Books of the Month, February 2018

Looking for a good book? Here are my favorites from the past month.

IMG_9110What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, by Lesley Nneka Arimah. Holy crud, but this woman can write! I don’t often read short story collections, mostly because a short story sucks me in so completely and then poof, it’s over, and I have to gather up emotional energy to read the next one. But these stories flow one into another in an almost novelistic way, even though each features different characters. Set in Nigeria, the U.S. and elsewhere, this book is about the ties –of family, of love, of misery, of geography– that bind us. Astonishingly good.

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True Crime Addict, by James Renner. This book, by a citizen detective who set out to solve a cold case about the disappearance of a young woman in the New Hampshire woods, is fascinating. Not only because of all the hidden stories he uncovers, but also because it’s a glimpse into the origins of fixation, and how closely attuned they are to our long ago personal histories.

 

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Rainlight, by Alison McGhee (yeah, me). Why did I re-read a novel that I myself wrote a long time ago? Because I am a fool who can’t remember all the details, ages, and dates of my own characters’ lives, and yet I continue to write novel after novel in which they appear and reappear. It’s horrible to re-read my own work –I usually try to avoid it at all costs–because I just want to keep revising it. That said, this novel (my first) surprised me. It was really pretty damn good. Super cheap too, as an e-book anyway.

 

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The Bright Hour, by Nina Riggs. This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read. Nina Riggs was a poet, something abundantly clear in every passage of this lambent, funny, heartbreaking and profoundly tender memoir. I loved this book and will not forget it.

 

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Wonder, by RJ Palacio. I’m late to the party here with Wonder, but what a kind, observant, and loving book it is. Told in different voices, most of them middle-schoolers, this novel charts a year in the life of Auggie, a kid with chromosomal differences that have given him an extremely unusual face. Palacio has her ear to the pulse of life in middle school, all the ins and outs and warring factions of a time I for one would rather not remember, and she brings all of it –the good, the bad, the ugly– to memorable life.

Poem of the Week, by Ross Gay

IMG_0696A child I didn’t have has been with me throughout my adult life. He has grown up without me in a shadow world that exists within this world: invisible but close by. In dreams he stands in the doorway of a room I’m writing in, his feet on the doorsill, never stepping into the room itself. He’s tall now, and lean, and always smiling. The fact that he never existed makes him no less real to me. Every one of Ross Gay’s poems goes straight to my heart, but none quite like this. 

 

Poem to My Child, If Ever You Shall Be, by Ross Gay

                        —after Steve Scafidi

The way the universe sat waiting to become,
quietly, in the nether of space and time,

you too remain some cellular snuggle
dangling between my legs, curled in the warm

swim of my mostly quietest self. If you come to be—
And who knows?—I wonder, little bubble

of unbudded capillaries, little one ever aswirl
in my vascular galaxies, what would you think

of this world which turns itself steadily
into an oblivion that hurts, and hurts bad?

Would you curse me my careless caressing you
into this world or would you rise up

and, mustering all your strength into that tiny throat
which one day, no doubt, would grow big and strong,

scream and scream and scream until you break the back of one injustice,
or at least get to your knees to kiss back to life

some roadkill? I have so many questions for you,
for you are closer to me than anyone

has ever been, tumbling, as you are, this second,
through my heart’s every chamber, your teeny mouth

singing along with the half-broke workhorse’s steady boom and gasp.
And since we’re talking today I should tell you,

though I know you sneak a peek sometimes
through your father’s eyes, it’s a glorious day,

and there are millions of leaves collecting against the curbs,
and they’re the most delicate shade of gold

we’ve ever seen and must favor the transparent
wings of the angels you’re swimming with, little angel.

And as to your mother—well, I don’t know—
but my guess is that lilac bursts from her throat

and she is both honeybee and wasp and some kind of moan to boot
and probably she dances in the morning—

but who knows? You’ll swim beneath that bridge if it comes.
For now let me tell you about the bush called honeysuckle

that the sad call a weed, and how you could push your little
sun-licked face into the throngs and breathe and breathe.

Sweetness would be your name, and you would wonder why
four of your teeth are so sharp, and the tiny mountain range

of your knuckles so hard. And you would throw back your head
and open your mouth at the cows lowing their human songs

in the field, and the pigs swimming in shit and clover,
and everything on this earth, little dreamer, little dreamer

of the new world, holy, every rain drop and sand grain and blade
of grass worthy of gasp and joy and love, tiny shaman,

tiny blood thrust, tiny trillion cells trilling and trilling,
little dreamer, little hard hat, little heartbeat,

little best of me.

 

For more information on Ross Gay, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Robert Hedin

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Once, when I was bushwhacking through the woods and came to a clearing, I saw an owl in the tree closest to me. It was perched on a limb about ten feet off the ground, and the tree was about ten feet from me, and I had never been that close to an owl. The owl’s face was mesmerizing – flat and soft-looking, with eyes fixed on mine. I tilted my head to take it in better, and the owl tilted its head too. I tilted my head the other way, and so did the owl. Back and forth we went, in rhythm with each other, just me and the owl, in silence. When I need to conjure up peace inside myself, I think of that owl. And now I will also think of this quiet, beautiful poem below.  

 

Owls, by Robert Hedin

 

Owls glide off the thin
wrists of the night,
and using snow for their feathers
drift down on either side
of the wind.

I spot them
as I camp along the ridge,
glistening over the streambeds,
their eyes small rooms
lit by stone lamps.

 

For more information about Robert Hedin, please click here.

Poem of the Week, by Sinead Morrissey

The first time I read the poem below a scene from the past flashed up in my mind: a winter day which my then-preschool children spent playing Ewok, which translated into them marching around the house/forest with yardsticks as hiking sticks. My son was Master Logray and my daughter was Teebo, Luke, with little Dev on the deck at Irving housenames and roles taken directly from a seriously cheesy VHS TV series called Ewoks (which I probably found for a quarter at a garage sale). What I remember most is my daughter’s bright eyes as she tromped around the house after her older brother, who was always kind to her.

My children rarely fought when they were little, but when they did, it always troubled me deeply. If the battle went on too long, I would tell them Listen to me. You have to be kind to each other, because someday I’ll be gone, and your dad will be gone, and it will be just the three of you to watch over each other. This is kind of a horrible thing to say, now that I look back on it, but it’s also kind of true. Which might be why reading this beautiful poem brought an instant lump to my throat.

 

The Rope
– Sinead Morrissey

I have paused in the door jamb’s shadow to watch you
playing Shop or Cliff! or Café or Under-the-sea
among the flotsam of props on our tarmacked driveway.
            All courtship. All courtesy.

At eight and six, you have discovered yourselves friends,
at last, and this the surprise the summer
has gifted me, as if some
             penny-cum-handkerchief conjuror

had let loose a kingfisher . . .
            you whirl and pirouette, as if in a ballet
take decorous turns, and pay for whatever you need
            with a witch’s currency:

grass cuttings, sea glass, coal, an archaeopteryx
of glued kindling from the fire basket.
You don two invisible outsize overcoats – for love?
For luck? And jump with your eyes shut.

And I can almost see it thicken between you –
your sibling-tetheredness, an umbilicus,
fattened on mornings like this as on a mother’s blood,
loose, translucent, not yet in focus

but incipient as yeast and already strong enough
to knock both of you off your balance
when you least expect it, some afternoon after work
            decades hence,

one call from a far-flung city and, look,
all variegated possibles – lovers, kids, apartments –
whiten into mist; the rope is flexing,
tugging you close, and you come, obedient

children that you are, back to this moment,
staggering to a halt and then straightening,
grown little again inside your oversize coats and shoes
and with sea glass still to arrange,
                                    but without me watching.
 

 

For more information on Sinead Morrissey, please click here​.

Poem of the Week, by Stephan Pastis

Alison and DonaldWe used to call them the funnies, and I have a memory of sitting on my dad’s big lap while he folded the newspaper in half, then quarters, so he could read them to me. This would have been on a Sunday, because I remember the strips as being full-color. I still read the daily comics, even though most of them are terrible – tired, unfunny, boring, and retreading the same exact ground for decades on end. Once in a while a strip comes along that’s electrifyingly good –Calvin & Hobbes, Boondocks, Cul de Sac–but they don’t last long, usually because their creators have the courage to cancel them when they’ve run out of steam. So I read out of habit, with no expectation of transcendence. But every once in a while one of them pierces my heart, like today’s Pearls Before Swine, by Stephan Pastis.

 

 

Tree Stump o’ Deep Thought You’re Not Usually Capable Of, by Stephan Pastis

No one knows what we’re doing here.
Some have faith that they do, but no one knows.

So we are scared.
We are alone.
We end.
And we don’t know where we go.

So we cling to money for comfort.
And we chase awards for immortality.
And we hide in the routine of our days.

But then the night.
Always the night.

Which, when it has you alone, whispers that
maybe none of this has any significance.

So love everyone you’re with.
Because comforting each other
on this journey we neither asked for
nor understand
is the best we can do.

And laugh as much as you can.

 

​For more information on Stephan Pastis, please click here.​

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