Books I’m Loving

Image result for piles of booksIt’s that post-Christmas, post-New Year time when I find myself with a pile of books and that snow-ridden setting that allows me a little time to read. There’s just that little bit more time to allow books to be strewn abo

ut my floor, ripe for the picking and switching when I get to the end of a chapter in one. Right now, I’m reading a bunch of books that have some common themes, although I did not seek these themes out on purpose.,204,203,200_.jpgTo start, I am reading All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister. I have an idea for a    non-fiction book that studies the narratives available to women of the 21st Century, and so, Traister’s book immediately appealed to me when I saw it on the shelf. I’ve been making my way through it, delightedly, and here’s why: this book is part memoir and part historical and social narrative. I love the mix of the two. But, I’ll be honest, I may have, at least once in my reading, skipped past a chapter on the history and gone directly to the author’s narrative account of her own life. I just eat that stuff up.

Interestingly, Traister notes that she started research for the book right before she married her husband. I love the idea that she decided to write about single life just as she embarked upon married life; the two lifestyles seem decidedly contingent upon each other, as her book reveals.

Contrary to what the title may indicate, this is not a book advocating only single life. Or married life. Or any one lifestyle. What the book does do is study the ways that single life for women has evolved and the ways it has transformed marriage and society in general. Traister looks at the ways that marriage age has risen and she also studies the various aspects of single life that help women to enter marriage more fully self-realized and with a broader system of career and friendships that become a part of that marriage. She also examines the elements that make single life a viable and sometimes preferable choice for women. Her task is not to advocate one lifestyle but to point out the revolutionary way that such choice has changed women’s lives in love, career and sense of self. I’m not done with the book–indeed, I tried to slow down my reading of it because I was racing through. I’ll let you know what further gems I find!

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Kate Bolick’s Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own is another title that would probably scare away some readers. As I was telling a friend recently, the book is brilliant, and the title is the author’s attempt to re-frame that word or to understand it in historical context while re-examining its true meaning in our present time. I am loving this book. And not because I want to be a spinster. I love this book for the way that Bolick interweaves her own personal memoir of love and career and independence alongside of her close study of selected female literary figures from New York City’s recent past. Some of these writers she profiles include Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Edith Wharton and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Yes, this is a book for literature majors, as we appreciate the close study of these women’s writing exploits against the backdrop of early 20th century NYC. But, the book has great appeal beyond that because of the way Bolick writes with such candor about her own search for self understanding, satisfaction with love and career success.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, her book takes her on a journey of investigating her own mother’s experiences with writing, career and marriage. Some of the moments of connection she finds with her mother’s younger self are surprising and poignant. And, as I read, I now have several new female writers to read–women who came to New York and forged, often revolutionary, lifestyles where they wrote and loved and lived in the city, going against the expectations of their families to settle down early and raise children.

As with Traister’s book above, this book is not an advocate for any one life. Most of the women in the book do go on to marry, and Bolick paints sensitive and insightful portraits of the ways their relationships and marriages fed their writing lives or vice versa. I’m close to done with this book but am also drawing it out. Bolick provides an ample appendix of additional related titles, no doubt brought about by her research,  to ensure that readers continue their pleasure in exploring her topic!

Making Boxes

I’ve been making boxes.  Boxes out of double-sided paper.  Boxes that hold small things.  Candy perhaps.  A small gift, if I have one.  My mother learned how to make these boxes last year from a friend.  They are simple, sort of like origami boxes, only not so delicate.  Making the boxes requires only a square piece of paper and some scissors. No tape or glue required.  There is something infinitely satisfying about making these boxes.  It’s the simplicity: they aren’t too hard too make, are easily completed in a few minutes, and yet do require you to follow a pattern, a certain set of folds and cuts.  There is a nice rhythm to making them.  A nice routine. And then at the end, you have something.  A container.  A decoration.  You feel useful.  I’ve created something, you feel.  However small the thing is.

And the boxes start to accumulate, looking even more pretty and decorative in their piling up status.  Different holiday patterns on the paper can make a box making session a downright festive event.  I made these boxes with my students the other day.  We were meeting as part of our advisor groups, a small grouping of students and me.  I had my girls follow me as I led them through the series of folds and cuts.  Suddenly, all talk of tests and papers and deadlines and all-nighters faded with the simple concentration required for our boxes.

And then we were done.  And they went back to their talk of school and assignments and weekend plans.  And we had three boxes sitting before us, waiting to be filled. Ready for gifts of the season.

30 Books in 30 Days: 8.29.11

The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCraken.

I have great affection for this novel.  A strange little book, it portrays the love story between a librarian and a much younger man, a man afflicted with a syndrome that causes him to be disproportionately tall.  McCracken’s book is beautiful because of the way it captures the affection and love between such an unlikely pair.  Even while the circumstances of their friendship and eventual relationship sometimes walk the line between what might be considered appropriate in more conventional circles, McCracken shows the true love of their regard and care for each other, right down to acts of care for the young man’s increasingly ill body.  Read this book.  It is strange.  It is odd.  And it is unerringly sweet.

30 Books in 30 Days: 8.28.11

Pictures of You by Caroline Leavitt

This is a book that I enjoyed reading.  It isn’t revolutionary in technique, it doesn’t make any great statements about modern life, it isn’t cutting edge.  Instead, it is just a simple story about the intersection of four peoples’ lives after an accident that happens and leaves questions about individuals’ motives.

The technique of using a single moment of violence to unravel characters’ lives and reveal weaknesses and strengths that characters didn’t even know existed is one that works brilliantly.  Leavitt has a particular knack for describing minute details–gestures, inflections of voice, eye contact–to reveal moments between people.  One of the main characters’ has a penchant for photography, and photos become a way in which characters express subtle feelings and ideas to each other.  Leavitt uses this photography creatively as a device in her narrative.

30 Books in 30 Days: 8.29.11

Away by Amy Bloom

Bloom tells the tale of a woman who makes her way in America as a young immigrant from Russia.  Bloom’s descriptions are lush and her recreation of the historical time period in America is accurate and realistic.  Her main character’s past is one of complete loss.  She lost her family to pogroms in Russia.  It is because of the devastation she already suffered even before coming to America that she is able to embrace, however painful they seem, additional experiences of arduous self-sacrifice in America.  She makes her way through bravely seeking out opportunities to work with the upper classes in America all while seeking out companionship in true friends she meets along the way.  She moves from the east coast all the way out to Washington state, befriending a colorful cast of characters who are, themselves, simply trying to make it in the poverty-stricken lives they are eeking out in the underbelly of America’s turn of the century cities.

30 Books in 30 Days: 8.29.11

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

This is one of the only books on the list that is more of a “classic” a.k.a. something we would find on a high school or college reading list.  But, I chose to write about it because it is one of my favorite books.  The reason I love it so much is not so much for its subject matter–important as that is.  Instead, my love for this book arises out of my complete regard for Woolf’s style of writing.  She covers an academic and political subject not through the use of a cold, factual academic prose, but rather through a blending of the personal and the political.  It is this kind of writing that not only is a pleasure for me to read but is also a more true reflection of what I think writing should be: an emulation of our experience as we move between the personal to the public.  It is something I strive to emulate in my own writing.  Indeed, Woolf’s book was empowering to me as a writer because it showed me that I too could strive to accomplish this melding of the personal and the public, the historical and artistic, the confessional with the expository.  I love the way Woolf’s prose seems to meander–in an almost casual, stream of consciousness style, when, really, she is completely measuredly making her point. She simply finds that stream of consciousness or diary-like style to be her best way of conveying that point.  And of course, what better way for her to forge new ground in the way people thinking about women’s roles than by forging new ground in her writing style.

30 Books in 30 Days: 8.28.11

Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian

The book starts with a shooting that interrupts the peaceful New Hampshire night.  We learn that the gun was fired by an adolescent girl and that the man who was hit suffers severe damage to his arm. After this opening, Bohjalian then takes us through the days leading up to this event.  He creates an absorbing narrative grounded in the setting of Franconia Notch New Hampshire and the summer-house where several generations of a family gather one summer. Nan Seton is the matriarch of this clan, and Bohjalian does a good job of differentiating between Nan’s stern and regal ways versus those of her children and even grandchildren.  This book, is, quite simply, relaxing to read.  I lost myself in the chapters, transported to this summer setting.  When this act of violence penetrates the night, Bohjalian examines its causes and effects from the points of view of all of the family members, showing characters’ underlying fears and prejudices that color their reaction to the events.