Lost & Found

It’s been a long time since I wrote down so many passages from a book, underlined so aggressively, nodded and shared quotes and blinked away tears.  Thank you Brettne for suggesting that I read Lost & Found by Kathryn Schulz.  I have never read a book that captures as precisely and articulately what the experience of mourning a larger-than-life father was.  The book is structured in three parts: “lost,” which talks about the death of her father, “found,” which talks about her finding love shortly before her father’s death, and “and,” which talks about how both losing and finding animate the rest of her life.  I loved all three parts, but the first and last most.  The first section moved me often to tears, as Schulz put words around what my experience was like in the weeks, months, and years after Dad’s death.

The last section did what great literature does for me: made me feel less alone in the world.  Schulz describes the interplay between grief and gratitude that defines my every single day, and argues compellingly that awareness of each augments and enriches the other.  I could not believe this more.  In so many ways Dad’s death made me a more deeply feeling and more keenly aware person, more attuned to life’s beauty and pain, both.

Lately I have found this everyday remarkableness almost overwhelming. As I said, I’ve never been much for stoicism, but these last few years, I have been even more susceptible than usual to emotion—or, rather, to one emotion in particular. As far as I know, it has no name in our language, although it is close to what the Portuguese call saudade and the Japanese call mono no aware. It is the feeling of registering, on the basis of some slight exposure, our existential condition: how lovely life is, and how fragile, and how fleeting. Although this feeling is partly a response to our place in the universe, it is not quite the same as awe, because it has too much of the everyday in it, and too much sorrow, too. For the same reason, it is also not the feeling the Romantics identified as the sublime—a mingling of admiration and dread, evoked by the vast impersonal grandeur of the physical world. This feeling I am talking about has none of that splendor or terror in it. It is made up, instead, of gratitude, longing, and a note I can only call anticipatory grief. Among English words, its nearest kin might be “bittersweet.”

Favorite books of 2021

It was a good reading year.  I read a lot of plot, too, and recently discovered James Patterson (I have a well-documented love for Linda Fairstein, David Baldacci, Michael Connelley, and John Grisham, and Patterson joins this pantheon).  But thought it was interesting to reflect on some of my favorite reads from this year.  I’m interested in what you loved, too!

Cloud Cuckoo Land – Anthony Doerr – without question my #1, by a mile.  I adored this book.  Adored, adored, adored.  As I said on Instagram, “This is a simply extraordinary tale, which does that most exalted thing books can do: touches on what it means to be a thinking, feeling human being in the world.”

No Cure for Being Human: (And Other Truths I Need to Hear) – Kate Bowler – I loved Bowler’s first book and this one even more.  It’s a gorgeous exploration of what you learn and think about when you suddenly contemplate dying in your 30s.  I underlined so many passages.  This is a beautiful book.

Great Circle – Maggie Shipstead – This was my #1 of the year until I read the Doerr this fall.  Shipstead’s book is a soaring story of strength, resilence, and pursuing a dream, and the arc of a flight over the world echoes in the narrative.  Just glorious.

A Children’s Bible – Lydia Millet – This slender dystopian novel packs a powerful punch.  I’m still thinking about it 6 months later.  Completely haunting.

Monogamy – Sue Miller – I loved this story about long marriage and midlife, and particularly loved that it’s set not just in my home town but in my actual neighborhood.  Even more thrilling is that Dani Shapiro is writing the film adapatation!  I can’t wait!

The Paper Palace – Miranda Cowley Heller – I found this book profoundly evocative of my childhood summers near Cape Cod, and I also think the central question, of the one who got away in the context of a happy and contented marriage, is very interesting and not frequently explored.

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted – Suleika Jaouad – I found this book inspiring and gloriously written, and it made me look around my ordinary life with (even) more awareness than usual.

Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell – I absolutely loved this book’s exploration of Hamlet from another angle, and the observations O’Farrell makes on marriage and the ways that grief and memory echo through our lives.

What were your favorite books this year?  

Disclosure: these are Amazon links

Best books of the half-year 2021

For the last many years I’ve published posts at the end of June noting my favorite books of that year so far (it seems I did not do this in 2020 – chalk that up to a lost year).  The previous posts are here: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.  I stand absolutely by all of those recommendations!

I’ve been reading a lot.  I hope people never stop asking me what I’m reading or what I recommend.  It’s one of my favorite conversations and I love to ask others that, too.

Fiction:

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead.  Wow.  My favorite book so far this year. This is a tour de force and I absolutely loved it.  About ambition and feminism and identity and family and the restless, eternal dialog between where we came from and where we are going.  Read this book if you have not!

A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet.  This book is disturbing and compelling and I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  It reminded me of both Lord of the Flies and of futuristic, dystopian novels about the world in the future.  Powerful and lyrical.

Monogamy by Sue Miller.  I love that this book is set not only in my town but in my actual neighborhood. A wonderful story of long marriage, of the things we forgive and those we struggle to, of the ways our selves wind around those we live with in ways that are both comforting and sometimes, restrictive.  I can’t wait to see the movie! (Dani Shapiro is adapting it).

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.  My sister pointed out that this is an unusual like for me, and it is (I don’t gravitate towards historical novels).  I just loved it, perhaps because Hamlet is one of my all-time favorite pieces of writing.  I found it engaging and both whimsical and wistful.  The writing is poetic, spectacular also.

Memoir:

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted by Suleika Jaouad. This story made me want to cheer and made me want to cry.  Jaouad writes unflinchingly about her years-long struggle with serious cancer as a young adult, and in so doing reminds us that all we have is right now.  I closed the book and my life shimmered in a new way.  The best books do that, I find.

Bravey: Chasing Dreams, Befriending Pain, and Other Big Ideas by Alexi Pappas.  Pappas tells her own story of hard work and determination in her pursuit of a professional running career.  The book is inspiring and funny, and it reminded me that though I’m VERY far from an athlete I can always try a little harder, believe in myself more, and that most pain passes.

Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life by Christie Tate.  Oh, I love Tate’s voice.  She is so honest, so unafraid to reveal the depths of herself, and this book is nothing less than the telling of her transforming her own life.  Her bravery and her candor stayed with me after I finished the book and left the room.

What are you reading and what have you loved this year?  I’d love to know.

there are only fragments

 

“There is no complete life. There are only fragments. We are born to have nothing, to have it pour through our hands.” – James Salter.

I woke up early with Light Years (one of my all time favorite books) in my mind today. And this photo, also one of my favorites, on a porch in Florida over Thanksgiving 2009. My father-in-law stands behind us. He is gone now. These children are now young adults. I agree entirely with Salter: life is an accumulation of moments, that it pours through our hands. Only with open palms can we really see the glittering of our lives. That’s the tricky part, isn’t it? Not to grasp but to trust, watch, and wonder. And to love.

first posted on Instagram.

Books I’m buying this year

I’ve written a post like this for the last many years (2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012).  Books are my favorite gifts, always and forever, and I like to share those I’m wrapping for gifts each holiday season.  I’m also interested in what you are giving and in what you loved in 2020!

Novels:

The Dearly Beloved – Cara Wall.  My favorite book of 2020.  For anyone who loves Crossing to Safety or Gilead, this book’s for you.  Quiet, powerful, compelling: it’s fantastic.

Transcendent Kingdom – Yaa Gyasi.  I adored Homegoing and this follow up did not disappoint.  It’s sweeping in an entirely different way, but made me cry and made me think and just plain made me one iota better, which I think is what the best writing does.

The Book of Longings – Sue Monk Kidd.  This exploration of what the life of Jesus’s wife might have been light was riveting, and I thought about it for many weeks after I finished.

An American Marriage – Tayari Jones. For some reason I resisted reading this book for a long time and I don’t know why. I adored it.  This story is both a solemn exploration of one of America’s most deep-rooted problems and a compelling tale of growth and individuality.

The Vanishing Half – Brit Bennett. Another book that’s both page-turning and thought-provoking (seeing a real theme here, eh?)  I loved it.

Memoirs & Essays:

Notes on a Silencing – Lacy Crawford. Powerful, revelatory, with writing like a freight train.  I read this book in one breathless gulp this summer, wrote about it, and am still recommending it far and wide.  I’m proud to call Lacy a friend.

Bright Precious Thing – Gail Caldwell.  Caldwell is one of my favorite writers.  My favorite remains A Strong West Wind, but this is wonderful story of growing up female and learning what matters most.

A Promised Land – Barack Obama.  I admit I haven’t read it yet.  But I will.  I adored  Michelle Obama’s Becoming.

On Being 40(ish).  Yes.  A little plug.  But I do believe in this book of essays, and since I didn’t write them I feel like I can say that.  A great, timeless gift for any 40ish women in your life!

It’s a little tragic how far I am from buying picture books and books for early readers, as that’s always been one of my favorite categories.  So I’ll just share some of my evergreen favorites in that category:

Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words – Randall Monroe.  I love this book.  For kids, adults, boys, girls, for anyone.  Birthdays, holidays, hostess gifts: you name it, I’ve given it.

Miss Rumphius – Barbara Cooney.  Just the best.  I love Miss Rumphius so much I have a tee-shirt with the cover on it.  Perennial and beautiful.

Grace for President – Kelly DiPucchio.  I literally have never read this book without choking up.

Rosie Revere, Engineer – Andrea Beaty. The original book which spawned a series (and, I think, a TV show).  I love the book and every single thing it stands for.