Ahhh…summer. This year had been such a wild ride that I literally did not have a second to sit down and write a post, much less read anything beyond a short news article (well, that’s not strictly true…probably I didn’t have enough time to savor and consider what I’d read). Once summer vacation hit, however, I was frozen by the overwhelming choice of it all. Not only was the choice overwhelming, but the responsibility to make an excellent first choice was daunting.
I knew I wanted to read Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, but I decided to save that for the end of vacation. That I was saving for my farewell to uninterrupted (by fatigue!) reading time. First, I just needed to get my feet wet in something delightful, captivating and, admittedly, not too thought-provoking. I looked immediately to my pending list of Swedish (or really, Scandinavian) crime novels.
After about three days (yes! I was that paralyzed with indecision), I finally chose the first in Camilla Läckberg’s Patrik Hedstrom series, La Princesa de Hielo. Yes, I read it in Spanish. I figured first, either way it’s a translation so what’s the difference, and second, it was cheaper for the Kindle in Spanish. It was a perfect beginning to summer reading. I devoured it! Once I finished it, I promptly bought book two with the promise that I would stop there and take a break in order to start chipping away at my pile of library books that were coming in (I started putting them on hold in mid-May in anticipation).
This morning, on my way to work, I saw two crows sitting on a sign. One was carefully grooming the other, which, based on my limited observation of the species and their usual cacophonous interactions, was oddly endearing. It also seemed serendipitous. It seems that in my life there has lately been a confluence of crow and raven sightings, mentions and other interactions that will find their expression in today’s post.
First, and if you follow me on twitter you already know this…cue the shameless plug… (@promiscuousrdr), I recently discovered that the NFL team the Ravens is a team after a reader’s tell tale heart. While perhaps watching is perhaps too active a verb for what I was doing, there was a game on TV the other day and as I happened by, I noticed that one of the teams playing was called the Baltimore Ravens. My ears perked up, my eyebrows raised and after a quick google confirmation I declared that the Ravens were my new favorite football team. Naturally, to anyone who has ever met me, this was surprising news, but once I explained my reasoning they understood. The Ravens, as I’m sure you have by now surmised are named after Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, The Raven. There may be a bit of hope for me and the NFL yet.
In other crow news, this past summer I read, savored and fell in love with Brian Doyle’s book, Mink River. The book, an exemplar of Oregonian magical realism if ever there was one, is set in a small coastal town in Oregon and has as one of it’s many delightful characters, a talking crow. The book was amazing and truly combined some of my favorite things in the world, the Oregon coast, the mossy woods and Irish language and culture. I don’t want to say too much about it so if you choose to read it, you can do so on your own terms. It is swoon-worthy, to be sure.
Finally, the last incident in this grand trifecta of crowdom is my recent purchase of Wildwood by Colin Meloy with illustrations by Carson Ellis. I’d had my eye on the book since I read the review in the NYT earlier in the year, but when I was perusing Amazon for Christmas gifts last night I again came across it and started reading the sample. When I saw the first chapter was called “A Murder of Crows,” I smiled, sighed and was hooked. Sometimes you just have to surrender to serendipity. It arrives tomorrow.
I almost finished Blue Nights by Joan Didion in a day. But I waited and finished this morning. I needed to savor it. She deserved it. Her writing is so amazing, masterful, delicate. Some chapters deserve study they are so well-crafted. When I read her writing, I feel as though I’m looking through a stack of photographs, some of which are very clear and others that are out-of-focus impressions of a moment. The repetition of certain phrases allows some of these photos to be turned through the stacks with greater frequency and helps to create an overall image or sense of understanding in the reader’s mind.
The book, of course, is a sad tale. But as much as it is about loss, (the ultimate loss from which she does not back away), it is also about life. As much as it is about how her life changed when her daughter died, it is also about how much her life changed when her “beautiful baby girl” entered it. It is perhaps these moments that lift the book up and allow us a view of the arc of motherhood, the full hope, beauty and tragedy of it all.
Today in Spain it is El día de las librerías, the Day of the Bookstores. Whether or not this one of those self-promoting commercial holidays is, quite frankly, a moot point. Bookstores stay open late tonight, host special events and, in general, celebrate their wares. Awesome! This article in El País is a quick survey of a variety of writers, musicians and other artsy types and their favorite bookstores in Spain. I’ll be taking it with me on my next trip to Spain in lieu of any other guidebook. I’m all set!
My own personal favorite bookstore is The Cloud and Leaf in Manzanita, OR. (Check out this New York Times article that reviews the bookstore & other great activities in the town). I am convinced that the bookstore is located over some sort of geomagnetic hotspot as every book I have ever purchased there instantly engrosses me–perfect for the unpredictable weather of the Oregon coast. For being such a small store in a small town, there is a wide variety of interesting, off beat and independent literature there. Among other finds, I discovered my love of Cesar Aira there and for that owe a debt of gratitude to the shop.
Since I only get to The Cloud and Leaf once a year, I do have to depend on other sources for the few books I purchase each year. A trip to Portland would be incomplete without a stop at Powell’s which would rank 2nd on my Top Five Bookstores list. Armed with cell phones and muted text alert tones my family enters and spreads through the stacks like stealthy ninjas on attack. We could easily spend hours there. While I do love Powell’s, the sheer enormity can be overwhelming. I appreciate a well-curated book store that offers a gentle, non-corporate, nudge in one direction or another and where a quick chat with the bookseller can point me toward new literary finds. Based on the article in El País, it seems I am not the only one.
Let me start by saying that this is a facetious title. It could just as easily have been called the need for balance or the need for variety. Generally, I try to mix it up a bit as I read. Rather than read five crime thrillers in a row, I’ll try to read one thriller followed by a science fiction novel then something historical…etc. You get the picture.
Next up in my queue is Joan Didion’s book Blue Nights. This past summer I read The Year of Magical Thinking which chronicles both her husband’s and her daughter’s deaths. Although masterfully written, it was…a bit of a downer. Pondering death, as inevitable as it is, is never a cheery proposition. Yet, because of it’s inevitability it is perhaps better to ponder in advance, to consider how one might react by reflecting on others’ experiences than to wait for the expected surprise. Once I finished I gave it a couple of days of reflection and then followed it up with Bossypants by Tina Fey. It was summer after all.
This time I’m planning ahead and have already reserved Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? which was reviewed on NPR at the beginning of the month. The picture on the back cover of the book endears the author to me so completely that I had to add it to my list. As soon as I finished reading the review I started perusing her blog and twitter feed for more self-effacing humorous bits. Her writing is delightful and she often hits the nail on the hand in a dry, offhand way. It will be some much needed sugar after the bittersweet medicine of Blue Nights.
It seems appropriate at the beginning of this long holiday weekend to discuss time. Today’s featured book on the WordPress home page was Scott Berkun’s Mindfire. I started scanning the first chapter and was immediately struck by this line, “Time is the singular measure of life….knowing how to spend it well is the most important skill you can have.” That alone made me want to read the book. Anyone who has a thoughtful relationship with time and how they are spending it is, to me, worth listening to. The idea of time well spent seems to be increasing in importance the older I get.
Any discussion of time and literary topics would be incomplete without at least a brief mention of one of my favorite books on the topic, Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis. In this book time moves backward and is so doing allows the reader to see events from an utterly unique point of view. Further, it does so in such a compelling manner that, while reading the book, I was beginning to think backwards. Clearly it made quite an impression…I read it over 15 years ago! Maybe it’s time for a reread.
So this post may not have so much to do with reading, as it does with what I do to help me read so much. A coworker recently asked me how I have so much energy. I had just one answer to that query: coffee. Right around the same time, I read this article on NPR’s food blog, The Salt. Basically, it boils down to some research studies that have been done and that illustrate that coffee can help reduce the risk of depression in women. Wahoo! Score one for coffee.
Having been raised by coffee teetotalers (yes, they do exist), I’ve always had a bit of a guilty relationship with the bitter brew. Now that I’m almost forty, though, I’ve decided I’ve earned the right to guilt-free, daily coffee from whatever local coffee shop I decide to frequent. Three dollars a day is a small price to pay for my sanity, and as one Facebook friend quipped when I posted this story on my wall, “Can I use my flex spending dollars?”
Taking a bit of a walkabout here, but another bit of wisdom I’ve gained over these many years in regard to mental health is that drinking coffee is not the only prescription I can write for myself. More and more I’ve found that music can often be the great equalizer as well. Having left the self-indulgent days of youth behind I skip over the gloom and doom and load my playlists with A Tribe Called Quest, ABBA and the occasional ironic (not so very) Neil Diamond tune. :-)
Here’s one for the road: