Well, I don’t know about the weather where you live, but in Baltimore, we’ve been having snow days since November (and just had another one yesterday!). And, while snow can be lovely and festive, we’re definitely over you now, Snow. We’re ready for spring! We’re ready for comfortable walks through the neighborhood again! We’re ready for sports! Ready to put our coats and scarves away! Ready to begin the tremendous thaw for new life and possibilities!
Do you get it yet, Snow? We love you, but enough already. A new November’s not that far off from us now, after all.
But if there’s something these strange March snow days are good for, it’s fun-reading. So, seeing as I’ve had a bit of a hibernation period with the blog (as I’ve had with most other things lately besides reading), I figured I’d start things back up again by listing/discussing a few good reads:
Let’s start with the book I’m currently hip-deep in:
“Though her soul requires seeing, the culture around her requires sightlessness. Though her soul wishes to speak its truth, she is pressured to be silent.”
― Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype
This is likely to be a book that I write much more about in the future as it has so captured my imagination. As you might’ve guessed given my past work with Allen Ginsberg’s poetry and Native American narratives and myths (The Trickster in Ginsberg), the study of stories, myths, and archetypes is very close to my heart. Estés wrote Women Who Run with the Wolves in 1992 and then went on to sell over two million copies. In this book, Estés delves into the multitudinous world(s) of feminism and female psyche(s), and does so through the sharing and analysis of ancient myths and stories. This book has many goals and purposes, but one that I’ve found particularly meaningful to me is that of helping women to recognize and appreciate their ancient selves, the selves and roots that are comparatively untainted by sexism and misogyny–those that are freest and truest, those that are still wild. Estés writes with a romantic grace and brings to life ancient elements, stories, and ideas regarding women’s emotional and psychological well-being with inspired originality and clarity. I cannot recommend this work highly enough.
Again, I know I’m way behind the times with just now discovering Rex Stout, but he’s up next on my list:
So, as may now be obvious, I’ve been reading quite a lot of Stout lately. I don’t normally read mysteries, but I’d just gone over Stephen King’s 2003 National Book Award Acceptance Speech again (I love that speech — if you haven’t read it yet, definitely check it out) and so decided to explore a genre that faces a lot of the same challenges as the horror genre: mystery. Bah dah bing, bah dah boom, I came across Nero Wolfe, and the rest is history. Wolfe’s now easily one of my favorite characters (well, Nero and Archie, of course, the two are kind of a package deal) as well as one of my favorite reads in general. As Lawrence Block explains in his introduction to the 1992 Bantam edition:
I know several men and women who are forever rereading the Nero Wolfe canon. … They do this not for the plots, which are serviceable, nor for the suspense, which is a good deal short of hair-trigger even on first reading. Nor, I shouldn’t think, are they hoping for fresh insight into the human condition. No, those of us who reread Rex Stout do so for the pure joy of spending a few hours in the most congenial household in American letters, and in the always engaging company of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin.
I truly couldn’t have said it better myself. Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe is proof positive that, when it comes to writing something great and full of love and life, it’s all about execution.
The beginning of this book was a bit slow for me, but it didn’t take long for it to kick up significant interest and motion. Tsukiyama’s style is incredibly minimalist (which I, personally, greatly appreciate), and she does a tremendous job of sharing only those details that both expand and deepen her characters and setting. For those of you who appreciate feminist fiction as I do (and perhaps even more so for those who don’t), this is definitely a read for you.
(Summary provided by GoodReads)
In “Women of the Silk” Gail Tsukiyama takes her readers back to rural China in 1926, where a group of women forge a sisterhood amidst the reeling machines that reverberate and clamor in a vast silk factory from dawn to dusk. Leading the first strike the village has ever seen, the young women use the strength of their ambition, dreams, and friendship to achieve the freedom they could never have hoped for on their own. Tsukiyama’s graceful prose weaves the details of “the silk work” and Chinese village life into a story of courage and strength.
I’ve also been working to delve into more poets lately, as I looked around this winter and found myself surrounded by the same voices again and again. And while I love my go-to poets (people like Wendell Berry, Sherman Alexie, and Gerald Vizenor), I knew I needed a bit more diversity in my poetry-life. So I turned to a couple of oldies I’d yet to become well acquainted with: Arthur Rimbaud and Sappho.
According to Ashbery, Illuminations was originally not only untitled, but unpaginated — it was simply a collection of pages Rimbaud gave (his once lover) Paul Verlaine in 1875 along with instructions that Verlaine “deliver the pages to a friend, Germain Nouveau, who (he thought) would arrange for their publication.”
This collection includes everything from “After the Flood” to “Being Beauteous,” and is, quite simply, one of the dreamiest, most exciting books of poetry I’ve ever encountered. I don’t know how else to explain it, so I’ll let Charles Bainbridge of The Guardian help me out:
Illuminations is one of the most exciting and haunting pieces of literature ever written; its surface, constantly shifting and sliding, creates an extraordinary flow of connections and disjunctions fuelled by what Rimbaud memorably described as “a long, prodigious and reasoned disordering of all the senses”.
John Ashbery, whose own exhilarating and controversial writing has frequently looked towards the innovations and energies of French poetry, delivers one of the strongest, most exuberant and closely engaged translations of Rimbaud’s work. The book is presented in parallel text, and it’s fascinating to see the attentions to detail and subtle transformations he sets up with the original.
And, last but not least, Mary Barnard’s translation of Sappho’s legendary poetry
As Margaret Reynolds explains in The Sappho History,
Sappho of Lesbos lived at the end of the seventh, beginning of the sixth century BC. It was a time when an oral tradition was just giving way to a literate culture. Most of Sappho’s poetry would have been improvised and then memorized by her and her audiences. …and though she herself may not have written down her own poetry during her lifetime, some of her work must have been committed to papyrus quite soon after her death, because so much survived that a reputed Nine Books of her works were still in existence by the third century BC.
Sappho’s poetry, while tragically fragmented, is a beautiful and fascinating read that makes me feel at once like a poet, a reader, and an archaeologist. Her works often focus on Aphrodite and are thus often devoted to love, romance, and desire–and while this may sound cliche, you haven’t read desire like this before. So many people encounter Homer during their high school years, but never even hear Sappho’s name. If you haven’t read her yet, then why are you still here? Get reading!