It has been four weeks minus a day since I got home from my junior year of college (!) which means it’s been exactly four weeks since the most dehumanizing test of my life (Physical Chemistry II, anybody?)
Here, a list of the best of the books I’ve read since my
triumphant return. Spoiler warnings.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers: I love Carson McCullers, if I post an addendum to my list of favorite authors, she will be on it. My Mom has been recommending this book to me for a long time and I’m very glad that I finally heeded her always-sage advice. The Heart is a shaking book. And my Mom lied to me. I asked if Mr. Singer would be okay in the end and she assured me that he would be. Of course if you’ve read this novel you know that Mr. Singer shoots himself. It’s a book that explores the deep loneliness, searching, and successive disillusionments that is human life. The failure to understand the people around us, the pain of not being understood.
My Summer in a Garden, Charles Dudley Warner: I’m a fan of gardening and after The Gardener’s Year (see below) I was left wanting more, so I picked this one. It’s an amusing and quick read, a contemplation of the joys, perils, and regrets of an amateur gardener’s passion. His humor is gentle, his 19th century prejudices disconcerting. Read for the onion rhapsodizing, blush with distress at the instances of casual racism.
Innocent Erendira and Other Stories, Gabriel Garcia Marquez: The short stories shared a theme of the ephemeral nature of life and the variety in the experience of death. It turns out the experience of death has even more variety when you add magical realism into the mix. My love of Marquez is already well-documented, because where else can you find exploding pianos and oceans that smell of roses?
An Exaltation of Larks, James Lipton: Not a novel but a compendium of collective terms. I can’t think of a more useful thing. Want to know what to call a bunch of ravens? Not a bunch, but rather an ‘unkindness’. The collective terms are divided into their own cute thematic groupings and many are given an etymology. Curious about why we refer to a group of fish as a school? I’m not. Not anymore. Other gems include a rash of dermatologists, and unction of undertakers, a murmuration of starlings, and an ostentation of peacocks.
The World According to Mr. Rogers, Mr. Rogers: A small book of Mr. Rogers’s quotes and the lyrics to some of his songs with a cute little sketch of his signature cardigan on the cover. The thoughts and ideas reverberate with integrity, tolerance, encouragement, understanding, and support. Let him be your guiding light in the storm that is life. Because let’s be real- it’s not always a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
Ignorance, Milan Kundera: Thankfully (and sadly), Kundera shares my views on homecomings after a long absence. You can never go back. Time changes all things. Nostalgia is a trap; a fool’s paradise, memory is fallible. What remains of the homes we knew and loved after they have been filtered through the sieve of time? What has been lost? Even if you could go back, then what?
Darkness Visible, William Styron: When the subheading is ‘a memoir of madness’, you know you’ll find me right there. A bleak account of Styron’s spiral into clinical depression and a brief (the entire book is only 84 pages) description of his recovery. He also goes into cultural views on depression, other artists/writers who have suffered, and who commits suicide and why. Recommended for both sufferers and non-sufferers alike, as I imagine it would clarify the black oppressive shadow for people of both groups (I can testify as a member of one group, but I won’t reveal which).
The Gardener’s Year, Karel Capek: Quite the departure from a memoir of depression. Karel Capek’s tender, month-by-month writings on the gardener’s seasonal struggles and ecstasies and the gentle way in which he pokes fun at the peculiar foibles of the men and women he clearly counts as comrades in arms make for a small book glowing with affectionate warmth and a love of gardening’s little pleasures and pains. My favorite bit may be the extremely relatable description of whiling away hours over garden catalogues in the winter. Or maybe the insidious and serpentine tendencies of the common garden hose.
Life Among the Savages, Shirley Jackson: If and when I update my list of favorite authors, Shirley Jackson will also, in all likelihood, be scooting her way on. Her preferred theme may be the eerie and strange (The Lottery, The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived in the Castle)- but this episodic memoir maintains her characteristic imagination and wit in an entirely different setting: her family’s rural Vermont home. It may have made me reconsider having children for a few days, but I think I’ll wait to make a final decision until after I finish the second part, Raising Demons.
The Grass Harp, Truman Capote: Truman Capote also deserves to eventually be on my list of favorite authors. I suppose he’s almost completed the customary vetting period. I only finished this a few hours ago so I haven’t got the feelings entirely sorted out yet in my head. It ha perhaps the most fantasy of any Capote that I have read, the characters (likable and not so likable alike) are well drawn and ultimately endearing. The prose sings. It was the perfect read for this summer’s afternoon (I mean, living in a tree house, come on). Much more appropriate than In Cold Blood would have been. But if you haven’t read In Cold Blood, there’s also no time like the present.