These past few weeks I have been reading up a storm.
And while I have started, and gave up on, quite a few books, (I’ve finally accepted that I don’t owe books anything, and that it is perfectly okay to abandon them) there have been several that I couldn’t put down: books that kind of grabbed me by both shoulders and didn’t let go until they had told me exactly what they had to say. You should give them a chance, too.
1. A Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle
Madeleine L’Engle’s non-fiction writing knocks my despair right out from under me, deflating my anxiety and reminding me not to take myself too seriously. She writes on what it means to be ontological: our be-ing, our is-ness, and on what it means to be truly humble: that blessed un-consciousness, or unawareness of self, we experience when we are lost in creating or art-making or being with another person. She writes on the necessary mysteriousness of writing, the way the work just does itself, and the discipline of sitting down and just letting your hands write.
2. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, Robin Sloan
I accidentally found this book at the library and finished it in two days, regularly laughing out loud and wishing I had someone to share it with. Like the protagonist Clay, I’m an art student standing at the crossroads of traditional art and technology, wondering if they can get along. Art is becoming so clean and digitalized, and I love the messiness of paint and charcoal – however, this book gives me hope for the possibility of both techies and traditional artists working together to create beautiful things.
3. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith
Dodie Smith has a way of respecting the experience of first love by giving it the weight it deserves. Cassandra’s story is a coming-of-age story unlike any other I’ve read before, one with a family of imperfect people trying to really see each other and find purpose and belonging in their lives.
4. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
I read this books months ago and am still thinking about it. Told from the perspectives of a blind French girl named Marie Laure and a German orphan named Werner, it is beautifully written and fascinating, although I wasn’t totally sold on the ending. Yes, it’s another World War II story, but it’s worth every single one of it’s 531 pages, trust me. It reminds me a lot of another book that is precious to me, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.
5. Our Town, Thorton Wilder and Middletown, Will Eno
Our Town is one of those plays about small-town America that I read when I was much younger and never really thought twice about. But having just read Middletown, a contemporary play that my college theater ensemble put on a few years ago, I was reminded immediately of Our Town. It’s important to read these plays together, I think, as Middletown is essentially a modern version of Our Town, and asks the same questions about loneliness and what makes life worth living.
6. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott
Still deep in the midst of this book, but am really enjoying Lamott’s tell-it-like-it-is attitude and reverence towards the discipline of writing. Written in short, choppy sections, it’s a compilation of advice drawn from her experiences in which she challenges young writers to have compassion for their characters and to let them be themselves without trying to manipulate them, as well as to fully embrace ‘shitty first drafts.’
I’ve been wondering a lot about remembering lately, about how much we think we are forgetting but are actually absorbing. Do you ever feel like that – like your life is just a sort of wild blur and you’re grasping onto specific, everyday moments to try to make sense of it all? I journal a lot, trying to hold on to the details of my life, but I know a lot of them have been lost. I really hope we’ll somehow get to re-watch the good ones some day.
And so I publish words on this silly little blog, even though they will be swallowed up by the enormity of the Internet, even though someone else has already said it more eloquently.
I post these things to remember: an attempt to make them tangible, to make them stick.