Summer reading

I read a lot this summer.  At the outset of the season, as I wrote my mid-year reading review, I realized I hadn’t read much fiction this year.  So I swore to myself that the summer months would hold a lot of novels.  And they did.  I would love to hear what you’ve been reading, too!

Lab Girl, Hope Jahren – I loved this book, which is suffused with the wonder of the natural world.  Jahren’s beautifully-written story is a love letter to science.

Modern Lovers, Emma Straub – Straub’s book is entertaining, wise, and truly has its finger on the pulse of what it means to be in midlife.  I related to an uncomfortable degree.

The Spiritual Life of Children, Robert Coles – I’ve long wanted to read this book and I finally did.  A thoughtful perspective on the deep and rich interior lives that children often have.  My favorite passage is here.

Wilde Lake, Laura Lippman – Taut, page-turning mystery, with a complicated female protagonist to boot.  I’m in.

There and Then: The Travel Writing of James Salter, James Salter – Essays by one of my very favorite writers about the traveling.  Beautiful prose, short snippets, you can see parts of the world in these pages.  My favorite passage is here.

What Alice Forgot, Lianne Moriarty – An entertaining confection that raises a big question: what do we take for granted over time, and what do we need to remember?

The Weight of Water, Anita Shreve – I don’t know why I’ve not read this before, but I’m glad I did.  Womanhood, relationships, the ocean – so much story in here, and so gorgeously written.  My favorite passage will go up next week.

Before the Fall, Noah Hawley – Gripping from page one.  I couldn’t put this down.  I found the ending a little unsatisfying, I’ll be honest, but this is an excellent, fast-paced story.

Days of Awe, Lauren Fox – A recommendation from my sister, and she’s never wrong.  A lovely book about friendship, marriage, motherhood, and adulthood.

The Atomic Weight of Love, Elizabeth Church – A recommendation from Katie, who’s also never wrong!  I adored this book about being a woman in the mid 20th century, subjectivity, science, birds, love, and identity.

The House of Secrets, Brad Meltzer – My love of thrillers is well-documented, and I tend to read everything Meltzer writes.  This book, heavy on the Benedict Arnold history, was very entertaining.

It’s Okay to Laugh: (Crying Is Cool Too), Nora McInerny Purmort – That this memoir is both a tear-jerker and a laugh-out-loud page-turner is a testament to the lovely writing and the irrepressible spirit of the writer.  Highly recommend.

The Singles Game, Lauren Weisberger – Fun, light, entertaining. I enjoyed this look inside the tennis circuit.

Heroes of the Frontier, Dave Eggers – I loved this book, which managed to be both light and deeply wise.  Despite the way the story careens all over the place (literally and figuratively), it powerfully describes the love between a mother and her children. I rarely read the NYT Book Review, but I did about this book, and these lines (by Barbara Kingsolver) have stayed with me: “The heroes of this frontier are Ana and Paul, a dynamic duo who command us to pay attention to the objects we find in our path, and stop pretending we already know the drill … she (Josie) sees them learning to take what a human animal really needs, divining the crucial difference between genuine dangers and manufactured ones. She is learning to be the mother her life demands, rearing the sort of brave humans the future will require.”

The Girls, Emma Cline –  As wonderful as I’d been told.  Cline’s story is feral and fecund, powerfully evoking the vulnerability of teenage girls and their deep desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  I could not put this book down.

The Excellent Lombards, Jane Hamilton – A wonderful, bittersweet evocation of adolescence.  This book is an elegy for a way of life that’s receding (farming) as well as for the innocence of childhood.  Tear-jerking, thoughtful, and lovely.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, Nadia Bolz-Weber – I loved Nadia’s wry humor and her clear-eyed ability to see the holy in even the most winding paths.  This is a beautiful, powerful book.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple – I laughed out loud while reading this.  Often. Another book I’m not sure why I waited so long on.  Hilarious and tinged with thought-provoking commentary on motherhood, identity, and conforming.

Truly Madly Guilty, Lianne Moriarty – Another successful page-turner by Moriarty.  Like all of her books this one circles around an event which is a mystery until revealed.  It is more tragic and less salacious than I expected, but the outcome is heartening, the message optimistic.  Entertaining.

Siracusa, Delia Ephron – Riveting writing on an unsettling topic.  Europe, midlife, marriage, parenthood, trust and the breaking of it … there is so much in this novel.

Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler – I love the writer’s voice and her beautiful, heartbreaking, raw depiction of young adulthood in New York.  I never lived in New York and I never waited tables, but even so, I found this book almost unputdownable.  A gorgeou way to close out the summer.

What have you read this summer that you recommend?  I want to hear!

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Summer 2016

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I think this is my favorite photo from the summer.  Sunset, no filter, July 4th, Marion, Massachusetts.

Summer 2016 was uneventful and calm until the end, when it was far too eventful.  June, July, and the first half of August held lots of family time and a bunch of no-child time and many books and runs.  Summer was a reminder of how deeply blessed I am on the friendship front, as I was lucky enough to spend time with some of the women I love the most in this world. It also reminded us of how fortunate we are, and of the line we walk on a daily basis.  Despite difficulty at the end of the summer, we turn into September more viscerally aware of our good fortune than before.

I suppose challenges have a way of reminding us of all that’s good.

June started out with coding camp for Whit, then had hockey camp for Grace (meet my children), and then they spent 3 weeks with my parents doing sailing and tennis.  Matt and I spent weekends down there.  What a privilege to spend long empty days with both my parents and my children.  We had a marvelous reunion with my sister, her husband, and daughters, and all four cousins on my side of the family were together.  Then Grace and Whit went off to sleepaway camp for 3.5 weeks.  Matt and I laid pretty low during this time, weekdays working and weekends at the ocean.  We played tennis, sailed, swam, and read a lot of books.

We had a magical dinner with one of my oldest and dearest friends, Jessica.  She, her husband, Matt, my parents, and I had a relaxed, happy, wine-soaked dinner.  We debated and discussed and laughed and reminisced.  I’m grateful beyond words for her company on this road, the truest kindred spirit I’ve ever met.  I just wish we saw each other more.

I spent a weekend in Shelter Island with two of my three college roommates.  This was our second annual visit and it was even more spectacularly wonderful than the last one.  We swam off a boat, we watched a thunderstorm roll in, we played with one roommate’s small children, we laughed so hard our stomachs hurt.

I read a lot of books, and will write a post about them shortly.  A lot of great fiction, as was my plan heading into the summer.

We had a week with Matt’s family in Vermont, which was joyful, exuberant, noisy, full of waterskiing and tubing.  Matt’s parents had all three sons and all six grandchildren together. A rare treat.

And then the summer ground to a quick, sudden halt.

Matt tore his hamstring severely while waterskiing. Then Whit was diagnosed with suspected Lyme and treated.  The last couple of weeks of August were not our best.  Matt had surgery on his hamstring (the injury was both significant and unusual).  He reacted poorly to the  drugs he was on after surgery and fainted not once but twice (both times I caught him) on the last day of August at home.  We had two 911 calls, and the second resulted in ambulance transport to the ER.  He was gray, clammy, and not fully awake.  I was very scared.  After many hours ruling lots of things out, they think he had a reaction to the medication, both anesthetic and pain killers.

Matt is resting quietly as I write this.  Our children are healthy and Whit’s responded well to his Lyme treatment.  I feel tired and deeply thankful at the same time.  I have Pam Houston in my mind:

I was breathless and frightened by the frailty of miracles, and full of the fact of our lives

I hope you are all entering fall with awareness of your blessings, many happy memories from the summer, and some good books under your belt. Beginning September full of the fact of your life.  I know I am.

 

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the days were finite, full of awe

I didn’t want to see for miles.  I didn’t want to peer into a telescope and spot the highway in the distance, the farms on the periphery the birds in formation.  I wanted to stand at the base of the bird tower and crane my neck toward Chris and Hannah, bathed in sunlight, golden.  Love was foolish and inevitable. We were just waiting to be shattered by it. The days were finite, full of awe.

– Lauren Fox, Days of Awe

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a species of intelligent grief

Melancholy isn’t always a disorder that needs to be cured.  It can be a species of intelligent grief which arises when we come face-to-face with the certainty that disappointment is written into the script from the start.

– Alain de Botton, The Course of Love

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August break

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Photo by Grace, the weekend before camp.  We are standing in front of the tender in which we left our wedding (photo here), many, many years ago.

For the I’ve-lost-track-of-how-many year in a row I’m going to take August off.  I plan to spend the next month living this vast design a little more than usual.  For the first half, it will be just me and this guy, above.  For the second half, all four of us.

I will be back in September and I hope you will be too!

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camp drop off

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Another year.  Another camp drop off.  Her sixth summer, and his fourth.  The camp I adore.

Another reminder of the dizzying speed with which this world is spinning, with which the years are flying by.

Three years ago I wrote that I love right now more than I have any other moment of my life.  And that is still true.  I still love right now more than any other moment.  That fact is heartening, yes, but it’s also bittersweet: the years with Grace and Whit at home grow shorter, the shadows behind us lengthen.  I feel the same way about that indelible fact as I do about looking into their echoingly empty rooms: it’s like pushing on a bruise.  I can’t avoid the reminders of this life’s breathtaking beauty or its keen sorrow, nor the ineluctable drumbeat sound of time’s passage.

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The truth is it was a difficult drop off.  There were some tears, which had also filled the days leading up to the 21st.  I wasn’t entirely prepared for these tears, this anxiety, this fear.  My children are getting older, camp is a familiar, joyful place – where was this uncertainty and clinginess coming from? Maybe it’s just about age and stage, as I’ve described before, a last gasp of attachment before the children (the teenager in particular) push off for the other shore for good.

It was a difficult morning, last Thursday.  I left even though I was being begged not to.  As we drove down the Cape, I was sad, confused, reminded yet again that the minute I think I have understood this life – her sixth summer, his fourth, we’ve got this! – I’m shown that in fact the only constant is change.

What I do know is that her cabin – Courageous – is well-named.  I know that she and Whit (who, in case you’re wondering, despite some challenges last summer, bounded into his cabin and shooed us out before his bed was even made) are in excellent hands. I know they will flourish. I know that even if there is some homesickness, the opportunity to face our difficulties and triumph is one not to be squandered.  We watched Grace do it last fall with cross-country, and I’m confident she will again.  In fact maybe the point is this discomfort; without some sorrow and some tears, we wouldn’t be maximizing this summer opportunity. Maybe. I am not sure. I know I miss my little soul mate, and her entertaining brother around whom everyday is a celebration. I miss them, but this is the right thing for them. So, courageous all, we forge head, separated by miles but connected by the raveling red yarn that ties our hearts.

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heroism in a class all its own

Rabih’s awareness of the uncertainty makes him want to hang on to the light all the more fervently.  If only for a moment, it all makes sense.  He knows how to love Kirsten, how to have sufficient faith in himself, and how to feel compassion for and be patient with his children.  But it is all desperately fragile.  He knows full well that he has no right to call himself a happy man; he is simply an ordinary human passing through a small phase of contentment.

Very little can be made perfect; he knows that now.  He has a sense of the bravery it takes to live even an utterly mediocre life like his own.  To keep all of this going, to ensure his continuing status as an almost sane person, his capacity to provide for his family financially, the survival of his marriage and the flourishing of his children – these projects offer no fewer opportunities for heroism than an epic tale….The courage not to be vanquished by anxiety, not to hurt others out of frustration,, not to grow too furious with the world for the perceived injuries it heedlessly inflicts, not to go crazy and somehow manage to persevere in a ore or less adequate way through the difficulties of married life – this is true courage; this is heroism in a class all its own.

– Alain de Botton, The Course of Love

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Things I Love Lately

Seven Signs You’re Overparenting – I don’t generally love instructive posts about parenting, but I find this one illuminating.  Helicoptering is so pervasive as to be almost passe now, but I love the concrete behaviors this writer identifies to help us parents understand what it really means.

Unsolicited Advice I’m Sharing with My Three Sons – Agreed on the coffee!  Also on the notion of collecting words, the power of being self-deprecating, the mentors, the truth, and having children.

My Favorite Vacation: Summer Camp – Dominique Browning on the power of summer camp made me both smile and wipe away tears.  Anyone reading here knows I worship(ped) camp and enjoy watching my children there now.  “And this is being a grown-up camper in the world, forever young enough to wonder at the mystery and magic and pleasure of it all.”  Amen. May we all stay forever young (Forever Young is a song that reminds me, incidentally, of camp).

Before the Fall – I can’t put Noah Hawley’s book down.

Grace and Whit are off to camp tomorrow. There are some pre-drop-off jitters at our house.  I’m thinking back to Michael Thompson’s Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow and reminding myself this is precisely why they go.

I write these Things I Love posts approximately monthly.  You can find them all here.

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sacred. scared.

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out the window last week (shared on Instagram)

I read my friend Aidan Donnelley Rowley’s post last week with great interest.  I love what Aidan has to say about permission and privilege and playing if safe.  She was moved, as I was not long ago, by Tara Sophia Mohr’s powerful book, Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead.  I encourage you to read both Aidan’s post and Tara’s book.

I texted Aidan to tell her I liked her piece.  And I shared one tiny typo I found in it (aside: those people who email me to let me know of my typos here – and there are usually at least one per post – THANK YOU!).

Then my heart stopped.  She had misspelled “scared” as “sacred.”

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But aren’t those things close to each other? How have I never noticed before that they are the same word?  What is sacred scares us?  So we should listen to and pay attention to what scares us, as it might point us to what is sacred?

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this.  It reminds me of the way that longing lives inside of belonging.  Words carry so much power, so much meaning, don’t they?  I don’t have much brilliant insight today other than the awareness that scared and sacred are the same word, intertwined in an inextricable way, two sides, perhaps, of the same coin.  I vow to pay more attention to what scares me.

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now and then pilgrims

So it is we connect with one another, move in and out of one another’s lives, teach and heal and affirm one another, across space and time – all of us wanderers, explorers, adventurers, stragglers and ramblers, sometimes tramps or vagabonds, even fugitives, but now and then pilgrims: as children, as parents, as old ones about to take that final step, to enter that territory whose character none of us here ever knows.  Yet how young we are when we start wondering about it all, the nature of the journey and of the final destination.

– Robert Coles, The Spiritual Life of Children

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