Voilà: a third volume of recommended reading. This isn’t an end-of-year “best of” list — most of the picks below are recent finds, published within the last month or so. A few are favorites from this year that I simply want to share. Enjoy.
Alex Andreou, Sturdyblog
I’ve always been interested in exploring and redefining home, and even more so after marrying a Brit and expanding my family ties into England. I really enjoyed this piece on immigration, identity, belonging, and always longing for someone (or somewhere):
I am suddenly steeped in the duality of existence that plagues all immigrants. “Every time we say goodbye, I die a little”, muses Ella in my mind’s iPod. I have been dying a little, regularly, for twenty-three years now. Every time I leave each place I call home, the excitement of seeing family is marred by the anticipation of missing friends and vice-versa. I am never truly fully present in either place. Anywhere I go, I long for someone.
Vanessa Blakeslee, The Gloria Sirens
I’m always drawn to writing about writing — especially thoughts on finding the time and space to write. Blakeslee’s piece addresses this, but also much more: it’s a wonderful essay on the writing life, one’s inner space, work, and relationships.
After a decade of juggling serving jobs for alcoholic bosses, adjunct teaching jobs with salaries that barely filled my gas tank, and tutoring high school kids on weekend mornings, six months ago I finally planned, saved, and borrowed to accompany him for the spring to Costa Rica. While he worked at his trade desk all day in downtown San José, I would write fiction as often as I could. And write I do, five days a week. But what I hadn’t anticipated was how the world still tries to pull that precious writing space away. Now time and money are quickly running out, my story collection only halfway complete. He is working hard, too, to support both of us.
Chinelo Onwualu, Omenana
I just discovered Omenana, a new journal of African speculative fiction. Consider this essay by Nigeria-based writer Onwualu, one of the editors behind the publication.
Being an African fan girl is a strange, liminal thing. You’re never quite sure that you exist, you see. A part of you is rooted in your culture and its expectations for how a woman ought to behave – church, family, school – but another is flying off into the stars carrying a samurai sword and a machete. Not one thing or another, you’re both at the same time.
Anna Fonte, Girl in the Hat
I’m always pleasantly surprised by Anna’s writing. I love her style, and her memoir and essays are often unexpected, in both content and format; I never know what I’m about to read. I’ve been following her blog, Girl in the Hat, for some time now (and invited her to host a writing challenge on The Daily Post this year). I love this piece on reading, and the imagery around “literary breadcrumbs” that she creates in my head:
When the train lurches forward again, I look back down at my book and it only takes a moment before I’m gone again, wondering how Somerset could tear those pages. The story says he does it to lighten his load but really, how heavy could those pages be? When I love a book, I will write in its margins, dog-ear its pages, and keep it close forever. I’d never tear a book. For practical reasons, as well. What if you need something to start a fire? What if your hat blows off or you need a fan or you run out of food?
I enjoyed Guite’s thoughtful commentary on plastic and our wasteful culture. As I continue to shed my belongings and prepare physically and mentally to move into a tiny space next spring, I’ve been thinking a lot about our houseprint, and how we can live more sustainably. Guite’s accompanying sonnet is lovely — it’s available in audio and playable in the post.
That plastic bag will just persist in unchanging ugliness, and we who make and discard that plastic will continue to be maimed and made ugly by our accumulations, we who might have learned from the trees something about the grace of diminishment and renewal.
This was published in 2013, though still relevant, and while it focuses on programming, as a writer I can relate to the slow approach to work that Ventrella describes. (I’m even reminded of the vertical writing piece at The Millions that I highlighted last week.)
Programming slowly was a problem for me when I recently worked on a project with some young coders who believe in making really fast, small iterative changes to the code. At the job, we were encouraged to work in the same codebase, as if it were a big cauldron of soup, and if we all just kept stirring it continuously and vigorously, a fully-formed thing of wonder would emerge.
Here’s a glimpse into the secret spaces of freedom in Iran — the world of modern Persian culture — that the West doesn’t see. I’m rarely moved by travel writing, but Threadgould’s piece intrigued me.
The people of Iran were the most hospitable, kind-hearted, generous and welcoming people I have ever come across in all of my travels. But to sample real happiness you must cross into the world of freedom that thrives in the nooks and crannies carved out of the Islamic Republic. Therein lies an intellectual, progressive but painfully excluded community of people who decide for themselves what to indulge in.
Kelly Barnhill, Nerdy Book Club
I’ve enjoyed recent posts on reading on Nerdy Book Club, including this piece from Barnhill on the need for fairy tales:
There is a reason to give a child a dark tale — a frightening tale. A tale of loss and sorrow and danger and immutable hope. When we give a child such a tale we are giving them tools.
Here, we say. This story is a map.
Here, we say. This story is a compass.
Here, we say. This story is a sword and a shield and a purse full of coins. It is a physician’s pouch and a very long staff and an intricate machine that will only reveal its purpose when you set the gears just right. It is a bird that will tell you the truth. It is a mirror to help you examine your scars. It is a lantern, to help you find your way.
Jenny Diski, This and That Continued
I often get lost in Diski’s prose — her posts are like deep wells. In this piece, she looks at an old photo of Johnny Depp and Kate Moss and ruminates on aging, desire, and youthful sexuality:
But that was a fleeting assessment before the sledgehammer. Perhaps more like a lightning bolt. A shaft, as of Cupid arrow in the heart, opening in me a memory of something, some feeling, ache, shock in the chest. The old remembered remnants of youthful desire.
Kenan Malik, Pandaemonium
Malik attended talks this year by Philip Pullman and Ursula Le Guin. Here’s a bit on writing and reading from Pullman’s talk:
Once the reader opens the book, they enter a space as private and secret as the polling booth. If there is a soldier with a rifle watching how you fill in your ballot, that’s not democracy; democracy is when no one knows how you voted. So it is with reading. The private space between the book and the reader is something utterly precious and individual.
I love this list of forty-two points from a teacher to her students. I appreciate her subtle progression of ideas around teaching and learning, and how succinct and straightforward she is. It’s just as much a syllabus for life as it is for classroom learning.
6. The goals and outcomes I am required to put on my syllabus make me depressed; they are the illusion of controlling what cannot be controlled.
Onward to 2015.