Summer Reading

The 5:30 a.m. of today felt decidedly different from the 5:30 a.m.s of weeks past. The sunrise cached low, biding time—an hour longer, more? The floorboards cooler beneath listless first steps. A sweatshirt, musty from disuse, pulled from a dresser drawer. For the first time in a long time, fall(-ish); and thank goodness for it.

If you’ve spent any time in Greater New York City this summer, then you know that times have been hot. Relentlessly, sweat pooling along your collar as you step inside the car—9:00 a.m., why did I not bring a water for this ten-minute ’round-the-block walk? hot. While I’m generally one to spend every possible un-wintry moment outdoors, this was a season for nesting. For stepping outside for brief strolls—sunrise or sunset, ideally—eyes darting across the street for spots of shade, and moving towards them; for keeping the appointments and running the errands required; but mostly, for being home, and turning on the normally-loathed central air, and in quiet moments reading.

Below are a few books from my reading list of late. I liked them all, and think you may, too.

An American Marriage (Tayari Jones). First, listen to Tayari Jones speak on Death, Sex & Money, and daydream for a while about sharing a margarita or three. (I mean, really. Don’t you want to be friends with this woman?) Then, head to your local library, and if you’re lucky enough to secure a copy, bring An American Marriage home. It’s a portrait of a marriage torn asunder, but also of race, and ambition, and criminal (in)justice, and why we even marry—and stay so—at all.

Look Alive Out There (Sloane Crosley). I first encountered Sloane Crosley in a “desert island books” interview with T Magazine, in which, speaking of Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America, she said something to the effect of, Just reading that table of contents makes me happy. Instant kinship. Since then, I’ve read and enjoyed her essay collections—the most well-known among them, I Was Told There’d Be Cake. (Though, not so critics’ continual David Sedaris comparisons. Why? Not really at all, IMO… {Also, is anyone else out there not all that into David Sedaris?} Anyway.) This one, I loved. I laughed out loud (literally, often) and among other things, gained affirmation in whatever vague sense I had that there is really no reason to ever hike an active volcano, on your period especially, in South America.

Forest Dark (Nicole Krauss). So historically, I’ve not been the world’s biggest fan of Nicole Krauss; in fact, I’ve made some very snarky and deeply un-feminist comments about her narrative talents vis-à-vis those of her former spouse. But. This I liked! Set primarily in and around the Hilton Tel Aviv, the novel tells two distinct stories—one of an aging Jules Epstein and the other of a Nicole Krauss stand-in, both of whom are seeking meaning and metamorphosis in the desert amid dissolution on their respective home fronts. I’ll admit, I found the final chapters a bit…tortuous? elusive? off? But maybe I just need to give them another go-around.

Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win (Jo Piazza). I loved Jo Piazza with How to Be Married; and I loved her more when I learned she’d ghostwritten the whole Younger meta-novel thing. (Aside: please tell me you’re also watching Younger? Darren Star x Gossip Girl x Sutton Foster x lit-ra-cha? I mean, come on…) If you have any interest at all in the current state of womanhood and/or politics in America, do yourself a favor and pick this one up. It’s fun and whip-smart and makes me more than a little bit hopeful for these midterms ahead, and for the future beyond them.

Now, how about you? What have you been reading and liking? I’d love to know.

Everything Is Waiting for You

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and to invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into
the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

—David Whyte

Book Club: Charlotte’s Web

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.” (Goals, you know?)

//

There are rare perfect sentences that catch like a light on glass. Rarer, still, are perfect passages. Rarest of all, are perfect books; and Charlotte’s Web is one.

I wish I remembered reading the book as a child. I did, of course; I am a person who was young in this country in the last sixty-odd years. There is, most definitely, a hardback procured c. 1994, deep in my parents’ attic. For whatever reason, though, I don’t. I have no recollection of when and where I read it—or was read it, and by whom. I remember the cover (Who wouldn’t? Those eyes!). But beyond a lingering vegetarianism, I can’t for the life of me tell you of the impression it left.

So many years later, in graduate school, a class* brought me back to the story; and it was then that White’s words became something indelible. That I felt their weight—as narrative, and meaning—and carried it with me. Each one gracefully plain, but together weaving this scintillant web.

Id est, all of the tears.

A few weeks ago, I found a new edition at the lovely Diane’s in Greenwich, and brought it home. In her introduction, Kate DiCamillo (insert: heart-eyes) describes coming late to the book at age thirty-one, when a teacher urged: read this, if you wish to be a writer. Yes; agreed.

There’s no reason for synopsis here. Whoever you are, you know that there is Wilbur and Charlotte and Fern. That there is a pig who is loved, and saved. I won’t get into all that.

What I simply want to say, is: (re-)read it. If you must drive to the store for a copy, go and invest. If there is one in your home right now, all the better. Charlotte’s Web is something rare. It is a window and a mirror, both. It is a book for readers and writers, and children and “grown-ups”; and in its disquieting-comforting-generous-true portrayal of what it is to live in—and with—this world, it is nothing less than a miracle. And it’s the season for those, after all.

//

*Whose syllabus, of a few years later, can be found here.

A Birthday

Something continues and I don’t know what to call it
though the language is full of suggestions
in the way of language
but they are all anonymous
and it’s almost your birthday music next to my bones

these nights we hear the horses running in the rain
it stops and the moon comes out and we are still here
the leaks in the roof go on dripping after the rain has passed
smell of ginger flowers slips through the dark house
down near the sea the slow heart of the beacon flashes

the long way to you is still tied to me but it brought me to you
I keep wanting to give you what is already yours
it is the morning of the mornings together
breath of summer oh my found one
the sleep in the same current and each waking to you

when I open my eyes you are what I wanted to see.

—W. S. Merwin

//

image

Finishing Up

I wonder if I know enough to know what it’s really like
to have been here: have I seen sights enough to give
seeing over: the clouds, I’ve waited with white
October clouds like these this afternoon often before and

taken them in, but white clouds shade other white
ones gray, had I noticed that: and though I’ve
followed the leaves of many falls, have I spent time with
the wire vines left when frost’s red dyes strip the leaves

away: is more missing than was never enough: I’m sure
many of love’s kinds absolve and heal, but were they passing
rapids or welling stirs: I suppose I haven’t done and seen
enough yet to go, and, anyway, it may be way on on the way

before one picks up the track of the sufficient, the
world-round reach, spirit deep, easing and all, not just mind
answering itself but mind and things apprehended at once
as one, all giving all way, not a scrap of question holding back.

—A. R. Ammons

//

photo

Gone Fishin’

… and in lieu of a link pack, a poem.

LIVING

The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer.

The wind blowing, the leaves
shivering in the sun,
each day the last day.

A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily

moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.

Each minute the last minute.

— Denise Levertov

//

Cliché for a reason. Here’s to {summers} {days} {minutes}, lived as if the last.

Happy Friday, readers.

Photo
Peaks Island, c. 2014

Book Club: Let the Great World Spin

Photo

(Says, “Signed,” but I read as, “So good.” Both accurate.)

·

A few years ago, I kept a Word document called, “Quotes I Love Today.” It was a running list of lines gleaned from stories, poems, conversations—things read or heard, and felt.

To be more precise, this was 2013, my year of Infinite Jest and of being twenty-five; and so needless to say, it was a time of many feelings and of many words transcribed.

I tell you this because I re-opened the file last week and started typing, because I had just brought home a copy of Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin. (Praise to the Westport Library book sale, by the by.) Now, this was not my first encounter with the novel; I had read it when it was published back in 2009, probably along with my dad (Book Club OG; hey, dad). But sometimes, for whatever reason—your age or your chair or the café music that’s playing over those final chapters—you read something and it sits with you well, and maybe even for a while; but you just don’t feel it as deeply as you might. But then you return to it later, and it hits you with a gale’s force. And that’s what happened, here.

As any summary will tell you, the novel centers (literally*; exquisitely) on Philippe Petit’s high-wire walk between the Twin Towers. But this is Colum McCann, and of course it’s about so much more than that. War, declared or otherwise, and myriad “lesser” violences. Family, love, and loss, as they collide. The New York of summer. All the places we call home.

Suffice it to say, my Word doc has grown.

If you’d like to read on, you can find the book for sale here and here (please, not there). I’d lend you mine, but I think this is one I’d like to keep close. I hope you’ll read it slowly and someplace still, to savor; and I hope you’ll love as much as I did.

Schuyler

*See: pp. 175-197, “Etherwest.”

From Blossoms

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

— Li-Young Lee

//

Photo

Rain

Woke up this morning with
a terrific urge to lie in bed all day
and read. Fought against it for a minute.

Then looked out the window at the rain.
And gave over. Put myself entirely
in the keep of this rainy morning.

Would I live my life over again?
Make the same unforgiveable mistakes?
Yes, given half a chance. Yes.

— Raymond Carver

//

On words (probably) not written by George Eliot

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have never really read George Eliot.* She was never “required” reading, and I just … haven’t heard the siren song of Silas Marner. There’s this quote, though, that’s oft- (and most likely mis-) attributed to her, which came to me by way of Sally Field in a certain series finale—and has lingered. It goes like this: “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” Short and sweet and more than a little trite, but there you have it.

I’ve been thinking about the sentiment a good bit recently—I assume because I’m suddenly no longer years, but months away from thirty. (Gulp.) So many mornings, lately, I’ve awoken with this Pollyanna mantra of: Better, today. Today, I’ll be kinder and bolder, more patient and more generous, than I was the day before. And so many nights, I’ve inevitably gone to sleep feeling as though I’ve fallen short in every way. But it’s morning now, and the yard is this gorgeous, dappled thing, and what I’m thinking in this moment is, that that loop is okay—because life is so short but it’s also so long. There are so many more mornings. To be brave; to say yes, or no; to start a blog because yeah, you write, but you’ve always wanted to be A Writer—and it’s a beginning.

This is all, I realize, sounding a little too Class Day-y clichéd; but feelings be feelings, and these are mine. We’ve got this, you and I—today or tomorrow and whatever our sundry “thises” may be.

Love and light, friendlies,
Schuyler

Photo

*Convince me I should! Summer hours; open mind …