From All the Possible Shapes | Words of Wednesday

For it feels as if I was made — from all the possible shapes a human might take — not to prove myself worthy but to refine the worth I’m formed from, acknowledge it, own it, spend it on others. –Mary Karr, Lit


Sorry for disappearing for a while. I’ve been traveling (cheering on my dad as he ran the Boston marathon and visiting my younger brother in Redding, California), which is part of my excuse, but probably the greater truth is that writing is on a bit of a back-burner at the moment. After months of stretching my pennies and desperately trying to hustle up work (and figure out how to hustle up work), I’ve actually had more on my plate these last few weeks than I really know what to do with (which doesn’t mean I’ve moved beyond the penny-pinching phase, just that I finally have leads, and lots of catch-up to play as I figure out how to balance my exacting perfectionism against realistic time constraints — in case you didn’t know, The Chicago Manual of Style is large, y’all). And given that I’ll be moving on from Santa Cruz come June, getting that part of my life (the income generating part) locked in, and under control, has become a rather pressing priority.

Nevertheless, I’m rather bummed that I let two weeks go by without a Words of Wednesday post — I mean, how hard can it be to post a quote, after all? But the truth is I never want to just post a quote. I want to talk about it. Want to ramble about what I’ve been reading and thinking — why I care and why I think you should care. So posting a Words of Wednesday without any accompanying commentary feels like its own kind of defeat. (You probably don’t need to be my therapist to realize that I have a problem with an all or nothing mentality.) 

But I’m trying to combat that way of thinking. Trying to remember that something is better than nothing. That done is better than perfect. And that even when I haven’t had a chance to process, mull-over, write, and revise to my heart’s content . . . maybe, even then, I still have something worth saying. Even half-formed, in-process, uncertain . . . maybe there’s value to words even then. Maybe there’s value to me even then. 

Mary Karr’s Lit is a rather meandering memoir, starting, as it does, pre-college, and ending with Karr as a woman in middle age — a divorcee, a sober alcoholic, a writer, a mother, and a Catholic. The text hardly lends itself to clear threads or easy themes, yet the impression it left on me was one of becoming. This is a text about a woman growing up — not a coming of age story about the experiments of adolescence (perhaps Karr’s Cherry, which I have not yet read, covers that ground), but a story about the slow, meandering road to healing and acceptance. To the kind of maturity and adulthood that John Cacioppo references

Karr may have been a published poet fairly early in her life, yet she manages to make her road “home” feel as winding, confused, frustrated, fear-filled, and grace-touched as most of our roads seem — in truth — to be (perhaps even more so). As someone who lives with a constant sense of time running, slipping, lunging past me — of all that I haven’t yet done, and probably never will do — I found Karr’s book a powerful celebration of process. (Can I call it a “celebration” when so much of this book felt so bleak to me? I think, somehow, I can.) A reminder that even those of us who go slow cannot go too slow for grace.

There is deep magic at work here. A holiness to existence. Even in our brokenness and imperfections — even now, at this moment — all things are being made new. Aware, or not, we are in the hands of God. And God is growing us up, one step, one moment, at a time.

Note: I listened to this book in audio format, so I’m relying on a combination of my own and others’ transcriptions (thank you, internet) without the ability to double check punctuation against the original text. I apologize for any errors in accuracy.

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A Year in Books (2015)

One of my goals for 2015 was to invest more in my own reading.  And I seem to have done just that.  Despite what felt like whole months of reading not at all (November, mostly), I still managed 42 books, and almost 11000 pages (10894, to be exact).

It was a year of non-fiction (due, mainly, to teaching AP English Language and Composition, and wanting to consciously engage out of my own reading and thinking and learning), with just over 40% falling into that category  (including, rather tellingly, almost all of my highest rated reads of the year), and it was a year of audio books (being able to simultaneously read AND shop, cook, do dishes, stretch, etc., is a wonder) — I owe almost half of the year’s reads to my iPod and the setting that allows one to listen to books at x2 speed.

Here are some of the highlights:

Best “Just Fun” Book

landline1-673x1024Rainbow Rowell’s Landline —  I think it safe to say that Rowell (who continues to surprise me with how right she gets it) has secured her place as my new favorite author in this category.    As I wrote on Goodreads, Landline was delightful:  “A book on par with hot chocolate, warm blankets, falling snow, Christmas trees, frosted cookies, fairy lights, and the laughter of family. There is brokenness in the world, but there is also wholeness. This is a book that celebrates the latter.”

Runner up: Holly Black’s Doll Bones.  I’ve long enjoyed Black’s imagination, but this was in a league of its own.  Her propensity for Gothic horror, handled with a subtle and masterful touch.  Bridge to Terabithia-esque, but (dare I say it?) better. A book about friendships, magic, and growing up.

Best Nonfictionmind of the maker2

Dorothy Sayers’s The Mind of the Maker — Metaphor, theology, literary criticism: this book is an example of thinking at its most creative.  Thought-provoking and interesting.  I want to read it again.

Runner up: Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook.  This was mostly common sense, yet somehow still burned with vision.  (Though not a book, Henry David Thoreau’s “On Civil Disobedience” also took me by surprise.  I did not enjoy Walden, so was not expecting to be so impacted by his call to political integrity.)


american childhoodBest Memoir

Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood — This is a book I wish I had written.  Despite the difference in our worlds, she somehow captures all the unnamed truths of childhood and reveals them to me anew.

Runners up: C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.  Both, in their way, love letters.

americanahBest Fiction

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah — A thought provoking and enjoyable story, well told.

Runners up: Margaret Atwood’s Moral Disorder and Other Stories (an excellently crafted narrative; not so much a collection of short stories as a fragmented whole) and A.S. Byatt’s Possession (a complexly woven, enjoyable tale).

Best Audiobook

mark twainThe Autobiography of Mark Twain — Simply excellent.  It felt like it lasted a lifetime (in the best way possible).  The hugeness of the character (and life) housed therein was staggering.  Like the Tardis, bigger on the inside.

This was also the year that I discovered Librivox recordings.  Far from imperfect, but freely accessible (and without which I never would have encountered Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Grey Woman).

Most Read Authorviolent bear it

Flannery O’Connor with 3.  Each one torturous, powerful, and tinged with grace.  Some of the most memorable reading of the year.

Runners up: Karen Blixen and Rainbow Rowell, each with 2.

sun also risesMost Surprising

Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises — I detested it fairly strongly while reading, but it’s truly grown on me in retrospect.  A masterpiece in the marriage of form and content.

You can find a more complete list of my year’s reading here.