On My Nightstand (And on the floor next to my nightstand...

... and on my dresser, and in the basket next to my dresser, and on my desk, and on the cedar chest.  I just know the bookshelf fairy is going to visit my house someday).

Here's what I've been reading this summer:

Poems by:

Fleda Brown.  Her collection Reunion has a stunning series of prose poems about a loved one's brain tumor and subsequent treatment.  I also love "For My Daughter's Fortieth Birthday", which begins with an epigraph about how particles that were once connected will, even if separated, act as if they are still connected.  The poem goes on to paint a scene with the mother in one place thinking about her daughter, about time and memory; and the daughter across the country running carpool with her kids.  It ends with these lines:

I'm walking the lake road in Michigan, watching
leaves turn and burn in the eye of Time.

How dear it is to me, the way it holds you in its sun-
dazzled arms as you round a curve and brake
at the sign, squinting your dozen little wrinkles.

I'm totally jealous of my mom who is hosting her Ladies' Literary Club meeting in September; Fleda Brown will be there to read and talk poetry.  In my mom's own house!

Kelli Agodon Russell's Small Knots.  She blogs at Book of Kells and has a new book coming out in the fall.  I'm learning from the way she writes about illness.  The poem "Routine Checkup" foreshadows her breast cancer diagnosis and ends with this haunting stanza:  Maybe if it weren't October,/and letters arrived without that stamp -- / the line-drawn woman in the corner/reaching her hand skyward,/whispering, it might be you.  I'm pretty sure she means this stamp.  That last line keeps playing over in my head, as I remember waiting, time after time, for a diagnosis of my own illness.

Beth Ann Fennelly's Open House is, as Robert Hass says in jacket text, "An immensely lively performance."  Fennelly is a fellow Notre Dame grad who now teaches at the University of Mississippi.  Her poems are brave and honest.  This book is definitely not an easy read, but it's rewarding if you put the time in.  I love these line from her poem "Poem Not To Be Read At Your Wedding":  Well, Carmen, I would rather/give you your third set of steak knives/than tell you what I know.

Kristen Naca's collection Bird Eating Bird.  I've just begun reading this one, and I'm really interested in her use of language -- both Spanish and English -- and her examination of how our language, our native tongue, becomes our lens unto the world.

Sylvia Plath's Ariel: The Restored Edition.  Long story here.  Just before her suicide in 1963, Plath had compiled a manuscript that was close to final.  Perhaps it was final in her mind; we'll never know.  After her death, her husband, the writer Ted Hughes (from who she had recently separated due, in part, to his affair with a family friend), edited the manuscript and had it published.  Some fault him for rearranging her order and excluding some of the poems she had in the ms.  Others argue that he was only applying his best editorial judgment as any writer would have wanted him to do.  It's interesting to read these poems, which are wild and stunning, in the state and order Sylvia Plath had left them at the time of her death.  I don't always understand them, but they seem to launch me into a good space for my own writing.  And I appreciate her description of a group of the Ariel poems she read on the BBC:  "These new poems of mine have one thing in common.  They were all written at about four in the morning -- that still, blue, almost eternal hour before cockcrow, before the baby's cry, before the glassy music of the milkman, settling his bottles."  I don't have a milkman or even a baby anymore, but I sure do know that 4 o'clock poem-writing hour.

I've also been working my way through Thirteen Ways of Looking for a Poem: A Guide to Writing Poetry by Wendy Bishop.  This is one element of my earnest attempt to learn more about the craft of poetry without going to graduate school (at least for now).  I'm trying to read this book as I used to read in my scholar days:  once for the gist, twice to take notes (I have always learned best by writing things down).  Reader, let me tell you I no longer have the stamina I had back then.  It has taken me two weeks just to get through the first read of the intro and chapter one, and the second read (with notes) through page 10.  But I am plugging away.

In other genres:

I recently finished The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  First novel, New York Times bestseller - wow!  It's a wonderful story about a group of Mississippi women -- some who choose to Follow The Rules, and some who choose not to -- just as the civil rights movement took hold.  I find myself missing the characters and wondering how they're doing these days.... a sure sign of a good read.  I'm also thinking of marketing some WWMD bracelets:  What Would Minny Do? (if you want to know why, read the book).  Thanks to my friend MKM for lending me her copy (I was #517 on the library waiting list).

Last night I wrapped up Telling:  A Memoir of Rape and Recovery by Patricia Weaver Francisco.  This is a beautifully written memoir about the author's long, slow journey to recovery after a man broke into her apartment raped her (BTW, I just had to edit that last sentence because the first version I wrote said "after she was raped."  Notice the passive voice: she was raped?  It lets the rapist off the hook, doesn't it?)  It's a book that gives me a nudge toward writing about my life after illness -- not that I would compare chronic illness with the experience of rape (not in a million years!), but I can imagine writing a book like this.  One that traces the journey; that looks through lenses of memory, family, landscape, and literature; that tells an honest but redeeming story about loss and eventual restoration, or at least a new, more livable, normal.

And, lest I rest too much on my mama laurels, I have pulled Discipline For Life:  Getting It Right With Children by Madelyn Swift back off the shelf.  There are only three parenting books I've ever found useful, and this is one of them.  It's all about long-term goals, rather than short-term you-better-do-what-I-say-right-now-dammit!  Her watch words are:  "You do it, you own it."  And she's a proponent of giving choices to children, and of logical, related consequences.  To wit, "You can stop riding your tricycle into the wall and ride it around the driveway.  Or you can choose to keep riding it into the wall and then I'll have to put it away for the day."  As with any parenting strategy, it's much easier on the page than in real life (please, would someone tell me the logical consequence for refusing to drink one's milk for the 77,589th time!?), but it's a philosophy I can buy into, unlike those promoted in all of the Raise A Perfect Child in Three Easy Steps books that are out there.

Up next:

MacBook Pro Portable Genius by Brad Miser, because I'm pretty sure I'm only using about 1% of the functionality of this gorgeous machine on which I write.  The River Wife a novel by Jonis Agee, because everybody needs a good story to escape into.  And for poems, Jane Kenyon's Collected.

Happy summer reading to all of you.


ljchicago said...

What are the two other parenting books you recommend? I would love to know. Hope you are having a great time.

Minga said...

How did you happen to have enough energy to post after the busy days of your vacation? You amaze me-Minga

Molly said...

Minga, Blogger has a nifty little tool that let's a person write an entry in advance and tell it to post on a certain day. So, I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago and then scheduled it out. Now my secret's out :).

ljchicago, I will write up a little post about the other books -- hopefully sometime this week!