT books that follow the entire lives of their characters. In Versions of Us we follow 3 different paths that 2 people take based on a single decision made when they first meet one another. Sean & I just celebrated our 17th anniversary. The other night we discussed different paths our lives could have taken (if I had stayed at Michigan State, if we had prevented our first dog from running and tearing his ACL, if we hadn’t moved to California). It is crazy to think about all the decisions that we make that form our life. Versions of Us explores all of that, and it is such a fantastic read.

I loved The Atomic Weight of Love  right away because each chapter is named after a group of birds – “A Murder of Crows,” “A Party of Jays,” “An Unkindness of Ravens,” “A Charm of Hummingbirds.” Did you know a group of Hummingbirds is called a Charm – how perfect is that? The book explores the life of a 50’s housewife (who loves birds and science) who follows her husband to Los Alamos (where he is working on a top secret project…) and from there, she tries to find meaning in an environment where women suppress their desires to support their husband. So good! We’ve come a long way in the last 50 years. #imwithher

The final book of The Passage trilogy, City of Mirrors, came out a few weeks ago and it wrapped up the epic series in a super satisfying way. This apocalyptic series full of memorable characters has had me hooked for the last seven years – I can’t believe it is done. The books scared me over and over again with descriptions of virals (bat/vampire/zombie) and empty cities and a world with only 700 people left in it. However, like The Road and other good dystopian books, love is at the center of the story. I’m hesitant to start another book after finishing this yesterday because I really did not want these books to end.

After reading The Tsar of Love and Techno, I read Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena and it is AMAZING. Read this book and think about what you would do if you were in the situations that the characters are in. What choices would you make? Marra weaves together a heartbreaking story of coincidences, intersecting lives, compassion and survival. I can’t recommend this book enough.

A Little Life  is a huge (900+ pages),  disturbing, melodramatic  book about 4 college roommates who form lifelong friendships and live in New York City. I could not stop reading this book, but I have a hard time recommending it. There is so much beauty in it, but overall it is the most depressing thing I have ever read. Horrible thing after horrible thing happens – and yet I kept reading through all 900 pages. That’s a pretty good endorsement.

The Turner House –  A debut novel that is set in Detroit where a family of 13 kids disagree about what should be done with the family house that is under-water. Ghosts, debt, family relationships and more are all explored among a city that has fallen apart.

Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist  – Set among the Seattle protests in 1999 during the WTO conference it is fast-paced story telling told from different perspectives. Everyone has their reasons for doing things – its hard to remember that we all come to things with our own, unique backgrounds.

We went to Vegas in February to celebrate my 40th (!!), and as we flew in I read Claire Vaye Watkins dystopian novel Gold Fame Citrus, a novel set in the barren desert outside of California. Vegas is such an improbable place to build a huge city. No water, no green (except for the yards and golf course), no trees. It’s an apocalyptic landscape like the parched, dry world of Gold Fame Citrus (I was thirsty the entire time I read it). Like California and other recent dystopian books (Station Eleven, etc.), this novel has a strong-willed woman as the central character, a loving partner who makes a few wrong choices, and a prophet-like character who exerts a a strong influence over the people around him. It’s a bit formulaic, but its still a good read.

And finally, probably the most impactful book I’ve read lately is Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Book recommendations travel fast in my family, and this one came from my mom via my Aunt Patty. This book discusses how we treat the elderly and dying, and what quality of life actually means. I love Atul Gawande’s writing in the New Yorker (check out Letting Go for a short version of the book), and I plan on re-reading this book over and over. Everyone should read it.

I read each of the following short books in one or two days – good, short reads…

Mislaid – recommending anything by Nell Zink is difficult because she is not for everyone and her characters are always bizarre! Her short, weird books explore race, sexual & class identity, and a lot more in weird ways.

The Vegetarian is short book by Han Kang, a South Korean author. It it a violent exploration of social norms, power, and madness.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. Two widowed elderly people keep each other company and reflect on their lives. I cried from beginning to end.

The M Train by Patti Smith – not as good as Just Kids, but still an interesting read.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. Beautiful, unputdownable writing and storytelling.

A Spool of Blue Thread  Classic Anne Tyler book. This is her best one.

I have a bunch of good summer reading planned. Stacked on my table are Lab Girl, Modern Lovers, and the new Annie Proulx Barkskins. I’ll be back soon to let you know how they are.

***********************************************************

Other good things…

My new favorite podcast is Modern Love. You will cry and laugh and sigh. Every single episode makes me believe in humanity and the power of love.

This New Yorker article by Franzen is SO GOOD. Birds, travel, capitalism. No one captures modern life like Franzen.

I love President Obama. Smart, reasonable man doing an impossible job. These pictures are fantastic.

Anthony Bourdain’s new season of Parts Unknown is just as good as the rest of them. One of my favorite things on TV. Favorite episode of this year was Tbilisi, Georgia.

My sister visited me a few weeks ago. She has been to San Diego many, many times to visit, and I love how she still gets excited about new things each time she visits. On this last visit she was most excited about all the Jacaranda trees that were in full bloom and the Little Libraries that we have all over my neighborhood. I take the Little Libraries for granted because we have so many around here (at least 10 within a square mile) and I use them all the time. Add one to your neighborhood if they aren’t there!

READ: The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

My favorite season in San Diego is winter – even in a wet El Nino year like we are having now.  Bright, clear skies. Citrus trees full of juicy fruit. Sage in the canyons, mountains in the distance. A short drive to hikes in the snow. Orange and purple sunsets. Mostly empty beaches. Birds of paradise, bougainvillea, and coral trees. Warm days with cold evenings. San Diego often feels like a desert, but in the winter it is lush, green, and pretty much perfect.

All of this beauty I am surrounded by contrasts with the desolate, dirty landscape in Anthony Marra’s amazing collection of stories, “The Tsar of Love and Techno.”  Some of the most powerful images in the stories include an artificial forest, a horribly polluted lake, smokestacks that serve as constant scenery, an inability to see the stars – ever, and the cold, cold, COLD weather of Siberia. The characters in the book are a reflection of their surroundings as they try to survive in a brutal environment.

A gentle landscape painting of a meadow with a rolling hillside serves as the center of convergence for this set of interlocking stories. The painting undergoes changes as the stories move among the characters, and, like all art, it means different things to different people. The stories drift from the 1930’s to the future as Russia experiences communism, Glasnot, and the Chechen Wars of the 1990’s.

All of the characters are struggling to get by when the decks are stacked against them. They struggle with guilt because often their survival depends on their ability to sacrifice other people and keep moving on after witnessing horrors. As one of the characters watches absurdity during an execution, he thinks, “It was the keyhole through which I first glimpsed life’s madness: The institutions we believe in will pervert us, our loved ones will fail us, and death is a falling piano.”

Marra writes, “What divine imagination could conjure something so imperfect as life?” As I read this, I kept wondering what kind of person could conjure up such perfect stories. Among the desolation in these stories, humor and beauty and our shared humanity infuse every page.

Along with Ferrante’s Neapolitan series, this book is my FAVORITE read of 2015. I loved the book so much that I went to the library an hour after I finished it to pick up his 2014 novel “A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.” I can’t wait to start reading it this weekend. And if you need another reason to read “The Tsar of Love and Techno,” Ann Patchett picked it as her favorite book of 2015 (I also discovered that she is a veg in her latest blog post – another reason to love her!). And it is in the 2016 Tournament of Books!  I’m calling it as the winner!

Other good things I’ve read or listened to lately include Ruth Reichl’s memoir/cookbook/twitter collection “My Kitchen Year:136 Recipes that Saved My Life” (so much better than her recent novel), Carola Dibbell’s “The Only Ones” (dark and odd), Robert Galbraith’s 3rd Cormoran Strike novel “Career of Evil” (addictive), Colum McCann’s short story collection “Thirteen Ways of Looking” (so good – plus it made me re-read Wallace Stevens poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at Blackbird ) and Margaret Atwood’s “The Heart Goes Last” (hilarious!).

Looks like good reading is coming up in 2016. Most excited about new Jonathan Safran Foer, Justin Cronin, and Don DeLillo.

And like so many others, I love David Bowie music and I’m so glad it remains even though he is gone. This is my favorite Bowie song – I always play it on the jukebox at the bar down the street from our house:

 

 

READ: City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

I spent 20 days in November reading one gigantic book. 900 pages. A huge novel that critics called Dickens-like and a HBO-type drama. Hallberg’s first novel City on Fire has been on my radar for the last year ever since I read that there was a bidding war for it that resulted in a 2 million dollar payday.

City on Fire will make you feel like you need a long, hot shower with lots of soap. It is a crime mystery set in the dirty, gritty world of New York City in 1977. A city full of drugs, punk, crime, art, and loud music; as well as Wall Street and old money. Chapters alternate between different characters that include a weary detective, a troubled writer, misfit teenagers, a drug-addicted punk-rock artist and his lover, a heiress, a creepy businessman, a cheating husband, and more. All of these characters are lost and holding onto secrets. They are searching for meaning and a sense of belonging in the rough, yet electric and exhilarating New York City…cue Alicia Keys singing Empire State of Mind

Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,
There’s nothing you can’t do,
Now you’re in New York,
These streets will make you feel brand new,
The lights will inspire you,
Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New York

While I read it, I kept listening to Patti Smith (especially Horses and Paths that Cross) and I wanted to re-read Just Kids. Late 1970’s New York is the absolute star of this novel. This quote gives you an idea of the overall tone of City on Fire:
Diet pills have always been Ziegler’s secret for getting through four hours on air, but these days he lets them blast him right out of the broadcast booth at the end of the show and into the shift bars south of Times Square where you can be drunk before noon. Sometimes, early evenings, there comes a point where the speed wears off and he feels the meter running, but his sleep deficit is already so far beyond anything he’ll ever be able to earn back that he figures he might as well pop another pill, have another drink, because what’s another hour at the bar in the face of a million hours? What’s a little hangover in the face of the infinite grave.

The book is composed of 7 sections separated by snippets from letters, emails, fanzines, and other narrative devices. The last section culminates during the New York City blackout in the summer of 1977. I’ve been in 2 large blackouts (Northeast Blackout in August 2003 and San Diego in 2011). They were weird experiences where everyone seemed to be outside and drinking (not necessarily a bad thing!). They were very disorienting and made me feel extremely powerless because of so many uncontrollable forces. It’s a great idea to have a novel climax during a blackout.

After reading that huge, dark book (and because world events are really f%&#ing depressing right now), I needed something light and easy. I picked up Judy Blume’s latest adult novel “In the Unlikely Event.” It’s not that good, but I still read the entire book because it took me back to 6th grade when I devoured all of her books and that made me happy.

Check out these lists of the best books of 2015 to see what you’ve missed and to pick out Christmas presents… My favorite read this year was the entire Neopolitan Series – I have #ferrantefever and am so sad the series is over.

NY Times 10 Best Books

Tournament of Books

Slate

Parnassus Books

Guardian

Amazon

The Millions: A Year in Reading

Buzzfeed

Huffington Post

 

 

READ: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Last weekend I visIMG_4349ited my great-aunt Nancy in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with my mom, sister, grandma, and a very close family friend. Perfect Fall weather, wonderful wine and delicious food, long walks, and lots of time reminiscing and laughing together. The Upper Peninsula (U.P) is called “God’s Country” by the locals for good reason. The huge, dense trees, the ever-changing colors of the Great Lakes, and a small population who lead a relatively simple life allow me to breathe easy. I feel like I take huge, gulping breaths. Whenever I start a meditation, I visualize myself on my Aunt Nanc’s porch with the trees rustling and the smell of pines in the air.  

 I am so grateful for all the time that I have spent in the U.P. during my life, and for the weekend that I just had with some of my very favorite people on the planet. IMG_4368

In order to get to the U.P., I spent a lot of time traveling – a 4.5 hour flight each way + a 6.5 hour car ride each way. Thankfully I had good company on the car rides…and a good book (and binge-watching Mr. Robot) for the flights. Lauren Groff astounded me with Arcadia (on my top ten list along with The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Great Gatsby, Eat, Pray, Love, The World According to Garp, Jitterbug Perfume, King Lear, Prodigal Summer,The Handmaidens Tale & Cloud Atlas), and her latest, Fates and Furies, had me engrossed while I was traveling.

Fates and Furies is a portrait of a 20 year marriage, told from two different points of view. The charmed playwright husband, Lotto, narrates the first part (Fates), and in the second part, the composed wife, Matilde, describes their years together (Furies). “Fates and Furies” explores the way that two people can love one another and build a life together, yet their perceptions of their shared experiences can be completely different. We all know how that can happen…whenever my family is together, I am always struck by our collective, divergent memories. Some memories are so vivid for me, and others don’t recall the incident at all. This seems to be more relevant the older I get, and reading this book while I was with my family reminded me, once again, that our experiences are always subjective.

Because “Fates and Furies” tells the intense, warped details of an imperfect marriage with unsympathetic main characters, it reminded me of a literary Gone Girl. It is different than that best-seller because Groff writes absolutely beautiful – she uses mythology, strong and sparse sentences, great character development, and unique plot developments. There is a chapter near the beginning that I love because she artfully shows the passage of time through a series of scenes at parties. Another great part is Lotto speaking about woman artists on a panel – it is cringe-worthy. This book gets a little icky in some parts, but I liked how uncomfortable Groff made me feel.

No one knows what really goes on in a marriage except for the two people in it. Lotto and Matilde are viewed as a golden couple, and they believe that about themselves, and as readers we get to see what is happening behind the scenes of their intimate relationship.  Groff also expertly guides her readers on an exploration of the idea of genius in artists (often they have a little help…) and how our childhoods can shape the way our relationships form. Don’t miss this book – it’s a good one.

**********************************************************

I just finished The Story of the Lost Child, the heartbreaking finale in Elena Ferrante’s 4-part Neapolitan Series. It is incredible. INCREDIBLE. I don’t know what to write about it, I just know that I loved every second I spent reading this engrossing series. Read it – you will not be disappointed.