Sunday, May 31, 2015

On my nightstand: Short Stories


My friends Angie,  Lara, and I have been offering each other a different challenge each month this year. I love the challenges! They usually involve something I want to do, but wouldn’t make time for without the external obligation I feel to my friends (classic obliger mode, according to Gretchen Rubin’s four tendencies).

I chose our May challenge: to read one short story every day in May.

Lara is a ferocious reader and has done various reading challenges in the past (reading 52 books in one year, reading #24in48, and the instigator of our Book Bingo FB group). I’m usually wary of any reading challenge, as my inner rebel comes out. I like to read whatever and whenever I want, but like Book Bingo, this one allowed me to choose my titles. In the end, I settled for reading 31 short stories in May---as some days I didn’t find time and then caught up on the weekends.




Here's what I read, in the order I read them, with the top 10 in bold:

1. "A Temporary Matter" by Jhumpa Lahiri
2. "Reflections of Luanne" by Marjorie Holmes
3. "My Father Addresses Me on the Facts of Old Age" by Grace Paley
4.  "Revelation" by Flannery O'Connor & “A Good Man is Hard to Find”
5. "Advanced Beginners" by Melissa Banks
6. "When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine" by Jhumpa Lahiri
7. "Sexy" by Jhumpa Lahiri
8. "Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri
9. "A Real Durwan" by Jhumpa Lahiri
10. "I Knew You'd be Lovely" by Alethea Black
11. "Mrs. Sen's" by Jhumpa Lahiri
12. "The Third and Final Continent" by Jhumpa Lahiri
13. "This Blessed House" by Jhumpa Lahiri
14. "The Treatment of Bibi Haldar" by Jhumpa Lahiri
15. "The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing" by Melissa Banks
16. "Wants" by Grace Paley
17. "The Story of an Hour" by Kate Chopin
18. "Poison" by Roald Dahl
19. "The Office" by Alice Munroe
20. "Sonny's Blues" by James Baldwin
21. "Immigrant Story" by Grace Paley
22. "Conversations with My Father" by Grace Paley
23. "Enormous Changes at the Last Minute" by Grace Paley
24. “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried” by Amy Hempel
25. “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros
26. “Roman Fever” by Edith Wharton
27. "Sixteen" by Maureen Daly
28. "Homage To Switzerland" by Ernest Hemingway
29. “The Happiest I’ve Been” by John Updike
30. “I Stand Here Ironing” by Tillie Olson
31. “The Roads Round Pisa” by Isak Dinesen, and her “The Deluge at Norderney”

This year’s Book Bingo requires an anthology of short stories all by the same author, which is why I finally read Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. It didn’t disappoint, despite a decade's worth of hype. I have to admit, only a few of the other titles are new to me. I reread a few that I used to teach (Eleven and Poison), and a few from my mother's high school lit book, one of the most meaningful gifts she ever gave me.


Before I knew the word typography, I was fascinated by it in my mother's anthology from Siena High School.


Most were old favorites, but these were new to me: Hemingway’s "Homage to Switzerland.” Alice Munroe’s “The Office,"“I Knew You’d Be Lovely” by Alethea Black, and two of Grace Paley’s stories about her father.

Some think rereading is a crime since there are more great books than time to read them all. I find that silly. Reading is not a race or a conquest. Nabokov supposedly said the best reading is rereading, and I firmly side with him. A few weren't as good as I remembered them ("Roman Fever"); some were even better ("Revelation").

I hadn’t read “Sonny’s Blues” in years, but it took me back to the awe I felt reading it at 17, in Dr. Harold’s Literary Analysis class during my first semester at Loyola. I remembered bringing it home the following weekend for my mother to read, and her reaction: “You can actually see the music.” 

At 17 I was clueless about many things, but I did know that this was magic---that Baldwin could make marks on paper and years after that, the people he imagined could show up in my own mind just by my looking at those same marks on paper. And when the writing is good, as it is with Baldwin, those people become part of my story too, people I carry with me.

Reading is magic.



Saturday, May 16, 2015

On my nightstand: Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreaming best booksPhoto from April 2015, and more to come about those other two titles.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson was chosen by my book club here in Golden. My friend Freida invited me to join last fall, and I like how they choose their books. Everyone suggest titles and then they vote, with the top 12 becoming the books for the year. When you host, you choose which of the remaining 12 will be read that month. I’m hosting this fall and chose All the Light We Cannot See.

I already had Brown Girl Dreaming on my ‘to read’ list as many friends and fellow-book-nerds in our Book Bingo group raved about it. Then I heard this interview with Woodson and Terri Gross. Even with those high expectations, I was blown away by Woodson’s writing.

It’s a memoir, which I love. It’s written in verse, which I love. Back when I taught poetry, my students and I would wrestling to form a definition of poetry. The best definition we came up with was: “saying the most with the least amount of words.” Woodson somehow captures the perspective of a young girl, the personalities of her family, and the intensity of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 70s---all with so few words. With a few brush strokes. With moments.

Brown Girl Dreaming is classified as a book for children; it received a Newberry Honor and should be in every middle school library. And yet, I would place it beside Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

I’ve often lamented that there are so few bildungsroman from a female perspective. I had read To Kill a Mockingbird numerous times as a teen before it finally hit me that, even though Scott was the narrator, it was Jem’s story. Here, finally, is a portrait of the artist as a young brown girl.




Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Around Here

2015 04 22_Sean_10th_birthday_pysche

Sean turned 10, closing out the spring birthday season around here. I love that crazy expression above. I had hidden the Wii game in with a shirt, and it was the last gift he opened. He is a sticker (like his dad) for manners and didn’t express his disappointment, but when he finally found the game, he was ecstatic. He’s been working on his literary scrapbook of Tom Sawyer. He wanted The Hobbit, but someone else got it first. No worries, though, because he will get enough Hobbit this summer---he’s in a play production of the novel this August. Honestly, I would be lost without Sean. He is an incredible helper, especially with his little brother. Reading, drawing, listening to music, playing soccer, and arguing about obscure details are still his favorite things.  

2015-03-23 brians iphone_april15 002

Aidan grew another foot, or so it seems. He’s past me and gaining on Brian. He somehow managed to wear us down, and introduced his brothers to the legends of Zelda. He finished his science experiment on how food digests (pretty grossly, imo) and is counting down the days until school is finished. He went on a weekend retreat with our church youth group, and has spent many hours this spring bent over the drafting table in his room drawing. He passed his first Tae Kwon Do test last month too. He got out of school early one day, so I picked him up and brought him back to my work. He read at the Starbucks in the building. I tried to imagine being his age and sitting at a campus coffee shop. I hope it had a fraction of the impact it would’ve have had for me at age 13. Lately he says he wants to live in London when he’s older—partly because he thinks his British accent is so good.

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Nolan wrote the above book, with my favorite part being his “About the author” page on the very back. He turned seven in March, which I think was very inconsiderate. He is our baby, and in some ways is so grown up now and in others, the same sweet little boy. He’s learning to be more assertive on the soccer field, and he has two best friends, Will and Annabelle. When my sister came to visit last month, he and his cousin Henry declared each other “best buddies” and played LEGOs nonstop, and somehow managed to sleep in the same bed. He’s a reader now, and I’m just as surprised at how it seemed to happen overnight as I was with his brothers. He’s dying to start the 5th Harry Potter book, but I’m holding off for as long as he’ll let me. He’s already growing up too fast!

2015-04-02 us BandW at GEconcert

We have made the big transition---to a new state, new town, and new jobs. To be honest, at 45, it’s been exhausting. I feel guilty complaining because we have been so lucky every step of the way. Unexpected gifts everywhere---our house sold within weeks of being on the market. We found a furnished rental in Golden, which is almost unheard of, and in the heart of our little downtown, which was incredibly fun.

We had an amazing, patient realtor (I’m linking to her here, in case you too are looking for a home in the Denver area; she’s that good). We found a house with a real backyard (also slightly unheard of around here), near good schools and with less than 15 minutes commute to either of our jobs. Great neighbors---including teenage twin girls who became our afterschool babysitters as well.

And I got a job, doing things I love like learning, writing, and capturing things with my camera.

And yet, I still complain because none of it has been easy. At least once a month we each have a “We’ve made a big mistake!” moment in which we question every decision of the past year and wish we were back in Moab. Luckily, they’ve never overlapped or we might have packed up and gone back.

Transitioning from free-lance to full-time has been the hardest change for me. That’s a topic for another post. Brian has been amazing, of course. He’s taken on more than his share of the chauffeuring, and took all three boys to their dentists appointments and well-child visits this spring. I’m grateful for that, but it stings a bit too.

Brian has had to travel quite a bit more for this new job, and fire season is starting (I may be the only person thrilled by all the recent rain, secretly hoping it means fewer fires). He continues working on the house, painting trim and closets, and hanging frames.

The hanging of frames, like these in our entry, are the real signal to me that this place is becoming our home.

 

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Unanticipated Gifts

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We celebrated Easter with good friends. During dinner we joked that since we have now celebrated both Easter and Christmas together, we would have to share Thanksgiving dinner next. Only then we realized we have shared a Thanksgiving, back in 2005 when they joined us in Moab. “So the 4th of July!” one of the boys added. And then we cracked up realizing we were together on the 4th in 2013. Kris commented on another visit, in 2012, and how, at that time, neither of us would have guessed we’d get to be neighbors again (albeit different town neighbors). Life is full of surprises, and this one has been a great blessing.

(Yes, I realize I haven’t posted in…well, months. And there is too much to catch up on, but catching up is tiresome. So, if I’m to return to the blogging habit, I have to just jump in!)




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