Isn’t it just like February?

It hits me every year, just as January rolls into February: the shift in daylight, so incremental until it’s suddenly noticeable, particularly around sunset.

Groundhog aside, all you need is to pay attention to the light to know spring is on its way.

Of all the months in the year, February has me most mystified. How/why did February become the shortest month?  What would it mean to be born on February 29th, a leap year baby? More to the point, learning that, in ancient times, it was the last month of a 355-day year and it gets its name from the god of ritual purification sealed the deal on the title of my novel. What sounds like a simile—Just like February—has all the makings of a metaphor.

“Even in an age of femtoseconds and star clusters 11 billion light-years away, time defies true objective measurement,” writes David Ewing Duncan in Calendar, a book very cleverly subtitled Humanity’s Epic Struggle to Determine a True and Accurate Year.  “It can seem to go slow and even stall out at certain moments only to brashly and breathlessly rush forward at others.” Albert Einstein taught us everything we need to know about time and its relative aspects, something Alan Lightman captured so poetically and brilliantly in Einstein’s Dreams.

There’s no stopping time but doesn’t the very notion of mindfulness, coupled with meditation, speak to slowing it down in a way that brings on the present-moment sense of timelessness?

Time measurement is as universal as it is personal. We count on our calendar to tell us the day/month/year. But don’t we more often measure the passage of time in terms of rituals and events both personal and part of our collective consciousness? Jewish holidays, based on a lunar calendar, come on different dates each year. Christmas, a day fixed according to the Gregorian calendar that rules are secular year, is always December 25th.

Yes, the expertise of astronomers factored into how the calendar might be synchronized to the seasons and the stars, but politics and religion played their part.  Priests and aristocrats kept the calendar a secret.  A year might be lengthened to keep a favored senator in office, decreased to get a rival out of office sooner. (How frightening a thought is that?)

Until one year, a crafty plebian, Cneius Flavius, pilfered a copy of the codes that determined the calendar and made it public, smack on tablets in the middle of the Roman Forum. (An early descendant of Edward Snowdon?)

Alas, poor Flavius did not entirely win the day: the calendar would become a public document but patricians could still manipulate it for financial and political gain.You can’t make this shit up. But you can, as a writer, take great pleasure in the research that answers as many questions as it raises and brings enormous context to a narrative. As if to give timely grist to my February musings, along comes What Lunar New Year Reveals about the World’s Calendars via the New York Times.

February. Lengthening days. A month on the cusp between winter’s darkness and the encroaching light of spring.  

A transitional time that reminds us that no matter how much we count on a certain order to the universe, time and again something is bound to throw us out of whack. Some might see it as a fateful event, a teaching moment.  I see it in the way my father, a gambler, might have seen it: an aspect of chance or randomness, maybe even luck (good or bad), changes everything.

A writer can’t always be sure that the story she intended to tell is in fact the one she told. With novels especially, the time lag between inception to draft after draft to publication puts us on shaky ground. Readers have different ways of receiving/perceiving what we wrote.  I hold suspect any writer who says she doesn’t read reviews. I admire any writer who says she doesn’t take them to heart. I learn as much from criticism as from praise.

 All of which brings an extra measure of gratification when readers see the subtext of a novel for what it is. Here’s what one reviewer had to say about mine:

“What is February? A wonderful metaphor for the unpredictable, of opposites, a reminder to live without expectation while also appreciating ritual and traditional when it is gifted.”

And here’s the most charming of gifts from a fan.

Today’s walk around the lake had the look and feel of what I can only call winter/spring. Barely 30 degrees, leftover snow with a sheen of ice or slushy in the way that calls to mind a frozen Margarita. And these perfect-as-it-gets  images of a season in transition.

Once in a blue moon

A week ago an email database of mine disappeared. 

Gone from the server, no clear explanation of how it happened other than an unfortunate glitch in the process of moving my website/blog from one server to another. That’s reason enough to warrant freaking out (or appeal to the Russians for help) but what kept me sane was my suspicion that all was not lost since those very emails exist on my laptop via a desktop app.

That’s not to say I haven’t had a sleepless night or two figuring out how to save a retrievable backup of the emails. In the best of all possible worlds, emails backed up from one database waltz smoothly into another. More often than not, the transition requires a little tech support even for a reasonably tech-savvy woman like me.

Yet a funny thing happens along the way. You look at your inbox and ask yourself: how do I have thousands of emails? A file cabinet filled with letters would likely be thinned down from time to time. But emails—received, read, flagged, sent, discarded—find their way into that deceptive out-of-sight/out-of-mind compartment of our brains.

Until one day a potential disaster forces your hand. Maybe you saved a bunch of emails for a good reason back in 2014. Or maybe you just didn’t give it that much thought.  They don’t take up space after all. 

And maybe it’s a hedge against that once-in-a-blue-moon moment when there’s an email you absolutely need to unearth and you simply can’t rest until you do. Why that particular email is so important is beside the point. 

We all hate losing things. We all resent the feeling of vulnerability that kicks in when the very technology that has been such a good friend begins to give us pause. 

Pause is a perfect word for the moment, once in a blue moon the most exquisite of tropes. There’s nothing necessarily blue about a blue moon, even if it’s riddled with everything the color evokes. Melancholy comes to mind. Elvis may have defined the song, but Cowboy Junkies took it to another level.  

Powder blue. Dusk blue. Midnight blue. 

Sky blue. Ice blue. Cerulean. 

Yves Klein blue.

The blue of distance that Rebecca Solnit writes about so evocatively. 

More than a color, it’s a mood, a state of mind. In a recent Brainpickings roundup, Maria Popova characterizes it as “a symbol, a state of being, a foothold to the most lyrical and transcendent heights of the imagination.”

Listen to the blues as much as I do and you’d be hard put to disagree. What genre of music is as riddled with sexuality, sensuality, vulnerability? Not to mention the cultural undertones it embodies.

There’s a thread here, and vulnerability may be its epicenter. 

Who isn’t feeling vulnerable these days, what with the Manchurian Candidate occupying the Oval Office? 

Last week brought me a riveting poem by Terrance Hayes via The New Yorker.

things got terribly ugly incredibly quickly
things got ugly embarrassingly quickly
actually things got ugly unbelievably quickly
honestly things got ugly seemingly infrequently
initially things got ugly ironically usually
awfully carefully things got ugly unsuccessfully
occasionally things got ugly mostly painstakingly
quietly seemingly things got ugly beautifully
infrequently things got ugly sadly especially
frequently unfortunately things got ugly
increasingly obviously things got ugly suddenly
embarrassingly forcefully things got really ugly
regularly truly quickly things got really incredibly
ugly things will get less ugly inevitably hopefully

Last week also brought me to Springsteen on Broadway via Netflix. As a longtime Bruce fan, I resisted the impulse to get tickets when the show had its Broadway run. The intimacy of a solo performance struck me as out of character with the nature of the large venue. The price of a ticket to be up close enough struck me as out of sync with a performer who prides himself on being a working class hero. More to the point, nothing will ever come close to having seen him in his up-and-coming days at a small club, the Bottom Line, NYC.

Streaming the show, via Netflix, on a large-screen television, was the way it was meant to be seen for fans like me. The vulnerability of the man behind the music shines through as he takes us through his life, via excerpts/adaptations from his wonderful memoir and the songs he sings.

This week brought me to “Sonny’s Blues,” a masterful James Baldwin story in which music becomes a catalyst for a moment of transcendence between two estranged brothers. The fragile reconciliation that unfolds in the course of the story brings the brothers to a new understanding of each other.

“Sonny’s fingers filled the air with life, his life. But that life contained so many others. And Sonny went all the way back, he really began with the spare, flat statement of the opening phrase of the song. Then he began to make it his. . . . I seemed to hear with what burning he had made it his, with what burning we had yet to make it ours.”

All of which has me thinking that maybe, just maybe, the things we hold onto are the ones most in need of being let go. Even if it takes a blue moon to realize it.


Feed the mind. Feed the spirit.

Last week found me a little more adventurous than usual on Instagram. I posted a photo, with a  caption, a bit tongue-in-cheek: ‘Cozying up for some inspirational reading. What will I choose first?”

If the purpose of social media, in its varied forms, is to let people know what you’re up to, get a conversation going, well, this photo says it all loudly and clearly. 

Feed the mind. Feed the spirit.

A day or so later I posted a selfie, the me (almost nobody) knows. I almost never post photos of myself, except within some cultural context: a museum, a reading, a rock concert. But, as I said, I was in a playful mood. Days later I was still getting responses.

Buddhist wisdom tells us intention is everything. What does it suggest when many of the less whimsical photos and posts I share—snapshots I deem artsy, New Yorker cartoons, essays on writers or books, news stories (sometimes political, more often not)—don’t necessarily spark the kind of conversation social media was set up to foster? 

Is it me?

Is it the nature of a beast more eager to feast on the up close and personal, moments as in-the-moment as it gets, than take the time to chew on fodder not so readily digested in the blink of an eye?  

Chanukah, the festival of lights in a season embodied by darkness, has come and gone.  From a standpoint of Staying Healthy with the Seasons, there’s something anomalous about all the frenzied gift-giving and partying that goes hand in hand with what Madison Avenue pumped up as a time to be merry.  Introspection—going inside, literally and figuratively—is the real call of winter. There’s a reason bears hibernate. 

Right now I’m introspecting (yes, that’s a word) about Idris Elba. Retro as the whole notion of ‘sexiest man alive’ may be in a #MeToo world, I can’t help but smile at his smile on the cover of People. It seems he was ‘robbed’ of that title in 2017, when it went to Blake Shelton (a travesty, indeed). But here we are, a year later, where my wait at the supermarket checkout found me deliberating whether to buy the one remaining copy on the magazine rack. A cover line—Did a Romance Novelist Murder Her Husband?—sealed the deal.  Oh, I’m in store for some meaty reading.

Apparently even more beefy than I realized at first glance. Hot Idris is followed by a host of runners up, cleverly anointed: John Krasinski: sexiest man of action. Chadwick Boseman: sexiest superhero. Chris Pine: sexiest dreamboat. And that’s just a sampling. My heart positively throbs when I see Terrance Hayes: sexiest writer 2014.

Glibness aside, I marvel at how the mind works. Months after hearing Terrance Hayes read from his work, his poetry continues to cast a spell. His latest collection, American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin is astonishing for its vision, power, and timeliness. 

 In the midst of all this introspecting comes a riveting James Baldwin essay from the New Yorker archives, “Letter from a Region in My Mind,” that only adds to the despairing chill. Please don’t remind me we’ve been here before. Please let me believe that some of the progress we’ve made counts for something that allows me to be lifted by a feel-good holiday movie, Green Book and a subtly powerful play by Conor McPherson, Girl from the North Country. Set in Depression-era Duluth, Minnesota, and built on the songs of Bob Dylan, it’s nothing short of a reminder of Dylan’s brilliant way with music and words. 

Steal a little and they throw you in jail
Steal a lot and they make you a king

Inspiration takes many forms, although a more apt description of what happens when a piece of music or a movie or a book captivates me is a sense of being infused with some aspect of it. 

Great fiction is often my best reboot. Then there’s meditation and the simple act of taking a walk. Crisp winter mornings, with the reflection of clouds in a lake, are a particular pleasure.

 And even if I may not, in this lifetime, experience the dissolution of ego that brings with it the sense of oneness with the universe,  I get glimpses of what might be that peaceful prelude to heightened consciousness via meditation.  

Or, again, via music, for the way it can’t help but infuse itself into the body.  In Michael Pollan’s thoroughly researched, personally validated examination of the new science of psychedelics and why they may be a powerful tool in psychotherapy, not to mention our understanding of consciousness, he makes note of an experiment in which  “pieces of music that held no personal relevance for volunteers were played for them while on LSD. Under the influence of the psychedelic, however, volunteers attributed marked and lasting personal meaning to the same songs.”

He also has this to say:

“If you want to understand what an expanded consciousness looks like, all you have to do is have tea with a four-year-old.”

knitting a scarf and hat, writing a novel

Knitting and writing: what do they have in common?

I recently stumbled on a book, a perfect holiday gift for those of us who love reading as well as knitting. Alice Hoffman, author of so many notable novels (I especially loved The Dovekeepers), joined forces with her cousin Lisa Hoffman, a master knitter, to come up with a book that weaves together fairy-tale-like stories with knitted accessories (instructions included) at the heart of the stories. it’s an inspired idea, indeed. The stories have their charm and the knitting patterns their varying degrees of complexity.knitting and writing: what they have in common

Here’s what Alice Hoffman says in the introduction about the connection between writing and knitting:

“To be a writer or a knitter, one has to be willing to take things apart and put them back together again. It’s hard work to do so, and it takes courage. Patience is required, and the willingness to start over if need be, to rewrite or unravel.”

How could I help but revisit a post a wrote a few years back in which I shared my own thoughts about what writing and knitting have in common?

I write, therefore I knit

The day I released my dog from her suffering, I took up knitting again. My daughter had been wanting a scarf patterned with Griffyndor stripes since Harry Potter enchantment overtook her, and my decision to start knitting that day somehow felt life-affirming. I could not settle my thoughts enough to write about the grief, or even try to imagine the hold it would have on me. No point in that anyway. Grief demands that you be with it. The word itself carries a weight, made a little heavier by the weeks of ministration to an ailing creature. To try and push aside grief, ‘get on with one’s life,’ misses the point. I could easily co-opt and modify words from a familiar song, Gospel in origin – so high you can’t get over it / so wide you can’t get around it – to give voice to my feelings. The only way is through. Be with it.

Which brings me to knitting. I remember learning to knit as an adolescent, something to occupy me as I sat with my family at night, watching TV. Or was it a fascination of sorts, something about a single strand of wool being shaped into a sweater or a scarf? Even the simplest pattern, no fancy cables stitches, can yield something beautiful. Even the most straightforward garter or seed stitch requires an attention to detail. There is a rhythm to knitting and purling, not a far cry from a meditative settling of the breath or the quieting of the mind needed when I sit down to write.

Is it a stretch to suggest that a story exists in a hand-made sweater? Or that the very act of knitting, steadying as it is, is akin to that state of receptivity when I leave my laptop behind, take a walk or a drive, always surprised, and delighted, at the way le mot juste will make itself manifest? Putting aside the pleasure I get from knitting, or my own suspicion that it serves as some physical manifestation of the same creative impulse that drives me to write, I find myself thinking about metaphor: the Fates weave; Madame Defarge knits; I pull out some stitches, too loose to my liking, redo them. Getting it right means seeing how the parts become the whole. Finishing it off means understanding that a hand-made scarf or hat, like a story or novel, can be less than perfect and still exquisitely cohesive.

Addendum:  So now the novel is out, published, and something of a triple crown finalist in three different contests. Since the catalyst for Just Like February was the AIDS crisis of the ’80s, from now until December 1st, which marks the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day, the ebook edition will be available for 99 cents via all online booksellers.

 

The writing on the wall

My mother’s birthday was a few days ago. She would have turned 92.

Birthdays, holidays, sentimental moments make us think of beloved people gone from our lives.  But today she’s on my mind mostly because of something she said more than once. On almost any night of the week our tiny Brooklyn apartment would be filled with family sitting around the kitchen table, smoking, drinking, laughing, fighting.  An uncle would storm out.  He’d be back the following night.

That’s the way it was with family.

That’s not the way it is anymore.

What my mother said, more than once—her eyes watery, her heart softened by a drink—was they don’t listen to me.  More often than not, trying to convince a grown sibling that he was (possibly) being too reactive to a situation got her nowhere. She had advice to offer. She wanted to be heard.

We called them ‘lively discussions,’ not arguments, and family dramas, not politics, were at the heart of them. Today we can’t even sit around the table anymore, and I don’t necessarily want to, which saddens me.  I could argue that politics has made it more urgent that we sit across from each other and air our thoughts.  But what, in truth, is more important than the personal dynamics that hold families together?

We use our Facebook walls to spout words that are not even necessarily our own—neatly constructed platitude-filled appeals that feed personal indignation in their longing for a time when the order of things seemed ruled by an unquestioned morality. Just to be clear, I have no issue with what we think of as moral questions that give rise to healthy discourse. It’s the simplistic picking and choosing—e.g., share this post if you agree that we used to cite the Pledge of Allegiance without worrying about offending anyone—that makes me bristle.

Everyone wants to be heard.

We all want to know that people are paying attention.

Last week brought a double whammy of despair to our country, with the most non-presidential of presidents at the helm. Thoughts and prayers, a given in the face of tragedies, gave way to editorials sounding the wake-up call to anyone still unwilling to connect the dots between the hate-mongering and lies of the man in the Oval Office and the violence his words and actions have given license to. What Has Trump Done to Us, America?, appearing in The Forward, got straight to the heart of things. I shared it on my Facebook wall yesterday, along with the hope that it might jolt anyone who does not see the writing on the wall into coming to their senses when it comes time to vote.

Transparent as my words are, they contain a not-so-veiled plea to cousins of mine who tend to vote Republican. Facebook, alas, may have replaced that crowded kitchen table as a place to air our viewpoints. Problem is, when you’re not looking someone in the eye it gets too easy to blow them off. Ignore the Facebook post. Delete the text. Voilà—the conversation never takes place.

They don’t listen to me, and I wish to high heaven they would.

And, yet, maybe there really is hope. How else to explain that in the middle of last week’s horrifying events 2,000 people attended a service at the National Cathedral in Washington to memorialize Matthew Shepard, the young gay man brutally murdered 20 years ago? His ashes would finally be interred. His life would be celebrated. And presiding over the service would be Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopalian Church.

The best of times, the worst of times

Today was a perfect autumn day. Crisp, cool air. Golden light.  The crunch of leaves underfoot.

Tonight, barely 7 p.m. and the sky is ink blue.  A crescent moon casts its spell.

To be in sync with the seasons is to be reminded that autumn is tinged with the stickiness of nostalgia. To feel melancholy goes with the territory. That rich palette of colors the leaves offer up is the gift we get before they fall to the ground. Bare winter trees are a different kind of beauty.

The ‘80s are on my mind a lot these days.  When I wrote about what feels like an ‘80s redux in current times, the New York Times hadn’t yet published its special magazine section, Losing Earth, focused on the decade 1979-1989 when the body of research re: global warming seemed to be taken seriously enough to bring (almost) international consensus for a strategy to reduce carbon emissions.  On top of that we have the urgent UN report.

I need to believe all is not lost.

On the personal side: I got married in 1984 and gave birth to my daughter in 1986. In the year between the most life-affirming moments imaginable came the death of my husband’s good friend and business partner, an early casualty of AIDS.  Maybe ‘imaginable’ is the operative word here. The heart of the novel I published earlier this year is a girl’s coming of age during the ‘80s. As the story began to percolate, I had a backdrop of extreme personal joy coupled with extreme sadness.

Funny how a writer’s mind works.

Sometimes you know something even before you know you know it. If I didn’t yet have confirmation of that decade as a profound time of innocence lost, the proof would come.  We were on the edge of the technology that would take over our lives.  That was then, this is now. The power to manipulate information is frighteningly easy. Take a quote out of context, give only half the statement.

I know there is no turning back but I need to believe that life-affirming instincts hold sway over the cynicism and lies thrown at us left and right.

I want to believe that a time will come when I’ll get past my resistance to using a verb that bears the name of the man in the Oval Office.

Maybe—just maybe—if enough thinking people take the time to look past the smokescreen of misinformation, there’s still hope that we can keep our planet from burning up and our democracy from self-destructing.  My daughter is much less hopeful.  She reminds me that I can’t even get Republican cousins to listen to reason and see the bigger picture beyond immediate, personal self-interest.  When families can’t talk to each other, what does that say about the country at large?

Entertainment is as much an escape as it is a reflection of our culture. Is it any wonder that Wonder Woman and Black Panther broke box office records? Now we have the spectacle of King Kong on Broadway.

I can’t say I have any intention to see the show, but I can say that King Kong himself is a fixture in my imagination. In the days before Netflix and streaming and DVDs, there was “Million Dollar Movie,” a weeklong chance to watch a film you loved over and over and over again. King Kong and Mighty Joe Young stand out as the two movies I watched more than any other. How could I, as a young girl, help but be fascinated by a larger-than life gorilla who may have struck fear in the hearts of natives on Skull Island but clearly had a soft spot for Fay Wray? How could I, as a young girl, help but be touched by a young (and then grown) Terry Moore calming her pet ape with a beautiful piece of music?

The animation in the 1933 King Kong may seem quaint by today’s standards but it was groundbreaking at the time. The 1976 remake with Jessica Lange would give King Kong’s eyes a very human dimension but both versions leave indelible images of a woman held captive in the palm of what would seem to be a frightening beast. This is the moment where metaphor plays its hand. The 2005 remake with Naomi Watts shows a woman still captive but doing her best to communicate with her captor. Less screaming, more compassion.

The racism and sexism inherent in King Kong may have been lost on me as a young girl probably because it seemed more a story about trying to tame the untameable.  Of the eleven movies to date that call up that mighty gorilla, I’ve seen only the original and the two that follow its story line.  Whatever Broadway promises with its 20-foot tall, 2,000-pound puppet would seem to speak more to special effects than story. Call me a purist, but there is no way that the movie’s cinematic pinnacle—a primate seeing some means of survival in scaling the tallest building in New York City—can be adequately conveyed in a stage set. At the same time, isn’t it uncanny that King Kong’s latest incarnation comes at a time when survival and sexism are at a cultural zenith?

 

the holidays

Come late August there’s a noticeable shift in light that catches me off-guard. Little by little, the shortening of days so imperceptible since the summer solstice is suddenly dramatic. Leaves start to lose their lushness. The lazy hazy days of summer are about to give way to September, with its nostalgic echoes of back-to-school mode.  More to the point, I’m hit with an inescapable alert: The holidays are around the corner.

To hear the intonation of that phrase—‘the holidays’—the way I do, you have to be Jewish. You have to picture a mother taking off from work days ahead of ‘the holidays’ to shop and cook. Chicken soup. Pot roast. Baked chicken. Fish. To grasp what she meant when she said, the holidays are late this year, or the holidays are early, requires an understanding of days measured by the lunar calendar in a secular world ruled by the sun.

The Jewish calendar is in fact marked by four different new year celebrations—one for trees, one for the tithing of cattle, the springtime new year (Passover) we associate with freedom from slavery and the beginning of a Jewish identity. But the ten-day period of repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur gets pride of place as the Jewish New Year marking the beginning of the world.  As a young girl growing up in Brooklyn, I would put on holiday clothes, meet up with friends at the neighborhood synagogue. Going to services was something you just did, whether or not you knew the full import of why you did it. My mother didn’t go and my father put in an appearance, if not for the full spectrum of services, always for the Yizkor portion in memory of the dead on Yom Kippur.

Thanksgiving, in contrast, was not a holiday we observed, except to watch the parade on TV.  What kind of American family, you might ask, doesn’t gather for a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving? I could say the Jewish holidays were all that mattered to my mother, and that’s mostly true. But there was something else at play—something beyond her comfort zone in the kitchen, with its standard Jewish fare handed down from generation to generation.

It’s called turkey.

I can’t handle that big bird, she once said to me, her face crinkled in disgust. Even the chicken she cooked had to be cut into pieces, nothing to remind her that it was once a living, walking creature.  If cleanliness is next to godliness, no chicken wing ever made it into the oven or soup pot with even the tiniest feather intact.

When I left the fold, moved into Manhattan, Brooklyn would call me back for the holidays as I knew them. Thanksgiving would be celebrated with city friends. One year, a cousin of mine who had started a Thanksgiving tradition of her own, asked me to switch things up, be with the family. It was a memorable gathering—a coterie of cousins smoking weed as we cooked, drinking exquisite wine, laughing. Finally the real reason she was so insistent: a cake with one candle, #26, in honor of the marathon I had run weeks earlier.

Families fall apart. Parents die. Rituals get diluted. You don’t have to be a Jewish mother to know that there are strategies more powerful than guilt to keep families together at holiday time. You don’t have to be too sentimental to long for something that seems further removed with each passing generation.

Come September comes the weeping for what’s gone and with it the reminder of how I’ve made the holidays my own, a mix of family and friends who know they can count on a good Jewish-style brisket for Rosh Hashanah and Passover. Chanukah brings my legendary latke parties. Then there’s that all-American November holiday when I roast, to perfection, that big bird my mother would not touch.

What did you read this summer?

Summer reading is a world unto itself. It’s not as if the love of books doesn’t have us immersed in reading all year long. But summer brings with it memories of freedom from school, with all that’s attached to assigned reading, textbook or otherwise.

Some things, like the smell of library books, the feel of their plastic protective covers, are imprinted in memory. Before the neighborhood I lived in as a young girl had a library of its own there was the Bookmobile arriving once a week. Apparently they still exist in rural areas.  It’s a given—if you love books, you love libraries and summertime always brings my younger self into fresh view: walking home from the library with a stack of books in my arms. Sitting on a wooden bench outside the building in which I lived. Reading.  Hard to say when the need to possess overtook the need to borrow, but here I sit, in a home office with books surrounding me, most of them read, enough still in that TBR realm.

No surprise that my very first paid job would be in the newly built local library. I would shelve books, do clerical work in the office, graduate to checking books in and out at the front desk.

Summer days still have me reading outside.  Some summers are for tackling the big books, Anna Karenina one year. Others are for breezy beach reading or a mix of the light and profound. Not every book is to be analyzed in a way that teaches a writer something about craft. But I do learn something from every book I read: I learn what I like and what I don’t like.  Years ago, reading Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight, I was hit with how he ended chapters in a way that made you want to read on. It’s called pacing.  My current read, Despair, has me savoring the way Nabokov begins and ends chapters. The title, with its echoes of how the current state of the world has me feeling, had me hankering to read the book. As it happens, Nabokov’s use of the word is tinged with irony. The book is brilliant. Its wickedly dark narrative is as much a commentary on the nature of writing itself.

Just prior to this I read Sing, Unburied, Sing, which joins Jesmyn Ward’s earlier novel, Salvage the Bones, as a National Book Award winner. It takes a certain kind of writer to tell disturbing stories with lush, beautiful prose.  The book had me thinking of another novel, Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck. The novels are as different stylistically as they are in the stories they tell. And yet both resonate with a cultural undercurrent that speaks to the times in which we live. Both have a lingering impact.

Madeline Miller is another writer who makes her mark with a distinctive voice. First came The Song of Achilles and more recently Circe, both of which bring a very human dimension to the gods and heroes of mythology.

Years of summer breaks and end-of-August back-to-school mode are ingrained. With the approaching transition to autumn I get energized, ready to move full swing into a project. As a writer with a new book, my work for now is mostly getting out the word.  Speaking of which, if you follow me on social media, you know my novel has now been named a finalist in two contests.

If it made your summer reading list, I’d love to know what you thought. I’d also love to know what else you read this summer. If you haven’t yet read Just Like February, I hope you will.  And if you like(d) it, ratings and reviews on Amazon and/or GoodReads really have a way of making a writer’s day.