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