I wanted to give you a tiny gift. I don’t know about you, but I’m in need of distractions right about now. I’m keeping my chitchat to a minimum and sending along diversions from news of the world. I’m writing this on Sunday night and have no idea how things will turn out on Tuesday. Some of us are guaranteed to be unhappy.
Maybe this little list will offer you some uplift. And, this little sidewalk collage. Gosh, I sure hope so.
THE MARRIAGE PORTRAIT, by Maggie O’Farrell is all things wonderful. If you want to be transported to another time and place, Italy in 1561, if you enjoy vivid and intense feelings, being consumed by an intricate and propulsive plot, this is the novel for you. The gorgeous Arno river, Italian light on the landscape and architecture, white mules with incredibly long manes, forests and fen, loneliness and love, pageantry and barbaric actions, it’s all here. Honestly, I couldn’t put this novel down. And, if you’ve not read O’Farrell’s novel HAMNET, I envy you! It is beautiful, gripping, and one of the best depictions of grief I’ve ever read. I am putting her memoir, I AM, I AM, I AM: SEVENTEEN BRUSHES WITH DEATH, on my TBR list.
TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, AND TOMORROW, by Gabrielle Zevin, is (thus far, I’m halfway through) equally as compelling and equally other worldly. Set in the 1990s in Boston and LA, spanning thirty years, the novel is about friendship, physical suffering, betrayals in love and life, and (hello?) gaming. I am a n00b and know as much about gaming as I do about phlebotomy! And I love learning about new things. The main characters, Sam and Sadie, are best friends, colleagues and collaborators in a wildly successful video game called, “Ichigo.” The novel does a beautiful job depicting creative passion. How lucky these two are to be so driven! And, because this is fiction, because we need tension, something nefarious is on the horizon. I can’t wait to survive whatever it is with them.
ALIVE AT THE END OF THE WORLD, by Saeed Jones, is bold and ruthless and hilarious. I was lucky to see Saeed Jones on a panel last weekend at the Portland Book Festival. He said many wise and funny things. He, or maybe the moderator of his panel, said of his poems, “they bring catastrophic laughter,” and “the book has its own anxiety medication prescription.” This is how he left us, “This is real. This is bad. But get the fuck up. Not everyone has the luxury to lie around.” If you’ve not read his memoir, HOW WE FIGHT FOR OUR LIVES, I hope you’ll check it out. In it Jones tells us, “The ‘I’ it seems doesn’t exist until we are able to say, ‘I am no longer yours.'”
Just a quick reminder, I’ve created a read.write.eat. Bookshop Store, where you can find many of the books I’ve recommend in the newsletter.
Along with Saeed Jones I was lucky to hear George Saunders (LIBERATION DAY) and Jess Walters (THE ANGEL OF ROME) speak about short stories at the Portland Book Festival. They were smart, funny and a balm to my worried self. Here are a couple of lovely quotes that may see you through the week. (I was writing as fast as I could, so I may have mixed up a word here or there, but the intention is true.)
On tone, or modus operandi:
- GS: “I write from a place of good-natured pluckiness.”
- JW: “I write from a place of wistful hopefulness.”
- GS: “To work out of affection is better than working out of agitation.”
- GS: “I don’t get to be who I want to be; I have to be who I am. I want to be Bach, but when I pick up the accordion, everybody dances.”
- GS: “I have faith that if I apply my subconscious to it over and over I will spit something out of value.”
On putting together a short story collection:
- JW: “I have to decide if it’s a yard sale or a concept album.”
During these difficult times I feel:
- GS: “Responsibility of connecting with readers is more essential post-pandemic. The world is falling apart and yet…there is Chekov. Literature is not a fading sideshow. A reader and writer meet over a made object, a book. If they keep asking, what is true? What is true? If they can land there (at truth) that is beautiful.”
- JW: “Reading literature, getting past systemic issues and seeing what it is to be human, lonely, misunderstood, unable to connect with people…when I read of loneliness it always strikes me as true. Social Media hasn’t helped us.(This line got a HUGE sardonic laugh!) Lonely is how many of us feel.…communion between reader and writer is highlighted and I feel more grateful than ever for my readers.”
- Buy yourself a beautiful loaf of bread. Something hearty, mixed grain, chewy, and sour.
- Cut a giant slice… really, just cut a slab.
- Toast it to your specifications.
- Slather with delicious butter, the best you can find and don’t be meager. I like this.
- Spread with honey. This is my favorite brand
- Sprinkle with flaky salt. I like this brand.In fact, I like this salt so much, I travel with it.
- Repeat as often as necessary.
A little program note: I’ve been writing and sharing what I love for nearly 3 years! I love it and many of you write to let me know how much you enjoy my thoughts and recommendations, and for that I am truly grateful. Honestly, it makes my day to hear from readers. Also, it takes time and consideration to put my thoughts together twice a month. Maybe you’d like to show appreciation buy clicking below: