My Book Shelf/Self Challenge: August

I went from dragging my feet through August, to September quickly slipping through my fingers. The school year has started and, boy, I can tell.

The original plan was to write and post this on time, on September 1st. After all, I only read two books in August. It should be quick, right? But then, as the start of schools and universities (both plural) neared, the number of orientations, town halls, meetings, and instruction lists grew. Those instructions are no joke, some seem written by a CIA tactical team. But that is fodder for another post. This one is about books.

The other thing that paralyzed me was that one of the two books was so good that I feared not finding the right words. I wanted to wait until I could find a stretch of time long enough to make it justice. But here we are, on September 25th and I still haven’t written a word about it.

So this will be it, because whatever I say, whenever I say it, won’t do it any justice anyway.

catalog of unabashed gratitude, by Ross Gay

This is one of the poetry books that I my husband has given me as a gift and I never had time to read before. I normally catch up on poetry when I have a baby. I start reading out loud to them while they are in my belly, and keep it going for as long as my audience is captive. My current audience of one is about to start crawling, so I think that this will be one of the last poetry books I will read with him. Hungry Caterpillar, here we come.

Baby chewing on colorful book
My captive audience seems to think that books are edible. He seems to need a lesson on metaphor.

Going back to the poetry of Ross Gay, I loved it. He makes beautiful “music” out of quotidian things, and that is a rare gift. This book will cheer you up from the colorful cover to the period on the last verse.

Even though we grew up in two very different countries and contexts, the reality he presents is a reality I can relate to:

I am lecturing

on the miracle

of the mistake

in a poem

that hiccup or weird

gift that spirals

or jettisons

what’s dull and land locked

into as-yet-untraversed i.e. cosmic

(I overuse this metaphor

with my students)

grounds I tell

this to 105 give or take

undergrads who mostly

don’t care

and wrestle second

to second the

by now blood-borne

drive to check

their beckoning phones


His world is as rich as his language, and the poems in this book are vivid enough that they will transport you right to it.

The Vanishing Half, by Brit Bennett

I could just write that you need to read this novel and that may be as close to a perfect review as I can get. The Vanishing Half touches so, so many topics that I don’t know where to start. If I were in high school and had to choose only one word to describe it, identity would come to mind. It deals with racial identity, gender identity, class identity. It questions who we are, and what makes us. Are we a product of nature, our upbringing, or our own decisions? Do we have a destiny to fulfill? What is our core, and, can we get rid of it?

A book by a pool
This book filled my summer hours.

So far you could be misled to think that I am talking about a philosophical essay, but what we have in our hands is a true page-turner from start to finish, written with language so rich, images so vivid, so freaking beautifully crafted that at times I had to stop for a few minutes just to favor a sentence. Language that allows you to feel, see, smell, hear, taste and touch what you are reading:



Lounging by the water pump in her lilac dress, slipping a finger down her sock to scratch her ankle. Dipping into the woods to play hide-and-seek behind the trees. Stepping out of the butcher’s shop carrying chicken livers wrapped in white paper, clutching the package so tightly, she might have been holding something as precious as a secret.

Sometimes I love a book because of the story, and other times the language is what drags me. It is rare to find authors that excel on both fronts, and Brit Bennet is one of them.

This tale of two sisters, and through it of an important and ow more than ever present part of American History is a must read.

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