May has gotten away from me, as it often does. So much going on, what with spring and all. For most of May I’m either outside or looking outside unless it’s raining or nighttime. You just never know when an ovenbird might show up in your yard. (It’s been back twice since. Maybe it will nest!)
Back to books. The May theme is architectural elements. So far I have read a staircase, a kingdom (perhaps a stretch), medicine chest, bridge, and fountain. In process are a picture window, stairway, and corridor. May is not one of my stronger reading months. I just don’t care so much about books. The birds are migrating, the catnip is coming up, the cactus is singing. I may still love books, but I can’t seem to focus on them.
June gets a little more down to earth. Still plenty to see and discover, but a bit more time for books as well. The theme for June is “green.” This includes any book with the word “green” in the title, and also green things (e.g., grass, trees, plants, parks, leaves, salads, envy).
I’ve not yet done a scouring of the shelves. Even so, I’ve likely found more than I can read. So far for fiction:
Arlington Park, Rachel Cusk
Sunset Park, Paul Auster
The Dud Avocado, Elaine Dundy
Tallgrass, Sandra Dallas
Murder on Sagebrush Lane, Patricia Smith Wood
The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer
Memory of Trees: A Daughter’s Story of a Family Farm, Gayla Marty
The Green Boat, Mary Pipher
Claiming Earth as Common Ground, Andrea Cohen-Kiener (a bit iffy on direct theme fit, but the greenest book of them all, and I really want to read it, subtitled: “The ecological crisis through the lens of faith.”)
Poetry often adds fun variations on the theme:
Goodbye to the Orchard, Steven Cramer
Green Soldiers, John Bensko
Nettles, Betty Adcock
Flower Wreath Hill, Kenneth Rexroth
Now the Green Blade Rises, Elizabeth Spires
You Speak to Me in Trees, Elana Wolff
The Long Meadow, Vijay Seshadri
With luck I will read five or six of these. You just never know what you’ll be in the mood for. And I’ll probably find half as many again before June even starts!
Last February, I decided to focus on black writers to honor Black History Month. I wondered if an immersive reading experience would have any kind of long-term impact. What might I learn?
Here’s what I read (in order, because I think that matters):
Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly (nonfiction, quite different from the movie but equally excellent)
On the Bus With Rosa Parks, Rita Dove (poetry, loved this)
The Sun Is Also a Star, Nicola Yoon (YA, I loved loved this book which I read in one day, which was really cool because it takes place over the course of one day)
You Can’t Touch My Hair, Phoebe Robinson (nonfiction, I learned huge amounts from this book—much of it about myself)
Like the Singing Coming Off the Drums, Sonia Sanchez (poetry)
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, Vashti Harrison (children’s nonfiction, 40 black women—many I knew, but some not—I learned quite a bit!)
Morning Haiku, Sonia Sanchez (poetry)
Sula, Toni Morrison (fiction; I generally find Morrison’s fiction difficult. I expect she rewards rereading)
In Montgomery, Gwendolyn Brooks (poetry)
One thing I noticed as February progressed is the more I read, the more my interest in black literature increased. Since February I have read:
Ordinary Light, Tracy K. Smith (memoir)
We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (nonfiction; this is the first of her books I’ve read. I have Americanah on the to-read shelf)
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin (fantasy, first in a trilogy; I got books 2 and 3 before I finished—but after I started, so that should tell you something. I think I might have to read all of her books.)
The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead (fiction)
This last (The Underground Railroad) is still in process, but I felt compelled to include it because there seems to be a slight skew to books by women. Although I do want to say that overall, I believe women do a better job of including and representing men in their work (fiction and nonfiction) than men do of including and representing women. This is to be expected, as women have learned to navigate this world that is mostly run by men.
I find a parallel in black literature: Black people do a better job of including and representing white people in their work than white people do including and representing black people. I learn a lot about white people from black people. Not so much the other way around. Black people have learned to navigate this world that is mostly run by white people.
People tell their story and the story of the people that dominate them.
Here is a big thing I learned from my immersion reading: The experiences I have as a woman experiencing discrimination in a man’s world are very different from the experiences of black people navigating a white world. I used to think it was similar. But there have been many times in my life when I have been in mixed male-female company and not felt like I had to keep my guard up at all. This is not so much the case with black people, because you just never know when someone might say something nasty. Always ready, just in case the insult comes. Because it does.
Another thing I learned was the importance of stereotypes. It is so easy—practically default—to go down the stereotype road. As I walk down the street towards three black men, do I think shy musical students? Well, no, not usually. But I did find after a month of intensive reading, I was looking at black people completely differently. I mentioned this to my librarian friend, and she suggested that all this reading has made black people more three-dimensional to me. It’s true. Through books I’ve met black scientists, physicists, computer programmers, immigrants, comedians, artists, and U.S. poet laureates.
Up next: Finishing Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, and then getting back to the N.K. Jemisin trilogy. Lots of nonfiction to consider, but for now that will remain a tantalizing possibility.