A post about the books I read in the last month.
January 2019 Reads
A long time ago I was going to go to graduate school for environmental studies with a focus on literature and writing, but life got in the way, the way it does, and that never happened. I did eventually get a graduate degree in writing, but I've still always wished I had more knowledge and background in nature and environmental writing. So a while ago, I found online a series of lectures on the history of environmental literature and got to work. It's taken me about 2 1/2 years to work my way through all of the lectures and readings, last month finishing up with Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. Unfortunately, the last two lectures seem to be missing from the internet, so I'll never know what's happened in enviromental literature since 1962, but it was a good place to end since I spent a lot of time this past summer reading a biography of Carson and some of her other works. It's been about 20+ years since I last read Silent Spring, and if you haven't read it in a while (or ever) I recommend picking it up again. It's still such a powerful book and still so relevant to the careless way we humans handle dangerous technologies and written in a way that is the perfect blend of scientific authority and lyrical phrasing.
I heard about the next book on my list, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, when the author, Ruth Franklin, was interviewed on the #AmWriting podcast. I've been a Shirley Jackson fan since high school, when I read my mom's dusty paperback copy of The Haunting of Hill House and some of her creepier stories ("The Lottery," of course, and "Louisa, Please Come Home"). I discovered her books about life with kids, Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons, when my kids were little, and I was obsessed with finding and reading every published short story of hers when I was working on my MFA. I can't believe I missed this biography when it came out in 2017 (okay, maybe I can believe it, since I don't read the New York Review of Books or anything). But I'm so glad I did find it now. So, so good. I loved reading about the evolution of Jackson as a writer, her rocky relationship with her husband, her experience parenting four kids, her sad end. I'm obsessed all over again.
So of course I had to check out The Lottery and reread the stories all over again, in context (I seriously don't know why I don't own my own copy of this book). I try, as I did while working on my MFA, to figure out how she does it, how she creates the twists and turns of plot, the breath-taking endings, the unforgettably strange characters (oh, James Harris) and scenarios. And I can't do it.
I also read one of the last Elizabeth Peters books I picked up during my used-bookstore-trawling last summer: Trojan Gold, a Vicky Bliss adventure/suspense/mystery. Vicky is one of Peters's more entertaining and endearing characters, so these are always a fun read.
If I were to add Ann Zwinger to this list, it would be my pantheon of writers—Rachel Carson, Shirley Jackson, Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels, Ann Zwinger—which makes for an intersting range that I myself don't entirely understand: fiction and nonfiction; nature, the environment, history, archaeology, witchcraft; humor, horror, suspense, caper. All geniuses and writers I bow down to.