Tag Archives: books

(“how to care for the injured body”) From Claudia Rankine, Citizen

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I’ve long been meaning to post about the award-winning and beautiful lyric, Citizen, by Claudia Rankine.

I read it several years ago, and listened to the audiobook again a couple months ago as I drove back and forth to Dayton where I’m teaching. The living inside these pages (or on the discs, if you are old school like me, and listen to the CD) makes me know I have only just started to understand what it is to be living, in this country, at this time, as a person of color. And despite what I would like to believe about myself, I have only begun to understand. There are many ways of beginning to understand. This book is one of them. I recommend you read or listen, no matter what color your skin.

Something that resonates for me is a passage from “Some years there exists a wanting to escape…” on page 143. (Here’s a part, stripped of context, because the nature of this book is that it’s a lyric & a whole cloth, but this is haunting me today, for which I’m grateful, and I wanted to share it. You can read more of this passage at the Poetry Foundation.)

(And please read the book, too.)

How to care for the injured body,

the kind of body that can’t hold
the content it is living?

And where is the safest place when that place
must be someplace other than in the body?

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The Art of Misdiagnosis, by Gayle Brandeis

The Art of Misdiagnosis by Gayle Brandeis

An exceptional act of humanity is discoverable between these covers.

Sometimes I encounter a book I know I want to reread again and again, to understand grief, and humanity, and move my psyche toward wholeness. Among these glittering narratives is The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother’s Suicide, by my friend Gayle Brandeis. (Gayle Brandeis and I met when we both attended the Antioch Los Angeles MFA program—and then, as now, she seemed an angel in the world, though with the beauty of authenticity shining through.)

In her memoir, Gayle captures the static that is chronic worry about a damaged loved one…when someone close is suffering in an inescapable stew of chaos, the background noise of concern is constant…and Gayle depicts the grim throb that can be brought on by the phone’s ring…she shows how complicated is the very human wish for relief…

As I read her memoir, I imagine I’m sitting alongside the narrator in the patrol car of the heart, witnessing firsthand the human struggle between connection and release, touching the complicated fiber of existence as we intersect with & knock against other broken humans…how we each bend into the shape necessary to survive the life we’re born into…how we try not to drown as we reach (often involuntarily) toward the drowning beloved…

I’ve been obsessed lately with how trauma shapes our bodies: literally, the physical body, and the spirit/psyche. The Art Of Misdiagnosis meditatively walks this terrain, and also somehow inoculates against trauma and grief, or at least wakens antibodies for understanding those parts of a life.

I read Gayle’s memoir for pleasure, allowing myself not to take notes, just to take it all in…and as I’m processing some of my own traumas, the book provides a balm, strangely reassuring. (None of us are alone.) Taking notes sometimes pulls me from the reading experience, but couldn’t I resist this part, near the end, on p. 222, after the narrator has experienced an intense physical release of trauma…

“When I am ready, Celia helps me up and hugs me back into the world.

‘Thank you,’ I tell her, but the words don’t feel strong enough. How can you thank someone for softening the board over your heart? For helping release a burden you’ve carried all your life? For resurfacing just when you need her? For saving you again, almost twenty-four years after she saved you the first time?”

This memoir appears at the perfect time in my life. And as my body types Gayle’s words (above), I notice they echo how I feel about her memoir, and her writing in general: How can you thank someone for softening the board over your heart?

Silent all these years…

(…which is a line from a Tori Amos song.)

I recently read Roxane Gay’s book, Hunger, which is kind of amazing in many ways, one being its unvarnished truth-telling. Lots of thoughts about the memoir, but today in the words of Roxane Gay (p. 45):

“He said/she said is why so many victims (or survivors, if you prefer that terminology) don’t come forward. All too often, what “he said” matters more, so we just swallow the truth. We swallow it, and more often than not, that truth turns rancid. It spreads through the body like an infection. It becomes depression or addiction or obsession or some other physical manifestation of the silence of what she would have said, needed to say, couldn’t say.”

Speedboat, by Renata Adler

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(view from Peggy Guggenheim’s window)

Adler, Renata. Speedboat. New York: New York Review Books, 2013.

This novel blows me away. I stole a copy from a rental apartment in Venice last month, trading one of the books I brought from home (which I have tried, unsuccessfully, several times to read); I stole it feeling justified, not short-changing Italy on English books.

How had I not heard of Renata Adler?

Speedboat is knit from fragments, snapshots. They read like postage-stamp-sized essays. And the accumulation of these bits make up an incredibly compelling voice. To my ear, Adler’s prose is no less perfect than Joan Didion’s.

Here are two gems: little windows, little story starts. I could have plucked any paragraph from this book and it would have tasted as sweet, but it was delicious to type up these passages.

From p. 144:

“The clerk of the morgue of this paper is an irascible man. Reporters are always taking his files away, forgetting to sign for them, keeping them, losing them, throwing them away. Over the years, it has made the clerk ill. I signed for a file, took the folder to my desk, and then took it home. Everybody does it. It is against the rules. After four days, I brought the folder back. The clerk of the morgue was incensed. What, he demanded to know, if the man whose file it was had died in those four days; what, in the absence of the file, would the obituary have been constructed from—had I considered that at all? Well, I said, since I had signed for the file, if the man whose file it was had died, somebody could have called me up. I would have brought the folder back. True, the clerk said, but there were questions of another sort. What if, in those four days, a new fact about the man had come to light, a fact that ought quite surely to be added to the file; what, in the absence of the file, was there to add the fact to, what rubric, category, or place was there to put the new fact in—had I considered that at all, had I given it one moment’s thought? I said I had not. The clerk, becoming pale with rage, said he might have to raise the matter with management. People seem to be unhappy in so many different ways. I’ve always liked the wrathful keepers of the files.”

From p. 168:

“When Dan rode his bicycle over a cliff, we all behaved in characteristic ways. We were in Central Park. There was intense competition for calm, for sane instructions. Cover him, take his pulse, call a doctor, get an ambulance, stand back, raise his head, don’t move him, leave him room and air. He had been riding his bicycle at full speed, with a kind of Western-yodel whoop, over the cliff edge. It had been a dare. He was out quite cold. In the rush to help, Jeff and Lee—who are the nicest of us, really—quietly returned all the bicycles, including Dan’s, with its bent frame and mangled wheel, to the store from which we had rented them for the day. Two uniformed men appeared. They told Dan to get up. He opened his eyes. “Lie still,” we said. “Wait for the ambulance.” One of the uniformed men said, “He, man, we are the ambulance.” Dan blinked. He tottered up a steep hill to their car. He sat on a stretcher. They let him sit up, occasionally bumping his head lightly against the root, all the way to the hospital. He mumbled apologies. Ralph’s girl, in a helpless daze of solicitude, held Dan’s shoe in her lap. Situps aside, it is possible that we are really a group of invalids, hypochondriacs, and misfits. I don’t know. Even our people who stay fit with yoga seem to be, more than others, subject to the flu.”

(Ode to the inner critic, Monday)

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Venice (June 2017)

(By Andrea Davis Pinkney, from her book, The Red Pencil. This poem seems to be a sort of ode to the inner critic.)

ERASE

At the red pencil’s end
stands a hard lump of clay.
I do not like its green.
So ugly, its green.

And pointy.

A baby snake’s head.
A thistle’s pricker.

A sick fish,
this green.

My speaking is still in snippets.

I ask Old Anwar,
“What to do with this clump?”

He tries to explain.
“An eraser.”

He shows me how
the baby snake’s head
can fade the red’s bright lines,
leaving smears
on the yellow page,
and green dust in its wake.

“Erase,” he says.
“Why erase?” I ask.
“For mistakes,” he says,
still trying to explain.

Mistakes?
My sparrow
sees no mistakes.

My sparrow sees only what
it sees.

Erase?

To me,
that is the mistake—to erase.

 

Lunch Ticket Interview with Tara Ison

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Tara Ison

My friend Melissa’s interview with the fabulous writer, Tara Ison (whose essays I blogged about here), is up on Lunch Ticket. What a great interview! Read the interview here. Cheers!

(p.s. Not sure I got the commas right in what I wrote above. Not going to overthink it.)

Summer reading’s even sweeter

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Behold a great summer sale at Undertow Publications: Go here!

For just $50 (shipping included) you can get all four of our fantastic 2016 titles:

Meet Me in The Middle of The Air, by Eric Schaller (Starred review in Publishers Weekly)

Almost Insentient, Almost Divine, by D.P. Watt (Shirley Jackson Award Finalist)

Singing With All My Skin and Bone, by Sunny Moraine (“… beautiful terror.” -Gemma Files)

Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Vol. 3, edited by Simon Strantzas and Michael Kelly (“A triumph!” -Nathan Ballingrud)

A great book for parents & teachers

talk to me first

Time for another episode of Rebecca Recommends!

I recently read Talk To Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ “”Go-To”” Person about Sex by Deborah Roffman. Alongside books like the Robie Harris sexuality books (It’s Not The Stork for ages 4 and up, It’s So Amazing for ages 7 and up, and It’s Perfectly Normal for ages 10 and up), and Peggy Orenstein’s Girls & Sex, Roffman’s book is an excellent, excellent resource for parents who want to encourage healthy sexuality in their kids.

Roffman’s book is about much more than sexuality. Really, it’s about how we talk to children, and what children need from the adult nurturers around them so that they know how to make smart, thoughtful decisions. She talks about what children need, and based on those needs, she describes communication as a five piece suit, composed of 1) affirmation, 2) information, 3) clarity about values, 4) setting limits, and 5) anticipatory guidance.

Soon after I started reading it, I had a conversation about something else difficult (I can’t even recall what it was, but I know it didn’t have to do with sexuality) using Roffman’s ideas, and was able to navigate the awkwardness with grace and honesty. In terms of discussing sexuality, I have my own baggage and tricky spots—and Roffman’s book helped me approach some of those things that previously felt too scary or uncomfortable.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to help guide children toward strong, healthy adulthood.

Clotherings and other silky prose

iron gates

The Iron Gates by Margaret Millar

Lately, my daughter has referred to a book we’re reading (The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman) as “silky.” She’s talking about the prose. I had said it’s really good to read aloud, and she said yeah, it’s silky. I agree. And I love the word “silky” to describe prose.

The Iron Gates, by Margaret Millar, is blowing me away for many reasons (great noir fiction, really effective point of view stuff breaking many rules, depiction of broken womanhood, etc.) including that its prose is silky. A few passages I love are below. I’m not bothering with context. You can read the book if you want to—and I hope you will. You might need to hunt on abebooks, or find it at the library, either of which is good for you, anyway!

**

“When she had gone Lucille sat down on the edge of the bed. She was barely conscious. Though her body was upright and her eyes open, it was as if she was almost asleep and her mind in labor and heaving with dreams, little faces, willow fingers, roses of blood, clotherings and a pellet of rice, did you count the spoons, nurse?, hard dead flesh of macaroni, doing as well as can be expected, are these roses for me, for me, for me?

Willow drowned in a tub. Soft dead willow floating hair and headache in a tub.

Superintendent!

How smooth, how dear, how dead. Come Cora Cora, come Cora.

Super—in—ten—dent!

Grape eyes mashed, rotten nose splashed on a wall, I’m sure you’ll love the soup today, it floats the willow, nursie, nursie…

Suddenly she leaned over and began to retch.

Miss Scott came running. ‘Mrs. Morrow! Here. Head down. Head down, please.’

She pressed Lucille’s head down against her knees and held it. “Breathe deeply, that’s right, that’s better. We’ll be fine again in a minute. It must have been something you ate.’

Miss Scott took her hands away, and slowly Lucille raised her head. She knew Miss Scott was there, she could see her and hear her, but Miss Scott wasn’t really there, she was a cloud of white smoke, you could wave her away with your hands, blow her away, she didn’t matter, she couldn’t do anything, she wasn’t there.” (p. 117)

**

“While he was waiting for the attendant he opened the newspaper and read the want ads. Later he would read the whole thing, but the want ads were the most fascinating part to him. He could, offhand, tell anyone how much it cost to have facial hair permanently removed, how many cocker spaniels were lost and mechanics were needed, the telephone number of a practical nurse and what you did, supposing you owned a horse and the horse died.

Bird’s eye view of a city.” (p. 149)

**

“Miss Eustace opened the window and sat down on the edge of her cot to take off her slippers. The last thing she did before she went to bed was to cover Lucille.

Lucille tossed and turned in her sleep under the light blankets that seemed to bind her legs and waist. Her sleeping mind was alive and sentient in her fingers, her nipples, her hips, her thighs, the sensitive palms of her feet; but it seemed to lie caught in a net of words. Miss Eustace my father and my murther flusttering in the aviary tower in vanity all inanity ah night my sweethurt take me out of the dunjuan through the griefclanging door to the godpeace of sir night. She struggled in the web of words, the blankets fell to the floor, and the web parted.” (p. 162)

**

“He stood on the veranda for a moment and looked across the park where the phallic points of the pines were thrust toward the sun. He felt outside time, naked and frail and percipient. Evergreens and men were growing toward decay. Time was a mole moving under the roads of the city and imperceptibly buckling the asphalt. Time passed over his head in a thin gray rack of scudding clouds, as if the sky had fled away and its last remaining rags were blowing over the edge of the world.” (p. 241)

Hooray for Shadows And Tall Trees 7!

Today’s reward for grading student work: Get up and go to the mailbox and see that Shadows And Tall Trees 7 has arrived. Turn to page 205 and see the story you wrote!

(I’m so grateful to have my story “Curb Day” among these pages. Thank you, Michael Kelly. You can buy a copy of this great anthology at Undertow Publications in hardcover or paperback.)