Thursday, September 22, 2016

Reading Lately

Even though it's sort of my job to read for a living, I confess that I can get bogged down with the day-to-day assignments (my students probably know the feeling!) and not spend nearly as much time as I would like reading for pleasure, or thinking about what I'm reading in relation to my own writing, or taking my own writing seriously, thinking about it as a craft instead of mere record-keeping.

I'm still not finding time to do as much reading as I would like, but I am making my way through a few different books at the moment that are fascinating in totally different ways.

One of them is Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon. I checked this out from the library first and couldn't get all the way through it before someone else requested it. So I bought it used from because I didn't want to rush through it and it's the kind of book you can read in pieces because the chapters can stand alone. It's a book about parents and children that's particularly concerned with identity in the face of disability or disease or some kind of "otherness" that shapes the way the child and family function in our society. It's fascinating (and really long) and there are chapters on deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, transgender, among other things. I like it because it's well researched (oodles of endnotes) and well written. Completely fascinating. I've just finished the chapter on dwarfs and I was especially struck by the idea that parents often take their child's diagnosis much harder than their children do--the children don't know any different, but it's the parents who set expectations for their child before that child is even born, and then have to adjust to a different kind of life.

Back in April when I flew to Colorado for my friend Monica's birthday, I actually talked to the person next to me on the airplane (basically the first time this has ever happened to me). He turned out to be a writer and journalist about my age, and he just came out with a new book: Original Gangstas: The Untold Story of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the Birth of West Coast Rap. Believe me when I say that this is not a subject in which I expected to be very interested, and also believe me when I say that I did not want to put the book down last night to go to bed. Ben gave a reading last night at Left Bank Books, so I bought that book and Teddy Wayne's new novel, Loner. He's giving a reading at Left Bank on Monday, but David has class so I'll be at home with the girls and won't be able to attend the reading.

A friend of mine gave me an unexpected birthday gift of $20 to Amazon and I used it to buy Krista Tippett's book Becoming Wise. I like her podcast On Being (her voice is so soothing!) and I'm excited to get further into this book.

I'm realizing that most of these are nonfiction, which is kind of weird for me. I guess I go in spurts. I just recently finished listening to the novel Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff which was fantastic (I listen to library books through the Overdrive app on my phone). I wasn't sure I wanted to read it (the synopsis I heard was like "story of a marriage, a husband and wife who don't know each other as well as they think" or something like that, which made it sound meh), but even better than the plot was the writing--the word choices and descriptions were just fantastic, so original and unexpected and exactly precise. It had me looking forward to my commute for over two weeks.

As far as what the girls are reading, Zuzu has started getting really into writing letters. She writes random letters (and sometimes just squiggles) and then wants to know what it says. (Um, oooeeeiioo?" and one of her favorite books to "help" me read is Chicka Chicka, Boom Boom. Coco likes it, too, and is adorable about singing the alphabet at the end. We're also still reading a lot of Baby Listens (I love the illustrations). Zuzu has recently gotten into Mo Willems--she finds that naughty pigeon so appealing and cracks up laughing when we read The Duckling Gets a Cookie?! and Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!. I remember reading her Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus from a library book when she was about Coco's age and thinking that it did not live up to the hype, but maybe she was just too young for it. Now she gets so much pleasure from reading these books that I guess I see why Mo Willems is so popular with the preschool set.

Another book we've been reading lately is Hajime in the North Woods, which I bought used at a thrift shop and can't find on Amazon (I don't know why the cover shot looks like that--it has lovely pictures in real life, though our thrift store copy is missing the dust jacket). It's about a baby who understands the animals and visits them in the woods but then wants to go home to his mommy and daddy. The baby cries until the animals take him back home, and Coco is so interested in the pictures of the crying baby. It's beautifully illustrated, and she read it by herself last night, basically just acting out the crying parts "wah! wah!" while turning the pages.

So, that's what I'm reading now. My book club is discussing The Girl on the Train tomorrow night, which I read a while back, and my next novel up is Dept. of Speculation.


  1. I'm just finishing "People of the Book." Have you read it? I listened to the audio book for about half of it, but had to turn it in before we moved and we own the book so now am finishing it up. It's really good!

    I can't help but laugh at the thought of you reading the book "original gangstas" (insert laughing/crying emoji here)

  2. "Far From the Tree" really changed the way I thought about people with different abilities. Seems silly to pity people who are happy with their lives. The schizophrenia chapter is brutal though.

    "Becoming Wise" sounds interesting! In a similar vein, I just ordered "Designing Your Life," which is by two Stanford professors. They teach a course by the same name, and apparently it is the most popular class on campus. They offer advice about how people can find their true calling and make big decisions, which is just what I need.

  3. I love hearing about what other people are reading -- thanks for this! :)

  4. I went back to Zadie Smith's White Teeth because I never finished it years ago. And I still don't like it. I am forcing myself to finish, but I'm determined. I'm reading The Catcher in the Rye (again) with my oldest teen (I remember it not resonating with me in high school). I'm reading something teen angst-ridden with a title I can't recall with the middle teen. The boy is 7 and seems to think none of the chapter books should be completed, but he's sticking with Captain Underpants right now (because of course). As a family, we're listening to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

  5. Oooh, great list. "Far from the Tree" is on my to-read list and I loved Fates & Furies. Was it disturbing? For sure. But I was captivated. I just finished reading "Navigating Life," which I highly recommend.