Book Theme Update

Life is full of surprises. I was so excited about the October reading theme, Life, and had a nice stack of books waiting for me—two stacks, actually, one fiction and one nonfiction. (There’s also a poetry stack, but that’s in a different room.) There were many titles that I was quite excited about.

But when it came time to choose a new fiction book in early October, none of the titles in the stack appealed to me. I ended up reading only one fiction book for the theme, and that was a graphic novel, Get a Life, by Dupuy & Berberian. Instead I read a novel about books (The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, which I recommend) and a YA novel (Akata Witch, which I also recommend).

I read four poetry books, but none of them stood out, so I’ll just move on.

Nonfiction has been the standout in October. I’ve already written about Birds Art Life, by Kyo Maclear (see Life After Animals). The other theme book I read was Life Without a Recipe, by Diana Abu-Jaber (also discussed in Life After Animals), which I loved. Life Without a Recipe is a very food and family-oriented memoir, including recipes (both Jordanian and German).

November’s reading theme is Health. I do not have a large stack of books for this coming month, but that’s okay. I have one book I’m really looking forward to: Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing, by Victoria Sweet. Sweet is a physician and also has a Ph.D. in history. Still, this book looks compulsively readable. She considers medicine a craft, a science, and an art, and I can’t wait to read more. The Introduction is titled, “Medicine Without a Soul.” Does that feel familiar to you?

Since the pickings are a mite slim for the theme, I’m casting a wide net and realize that several of the books from the Life theme are defendable contenders. To wit: The End of Your Life Book-Club, by Will Schwalbe (a memoir of a book club between a son and his mother who is dying of cancer); Coming Alive, by Taylor Brorby; and Life Is a Miracle, by Wendell Berry. Is that too much of a stretch?

I have to come right out and admit: There is not a lot of health on my fiction bookshelves. Here is what I found: The Diagnosis, by Alan Lightman; Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri; The Wasties, by Frederick Reuss; and A Lesson Before Dying, by Ernest J. Gaines (the latter may be a stretch, but there are no book theme police, so it’s in the pile).

My nonfiction shelves were moderately healthier. I found For the Health of the Land, by Aldo Leopold (his book, A Sand County Almanac, is one of my all-time favorite books—it changed the way I look at nature, and possibly life); Wounds of Passion, by bell hooks; My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor; Ill Fares the Land, by Tony Judt; and The Hidden Wound, by Wendell Berry.

Poetry nearly always has good theme titles, and this month is no exception:

  • Talking Cures, by Richard Howard
  • Tourniquet, by Roy Jacobstein
  • The Manageable Cold, by Timothy McBride
  • Echolalia, by Deborah Bernhardt
  • You Won’t Remember This, by Michael Dennis Browne
  • Swoon, by Victoria Redel
  • Breath, by Robert VanderMolen
  • Bodily Course, by Deborah Gorlin

I wish you a happy Halloween, and a healthy November filled with fun books.

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Summer Remembered (Haiku)

Today for the first time I toyed with getting out my winter coat. Oh, not until at least November, please.

This seems like a really good time to recall the haiku of summer. (Yes, I’m still doing The Haiku Postcard Project—I write a haiku every day and send it to my friend in Montana. I started in 2013. I never thought I would continue it so long, but I still love it, so why stop?)

Summer haiku:

June

south side of the house
blooming milkweed and cactus
postage stamp Eden

the soul is willing
but the hands will not obey
there’s still no cooking

all night toss and turn
temp still 89 degrees
the fan blows hot air

July

sitting still writing
at the dining room table
with the ceiling fan

reading poetry
on a summer afternoon
cool running water

the oppressive heat
sucks the air out of the room
sweet hotel relief

so many monarchs
sailing around the backyard
induce happiness

a phone scrap with Mom
it felt just like the old days
a little bit fun

four fledging cardinals
flopping around the dogwoods
trying on their wings

August

orchard watering
snaking the hose twixt the trees
weaving in and out

fresh raspberry pie
one of life’s greatest delights
on such a hot day

when cicada sings
the peaches are nearly ripe
siren insect song

across the trash can
the intricate spider web
glistens in the sun

So there you have it. A summer snapshot through haiku.

It’s a very fun and surprisingly gratifying thing to do, a haiku postcard project. Doubly fun if you have a friend who enjoys getting them.

A small way of paying attention to life.

Life After Animals (Book Themes)

The September reading theme (Animal) was great fun. I read a panther, a horse, a fox, two dogs and a parrot, a cat, a tiger, birds, monkeys, and one generic animal. The Panther and the Lash, poetry by Langston Hughes, was my favorite of the bunch. The essays in B.K. Loren’s Animal Mineral Radical: Essays on Wildlife, Family, and Food also stood out.

The October reading theme is Life. I had two animal books that didn’t quite make it into September, but that’s okay because they fit the October theme too (I love when I can do this). The first was Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation, by Kyo Maclear—a memoir about urban birding (in Toronto) over the course of a year. As you might imagine, being an urban birder myself, I loved this book. It’s not just all nature, though. It also has an introspective and spiritual aspect as well. A lovely mix.

The other book I’ve finished this month is Lives of the Animals, poetry by Robert Wrigley. I absolutely loved the first part of this book. The last half didn’t resound so much, but I will definitely read more Wrigley. I followed up Wrigley with another poetry book, What the Living Won’t Let Go, by Lorna Crozier. I am a Crozier fan, and the book is not disappointing. Next up in poetry: People Live, They Have Lives, by Hugh Seidman; or, possibly, Like the New Moon, I will Live My Life, by Robert Bly (I love that both the titles have two versions of life in them, and both comprise two phrases; how odd that these exact two floated to the top).

In nonfictionland, I’m reading Life Without a Recipe, by Diana Abu-Jaber. This is her second memoir. I loved her first one, The Language of Baklava. I’m about one-third through Life Without a Recipe, and so far it has focused primarily on the influence her German grandmother (who loved to bake) and her Jordanian father (who loved to cook) had in her early life. I find myself wanting to bake cookies one minute and cook something deliciously spicy the next. (Note: Abu-Jaber also writes fiction. If fiction is more your thing, I highly recommend her book Crescent.)

Also in process (but at a slower pace because, in hindsight, it wasn’t a good idea to follow a book of essays with another book of essays) is Alice Walker’s Living By the Word. These essays are good, but for the interim I’m going with the flow of the memoir. After Abu-Jaber (who completely grabs my attention), I will be able to give Walker the attention she deserves.

Fiction is going a little more slowly. I’ve started off with a graphic novel, Get a Life, by Dupey & Berberian. I’ve been having an off-and-on relationship with fiction for the last year or so. I want to read fiction, but nothing appeals to me. This does not seem to happen with nonfiction. I’m hoping the fiction bug comes back, because I do have a couple of books I’d like to read: Lost Among the Living, by Simone St. James (sort of a gothic mystery/thriller), and The Third Life of Grange Copeland, by Alice Walker (after I finish her book of essays—I really do like Alice Walker, as you may have guessed).

Nonfiction is even more compelling. Top of the pile is The End of Your Life Book Club, by Will Schwalbe, a memoir; Still Life in Harlem, by Eddy L. Harris, also a memoir; and Life Is a Miracle, by Wendell Berry. And if none of those appeal when the time comes, there’s always The Lion in the Living Room.

Truly, Life is a banquet.