What I've Been Into - Winter 2017

Hey all,

I don't know about you, but this has been a strange and sometimes scary but often wonderful end-of-winter. To say that it is already March feels bizarre, but at the same time, here in Minnesota we've experienced one of the warmest winters on record, so...despite my reservations about what this means for our planet, I'm already in spring mode. And since I'm due to meet my second baby in early April, there is no rewinding for me: Spring is arrival. Spring is wakefulness. Spring is revelation. I say: Welcome, welcome.

I'd love to hear what you've all been up to. I'm not sure how much reading I'll get to in the coming months (buh-bye, hands-free bedtime routine!), but I always keep a will-read-later list running. Suggestions, please! And I hope the sun warms you in these coming months all the way down to the bone.

  1. Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle -- Ruefle was a professor of mine in grad school, and the title of this, her craft book, about sums her up. I wrote the weirdest, most magical, most unpublishable piece in her class, but the experience of writing it is one that I'll never forget, simply because I felt myself in a space created by madness and honey, both. I didn't read every essay in this bunch, but what I did read made me wish I was back in grad school, notebook on my lap in Dewey Hall.
  2. A Sense of the Mysterious by Alan Lightman -- I liked the essays that verged closer to memoir more than the ones that examined--in lyrical style, no less--the difference between applied and pure mathematics. No surprise there, I guess. I am glad I finally picked up one of Lightman's books, though, and I'll likely return to another when I find the urge to understand how the STEM people think. :)
  3. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo -- Who knew how interesting the proper method of folding clothes could be? I read this right after winter break began, and it kicked off a major nesting impulse. There really is something to creating a space at home that mirrors the state of mind you desire.
  4. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi -- An incredible book following two ancestral lines--one that leads through the slave trade and colonialism in western Africa and the other that leaps across the Atlantic, following the experiences of African Americans coming to terms with their place in society. Ambitious and realized, I stayed up late to read this one. 
  5. Commonwealth by Anne Patchett -- I read Commonwealth because I heard an author say it was a "perfect book." I don't know if I'd go quite that far, but I was interested in this story about two broken families, largely told through the eyes of the children as they aged. 
  6. News of the World by Paulette Jiles  -- Part western, part history of America (specifically Texas) after the Civil War, part heartfelt tale about an older man and his transport and eventual care-taking of a young girl who had been taken hostage by a native tribe, this novel started off slow, but eventually took off as the relationship between the man and the girl developed. I wouldn't have read it had it not been recommended to me, but I'm glad I did. 
  7. Open City by Teju Cole -- I was hearing a lot about Teju Cole, so I decided to pick up his first novel. Despite all the praise--and I can appreciate why that praise exists; there is SO MUCH in this book, so many ruminations--it just wasn't for me. My guess is if I had more time to read slowly and consider, I might enjoy it. But, in my experience, it was too much essays-in-novel-form, when what I was wanting was straight novel.
  8. Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer -- Although I didn't read every essay in this large collection (it's comprised of over thirty individual essays tied together by theme), I loved many of the pieces I did read ("The Honorable Harvest," "The Consolation of Water Lilies," and "Burning Cascade Head" come to mind). I had a repeated impulse while reading to look up Kimmerer on Facebook, follow her, and somehow take a class with her in the future. She's a modern sage.  
  9. O Pioneers!, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Great Gatsby, and various essays and poems by Symborska to Hughes -- all curriculum rereads.
TV and Movies:
  1. Song of the Sea -- We just started official family movie nights with our son, and this animated film--an Oscar nominated one--was beautiful, and one that my husband and I enjoyed just as much if not more than our almost-four-year-old. It was based off of Irish mythology, and the visual style, music, and bond between an older brother and a little sister? Thumbs up from me!
  2. The Fall, Season 3 -- So dark! Why do we watch this stuff? Still, we watch this stuff. And we think about it and wonder at the limits of humanity.
  3. Westworld, Season 1 -- In a random conversation, my husband and I realized that both my students and his clients had both been talking about this show, so we decided to dive in. It's HBO, so it was violent in a way that was eventually too much for me, but the premise--a western theme park populated by highly sophisticated artificial-intelligence-driven "hosts"--was thought-provoking, and it's easy to see why it has inspired so many conversations.
  4. The Minimalists -- A well-done and great reminder of how little we actually need the stuff we buy. Reduce, reduce! Definitely something we are trying to bring into our home more consistently.
  5. Boyhood -- When this film first came out, I heard and read a lot about it, as the concept was interesting (a team of filmmakers and actors who got together over the course of something like fifteen years in order to show the true passage of time and how it might affect a boy through his formative years). The movie itself was good--sad--but likely pretty realistic in terms of what a lot of kids experience. I know it reminded me of a good number of my students. We all just want to know we are loved and have purpose.
  6. Jim Gaffigan's Cinco stand-up show -- Because we all need a little humor in our lives.
  7. The Americans -- Just started. Into it!
Find and Arrow Signs:
  1. Eula Biss. I've been taking an online essay writing class the last few weeks (I'm crazy. But with Baby #2 coming, I felt I had to take advantage of whatever clarity is left in my brain while I still have it.), and one of the things I've loved the most about the course is how the instructor has pointed me to a lot of great nonfiction writers I hadn't previously read. Biss was one of them. I'm pretty impressed by her. "Time and Distance Overcome," her essay first on the telephone, then on telephone poles, and later how they intersected with the lynching of black men, kept me rapt from beginning to end. I'm going to pick up one of her essay collections and swim my way through soon.
  2. Some dear friends have brought out their first books (Yes, this makes me both proud and stir-crazy. Someday, Emily! Someday!). Please do check out Kate McCahill's Patagonian Road, Cheryl Wilder's What Binds Us, and Tyler Dorholt's American Flowers
  3. Although I'm generally what I consider the farther thing from a political writer, I couldn't hold in my observations about our recent election and how it impacted my classroom. What I wrote (eventually titled "Silence for the Sake of Peace: On Politics, Huck Finn, and Lies We Tell Ourselves") was published just before the inauguration by Atticus Review, and you can read it here.
  4. This article from the New York Times about President Obama's thoughts on books, reading, and writing. It's no wonder he's always struck me as a deeply thoughtful man.

Birds chirping this morning as if it were May. Hope these words find you well, friends.


  1. Hi, Emily!
    So, which online essay class did you take (or are you taking)?? Just wondering because I'm just wrapping up Lyric Essay with Casey Patrick at the Loft, and we read the Biss piece - and I LOVEDLLOVEDLOVED it. It was my "aha" moment with lyric essays! I'm definitely reading her book that has that essay. I would love to have a chat with you some time in the future when you have some time to talk lyric essay.

    Thanks, too, for sharing your book list! There were a few books on it that I have been wanting to read, but after reading your comments, I will probably still read them, but maybe I won't be SO anxious to read them. I just finished the book, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill - it won the Newbery this year - and LOVED it. If you are interested in reading a "middle grade" book (upper elementary level and up), please read this book. It's a wonderful story that is so well-written - I especially loved all the poetic elements in it.

    Have a good last month before your new family member arrives. Be well. Enjoy every single day.

    Take care,

    1. Hi Jacey,

      Yeah, that Biss piece! I was just in awe. Remember when I asked about clotheslines on FB? That was homework for the class, inspired by Biss's essay. The class is 8 Assays in 8 Weeks with Vanessa Ramos -- totally just a nutty concept for me at this point in the school year -- but I'm focusing on idea generation and have a good number of starts. And I would love to chat lyric! If you come across any other great essay examples, please send them my way.

      Thanks, too, for the Barnhill recommendation. I haven't read anything by her or really anything YA in a while, but I am in no way above it. In fact, one of my favorite reading memories of the past four years was rereading The Secret Garden when Elliot was a wee infant. Adding The Girl Who Drank the Moon to the list!

      Be well, Jacey!

  2. Emily:

    God bless you and your growing family.

    I always enjoy reading you succinct, honest book reviews. Three recommendations from my personal library, in totally disparate categories: Fooling With Words ~ A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft - Bill Moyers © 1999 A Natural History of the Senses - Diane Ackerman © 1990 Another Country ~ Navigating the Emotional Terrain of our Elders - Mary Pipher, PhD © 1999

    Wishing you elation and jubilation for your coming miracle.

    ~ Richard

    1. Richard, these all sound great! Thank you so much for the recs. I've read a little something from all of the writers you list. Just from the titles, the Ackerman book grabs my attention the most. The older I get, the more I appreciate the essay form -- the way curious people pique my curiosity in the aspects of life we often take for granted.

      Hope you are well, warm, and regularly inspired!

  3. Hi Emily,
    I love getting your blog when you talk about what "you've been into". It motivates me to read more. You already have several recommendations, but I really liked Peter Geye's book, The Lighthouse Road and it's followup, Wintering. He's a MN author, too. Wishing you the best.

    1. Ooooo! You know me and my love for local writers. Peter Geye... I think I've heard of him? In any case, I've heard of him now, and I will happily see what he's about. Thanks, Pat!

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