Friday, February 3, 2017

January Reads

Having a single post to cover all I read in 2016 was a bit overwhelming—both to write and, I'm sure, to read. So I've decided instead to do a monthly recap of books I've read, and share a little about each book.



I started the year with a speed-read of Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk for my Naturalist Book Group, which was fairly easy to do because it's an enjoyable, page-turning read. You've probably already read (or read about) it, but for a quick rundown, it's about the author training a goshawk after the death of her father. The hawk, Mabel, in part helps her work through her grief but also enables her to push away the companionship of other humans which is what she really needs to fully recover. I was fascinated by Macdonald's relationship with Mabel; it seemed much more complex and interesting than the relationship one would have with a "pet." Near the end of the book, Macdonald dips into this idea of a nationalist identity wrapped up with a certain type of landscape in Great Britain, which is a mind-blowing concept and worthy of a book of its own, especially in these days of out-of-control nationalism around the world.

Macdonald intertwines with her own story that of TH White, whose book The Goshawk chronicles his own (failed) attempt to train the same kind of bird. We happened to have a copy of it, which I'd bought for Z because he at one point wanted to be a falconer (but he never read it because the language was too dry, lofty, and old-fashioned for a 10-year old, but not so Helen Macdonald, who read it when she was eight). Macdonald makes out The Goshawk to be a very dark tale, but I did not find it so. It's true she had much more access to information about TH White's sad life from his biographies and personal letters and papers, but very little of his alcoholism and other self-destructive behaviors, his repressed homosexuality, or his traumatic childhood comes out on the pages of The Goshawk. In fact it's rather amusing, in that dry, British way. And his writing about the natural world can border on rhapsodic (in what at least one of my grad school mentors would have called "purple prose" but which I love).

Last year I started the habit of reading one or two poems each morning as a way of getting more poetry into my life, and because I think poetry is better appreciated in small doses, rather than plowing through a whole book at a time. With many detours and setbacks, I finally finished The Selected Works of Edna Saint Vincent Millay, which I had bought after a visit to The Millay Colony about 15 years ago. Poor Edna was a maudlin woman—she had an unholy fascination with death (perhaps everyone back then, when life was so uncertain). But I did enjoy a few of her verses and I'm glad I finally read (and finished) it.

After Christmas, I picked up a bargain-basement copy of the BBC production of Pride and Prejudice, starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. About halfway through my second viewing of the miniseries, I pulled my ratty old copy off the shelf to reread, taking comfort in Jane Austen's world where virtue is always rewarded, bad behavior punished, and everyone gets what they deserve. Why isn't real life like that? Needing further cocooning, I read Sense and Sensibility as soon as I finished P and P.

Finally, I am "doing" The Artist's Way in tandem with one of my writing group buddies. The book is like a 12-step program for recovering from "blocked creativity." Over the course of twelve weeks, the book provides exercises that are meant to help reconnect with your artistic drive and get past whatever is holding you back. This involves daily "morning pages" or three pages of free-hand writing about anything (or nothing), weekly "artist dates," and multitudes of tasks that range from organizing personal space, going and doing things, or writing to or about a variety of people and things. So far I've found that it gives me a whole lot of ways to get out of actual writing. But it also has made the day-to-day a bit more enjoyable in small ways (stickers on the morning pages! a trip to the store for office supplies! going to the art museum for no good reason! being silly, playing games, nurturing myself!). One of this week's exercises is reading deprivation. I'm supposed to not read for a whole week! The fist day I had to finish up the last few pages of Sense and Sensibility, and I had tons of editing work to do, so I didn't do well that day, but I allowed myself only two news round-up articles and enough of another article to write a letter to my senator, otherwise I stayed away from news and Facebook. Yesterday the same, and I found that not constantly taking in news about the imminent demise of democracy and life as we know it is much more conducive to happiness. Ignorance IS bliss! This morning, after a stressful event, I found myself bingeing on bad news the way I might on junk food had their been any around. I've found it a strange feeling to have an odd free moment or hour throughout the day and to not reach for a book, magazine, or my phone. I might even finish my endless knitting project if this goes on. Anyway, February's reading list might be a bit shorter due to the reading vacation.

What are you reading these days?

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