2 Days, 3 Books

CS Lewis quote

I packed three books to go to my parents for the weekend – really it was more like a 30 hour trip. I went to help out after my dad had a series of small strokes that followed a severe stroke a couple years ago. My mom is his caretaker. Is is a lot.

Before I left I checked the fifth Harry Potter book on audio out of the library for my daughter. She’s seven and loves audio books. Since I introduced her to the literary crack that is Harry Potter she’s been flying through them.  I knew she was worried about me. And I knew if she had an audio book she was into she could squirrel herself away in her room and get lost in  a story.

My mom calls it defensive eating -when we eat not because we’re so hungry but to prevent being hungry later on. (Did I mention we’re Jewish?) Anyway, sometimes I practice defensive library use. I check books out to avoid being without one at my fingertips.

I brought the following books:

You’ll Grow Out of It by Jessi Klein -a re-read but one that is light and smart and makes me laugh.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi -my current YA fiction read. The story of Fabiola who emigrates to the US alone to live with her Aunt and cousins after her mom is detained.

Astrophysics for People In a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson – because I’ve never read anything by him and I heard him talk about it brilliantly on the radio. And because sometimes it’s good to get distracted by things that are a lot bigger than you are.

I didn’t pick up a single one -okay maybe a few pages of You’ll Grow Out of It before bed, but that was it. But I knew they were there. I knew if/when things got hard or painful that those books were there for me. I’m not a religious person but I imagine this is how it feels to have that kind of spiritual faith.

When I open the pages of a well loved book I know that the words will be in the same order they were before, that the plot will arc in the same direction. When I read something by a trusted and loved author I know I am investing myself in something that could show me the interconnectedness of all things, or a world wildly different from my own but that resonates with me emotionally.

“We read to know we’re not alone,” is a quote often attributed to C.S. Lewis but there’s some controversy around that. I’m not surprised I’m sure it’s one many people have said or thought. I know I have.

My dander is up

This morning I listened to a re-broadcast of an interview with David Denby on his book Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-four Books That Can Change Lives. There were a few moments when I was white knuckling the steering wheel from annoyance. Here are two older white dudes hemming and hawing about kids on their smart phones and the fact that no one reads Huck Finn anymore. In the next breath they were totally dismissive of Twilight and  The Hunger Games, which great or not, got thousands, if not millions of kids to read.

There is so much wonderful YA literature beyond the mega-franchises and the interviewer and his guest were acting like reading Dickens is the only way for teenagers to become readers. There was also an element of youth-shaming. As if it’s all well and good for adults to be on their devices 24-7 because they actually read Tom Sawyer (and not the Spark notes) when they were in high school.

Technology is not destroying culture. Stories will always be relevant to our society even if the form they take is something different than what we’ve seen before.

Here is MY list of “great” books to engage your teenage or old fuddy-duddy self in reading.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Winger by Andrew Smith

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Gabi a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

I’ll Give You The Sky by Jandy Nelson

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Feed by MT Anderson (see this one for commentary on technology in society)

In Darkness by Nick Lake

Books by his bed

May was a killer blog month for me, June not so much. Life caught up to me, family, end of school year, a new edit letter on my Spring 2016 book -ha I wish I could say I’ve been writing. Mostly I open the letter, read and think, “whew I have a lot of work to do”! But I’ll get there, I will. In the mean time I have some thoughts on life and reading.

Many of you know that about 2 weeks go my whole life changed. It’s disingenuous to say it in lesser terms. My dad suffered a bleed in his brain that caused a stroke. I don’t want to get all medical here -not the place for it -but over the course of the last 2 weeks he’s been slowly regaining his consciousness and cognizance. There is a long road ahead for him relearning to do so many tasks that we take for granted.

Nick (dad) has had varying degrees of awareness about what happened to him and where he is. For a week he could barely open his eyes and even so there were a few things he asked for repeatedly. One of them was his book and his reading glasses. If you know my father, and it is so lovely that so many of my friends do, you know he is a man who loves words. I dedicated my first book to him with the words;

For Dad and the shared love of stories

Next to his bed at home my dad has his stacks of books. Stacks is not an exaggeration. Stories are what my dad turns to for entertainment, for joy, for distraction, for insomnia and to appreciate the beauty of the world. They provide a kind of security. When the narrative of life is challenging you can always focus on a different narrative when you open the pages of a book.

One of the first things I was able to do for my dad in the hospital was read to him. I opened up to his bookmark in The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien and picked up where he left off. Oddly, it was a book he had mentioned to me on the phone the last time we spoke. And here I was sharing it with him. We were in the ICU, there were tubes and beeping monitors everywhere and as I read, dad whispered hoarsely, “She gets the details just right. She nails the characterization with the details.” My mom, brother and I shook our heads. Even in the worst of situations, here was dad, still able to appreciate and love what was dear to him.

I was so happy to talk about this book with my dad. There in this surreal twilight world with it’s sickening sterilized plastic smells we discussed the main character and why it was she couldn’t be seen with her male companion -was he married? Too old for her? Was it just that it was Ireland in the 1960’s? We changed the narrative, if only for a few minutes.

So what am I reading right now? Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel; a post apocalyptic novel with just the right amount of good writing and plausibility.  Here’s a little blurb from goodreads:

“Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.”

It’s perfect for where I am and where I want to be.