On My Nightstand

Well, it has been a while since I've done one of these what-I've-been-reading posts.  That's because for some reason they take a long time to write.  I'm going to try to be quick about this, folks.  Before I begin, special thanks to my dear friend Ana D., who sent me three of the books on this list on one of the Best Mail Days of my life.  Here we go:

In poetry, late summer found me with:

Fidelity by Grace Paley, a book she completed just before her death in 2007.  Her poems are wise and funny (often both in the same poem), and she has a voice all her own.  To me, the poems feel "quiet on the page" -- not clomping around in a big, loud, fast voice -- but just there to say what needs saying.  I like her sparse use of punctuation, and want to study more how she paces a poem without it, instead using line breaks and spaces within a line.

Behind My Eyes by Li-Young Lee.  Rockstar younger poet (at least, that's how I think of him).  His poems are spiritual and deep without being impossible to enter.  He works a lot around the themes of memory and inheritance in this book.  As a writer, I was interested in the use of dialogue in a few of his poems.  As a reader, I didn't always know where he was going in a given poem, but the beautiful language kept me interested.  How about these awesome lines from "The Shortcut Home": In my sister's story/God can't find us/in any of His coat pockets. 

Over the last month or so I've been reading:

Emily Dickinson's complete poems.  Good old Emily.  I remember being 13 and poring over her poems in what the first book of poetry I ever owned, a gift from my mom and dad (her Selected Poems and Letters).   I've been drawn back many times over the years, and I'm drawn back now; every line seems to have something to say all over again.  As Deborah, the leader of the writing group I've joined, said yesterday, "This is your autumn to read Emily Dickinson again.  You will remember this autumn because you were reading Emily."  She's right, and I love marking time, marking my life, with books.

And, in what may seem like a coincidence but really isn't, Letters From the Emily Dickinson Room by Kelli Russell Agodon.  Kelli blogs at Book of Kells.  This is her third book of poems, for which she won the White Pine Press Poetry Prize.  I love the fun she seems to have with words and wordplay, and also that she can be playful and joyful without turning away from life's sadnesses and dark moments.

In other genres, I recently read two really bad novels that I regret wasting precious hours of my life on.  So that you can avoid them I will tell you what they are:  Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult (predictable plot) and The Third Child by Marge Piercy (flat characters, predictable plot, and many strange anachronisms, like current-day college students "playing records" in their dorm room!?  Was there an editor??).

But, can we talk about Olive Kitteridge?  This collection of stories by Elizabeth Strout knocked my socks off, mostly because of the complex, unlovable and yet lovable, and utterly effective main character, Olive.  This is one of those books that not only is masterfully written, but also made me happy to be alive (yay, literature!).  Reading it has made me more forgiving of myself and others; for, if I can love Olive, warts and all, I can love anyone.  As a writer, I paid close attention to how the stories were connected -- not too tight, and not too loose.  Definitely worth your time.

Also just finished Lives Like Loaded Guns:  Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds (okay, okay, a little bit obsessed).  It's a new book by Lyndall Gordon, so I was thrilled to see it on the shelf at the library.  Usually you have to do your time on the wait list to get anything new at our library, so I lucked out.  This is an interesting historical and literary look at Miss Emily and her family, and provides some new perspectives on the characterization of her as a "recluse."  I liked it, but found the arc of the family story to be overall sad.

And just to keep the mama saw sharp, I'm reading Your Nine Year Old and Your Seven Year Old by Louise Bates Ames.  These are no nonsense guides to stages of physical, social, intellectual and emotional growth in children.  They really let you know what to expect, and what kids are actually capable of, at a given age or stage.  I'll never forget Dr. Bates Ames' advice from Your Three Year Old:  "The Mother of a three year old would do well to hire a babysitter as often as she possibly can."  Do I hear an 'Amen' out there?  (By the way, these books were written a few decades ago, so every now and then will have a reference or comment that dates them, but they are rooted in child development research and are not gimmicky in the least).

And that's what I'm reading these days.  What's on your nightstand?


drew myron said...

Ha! I appreciate you sharing the duds along with the delights.

- drew

Minga said...

Well, my rarely opened Bible holds a place of prominence on the table by my bed. Don't know why I don't find time to open it. Also on the pile, A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink-encourages to give careful nurture to the right sides of our brains (and those of our children) since the future of jobs lies therein; two other non-fiction books-Dreams from my Father by Barack Obama and Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I have been feeling like I should be reading non-fiction after a summer of stories like Molokai, Honolulu, The Shack etc... Finally, I have three books written by Fleda Brown. One is a memoir-Driving with Dvorak, the other two are collections of her poetry.