In a previous post I wrote, “I like to think of books as a moveable feast, the finest ones residing with and sustaining us our whole lives. For every memorable time in my life there is an equally memorable book, a book that spoke to me on some elemental level or a book that stretched the boundaries of my knowledge.” I usually have more than one book going and about a dozen or so set up camp on my nightstand at any given time. Think of my nightstand is a sort of utopian commune where a group of divergent books come together to turn on, tune in and drop out. So, I’ve been on the hunt a few new reads to add to my nightstand, the kind that will speak some sort of sweet human truth to this grasping human soul of mine. Here are five with which I hope to be communing soon.
1. Urgent Message from Mother
Gather the Women, Save the World
By Jean Shinoda Bolen
If you were to ask me why I am a feminist, I’d take my cue from the character of Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone. Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, a teenager left to care for her younger siblings and mother when her meth manufacturing father disappears. Lawrence’s Ree is doggedly determined to find her father and save her family’s home. By way of explanation for seeing a thing through on her own, even when up against some of the scariest individuals I can imagine, she says, “I’m a Dolly, bred and buttered.” Jennifer Lawrence delivers the line so matter-of-factly that it hasn’t a trace of irony or cheese. She’s a Dolly, by birth and upbringing. I love that line. So, if you were to ask me why I’m a feminist, I’d say, “I’m a feminist, bred and buttered.” Recently, I was watching Makers: Women Who Make America and it struck an emotional chord for me. I felt intimately connected to the stories and the women, though my first hand experiences of the women’s movement took place when I was a child. Of late, I have been feeling a rebirth of sorts in my feminist principals, like diving into the unknown and surfacing with new knowledge. Urgent Message from Mother strikes me as apropos for my current state of mind. From the author’s website:
“Mother” is Mother Earth, mother instinct, mother archetype, mother goddess, the sacred feminine. Women as a gender have qualities and priorities that the world needs to end the violence that traumatize children and has made cycles of conflict and fratricidal wars inevitable. A call to save what we love, inspiration from examples, how evolutionary social changes come through grassroots movements.
Not only do I love that Dr. Bolen addresses how powerful women can be when united, but, as a Jungian analyst, she also speaks to the mother archetype and sacred feminine. I think this is the very next book on my reading list.
2. The Principles of Uncertainty
Maira Kalman became one of my favorite artists and writers when my cousin Adeline sent a link to me for Kalman’s New York Times blog, The Pursuit of Happiness back in 2009. It was a beautifully illustrated contemplation of democracy in America. I began to seek out her work. When I discovered that she was illustrating a special edition of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style (a sacred text for English major types) I about peed my pants. Dear Hubby, while not understanding the full significance of this text to me, gifted it to me for my birthday that year. Barnes and Noble says:
An irresistible invitation to experience life through a beloved artist’s psyche, The Principles of Uncertainty is a compilation of Maira Kalman’s New York Times columns. Part personal narrative, part documentary, part travelogue, part chapbook, and all Kalman, these brilliant, whimsical paintings, ideas, and images-which initially appear random-ultimately form an intricately interconnected worldview, an idiosyncratic inner monologue.
If I could entice Maira Kalman to come live with us and illustrate the ordinary life of my family for a month, I would. I’d also settle for a cup of coffee and a chat. If The Principles of Uncertainty is anything like her other work, I’ll be a happy camper.
3. How To Be A Woman
As I mentioned above, I’m doing this feminist rebirth thing. I’m also a big fan of Fresh Air with Terry Gross, who did an interview with Ms. Moran last summer, when her book – a comic feminist manifesto – came out in the States. Moran seems to be whip smart and highly amusing. In the Fresh Air interview, Moran said to Gross:
People get really scared when women reclaim words, talk about themselves honestly and also make jokes because it’s a really unstoppable combination. It’s part of the reason why I decided to use humor in my book because it’s kind of hard to argue with someone who’s making you laugh.
I suspect this will be an enjoyable read.
4. The Wizard of Oz
L. Frank Baum with illustrations by W.W. Denslow
I was a voracious reader as a child. Still there are quite a few classics I never got around to reading, such as Baum’s original Oz series. I am sad to say I totally missed out on the wicked humor of Roald Dahl when I was a kidlet too. Thanks to our library’s robust children’s collection, Bear Boy and I read our way through nearly all of Dahl’s work. I think George’s Marvelous Medicine was my favorite, though The BFG comes in a close second. Recently Bear brought an abridged version of the Baum’s Wizard home from the school library. We read it together and it piqued my curiosity. Of course, having seen the 1939 film dozens of times, I thought I knew the story pretty well. What I hadn’t realized was how much more there was to the land of Oz, so many more characters and adventures all fleshed out in an immense series of books. I think most of us identify the Oz story as Dorothy’s story or, for those who read Gregory Maguire’s Wicked or the musical, maybe even Elphaba’s story. Baum wrote fourteen books in the Oz series, many about the characters we know and love (Tinman, Scarecrow, Glinda) and many we don’t know (Ozma, Tik-Tok, the Lost Princess). I look forward to digging into the wonderful, marvelous, wild land of Oz, particularly with Denslow’s original illustrations. I’ll wait to see the new movie until I’m done with the books.
5. Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting
Myla Kabat-Zinn, Jon Kabat-Zinn
Okay, for a reader who favors literary fiction, I’m noticing this list is leaning pretty heavily toward the nonfiction side. That said, I am interesting in reading this book. I was chatting with my good friend Bobbie last night. She is working on her degree in parent education. Here in Minnesota, we have super, state-sponsored early childhood learning programs. These programs have a parent education component, which, if you’re lucky to get a really thoughtful and engaged educator, can be a tremendous resource for parents. At the moment, Bobbie is student teaching with one of my favorite local parent educators and yesterday they attended a workshop. I could tell she was excited about the information that had been presented, because she was already imagining real world applications for it as she was talking to me. That’s the sort of thing all parents I need – thoughtful parenting ideas that I can practice implementing. Never having been a big reader of self-help, how-to, guru-esque texts, I find it fascinating that I’ve sought out so many parenting books since my kidlets bright and shining arrivals on the scene. Naturally, none of the books have been the final word on parenting, but I will say I have gleaned some terrifically useful ideas. So, one more parenting book, with a slow and peaceful approach, can hardly hurt, right?
I think I have some good reading to take me into spring. I’ll splurge for new hardcover versions of a few of these (Bolen, Kalman and Baum) and with a little luck I can find the others at one of my two favorite local bookstores – Sixth Chamber Books in St. Paul, Minnesota and Fox Den Books in River Falls, Wisconsin (note to self: these bookstores are so lovely that they probably deserve a post all to themselves). In the meantime, I’ll work my way through the most recent arrival to my nightstand commune – a book tons of folks said I ought to read – Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth. It’s about five pounds worth of paper and ink. Uff da! So, until next week, happy reading!
What’s on your reading list? Feel free to share. I’m always on the lookout for a fine book.