Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Summer Reading

Due to Kindergarten Orientation today was actually only the second day of school for us, Sami's first "real day."  The first day was hard, we both cried, and over the weekend she said a few times that she didn't want to go to Kindergarten.  This morning she was happy again to be going to school.  I am eager to pick her up this afternoon and learn how her day went.

One thing I like about school (trying to stay positive here) is being able to walk to drop off and pick Sami up. It is a great start to our day, and I am finally finding a way work a little bit of exercise into my day with the two littles in the wagon.

We are enjoying these cozy days as the season changes all of a sudden.  Sipping lots of tea and reading books!  I didn't read a whole lot over the summer, but here is what I did read:

19.  Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

This is my favorite kind of novel in several ways.  First, Abraham Verghese is an accomplished medical doctor, as well as an expat Indian born in Ethiopia, so the book is semi-autobiographical.  I am amazed by people who are successful in their occupations and also manage to find the time and energy to write books, and I love to read a book written by an author passionate and knowledgeable of his subject.  This is one of the reasons I enjoyed Cutting for Stone so much, it was a fascinating window into medicine, especially surgery and the complexities of practicing medicine in a struggling mission hospital in an underdeveloped country.

Second, I enjoyed the setting- a Catholic mission hospital run by Indian doctors in Ethiopia.  It was an intriguing meeting of cultures, and also interesting to understand the motivations and desires of those who felt called to this mission hospital, and the community that creates.

Finally, Cutting for Stone is a brilliant story- tragic, tender, and keeping you guessing until the very end. I loved this book and did not want it to end!

20.  Life is a Miracle by Wendell Berry

This book is excellent.  It is Berry's critical response to Edward Wilson's book "Consilience," explaining why the priorities of science have led to a time of despair, and our need to accept life's beauty and miracles.  To be honest I was a little bogged down and it took me a while to get through this- it is the kind of book I would have enjoyed reading for discussion.

21.  Half the Sky by Nicholas Krostof
Hard to read and I had to read it in small doses- I don't think that I read every page.  It is heartbreaking and overwhelming.  I was glad he ended the book with a chapter titled "Four Steps You Can Take in the Next Ten Minutes."  One still can't help but be left feeling profoundly humbled by our wealth and freedoms, and that any little good we can do is so, so small.  I have been challenged to pray, when I wake up in the night to think of my sisters who are in awful, horrible bondage and pray for them.

22.  Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

This is a collection of short stories all somehow related to a woman named Olive living in Crosby, Maine.  Olive is a complex character, giving a harsh impression but the reader is able to understand the ways that she grieves and the people she helps and loves.  I found her character so believable, and a wonderful portrayal of the beauty and ugliness, generosity and greed, regret and hope in all of us.

23.  Writers Workshop in a Book, The Squaw Valley Community of Writers on the Art of Fiction

A collection of essays about writing, this was for the most part helpful and interesting.  My favorite essay from the book is by Janet Fitch, called Coming to Your Senses, about how sensory-starved we are: 
We get up to the sound of an electronic alarm, wolf down some unappetizing packaged food, get into the car, and drive to work.  We park in an underground lot, take an elevator up to the office, where we work all day in a gray- or beige- toned, soundproofed, carpeted, air-conditioned space, with windows that don’t open . . .  
We were not born to live like this . . . We crave the richness of the world, its smells and textures and unedited sounds.  We are biological organisms who have evolved ways of processing the richness of physical life, and yet, because we have been so successful at controlling our environment, we have eliminated just that life. . . 
. . As writers, our task is to remind people what it is to be human.  Through all the lenses that we embody, we seek to explore and re-create the experiences of being alive on this earth.  And especially now, in our denatured times, we are in a position to give the reader back the sensual world- restore to him something fundamental which has been taken away from him, something he craves, the smells and textures of physical reality.
This really made me think about the kinds of tangible experiences I allow my kids, (and myself), how important it is that they experience drippy fruits and mud puddles, subtle sounds, nourishing smells, and that I give them plenty of opportunities to "please touch!"

So, first, as writers, we ourselves must reconnect to the life of the sense.  To give the reader back the blue of the sky, the heat of the day, the softness of the wind, the smell of newly turned earth, to bring him back to his senses, restoring him to his full humanity, so that he might even think to go outside and look at those stars, smell that earth for himself, we must first get ourselves out of the jar.  We ourselves must adopt a more experimental and experiential attitude  toward physical existence, and be willing to experience the whole sensual piano, not just certain predictably pleasant chords.


ali said...

For one of my classes, I am required to do independent reading (which I'm quite happy about...guilt free I can read something not school related.) Thanks for all the great suggestions.

Also I love hearing your thoughts, joys, and even reservations about sending your kids to school. I wish all parents cared so deeply about what their kids are learning.

Fijufic said...

Great books! Unfortunately it is financial season/Surf Season for us so my book reading is on hold.

I hope all is well with you and yours.