Wednesday, January 17, 2024


My sister and I are reading the same book right now, Wintering, by Katherine May. Chris got it from a friend, who found it good for grieving and healing, for hunkering down when needed, and I found it on the library shelf while collecting adjacent books for a display. The subtitle is The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, and we are both resting and retreating since the death of our mother. Bitterly cold, it's an excellent time to hunker down and read; "wintering," as much a state of mind as a season or kind of weather, is all about taking time and care to adapt to any bitter reality.

Chris is reading slowly and as part of her daily meditation practice. I am reading in soft, slothful chunks, slathered in sherpa and fleece on a comfy couch. Where I am in the book, May is currently swimming in the cold sea at Whitstable, where she lives, in southeastern England, with her family. And here's one of those coincidences I love: Whitstable is where a man goes for his honeymoon in the play, Every Brilliant Thing, by Duncan Macmillan (with comedian Jonny Donahoe, who helped develop the script by performing it). I had not really heard of this place till I read (and re-read) this play, and there it is in Wintering. The play is about a man who makes a list of every brilliant thing that makes life worth living, a list he makes for his mother. It's got ice cream in it, and donuts, and the color yellow.

As well as The Sorrows of Young Werther, a famously sad romantic novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that temporarily made suicide dangerously popular. Considered the first psychological novel, it features impossible love and Werther in a blue coat. I would have put it on the display, but the library doesn't have a hard copy. (There are many electronic versions available for checkout.) When I finish Wintering it will go on the display. Heartland Theatre is doing this play in February, and I will be there, perhaps more than once. Relying on audience interaction, it will be a little different every night. The playwright also suggests changing place names and dates to adapt to the local circumstances. So probably no Whitstable.

Last night, I facilitated the Poetry is Normal Presents reading at the library, a virtual one, with Lannie Stabile reading from three of her books, including The Inconvenience of Grief, about the death of her mother. She was in Michigan, equally cold. She read several poems on the "First..." (Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthday) without her mother, what we've just been through in our family. The previous night, I facilitated An Inside Look, a discussion with the directors and designers of Every Brilliant Thing. It was, by coincidence, my mother's birthday. She would have been 91. And Martin Luther King, Jr's. He would have been 95. It gave me pause.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

100 Books

In 2023, I read 100 books. That's according to Beanstack, where I track my reading now. I read all kinds of things, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, murder mystery, young adult, and even a children's book, the marvelous Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo, which I had heard about for many years. And I gave some books as Christmas presents, favorites from the year or from the recent months spent escaping, slothlike, on the couch, covered in fleece blankets. Speaking of sloths, I have already earned a sloth as a "completion prize" in the library's winter reading challenge, set up as a bingo card, where I have scored a Bingo from slothliness.

I gave Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, by Gabrielle Zevin, to my son, in hopes he will share it with his girlfriend, a big reader, and they can discuss it. It's about gamers, friendship, love, and compassion. Yes? With some sound and fury and meaninglessness, despair, and regret thrown in but also hope. OK, it's about being human. Also enjoyed The Book of Form and Emptiness, by Ruth Ozeki, a lot of which takes place in a public library! On p. 276, the Bottleman says, "Let me tell you something about poetry, young schoolboy. Poetry is a problem of form and emptiness." It sure is!

All my poems these days are about my mother, even if they are ekphrastic or written on postcards. "Grief deranges," says Gish Jen in The Resisters, a book I read in January, actually. "Healing is slow." It sure is. I am participating in a solstice-to-solstice poetry postcard project and have sent 8 postcards and received 3. (Maybe that will pick up after the holiday mail...) Some have gone to Santa Cruz, CA and Portland, OR, where I have family, and one went to Japan! I love the random coincidii...

I loved Stoner, by John Williams, which I hope to discuss in 2024 with an online book group, an occasion to reread it. Life as it is lived, academic life, at the University of Missouri in Columbia. I loved The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes, a quiet Wow! book, a revelation, also, in a way, life as it is lived, but by someone not fully paying attention, until, well, until... I liked it so much I sought out the movie I had remembered shelving at the library, with Charlotte Rampling in it. Well done.

I gave Tom Lake, by Ann Patchett, to my daughter and my sister, who had already heard Meryl Streep read the audio version but now has a hard copy to cuddle up with on the couch, like a sloth. It's a mother-daughter story with a production of Our Town in it, perfect for our theatre family. I gave my dad compression socks, but I've been steering books his way all year. Stoner was one of them. I am very, very slowly getting back to real life. But thanking all those books.