what’cha reading?

Surely this photo is more interesting than the expected stack-of-books photo. I just put it here ’cause I like it. It was the view from our patio the other night, the sort of view that makes you reflect on anything good you might be reading, and think deep, literary thoughts. And then realize that it was probably just the red wine you had with dinner.

Heather, over at Beauty That Moves, kindly posted a link to this here Wonder Farm recently. If you’re here via that link, hello! Nice to meet you. Come on in, and feel free to poke around.

Heather occasionally asks her readers to share what they’re reading, and I love scrolling through the comments on those posts. So I thought I’d ask the same.

What books are grabbing you these days?

Me? I’m inhaling Lit by Mary Karr. Her memoir of getting drunk and getting sober and becoming a writer and a mother in the meanwhile. I’m not a fan of memoir unless the writing is stunning, and Karr’s is. Having a background in poetry will do that. She writes lines like this:

What’s a typical journey to college? I couldn’t tell you. I hope my son, Dev, had one last summer. His dad was staring owlishly into the computer screen, trying to download music, while I slipped folded shirts into fiberboard drawers and ran extension cords. Before I left, Dev heard a series of moist-eyed platitudes till he said, Mom, don’t Polonius me with this nagging. Still, he hugged me–his huge form ripe with shaving lotion–hugged me right in front of his backward-ballcap-wearing roomies. Dev’s parting words: Love you. Don’t forget to mail those CDs.

My passage involved three blue-ribbon hangovers and the genial loneliness of a South American novel and an image of Mother charging out of a liquor store in blinding sun holding a gallon of vodka aloft like a trophy.

On the morning Mother’s yellow station wagon deposited me at a dorm and pulled away from the curb, I was seventeen, thin and malleable as a coat hanger wire, and Mother was the silky shadow stitched to my feet that I nonetheless believed I could outrun. I didn’t cry when she pulled away, for there were cute hippie boys playing guitar cross-legged on the lawn, but my throat had a cold stone lodged in it. I was thirsty.

Man. After starting with a library copy, I had to buy the book so I could do my usual highlighting tricks with lines I admire. Trouble is, the story draws me in and I leave my highlighter lying.

I’ve also picked up poet Robert Hass’ The Apple Trees at Olema. One of my dear poet friends is a great fan of Hass, so I grabbed the pretty paperback with apple and bird on the cover at the library and am glad I did. These lines made me read twice:

Afternoon cooking in the fall sun–

who is more naked

than the man

yelling, “Hey, I’m home!”

to an empty house?

thinking because the bay is clear,

the hills in yellow heat,

& scrub oaks red in gullies

that great crowds of family

should tumble from rooms

to throw their bodies on the Papa-body,


Funny that both of these snippets are about transitions in parenting. Guess I can relate. Mostly, this evocative writing reminds me that my journals are gathering dust. I write here, I write on my projects, but less and less in my journals. Both of these books are encouraging me to pay better attention, and to scribble down details. So I’ll remember. So they’ll find their way into my writing. Because detail is what makes words memorable and is the surest way to engage a reader. The right detail is like a foxtail caught in a sock. Seed snared and carried along.

So tell us, my friends, what’cha reading?

24 comments… add one
  • Kristin Jun 1, 2011 @ 18:46

    Glad you asked! Just finished my book this morning at 6:30 am. I had bought it used at a bookstore in Bocas Del Toro, Panama expecting to be rained in and we weren’t.

    It took me a long time to read the epic fictional novel, Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier, who won the National Book Award, and who is known for Cold Mountain.

    Talk about description. Wondrous description of the land where the Cherokee originally inhabited, in the Appalachian Mountains, until they were moved. The main character was likable and romantic and his perspective of the area and the time was fabulously described. He tells the story of his life starting as a 13 year old sent alone to work at a trading outpost for 7 years all by himself in the woods up until the railroad was built on the same property. I felt like a voyeur witnessing his relationship with the Cherokee chief who adopted him. I dog-eared many pages that featured the author’s eloquent writing style. If you like historical early American fiction, this book will do ya’ fine.

    • patricia Jun 2, 2011 @ 7:02

      So glad I asked on the day you finished! It must feel like an accomplishment to finish Frazier, since his books really are epics. I read Cold Mountain, and you’re right, the writing is luscious. I’m intrigued by this one–might be a good one to try as an audiobook, so I’d actually get through it…

  • Amy Jun 2, 2011 @ 6:36

    Just put Lit on hold at the library, thanks for the suggestion. Finishing up James Baldwin (why did I never read him before???) and The River Cottage Meat Cookbook (reads…kinda like a novel…but I would not expect you would be very interested!)…

    • patricia Jun 2, 2011 @ 7:06

      I’ve only read a few of Baldwin’s essays, but I liked them. And no, you probably wouldn’t catch me reading a meat cookbook, but I’m a sucker for most cookbooks that read like novels. A sucker!

  • Just Peaches Jun 2, 2011 @ 11:11

    Hmm, I read quite a bit in May – must have been all the rainy weather we had up here. Surprisingly there is very little fiction on this list — I’ll have to find a good summer yarn!

    At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson.
    An interesting (if rambling) history of the home. Discusses everything from the origins of the word “loo” to the making of the mousetrap. Oh and btw, do you know how clever rats are? Yikes.

    Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon. I think I got this recommendation from you? Loved his chapters on Lego, Hypocritical Theory and The Splendors of Crap. Worth a reread somewhere down the line.

    Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark by Jane Fletcher Geniesse
    What a complex woman! The author describes her as: “willful, determined, charismatic and exploitive”. Strange that an astonishingly successful and self made woman would be so deeply insecure.

    The Sea Captain’s Wife by Beth Powning (blech! sorry just my opinion…my friend loved it.)

    Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir by Diana Athill. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. Written in Ms. Athill’s 89th year. I’m still reading this one so the jury is out.

  • Carrie Pomeroy Jun 3, 2011 @ 14:54

    The Edible Front Yard by Ivette Soler–inspiring rundown on attractive, relatively low-maintenance edible plants and garden design ideas. Thanks to her I now have multi-colored kale and swiss chard planted on my front slope, as well as nasturtium, onions, leeks, and sage.

    Soil Mates by Sara Alway–can you tell what’s on my mind these days? This one’s a nice guide to companion planting, with the conceit that the companion plants are couples with their own quirks, turn-ons and turn-offs, and love triangles. Very helpful and again, inspiring.

    In a different vein completely, David Small’s graphic memoir Stitches, which I just picked up at the library because it looked interesting. It’s a very dark, harrowing book about his growing up with very cruel, emotionally remote parents and lots of insanity running through the family, and how art saved him. I was intrigued to see that he’s also the illustrator for the very different children’s book So You Want to Be President?, which is cheery and humorous and totally different in tone and style from his memoir.

    I am thinking about re-reading Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl after reading Francine Prose’s Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, the Afterlife, an appreciation/analysis of the writing of the book and its “life” after Anne’s death. I’d had no idea that Anne actually revised a lot and really had a sense of wanting to share her story with an audience some day–though in retrospect it makes sense that she did.

    Thanks for starting this conversation. It’s fun to hear what others have been reading and share my own finds.

    • patricia Jun 3, 2011 @ 18:53

      Ooh, that first book sounds intriguing–I love using veggies in an ornamental way.

      I hadn’t heard of the Prose book on Ann Frank. That sounds interesting too. I really liked her book Reading Like a Writer.

    • Sarah Jun 8, 2011 @ 13:41

      “Edible Front Yard” sounds interesting. I’m planting our front bed with some veggies this year. I can’t make myself tend a flower garden, but I’m hoping the veggies will provide some motivation.

  • Carrie Pomeroy Jun 3, 2011 @ 14:58

    Oh, and it’s interesting–I picked up Lit at the library and read the first page and found the writing too “poetic,” somehow, like an overly rich dessert I wouldn’t be able to finish, and I found the narrative voice a little too “here, let me shock you.” Maybe the whole book wasn’t like that, but that was my take on page one, and I put it back on the shelf. The passage you quoted was more to my liking, so maybe once I got into the book–and the complexity of the older woman’s voice layered over the younger woman’s experiences–I might have liked it better.

    • patricia Jun 3, 2011 @ 18:59

      Well, I admit to having a taste for poetic writing, but I don’t think the rest of the book is so densely lyrical. Not at all. And Karr definitely has a blatantly honest, self-deprecating, raised-in-Texas style, but I don’t think it’s all done for shock effect.

      No book is for everyone, but you might want to try it again.

  • Susan Jun 3, 2011 @ 17:08

    My beach reading is Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America. A wonderful collection of short stories. Love her character sketches with all their contradiction and complexity and wit.

    Bill, divorced only once, is here tonight with Debbie, a woman who is too young for him: at least that is what he knows is said, though the next time it is said to his face, Bill will shout, “I beg your pardon!” Maybe not shout. Maybe squeak. Squeak with a dash of begging. Then he’ll just hurl himself to the ground and plead for a quick stoning. For now, this second, however, he will pretend to a braver, more evolved heart, explaining to anyone who might ask how much easier it would be to venture out still with his ex-wife, someone his own age, but no, not Bill, not big brave Bill: Bill has entered something complex, spiritually biracial, politically tricky, and, truth be told, physically demanding.

    • patricia Jun 3, 2011 @ 19:11

      Oh, I do love that Lorrie Moore. I’ve dipped back into Birds of America more than once. That paragraph makes me sigh in wonder.

      And Lorrie Moore on a Maui beach? More sighing.

  • suzee Jun 5, 2011 @ 7:32

    Lit sounds wonderful. I’ll look for it! I’m finishing up The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I read a lot of books in this genre (popular medicine? biographies of cells or diseases?) and so can confidently say that this one is special. Rebecca Skloot tells three wonderful stories (her own, of writing the book, the story of Henrietta’s family, and the history of Lacks’ cells), and writes so well that I find the book hard to put down.

    It’s the last paper book from what was an enormous stack a year ago. The Kindle is taking over my reading space (most of the time for reading is on BART or in bed, two perfect Kindle places).

    • patricia Jun 6, 2011 @ 17:24

      Funny: I actually know the story of Henrietta Lacks, via my dad, who got his masters in microbiology. I haven’t read the book, but a few months back I read an essay by Rebecca Skloot about a pack of wild dogs in NYC that mauled several other dogs, including hers. http://nymag.com/nymetro/urban/pets_animals/features/9986/ It was a marvel of an essay that had me parsing apart how she chose to tell the story. So memorable.

      I can see how a Kindle would make for good in-bed reading. I hate reading the left page while lying on my left side…

  • Lisa Jun 6, 2011 @ 22:18

    I love reading all these book ideas…its like being in a candy shop, trying to decide what to read next from so many good choices. Thank you.

    I’m reading The Intentional Family: Simple Rituals to Strengthen Family Ties
    William J. Doherty….we have a young family and sometimes struggle to all sit down together at the dinner table together, so this book has some realistic ideas on how to shepherd good pockets of conversation among us.

    Recently I finished the novel Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards…(author of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter)….this new book is good, about a woman coming “home” and uncovering the changes there, and the history of suffrage women in her family & community. Very enjoyable…

    Perhaps wonderfarm will be starting a virtual bookclub?!?!? 🙂

    • patricia Jun 6, 2011 @ 22:51

      I had to laugh about dinner table conversation, Lisa. We have a decidedly not-young family. Suddenly, with our oldest home from college, dinner conversations with all five of us have gotten loud again! In a good way. But we could probably use some shepherding as well. 😉

      I’ve never joined a book group because, as much as I like talking books, I don’t want people to tell me what to read! But I’m loving the comments on this post, so I’ll try to ask the reading question here every now and again. It’s fascinating to see the range of what we all read!

  • Sarah Jun 7, 2011 @ 18:38

    Sadly, I am not reading anything particularly lyrical lately. I am reading “When Children Love to Learn: Practical Applications of Charlotte Mason Philosophy for Today.” It’s a bit of a slog, truth be told. I really enjoyed “For the Children’s Sake” by Frances Schaeffer-Macaulay, but I’m ready to return this book to the library.

    The best non-fiction I’ve “read” recently is “People of the Book” on audio. (Geraldine Brooks, narrated by Edwina Wren) This is a rare case of an audiobook far outshining the printed page. The reader is fabulous at the multiple accents used throughout the story – she slides seamlessly from the easy drawl of the Australian book restorer to several thick Eastern European accents and around to the guttural cadences of the narrator’s Israeli mentor. The storyline revolves around a centuries-old Jewish Hagaddah protected through the Inquisition and WWII. It steps between narratives of the Hagaddah’s current restorer and several key figures in its history – a format that typically irritates me, but this author makes it work. Several of the historical accounts are heartbreaking, more for their truth than for their fictional elements. The ending was somewhat unexpected, and the whole thing was quite well-done.

    On the children’s book front, I just finished reading “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe” to my 4 and 6 year old. I have been waiting for years to share this story with them. It was as satisfying as I had hoped. They adored it!

    On my pile of books to read pile is the non-fiction “Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing our Daughters from Marketers’ Schemes” by Sharon Lamb. I have to wait until I’m ready for a good, old-fashioned outrage before I can tackle that one!

    Thanks for the great question. I’ve enjoyed checking out what everyone else is reading.


    • patricia Jun 7, 2011 @ 22:38

      The audio version of People of the Book sounds fantastic! As does the synopsis of the book itself. I love hearing recommendations for good audiobooks–I keep telling myself I’d get more knitting done if I’d knit by audiobook some nights.

      Nice to see you here again, Sarah!

      • Sarah Jun 8, 2011 @ 13:42

        I love knitting by audiobook! It combines two of my favorite things. 🙂

  • Jennifer Briffa Jun 7, 2011 @ 20:54

    I just finished Water for Elephants and loved it. Mostly for the characters. I am a very visual person and it was easy for me to picture everyone from Walter the dwarf to Rosie the elephant. Having been a “show” person I am so intrigued with the backstage life of show people. In many ways it confirmed both my love and disgust of circuses. I hope to read more by this author. I am now diving into “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao”. Having just returned for the DR I am very excited to read a good novel about a character from there. I also really enjoy reading books my sons have read and it was Lucas who recommended the book to me. So far I really like it.

    • patricia Jun 7, 2011 @ 22:41

      Hey, Jenny! So if you pictured all the characters in the book, will you want to see the film version of Water for Elephants? Or will that ruin the pictures you’ve created in your mind?

      How fantastic to be able to enjoy book recommendations from your boys. Sort of like sweet payback for all the books you read to them over the years!

  • wanderingsue Jul 9, 2013 @ 6:39

    I just loved People of the Book, too. I read it, but the audio version would be great- lots of accents in that one. We’ve just bought a CD-player, and borrowed our first lots of kids’ audio books, but I must look at the adult ones, too. I’m not a knitter, but terribly neglecting a hand-sewing project for a growing baby!

    • patricia Jul 16, 2013 @ 10:28

      Ooh, thanks for the reminder to check out People of the Book, wanderingsue. Seems like it might be of particular interest, after our trip to Spain, and our visits to many old Jewish neighborhoods there.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.