Imagine Your Story – Twins, Two Ways

Wow! I just yesterday finished The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett and it has been taking up much of my brain space over the last 24 hours. If you haven’t heard of this brand new, of-the-moment novel yet, listen up. The story is set from the 1950s through the 1990s and begins in Mallard, Louisiana, a town whose population is composed mostly of light-skinned African-American people whose founder believed the lighter they are, the better they are. There, readers meet twins Stella and Desiree Vignes, descendants of their town’s founder, who run away when they are sixteen. The two separate when Stella decides to embark upon a life passing as a white woman – a secret she intends to keep from everyone, including her white husband and daughter. Following the trajectory of these sisters’ vastly different lives had me on the edge of my seat and I literally couldn’t put down this book. Not only is it thought-provoking and timely, it is also an exceptionally well-written look at relationships between mothers and daughters and the men they love that had my heart aching. Read this one. I know your book club will.

If you want to totally twin-out, I have one more twin-focused read. This one is a bit lighter but still tugs at the heart-strings. The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine is the perfect novel for word nerds. It tells the stories of Daphne and Laurel Wolfe, red-haired twins who begin speaking their own private languages as toddlers and are obsessed with words and grammar ever since. Unfortunately, they are equally obsessed with an old dictionary that their late father gave them, something that drives a wedge between them. Watch these wicked-smart girls become adults, figure out their careers and raise families, drifting apart even as they can never lose that twin connection.

And, yes, these are very different reads. I guess, maybe, just like twins can be.                     ~Carol (not a twin)

Your Library Staff at Home- Book Recommendations from the Couch

March has proven to be quite a surreal month, and I hope all of our Read it Or Weep readers are staying safe and healthy amid the current global COVID-19 crisis. Rocky River Public Library might be closed until further notice, but rest assured that you can still access an amazing array of great titles from home through our digital library. One positive outcome of social distancing and staying home is that you can really dive into that pile of to-read books that has been beckoning you for weeks! Perhaps there is a classic you’ve wanted to read for years or a favorite you’ve been wanting to re-read- now is the time! (Am I the only one who always has at least 6 books waiting to be read?!)

So what have I been reading while camped out at home? Scroll on!

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Yes, this is a zombie story, but it isn’t your typical flesh-eating undead story thanks to amazing literary writing from Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Whitehead. I had been re-reading through this book as it was (somewhat ironically) the title I had chosen for my next Novel Scares Book Club meeting in April (which has since been cancelled due to COVID-19). If you are looking to lean in to current events with your fiction reading, I highly recommend Zone One. After a pandemic has ravaged Earth, the living must attempt to rebuild among the living dead. Focusing on life in New York City and the characters who are struggling with Post-Apocalyptic Stress Disorder, this horror novel is a great read.

The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson

This is Davidson’s second book, but the first I’ve read by him, and I have been absolutely amazed with his writing. This haunting and beautiful Southern Gothic novel takes readers to a town deep in the bayous of Southwestern Arkansas where we meet many complicated characters, including the main protagonist plucky Miranda. Having lost her father as a child one mysterious and tragic evening, she’s been making ends meet ferrying contraband on the river for a corrupt sheriff and a deluded preacher, all the while harboring some serious secrets involving a witch and a rescued child. The story has the feel of a dark fairy tale, and is filled with magical realism. I haven’t finished this book yet, but already it reminds me of one of my favorites: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesymn Ward.

I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum

I read this collection of essays slowly over the past month, processing each essay and thinking it over, before moving on, because it was such a fun book. Reading this felt like having a fabulous conversation with a smart friend and I didn’t want it to end! Nussbaum, winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for criticism, writes with such an insightful, witty, and conversational tone, providing astute perspectives but still making this accessible to a broad audience. Included in this collection are her profiles of well-known showrunners Jenji Kohan and Ryan Murphy, as well as feminist takes on shows like Sex and the City, True Detective, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and more. Also, it was great to have my endless love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer validated by Nussbaum! Recommended for anyone who loves watching television and a great choice for readers looking for a book that allows them to read short pieces here and there.

Dead Astronauts by Jeff Vandermeer

I adore all of Jeff Vandermeer’s books (if you like weird fiction/ sci-fi/ horror/ speculative fiction you must read his Southern Reach trilogy!) and tore through Borne earlier this year, which is a related story to Dead Astronauts, though not necessarily a prequel read. In this story, the all-powerful bio-tech corporation known only as the Company returns as we once again see the destruction they have inflicted upon the unnamed City. Three rebels are introduced who seem to be traveling through time and various dimensions over and over in an effort to thwart the evil Company- but seem to always fail. A mysterious blue fox who can also travel time and space seems to be an important piece of the puzzle, and monstrous genetically engineered creatures are around every turn. I have no idea where this book is going, but that is part of the fun. Vandermeer’s strange and hallucinatory world building keeps me turning the pages with curiosity!

What are you reading at home? Are you reading happy, cozy novels or are you finding entertainment and comfort in stories of post-apocalyptic futures (like me)?

Keep your eyes peeled right here for more updates on what your library staff is reading, watching, listening, and creating at home!

National Poetry Month – Why and How Do Books Affect Us When We Put Them Down?

Image result for Turner painting of night

Turner, night scene

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed this afternoon, and came across a very interesting tweet from a Ted Underwood, a professor of English at the University of Illinois, who wrote, “The way the book you’re reading seeps into the rest of life, tinging it with undefined narrative potential: something everyone knows but literary critics don’t discuss enough.”

I loved this tweet.  Why?  Because the books we read, novels, poems, essays, plays, non-fiction, they do not only work on us (as we work on them) while we are reading them, but instead percolate and germinate once we have put them down for a moment; and when we re-enter the stream of life and interact with others and the world, these percolations and germinations color our perceptions, just as they influence our thoughts.  In a sense, then, reading a book does something to our consciousness.  For a long time, literary critics have written about language, and the dynamics of language, but reading and writing also of course have to do with the consciousness of the person reading or writing.  So when we read, what exactly is happening?  And how and why are we able then to see the world differently, after we placed the book down upon the table?

Here is one way to think about this: Have you ever visited an art museum, and spent good and meaningful time looking at the various objects, engaging with them, thinking about them, letting their forms and shapes and colors and textures speak to you?  Just looking at them, noticing them, wondering about them.  And then – and this is a very interesting  part of the experience – you leave the art museum, and the world itself has become more vivid!  The sun behind the clouds is seen more clearly, you perhaps notice the cracks in the sidewalk, the sound of children playing in a park a block away, the movement of cars as they make their way across the street, the feel of the wind as it does acrobatics with your hair.  What is going on when that happens?  I think that it is a matter of consciousness – that you have spent time sharpening your mind on the art objects, honing your perception, polishing your vision, so that when you shift from art to world that sharpness, that polish, that hone, is there, still.  Art, in this sense, augments our consciousness (just like poetry, just like books).

There is a great poem by one of my favorite poets, Wallace Stevens, that talks about this phenomenon.  It is called “The Idea of Order at Key West,” and it is about a woman walking along a shore and singing.  Stevens, like any poet, imagines this song, this indescribable thing that he hears and listens to in his imagination, and then he wonders about it.  He says, “what is this thing I hear?  What does it mean?  Why does it move me?”  Maybe even, “Who hears the song?”  The poem is, then, his own strong and idiosyncratic and profound answer to these questions.

In the penultimate stanza of the poem, we come across something very interesting and strange.  Stevens writes,

Ramon Fernandez, tell me, if you know,
Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As the night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

What does this mean?  What has happened?  Stevens has been listening to the song of the woman on the shore.  Then the song ends (we put down our book, our novel, our play, our  non-fiction).  And what happens?  “Why, when the singing ended and we turned / Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights, / The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there, / As the night descended, tilting in the air, / Mastered the night and portioned out the sea, / Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles, / Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.”  Stevens’ consciousness has been augmented, enriched, deepened, transformed, by the singing of the woman on the shore.  When she is done singing, Stevens still, in a sense, hears it, for what he sees has been inflected with her song.  The night itself is no longer only night – it is something seen and felt intensely and vividly, a vision, let’s  say, that permits Stevens to take part  in it.  He has allowed his consciousness to be infused with the song, and so it takes on contours of a wider, deeper impression, which then informs his vision of the night.

We are nearing the end of National Poetry Month, but that does not mean we should stop reading poetry.  Poetry, in many ways, in a sacred transaction, in which we encounter a deeper way of seeing the world.  When we imbibe a poem, and then put the book down, we have been blessed with a gift – a gift that is utterly free and part of the boon of all art – which is that we can for a moment step beyond ourselves, shift out of our accustomed habits of seeing and thinking, and dwell in a louder and vivified world.

Image result for Wallace Stevens
Wallace Stevens
Link to “The Idea of Order at Key West:

Why Short Stories Work for Me

Our schedules are demanding. Our obligations overwhelming. How can can we be expected to find any time to read? Especially when there are all those critically acclaimed Netflix series/Atwood Adaptations/Groundbreaking Cable shows demand to be watched.

I do love to read but sometimes it can be an uphill battle to sit down and get through a book. I feel worse when I begin a novel and loose interest a 100 pages in. So how can I actually get a chance to enjoy what I am reading, finish a story, and fit it into my schedule? For me the answer came in the form of short stories.

Short story collections solve many of the obstacles I had to sitting down and getting through a book. Don’t have a lot of time but want to to be able to get through an entire plot? No problem, the story is only 20 pages long. Want to a bit of variety and get to sample many different literary voices? Anthologies are the perfect solution. Have a favorite author but they haven’t released the next book in their big series? See if they have any short story collections or if they have edited and collected the works of other authors. Unable to get through the whole collection before you have to return the book? That’s fine, each story was a world in itself and you haven’t created any cliffhangers for yourself.

Short stories can keep up with your busy schedule while giving you a bonus sense of satisfaction when you get through the whole collection. 300 pages doesn’t seem as bad when it is broken up into 10 stories, each giving you a natural rest in between to recharge and carrier on.

-Greg
Here are a few of my favorite short story collections:

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