June skies. So far, it’s been the sort of month where it’s raining AND the sun is shining at the same time. The sky is full of grey clouds AND amazing light. There’s no in between, there’s little transition. It feels like an apt metaphor for life at the moment.

The homestead is humming along. The meat birds are only three weeks away from their adventures at freezer camp (already!). The layers are exploring their new yard and eating all the bugs and turning from delightful balls of fluff to actual birds with individual personalities. The pigs are adorable and contradictory, running towards us excitedly and then getting too close and running away scared or chasing each other in circles and then flopping down into a pile.

It took a few weeks to settle into animals this year. The ritual of morning chores was immediately familiar, but it also felt like an endless hustle to stay half a step behind. Some part is probably attributable to the year off and just being a bit rusty on the details. Some part is definitely adding the layers into the mix, complicating the old systems and needing to build new ones. I didn’t realize the anxiety I was holding until I felt it release. Early one morning this week I was walking down to the chickens with a 40-pound bag of feed on my shoulder mentally ticking off the tasks of fermenting feed and sprouting peas and filling waterers and cleaning the coop and it was all taken care of, and I just felt… capable. It’s a nice thing to feel once in a while.

In unrelated news, I’ve read a string of good books and have been meaning to share those things more frequently, so let’s start with a few today:

  • Educated by Tara Westover – I’m late to the party on this one, but joining the chorus. It’s really good. And not because her childhood is a fascinating story and so different from mine and yours, but because she describes the human experience with clarity and insight that was mind-expanding. Like this: “Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those give to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind.”
  • A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza – A story of an Indian-American Muslim family, with parts told from each member’s perspective. At some point, I was sure that I was four different characters and that it was describing every major family-type relationship in my life. The story is compelling but the real star here is the nature of relationship itself.
  • The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton – Hope and humanity from a man who spent thirty years on death row for crimes he didn’t commit.

2016 in review, out of order

I’m all out of order here because I didn’t think I had a “year in review” in me but it turns out I just didn’t have anything original to say about 2016. I was inspired to look back over my images from the last year today, and chose one from each month to share. I also realized that it was an excellent year in reading for me, and I’ve been meaning to share more about other people’s words, so I’ll start with a quick list of one book I read from each month of 2016 as well.

And my year in reading (chronologically by when I read them, which is to say in no particular order):

Phew. Twelve felt like such a small number when I had to choose what to include, but it’s not a short list. If you have any suggestions for my 2017 reading list, leave them in the comments or connect with me on Goodreads.

Summer reading/listening

DSC_3413It has been a fine summer of wordy entertainment, and too long since we compared reading lists. I could swear that I already wrote about half of these recommendations but I went looking for what I said and I can find nothing. So perhaps I just thought about how I really needed to share them with you enough times that it feels like I already did? Or maybe this is the second time I’m telling you, in which case you should take that for the enthusiastic recommendation it is.

To read:

Being Mortal might be the most important book I’ve read in awhile. The subtitle is “Medicine and What Matters in the End” and it is a truly insightful and hopeful take on aging and dying in our society. Before you run away from the topic, let me just say that 1. it’s full of good stories; and 2. I’m genuinely tempted to send a copy to every member of my family.

– In contrast, Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder is not at all important. But if you grew up loving Little House as much as I did, you should know about this book. Pioneer Girl is the first manuscript Wilder wrote, an autobiography for an adult audience that was never picked up by a publisher, which then became the basis for the series of somewhat-fictionalized juvenile books we all know and love. This giant volume (the annotations!) and I spent many hours in the hammock together.

All the Light You Cannot See isn’t exactly a hot tip. It’s won all sorts of awards. For very good reason. It is a beautiful novel. Stunningly beautiful. Equal parts inspiring and heartbreaking in the way that the best stories of humanity are. Read it. I promise.

Other books I’ve read recently that I would recommend: Can’t We Talk About Something More PleasantGhost Boy, and 10% Happier.

To listen:

– I remember catching a couple episodes of On Being in the car years ago and enjoying it, but it never crossed over to my podcast list like so many other NPR programs. I fixed that recently, and have found myself listening to an awful lot of these conversations ever since. There are so many gems, but a few recent favorites include Sister Simone Campbell, John A. Powell, and Pico Iyer.

– I’m also pretty new to the Death, Sex, and Money podcast, but this episode on siblinghood was pretty great.

– Hat tip to the amazing Brain Pickings newsletter for this one: a Neil Gaiman lecture on how stories last. Trust me. It’s an hour-long talk, followed by a Q&A session. I’m still thinking about so many little bits from this, including our only hope for communicating the danger of nuclear waste with a half-life of 10,000 years.

How about you? What has been inspiring and entertaining you this summer?

Thank you, may I have another

I tend to reading books in streaks. I’ll finish one that I enjoy, and immediately go looking for something similar for as long as I can until I run out of ideas (or get so tired of it the joy is gone, although that’s not usually the case). My most recent has been a string of older female character studies, which is oddly specific I know, especially when you consider that I picked up all three of these books for reasons completely apart from their form as such.

The first one I read was An Unnecessary Woman,  which I discovered on the list of finalists for the National Book Award. It mostly takes place in the thoughts and memories of a seventy-two-year-old woman in Beirut. The details of life past and present in Beirut were rich, but voice of this woman is richer.

The same list of NBA finalists included Lila by Marilynne Robinson, the third of her novels set in the small town of Gilead, Iowa in the mid-twentieth century. These books probably rank as my second-favorite “series”, surpassed only by Wendell Berry’s Port William novels. (Curiously, both take a similar approach in that each book shares the same cast of characters but each is from the perspective of a different member and they are not sequential.) This was one of those books that I had to try to ration out over as many days as possible, but I just couldn’t help myself. I consumed it. Once again, this novel is very much about Lila, a woman who spends much of her life as a transient worker before marrying the much older Reverend Ames and settling down in Gilead.

After those two, I picked up Colm Toibin’s latest, Nora Webster. This time the main character is a middle-aged and recently widowed woman in 1960s Ireland. I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for most stories in that setting, but this one was more than cultural nostalgia. It was as soon as I got utterly sucked into Nora’s head that I realized I was going to have to go looking for more.

Unfortunately, I don’t have anything else in the queue and “older female character study” isn’t exactly a helpful search term. So the hunt is on… Any suggestions?

Reading list

After a bit of a dry spell over the summer, I’ve read a couple books recently that I really enjoyed so thought I would pass along…

When a friend recommended Sweetness in the Belly a few months ago, she described the genre as “historical fiction with a focus on social justice” and something clicked for me. Yes! That’s a thread through some of my favorite reads… think The Poisonwood Bible, The Grapes of Wrath, The Round House. Make place a key character and you’ve pretty much got me dialed in. Split between the main character’s early adulthood in Ethiopia and her middle-aged years in London, it’s about subcultures and identity and belonging. I loved the story and that it was an author that was completely new to me, so there’s more to explore.

In the not-at-all-new-to-me camp is Molly Wizenberg. I’ve read her blog, Orangette, for years and always really liked it. When her first book came out a few years back, I picked it up right away and, well… it was a different voice from her blog and it just didn’t connect with me. So I mostly avoided her second book, Delancey, a memoir about opening a restaurant in Seattle with her husband. But I kept hearing good reviews and finally caved, and I’m really glad that I did. I’m a sucker for most memoirs and I consumed this one in a few nights. It’s exactly what you would hope for.

I’ve also been experimenting with audiobooks of late, with less than stellar results. I thought they would be the perfect companion to knitting, like podcasts that go on for hours. But either I’m really bad at choosing titles, or I don’t have the attention span. While I will rarely quit a book, even after I’ve lost all interest, I’ve abandoned more than one audiobook that I was actually enjoying because I just ran out of steam on it. I’m trying desperately to finish the current one but it. just. keeps. going. I might have to just give up and look for more podcasts so I don’t run out of those so quickly.

If anyone has any suggestions for audiobooks or podcasts they love (perhaps diversifying from my NPR staples), I’m all ears. And if you’re on Goodreads, feel free to add me as a friend.