Reading Life

Sunday Salon: Saving Grace

“February is the beginning of my New Year,” one of my friends wrote the other day. “January was just a free trial month.”

Had January been a free trial month for me, I would have cancelled my subscription for the remainder of 2019. Thankfully we spent half of it in Florida, escaping the vicious Polar Vortex that slapped the midwest with a sharp, stinging hand. But this year has flattened me already, friends. I won’t go into details, but there are trials aplenty to contend with.

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“What’s saving you right now?” another friend asked. A good question. I’ve been paying close attention, taking my emotional temperature often, taking note of times when my spirit seems to rise. You won’t be surprised to hear my most reliable saving grace is READING.

In fact, I can say with all sincerity that in the past month books have saved my life.

The notion had already crossed my mind, probably during one of the many sleepless nights I’ve had lately, where I wander from room to room, book in hand, trying to get comfortable somewhere. Losing myself in one good story after another kept the whirling dervish of nighttime anxiety at bay. It sounds melodramatic, but getting involved in the lives of other people, even fictitious people, helped me put my own problems in perspective.

Then, in one of those serendipitous moments, this essay appeared in the New York Times. Maura Kelly writes from the blackness of her own depression, writes of describing her abject despair to a counselor at a crisis hotline who asked her “Do you have something good to read?”

To anyone but a reader, that would sound like a completely ridiculous question in those circumstances. But Kelly, a writer, immediately got it.

“A good book,” she thinks. “Usually, that does help. A good novel is great company, less an escape from life than a different way to engage. A good novel is reassurance that other people have endured tragedies, long ordeals, bad odds. It’s evidence I’m not alone — not in the history of humanity, at least. A good novel often ends on an ambiguous note — yet every novel also implies a survivor still alive to tell the tale. A good novel is a form of hope.”

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So I’m thankful for the titles I read in January - the novels and especially the memoirs. Books that helped me step aside from my own worries and concerns, helped me think about the way carefully crafted words can tame feelings gone dangerously wild.

In the novel I’m reading right now, (Gone So Long, by Andre DuBus), Susan Dunn writes of spending her life feeling “trapped” by her surroundings, her family history, and her “Enemy,” the name she has given to the anomie of depression, a “black hook that lifted her then hung her just out of reach of whatever it was she thought she loved.”

“What helps?” her husband wants to know.

“Books,” she answers. “Books always help.”

As I continue Reading Through the Year, it’s comforting to know books can be my saving grace.

How about you? What’s saving you these days?



Reading List, January 2019

Nine Perfect Strangers, Liane Moriarty

Becoming Mrs. Lewis, Patti Callahan

Virgil Wander, Leif Enger

A Spark of Light, Jodi Picoult

Good-bye and Amen, Beth Gutcheon

Inheritance, Dani Shapiro

Souvenir, Therese Ann Fowler

Without A Map, Meredith Hall



Summer Reading: Clock Dance/White Houses

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.

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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?

Summer Reading: A Place for Us

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.

The Sunday Salon: The Case for the Closet Creative

My son was the most creative child I ever knew. Because he grew up as an only child in a neighborhood without other children nearby, he developed an entire world of creative projects to keep himself occupied. From the age of three until adulthood, he lived and breathed for this imaginary universe of characters which he wrote about, drew in cartoon adventures, and made video and audio recordings. He had his own little franchise and it occupied nearly all of his waking thoughts. He was so focused on these creative projects, and they were so important to him, that school always seemed like a huge waste of time, something he did only because he had to, a task to hurry and get out of the way so he could return to his “real work”.  Nothing made him happier than the hours and hours he spent creating. 

Whenever I’m tempted to throw my own creative endeavors under the bus in favor of “being productive” with my time, I try to recall my son’s creative fervor in his childhood days.

The Sunday Salon: Drawn In

It finally happened.

Winter arrived today. 

Icy rivulets ran down the windowpanes in harmony with hot coffee streaming into the pot. Howling winds battered the house as a Mozart Piano Concerto danced gently on the stereo. 
Leaden gray skies hung heavily over us as warm firelight flickered in the living room.

We are making the most of this wintry Sunday morning.

Naturally books are part of our response to winter.