Seasons come and go so quickly, don’t they? Already it’s August. My little grandson has been here for the past 10 days, and will go home to Texas next week to prepare for his first day of school on August 16. I’m happy that Michigan schools continue to schedule opening day after the Labor Day holiday - mid-August seems too early to begin the autumn rite of passage that is First Day of School.
On the New Release shelves at my local library, a select few books are classified as “Lucky Day” books. In high demand, they’re available on limited one-week loan, with a hefty $1 dollar a day fine if they’re overdue. I was there on Monday and grabbed up Anne Tyler’s brand new novel, Clock Dance, as well as Amy Bloom’s White Houses. I almost snatched Meg Wolitzer’s new one too (The Female Persuasion) but figured my chances of reading three novels in one week (especially THIS one week) were pretty slim.
Well, it’s Wednesday morning, and thanks to two very sleepless nights, I’ve read both my Lucky Day picks, and am wishing I had The Female Persuasion waiting for me in the tote bag.
Anne Tyler’s novels always delight me, and Clock Dance was particularly so. There is always something so poignant about her characters - their quirkiness, their neediness, their willingness to just step off into life, sort of like stepping of a cliff into thin air. In this one, Willa Drake, a 62 year old woman whose life is seemingly going just fine, finds herself plunked down in the middle of just such a cast of characters and realizes there are some very important elements missing, elements this very unlikely group of people can help restore for her. It’s quintessential Tyler, and was a lovely way to pass the wee hours of a sleepless night.
White Houses is an entirely different kettle of fish. It’s a fictionalized account of the relationship between First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and journalist Lorena Hitchcock. Told from “Hitch’s” perspective, it’s an unflinching look at historic figures who have been idealized by time but were, of course, simply human beings with flaws and frailties, needs and desires. Amy Bloom places them squarely within the confines of history, but also beautifully conveys the timeless depth of emotion between these two women.
I am reading a LOT this summer (21 books since June 1) partly fueled by the aforementioned trouble sleeping, but also by the fact that there’s been little of interest to watch on television. Historically, July is always a big reading month for me. Things will likely slow down starting today - my son and his family are coming for their annual summer visit, and having my 6-year old grandson in the house will keep me occupied and probably tired enough to sleep all night long!
How’s your summer reading coming along? Anything particularly striking your fancy?
In summers long past, my friend Jill and I would cajole my grandfather or my aunt to drive us to the local library at least once a week where we stocked up on reading for the long summer days. We always registered early for the annual Summer Reading Program, obtained our reading log sheets, and dutifully completed them to drop into the collection box on the librarian’s desk. I still recall with great fondness my favorites from those summers, and I often re-read them before moving on to other things. Maud Hart Lovelace’s Besty-Tacy books, anything by Madeleine L’Engle, Trixie Belden, the Little House series - classics in a time where there wasn’t a lot of choices in children’s or young adult literature.
Years went by, I had a child of my own who loved to read, and he would also register for summer reading (at the very same library, by the way, a nice bit of serendipity for me.) So back we’d go to the library, often riding our bikes (we lived closer than I had as a child) and stopping a nearby donut shop on the way home.
Thus, summer and reading are intrinsically linked in my mind. Already this summer I’ve happened across some wonderful new books, and I thought to write about them occasionally here.
I sat down at my computer this morning intending to write about marriage and life and the reinvention of both.
But instead I’m going to write a different sort of blog post.
One about children. Because something horrible is happening to children in this country, and I can’t be quiet about it any longer.
I’m not just talking about the threat of gun violence in schools, although that is horrific and mind-boggling and terrifying. Right now I’m talking about hundreds of children who have been taken from their parents at border crossings and imprisoned in detention centers.
This inhumane and torturous action is being perpetrated by the United States government.
In his memoir about marriage to Jane Kenyon, poet Donald Hall writes: “If anyone had asked Jane and me ‘Which was the best year of your lives together?’ we could have agreed on an answer: ‘The one we remember least.’” Because, Hall continues, although there were years of triumph, sorrow, sickness, and excitement, the years they counted as best were those filled with “repeated days of quiet and work."
It is a theme he returns to in this book, The Best Day the Worst Day, a theme that extols the beauty of routine and quiet and simplicity, something we most often do not appreciate until things are Otherwise as Jane Kenyon, expresses so perfectly in her poem of that name, one written as she contemplated Hall’s mortality after he was diagnosed with cancer. Ironically, it is Kenyon who will die first, at age 47 after a harrowing year of treatment for leukemia. And it is the 72-year old Hall who is left to grieve for the many “best days” they lived together.