It Really Is a Question of How

How to distill two amazing months of reading into one brief post? How to express how full my life feels right now and how replete my reading world has been? How to convey the urgency with which you should (or perhaps should not) find your way to the nearest bookseller or library and begin to fill yourself in similar ways?

Here's the full list for May and June. Try not to be alarmed.

The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing FilmMichael Ondaatje
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich*Alexander Solzhenitzyn
Because of Mr. TeruptRob Buyea
Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary CorrespondenceNick Bantock
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold*Daniel James Brown
Paper Towns*John Green
Texts from Jane Eyre and Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary CharactersMallory Ortberg
A Walk Across America*Peter Jenkins
Geronimo Stilton and Search for Sunken Treasure and Mummy with No Name (audio)G. Stilton
Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great (audio)Judy Blume
The Charlatan's Boy*Jonathan Rogers
The Tiny Book of Tiny StoriesHitRecord - JGL
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood*Marjane Satrapi
The Dangerous Duty of Delight*John Piper
Friend or Fiend with the Pain and the Great One (audio)Judy Blume
The Sign of the Carved CrossLisa Hendey
Burning Bright*Ron Rash
A Tangle of KnotsLisa Graff
A Slight Trick of the Mind*Mitch Cullin
Rhinoceros and Other PlaysEugene Ionesco
Same Kind of Different As Me*Ron Hall and Denver Moore
Peace Like a River*Leif Enger
Watchmen (skimmed after first half)Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons
The Importance of Being EarnestOscar Wilde

The titles marked with an asterisk are from our school's Summer Reading list. We use a book group model where teachers select a book and students sign up for the group of their choice and read that book over the summer. In the fall, we meet and discuss what we read. I'm making it my goal to read all the Summer Reading selections for our Upper School. Impossible, I know. But a fun challenge. I'll readily admit that some of the selections have been raging disappointments. Others have been merely fine. But a few have stood up and demanded my attention in ways that are not entirely unlike falling in love or having an intense crush. And that's really what life is, right? A series of days and hours that can't not disappoint, but when it surprises us with joy and insight and - yes - love, we feel our breath in every muscle and fiber and know what it is to be alive. So, let's talk about what has recently made my reading heart beat faster.

Like your annoying friend talking incessantly about some guy she just met, I wanted to write and talk and tweet so much about The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film as I was reading it. I couldn't stop with the silly grin as I encountered overlap after overlap between what Murch was saying about film editing (a subject I normally don't think anything at all about) and writing or the creative life in general. Now, too much time has passed, and I can't write intelligently about the book, and it's making me question this whole plan to write once a month. But I can't doubt the resonance of that book in my life at the time, and therefore, I will continue to trust in all things Nick Hornby. For now.

Of the Summer Reading titles, three have stood out so far as remarkable, each in their own way. First, is John Green's Paper Towns. I've been a John Green fan for years, but lately, he's fallen out of my favor, mostly because of things-he-probably-can't-help-related-to-movies. I still haven't seen A Fault in our Stars, and though I loved, loved, loved the book when I read it, I now have that sour taste in my mouth about it. But Paper Towns obliterated that flavor and replaced it with a new one. In fact, I think I would go so far as to say Paper Towns is the best John Green book I've read. I read it in a day, but even with that rush of energy, I paused long enough to mark passages that resonated with me. Like this one:
You can't divorce Margo the person from Margo the body. You can't see one without seeing the other. You looked at Margo's eyes and you saw both their blueness and their Margo-ness. In the end, you could not say that Margo Roth Spiegelman was fat, or that she was skinny, any more than you can say that the Eiffel Tower is or is not lonely. (50)
Once I started flipping through to find quotes, it made me want to read it again all over, and I can't resist sharing one more passage with you:
That was perfect, I thought: you listen to people so that you can imagine them, and you hear all the terrible and wonderful things people do to themselves and to one another, but in the end the listening exposes you even more than it exposes the people you're trying to listen to. (216) 
I will admit to suffering from a bit of an identity crisis of late, so perhaps that's all it is, but the story of Margo Roth Spiegelman's one great night of revenge and her subsequent disappearance lit me up inside. It - along with so many other things these days - has me wanting to access again a part of myself that I fear had nearly been smothered by the reality of growing up, a thing I thought I'd never do. And I loved the character of Q, his earnest desire to get things right, his willingness to go, but only so far. He seems true and real and right to me.

One last thing: I don't care what the haters might say - Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" is perfect, even in all its immutable imperfection. 

The next great title from that list is A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin. As a devoted fan of the BBC series Sherlock, when I read the blurb on this one, I knew it would be a favorite. And it was. It tells the story of Holmes as an elderly man, aging with considerable interest in the decline of his own greatest asset - his mind. It's a quiet novel, not at all like Paper Towns, but it too had something to say to me about self and becoming and growing into the parts of our life that surprise and somehow don't surprise at all.

Finally, Leif Enger's Peace Like a River. This one was the sleeper hit of the summer so far. I did not expect to appreciate this book as much as I did. And when I tell you it is the story of a boy and his family, with particular focus on his father who - yes, I'm really going to say this - can perform miracles, you will want to disregard everything that follows. That would be a mistake. This book is beautifully written. Not pretentious, but still demonstrating great care with language. It works on so many levels, and I promise, the part of the book that makes you want to dismiss it (the father's direct line to God), is its greatest strength. The way Enger writes the narrator's voice and the way the young man describes his father and the things he sees him do is so skillful, so without any need to convince you, that you are convinced in spite of yourself. It is not a religious text, not a book for Christian readers alone. It is a great novel, telling a great story. What more do we want from a book?

It occurs to me that fiction dwells most completely within impossible situations. All of these books deal with making the impossible possible, and perhaps that is the simultaneous comfort and challenge of the reading life. Perhaps it is the one great fantasy I can't quite let go of, even as I keep being reminded of this soul-crushing fact: in life, that life that dulls our senses and so often disappoints, impossible situations usually stay that way.

This post has already gotten beyond any concept of brief; however, I would be remiss if I didn't point out one more title on that stupidly long list above: Texts from Jane Eyre and Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters by Mallory Ortberg. I don't know how much I've shared here about the importance of making me laugh, but suffice it to say it is everything, and Mallory Ortberg gets the everything prize this month. I remember laughing - a lot - at Rachel's post on this book, and that was forevah ago, and somehow I had kind of forgotten it existed because when I found it in the bookstore and begin dying right there on the floor of the store, I wondered how this book had not come into my life before now. Just go look at this right now, and you'll see what I mean.

1 comment:

  1. This is the second review I've read this week that loved the book Paper Towns. I think I'll have to add it to my to-read list. Thanks for the review.