Saturday, December 9, 2017

2017 in books!

My father once staged an intervention for my reading. It was Christmas break or some other book-friendly interval, and as per my usual practice, I’d made a single foray to the library before retreating to my room with my spoils. And there I remained for the ensuing week, emerging occasionally to eat.

After the third or fifth day of watching me stagger blearily over to the carbohydrates and drag them back to my lair, my father knocked on my door. We needed, he said, to have a talk.

“Reading isn’t real life,” he told me. “You’re missing it.”

The older I get, the more vigorously I suspect he was wrong.

So in honor of a real and vital reading life, and in no particular order, I hereby present the five liveliest, most crackling, most consuming books I read in 2017.

***
Best family drama: Commonwealth, Ann Patchett. I love a good family drama! So many dynamics! So much pettiness! But they are difficult to execute- often either too sprawling or too small-minded. Commonwealth managed to be simultaneously sweeping and finely drawn- a luminous spiderweb of a novel, with a trace of venom at its core.

Honorable mentions: Anything is Possible, Elizabeth Strout; Maine, J. Courtney Sullivan; The Nix, Nathan Hill.

Best utopia gone wrong: Arcadia, Lauren Groff. Who doesn’t love a utopia gone off the rails? The collision of idealism and reality always makes for good plot, and I’ve read dozens of variations on this theme. This one managed to surprise me. It’s beautifully written, to boot.

Honorable mentions: The Girls, Emma Cline; Euphoria, Lily King.

Best dose of reality: Evicted, Matthew Desmond. A thoroughly dispiriting, yet absolutely riveting, account of poverty and those who take advantage of poverty. Evicted won a Pulitzer this year, so it doesn’t need my plaudits. It has them, nonetheless.

Honorable mentions: Strangers in Their Own Land, Arlie Hochschild; Shrill, Lindy West.

Best book I really didn’t want to like: Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders. Boy do I hate Celebrated Male Writers using Craft to Talk About Big Things. Unfortunately for me, this book was fantastic.

Honorable mentions: Swing Time, Zadie Smith; Within a Budding Grove, Marcel Proust

Best book to pass the Bechdel Test: The Animators, Kayla Rae Whitaker. It's not often that a book catches me out, because there are only so many stories writers tend to want to tell. But the animators surprised me consistently, even relentlessly. It also awakened me to the disturbing rarity of the female work narrative- a story in which women are working for the sake of work (as opposed empowerment or self-actualization or love or family or identity or world-bettering), and in which work forms the backbone of the narrative. This is a big, sloppy, overstuffed, hardworking novel- and 100% worth the mess.

Honorable mention: I only wish there were more in this category.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Darkening

Days burn to their nubs.
I run along the charred edge,
stumbling like morning.


Sunday, August 27, 2017

August 27

Too slow.  The air moves
faster.  Your hand is a fish
in my hand: morning.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

4/20/2017

What scares me is how human we are.  Blinkered, biased, bound to the forces that shaped our evolution millennia ago.  We hamstring ourselves, yet imagine we run free.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Almost Easter


Fat bees drift toward
overgrown honeysuckle,
twice my height and yours.

In the damp, a bird
hurls itself into the heart
of the new window,

beats its wings to right
itself, slaloms past the glass.
We grow old watching.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Daylight

There's a monstrosity to Daylight Saving Time.  It's Victor Frankenstein, lopping an hour from the sweetest part of the day and stitching it sloppily onto dusk.  You go from bounding out of bed bathed in light to hauling your limbs, one by one, into darkness.  Forcing down breakfast in darkness.  Slipping out for the paper in darkness. 

The missing daylight boomerangs back, of course, but it comes too late, slapping you across the face like true love after a couple of weddings and three kids.  Light unneeded and unwanted, but impossible to ignore.

I recognize my irritation is out of proportion, my prose too purple, my rage too raw.  I have bigger problems, and you do, too.

But there's a satisfaction in resisting the inevitable.  It's what we do for most of our lives, up to end, down to the dregs. 

Do not go gently into this new time zone.  Rage, rage against the mauling of the light. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Dry

Every part of me feels dry.  My hands are chapped; my lips are peeling; the skin beneath my nose is raw.  The inside of my throat, usually moist, scrapes against the back of my tongue.  It's winter and five degrees outside.  The heat is on full-blast.

Despite this (because of this?) I'm feeling almost chipper.  I enjoy January in spite of itself.  It's a knuckling and bucking down time, a span in which the ordinary business of eating and exercising and keeping head and home and heart together feels missional.

There is so much wrong with the world.  Yet despite that (because of it?) we keep on making promises to ourselves and to one another.  The breakage comes later.  In February, perhaps, with its tropical lilt.