Tag Archives: books

books about puberty

stream, red flower, and tree roots

Glen Helen

I’m keeping a list of books that seem helpful as I raise a child and guide her through puberty. I thought it would be helpful to share them here.

Puberty resources

BOOKS for children

BOOKS for adults

 ONLINE:

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from Several Short Sentences About Writing, by Verlyn Klinkenborg

several short sentences about writing--book cover

 

 

From Page 131:

“You may feel uncomfortable with the word

‘authority.’

Perhaps is sounds dominant, overbearing, ‘authoritarian.’ You may need to work on the problem of self-deprecation,

Self-distrust,

Especially when it comes to noticing the world around you

And what you’re able to say about it.

You may be used to denying your perceptions and dismissing your awareness.

You may be caught in a constant state of demurral

Or have the habit of belittling yourself.

 

Watch for the chronic language of self-disparagement,

The moments when you say, ‘My problem is…’

Or ‘It doesn’t matter what I think.’

If you say these kinds of things, you probably say them out of habit, almost unconsciously.

This is a product of your education too, at home and at school.

Pay attention to it.

Recognize how harmful it is.

Its message—subliminal and overt—is that your perceptions are worthless.

 

Do everything you can to subvert this habit.”

 

 

Black Wave by Michelle Tea

Black Wave by Michelle TeaThis book. So beautiful. A delectable collision of intelligent prose with the viscera. So visceral, and so smart—the sentences hold an intelligence beyond any I can think of, even, in a way, beyond Didion’s. But the sentences aren’t overly smart in a told-you-so kinda way. They’re smart in a way that has faith, more faith than most sentences have, in the reader. The book, the story, is so dark and so light. It’s a gift, really.

Black Wave was my first encounter with the work of Michelle Tea, and I can’t wait to read more of her work. For now, all I can do is urge you to read Black Wave—knowing that it’s written for adults, and has a lot of very specific, intense detail about sex and drugs—and today I offer this passage.

Michelle Tea, Black Wave, p. 151:

“Where did your own story end and other people’s begin? Michelle wrestled with this question. After her first book came out she’d been invited to give some lectures and teach some workshops, and always the people who came were females, females who wanted to tell their stories. Their stories being female stories, there was a lot of hurt inside them—abuse, betrayals, injustices, feelings. They were all worries about getting in trouble for writing the truth. They didn’t want people to be mad at them. It’s Your Story, Michelle would insist.

She wanted to free them all, all the girl writers. Girls needed to tell the truth about what the fuck was going on in this world. It was bad. It was brave of the girls to let themselves stay so raw, though Michelle worried that some of them had had to conjure personality disorders in order to cope. Sometimes the girls were too much even for her, Michelle wondered if she could handle another piece of writing about sexual abuse or sex work. But it seemed that this was to be her job upon the earth. If you don’t tell your story, who will? It was important. Our stories are important.”

**

Read the whole book and you’ll understand its uplift.

 

 

Heartberries, by Terese Marie Mailhot (“The work of ‘never done’: therapy and writing.”)

9781619023345-256x413A thousand thanks to my friend Dr. Kelli Zaytoun for recommending this distilled and beautiful memoir. From the publisher’s description:

“Heart Berries is a powerful, poetic memoir of a woman’s coming of age on the Seabird Island Band in the Pacific Northwest. Having survived a profoundly dysfunctional upbringing only to find herself hospitalized and facing a dual diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder and bipolar II disorder; Terese Marie Mailhot is given a notebook and begins to write her way out of trauma. The triumphant result is Heart Berries, a memorial for Mailhot’s mother, a social worker and activist who had a thing for prisoners; a story of reconciliation with her father—an abusive drunk and a brilliant artist—who was murdered under mysterious circumstances; and an elegy on how difficult it is to love someone while dragging the long shadows of shame.

Mailhot trusts the reader to understand that memory isn’t exact, but melded to imagination, pain, and what we can bring ourselves to accept. Her unique and at times unsettling voice graphically illustrates her mental state. As she writes, she discovers her own true voice, seizes control of her story, and, in so doing, reestablishes her connection to her family, to her people, and to her place in the world.”

This book is among a few gems I’ve read lately, written by women, that grant permission. Permission to reveal the self, in all its tatters and glow. Permission to speak the truth even when it isn’t convenient or dainty. I can’t recall where I heard this, but somewhere, a wise human referred to writing memoir as a kind of alchemy: how a writer metabolizes her experience into a distilled piece of art. Mailhot does so here, with grace and wisdom.
A couple shimmery passages from Mailhot’s memoir:

Page 72: “[My mother] taught me that I didn’t own things. I really liked the idea of possession. We don’t own our mothers. We don’t own our bodies or our land—maybe I’m unsure. We become the land when we are buried in it. Our grandmothers have been uprooted and shelved in boxes, placed on slabs of plastic, or packed neatly in rooms, or turned into artifact—all after proper burials. Indians aren’t always allowed to rest in peace. I want to be buried in a bone garden with my ancestors someday. I’d like to belong to that.”

And: 

 

Page 97: “I can’t believe my reserve of water—from my nose and eyes. I have dormant fluid in my body, every woman does. I don’t know if I am a cavern or a river.”

In the back of the petite volume, Mailhot is interviewed by Joan Naviyuk Kane. In the conversation, Mailhot says things about writing that I know will stick with me (and will help, in working on memoir):

About women writing our stories:

Page 131: “I know the book isn’t simply an abuse narrative, but then it is. I was abused, and brilliant women are abused, often, and we write about it. People seem so resistant to let women write about these experiences, and they sometimes resent when the narrative sounds familiar. It’s almost funny, because, yeah—there is nothing new about what they do to us. We can write about it in new ways, but what value are we placing on newness? Familiarity is boring, but these fucking people—they keep hurting us in the same ways. It’s putting the onus on us to tell it differently, spare people melodrama, explicative language, image, and make it new. I think, well, fuck that. I’ll say how it happened to me, and by doing that maybe it became new. I took the voice out of my heat that said writing about abuse it too much, that people will think it’s sentimental, or pulling at someone’s pathos, unwilling to be art. By resisting the pushback, I was able to write more fully and, at times, less artfully about what happened.

I remember my first creative writing professor in nonfiction asked his class not to write about abortions or car wrecks. I thought, You’re going to know about my abortion in detail (if only there had been a car crash that same day). I don’t think there is anything wrong with exploring familiar themes in the human experience. When the individual gets up and tells her story, there’s going to be a detail so real and vivid it places you there, and you identify. I believe in the author’s right to tell any story, and the closer it comes to a singular truth, the more art they render in the telling.”

And about work that is never really finished:

Page 132: “Cathartic or therapeutic—those words are sometimes used to relate a feeling, like a sigh of relief, or release, but therapy is fucking hard. My therapists didn’t pity me, not the good ones; they made me strip myself of pandering, manipulation, presentation—they wanted the truth more desperately than I did, and they wanted me to speak it—live it every moment. I feel like writing is that way. Writing can be hard therapy. You write, and then read it, revise your work to be cleaner, sharper, better, and then, when you have the best version of yourself (not rhetorically, but you’ve come close to playing the music you hear in your head)—you give it time and re-read it—you go back to the work—it seems endless. Nothing is ever communicated fully. The way being healed is never real unless every moment of every day you remind yourself of your progress and remind yourself not to go back, or hurt someone, or do the wrong thing—it’s not healing unless you keep moving—you’re never done. The work of ‘never done’: therapy and writing.”

A History Of Hands, by Rod Val Moore

9781625340962

(Read this book.)

With vigor, I recommend Rod Val Moore‘s novel, A History of Hands.

Rod was my first grad school mentor at the Antioch Los Angeles MFA program. At the first residency, his seminar had us reading Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, and taking a field trip to the Museum Jurassic Technology. Immediately, I knew that Rod’s aesthetic was complicated and hypnotic, not unlike the MJT’s cabinet of curiosities. A History of Hands has a similar kind of curiosity about it…it’s a fully realized world, familiar, but also skewed enough to accumulate into a question rather than an answer.

Here’s the novel’s description from the University of Massachusetts Press website:

 “This powerful novel begins with the ambiguities of illness and moves on to explore both the reasonable and the absurd actions of those who suffer and those who exploit suffering. The setting is a failed farm on the Central California coast during a time of rural isolation and decline. Virge, the protagonist, is an awkwardly introspective young man living with his parents, suffering from lingering effects of an accidental childhood poisoning, including a lack of coordination and the possibility of mental weakness. Within the first few pages, Virge trips, falls, and finds that his hands have become paralyzed—a potential disaster for someone unable to afford a doctor’s visit.

Soon, however, an elderly and possibly criminal doctor, offering free therapy, moves in, much to the dismay of bedridden Virge. While the physician endeavors to restore the patient’s hands with a series of highly suspect injections, Virge recovers his sense of autonomy and an urge to escape the suffocating domestic circumstances that have perhaps caused his illnesses in the first place.

A History of Hands is a novel that invites the reader into a richly and eccentrically detailed world where fevered imaginations and dark comedy prevail, but where the determination to escape the ambiguities of illness leads to the equal ambiguities of health and freedom.”

Lately when I read, I just want to be steeped in the book, in the life of the words (story and sentences/lines). While here on the blog I always feel some self-imposed responsibility to write a mini-review, that impulse (“I must say something all-encompassing and salient!”) often stops me from writing anything. And I just want to crow about this book. So I’ve been collecting passages that fill me with wonder. Here’s one from A History of Hands.

I think you don’t really need context (though you should read the whole book!), so for now, just sit back and enjoy.

From p. 154, A History of Hands, by Rod Val Moore:

            “And then, because nobody makes a move, Almy visibly relaxes, and, after taking a tiny sip from Stuart’s flask, opens up, and talks and talks, and tells a story of her own, one Virge has never heard before. It’s all about how she used to come to the farm as a child when her grandparents owned it, and how she was their guest, not to mention their darling, and their pearl of great price. How every day she was allowed to go out riding, because of course they had horses then, everyone in the world had dozens of horses then, and the one Grandma and Grandpa kept there for her was a gelding named Dime, and she could ride old Dime, best horse in the world, along the beach, clapping up the water into froth, his hooves nearly silent in the damp spongy sand. But then comes the sad part of the story, about how the farm failed one year in a drought, and the crops died and the horses, even Dime, had to be sold to the glue factory, and how then there wasn’t much to do at the place for years except mope around, though Almy kept coming, summer after summer, trying to recapture the good times of the past, splashing in the waves as if she were a horse, but it was never the same.

And then there’s the much sadder part about how her grandparents got to be old aged, and infirm, and finally it turned out that both them passed away on the same day, which happened to be Almy’s sixteenth birthday, dying from the same run-in with the flu, a day when it wouldn’t stop raining and they had to take both coffins to the cemetery in the downpour in the back of an open wagon, and how the two graves were so full of water by the time they got there that the coffins, when they went in, just bobbed there like wood canoes, until somebody drilled some holes in them, and they sank. And it’s interesting, she explains, how a year later, after getting married in San Grande, and moving permanently into the old house with Virge’s father, she found a box all wrapped up in gift paper in the back of a closet, a birthday present they’d hidden there just before they died, and when she opened it what did she find but an old German chocolate cake, now turned to nothing but a collapse of dust and hard candy, her name still spelled out in icing on the top, along with the vague and broken image of what might have been a horse. And she still had to wonder, was the cake supposed to mean that they were going to get her a new horse, or was it just the memory of the days when she did have a horse? Or was it a horse on the cake at all, or maybe a dog or nothing at all?”

 

 

Brightwood, by Tania Unsworth (Author interview)

Brightwood, by Tania Unsworth

Read this wonderful book!

A couple years ago, when my daughter chose an advance reading copy of Tania Unsworth’s Brightwood at the library (a prize for the reading program), I had no idea we were in for such a treat. The cover looked a bit scary, so I decided to read it to her. (You can read the Kirkus review here.) It is a little scary. It’s also a lot beautiful and interestingly complicated: a tribute to Ms. Unsworth’s belief in the capacity and imagination of the child.

My daughter and I both fell in love with the book. I wrote a fan letter to Ms. Unsworth, and she replied, which began an imaginative and generous correspondence with me as writer-mother, and my daughter as reader.

As the paperback release was approaching, I asked Ms. Unsworth if she would mind my daughter asking some interview questions, and she graciously agreed to be interviewed for the blog.

Merida and I hope you enjoy the interview. And of course we recommend you buy the book!

**

Merida:

Describe Frank’s background.

Tania:

Frank is not the main character in BRIGHTWOOD, although she probably thinks she is. She arrives at Brightwood Hall when Daisy (who is the main character), is in desperate need of help. Frank isn’t a ghost, although she does appear in black and white. She’s more like an imaginary friend – a very bossy and delusional one. She’s an explorer from a different time and place, and for the whole of the book (set in an English stately home) she believes she’s actually in the Amazonian jungle, pitting her wits against a rival explorer. But she has an odd way of getting to the truth, and her advice is not quite as ridiculous as it seems. She was my favorite character to write, and even though I finished the book some time ago, I’m not certain she got the memo. It’s possible she’s still out there, having all kinds of adventures without me.

Merida:

What was your inspiration for writing Brightwood?

Tania:

I loved the idea of writing about someone who has never once been outside their home. Daisy doesn’t know what lies beyond the gates of Brightwood Hall, and so she’s made the beautiful old house into a whole world. A kind of magical kingdom. When Daisy’s world – and her life – is threatened, she’s forced to confront reality. I felt that situation had the potential for a powerful story.

Merida:

How did you get the idea for the non-human characters?

Tania:

My best ideas come out of problems. The biggest problem I had when I sat down to write the book, was how to tell the story with only two characters. There was Daisy, all alone in the house, and there was James Gritting, the mysterious relative who turns up a little way into the story. Daisy’s mother is mostly not in the action at all. It is very hard to make things happen in a story without interaction between characters, dialogue, the exchange of information, and all that good stuff. Simply describing the thoughts in one person’s head makes for very dull reading! So I knew that Daisy had to have people (or a rat!) to talk to, even if they weren’t – strictly speaking – real. She would need to have an extraordinary imagination to do that. By creating non-human characters, I solved my problem of how to move the action along, and I also gained an insight into the character of Daisy herself. Two birds with one stone!

Merida:

How long have you been a writer?

Tania:

I’ve always been writing, even when I was quite a little child. I got my first book published when I was about 35.

Merida:

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Tania:

My dad was a novelist, and my mum wrote poetry, and I grew up thinking that writing was the best way to spend your life. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, although for a long time I told myself the opposite. I was frightened of failing at it. I thought because I found it hard, that meant I was no good at it. It took me a while to realize that writing is hard whether you’re good at it or not. And being frightened of failure doesn’t mean you’re going to fail. It just means you’re frightened. And you can write while frightened. You can write while frightened, and while finding it hard. So that’s what I do!

Merida:

What were your favorite books when you were a child?

Tania:

I liked fairy stories, and Greek and Norse mythology, and historical novels about Vikings, and the Narnia books, and stories about animals like The Call of the Wild, and anything to do with adventure. Or ponies. Also, school stories, and comics, and poetry…I guess the answer is I liked everything!

**

To read more about Tania Unsworth, please visit her website.

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

citizen

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?

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

IMG_20170626_112822634.jpg

(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.”