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Three Things: The Mother Edition

2017 May 15

In honor of all of my fellow mothers out there: let’s all take a little lie down. For a second. Because, let’s face it, that’s all we usually get.

 

Barrington Watson, Mother and Child, 1958-59. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Jamaica, Kingston, Jamaica.

 

David Graeme Baker, July Bride, 2008. Oil on linen mounted on panel. www.davidgbakerpainting.com

 

Mary Cassatt, Breakfast in Bed, 1897. Oil on canvas. The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

 

Three Things: The Kid Edition

2017 May 8

As we approach Mother’s Day, let’s focus on the little folks who make mothers what they are: crazy people. Just kidding. But let’s give some young’uns some adventures, shall we?

 

Angela Strassheim, Untitled (Horses), from Left Behind series. Photograph. www.angelastrassheim.com

 

Holly Andres, River Road: Milepost 39, from The Fallen Fawn series. Photograph. www.hollyandres.com

 

Jeremy Geddes, Acedia, 2012. Oil on board. www.jeremygeddesart.com

 

What We’re Reading: May Round-Up

2017 May 4
by Wren

What We're ReadingMay is when spring really takes hold here in Minnesota, and it’s also coincidentally my (Wren’s) birthday month. Both the spring awakening and the pending mark of a new year for me makes this time of year feel especially magical in its newness and fresh perspectives. Even if it’s not your birthday, I hope this month marks the start of something new for you. Maybe a new habit, a new adventure, or a new book on your reading list. This round-up can help you with at least one of those new things. Happy reading and spring-vibing, folks!

Ice by Anna Kavan (Peter Owen Modern Classic, 2006)
Reviewed by Aaron

Ice is a stuttering slipstream novel that follows a nameless narrator through nameless cities in the face of an oncoming apocalypse. He trails a pale waif of a woman, alternating between parental worry and abusive obsession. Kavan’s prose coyly switches between sparse, realistic description and fantastical phantasmagoria. Ice is an evocative novel about war, trauma, and abuse.

Various works by Louise Glück
Previewed by Liz

I’m reading Louise Glück. I mean her poems from 1965 to 2012. In the poetry world, Glück is practically a household name, and not only because she is a Pulitzer Prize winner, former Poet Laureate, and winner of many other prizes and fellowships. Louise Glück has consistently offered the world poetry that offsets trying loss with image, challenges narrative logic with surprising diction, and speaks to various audiences with simple honesty. Because she looms so large in the tradition of contemporary American poetry, I wanted to go back, and see how her voice developed and changed throughout her career thus far. I’ve only just begun, but I’m already fascinated… some of her earlier works (from The House on Marshland (1975) in particular) feel like an emotional mirror. I’m so interested to see what else I notice as I read on.

We Are All Stardust: Scientists Who Shaped Our World Talk about Their Work, Their Lives, and What They Still Want to Know by Stefan Klein
Reviewed by Taylor 

I picked this book up at a time in my adult life when I just started getting really, really into science, and it was the perfect book to begin my foray into reading more nonfiction—books on history, economics, science, and space in particular. It’s filled with fascinating interviews between Stefan Klein and scientists and experts on their life’s work, with topics ranging from empathy, morality, memory and consciousness, to chance in history, motherhood, animal behavior, and the critical first three minutes of our planet’s existence.

Each interview introduced me to a new topic (and about five books the interviewee wrote or recommended) that I immediately wanted to know everything I could about. I reread a lot of pages while reading, just to be sure I was taking it all in, and because the chapters built off each other very well. Even across a range of topics, each discussion was ultimately about us, as people, and our shared humanity.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Previewed by Wren

After recently finishing 300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso (another great, and slim, book to add to your list), I just switched to what might be a challenging read: The Vegetarian by Han Kang. The book is a three-part novella, telling of Yeong-hye’s sudden change to vegetarianism. Yet the story develops in a way that continuously surprises, shocks, and guts the reader (or so I’m led to believe by other reviews and the first handful of pages I’ve read). It’s told from the point-of-view of a different character related to Yeong-hye in each section of the novella. I’m currently in the first section, told from the point-of-view of her bland, kind of awful husband. Throughout the book, Yeong-hye changes, both in her own perspective, and in the perspectives of the three narrators—and in somewhat horrifying situations, including sex, violence, and a retreat from daily life. I can already tell it’s going to be a book that will haunt me after I finish, but nonetheless, I’m eager to sink my teeth into it.

What We’re Reading: What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky

2017 April 20

What We're ReadingWhat It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah (Riverhead Books, 2017)

Have you ever read a book and felt like the author inserted their stories straight into your mind, and you can’t quite shake them after? That’s how I felt after reading Lesley Nneka Arimah’s debut collection of short stories, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky. I read this book about a month ago now, but the characters and stories still follow (haunt?) me.

The stories are all told from the perspectives of women. Men play key or supporting roles in some of the stories, but relationships between women—mothers and daughters especially—take the main stage here. The culture of Nigeria infuses many of these stories—some as the actual setting, others as familial/cultural ties. Many of the stories also employ magical realism, which adds to the way these stories stick to you. Arimah suspends reality in the details to achieve the big picture reality, placing her finger on the intuitive truth of the matter.

Some of the most haunting stories are the ones where the main characters seem to fight against their own nature, or their inherited nature/gender/class/grief, all the while circling around the inevitability of it. Stories such as “Who Will Greet You at Home”, which was originally printed in the New Yorker here. This story achingly embodies the way Arimah uses magical realism to suspend reality to better highlight the truth:

Women like her had to form their children out of sturdier, more practical material if they were to withstand the dents and scrapes that came with a life like hers. Her mother had formed her from mud and twigs and wrapped her limbs tightly with leaves, like moin-moin: pedestrian items that had produced a pedestrian girl. Ogechi was determined that her child would be a thing of whimsy, soft and pretty, tender and worthy of love. But first, she had to go to work.

As Ogechi crafts baby after baby, our hearts break as we watch in horror the cycles passed on by class and gender. This is what I mean: these stories will latch onto you, not unlike Ogechi’s baby. These stories reveal truths that are sometimes hard to see; yet Arimah tells these difficult truths in such a way—through gorgeous, crafted, precise language—that her reader can’t help but digest them.

Another factor of these unrelenting stories lies in their surprise. Despite some element of inevitability that I described earlier, Arimah still finds moments to flip the reader upside down, disorient, and surprise. An example of this is the opening story, “The Future Looks Good”, which starts with a woman knocking at a door, and the rest of the story backtracks leading up to that moment. The final sentences deliver a swift shock. Yet other stories take their time and don’t upend the reader with surprise, but rather, coax us along with their slow build. With this mix of styles, Arimah deftly balances the danger of over-exerting her reader while calling our attention to difficult, soul-wrenching things.

I had the opportunity to meet Lesley and hear her talk about this book in my role as producer of The Loft Podcast, where she was a guest recently (you can listen to the episode here). One of the things she said that I immediately felt echoed my own experience, was how there was an early point in her career as a writer where she knew what and how she wanted to write, but didn’t have the skill to write it yet. I feel that particular sense of frustration in my own current capacity as a writer. I was talking to my dear friend Timothy (yes! our same dear Hazel & Wren friend and past contributor!) about this recently, who in response sent me this article/video featuring a quote from Ira Glass on success. In it, Glass says, “Nobody tells people who are beginners […] that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, […] It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste—the thing that got you into the game—your taste is still killer”.

Clearly Arimah has found the sweet spot where her work has met up with her taste and ambition to create this magical, haunting, groundbreaking collection of stories. And, my fellow worrying writers: maybe there’s hope for us, too.