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The Latest in Reading Recommendations

Image result for the shell collector1. The Shell Collector, by Anthony Doerr
Tony Doerr is an exquisite writer. Goddamn. The luscious sentences in these short stories glimmer, drip, and shine with wonder, longing, displacement, and desire for connection. Part magical realism, part natural history, part basic human nature, these odd and beautiful stories truly dazzled me.


Image result for hunger roxane gay quotes2. Hunger, by Roxane Gay
Gay’s most recent book is a memoir, of sorts — the story of her (unruly) body.  Sometimes detached, sometimes visceral, always soul wrenching, she describes her rape as a girl, and subsequent struggles with over-eating, self-worth, security, and the eventual challenges separating her public and private lives. I originally chose to read this book because I wanted a better understanding of someone who struggles with their weight, especially in a fat-phobic culture, and I did gain some insight there, but this book is so much more than that. Many of Gay’s struggles, losses, and gains are painfully familiar, and I think any reader would be moved by her brave (she’d likely hate that descriptor) and candid book.

3. Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
I loved this one. Dysfunctional families, mysterious pasts, simmering racial tensions, and suburban ennui come to roost in an affluent and neatly planned Ohio community. And then this passage, something I’ve thought about every day since becoming a mother:

“Parents, she thought, learned to survive touching their children less and less. As a baby Pearl had clung to her; she’d worn Pearl in a sling because whenever she’d set her down, Pearl would cry. There’d scarcely been a moment in the day when they had not been pressed together. As she got older, Pearl would still cling to her mother’s leg, then her waist, then her hand, as if there was something in her mother she needed to absorb through the skin. Even when she had her own bed, she would often crawl into Mia’s in the middle of the night and burrow under the old patchwork quilt, and in the morning they would wake up tangled, Mia’s arm pinned beneath Pearl’s head, or Pearl’s legs thrown across Mia’s belly. Now, as a teenager, Pearl’s caresses had become rare—a peck on the cheek, a one-armed, half-hearted hug—and all the more precious because of that. It was the way of things, Mia thought to herself, but how hard it was. The occasional embrace, a head leaned for just a moment on your shoulder, when what you really wanted more than anything was to press them to you and hold them so tight you fused together and could never be taken apart. It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core, and all.”

Image result for Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions,4. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
How do you raise a feminist daughter (or son)? Well, you could start with the thoughtful suggestions featured in this slim book.


Image result for sing unburied sing5. Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward

THIS book. Woooo. I don’t quite have the words yet, but haunting certainly comes to mind… a deep, gorgeous ache. “Some days later, I understood what he was trying to say, that getting grown means learning how to work that current: learning when to hold fast, when to drop anchor, when to let it sweep you up.” Definitely in my top three for favorite books of the year. Here’s what the Times had to say.

Image result for red rising trilogy6-8. Red Rising, Golden Son, and Morning Star, by Pierce Brown

I didn’t know how much I needed the plot-driven revolutionary escapism provided by this trilogy until I pounded through the whole thing in a couple of weeks. Set in an off-planet future dystopian civilization organized in a genetically-engineered caste system, ruled by a brutal and decadent elite class, these books really satisfy that Hunger Games itch. Quick, fun (if not violent) read about a world that doesn’t seem all that unlikely these days…

Turtles All the Way Down9. Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green
John Green remains the king of thoughtful Young Adult literature. Never one to shy away from difficult subject matter (he’s written about teen suicide and kids with terminal cancer), Green brings his signature heart, wit, and depth to this story of loss and mental illness. It’s dark — more so, I think, than his other books, and personal (like his main character, he also suffers from OCD and unwanted “thought spirals,”) and maybe even a little harder to love right away, but I think that’s what makes it so important. It’s really stuck with me.

Image result for i'm just a person10. I’m Just a Person, by Tig Notaro 
You’ve probably heard, but a couple years ago comedian Tig Notaro faced the death of her mother, a breakup, a life-threatening C. diff infection, and breast cancer all within a couple of months. Her resulting stand-up show was nominated for a Grammy. This book is an account of that heartbreaking and terrifying time, and it’s a whole lot funnier than you’d think.


Just Your Friendly Neighborhood Kraken

Check this out: some good news, for a change. The British Virgin Islands Art Reef project just sunk an 80-foot steel kraken hugging a rusted out WWII-era fuel ship into the Caribbean. Its creators anticipate this badass marriage of art and conservation will encourage new coral ecosystem growth, attracting a myriad of sea creatures, researchers, and eco-tourists. And I, for one, would obviously visit there in a hot minute. Look at how cool this is! And then check out the very short film about the project at the bottom of Colossal’s post, here. (Photographs by Owen Buggy.)








By Death

By Death
By Pattiann Rogers

In that moment she became two, one sitting
among the red flags of the blackbirds
in the reeds, the other standing fixed
like a poplar in a fence of poplars.

In the next second, there were four
of her, one watching evening from the sill
beside the bed, another laced through the night-
spaces between the fireflies.

In a further splitting, she was eight,
and in the next sixteen, one blue
by paper lantern, one amethyst by evening
smoke, one ringed like ice by a winter
moon, one ringed like a lily pond by rain,
one marked by murder, one veined
by acquittal.

And there were thirty-two of her then
and again sixty-four, and she was simultaneously
over a plain of summer cress and under
a reef of evening coral, within a knob
of shyster thistle, within a bud of thresher
shark, sailing by roots of bony fish,
soaring by fins tamarack and phlox.

With the next turning she became
a hundred and twenty-eight of himself, groomed
the horse of Orion, dwelled in the light-remnant
of Vela.  She was wind through the scaffold
of pity, a nesting owl among the eaves of praise.
Then two hundred fifty-six– she was stone as well,
and zephyr, then legion, then too various
to be reckoned, too pervasive to be noticed,
too specific to be named.

from Firekeeper: Selected Poems


Recent Random Reading Recommendations

1. Image resultThe Nix, by Nathan Hill.
I think the general thought about this big American novel is that it’s author is about to be really famous. And with good reason.

2. Gentleman of the Road, by Michael Chabon.
This little tale of two unlikely grifters traveling the Silk Road is exuberant. I can practically picture Chabon reveling in the zip and twirl of his euphoric language like a dog  rolling in the sunny grass. I’ll let The Times give you the gist.

3. The Roundhouse, by Louise Erdrich.
I love Louise Erdrich and the rich border communities she creates between time, space, and generations of intersecting families on and off reservations in Minnesota and North Dakota. Roundhouse is part coming-of-age, part mystery, centering around a family left drifting after a mother’s brutal rape. The book may have less magical realism than some of her other novels, but the devastation, the complicated relationships, the humor and heart are all there, singing.

Image result4. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.
I recommend listening to Sherman read his new memoir/tribute to/exorcism of his late mother and the complicated relationship they shared. It’s honest and tragic and hopeful, and being Sherman, often hilarious, and there’s something about hearing it told in his own voice that makes it all the more moving. People have called him brave for writing it, and you can tell it was a necessary, but exhausting task… a processing that has not ended. As soon as I finished I picked up his award-winning young adult novel, and it was interesting to see how the autobiographical parts were rendered into a kind of fiction.

5. River Teeth, by David James Duncan.
A poignant mix of short stories and personal essays, brief remembrances and thoughtful musings, often funny, always artful. For anyone who has ever lost someone and waded through eddies of swirling grief, “The Mickey Mantle Koan” is essential reading.

Image result6. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck.
So I finally read it. And yes, it’s pretty great, even though parts of it scared the shit out of me now that I have two sons, and really don’t want to see any Cain and Abel action broiling in years to come. And even though the only memorable female character was a dead-eyed sociopath, I was deeply moved by the concept of Timshel and a person’s struggle for meaning and good work and free will. And I wish Lee lived in my house. Thou mayest. 

7. Theft By Finding, 1977-2002, 
by David Sedaris.
Unlike his previous books of polished essays, Theft By Finding is a collection of fragment observations taken from a 25-year-goldmine of old journal entries (most of them pre-fame). At first I missed the structure and arc of his traditional essays, but soon enough appreciated these random gems for what they were. Sedaris has always had a knack for noticing weird things and getting himself into bizarre interactions with odd people, which is reliably entertaining. The entries also helped clear up some questions I’ve wondered about related to his personal timeline. Anyway, I’ll probably continue to read anything this guy writes, forever.