Oh Goodness…

Oh goodness, it’s been a long time gone without writing.

Which is really a shame, because the whole time, I’ve been reading. And reading. And reading! Good books, bad books, interesting ones, disappointing ones. Although it’s not fair to boil down works into one adjective, just like it’s not fair to assign one adjective to a person and leave it at that. That’s why I really should be writing a post for each book I read.

This summer I worked at a literary agency. I spent my mornings reading query emails from writers hoping to be published. Even if I didn’t like all of their work, I respected them all tremendously. Writing a novel, no matter the apparent “quality,” is a real act of devotion and discipline. It’s a worthy endeavor. And so the least I can do is to write more frequently in this blog to encourage other people to read — because someone spent days holed inside, turned down plans, spun around and did years worth of somersaults in their minds, all to bring you a story. WHAT a world! I’m so happy to exist in a world where people tell stories just because they damn well don’t want to do anything else. That’s why though I love Bob Dylan and get it, I get why he won, I hope it’s the last time a songwriter wins. Writers don’t get enough pats on the back for thankless work, for lonely days.

I’m going to get into the books I’ve read in more detail in further blog posts, but some of the HIGHLIGHTS of the summer include:

  • Wise Children by Angela Carter, who is hands down the scariest smart witty wonderful woman writer and there must be some conspiracy against why EVERYONE doesn’t know about her, because everyone should.
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, which made me take hour-long lunch breaks just so I could get pulled back into the intoxicating paragraphs and larger-than-life characters. On my walk to work, I’d take a pit stop at a small community garden just so I could sneak in a few paragraphs. Yes, I was an addict for this book.
  • Happy City by Charles Montgomery, a book that explores how urban design impacts our general happiness and quality of life. This book made me furious about cars and urban sprawl, and terribly excited about the possibilities of more green cities that have public transportation, public space, and ways of bringing people together. I don’t read much nonfiction, but this book was so well-written and exhilarating that I blew through it like a novel. And, since I knew I was lEARNING something, it was almost more gratifying.
  • Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson, because I could read all of her books five times and still find sentences that make me swoon. Was reading this next to my boyfriend and he asked why I was smiling and I said sorry, this book will give away too many women secrets, you can never know. Which isn’t altogether true, of course, but this book made me angry and proud in the best way.

Okay, I realize these are all vague sum-ups that explain the reading experience instead of the actual book, but I’m really just using this post as a warm up for when I do my summer in review post.

Right now I’m reading An Unnecessary Woman by one of my favorite authors, Rabih Alammedine, and sometimes it makes me fall asleep and sometimes I really like it. But one of the best parts is that the protagonist, a woman who relies on literature more than food for sustenance, throws in great quotes. So I’ll end with the ending of an Edward Hirsch poem she loves that describes joy:

“My head is skylight / my heart is dawn.”

With that, I leave you. But I will be back tomorrow. Maybe I can be disciplined enough to make this a daily thing? Hm…let’s not get TOO ahead of ourselves, now.

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Jeannette Winterson’s a Star

I’ve read writers who write good paragraphs, and then writers who write paragraphs in sentences. Jeanette Winterson is the latter type. Take this example from her novel Gut Symmetries (which I haven’t read, but…)

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just damn, and it keeps getting better

Jeanette Winterson burst onto the literary scene when she was at the shiny, enviable age of 26. She’d left home 16 years earlier after coming out as a lesbian, and her life experiences are printed all over her first novel, Oranges Aren’t the Only Fruit. The semi-autobiographical novel is about a girl’s journey out of a fervently religious Evangelical household in an English mill town through discovering and embracing her lesbian sexuality. Though of course she never quite makes it “out,” because we can never make it out of our families. But anyway. It’s a damn good book, and I’m sure Jeanette’s mother would get mad at me for saying “damn” but luckily for both of us, she’s not my mother.

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Jeanette–but which one??

Winterson’s narrator, also named Jeanette, looks back and writes about her childhood and her relationship with her mother. Jeanette was adopted as an infant by this mother, a woman who believes in stark binaries, to be groomed into becoming a pastor. All her life Jeanette is aware of her mother’s “calling” for her to join the church. But her destiny collides with her desires when Jeanette awakens to romance, to the Melanies and Katies of the world. It’s so interesting tracing the logic Jeanette uses to have love for women and church in her life, and when the icy realization that the community won’t let her do this begins to seep in.

Jeanette’s mother is kind of person who warrants an entire book being written about her, with enough idiosyncratic antics and wild beliefs that you stick with Jeanette to see how she navigates loving her mother and knowing she must leave her if she’s to survive. The title stems from one of the mother’s proclamations that oranges are the only fruit. But of course they’re not.

You’d think a book about a girl being shunned by her community/realizing her community is batshit would be bitter. But it’s not. It’s poignant, funny, and terribly kind to the people that she lost along the way.

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from Oranges, captures the poetic urgency of her way out

Winterson sprinkles in some fantastical elements in Oranges in brief fairy-tale-esque sequences mythologizing Jeanette’s journey out. Her book The Passion (which I think is my favorite Winterson) takes this speculative fiction to a whole new level. It’s about a love affair between a Venetian thief and a soldier in Napoleon’s army. Mostly I was swept away because it has extremely delectable quotes on love in it, and there’s nothing I quite like like good love quotes. Great stuff like, “I say I’m in love with her. What does that mean? It means I review my future and my past in the light of this feeling. It is as though I wrote in a foreign language that I am suddenly able to read. Wordlessly, she explains me to myself. LIke genius she is ignorant of what she does.” JEEEEZ. I mean, really, the woman knows how to write about the human experience and the human heart in ways that ring bells of truth.

Yet I know I’m being self-indulgent by swooning over how good The Passion is because it’s just a book that I would very much like.  Oranges Aren’t the Only Fruit stuck with me for its sheer humanness. Knowing that it’s a true story certainly doesn’t make the reverberations any less strong.

It’s a comfort to know that I’ve only read two of her books, and there’s so much thought-provoking heartbreaking humanness to come.