Earthly delights

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Recently I read the luminous novel Arcadia by Lauren Groff, and while I was not necessarily excited for a story about a commune, my experience with Fates and Furies earlier this year spurred me on.  I found I was drawn in imperceptibly by her graceful and vivid prose, and I found a softer, more immediate, delicately visceral version of Groff that I hadn’t expected.  Far from a simple chronicle of a commune, Arcadia weaves the reader vision of an experimental community through the eyes of its first child, a boy named Bit.  He watches life from his very soul, and through a series of episodes we get to know the unique cast of characters that make up this community.  Not only do we see the effects of Arcadia ripple through Bit’s childhood and then beyond into his adult life, but we do so experiencing the wonder of the young, the thorniness of growing up, and the ache of humanity’s quest for beauty.  I found myself teary more than once, and I’m guessing you may find the same.  Pick up Arcadia for a slice of Groff’s talent, but linger over it for the poignancy you’ll find within its pages.

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Are we there yet?

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Last week I had the pleasure of attending a book signing with the delightful Mari Andrew for her first book, Am I There Yet?: The Loop-de-loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood.  I’ve enjoyed Mari’s insights on her Instagram and on the blog Cup of Jo for some time, but fell for her even more after hearing her speak at Vroman’s Bookstore on Thursday night.  She’s been a real inspiration for me: not only did she transition to illustrating full time only a couple of years ago (and already has a book that made the New York Times bestseller list? Amazing!), but she manages to say the things we all are thinking but afraid to articulate in a way that is fresh, disarming, candid, and compassionate — often all at the same time.

In her talk, Andrew held forth on things she thinks are valuable “wastes of time,” including making your own happiness reliable, working towards the person you want to be, pursuing fun, and sometimes having no goal at all.  “I am a person who is loved.  And I am a person who loves.”  These words resonated with me long after I walked out of the bookstore, signed book in hand.  In a culture that seems to privilege self-sacrifice to an impossible degree, sometimes these small reminders that fun is a good thing, and that prioritizing your own happiness is an even better thing, are exactly what is needed — especially when they are offered with a smile as genuine as Mari Andrew’s.

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Bluets

This past weekend I had a lot on my plate.  All good things, either enjoyable or necessary or both, but an introvert like me sometimes just needs a bit of uninterrupted time to recharge.  I finally decided to give myself half a day off, which did me a world of good — I napped, had pasta for dinner, and read.  And oh, did I read.

nelson_bluets_coverI read Maggie Nelson’s Bluets on the couch that evening.  I loved it. I’m not even sure how to describe it.  Non-fiction. Numbered snippets about the color blue, simultaneously about and not about a breakup, entirely raw and honest and contemplative.  Hundreds of small poems in the form of lyric prose.  A three-year meditation on color and loss and suffering and limits.  I haven’t felt the desire to pick up a pencil and mark up a book in a long, long time, but passage after passage spoke to me.  It felt good to read and feel understood and hold that book and pencil in a lamp-lit room on my green velvet couch, with my favorite candle burning.  Yearning, and desire, fucking (she does not mince about), philosophy, musings — it is the kind of book I would want to write, the kind I feel like I could write, and I say that with an utter lack of hubris, but rather in the sense of finding a longed-for kindred voice.

Bluets was an outstanding read, bursting with emotion in a quiet, intense, meditative state all it’s own.  This is a slim tome I will be returning to again and again, like an old friend, or perhaps something even better: a sense of being understood.

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Stories that stick with you

Arimah_coverSomewhere on your reading list, make room for Lesley Nneka Arimah’s dazzling and thoughtful debut collection of short stories: What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky.  These stories stayed with me for quite some time, getting up under my skin and lingering there, mildly disturbing, mildly haunting, and entirely memorable.  Arimah examines humanity and relationships in striking snippets, slices of lives extracted and told with precision by way of magical realism, flavors of dystopia, Nigerian cultural milieu, and creative mythology by turns.  Each has its own carefully crafted sense of place, and the aches and cares of each character all but pop off the page.

“Windfalls” stuck with me, the narrator’s flat acceptance of her life starkly contrasting with the shocking intentional injuries she suffers at the hands of her manipulative mother for payouts.  “Who Will Greet You at Home” likewise left an indelible impression on me, lingering long after I finished the book.  It is the story of a young woman who creates infants out of yarn, of paper, of human hair, hoping that Mama will bless them so she will have a child of her own, and she trades measures of her empathy and then even her joy in payment.  It begs the question, much are we willing to give to get what we want?  What society says we should want?  And how high is too high a cost?  What if the price becomes our humanity?

Arimah draws you in over and over, each story engaging in its own way. She is particularly good at teasing out the unique trials of being a girl in a world intent on extinguishing those who shine a little too brightly.  Grab this book, savor each story, and ponder the imprints they leave on you.

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Two great books

Last week I dove headfirst into a pair of great novels, one after the other.  Both were intimate, searing looks at love, relationships, and life.

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Call Me By Your Name is one of the most achingly beautiful books I have read in a while.  This love story unfolds over a few weeks of summer in Italy, and is poignant in ways I can’t quite find the words for.  We inhabit the head of the protagonist, inhabit the sleepy Italian villa, and at the same time we feel every dull throb of longing from every past desire in our own lives.  I read this in a night and a day, and was gripped from start to finish.  André Aciman’s prose is tender and desperate by turns, fleshing out a love that is somehow both fleeting and transcendent.  An exquisite read that will leave you thinking about love and life and the way each changes the other for years to come.

fates_and_furies_coverFates and Furies gripped me just as much, but in an entirely different way.  Like Call Me, I couldn’t put it down, and finished it in less than two days.  This novel, too, explores a relationship, this time between a husband and wife over the course of their marriage (and beyond).  I’m not even actually sure if I enjoyed it, per se, but it was an intense experience to see their relationship from both sides of the coin.  It was very thought-provoking, and I think I am still digesting it — I haven’t started another book yet for that very reason.  One takeaway from this novel for me is the fact I want to be known.  I want to feel understood and loved for me, not for a construct someone has in their mind.  And I don’t want to be left with an impotent rage over the paths my life has taken (or not).  But then on the other hand, can we ever really know another person, truly?  We inhabit this body in this life, and everyone else is relegated to observer by default.  How much can we know?  How much can we be known?  Lauren Groff’s style is very compelling, and once you wander into this Greek drama, you’ll want to stay and ponder long after the curtain closes.

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Tea(se)

For years my ideal refuge has consisted of tea, a blanket, and a good book.  This is the trinity, my ideal, the combination of things I most long for amidst the bustle of each busy week.  This Monday, here is a round up to celebrate that favorite combination of mine.  It may be a bit of a tease, knowing that I have a full work week ahead, but let’s just consider it motivation instead, shall we?

I’d love to curl up in this super-soft alpaca throw from The Citizenry, and I’d be doubly happy knowing it is fair trade from talented artisans.  This mouse creamer makes me smile so much, and it would be a great companion to my ceramic mugs.  They have an angled top edge, all the better to inhale all those lovely aromas from renowned tea merchants Fornum & Mason.  I’ll use my trusty Bonavita kettle, for the optimal brew temperature every time.

Blush throw  Mouse creamer  Ceramic cup  British tea  Electric kettle

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is a romp of a read, and a delight for people who love books about books!  Mysterious, amusing, and thought-provoking by turns, I read this in a weekend.

All the Light We Cannot See, “about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II,” is on my list to read soon, and I can’t wait to dive in.  By all accounts a beautiful novel.

The Builders was described to me by a good friend as “part brutal Wild West and part dark-edged fantasy.”  Reading it was delightfully nostalgic, as though the Redwall novels of my childhood had grown up and gotten some extra bite.  Yes, there are talking animals, but this is not a bedtime story.  A thoroughly engaging read.

To my first love…

On this day of love, I thought I would post an ode to my first love: reading.  I have been an avid reader for as long as I can remember, and devouring books was one of my great joys as a child.  Here are a few places I’d love to curl up and read, along with the book I’d likely be engrossed in.  Enjoy, and happy Valentine’s Day!

From the green velvet chair to the perfect blush paint up the stairwell, I love every bit of this little study nook.  The warm wood, gold accents, and mix of greens are perfection.  It would be the perfect place to settle in and take notes on The Vanishing Princess.

Jenny Diski explores femininity in quietly subversive ways throughout this collection.  Her stories are luminous, dark, and sexy by turns, and by the time you reach the end, you’ll realize she’s turned convention inside-out without you realizing it.  You’re through the looking glass, and not at all unhappy to be there.  An incredibly thoughtful read.

Room via Style by Emily Henderson.

This moody bedroom is the perfect place to curl up and explore the feminine psyche.  Perfectly rumpled linen bedding?  Check.  Clean white accents? Check.  Plants and pottery?  Double check.  All you need to add is a cup of tea and some poetry by Jeanann Verlee.

Verlee’s work is striking, honest, and beautiful in Said the Manic to the Muse.  Each poem is a slice of womanhood in all its complex, labyrinthine power.  A volume to ponder.

Room via Haarkon.

This eclectic, light-filled room would be the perfect place to linger.  The juxtaposition of the sculpture, ceramics, and modern painting is a delight, and the herringbone flooring paired with that beautiful wood cabinet?  Be still, my heart!  Amidst the slanting sunlight, I’d relax with A Gentleman in Moscow.

Perhaps my favorite book I read last year, Amor Towles’ rich prose delights with every turn of the page, and the cast of characters glows against the backdrop of a Moscow that changes over decades.  While I usually read quickly, this was a book I savored.

Room via Haley Boyd.

Happy reading!