Argiope

For the last month we’ve had two huge spiders in our yard that attract a lot of attention from people walking by. As I’ve sat in my front yard reading a book, I’ve talked to lots of parents stopping to point the spiders out to their kids. Surprisingly, no one I talked to was grossed out – surprisingly, I was not grossed out.

Pretty sure it is two female silver argiopes. Because I am so original, I named the most gigantic one Charlotte. They spun two super strong webs with zigzag patterns in the middle, and they didn’t move much – just hung out catching flies and bees – looking beautiful and creepy. Yesterday, the hottest day so far this year, Charlotte’s normally impeccable web looked a little beaten up and there were a bazillion teeny tiny spiders all over the web and the succulents around it. This morning the baby spiders are all gone, the two huge spiders remain, and the web is flecked with pieces of ash from the wildfire burning 25 miles from our house.

It’s all pretty cool, although I hope the babies aren’t making their way toward my house and I think Charlotte ate the baby’s daddy.

I like to think about spiders and their weird lives. I like to think about the good books that came out the last few months, and lots more that are coming out in the coming weeks. I’m so damn sick of thinking about Trump and that the US is an absolute shitshow. The next few months are going to be difficult. I need books and nature to get me through. I need something to remind me that there is a before and after to this cruel, cruel, foolish administration.

My friends and family are tired of me saying that I didn’t know the apocalypse would be so stupid. It’s all completely ridiculous. I’m going for a walk. I’m going to my huge book pile.

The three best things I’ve read over the last few months center on nature, per my normal favorite reads…

Greenwood by Michael Christie I sat under the tree in my front yard, cool even though it was a hot day, finishing this book. Looking up thru the branches and leaves…and feeling my heart break over and over. This book begins in a world a few years in the future where trees & forests are exceedingly rare. This fictional book explores family trees and all the ways they break and repair. It’s so good. Quick rant – I’m so tired of people considering buildings/confederate monuments/flags sacred and not the land and climate around them.

Migrations by Charlotte McConagy Another fictional exploration of climate grief – this one in a near-future world where most animals are gone, and bird migration patterns are all a mess. It’s an adventure story, it’s about overwhelming losses, and the guilt of those left behind.

How to Catch A Mole by Marc Hamer A memoir of a vegetarian mole catcher in Wales. Nature-writing at it’s best. Staggeringly beautiful. “Compassion is born at the interaction between joy and sadness” and “All things are impermanent, and everything wears down to dust. Everything has its end and each thing carries the beginning of the next thing.”

Other great books…

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett Twin Black sisters in the South – one lives her life as a white woman, the other as a Black woman. Fantastic book.

the Yellow House by Sarah Broom A beautiful memoir of a large family, New Orleans, Katrina

All Adults Here by Emma Straub Could not stop reading this book about siblings and parenting. Hilarious, true, messing up and trying to do better

A Burning by Megha Majumdar Short chapters that rotate between three characters in India. Power and class.

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell I’ve been waiting for a long time for this book to come out – it’s good, I enjoyed reading it – but the story of a 70’s Rock Band was told better in Daisy Jones and the Six…

Hieroglyphics by Jill McCorkle A beautiful look at loss early in life and how it effects so much – and, a look at what we leave behind. Clues to trying to understand one another, when we never really can.

Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth An okay Sci Fi book by the author of the Divergent series

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson A quick, fun 2 day read about misfits.

Luster by Raven Leilani This book is uncomfortable but fun to read. A young Black artist and her relationship with a white couple. Dark humor.

Intimations by Zadie Smith Short essays written by one of my favorites at the beginning of the pandemic and the racial justice protests.

I read Memorial Drive By Natasha Trethewey in one evening. And was so disturbed I couldn’t fall asleep.

Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner the storyline is so bad and I could not stop reading it…social media, rich people, rom-com.

Also read Daughters of Erietown and Redhead by the Side of the Road – the kind of books it would be nice to pick up and during a weekend visit somewhere.

Recommended articles/essays/short stories:

Ann Patchett on running an Indie Bookstore during the pandemic.

Vanity Fair September Issue – especially this article by the amazing Jesmyn Ward. I sobbed the entire time I read it. Please read it.

This John Lewis op ed published on the day of his funeral should be required reading Together, You can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation

A few years ago I read Eula Biss’s “On Immunity” and was floored – of course, she warned about the coming pandemics…Her new book is about buying a home and the capitalist system we’ve all bought into – I can’t wait to get it after reading this New Yorker piece where she explores all her conflicting feelings about home ownership and the illusion of security it provides. Also, this excerpt about the origins on the board game Monopoly.

Stuff I’ve watched and recommend: The Biggest Little Farm (best documentary I’ve watched in years), Palm Springs (felt so relevant…), Greyhound (WWII), The Old Guard (Charlize Theron is my fave action hero ever), Yellowstone (the last episode of this season – holy crap!), Never Have I Ever, The Last Dance, Cobra Kai (!!)

Looking forward to new books this Fall by Alice Hoffman, Jess Walter, Robert Galbraith, Barbara Kingsolver (poetry), Elena Ferrante – most especially the new Yaa Gyasi that came out this week.

Also, the Super Rooster book tournament starts in October. Man, I love these book “Oscars.” My vote for the ultimate is Cloud Atlas or Station Eleven.

Debilitating Empathy

I read an interview awhile ago where Brandi Carlile said we need “Debilitating Empathy” right now. I can’t stop thinking about that phrase and what the world would look like with it.

People would wear masks without prompting out of concern for others. There would be a clear understanding that black lives matter and systems need to change. We would revere and care for the oldest and most vulnerable people in our communities. Priorities would be on food justice, animal rights, the environment, universal healthcare…

Instead, as a nation, we put ourselves first. Of course, that is reflected the most in who we have allowed to be president.

We literally have the worst possible person to have as President in this moment. What would be happening right now with a normal President? And by normal, I don’t mean a democrat- I just mean normal and not f-ing insane, psychotic, and DUMB as a doorknob. Anyone who encourages the politicization of masks and less testing is a sociopath.

It is so easy to unite people in a crisis, yet he insists on continuing to divide. I am working hard on having empathy towards the cruel people who still support this administration. I’m having a hard time…the Trump enablers continue to be the problem.

Here’s some links and things that I’ve been thinking about:

The Sickness in our Food Supply by Michael Pollan. What is the answer – it’s so messed up, and it is the most important thing.

Jose Andres & his World Central Kitchen give me hope. He’s a rockstar.

Oprah Shares 20 Things She Does Not Know for Sure. Because I love Oprah.

We’ve been playing Reunions at least once a day…this is a great interview with Jason Isbell in GQ. “I didn’t notice it when I was writing it,” Isbell said. “And not really even when we were recording it, either. But when we were mixing it and I was listening back to mixes at the end, I thought, Man, almost every song has a ghost. Like, a literal ghost. And I start thinking, What is a ghost? Usually it’s not a stranger. In the ghost stories that actually mean something, it’s somebody that you’ve known in your past, so you are reuniting in a way with that person.”

I loooved this Kim Stanley Robinson must-read piece in the New Yorker

Imagine what a food scare would do. Imagine a heat wave hot enough to kill anyone not in an air-conditioned space, then imagine power failures happening during such a heat wave. (The novel I’ve just finished begins with this scenario, so it scares me most of all.) Imagine pandemics deadlier than the coronavirus. These events, and others like them, are easier to imagine now than they were back in January, when they were the stuff of dystopian science fiction. But science fiction is the realism of our time. The sense that we are all now stuck in a science-fiction novel that we’re writing together—that’s another sign of the emerging structure of feeling.”

What Comes Next series on Lit Hub

Padma Lakshmi’s new TV show Taste of the Nation is excellent. I thought it would annoy me because it would try to copy Anthony Bourdain too much – but her viewpoint is different and is exactly what we need right now.

Camp TOB for a good summer reading competition – I’ve read 5/6 and am on the library audio waitlist for the NK Jemison one. Every single book on the list is amazing – I have no idea who the winner will be, but if I had to choose, I’d pick Writers & Lovers.

One of my biggest pandemic breakdowns occurred when the libraries closed – I had a stack of holds waiting for me! However, between our libraries audio and e-books, as well as stocking up from my local bookstore I’ve managed to read a ton lately. And, good news, the library is offering curbside delivery of books on hold – so I have a huge stack still waiting for me to read. Here’s some great reads – I recommend all of them:

Weather by Jenny Ofill. As a culture, we are not panicking about climate change and that is crazy. Ofill’s short, powerful writing is clever and unputdownable. Fair warning: I read this during a particularly depressing COVID week, and this book took my anxiety level through the roof.

Long Bright River by Liz Moore. A well-written detective book with a female lead about the opiod crisis. Gripping, fast summer read.

Recollections of My Nonexistence by Rebecca Solnit. I’m a huge Solnit fan. I was hoping for more juicy info in this autobiography, but it’s pretty tame. Like all of her writing, it is powerful and looks at the big picture – the huge forces shaping our lives.

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd. I’ll pick up almost any kind of biblical fiction (Many Waters by Madeline L’Engle was my childhood fave – other good ones are The Red Tent and The Dovekeepers), and this is the story of Jesus’s wife. Oh, you say Jesus didn’t have a wife??!! Ha. Who knows…

Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore. Another Jenna Bush bookclub pick and it’s a good one about resilient women in a Texas town during an oil boom. Would never have picked this one up without her recommendation. I continue to be impressed by her picks – way better than Reese’s book club.

Writers and Lovers by Lily King. I looooved this book. A book about a writer and all her writer friends – struggling and keeping on because of the need to write. Excellent writing and characters.

Stray by Stephanie Danler. Sweetbitter is such a great account of the restaurant industry, and I’ve followed Danler’s writing ever since I read it. This book is a raw, painful and brutally honest memoir about her addict parents and her own mistakes.

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn. My local bookstore said I had to read this book – and I always, always trust them. I thought this was going to be a magical realism story, and it is, but that is just a small portion of it. It’s a story about a struggling Hawaiian family with complicated sibling dynamics. The descriptive settings and character development had me zipping through it.

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich. A cast of memorable characters at a Native American reservation in the 1950’s as the government tried to “terminate” the tribe. Powerful, infuriating, funny, and heart-warming all at the same time.

Next on my list are Daughters of Erietown by Connie Schulz, A Burning by Megha Majumdar, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, and the latest Anne Tyler.

I’m looking at my reading list above – it’s a lot of white women authors. If you look through this blog or look at my bookshelf you’ll realize that I read about 60% white women…

In college I read a large variety of authors and voices – I especially fell in love with Toni Morrison and Harlem Renaissance authors – but after that, I went back to reading mostly white women. I will consciously adjust that moving forward. Here are some recent books I loved by Black authors if you are looking to diversify your reading list: Homegoing (yay – she has a new book coming out this year!), An American Marriage, The Water Dancer, Such a Fun Age, Behold the Dreamers (also has a new book coming out soon), everything by Colson Whitehead. By the way, if you read this and think “Why don’t you make a commitment to start reading more white men authors” – this blog probably isn’t for you.

I read a book

And it made me feel normal. After weeks of blankly staring at pages, not being able to concentrate, flipping through poetry and newspapers – I finally read a book. And it was a good one.

Six years ago I wrote about my love for Emily St John Mandel’s pandemic dystopian book Station Eleven on this blog. I also wrote, “What we have right now won’t last.” Because, of course, it was never going to last. I described the book as melancholy, haunted, creepy tingles – all words that also describe her latest, The Glass Hotel.

At its center, the book is about a Ponzi scheme and the 2008 financial crisis – but really, it is about so much more. It is a perfect read for right now because it explores how security is an illusion and everything is fleeting. Characters overlap, timelines mix, and settings range from the middle of nowhere to prison to boats to the kingdom of the rich. The whole novel has an ethereal quality with elements of mystery and the supernatural interspersed throughout – one character thinks: “What does it mean to be a ghost, let alone to be there, or here? There are so many ways to haunt a person, or a life.”

An overall sense of alternate realities pervades the book because Mandel has two characters (maybe more that I missed) from Station Eleven and she references the Georgian Flu that was almost a world-ending pandemic in that book. Characters also always think about what their paths would have been if they’d made different choices. There is so much in this book, and it is so beautifully written. I’m glad it was the first book I read in our new reality.

In Station Eleven, Mandel emphasizes the importance of art to our humanity over and over again – even when only 1% of the population remains. And now, while we’re all isolated, it’s more important than ever. We’re reading books and newspapers and poetry, listening to music, watching TV and movies, playing video games. We’re making meals – which is an art. And, as Cuomo recently said in a Rolling Stone interview “Government done well is an art form.”

Here’s some art that may interest you – stuff that’s made me think or breathe better or smile over the last few weeks.

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit have some videos out I’ve played on repeat:

Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press has been writing great columns lately. This one about Humanity during Covid 19, and this one addressing what the f*$% is going on with the Michigan protesters. As I watched them I wondered where the feeling of sacrifice is – I know this is a super scary time and we’re all feeling the financial impact, but we continue to live in a “me” country. That’s the whole attitude that Trump continues to play on.

Love Letter by George Saunders in the New Yorker. Oh my…this is a stinging one by one of my favorite story-tellers. It addresses the terror of this administration and the complacency of all of us.

I’ve been listening to Brene Brown new podcasts, as well as Sugar Calling with Cheryl Strayed. The latest Tim Ferris podcast with Jane Goodall is AMAZING. We’re watching the new seasons of Ozark and Bosch – excited to check out Mrs American on Hulu.

They Were Warriors in the Chicago newspaper by Rebecca Makkai is a first person look at the AIDS crisis in Chicago – a scary time with so many heroes and so many links to the current crisis.

As always, The Atlantic has many must-read articles right now especially this Atlantic article by Frum (a conservative until they became cray-cray) about the failing President. Trump has mouthed the slogan “America first,” but he has never acted on it. It has always been “Trump first.” His business first. His excuses first. His pathetic vanity first.

Rebecca Solnit has been writing about disasters for years – her latest Guardian piece is a must-read: “The idea that everything is connected is an affront to conservatives who cherish a macho every-man-for-himself frontier fantasy. Climate change has been a huge insult to them.” I’m picking up her new book right now – excited to dive in.

Listening to Grateful Dead (Shakedown Street on repeat), John Prine, Kasey Musgraves.

Jamie Oliver has been posting yummy recipes and other stuff – Keep Cooking and Carry On

NYT articles that have hit hard are RO Kwon’s I’m Grieving, During the Coronavirus Pandemic – You may be too, Jason Isbell on John Prine and being vulnerable, and the NYT Editorial Board series The American We Need has so many great reads like the piece by Viet Thanh Nguyen where he states “But if our society looks the same after the defeat of Covid-19, it will be a Pyrrhic victory. We can expect a sequel, and not just one sequel, but many, until we reach the finale: climate catastrophe.”

Also, Elizabeth Warren is so darn smart – she’s written several plans on how to get us out of this mess – check them out to see what real vision looks like. I’m hoping Biden picks her for his VP candidate. And in case you missed it, I watched this three times and remembered how we used to have a president who could string words together into sentences.

Crashing waves

About 10 years I picked up this postcard at a restaurant in La Jolla, California –

High Tide, Circa 1949 – Postcard for The Marine Room in La Jolla, CA

I hung it on my kitchen bulletin board – it stayed there as we moved houses and as I switched out photos on the board. I have a lot of images that I love & keep around me, but this photo captures how I’ve always felt about life – everything is good, and then, when you’re not watching, wham – a huge wave breaks the glass, spills your drink (the girl on the left with the champagne glass in the middle of a story always gets me!), and sucks you under. I think I’ve felt this way most of my life, but I distinctly remember 9/11 crystallizing that feeling for me. It has never left.

I’m a realist who tries to live in the moment as much as possible – a grateful person who knows how lucky I am. I work actively to keep bad thoughts and negativity at bay -luckily I am able to do that by focusing on my loved ones, nature, books, music, art, and laughter. Shit has hit the fan in a variety of ways right now – in the world, in my community, in my family. I’m having a hard time focusing on the things that usually bring me joy – but here’s some things getting me through, maybe one or two of them will work for you:

Long walks with and without the pup – So Cal is in full bloom with yellow flowers and heavy citrus, birds and butterflies mating everywhere you look, the air is clear from recent rains and the lack of cars on the road. Spring is everywhere.

I finished reading The Bear by Andrew Krivak the night the Governor shut down the state. It’s a fable-like novella about the last two people on Earth and our circular place in the world. Weirdly, it brought me comfort.

I am mildly obsessed with Margaret Renkl – she is my current writing hero. Here is her latest NYT column: The Beautiful World Beside the Broken One. If you like Renkl’s columns I also suggest reading Connie Schultz’s. She is married to Sen. Sherrod Brown and she is fire.

If you need a book, consider getting it from my local bookseller please! They are doing good rates on shipping and they need support right now. I have a bunch of gift certificates to them, but I just purchased some books to try to keep their cash flowing. Let me tell you that it was delightful to have the new Emily St John Mandel book dropped off on my porch.

The Sun magazine has lifted their paywall – spend some time getting lost in their stories and photos.

The Sewanee Review is posting a series called the Corona Correspondences that I’ve been reading daily. Also, the New York Review of Books has a Pandemic Journal by beloved authors that will get you in the gut.

Check out the daily I So Lounging with Amanda Shires stream with Amanda & Jason Isbell – they sing and talk and joke a bit. I’ve watched it everyday at 3:00. Isbell has released three songs from his upcoming album – and they are so damn good. We’re also listening to the new albums by Nathaniel Rateliff, Lukas Nelson and the Promise of the Real, and Pearl Jam – all the perfect soundtracks for now. Lots of KTAO radio – Paddy Mac is the best DJ ever and listening to him during the current crisis keeps me sane.

We’re watching Little Fires Everywhere and Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist on Hulu. Some Top Chef, and I keep hearing The Tiger King on Netflix is a good distraction – going to try that this weekend. As always, Alison Roman, Bon Appetit and Sam the Cooking Guy on Youtube.

This interview with Wendell Berry just came out in Orion Magazine – can’t get enough Wendell Berry. To Live and Love with a Dying World.

I have so much to say about the lack of leadership that is happening in this country – but I think everyone with a brain already knows it, so it’s pointless to even talk about. Along those lines I appreciated this article by Yuval Noah Harari.

I’m posting a new poem every day on my Instagram feed because poetry always calms me down a bit. Our shared humanity, the wonder of life. I like to read a poem three times in my head, and then say it out loud – try it, see if that works for you.

In case you were wondering, the people in the picture were fine, and were probably enjoying the excitement of the big waves beating against the restaurant – the waves didn’t break through. The Marine Room’s windows have bullet proof glass that was installed in 1942. That’s the real story of the picture – but I will always see it as the scary surprise that’s just about to happen.

Dream Big, Fight Hard

So if you leave with only one thing, it must be this: choose to fight only righteous fights, because then when things get tough – and they will – you will know that there is only option ahead of you: nevertheless, you must persist. Elizabeth Warren’s full concession speech is here. The most qualified, tough, intelligent candidate is out of the race. Again.

This skit on SNL helped me feel better:

So did this Dixie Chick song:

But then I watched the (GREAT!) Hillary doc on Hulu and I was pissed off again. Freaking amazing how so much nonsense stuck to her, and absolutely nothing sticks to Trump. The essay collection The Witches are Coming by Lindy West also infuriated me, but I’m so glad I read it.

The bad-ass feminist Elizabeth Wurtzel recently died from breast cancer – only 52 years old. I’ve read everything she has written and her biting honesty and openness always blew me away. In particular, this article in the Cut about living her life her way and another one in the Guardian about how she doesn’t want people to tell her they are sorry that she has breast cancer.

The last few weeks have really been stressful for a lot of people. All of us are continually going through grief and loss and sorrow. We’re all fearful of losing people that we love and the unknown. A few weeks ago I read this essay, The Lingering of Loss by Jill Lepore and it is still lingering.

I need distractions right now – I bet you do too. Here’s some good books that I’ve read recently…

I listened to Me by Elton John, Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid and Rob Lowe’s autobiography. They were so good – especially Reid’s book that explores race, gender, and socio-economic status.

The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo is the book I told everyone to read a few months ago. I couldn’t put it down – a great family drama about sisters and parents and the passage of time.

Aperigon by Colum McCann is a deep, experimental, heart-breaking must-read based on a real Israeli and Palestinian father who both lost their young daughters due to the conflict there.

We are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer talks about climate change, eating less meat (come on people – all we’re asking you to do is eat meat less!!) and how we are so resistant to what is in front of us. He is so easy to read – not preachy or too scholarly.

The Secret Commonwealth by Phillip Pullman continues the Dark Materials stories. Like his last one, I thought this was too long – but I love getting lost in his worlds.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano looks at the lone survivor of a plane crash, and The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes explores a traveling library ran by women in Kentucky. They were both good reads, as was Homesick by Jennifer Croft.

I’m reading American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins right now – as soon as I hear a book is controversial I pick it up. I’m about 1/2 done, and I’ll keep reading it because it has me on edge. I can definitely see the stereotypes that have been criticized – I’m glad the book started a conversation about many things that are wrong with the publishing industry.

Cooking is always a good distraction… My Alison Roman obsession continues – her labneh dip and turmeric lemon cake is killer. Also Whole Food Cooking and the Milk Street ones and Umami Bomb.

Into the 2020’s

The end of a decade of iPhones and social media (so exciting at first, not so much anymore). A decade of protests – Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Climate Strikes, #Metoo, March for Our Lives, Womens March, Standing Rock, and so much more all around the world. A decade that started with some hope and ended with a reality star gaslighting and tweeting distortions that a disturbing amount of Americans believe. We’re ending the decade with a trial that is ultimately going to determine how the next decade shapes up – I’m not optimistic, are you?

In 2010 I stopped eating animals and got a puppy who would control my life. Over the last decade I was shaped by all the good (and all the bad) things about living in California and working at a top research university. We lived in three different houses in a little walk-able community we love. My nieces and nephews became intelligent little humans who are fun to talk to and laugh with. I became semi-obsessed with birds, probably because of the thousands of walks with the dog our world revolves around…

And like always, I read and read. Some of the best books of the decade that I read are … The Sympathizer, A Visit from the Goon Squad, Homegoing, The Overstory, The Orphan Masters Son, Station Eleven, Arcadia, The Bone Clocks, The Tsar of Love and Techno, A Little Life, The Neopolitan Series. Also, anything by Kingsolver and Hoffman.

And, the best book of this year, Late Migrations by Margaret Renkl. It’s perfect.

Surprisingly, my other favorite books of the year are also non-fiction – Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self Delusion by Jia Tolentino and Underland: A Deep Time Journey by Robert MacFarlane are must-reads. As I read Trick Mirror I kept shaking my head and saying – WOW. Holy Crap. Ouch. These essays are incredible, in particular Ecstasy about church and drugs and The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams about the Fyre Festival, 2008 Crash, Social Media, Student Debt and ultimately, the biggest con artist of all, Trump. A generation raised in a scamming world. Like Didion, Tolentino is a keen, acute observer. She writes in Always be Optimizing, “It’s very easy, under conditions of artificial but continually escalating obligation, to find yourself organizing your life around practices you find ridiculous and possibly indefensible. Women have known this intimately for a long time.” This book gives no solutions, but makes you look at our reality in a new light.

MacFarlane’s Underland explores the world below us – nuclear waste, caves, glaciers, starless rivers, mines, burials – all while talking about life in the Anthropocene and the itty-bittiness of humans in the time continuum. MacFarlane is a fantastic writer who encounters interesting people on his adventures, I especially liked one who had the best grace ever “Fuck! We don’t know how lucky we are!”

Oprah’s two picks for her new book club are perfect. Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout is all melancholy, sweet and sour small town life. I loved this exploration of the end of life and all the losses. The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the power of memory. It’s a painful novel about owning people – it’s how America was built.

I love when a book starts with short phrase, snippet of a poem, etc. It’s a hint of where the sentences you’re going to read next are going to go. Alice Hoffman starts her latest book, The World that We Knew, with a phrase from one of my favorite childhood books – East of the Sun, West of the Moon. A book I haven’t thought about for a long time. This Hoffman book takes place in Nazi-occupied France and follows her same formula (magical realism, birds, love, faith) – it always works.

Two super-short, beautiful, 1 hour reads are Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson and Turbulence by David Szalay. Also, I read Demi Moore’s (kinda lame) autobiography in 2 hours. Kimi Eisele’s debut novel, The Lightest Object In The Universe is an optimistic (?) post-apocalyptic novel. The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz is a fast, fun Agatha Christie mystery that is a sequel to The Word is Murder. The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J Ryan Stradel is an easy read with quirky characters about the Midwest. Also, The Testaments by Margaret Atwood was super-satisfying!

Here’s some articles and other stuff I thought about over the last few months:

Spend some time with Wendell Berry’s essay “The Pleasures of Eating.

Dolly Parton’s America podcast– the later episodes are the best – particularly the ones about Jolene and politics

Canaries in the Coal Mine by Renkl. Birds are down 29% since 1970 – they are telling us, like a canary in the coal mine, that something is wrong

Why is Greta Thunberg so triggering for certain men? Nailed it. Hilarious, and somewhat terrifying, how AOC and Greta can cause so much angst. Greta is Time’s Person of the Year – no surprise, much deserved. Also, no surprise that Trump tweeted something shitty about her right after.

NPR Concierge is always a great resource for book recommendations

Oprah’s Plant Based Meals

In the next year, I’m excited about books coming from Emily St John Mandel & Yaa Gyasi & David Mitchell, a new album by Jason Isbell, and we’re moving (again!). I keep thinking about what the next decade will bring – challenges, heartaches, beauty, laughter, pain…I’m hoping for good health for my loved ones, long walks among trees and mountains, dog snuggles, good books and music and movies, and some more sanity & goodness in the world.

Climate grief

This week over 250 news and publication outlets have signed on to Covering Climate Now to promote climate coverage in anticipation of the UN Climate Action Summit this week. Surprise, Breitbart and Fox news didn’t sign on; however, publications like Science, The Guardian, Lithub and lots of others are publishing much-needed articles. In particular, Time does a great job with the latest issue focused entirely on Climate Change with a headline that reads “2050: How Earth Survived.” Inside is a poem called “Great Barrier” by Barbarbara Kingsolver and an article by Bill McKibben called “Hello From the Year 2050. We Avoided the Worst of Climate Change — But Everything Is Different.”

McKibben (who has been mentioned more on this blog than anyone else!) also just wrote a New Yorker column Money is the Oxygen on which the Fire of Global Warming Burns. He starts with this: “I’m skilled at eluding the fetal crouch of despair—because I’ve been working on climate change for thirty years, I’ve learned to parcel out my angst, to keep my distress under control. But, in the past few months, I’ve more often found myself awake at night with true fear-for-your-kids anguish.” Ugh. The article tells us how we can make changes that will work – as we all know money talks and is probably the best way to make changes. I’m so proud that the UC system just announced that they will divest from fossil fuels with their $13.4-billion endowment and $70-billion pension fund. Other important articles about Climate Change over the last few weeks are Rebecca Solnit’s hopeful Welcome to the US, Greta and Jonathan Franzen’s controversial, pessimistic article in New Yorker “What if We Stopped Pretending the Climate Apocalypse Can be Stopped?” School walkouts are planned for this Friday and next – I hope people are paying attention.

In a time of climate grief, in a time that feels fleeting and fragile, in a time where it feels like nothing can be done to stop the impending changes – I read an incredible book about appreciating the birds and plants and changing seasons in a Nashville yard, and I am so grateful! The very best books and poems are the ones where nature is front and center. Writers like Wendell Berry, Robert Penn Warren, Mary Oliver, Barbara Kingsolver, Richard Powers – and now Margaret Renkl – are the ones I turn to over and over. I just finished Renkl’s book Late Migrations and I am floored. I read it slow – every day I’d read 2 or 3 of the 1-2 page essays in the book. Reading more than that was too much. Tears, lumps in my throat, deep sighs, underlining, and re-reading sentences and entire essays. Renkl weaves family and nature and love and loss into heart-wrenching sentences and super short essays. I finished the book and wanted more – so I went back and read all of her weekly NYT articles that I’ve missed over the last few years. She reminds me of the all-time best columnist, Susan Ager. In this week’s article she talks about pollinators – did you know that the monarch butterfly population is down 99 percent(!!WTF!!) West of the Rockies since 1996 (when round-up resistant crops were first planted).

Here’s a snippet from Renkl to make you read Late Migrations (which my family will be getting for Christmas this year – and you should buy it for everyone in your family):

Holy Holy Holy by Margaret Renkl

On the morning after my mother’s sudden death, before I was up, someone brought a basket of muffins, good coffee beans, and a bottle of cream—real cream, unwhipped—left them at the back door, and tiptoed away. I couldn’t eat. The smell of coffee turned my stomach, but my head was pounding from all the what ifs playing across it all night long, and I thought perhaps the cream would make a cup of coffee count as breakfast if I could keep it down. And when I poured the tiniest drip of cream into my cup, it erupted into tiny volcanic bubbles in a hot spring, unspooling skeins of bridal lace, fireworks over a dark ocean, stars streaking across the night sky above a silent prairie.

And that’s how I learned the world would go on. An irreplaceable life had winked out in an instant, but outside my window the world was flaring up in celebration. Someone was hearing, “It’s benign.” Someone was saying, “It’s a boy.” Someone was throwing out her arms and crying, “Thank you! Thank you! Oh, thank you!”

Other good reads lately are the escapist, fun City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (anything by her!!) and a collection of essays about life and where it leads you by Renkl’s friend (and Parnassus Books blogger) Mary Laura Philpott’s I Miss You When I Blink. Also, Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Ager about a marriage falling apart in NYC – I’m a little tired of the Brooklyn setting books, but there was some interesting parts to this one. Mrs Everything by Jennifer Weiner is like Judy Blume for adults. This one takes place in Detroit suburbs and follows the paths of two sisters – can’t stop reading material. I started reading a creepy, snappy book called Providence , and thought it reminded me of something – then I realized it is by the author of “You,” which we just binge watched on Netflix. I love crazy old Hollywood stories packed with juicy tidbits, and Castle on Sunset: Death, Love , Art, and Scandal at Hollywood’s Chateau Marmont by Shawn Levy does not disappoint.

I listened to some great books on audio that made my commute manageable- I recommend all of them. Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes (she leads one of my favorite podcasts “Pop Culture Happy Hour”), The Whisper Network by Chandler Baker (this is about #metoo and all its implications – well done), and Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (I literally grinned in delight at the scenes where Patroculus encounters the Centaur or Odyssesus or Thetis).

I love the essayist Leslie Jamison and how she writes about empathy-this short article, Baggage Claims, has me excited about her new collection coming out this week.

A few weeks ago when we were in Denver, I fell into a conversation with a Lyft driver about books for 45 minutes. She was one of the most well-read people I have ever met. At the end she asked me for a list because she was going to head directly to the used bookstore that she frequents to pick up a few of the titles we had discussed. When the ride ended, she gave me a huge hug and asked me for the third time when I am going to write a book. I can’t stop thinking about the encounter – meeting a fellow reader also feels so good!

I’m about to get started on the onslaught of books that come out in the Fall (starting with The Testaments by Margaret Atwood) but I think I’ve already read my favorite book of the year.

Find a Climate March this week or next and go support the kids fighting for the world they will inherit.

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!!

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.