What’s in a Name?

The July reading theme is proper names: first name, last name, nickname—any variety of proper name (name as opposed to place or object).

I started the hottest month of the year with a graphic novel—Lumberjanes (the 11th in the series). It was a good way to start July. I’ve also finished The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, by Stuart Turton (another great summer read; Downton Abbey meets Agatha Christie only begins to give you an idea). I’m now just starting The Eleanor Roosevelt Girls, by Bonnie Bluh.

In the nonfiction realm, I’ve read a brief memoir, Grayson, by Lynne Cox (she is a long-distance swimmer and author of Swimming to Antarctica, which I have heard of but not read; I liked Grayson a lot and am now interested in checking out Cox’s other books). My current nonfiction is The Many Faces of Josephine Baker: Dancer, Singer, Activist, Spy, by Peggy Caravantes. Baker—a spy for the French Resistance in World War II—is a fascinating woman who led an amazing life, mostly in France.

For poetry, I’m nearly done with Ariel, by Sylvia Plath. This is the first time I’ve read it. Written in the last few months before her death, it probably wasn’t my best choice for a pandemic read. Next up in poetry: The Lindbergh Half Century, by Robert Lietz.

This is a marvelously rich theme, and I’m glad we have nearly three more weeks to go. Fiction is particularly enticing, and I think I’ll spend most of my time here (again: hottest month). To wit:

  • Washington Black, Esi Edugyan
  • Lizzie’s War, Tim Farrington
  • Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter, N. Nozipo Maraire
  • Adam and Eve, Sena Jeter Naslund
  • I am Morgan le Fay: A Tale from Camelot, Nancy Springer
  • Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout
  • The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Alice Walker
  • Bruno, Chief of Police, Martin Walker (1st in a mystery series)
  • Goodbye Tsugumi, Banana Yoshimoto

And that’s just the cream of the crop. For fiction. Seriously.

Nonfiction is much skimpier. Here are my top contenders:

  • The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks, Jeanne Theoharis
  • Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses, Isabel Allende (with recipes and beautiful drawings)
  • Janesville: An American Story, by Amy Goldstein (a stretch for the theme, perhaps, but surely there was some person Jane referenced when naming Janesville?)

It’s only three books, but a pretty decent range. Still, I expect July to lean towards fiction. But that’s how I feel now. Tomorrow? You just never know.

Keep your cool and happy reading!

Reading in the Time of Coronavirus: Reading Themes

This has not been a good reading month for me. In fact, I have finished only four books, two of which were slim volumes of poetry (and the third a mediocre mystery). I’ve been preoccupied with Covid-19, and books that I thought would appeal to me in any mood just a few weeks ago have lost their allure.

The most significant book of March has been On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal, by Naomi Klein. Not exactly comforting reading, is it? But I went to the usual places for comfort (spirituality, memoirs) and . . . nothing. Perhaps I needed an urgency in my reading to match the pandemic.

I expect to finish a few more books before month’s end. I’m nearly done with Sunshine, by Robin McKinley (a vampire book which is keeping me reading, but not quickly), and nearly two-thirds through Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine, by Emily Bernard (which I’m liking a lot).

The reading theme for March is Hot (as in sun, fire, burn, warm, summer, etc.). It’s not a really strong theme (at least based on what I found on my shelves) but that turned out to be okay, because I was probably going to end up reading whatever appealed to me regardless of the theme (which is why I’m reading Emily Bernard right now). I do hope to slip in one more poetry book: Fire to the Looms Below, by Liliane Welch.

The April theme is Beauty. This is also a little skimpy (again, based totally on my shelves), but that’s okay because I suspect I’ll be excessively diverted over the next several weeks. Still, I have a number of appealing titles. For fiction:

  • Everything Beautiful Began After, by Simon Van Booy
  • The Beauty of Humanity Movement, by Camilla Gibb
  • The Beautiful Miscellaneous, by Dominic Smith
  • Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
  • An Object of Beauty, by Steve Martin
  • A Beautiful Blue Death, by Charles Finch
  • A Collection of Beauties at the Height of Their Popularity, by Whitney Otto

I’m particularly looking forward to Everything Beautiful Began After (set in Greece), which I think will be my first book. There’s a good chance I’ll read Whitney Otto after that, as I adored an earlier book, Now You See Her.

I only have a few nonfiction books, but they have a nice range:

  • Yellow Woman and a Beauty of the Spirit: Essays on Native American Life Today, by Leslie Marmon Silko
  • Beauty is Convulsive: The Passion of Frida Kahlo, by Carole Maso
  • Beautiful and Abundant: Building the World We Want, by Bryan Welch

I hope to get to all three of them (and in that order).

Poetry is also slim but appealing in its beauty:

  • I Will Say Beauty, by Carol Frost
  • Beautiful Trouble, by Amy Fleury
  • Stumble, Gorgeous, by Paula McLain

Stay safe, wash your hands frequently, keep your distance, and remember: Reading is a great social distancing activity!

Rereading Books

For February, we’re doing something different with the reading theme. Instead of a topic or specific word in book titles to focus on, we are rereading books. I’m finding this theme to be much more spontaneous than our typical themes.

I’ve started the month with a small stack of books that caught my eye in the last few weeks. Fiction started with The Dragonriders of Pern, by Anne McCaffrey. I’ve finished the first book, Dragonflight, and will likely start Dragonquest tomorrow. I read this in my 20s and loved it, and I have to say, it’s held up. I still love Lessa and the dragons and the weyrs.

After the trilogy (although I might not read all three—it depends if they hold my interest against the sway of the other books I want to read), first in line is Mama Day, by Gloria Naylor. I don’t have anything for sure after that because I think it might just be The Women of Brewster Place, also by Gloria Naylor. And when I go downstairs to get The Women of Brewster Place (the read books are in the basement), I’ll see another two or three books on the shelf that I want to reread. I just can’t tell you which. Yet.

In nonfiction, I started with Reflections on Aging, almost a coffee table book (lots of calming pictures, brief essays). I was going to give it away after I first read it, but for some reason I couldn’t let it go. Later, I wanted to reference something in it, and read nearly the whole thing again. And this month I’ve read it through with good attention. It is not a deep book, but it has good wisdom sprinkled throughout; things it’s good to be reminded of. I will keep it to read again in a few years—different years deliver different messages.

Looking for something else downstairs, I ran across Doris Grumbach, whose memoirs I devoured in the early 2000s. I couldn’t decide between Life in a Day and Fifty Days of Solitude, so I grabbed them both. I know I loved both on first reading, and wanted to read them equally, so decided based on date of publication, and am currently reading Fifty Days of Solitude. I’m tempted to read Life in a Day next, but even moreso, I think I want to reread all the Grumbach books in order. I read them out of order the first time and loved them. But if I’m going to continue reading them, I know I’ll get a much better picture of Grumbach if I read them in order rather than willy nilly. (Our December reading theme is Wild Card—we each pick our own theme—maybe I’ll read all the Grumbach books, in order; that would be a great December reading project!)

What comes after Grumbach? So many choices! Deep Economy, Tap Dancing in Zen, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate. Those off the top of my head, but who knows what I’ll decide on when I see all those other books I’ve read?

Oh, also a paired reading has occurred to me: Winne the Pooh and The Tao of Pooh. Doesn’t that seem like good February fare?

Poetry has been a wee bit of a learning experience. I started the month with What the Living Do, the first book I read by Marie Howe (a favorite poet) and my favorite book of hers. I’m about halfway through. I had a completely different memory of this book, and I’m guessing it’s based on one or two or a few poems towards the end. I have thought of this book (for 18 years) as “oh, what a good book to give a friend when someone close to them has died.” Oh so glad I didn’t. The poems are good, for sure, and pack a huge emotional punch. But so far it’s a lot of incest, not the best conveyor of sympathy. I hope by the end of the book to find the redeeming note I remember.

Next up for poetry? I think it has to be Four Quartets, by T. S. Eliot. But maybe not….

Best Books of 2019

I generally do a favorite-books-of-the-year list every year. Not the top 10 or top 20. It doesn’t stop at a number; it stops when I stop saying, “Oh, yes, I loved that book.”

And these are the books I loved in 2019 (note, these are books I read in 2019, not necessarily, or even usually, published in 2019):

  1. Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer (nonfiction; a book that can be found in many sections: nature, science, botany/plants, indigenous studies, sustainability, ecology and likely several more)
  2. Another Brooklyn, Jacqueline Woodson (fiction)
  3. Hagar Poems, Mohja Kahf (I have corresponded with this author after writing to tell her how much I loved Hagar Poems; I love it when authors respond, and poets are particularly good at responding)
  4. A Year of Living Kindly, Donna Cameron (nonfiction—who doesn’t need more kindness in their life?)
  5. The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, Phaedra Patrick (an absolutely lovely and charming novel)
  6. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, Margareta Magnusson (a short book about cleaning up before you die; this Swede finds it a bit more pragmatic than holding each item you own to see if it sparks joy)
  7. Invisible Women, Caroline Criado Perez (nonfiction about how women are underrepresented in research and why it matters, and not nearly as boring as I’ve just made it sound)
  8. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, Samin Nosrat (I will never ever look at salt the same way again. A beautiful book about cooking, with lots of illustrations and recipes.)
  9. That Good Night, Sunita Puri (nonfiction about palliative care and end-of-life issues—there’s a lot more out there than straight to hospice)
  10. What I Stole, Diane Sher Lutovick (poetry)
  11. Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson (a memoir, told in verse, written for middle schoolers)
  • Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, Fannie Flagg (first I read the book, then I saw the movie about 10 times, then I read the book again; I love the movie, but the book has elements that the movie just doesn’t have the time to capture)
  • Watership Down, Richard Adams (loved this rabbity novel decades ago, and I loved it all over again last year—the same dinged-up mass market paperback I read the first time)
  • Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons, Lorna Landvik (Landvik is probably my favorite local novelist, and I reread this book because I bought it for a friend and I had forgotten that it was about a bookclub, set right in my part of Minneapolis, so I read it again and I think I loved it even more, because I didn’t live here the first time I read the book)

The last three aren’t numbered because they’re rereads. I don’t like to pit rereads against first-time reads. It isn’t a level playing field.

A bit of context for the numerically inclined: I read 121 books last year, 53 fiction, 38 poetry, and 30 nonfiction. Most of my years are not quite so heavy in fiction, but 2019 was definitely a fiction kind of year.

I’ve also started tracking my diversity reading since I discovered a couple of years ago that it was almost none. In 2019, I read 31 books by people of color. That’s just over a quarter (26%) of the books I read, and a nice improvement on the 19% of the prior year.

Does it matter—diversity in reading? I think it does. Reading helps you to walk in other people’s shoes. I find I’m much more likely to examine things through a racial lens when I’ve read beyond my usual white menu (no surprise there, I guess). I like this trend. And the happy thing I’ve found is that the more diversely I read, the more diversely I want to read.

The more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know.

Pronouns, She Said

The October reading theme is pronouns (e.g., he, she, they, we, me, I, us, etc.). This is a great theme, rich in possibilities. Unfortunately, I’ve been otherwise committed to library books and reading groups and haven’t yet made much progress.

I have finished one book, I Still Dream About You, by Fannie Flagg. The book was fine, but Fannie Flagg is in a difficult position with me, because Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café is one of my favorite books (the movie is good too, but not so good as the book), and now every time I read Fannie Flagg, it’s no Fried Green Tomatoes. However, I Still Dream About You did have Flagg’s signature humor, and I would add that she’s in fine form on that count in this book. There were at least four times I started laughing so, I had to stop reading. Not a tee-hee or under your breath heh-heh, but neither a guffaw. Rather, a long chuckle that’s almost a giggle. A chuggle?  Not many books make me laugh out loud, much less invent a new word, so I’d have to say I Still Dream About You was definitely worth my time.

Currently in progress: So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo. I’m reading this to discuss with Sheila, and while I’m not far into it, I can tell I’m going to learn a lot (of course what I don’t know about race is immense, so that isn’t difficult). I kind of think it might change the way I think about race (as of p. 33).  I’m also reading Republican Like Me: How I Left the Liberal Bubble and Learned to Love the Right, by Ken Stern (part of my ongoing effort to understand and help bridge the partisan divide).

In poetry, I’m reading You and Yours, by Naomi Shihab Nye. I recently loved her book The Tiny Journalist and am appreciating You and Yours as well.

I only finished Fannie Flagg a couple of days ago and have yet to pick up a new novel. Top contenders (as of this moment; it will be different by the time you read this):

  • Sister of My Heart, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
  • The Love of My Youth, Mary Gordon
  • Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Why She Left Us, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

One of the best things about the reading theme is that it brings to my attention books that have been on my to-read shelf for years. The above books have been patiently waiting for 18 years, 12 years, 6 years, and 15 years, respectively. Before I started the reading theme, I mostly read the books I had most recently purchased. And since I purchased more than I read, a lot of the books over the years have gone unread. (I happily have my problem under control now and purchase far fewer books than I read.)

Back to pronouns. Other books I’m looking at for nonfiction (the elite of the moment):

  • Call Them by Their True Names, Rebecca Solnit
  • Through No Fault of My Own, Coco Irvine
  • Rage Becomes Her, Soraya Chemaly
  • This Much I Can Tell You: Stories of Courage and Hope from Refugees in Minnesota, compiled by Minnesota Council of Churches and Refugee Services
  • I Could Tell You Stories, Patricia Hampl

Of these, I’m most interested in Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Voices. This book isn’t a diatribe but a broad look at how women are allowed to express (or more often, repress) their anger, complete with more than 60 pages of notes and an index. Even as a woman who has experienced this, I think it will be eye opening.

Perhaps not coincidentally, it is also the most recently purchased book of the bunch, having been in the house a mere two months. The Solnit is relatively new, at 1 year. Irvine has been around 4 years, and the Refugees for 8. Hampl is the outlier here: I’ve had this since 2003. I’ve read many of her other books since, but still not this one. Perhaps this month?

Poetry at the top of the pile:

  • The Way She Told Her Story, Diane Jarvenpa
  • They Tell Me You Danced, Irene Willis
  • I Think of Our Lives, Richard Fein
  • The Girl with Bees in Her Hair, Eleanor Rand Wilner
  • Combing the Snakes from His Hair, James Thomas Stevens

Here there is no question, Jarvenpa will be next. She’s local, and I’ve already read several of her books of poetry, usually focused on nature. She’s also a musician (in the name Diane Jarvi, and in fact she sang at our wedding 12 years ago, so I’m a little biased).

And I will admit the only reason I included the last two poetry books is that I love the titles, most especially one above the other. It’s tempting to shelve those two together, even though I’m obsessive about alphabetizing my poetry. And for those of you that are interested in such things, I’ve had these books for 1, 13, 14, 11, and 13 years, respectively.

We’re in one of my favorite times of year, autumn—so beautiful. Yesterday we drove across the Mississippi, and the leaves in the river valley are seriously starting to change. Gorgeous, even on a cloudy day. On a sunny day it will be stunning.

Happy reading to you all—enjoy the fall!

September Reading Theme: Literary Forms

Being a little late to the gate with this post, I already have several books under my belt for this month’s theme:

  • Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune, Roselle Lim (fiction)
  • Sleeping With the Dictionary, Harryette Mullen (poetry)
  • Blue Diary, Alice Hoffman (fiction)
  • Survival Lessons, Alice Hoffman (nonfiction)
  • The Tiny Journalist, Naomi Shihab Nye (poetry)
  • Love Poems (for Married People), John Kenney
  • The Bookshop of Yesterdays, Amy Meyerson (fiction)

There are no dogs in the above list, and I’m not going to comment beyond that except to call out The Tiny Journalist, by Naomi Shihab Nye, a poetry book I loved. I don’t think people read enough poetry. I find poetry to be akin to meditation in some way. I’m not quite sure how to equate them, except that meditation can pull me out of workaday, and poetry takes me out of my everyday reading. In both cases, they are special spaces. Perhaps not quite sacred space, but close to. In-between places, I think of them. Neither quite one nor the other.

Back to literary forms. This is such a rich theme, so many to choose from. Currently at the top of the fiction list (this can change on a dime):

  • A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki
  • The Manual of Detection, Jedediah Berry
  • History of Wolves, Emily Fridlund
  • The Reader, Traci Chee

In the nonfiction realm, I’ve just started The Vegetarian Myth, by Lierre Keith. I’m not sure I’ll finish it. I certainly agree with one of her major premises, that animals are a vital part of a natural ecological cycle on a farm. But I don’t feel a need to convince vegetarians of this. Vegetarians have a much smaller carbon footprint compared to us meat eaters, and I respect that.

Other contenders for nonfiction:

  • True Notebooks, Mark Salzman
  • Monsoon Diary, Shoba Narayan
  • The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness, Briana Karp
  • I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, Grace Jones

The Grace Jones book was at the top of my list, but I got it in paperback. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if I hadn’t originally seen it in hardcover, with all those full-color pictures. The pictures in this book are black and white and of grainy character. I want to read it, but I want the experience I had when I first saw the hardcover. So, I guess I will track down the hardcover. Grainy black and white just does not do Grace Jones justice.

Last month’s theme was Women (in any form or reference). I read a lady, a huntress, a bride, Hagar, Invisible Women, a sister, more women, a mistress, a mother, a girl, Lumberjanes, and Sappho. A very good month for women.

Happy reading!

August Is for Reading Women

The reading theme for August is Women. This is such a fun theme (a repeat from last year—that’s how much we enjoyed it): any reference to a female in the title is all that’s required, common as well as proper nouns, and even pronouns. Broad. (Did I mention fun?)

I have been heavy on fiction in this first part of the month—so far I’ve read The Lady in the Lake, Raymond Chandler; The Handmaid’s Tale (graphic novel version—so fun), Margaret Atwood; Huntress, Malinda Lo; The Bride Test, Helen Hoang (loved this); and Hagar Poems, Mohja Kahf, which I also loved.

I do have some nonfiction in progress, though. My main focus has been Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, by Caroline Criado Perez (it’s very informative and quite depressing); Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson (I am not far in, but so far I’ve loved every page); and The Friendship of Women: The Hidden Tradition of the Bible, Joan Chittister.

We’re not even halfway through the month, so plenty of time to get in a few more women. I’m just starting Mother Love, Rita Dove, as my next poetry book (this is a reread; I loved it when I first read it many years ago). I’m pretty sure my next fiction book is going to be My Sister, the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite. But until I actually start it, you never know.

Additional fiction I’d like to read for this theme:

  • Queen Sugar, Natalie Baszile
  • The Fate of Katherine Carr, Thomas H. Cook
  • The Girls of Slender Means, Muriel Spark
  • Wench, Dolen Perkins-Valdez
  • The Alice Network, Kate Quinn
  • The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen, Katherine Howe

I can’t imagine I’ll get more than two or maybe three more read yet this month. So hard to choose. I want to read them all.

I have a similar problem with nonfiction. I would like to read all of these this month:

  • You Play the Girl, Carina Chocano
  • The Many Faces of Josephine Baker: Dancer, Singer, Activist, Spy, Peggy Caravantes
  • The Black Girl Next Door, Jennifer Baszile
  • The Girl’s Guide to Homelessness, Brianna Karp
  • Give a Girl a Knife, Amy Thielen
  • The Crone, Barbara G. Walker

The Crone would be a reread for me. I thought I needed a crone in there to balance out all those girls. I loved it when I read it in the 1990s. I wonder if it would still strike a chord, now that I’m so much closer to cronehood?

Last month’s theme was water. Just listing the titles is kind of fun: Dragons in the Waters, Daughters of the Lake, Skinny Dipping, Watership Down, Wade in the Water, The Arm of the Starfish, River, Waterborne.

This is turning out to be a very good reading summer. I hope you are finding yours equally enjoyable.

Happy reading!

Water, Water Everywhere: July Reading Theme

During the hottest month of the year, it feels good to immerse yourself in water, be it lake, river, sea, or pond. So we’re immersing ourselves in “water” books for the month of July. I’ve finished three so far:

  • Dragons in the Waters, by Madeleine L’Engle. This turned out to be the second book in the O’Keefe series, and now I have the first on order from the library. I loved the Wrinkle in Time series; the O’Keefe series is showing promise as well.
  • Daughters of the Lake, by Wendy Webb. I loved this book by one of my favorite local authors. I didn’t think she’d ever write anything I loved as much as The Fate of Mercy Alban (set in the famous Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, though it isn’t Glensheen in the book of course), but Daughters of the Lake was every bit as engaging. A contemporary gothic mystery set on the shore of Lake Superior, this one had me baffled right up to the end.
  • Skinny Dipping, poetry by Suzanne Collins (what better in July?)

I have a good selection of watery fiction to choose from:

  • The Sea, John Banville
  • The Odd Sea, Frederick Reiken
  • The Shape of Water, Andrea Camilleri (first in a mystery series set in Sicily)
  • Ocean Sea, Alessandro Baricco
  • Bay of Angels, Anita Brookner
  • The Marriage of the Sea, Jane Alison
  • Rain, Kirsty Gunn
  • Madras on Rainy Days, Samina Ali
  • The Lady in the Lake, Raymond Chandler

Notice how almost all the authors’ surnames are from the start of the alphabet? I stopped looking through fiction after the letter G because I already had such bounty. (I did go search out The Odd Sea, though, because I knew I had it and I wanted to be able to pick between a regular sea and an odd sea). I think it’s a grand list and I hope to get several more books in yet this month. It is July, after all—lazy days on the front porch (or under the ceiling fan) reading. It makes me feel all happy inside just thinking about it.

Nonfiction is much skimpier:

  • St. Croix Notes, Noah Adams
  • Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, Thomas Cahill
  • When the Water Smokes, Bob Simpson
  • Water and Sky, Alan S. Kesselheim
  • Seasons on the Pacific Coast, Susan J. Tweit
  • Sippewisset, Tim Traver
  • Facing the Wave, Gretel Ehrlich

I have started the Ehrlich book, just a few pages in. But earlier today, I glanced at Seasons on the Pacific Coast, and I think it may just win out. It looks so compelling, and it is so much of my mood in a July. It’s subtitled A Naturalist’s Notebook, and it has lots of beautiful illustrations (I am a sucker for illustrations; pictures, too). It’s a singularly attractive book with a siren call.

As is usually the case, there are a number of good titles in poetry. I am most looking forward to Wade in the Water, by Tracy K. Smith (current U.S. poet laureate). Sheila and I are reading this together to discuss. It’s been awhile since we discussed a book of poetry. I’m looking forward to it. Also in the poetry stack:

  • River, Fred Chappell
  • Crossing the Same River, Patricia Goedicke
  • Waterborne, Linda Gregerson
  • The Water Carrier, Steve Straight
  • Water Becomes Bone, C. Mikal Oness
  • From Where the Rivers Come, Richard Solly
  • You and Three Others Are Approaching a Lake, Anna Moschovakis
  • White Sea, Cleopatra Mathis
  • Fleet River, James Longenbach

So many options available for long summer days. I’m picturing the front porch, a little stack of books, and a big glass of iced tea with lots of lemon.

Happy reading!

Reading in June Is All About Size

Happy June! June brings a lot of wonderful things, like strawberries, blueberries, rhubarb and cactus blossoms. Also, a new reading theme.

The theme for June is size (think small, medium, large, and take it from there). I’ve been looking forward to this theme ever since Sheila suggested it, and I will not be disappointed.

Nonfiction is especially enticing this month. I’ve started with Small Victories, by Anne Lamott. Talk about the perfect book at the perfect time (although it’s true that I tend to like Lamott at any time, this one seems particularly perfect). Next up is likely Small Wonder, by Barbara Kingsolver (the rare writer who has written both fiction and nonfiction that I’ve loved). Other books in the nonfiction pile:

  • Any Small Thing Can Save You, Christina Adam
  • The Big Picture, David Suzuki
  • Sleeping Giant, Tamara Draut
  • At Large and At Small, Anne Fadiman
  • The Marginalized Majority, Onnesha Roychoudhuri (is a majority an amount rather than a size? It feels like a size)
  • The Big Squeeze, Steven Greenhouse
  • The Small-Mart Evolution, Michael H. Shuman
  • The Size of Thoughts, Nicholson Baker

Not bad, huh? And a nice range in topics.

My fiction stack is skimpier (but note, I have only gone through about two-thirds of my fiction). I’ve started with The Long Way Home, by Louise Penny. At first I thought “long” a bit of a stretch for the theme, but I’m good at stretching, and when I remembered drawing sticks when I was a kid (the kid who drew the long stick got to go first; the kid who drew the short stick had to do dishes—like that) I knew I was home free. Meeting with Sheila before the theme began, I started reciting my reasoning for “long,” sticks and all, and she laughed and said she already had a “long” book in her reading pile. Oh I do love my friends.

I also have two books by Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep and The Little Sister. I’m leaning more towards The Big Sleep, and I’ve just remembered I have a graphic novel of The Little Sister. Maybe I’ll read both!

Also in the pile:

  • A Little Yellow Dog, Walter Mosley
  • Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie
  • The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, Tiffany Baker
  • The Last Full Measure, Jeff Shaara

A short but appealing stack.

In poetry, I’ve started All the Short Poems, by Valerie Worth. This is a lovely book, with illustrations by Natalie Babbitt.

Poetry has given me some of the best titles for the size theme:

  • The Tiny Journalist, Naomi Shihab Nye
  • A Slender Grace, Rod Jellema
  • Skinny Dipping, Suzanne Collins
  • In This Thin Rain, Nelson Ball
  • Crossing the Great Divide, Jean Feraca

A new month, a new reading theme, new birds and new plants. Turning the page on the calendar. Entering the lazy season, for lolling on the porch, reading and napping. Count me in.

Happy reading (and napping) to you!

Reading Theme Update

May is underway and I’ve shifted to the May reading theme, which is Black and Blue. An odd fit for May (why didn’t we do Green?), but usually our monthly reading themes aren’t attached to the month, so there you have it.

If I recall correctly, we got to Black and Blue because we were trying to choose a color theme, and black and blue seemed the most viable. But we thought perhaps there wouldn’t be enough with just one color, so we combined them. It made sense at the time. In retrospect, though, I think the theme would have been broader had we just chosen one of the words. Say what? If we had chosen black, for example, I would certainly look for books with black in the title. But I would also include things associated with black, like night, dark, and ebony for sure; but it seems like there could be additional variations—black birds, perhaps. Blue could have incorporated the concept of sadness, all words for shades of blue, and seriously blue things, like the sky, the ocean, and sapphires.

But when it’s black AND blue, I feel compelled to limit myself to those two specific words, because in my (perhaps strange) mind, the theme loses its cohesion if I stray into all those other territories. Not that anyone would care. (I don’t think even Sheila would mind—no, I’m sure she wouldn’t. She didn’t even get annoyed last year when I only read one book for the theme month because I devoted the month to a completely different theme. She is so much more emotionally mature than I am.)

So, sticking specifically to black and blue, the gleanings from my bookshelves are pretty skimpy (I have a couple of books on order from the library). But this is not necessarily a bad thing, because May is a busy month (birding, yard, garden) and reading is a lower priority. But also, I’d rather have a few good books to choose from than a lot of mediocre ones, and I’ve got a few good ones this month.

I’m about one-third of the way through Well-Read Black Girl, by Glory Edim. This book is basically an introduction to brilliant black women writers. It contains several lists of recommendations: classic novels by black women, books on black feminism, books about black girlhood and friendship, science fiction and fantasy books by black women, plays by black women, and poetry by black women.

Each list is followed by three essays, and the list of contributors is impressive—Jesmyn Ward, Tayari Jones, Barbara Smith, Rebecca Walker, and N.K. Jemisin, to name a few. And it’s a wonderful package, an added bonus, with illustrations (mostly small but a few full page) of each of the contributors. A book beautiful both inside and out.

For poetry, I’m reading Blue Horses, by Mary Oliver. I am not far into it, but already I love it. Much of Oliver’s poetry deals with nature and I have thoroughly enjoyed most of her books. She can string together a few words and I will feel like I’m right there with her in the marsh (except she isn’t there, it’s just me in the marsh). No other poet does that quite so well for me.

I’ve not started a fiction book yet, but I’ve decided on Blue Eyes, Black Hair, by Marguerite Duras. It has many wins in its favor: the title contains both black and blue, of course; also, it’s short—117 pages; even with that short length, there is a lot of white space—the margins are wide all around, the font isn’t small, and there’s frequent double spacing between paragraphs; and it’s a novel of erotic obsession. Granted, novels of erotic obsession can be really bad, but if this one is, it’s only 117 pages.

The reading theme for April was Men (any variety will do). I read a monk, a boy, three men, plus Jack, Jim, Tolstoy, and Arthur Truluv. I didn’t read nearly as much as I wanted to in April—I had so many good theme books. But we had some beautiful days, and the lure of the bike and the river held sway.

It’s hard to stay inside. My rhubarb is nearly a foot high; the lilacs are starting to flower; the crabapple is in full bloom; the forsythia has peaked and the leaves are now in. I’ve had fox sparrows (3), a Lincoln’s sparrow, and scads of white-throated sparrows in the last several weeks. The house wren is back, and I’ve had both Swainson’s and gray-cheeked thrushes in the backyard. I do love the spring bird migration.

Happy reading (and birding)!