What I've been reading: spring/summer 2017

I listen to a lot of audiobooks when I'm working in the studio. To me it feels like an absolute luxury to spend an afternoon making stuff with my hands AND listening to a book at the same time. It's pure bliss.

But lately I've been noticing that the type of book I listen to really matters. After waiting for about 6 months, I finally got the audio version of the Handmaid's Tale from the library. I was super excited to listen to it, but after a couple of days I had to turn it off and I switched to having RuPaul's Drag Race on in the background instead. It's a great book, but man is it gloomy. I found my mood was dipping too much and the blissful feeling was gone. I hope to finish the book eventually, though I'm not sure that audio is the way to go for me. 

If you have any recommendations for cheerful audiobooks, let me know! In the mean time, here's my list of recommendations for you.


Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

A friend recommended Anne Carson to me long before I started my #100daysoflearningaboutpoetry but I didn't have the patience to give it the space it needed until recently. It's a modern retelling of the myth of Geryon and Herakles, written as a novel in verse and not nearly as obscure as I thought when I first picked it up. Geryon is one of the most interesting characters I've ever read - a red, winged, anxious artist - and Anne Carson has a way with language that I find just thrilling. Here's one of my favourite parts: 

"This was when Geryon liked to plan 

his autobiography, in that blurred state 

between awake and asleep when too many intake valves are open in the soul. 

Like the terrestrial crust of the earth

which is proportionately ten times thinner than an eggshell, the skin of the soul

is a miracle of mutual pressures. 

Millions of kilograms of force pounding up from earth's core on the inside to meet the cold air of the world and stop, 

as we do, just in time."

Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith 

Tracy K. Smith is the current Poet Laureate of the U.S. and has won the Pulitzer Prize. I first heard part of her poem "My God It's Full of Stars" on the Brain Pickings blog after an event that celebrated science with poetry. Her poems have an amazing way of juxtaposing the wonders of space, the complexities of science, and the mundane details of everyday life. You can read the poem that I posted on Instagram here

Teaching my Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire

When I asked for suggestions for my poetry project, someone said I should get this book and read the entire thing. So I did - and in only one sitting. The poems are accessible but powerful and tell very personal, nuanced stories about the immigrant experience in North America. 

A Maze Me by Naomi Shihab Nye

Oh man, I loved this book so much. The subtitle is "poems for girls", which made me thing it was written for young adults, but after reading it I can see that it was written for girls of all ages. I would like to own this book and memorize the entire thing because the words brought me so much comfort and so many smiles. I found myself copying a bunch of them into my journals, like this one for instance: 

"Sometimes I pretend

I'm not me, 

I only work for me. 

This feels like a secret motor

churning inside my pocket. 

I think, she will be so glad

when she sees the homework, 

neatly written. 

She will be relieved 

someone sharpened pencils, 

folded clothes." 

Intersecting Sets by Alice Major

Alice Major was the first poet that I read in my poetry project and when I found out she had written a book of essays about poetry and science I immediately borrowed it from the library and dove in. It was a great book to read at the start of the project since it introduced me to a lot of the complexities of poetry and was a good reminder of various aspects of form. But I have always had a soft spot for spaces where science and art overlap and inform each other and this book was so satisfying. She's a local writer, so it might not be widely available but if you're in Edmonton, the library has a copy! 


A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

This is my favourite book club choice in the three years we've been meeting and is up there on my list of all-time favourites. A woman on a remote island in British Columbia finds a package washed up on shore with a diary written by a girl in Japan and some other artifacts. As she reads the diary and works to figure out the meaning of the other objects, she becomes enmeshed in the girl's life in a somewhat magical way. Along the way we meet wonderful characters like a 100-year old Buddhist nun, a pimp dressed in a French maid outfit, and a mischievous cat and we learn about everything from Buddhist meditation to Jungle crows, ocean gyres, Kamikaze pilots in World War II and the culture of suicide in Japan. It's dark and magical and beautiful - I listened to it and then read it to make sure I wouldn't miss anything. 

Hagseed by Margaret Atwood

This was an excellent book to listen to while working. It's part of a recent series of novels that has a variety of authors reimagining Shakespeare's plays, with Atwood taking on The Tempest. Prospero's character is an actor/director who is ousted from his prestigious position at a theatre festival by a younger rival. He exiles himself to a tiny cabin to plot his revenge before taking a job teaching Shakespeare to inmates in a prison. The story is pretty entertaining on its own, but even better if you know the story of Tempest - she finds some very creative ways to hit all the major plot points and themes. 


When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

I listened to almost this entire book on the way to and from a solo retreat at a cabin in the woods and it gave me lots to think about! It was published after the writer died of cancer, which had me worried that it would be too heavy. The author - a neurosurgeon - brings us along on his search for meaning and value as he decides whether to pursue medicine or literature, research or surgery, to have a child or not, and as receives his diagnosis and deals with the process of dying. It's powerful, but primarily hopeful, which is how I like my books. 

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

I got this book at a book exchange back in April and am grateful for it. Melton tells the story of her struggles with bulimia and alcoholism, her early marriage and family life, but the meat of the story comes when she finds out her husband has been cheating on her and she has to deal with the aftermath. It's a wonderful look at what it takes to truly love someone: the fire and struggle and eventual softening towards herself and her beloved. It moves quickly and has some deep powerful advice. 

Share what you're reading in the comments below and let me know if you ever find your mood being influenced by the books you're reading.