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 Local

The June book theme is Reading Local. For us, that’s Minneapolis, Minnesota, and pretty much anything in the Upper Midwest. It can be a local author or a local setting (ideally, both). It also includes books with the word local in the title (e.g., Going Local—which is the title of several different books, I just found out).

I had planned to start the month with The Art of the Wasted Day, by Patricia Hampl, which seemed like the perfect pandemic read. But then George Floyd was killed by the Minneapolis police. Protests and riots ensued; here, and then across the world. The protests have continued but the riots and looting have stopped. The protests must continue, and we must not let this go until systemic change happens.

Suddenly, reading The Art of the Wasted Day didn’t feel like the right read at all. Instead, I took something a bit more timely off the shelf: A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota, edited by Sun Yung Shin. Sheila (my book-theme cocreator) and I are discussing it this week. Like most edited books, it was a mixed bag. Some pieces were really moving, some painful, one I didn’t understand (this of course, bears revisiting). One, about Minnesota Nice, whacked me right between the eyes.

I followed that up with Hood Feminism, by Mikki Kendall (she is from Chicago—definitely the Upper Midwest). I’m about a third through, and am getting a good education. I’ve been a proud feminist most of my life, but I am now questioning that pride. It’s a little gut-wrenching, to be honest, but Kendall is making really good points. I don’t know where I’ll be at by the end of this book, but I am appreciating the journey.

In the poetry realm I’ve finished one book, and it has a title I absolutely love: Like the New Moon, I Will Live My Life, by Robert Bly (from Minnesota). This is the second of his poetry books that I’ve read, and I liked it a lot.

Fiction has been a bit of a romp. I started with Leave No Trace, a thriller by Mindy Mejia (Twin Cities). This is a very compelling book if you are able to engage in a strong suspension of disbelief. With that (important) caveat in mind, it’s a great summer read. I followed this up with Fever in the Dark, by Ellen Hart (Minneapolis). This is the 24th book in her Jane Lawless mystery series, set in south Minneapolis (and yes, I have read the prior 23).

A thriller followed by a mystery requires a palate cleanser, so I went Fishing With RayeAnne, by Ava Finch (Minneapolis). I found out while reading the book that Ava Finch is a pen name for Sarah Stonich. (Oh! I just checked online, and I see Stonich has republished it, Fishing! under her own name in March of this year. I got the Ava Finch copy a few years ago.) I had no idea Stonich is a local author.

What next? Tough call. Right now, the leading contenders in fiction are The Blindfold, by Siri Hustvedt (who lives in New York, but grew up in Minnesota and still has family in Northfield); Once in a Blue Moon Lodge, by Lorna Landvik (Minneapolis), a long-time favorite author of mine; The Waking Land, by Callie Bates (all I know about her location is “Upper Midwest”), in case I feel like fantasy; and Shelter Half, by Carol Bly (Duluth)—I loved her nonfiction book, Letters From the Country, and am curious if I will like her fiction as well.

As for nonfiction, I’ve still got a ways to go on Hood Feminism. But, should I have time, right now I have three primary contenders: The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, by Kao Kalia Yang (St. Paul), which I’ve been meaning to read for years (it’s gotten a lot of attention both locally and nationally); Ignorance Ain’t Got No Shame, by Tracy Lenore Jackson (Minnesota), a memoir that looks like it will be difficult to put down once I pick it up; and Give a Girl a Knife, by Amy Theilen (northern Minnesota), a food memoir. But then again, maybe I’ll go for something beautiful: Tempt Me: The Fine Art of Minnesota Cooking, by Kathryn Strand Koutsky and Linda Koutsky. Take a look at it: a feast for the eyes.

Happy Reading!

What’s in a Syllable?

The May book theme is 3-syllable titles, and I’m excited as can be. This one was my brainchild, and when Sheila asked for some examples, I told her I’d send a list. It was so much fun, I went a little nuts. After perusing my shelves for a while, I came up with approximately the following:

Possession    Persuasion    Becoming    Belonging    Grocery    Company    Coventry    Continent    Innocents    Origin    Erosion  Evicted    Perdido    Proofiness    Happiness    Amatka    Orlando    Nikolski    Moby Dick    Paris Trout    The Hobbit    The Astral    The Curfew    The Weekend    The Tempest    Red Harvest    White Apples    Kitchen Yarns    Lucid Stars    Wonder Boys    Endless Things    New Mercies    Ocean Sea    Mauve Desert    Little, Big    Little Faith    Flesh and Blood    Now and Then    Lost and Found    Kick the Can    On the Road    Lambs of God    Lamb in Love    The Big Squeeze    The Big Sleep    The Glass Key    The F-Word   Not a Sound    Best to Laugh    Leave No Trace

So many books (and this is only a  partial list!) and only 31 days. And not just many books, but many books I’m really excited about. I’m currently about halfway through Kitchen Yarns, by Ann Hood. This is a perfect comfort read for stay-at-home days. A memoir of kitchen memories, loaded with recipes. Right on its heels, another book I’m quite excited about: Grocery, by Michael Ruhlman.

A fun aside: I got both Kitchen Yarns and Grocery last December (different stores, different dates). I was quite excited about both of them, but decided to hold on to them for the 3-syllable theme (I can get a little silly about the theme). As I’m reading Kitchen Yarns, she mentions her husband, an author of many cookbooks, and who should it be but one Michael Ruhlman! I love that I bought their books separately but in the same month, held on to them until the same month, and then end up reading them one after another. It feels romantic. And who wouldn’t love to be married to a chef? Hood’s no slouch in the kitchen either, as you’ll find out if you read Kitchen Yarns. I can’t speak to Grocery yet, except to say it isn’t a cookbook, but rather about groceries, as suggested by the title, and the buying and selling of food in America. It looks to be informative and compelling (if not nearly as comforting as Kitchen Yarns).

In the land of fiction, I’ve finished The Hobbit. This was a reread, and I admit I was surprised at how much I loved it. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings trilogy many times, but I’ve only read The Hobbit once or twice before. I had forgotten a lot, and I laughed and cried and loved it. A fine tale indeed (and also a nice comforting read, if you like dragons with your comfort). I’m now about half through Language Arts, by Stephanie Kallos. I loved her book, Broken for You, and I have high hopes for this one as well.

When I think of reading for the rest of the month, I look into space and smile. After Language Arts in fiction, I’m torn in several directions. The current top contenders are Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor; Sister Mine, by Nalo Hopkinson; Leave No Trace, by Mindy Mejia (local author, with a northern Minnesota setting); and Best to Laugh, by Lorna Landvik (another local author). It’s a good mix of books, and I’m staying at home, so maybe I’ll even get them all done. The thing is, by the time I finish my current fiction book, the top four contenders will be different. Not completely different, but almost certainly not the same. There are too many exciting possibilities.

And that is a very nice reading catbird seat to be in.

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!

The Joy of Rereading

This month’s reading theme—rereading, which is to say reading books we’ve read before and want to read again—has been my favorite theme of all in the 6+ years we’ve been doing monthly reading themes.

Rereading books. I used to do it a lot as a kid. I read Charlotte’s Web (checked out of the library, I only recently bought my own copy) seven times when I was a kid, and I read The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton many times, though I don’t remember just how many. But as an adult, I rarely reread. That changed four years ago, when I read Artful, by Ali Smith. In her essay “On Time,” she says:

We do treat books surprisingly lightly in contemporary culture. We’d never expect to understand a piece of music on one listen, but we tend to believe we’ve read a book after reading it just once.  . . . Great books are adaptable; they alter with us as we alter in life, they renew themselves as we change and re-read them at different times in our lives. You don’t step into the same story twice.”

Rereading has always seemed like a bit of a luxury to me. Why reread, when I could be learning something new?

But after reading Ali, not only do I feel like I have permission to reread, I feel like I have an obligation! And I’ve been rereading quite a bit more ever since.

But this month, this lovely month immersing myself in reading books I’ve already read and loved, has been a grand experience (if far too short).

I started with Dragonflight, the first book in the Pern trilogy by Anne McCaffrey. I read this in the 1980s, and I still loved it in 2020. I started the second book, Dragonquest, but it was enough different from the first that the compulsion was gone, and I was able to put it down and move on to something else. Short month.

My first nonfiction was Reflections on Aging. It’s almost a coffee table book, and it is perhaps a bit fluffy, but it also has good wisdom sprinkled throughout. I will keep it to read again in a few years—different years deliver different messages. I followed this up with Fifty Day of Solitude, by Doris Grumbach. I loved this when I read it in 2002. But this month, it was—okay. I didn’t dislike it, but it didn’t move me. Really? Doris Grumbach? But I’ve loved all her nonfiction! So I tried another, Life in a Day this time. Ah, here is the Grumbach I love.

Why do I still love the one and not the other? In another 10 years, might the books switch places?

After Grumbach for nonfiction, I picked up 84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff. Now here is a book I loved even more on the second read than the first. A book I think everyone should read (or at least all booklovers—also people who enjoy epistolary works). A book that can be easily read of an afternoon (97 pages)—perfect for either snowstorm or sunny day.

After revisiting fantasy with McCaffrey, I read Garden Spells, by Sarah Addison Allen, a light book with touches of magic that I loved on the first read. The reread left me disappointed. I remembered so much more than was there (memory being a very faulty thing). I followed this up with Kindred, by Octavia Butler. This one did not disappoint.

What I love about the rereading theme, is discovering what stays with you and what doesn’t. And yet again, maybe it doesn’t right now, but will again in the future. Some places in yourself you come back to again and again and again. For me, these are the land/environment, religion/spirituality, and community (friends, family, or faith). The books that continue to captivate me even after decades nearly always roam in these areas.

A month of rereading is like coming home. It’s like rediscovering yourself. Yes! I believed this way back then!

Two years ago exactly, in February 2018, I spent the month focusing on black writers because I was appalled at the few number (1) I had read the prior year. That month of reading changed my reading habits. My reading is far more diverse now, and it feels weird when I’m reading only white authors.

I think my February of rereading is going to have a similar impact, and I’ll give even more value to rereading than I have since reading Ali Smith’s essay.

Because you just never read the same book twice.

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….

Virtues & Vices: Reading in the New Year

The reading theme for January is Virtues and Vices. This includes the formal virtues and vices (faith, hope, love, prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance; and wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, gluttony) as well as everyday virtues and vices. For example, the other day when I was looking at my poetry shelf, I decided Simplicity was a virtue, whereas Materialism is a vice.

Since we’re halfway through the month already, I’ve got several books under my belt. My first book of the year was Book Love. What could be more appropriate? This 137-page graphic novel by Debbie Tung was a gift from my reading friend in Colorado. A perfect start to the reading year.

Moving to the Vice end of the spectrum, Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger, by Soraya Chemaly was an eye-opening book, even for this feminist. For those of you who like numbers, there’s a lot of data here (lots of endnotes, too).

Back to Virtues: The Lost Art of Gratitude, the 6th book in the Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith, was one of my favorites so far. A philosopher by trade (and editor of a philosophy journal), Isabel is more philosophical than usual in this book, and I enjoyed watching her work through her dilemmas. Staying in the land of virtue, I next read Faithful, by Alice Hoffman. Not my favorite Hoffman, but it certainly won’t put me off reading more of her in the future.

I’ve finished one poetry book, A Slender Grace, by Rod Jellema; and I’m about three-quarters through The White Lie, by Don Paterson. My current nonfiction book is Holy Envy, by Barbara Brown Taylor. Subtitled Finding God in the Faith of Others, I am loving this book as it evokes happy memories from the Comparative Religion course that I took decades ago. I had forgotten how cool Hinduism is: Recognizing people are different, it offers different paths to union with the divine (e.g., meditation, devotion, scholarly study). I’m only a quarter through, and it’s ridiculously early in the year to say, but this book has the potential to be one of my favorites of the year.

There are nearly two weeks left in January. Plenty of time for a few more Virtues & Vices. Most of my remaining potentials are virtues, but there are a few vices to be found. For fiction, I’m considering New Mercies, by Sandra Dallas (she can be perfect on a snowy day); Jane and Prudence, by Barbara Pym (this would be a reread, but I’m considering it purely for the Prudence); Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles (surely Civility is a virtue?); and An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon (I’ve decided Unkindness is a vice, as I wanted to add a science fiction book to the pile).

In nonfiction, my next book will likely be All About Love by bell hooks. I’m also very interested in White Rage, by Carol Anderson, but I think maybe one book of rage a month is enough. Instead I might move on to Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit. Oh, I also have a fast-read gift-type book from the library, Life in the Sloth Lane (because who could resist Sloth?)

I think Sloth will win. It’s winter, after all.

December Reading Theme: It’s a Winner!

The December theme is Prize-Winning Books. This isn’t the first time we’ve done this theme; in fact it’s the fourth. But I’m particularly excited about it this year because I’ve taken a new approach.

In the past, I researched awards and went through lists to see which books I might have on my shelves (or, perhaps, venture to buy or get from the library). This year, I turned that approach on its head. Instead of searching award winners, I searched the books on my shelves that I really want to read, and then checked to see if they had won any awards. Total score!

Well, not total. But a lot. More than half. What this means is that I’m pretty much looking at the cream of my crop for books this month. I dived head first into this theme on November 30, as I was ready to leave Taste (the November theme) behind. My first pick (and the first book I checked out online for a possible literary award) was No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, by Ursula K. Le Guin (winner of the PEN America Literary Award). These are short essays, and they warm my heart. I keep reading one more and one more, and I’m about a third through the book already.

For fiction, I chose Akata Warrior, by Nnedi Okorafor (winner of the Locus Award, the Lodestar Award, and the World Science Fiction Society Award for Best YA Book). Note, this is the second in a series and the third is not yet published. However, if this is like the first (Akata Witch), it will have a satisfactory conclusion rather than a cliffhanger. I’m about three-quarters through this compelling book (nearly 500 pages). It’s fantasy and takes place in Nigeria. I’m loving it.

For poetry, I’m reading Billboard in the Clouds, by Suzanne S. Rancourt (winner of the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas First Book Award). I’ve made good progress on this, also—nearly half done.

I have a feeling this is going to be a Really Good reading month.

Other top-of-the-line nonfiction: Call Them By Their Real Names, by Rebecca Solnit (Kirkus Prize for nonfiction), Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution, by Peter Kalmus (Nautilus Book Award), Salt Sugar Fat, by Michael Moss (James Beard Award), Rez Life: An Indian’s Journey Through Reservation Life, by David Treuer (winner of the Minnesota Book Award).

The Minnesota Book Award was quite lucrative in terms of my shelves. I also have The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, by Kao Kalia Yang; and Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year, by Linda LeGarde Grover.

My fiction stack is even taller. Highlights: The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver (Orange Prize), An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones (Women’s prize for fiction, Aspen Words Literary Prize), Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata (Akutagawa Prize), Red Clocks, by Leni Zumas (Oregon Book Award), Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (National Book Critics Circle Award), and that skims the surface. (I haven’t even looked at mysteries, except to find out that my next Louise Penny book has won at least one award. I feel like I’m in heaven.)

My poetry stack is not so high, but I haven’t pushed that one so much. Next up is You Won’t Remember This, by Michael Dennis Browne (thank you again, Minnesota Book Award). I didn’t read any poetry at all for the November theme, so I don’t want to push it. I do have The Complete Poems of Elizabeth Bishop (National Book Award), and that would make a fine December read.

So glad this month has 31 days. Happy reading!

The Taste of Books

November’s reading theme is Taste (as in sweet, bitter, sour, salty, umami). I don’t have a huge pile for this theme, but I have a few major winners (at least in terms of theme fit). For fiction, I’ve found Umami, by Laia Jufresa; Sourdough, by Robin Sloan; Bitter Sweets, by Roopa Farooki; Queen Sugar, by Natalie Baszile; and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford.

In nonfiction, I have Salt Sugar Fat, by Michael Moss; Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, by Samin Nosrat; and Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. A short but very rich list.

Poetry was a major bust. My best contenders: Sesame, by Jack Marshall; and Wise Poison, by David Rivard. I had Pinion, by Claudia Emerson, until I realized I was thinking of pinyon. I may still read Pinion. I’m that desperate.

I’ll certainly go further afield than the five specific tastes mentioned above. I’ve already finished The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, by Phaedra Patrick. I also have Wild Strawberries, by Angela Thirkell; and Something Rotten, by Jasper Fforde for back-up fiction. In nonfiction, I have Honey From Stone, by Chet Raymo; and Lion’s Honey, by David Grossman.

Whoa! I just went to put some of those books back on the bookshelf, and what should I happen to notice but Sweet Tooth, by Ian McEwan, right there big as life (hardcover, no less) on the to-read shelf. How in the world did I miss that in my initial sweep?

Still, I think Something Rotten might be my next fiction read (after Bitter Sweets, which I’m about one-quarter through and quite enjoying). I haven’t read Jasper Fforde in years, and I think I’m ready to visit his wacky literary world again (this is the fourth in his Thursday Next series, and I loved the first three).

Next month’s theme is Prize Winners. Yes, it’s early to be thinking about next month’s theme, but I’ve exhausted my search in Taste. (Despite having overlooked Sweet Tooth, I am not going to review the entire collection for other misses—far too tedious! Much more fun to look forward.) This is the fourth time we’ve done the prize winner theme, and I’ve turned my methodology on its head this year. Previously, I’d check the awards lists—Pulitzer, National Book Award, Book Critics Circle, Man-Booker, Lambda, Tiptree, Hugo, Nebula, Edgar (there are so very many) etc. Then I’d check my shelves to see which of those I had (I remember a lot of the books I have, but not all of them).

But this year, I’m just looking at my shelves, and saying: What have I been wanting to read, but not yet gotten around to? And then I check it online to see if it’s won an award. Well. What a great idea! The very first book I checked had won an award. I’ve been running about 50/50, with half of the books I check having won an award (state awards are a great boon).

I do love playing with books.

Happy reading!

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!