Several years ago when I was changing careers, leaving my role in the restaurant business that I knew so well, I stumbled upon an article that asked a question that I still think about. At the time I was in a reflective state of mind, trying to figure out where to direct my energies. The question went something like this – What are the activities in your life that no one forces you to do, that you somehow find time for? It required me to look at my actions and remove the lenses of obligation and expectations.
Since I learned how to read, spending time with a book is something I’ve always gravitated toward. Books have been my escape, my education, my inspiration and my friends. In all of my nerdiness, I have a section in my journal where I list the books I’ve read and I write out sentences that impact me to help me remember what I’ve read. This year I figured out how to check out audiobooks from the library and I’ve started to listening to them while walking my dogs and driving. (Does anyone else feel like listening to a book is cheating a little?)
Below are three that I’ve loved recently. What have you read recently that you’ve loved?
1) Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. I fell in love with her writing with her excellent and unusual memoir The Men We Reaped. Her award-winning novel Sing, Unburied, Sing blew me away and before I went to hear her speak recently in my town of Lawrence, Kansas, I wanted to read her first National Book Award Winner. Her work is set in the American South, a culture distinctly its own, and yet geographically close to mine. Her words are rich and lyrical and yet sometimes painfully direct and simple. I am a big fan of her writing.
From Salvage the Bones, “We never stopped crying. We just did it quieter. We hid it. I learned how to cry so that almost no tears leaked out of my eyes, so that I swallowed the hot salty water of them and felt them running down my throat. This was the only thing we could do.” (p. 206.) Set against the Hurricane Katrina, these characters left an imprint that lingers still.
2) Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon. This intense and skillfully written memoir packs a wallop. The complex family relationships revealed are both uplifting and heartbreaking. Set primarily in Mississippi, I was able to see through the eyes of a young black man and it’s a perspective I won’t soon forget.
This book is a brilliant blend of the personal and the political. Here’s a little taste, “For the first time time in my life, I realized telling the truth was way different from finding the truth, and finding the truth had everything to do with revisiting and rearranging words. Revisiting and rearranging words didn’t only require vocabulary; it required will, and maybe courage.” (p.86).
3) Inheritance by Dani Shapiro. This memoir outlines the life upheaval the author experienced when she discovered the father she grew up with and adored was not her biological father. Discovered through taking a DNA test after both of her parents were dead, she learns she was donor conceived. It’s an honest journey of wrestling with identity, family bonds and secrets. I listened to this one, so I don’t have sentences written down but she is an excellent writer and brings up so many complex issues in the telling of her story. Also, the podcast Family Secrets that spun off from the book is great too.
(On a family trip as a teenager with my cousins, reading a book, obviously the life of the party…)
I’m always telling my writing students that the best way to improve our writing is to read more. But the second best way is to take a class! To my local friends, I’m teaching this summer and I’d love to have you. It’s my goal to create a supportive and enriching environment to work on our stories. For more details on the two sessions available, visit my website here.
Finally, I hope when you are choosing your books, you will consider supporting your local bookseller. I look forward to your reading suggestions!