Apparently my niece has become quite the reader. She enters first grade this Fall, and already she reads chapter books. I am a proud aunt. My family says she is just like me because her nose is always buried in a book – she also looks like me, which makes me happy, but not as happy as the fact that she has discovered the ability to lose herself in a book. Finding companionship in books makes the human experience less lonely and so much better. A few months ago, the amazing Sci Fi author Kim Stanley Robinson said at a lecture I attended, “If you read every night, you lead 10,000 lives, not just one life.” One life is not enough for me.
Plus, books are the best gifts to give. I hope she likes Madeline L’Engle because she’ll be getting “A Wrinkle in Time” for her next birthday. I wonder if she’ll get caught up in the Anne of Green Gables books. What will she think of “Little Women”? So many lives for her to live.
The last few months were busy, but of course, I found time to read some good stuff…
The Neapolitan Series by Elena Ferrante
I devoured these three books over the last two months. The series is translated from Italian, and the writing feels sophisticated, open, honest, and European. The focus of the series is two childhood friends, Lena and Lila, and the way that their lives come together and grow apart over the years. The first book, “My Brilliant Friend” starts in the 60’s when Lena & Lila are children, and the series covers their lives as they become adults.
Themes of class, education, friendship, women & worker rights, and escaping your childhood hang-ups & loyalties are all explored in the series. At one point Lena (who narrates all the books) thinks, “…how many me’s were there by now?” As readers, we get to watch Lena evolve into many different things over the years. She makes some cringe-worthy decisions, and is not entirely likeable, but she is a fantastic narrator who gives us all the juicy details.
Lena constantly battles with the need to impress everyone around her and to rise above her surroundings. At one point, she returns to her old neighborhood and is treated with deference. Lena thinks that the woman can not possibly understand that “… I have been a slave to letters and numbers, that my mood depends on the success of their combinations, that the joy of having done well is rare, unstable, that it lasts an hour, an afternoon, a night.” Lena cares deeply about what everyone around her thinks, and most of all, she cares about what Lila thinks about her.
The friendship between Lila & Lena is complicated and somewhat vicious, yet they have a fierce loyalty to one another. They are competitive and not always there for each other in their darkest times. The series will keep you reading to see where they end up…
Orhan’s Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian
History is built on so much ugliness. Some choose to face it head on and confront it, and others try to forget it. Both ways are survival methods for victims. In this beautiful novel, Ohanesian explores the different ways the Armenian Genocide that occurred in Turkey is remembered by those who went through it. This novel powerfully keeps the memory of the horrible things that happened to a million people alive.
H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald
We moved last month. We love our new place, the best things about it are a dishwasher (!!!), AC, a lime tree with an abundance of fruit, and our new next door neighbor has a nine year old duck named Charlie. Charlie is brownish grey with a few blueish-green feathers around his tail. He follows our neighbor around the front yard, quacking and sticking his beak in the grass looking for worms and snails. Charlie comes when called and he snuggles with them and sleeps in their bed most nights (with a diaper on).
Birds are amazing.
This book details MacDonald’s experience training a goshawk after her beloved father passes away unexpectedly. The bird becomes the sole focus of MacDonald’s existence. The book weaves history, nature-writing, and tales of falconry into an interesting, cohesive whole. In the midst of overpowering grief, a beautiful bond between MacDonald and the dinosaur-ish, totally wild hawk, Mabel, forms.
Don’t eat birds (or any other sentient beings) please.
The Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer
A story of a family in Silicon Valley (before it was the Silicon Valley) told through the viewpoints of the four children: Robert, Rebecca, Ryan & James. Like all families, this one is messy and complicated. A calm, caring father, an aloof mother who does not want to be a mom, a crazy f-up youngest sibling, and lots of secrets and hurt feelings. A quick, enjoyable read.
I’ve also just finished reading the essay collections Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay and Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids by Megan Daum. Both of the collections are thought-provoking, interesting, and worthwhile reads. Gay’s collection is all by her, but Daum’s collection features 16 men and women who explore their reasons for not having children (they are all childless by choice). One of my favorite quotes from the book: “Reproduction as raison d’être has always seemed to me me to beg the whole question of existence. If the ultimate purpose of your life is your children, what’s the purpose of your children’s lives? To have your grandchildren? Isn’t anyone’s life meaningful in itself? If not, what’s the point of progressing it ad infirm? After all, 0 x infinity = 0.”