Late summer into fall, my life was filled with political activity, caring for elderly relatives, managing in the covid era, and doom scrolling. I set my worried eyes on loads of news articles. That left not much time for reading books. Over those three months, I managed to read six books. One of these books earned my rare ranking of “Excellent.” Below are the first lines of the six books, followed by the revelation of the titles and authors.
I’d love to hear what books you are reading these days.
Some men enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever. Jimmy Rosolli did this to my
She left us at night. It had felt like night for a long time, the days at once short and ceaselessly long.
Book 3 (this is an entire poem, because it is necessary.)
Aster. Nasturtium. Delphinium. We thought
Fingers in dirt meant it was our dirt, learning
Names in heat, in elements classical
Philosophers said could change us. Star Gazer.
Foxglove. Summer seemed to bloom against the will
Of the sun, which news reports claimed flamed hotter
On this planet than when our dead fathers
Wiped sweat from their necks. Cosmos. Baby’s Breath.
Men like me and my brothers filmed what we
Planted for proof we existed before
Too late, sped the video to see blossoms
Brought in seconds, colors you expect in poems
Where the world ends, everything cut down.
John Crawford. Eric Garner. Mike Brown.
In 1955, when I was ten, my father’s reading went to his head.
My father’s reading during that time, and for many years before and after, consisted for the most part of Life on the Mississippi.
Chickasaw county, Mississippi, Late October 1937
Ida Mae Brandon Gladney
The night clouds were closing in on the salt licks east of the oxbow lakes along the folds in the earth beyond the Yalobusha River. The cotton was at last cleared from the field.
Isabel Dalhousie, a philosopher, lowered her copy of the Scotsman newspaper and smiled.
The titles and authors revealed:
Twisted Twenty-Six (Stephanie Plum Book 26), by Janet Evanovich. © 2019.
A light read for Book Club. Quite amusing. Watch out for Grandma!
Ordinary Light by Tracy K. Smith. © 2015
This is an introspective coming of age memoir and also a book about the death of the author’s mother, when the author was a young woman. Tracy K. Smith was the Poet Laureate of the United States. The writing is not overly delicate nor flighty, as I have experienced some prose written by poets. Smith takes us from her very early childhood, growing up as an intellectually gifted African American girl in Northern California, on through her days in college. I've put an excerpt at the end of this post.
The Tradition, by Jericho Brown. Poetry © 2019.
An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard. © 1987
Read for book club. This book is set in Pittsburgh, so I was familiar with many of the places described.
The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson. © 2010
An astonishing, enlightening, horrifying tale, well told. At 622 pages, it is not a quick read. But the tales are so well written, the reading of this book flows easily. It reveals much that I did not know about the history of our country. For the parts that I was already aware of, the way the author tells the stories makes them come alive, in ways that we can feel deeply. These are stories that we need to feel.
I rank this book as excellent. I highly recommend it. We read it for book club, and we had a fruitful discussion.
The Forgotten Affairs of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie Mysteries Book 8), by Alexander McCall Smith. © 2011
A much-needed diversion for the final days of the election period.
I leave you with this excerpt from Tracy K. Smith’s Ordinary Light, about the power of telling your story, and the power of fiction.
Silence feeds pain, allows it to fester and thrive. What starves pain, what forces it to release its grip, is speech, the voice upon which rides the story, This is what happened; this is what I have refused to let claim me. Suddenly, I understood, though no one had taught me. I understood, because what I wanted, what I needed more than anything, was someone to listen to my story, someone to help me starve even this pain - this small, private pain - so that I could stand up and figure out how to go on.
I had read novel after novel without realizing how often the narrator was doing just that: claiming the power to name and state and face the events, even the most awful events, making up a life. This has happened to me, and because I can see it, can call it up and face it again for you, can stand my ground while I sift through it for nuance and meaning, I am stronger. Telling my story, standing here and telling it to you now, is both a prayer for power and the answer to that prayer.