I’ve just returned Liam Callanan’s Paris by the Book to the library. The book has a fun cover and a promising title, but the execution fell short. While I came to really like the two daughters, Callanan used coincidence and inexplicable infusions of cash to fuel the plot. He also dipped a toe into “issues” without ever setting the groundwork for them or developing their meaning within the story. For instance, the plot touches on the treatment of black immigrants in Paris and the disagreement in the US about the wisdom of vaccinating children – and moves on with no further mention. In the afterword the author confirms there is no such thing as the magical visa that allows the Americans to stay in Paris, but there was at least one other, even more far-fetched, plot device to explain away. The good writing kept me reading, but the contrived and muddled plot had me shaking my head.
It’s been many months of adapting to changes, good and sad. One of the good changes is that we’ve landed in a new living space. We’re moved in and are settled enough that I can work into a new writing routine.
But all the shakeup of endings and beginnings has taken its toll – I come into moments where I find myself stranded – what, after all, is the point of all this writing? This morning, after considering this point for longer than might be healthy, I came to a heartening thought when I considered the writing vocation of my mother. She wrote novels while she raised her seven children, and she wrote poetry always. She didn’t ever try to publish her work: her family were her only readers. So, why did she do it? Why does anyone do it? Because, the answer came to me, story matters. I’ve had this declaration come to me before; it does motivate me, and I clearly need to ‘hear’ it more often. With that need for repetition in mind, I took a detour on my way to getting back to writing and made myself the gift of a reminder. Using one of my photos, I created a new background, “lock screen,” to greet me each time I open my computer. Maybe it will help inspire you, too. . .
Years ago my car broke down when I was far from home, and I bought an old 55 Chevy to get me back. What a car – all I have left of it is the hood ornament, but I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for the 55 Chevy ever since. I cruised around the local annual car show today till I found one -with that great airplane riding the hood.
Of course, there were many, many pretty cars to see today. The way they are lined up, sometimes the best photo ops at car shows are the rear end shots . . .
And sometimes the line up makes for quirky, fun match ups. I like to think of these two at a stop light together, revving engines . . .
I’ve had a couple of great cars myself – a Dodge Dart (pre-1976: that engine would still be going if the body hadn’t rusted off), a 55 Chevy (with that airplane!) and a car whose make I can’t remember, but it was sporty and fast and lasted more years than anyone guessed it would. When it went, it left me high and dry and I bought an old Lincoln Town Car in a pinch. But that’s more stories than I counted on for a quick post, I’ll end there.
What about you? What cars are you fond of?
A marvelous book – I started reading more slowly to make it last. Honest and unflinching about relationships, death, and the power of story within communities, this novel reminded me of the depth of John Irving’s “Cider House Rules,” and the emotional clarity of Doris Lessing. I found it completely enjoyable.
When I signed up in January to take two online writing classes back-to-back, 10 weeks straight of weekly reading and writing deadlines, I thought, “This will take me right through Winter and into Spring!” The last due date was yesterday, and here’s this morning’s view of the path through the backfield.
That black dog in the first photo is Gudgeon. He doesn’t much like the very cold temperatures, but this version of snow is a favorite. It has softened during the sunny days, then firmed up over night: he can walk on top of it and flop for a good back rub.
Then he’s ready for a walk . . .
I’ve sometimes been guilty of explaining why I’m not currently reading a book by joining the club that claims, “too busy,” or “too tired at the end of the day.” I like my life better when I’m explaining, instead, why I read so much. When I was kid, I was a ‘bookworm’ and nothing more needed to be said about why I chose the company of books over people, why I carried a book with me when I climbed the tree in the back yard, or why I stayed up late reading a book by flashlight after bedtime.
When I taught 8th graders, I had an excuse for gobbling down several MG and YA books a week – I needed to read widely so I had many books to choose from when a student needed a recommendation. I always told my students who said they didn’t like to read that they just hadn’t met the right book yet, and then I’d stack a bunch up – pulling them from my extensive classroom collection of paperbacks – and give them the advice to read the first page or so, and when they wanted to keep going, they’d found their book.
But my teaching focus now is writing, and even though I believe reading and writing can’t be divorced from each other, they have drifted apart in my professional life and, by no coincidence, I suppose, in my personal life. So, to bring reading back into focus for me, I’ll share here thoughts on the books I’m reading now.
Open House by Patricia J. Williams
Unfailingly sharp witted and generous, Williams combines her close observations of life, injustice, joy, and expensive take-out with her ability to pull back, always, to the big picture and to ways of making meaning that we can move forward with. Her story-telling carries, for me, faint undertones of the potential for a lecture, but the best kind of lecture – one in which you are given new information by being given new ways to think about things, with never once being crowded into a box of the author’s own making. Never preachy, always on point, this slim volume, subtitled, “Of Family, Friends, Food, Piano Lessons, and the Search for a Room of My Own” is a treat.
The quarry man bought the old house and its acreage, scraped the topsoil off the meadow, and sold off the house with two acres of the meadow and its partial border of trees and shrub. In the house, a bathroom went in, and in a child’s room, a fat rainbow – floor to ceiling to floor – was sketched out and painted.
For thirty years, owners kept the meadow mowed. Between mowings, grasses grew, and golden rod, oyster plants, milkweed, and asters. Each late fall the meadow’s summer growth lay itself down, and in that flattened landscape the old disc harrow, stranded in its long-gone farmer’s field, reappeared.
Twenty years ago the clothes line, built with sturdy wooden posts and cross beams, stood on the far side of the cedar tree. Now its northern post is engulfed in branches. The outhouse, still visible in its pile of moldered lumber when I arrived, has long since joined the remains of the wildflowers that grew up between the boards, fell over, and decomposed. It is almost twelve years since the meadow was cut, and it is only in the last two that wild cherry bushes have spread from individuals to patches of isolated mini-woodlands that shelter bird and spider nurseries.
Each winter I cover the rain barrels and shovel the long driveway; each spring I listen for the voice of the wood frog and try to avoid the black flies’ bite. Every other summer or so I get to the task of clearing the meadow, cutting all the box elders’ sprouts to the ground. In the fall I greet the disc harrow and Orion on their return to my view, and wonder which Turkey Vulture sighting will be my last of the year.
Eventually, I will leave this place. The meadow will give way to box elder trees, or not. As I sleep beneath the child’s rainbow, my window open to the night, what is sure for me is the Little Dipper, pinned at its tail by the North Star, circling overhead. What is almost as sure is the topsoil, building. Slowly, slowly.