I've been enduring a long stretch of perfectly fine, readable books that failed to move me. I failed to feel. Is it the book? Is it me?
So much of "good" art — books, film, paintings, music — is timing. When we are tuned in, when we are in time, art moves in us, through us. But when the timing is off, it's just a bunch of words, splotches of paint, a dull rerun.
But last week I hit the jackpot. I was moved by a novel, a television show, and music.
BOOK: A Little Life
a novel by Hanya Yanagihara
Everyone was talking about this book so naturally I turned away. I like an underdog. I wasn't going to cow to the crowd and read the latest big-deal book. But I finally did, and "they" were right. This is a brutal, beautiful, moving book. I read it in two days, with minimal breaks (my husband made me eat so I put it down, then scurried back).
Here's a tip: I didn't know anything about this book but the title and awful cover. No plot. No blurbs. No reviews. It was refreshing to enter a book without expectation or explanation.
TELEVISION: Good Girls Revolt
on Amazon Prime
This 10-episode show, inspired by the book by Lynn Povich, tells the story of the sex discrimination lawsuit filed against Newsweek magazine in 1970. Though soapy at times, the show captures the era and centers on the young women at the magazine who work alongside male reporters but are given none of the credit, opportunities or financial reward their male colleagues enjoy.
Sadly, the show has been cancelled and will run for only this one season — a decision that was reportedly made without any female input. Still, and again, it seems as much as we move forward, we always have further to go.
a visual album by Beyonce
I know, I know, Beyonce? I'm as surprised as you to discover I'm enthralled. Lemonade is both concept album and short film/long music video, and it's gripping. I don't like blockbuster movies or trendy tunes, and so I ignored the hype when this was released last year. Recently I heard an excerpt and the sound was haunting. Watching the film — an elegant and moody hour-long experience — reminded me of watching Pink Floyd's The Wall so many years ago. I didn't understand what it all "meant" but I was moved by the mood. Lemonade stirred me, in large part because of poet Warsan Shire, whose words stitch this album together to create a heightened state of love and ache.
What's moved you lately?
Hello dear friend.
For the last month, two words have hung in my head, circled my heart: comfort and joy.
A holiday card offers these wishes. A song is sung. And later, I spot the words in huge black letters blazed across a downtown building. Words have power, we know this, and while I can't explain — other than longing — why these words hound me, I know enough to take notice when words won't shake away.
Comfort, in the throes of grief, illness and loss, seems a tall order. Joy, in this state, seems impossible.
And yet. And yet, we spend a few hours together and you shine with a rare smile, laughter even, and the room breathes open. Against our long wall of sadness, for a brief time the air turns light with comfort. And in this small opening, joy.
I'll keep looking. For half-smiles, softness, and slices of light. I don't yet know but want to believe our grip will loosen and love will hold us tight.
Where the Map Begins
A Blessing for Epiphany
This is not
any map you know.
Do not think
or of plotting
the most direct route.
Astrolabe, sextant, compass:
these will not help you here.
This is the map
that begins with a star.
This is the chart
that starts with fire,
with an ancient light
that has outlasted
Look starward once,
then look away.
Close your eyes
and see how the map
begins to blossom
behind your lids,
how it constellates,
its lines stretching out
from where you stand.
You cannot see it all,
cannot divine the way
it will turn and spiral,
cannot perceive how
the road you walk
will lead you finally inside,
through the labyrinth
of your own heart
But step out
and you will know
what the wise who traveled
this path before you
the treasure in this map
not at journey’s end
but at its beginning.
It's Thankful Thursday, the first of the fresh year. Please join me in expressing appreciation for people, places, poems and more. What are you thankful for today?
As the year comes to a close, I'm looking back at some of my favorite books.
Though I usually spend most of my time in novels, this year fiction left me wanting. Nothing moved me. But non-fiction pulled me in, with several touching, funny, unbelievable tales. And, as always, poetry never lets me down.
8 Good Books I Read This Year
The Bitch is Back
edited by Cathi Hanauer
In a collection of excellent essays, women in their 40s, 50s and 60s — bestselling authors, renowned journalists, and critically acclaimed novelists — share hardwon thoughts on love, sex, work, family, independence, body-image, health and aging.
Heads in Beds
by Jacob Tomsky
This tell-all is a funny, irreverent and engaging book offering a behind-the-scenes look at the highs and lows of hotel life.
Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble
by Dan Lyons
A gripping, entertaining and savage account of the unstable and artifical life in Silicon Valley, written by a journalist-turned-tech insider (who then spent two years as a writer for HBO's hilarious sorta-satire Silicon Valley).
Bright Dead Things
by Ada Limon
A slim collection of beautifully aching poems.
I'm learning so many different ways to be quiet. . . There's shower silent and bath silent and California silent and Kentucky silent and care silent and then there's the silence that comes back, a million times bigger than me, and sneaks into my bones and wails and wails and wails until I can't be quiet anymore.
— from How to Be Quiet
The Tijuana Book of the Dead
by Luis Alberto Urrea
A gritty and honest collection of poems about life at the border.
You, who seek grace from a distracted God.
you, who parse the rhetoric of empire, who know
in your guts what it is but don't know what to call it,
you, good son of a race of shadows—
your great fortune is to have a job,
never ate government cheese,
federal peanut butter . . .
— from You Who Seek Grace from a Distracted God
The Cure for Sorrow:
A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief
by Jan Richardson
Though billed as a book of "blessings," these prayers read as tender, unpretentious poems.
Let us agree
that we will not say
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love . . .
— from Blessing for the Brokenhearted
You Will Know Me
by Megan Abbott
A gripping page-turner of a novel, tightly wound and wonderfully delivered.
The Guest Room
by Chris Bohjalian
A captivating, chilling story about shame and scandal.
Your turn: What did I miss? What's on your list?
Next week! I just realized Christmas is next week.
No, I haven't been living under a rock (though I have spent some time on the couch in a cocoon of books). In a flurry of planning, shopping and generating holiday cheer, I lost track of days.
In the mad dash of shopping and shipping, the spirit of giving gets lost. I lose the thread of intention. Too often the giving spirit turns into the ugly machine of gotta-get-it-done.
And then I ran across this poem. And then I took a breath.
On this Thankful Thursday, I am grateful for the pause in which I can remember and unrush, in my head and in my heart.
When giving is all we have
We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.
We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.
We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—
Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.
Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:
Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.
You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me
What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made
Something greater from the difference.
— Alberto Rios
It's Thankful Thursday, a weekly pause to express appreciation for the people, places and things that bring us joy. Please join me! What are you thankful for today?