I want you to panic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I love these 2019 Audubon photos!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mood

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

-King Lear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So many good books right now…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelle Obama…

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Year of the Bird

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

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

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

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

47AC96A600000578-0-image-a-41_1514821490941
Image credits: Daniel Biber/lensculture This photo is INCREDIBLE! Like a murmuration of Starlings we need to keep organizing.

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

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

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

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

Other stuff I’m reading & thinking about…

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

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

Excited for the Great American Read.

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Art exists because it is needed

The other night walking with Ru, we found a poetry tree in our neighborhood. A poetry tree!! Beautifully printed poems by Walt Whitman, Mary Oliver, Jane Kenyon, Robert Frost and many others dangle from string with a note that says: Take a poem with you. Children’s poetry and nursery rhymes are on the lowest rungs so little hands can grab them.  Next to the tree is an altar-like frame with a highlighted poem that gets changed on a regular basis – the week that Tom Petty passed away it had the lyrics to his song Wildflowers:

You belong among the wildflowers
You belong in a boat out at sea
Sail away, kill off the hours
You belong somewhere you feel free
Run away, find you a lover
Go away somewhere all bright and new
I have seen no other
Who compares with you

 

I can’t begin to tell you how happy things like this make me.

I love poetry. A few lines that remind us of our shared humanity. We are fragile little beings spinning through space on a beautiful rock all trying to get by the best we can. There is beauty and horror all around us all the time.

If you don’t know where to start and want to read more poetry, here are my 3 favorite collections of poetry:

Good Poems by Garrison Keilor. Thanks Mom – one of my favorite gifts ever!

Collected Poems by Jane Kenyon. Every poem is perfect.

Resistance Rebellion Life: 50 Poems Now by Amit Majmuder is slim little pink volume that came out a few months ago and would make a great Christmas gift for the resistors in your life. I keep re-reading the poems as I grapple with what is happening right now. Helps a little bit that others are as floored as I am. One of my faves in the collection is this one:

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A new collection by Mary Oliver called Devotions just came out – I can’t wait to get it and read the poems over and over and over again until they become an innate part of me.

Good Bones by Maggie Smith is one of the best poems I’ve read lately. It physically hurts to read it. These lines kill me: “The world is at least fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative estimate, though I keep this from my children. For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.” Here’s a little interview with her about the poem and other things.

Books I’ve recently read from best to worst…

I zipped through The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. It’s a long Victorian novel with a Dickens-like cast of odd, misshapen characters. It’s a delightful read with independent women, scientific inquires, forbidden love affairs, eccentric settings and people, and fast-paced story-telling.

In Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie the story of Antigone is re-told from the perspective of a Pakistani immigrant family living in London. Burnt Shadows is my favorite Shamsie novel and I recommend it over this one, but this is a book that is definitely of this moment in time.

Goodbye Vitamin by Rachel Kong is a nice easy read about a 30 year old woman who moves back in with her parents as her Dad battles Alzheimers. It’s a comical book on memory, family, and trying to figure it all out.

I keep waiting for another History of Love by Nicole Krauss, but her latest novel Forest Dark is not it. It’s a good book, but it’s a tad too strange for me (and I like strange!). I didn’t feel like I got it, and that ticked me off. It’s about metamorphosis, Israel, escaping reality, and other things that I probably missed.

Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Rohinton Mistry has all of the elements of a book I would love – lots of characters, interlocking stories, exotic locale – and yet, I could not get into it. It’s long and I trudged through it…but I was underwhelmed and I’m not sure why.

More stuff…

I went to a reading and Q&A with Alice Hoffman the other day. I’ve written about my love for her many times on this blog. She exudes magic, as you would expect. Things she discussed included: male fears about female empowerment, it’s better to be a witch than a princess (duh!), she tries to write like Van Morrison sings, and librarians are true rebels. Also, she believes that what you read at 12 or 13 sticks with you the most, it influences your perception of the world. Explains a lot for me. Of course, I was already reading her early works like “At Risk” and “Property Of” when I was that age.

I can’t believe this amazing interview happened with Jason Isbell and George Saunders. Two of our most important storytellers talking about the craft of writing! I’ve watched it 2x and listened even more on my commute to work. I knew Isbell was a reader because in  “The Life You Choose” he sings ” Who are you if not the one I met?/One July night before the town went wet/Jack and coke in your mama’s car/You were reading The Bell Jar” and he tweets about authors I love on a regular basis. Intelligence and respect for human beings oozes off of these 2 artists. They are true humanists, as Isbell states in the interview, “Art exists because it is needed” (for more on that sentiment check out Station Eleven).

Because we have a huge epidemic of stupidity right now, you may need to pass this list on: Five Books to Make You Less Stupid About the Civil War

The Joan Didion documentary “The Center Can Not Hold” is available on Netflix. Worth watching for all Didion fans – it’s a love letter to her eccentric nature and courageous writing.

 

 

 

The future is female

To say we are obsessed with the latest Jason Isbell album, “The Nashville Sound” is probably a bit of an understatement. We’ve loved all of his music, but this album is a masterpiece. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve listened to it over the last few weeks. You should listen to it right now.

Our current American climate is creating some powerful art. I know that some feel that it is a naive, liberal thought that art can create change, but art of all kinds gets me through a rough world – always has and it always will. It keeps me sane.

On the Daily Show this week Isbell said that folk music, “hearkens back to a time where we made up songs so we don’t forget our stories.” We are living in crazy, anxiety-provoking times. Unforgettable, deranged times. Isbell captures all of this in beautiful songs – a singer/songwriter for our generation.

 

In “White Mans World” Isbell sings:

I’m a white man living in a white man’s world
Under our roof is a baby girl
I thought this world could be her’s one day
But her momma knew better

This song gets you in the gut. Isbell GETS it.

America elected a man who when asked at a speaking engagement by a woman how to “go about creating the capital that I need to start my business when all I have is my knowledge and my dream.” Trump’s response: “Meet a wealthy guy.”  Of course, this is just one annoying thing among so many disgusting comments about women that the Predator in Chief has made (the latest being a tweet about a morning talk show host’s facelift and another saying awkward things to an Irish reporter about her smile). The President looks at a woman and he sees a body, not an equal.

The  part of all of this that upsets and unsettles me the most, that shakes me to my core, is that people see behavior like this as a sign of strength and normal (although not all will admit it). Bullying, cajoling, talking this way about and to people – a certain group of people identify with the slimy swagger and the tactics. They identify with the underlying fear and insecurity that some people have of powerful women & people of color.  They voted for a man who is “normalizing” all of these horrible traits. That is the part that has horrified me the most throughout all of this.

We are currently living in an alternative universe where scientists, the press/all news (except Fox & Friends & Hannity & Breitbart), judges, the FBI, the pope, actors and actresses – basically everyone except the administration – tell “fake news” because they are mad because their candidate did not win. Lucky for us we have an honorable, honest president whose twitter feed gives us solid facts (Obama bugged the WH, the murder rate in our country is the highest in 49 yrs, no administration has accomplished more in 90 days, largest inauguration day crowd EVER, etc, etc.). Lucky for us, we have a masochistic bully in charge of America (the former leader of the free world) who will make America great again.

girl-v-bull
Girl and the Bull – another great piece of Art

America needs to read a fucking book…here’s a few:

Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize last year – it’s so incredible. I feel different after reading this book about a Vietnamese refugee at the end of the Vietnam war. The narrator is “a man of two minds” who is constantly caught between different worlds and ideologies. It’s a different side of the Vietnam War narrative, and it should be required reading. Love this line: “Refugees such as ourselves could never dare question the Disneyland ideology followed by most Americans, that theirs was the happiest place on earth”

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett explores complicated family dynamics and ordinary life. Patchett is a master story-teller, and I love everything she writes. Good beach reading.

Girls by Emma Kline – This novel was last summer’s hit book, but I didn’t pick it up because it seemed like yet another book about a Manson-like cult. When I finally read the book, I enjoyed it so much more than I thought I would.  Prickly, impressionable young girls getting caught up in messed up stuff. The writing is great, even though we know the basic story.

Ill Will by Dan Chaon will scare you to pieces. Like all of his books, this novel shifts around from narrator to narrator. I especially loved that technique in his incredible first novel “You Remind Me of Me” . Ill Will is so creepy, and so un-putdownable. It addresses the terrors of heroin, death, paranoia, delusions, memory, serial killers. I stayed up late to finish it, and then I couldn’t sleep. Read it during daylight hours.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti reminded me of an Alice Hoffman book with the beautiful imagery and flawed, wounded characters and New England setting.  Alternating between the past and present, at the heart of the story is the love a father has for his daughter and his need to protect her from his past.

Autumn by Ali Smith takes place in England during Brexit, but it’s really a meditation on time and memory. A short little novel that won’t appeal to everyone, but will stick with you if pick it up.

Exit West by Mohsi Hamid is a must-read novel about refugees and trying to live a regular life, and love someone, in the midst of chaos. The book incorporates magical realism into a story about our common humanity and the will to keep going when everything is taken away piece by piece.

Upstream by Mary Oliver. If you love her poems (like I do!), pick up this collection of essays and get transported to a world where words and nature matter.

Have you started listening to the “Nashville Sound” yet?  If no, go listen to it from start to finish.

Isbell sings in “Hope the High Road”…

I know you’re tired
And you ain’t sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again
To a world you want to live in

There can’t be more of them than us. There can’t be more.

Trump may be in charge now, but the future is female.

 

 

These times won’t last forever

We’re moving again. It’s our 7th place in the 10 years we’ve been in San Diego. We’ve become experts at moving – especially because we keep moving around in the same neighborhood. Over the last week, we’ve been taking small trips with crates of dishes, books, pictures, & plants. This weekend we’re moving the beds and the other big stuff. Moving is pretty painless for us, except each time we leave a house, it is bittersweet.

Our current place is a chartreuse box that is under 700 sqft with 2 full walls of windows that bring afternoon & evening light into the house. There is a gorgeous bougainvillea that blooms non-stop, a lime tree that made so many limes our first year here that we had margaritas for 2 months, a purple sweet potato plant that attracts huge butterflies, and a full, gorgeous pear tree that provides the perfect amount of shade.

This house has been a birder’s dream, starting with our next door neighbor’s pet duck Charlie (who passed away a few months ago). We’re on the route for the crows where they gather for their roost, so every morning & night they fly by in droves. There are finches singing in the bougainvillea, in the Spring a mockingbird sings for over 30 minutes each morning starting at 5:50am, and we’ve spotted owls, parrots, & paired-up doves on our walks. And, of course, the hummingbird nest! The babies left a few weeks ago, and now a new momma hummingbird has laid eggs in the same nest and is guarding it ferociously.

Each night our house settles with a crack when we are in bed. This happens each night!  We watched the blood moon rise at the end of our street, Jupiter, Venus, Orion as we sat on the back patio, many sunrises over the mountains at the end of the street, and the fireworks over downtown from our front porch. It’s been a good 2 years.

Things are always changing. We’re excited to move to an old craftsman with a gorgeous kitchen and a dining room that has a huge skylight. Our new neighbors say that there is a ton of great birds at our new place… We’ll make new memories at the new house – our time at the current one is up.

As we’ve been packing I read George Saunders Lincoln in the Bardo – perfect timing because this book is about how nothing lasts forever. Everything is fleeting and brief. And most importantly, how do we go on when we all know this is true?

Saunders is a master storyteller (Tenth of December!!). This odd, perfect book confirms it. It takes place one night in a graveyard where President Lincoln’s son Willie now resides. Willie is in a state of being “in-between” – a sort-of purgatory or bardo.  The backdrop is the beginning of the Civil War and all the horrors that humans inflict on one another. The narrative structure is unique – Saunders assembles a group of people in the bardo who resemble a greek chorus of voices telling the story. It takes some getting used to, but the strange story-telling combines like a poem to provide an overall feeling that scrapes your insides raw.

Saunders heartbreakingly writes “All were in sorrow, or had been, or soon would be…we must try to see one another in that way” and “I was in error when I saw him as fixed and stable and thought I would have him forever. He was never fixed, nor stable, but always just a passing temporary energy-burst.” Over and over again, we are reminded by Saunders that the line between life and death is so thin. So, so fragile.

The novel is also a call to action in many ways (Lincoln, the citizens of the Bardo). A reminder that life is so, so short and we all need to look out for one another. Raise each other up. Putting up with evil and bullies and ignorance and manipulation is not okay.

This fucked up administration will not last forever either. These times won’t last forever.

I looked forward to all of the books below  – but I ended up not liking most of them. Is it a reflection of where I am at emotionally or the books? The Tournament of Books was recently held (with “The Underground Railroad” taking home the prize – no surprise there!), and a common theme with the judges seemed to be a general feeling of having a hard time reading/concentrating. A general feeling of “what the f%&* is going on.” That is definitely happening to me. The only people not worried are those not paying attention or those just watching state-run news.

Anyways, these may be good books but they didn’t work for me at this point…

Brit Bennett’s The Mothers – A debut novel with tons of positive reviews about choices that can follow us our entire lives. It takes place in Oceanside & Ann Arbor. I read it fast, but got to the end and thought it was just okay.

Zadie Smith’s Swingtime – I listened to this on audio and don’t think I would have finished it if I wasn’t always stuck in traffic. Parts of it were really good, and parts not so good. If you are a fan of Smith it’s worth reading – if you’ve never read her, read her other books first.

Michael Chabon’s Moonglow – I literally could not get past page 25.  Couldn’t do it.

Ayelet Waldman’s A Really Good Day – Waldman is married to Chabon (of the previously mentioned book), and I always enjoy her brutal, almost awkward, honesty (she’s the writer who famously said she loves her husband more than her kids and people freaked out about it). This book describes her experience micro-dosing on LSD to combat mood swings. It’s a really interesting look at mood disorders and our drug culture.

Some stuff I’m liking right now:

POETRY

Wendell Berry’s Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

It’s been a few years since I read it, now I keep reading it over & over, especially the opening lines:

Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay. Want more of everything ready-made. Be afraid to know your neighbors and to die. And you will have a window in your head. Not even your future will be a mystery any more. Your mind will be punched in a card and shut away in a little drawer. When they want you to buy something they will call you. When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.

I recently discovered Ada Limon and I love this one:

“What it looks like to us and the words we use”

All these great barns out here in the outskirts,
black creosote boards knee-deep in the bluegrass.
They look so beautifully abandoned, even in use.
You say they look like arks after the sea’s
dried up, I say they look like pirate ships,
and I think of that walk in the valley where
J said, You don’t believe in God? And I said,
No. I believe in this connection we all have
to nature, to each other, to the universe.
And she said, Yeah, God. And how we stood there,
low beasts among the white oaks, Spanish moss,
and spider webs, obsidian shards stuck in our pockets,
woodpecker flurry, and I refused to call it so.
So instead, we looked up at the unruly sky,
its clouds in simple animal shapes we could name
though we knew they were really just clouds—
disorderly, and marvelous, and ours

SO MUCH GOOD WRITING IN THE GUARDIAN, NEW YORKER, NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST, LA TIMES RIGHT NOW…

If you don’t think we’re living in a version of The Handmaiden’s Tale read this article about our weak Vice President. What a weak, weak, pathetic man.

Margaret Atwood on what “The Handmaiden’s Tale” means in the age of Trump.

Stephen King on Donald Trump: “How do such men rise? First as a joke”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.