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tulip hyacinth leaves spring
Today

If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze

that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house

and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,

a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies

seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking

a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,

releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage

so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting

into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

 

I love Collins’ work, but had forgotten about this poem until my friend Louisa shared it at our book club last fall. Now that we are into spring (however fitful and rainy), it feels like the perfect time to share these lines with you.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry on Fridays here this month.

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birds art life mug

We’re halfway through April and I’m really counting on this whole “April showers bring May flowers” thing. But the showers are bringing good books. (Above: the endpapers of Birds Art Life, and a mug I love, from Obvious State.)

Here’s my latest book roundup:

‘Round Midnight, Laura McBride
June Stein never expected to end up a casino owner’s wife in Las Vegas. But that’s where she finds herself, and her story intertwines with those of several other women in surprising ways. McBride tells a compelling, heartbreaking story of four women deeply affected by the El Capitan, the casino June owns with her husband, and the evolution of Vegas from the 1950s to the present. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 2).

Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation, Kyo Maclear
I picked up Maclear’s luminous, quiet memoir at Idlewild Books in the West Village. She chronicles a year spent watching birds in and around her home city of Toronto, while dealing with her father’s illness and generally feeling unmoored. Melancholy and beautiful, with insights on bravery, marriage, noticing the small things, and making a world where birds (and humans) can thrive.

Ashes, Laurie Halse Anderson
After years of searching, Isabel Gardener has finally found her sister Ruth, who was kidnapped by their old slave mistress. But more trials await the sisters and their friend Curzon as the American Revolution drags on. Compelling, heartbreaking YA fiction (the third volume in a trilogy) with a sharp-tongued, brilliant protagonist. (Set during and around the Battle of Yorktown, so you can guess what was in my head the whole time.)

Becoming Bonnie, Jenni L. Walsh
Bonnelyn Parker has always been a good girl: working hard in school, helping her mama, working at a diner to earn extra money. But when she loses her job and her best friend Blanche convinces her to try bartending at a speakeasy, Bonnelyn may be on her way to becoming someone else: Bonnie. A really fun historical novel of the woman who became one half of Bonnie and Clyde. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 9).

The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois
I’d never read this seminal work on the plight of black people in the U.S., and I figured it was long overdue. Du Bois is eloquent, passionate and thoughtful (though some of his language feels a little quaint, 100 years later). Of particular interest: his notions of the Veil and the double life led by black Americans. I also love his thoughts on the “sorrow songs” and their place in black history.

The Kind of Brave You Wanted to Be: Prose Poems and Cheerful Chants Against the Dark, Brian Doyle
More prose poems from Doyle: keen-eyed, thoughtful, wide-ranging, humorous and occasionally so luminous they make me cry. (Besides, April is always a good time to read poetry.) My favorites include “Your Theatrical Training” and “The Western Yellowjacket: A Note.”

Girl on the Leeside, Kathleen Anne Kenney
Since her mother’s death in an IRA bombing when she was just a toddler, Siobhan Doyle has lived a quiet life with her uncle Keenan, working alongside him in their family’s pub, the Leeside, and writing poetry. She’s content with her sheltered existence until the arrival of an American professor, whose visit makes her ask all sorts of questions. A lovely, lyrical coming-of-age novel, set in a quiet corner of Ireland. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 20).

Saints for All Occasions, J. Courtney Sullivan
Sisters Nora and Theresa Flynn came to the U.S. from Ireland together as teenagers. When Theresa ends up pregnant, both sisters must make a choice that will have far-reaching consequences for their family. Sullivan writes with warmth, sensitivity and keen observation about family, regret and love in her fourth novel. (Set in Boston’s Irish and Irish-American communities – vividly and accurately rendered.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 9).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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bargain poetry bookbook nyc

What Do Poems Do?

I was, no kidding, a visiting writer in a kindergarten recently,
And the children asked me many wry and hilarious questions,
Among them is that your real nose? and can you write a book
About a ruffed grouse, please? But the one that pops back into
My mind this morning was what do poems do? Answers: swirl
Leaves along sidewalks suddenly when there is no wind. Open
Recalcitrant jars of honey. Be huckleberries in earliest January,
When berries are only a shivering idea on a bush. Be your dad
For a moment again, tall and amused and smelling like Sunday.
Be the awful wheeze of a kid with the flu. Remind you of what
You didn’t ever forget but only mislaid or misfiled. Be badgers,
Meteor showers, falcons, prayers, sneers, mayors, confessionals.
They are built to slide into you sideways. You have poetry slots
Where your gills used to be, when you lived inside your mother.
If you hold a poem right you can go back there. Find the handle.
Take a skitter of words and speak gently to them, and you’ll see.

I picked up How the Light Gets In, a slim collection of Doyle’s rambling, luminous “proems,” at the Strand in February (though I snapped the photo above at bookbook). They are full of vivid images, wry humor, startling moments of joy.

This one – plus “The Under of Things,” and “Wrenness,” and “Poem for a New Baby Girl,” and “Silentium,” and half a dozen others – stopped me in my tracks. They did what the best poems do, which is make me pay attention. If you enjoyed this one, I’d recommend the whole collection.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am (per tradition) sharing poetry on Fridays here this month.

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charles river cambridge sunset

Hope and Love

All winter
the blue heron
slept among the horses.
I do not know
the custom of herons,
do not know
if the solitary habit
is their way,
or if he listened for
some missing one—
not knowing even
that was what he did—
in the blowing
sounds in the dark.
I know that
hope is the hardest
love we carry.
He slept
with his long neck
folded, like a letter
put away.

April is National Poetry Month, and I will – as is my tradition – be sharing poetry on Fridays here this month.

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daffodils succulents florist

After the first week the girls of Patty’s Place settled down to a steady grind of study; for this was their last year at Redmond and graduation honors must be fought for persistently. Anne devoted herself to English, Priscilla pored over classics, and Philippa pounded away at Mathematics. Sometimes they grew tired, sometimes they felt discouraged, sometimes nothing seemed worth the struggle for it. In one such mood Stella wandered up to the blue room one rainy November evening. Anne sat on the floor in a little circle of light cast by the lamp beside her, amid a surrounding snow of crumpled manuscript.

“What in the world are you doing?”

“Just looking over some old Story Club yarns. I wanted something to cheer and inebriate. I’d studied until the world seemed azure. So I came up here and dug these out of my trunk. They are so drenched in tears and tragedy that they are excruciatingly funny.”

“I’m blue and discouraged myself,” said Stella, throwing herself on the couch. “Nothing seems worthwhile. My very thoughts are old. I’ve thought them all before. What is the use of living after all, Anne?”

Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery

I turned back to this exchange between Anne and Stella recently, while slogging through a stretch of cold, grey days. I’m fighting a head cold (as Anne does elsewhere), and my very thoughts, like Stella’s, have felt old. It might not be November around here, but biting winds and swirling snow in early April are just as depressing as a cold fall rain.

Despite my gloom, I smiled as I read Anne’s reply to Stella: “Honey, it’s just brain fag that makes us feel that way, and the weather. A pouring rainy night like this, coming after a hard day’s grind, would squelch any one but a Mark Tapley. You know it is worthwhile to live.”

I know in my bones that Anne is right: this life, with its myriad frustrations and joys, is entirely worth living. It’s full of things to savor and enjoy. But I’ve still been feeling more like Stella: “Oh, my mind agrees with you, Anne. But my soul remains doleful and uninspired.”

I’m falling back on all my tried-and-true lifesavers: daffodils for my desk, daily trips to Darwin’s for chai and chitchat, sweet clementines peeled and eaten mid-afternoon while I take a break from work email to catch up on blogs. But I’m also remembering what Stella says a few lines later: “I begin to feel that life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it.”

For that laughter, I’m relying on my people: my snarky coworkers, my goofy husband, the silliness that ensues when we gather around a friend’s table on Sunday nights. (Full disclosure: I’m also cracking up at James Corden’s Crosswalk musical videos and the occasional episode of Modern Family.)

When the skies are grey and the to-do list is long, I’m trying to remember: life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it. That laughter – even if sometimes it comes perilously close to crying – is what’s saving my life these days.

What’s making you laugh in these early spring days? (And when will the sunshine come back?)

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textbook akr book sky

Thanks to three glorious days in Florida last week (see above), my reading list has been long lately. (I read four and a half books on vacation!) Here’s the latest roundup:

How the Light Gets In: And Other Headlong Epiphanies, Brian Doyle
I love Brian Doyle’s wise, warm, witty voice and these prose poems – rambling, insightful, observant, funny – are just about perfection. I savored this, dipping into it a few poems at a time over several weeks. Full of wonder, grace and laughter. Found at the Strand.

Starry Night, Isabel Gillies
When 15-year-old Wren goes to a fancy benefit at the Met (where her dad works) wearing her mother’s vintage red Oscar de la Renta dress, and meets a fascinating boy, everything changes. But love, even first love, isn’t always smooth. A bittersweet YA romance; Wren is a little spoiled, but she learns some hard lessons (and says some wise things) about art and love. Found at Greenlight in Brooklyn.

The Jane Austen Project, Kathleen Flynn
“What kind of maniac travels in time?” For Rachel Katzman, the answer is: a devoted Jane Austen fan who’s keen to retrieve a lost manuscript and perhaps unravel the mystery surrounding Jane’s death. Rachel and her colleague, Liam, travel back to 1815 and make friends with Jane and her family – but, of course, nothing goes quite as planned. A fun mix of time travel, love and catnip for Austen fans, though the ending was quite abrupt. To review for Shelf Awareness (out May 2).

The Romantics, Leah Konen
Gael Brennan is a class-A certified Romantic – so it hits him particularly hard when he catches his girlfriend kissing his best friend (right after his parents have separated). But Love – the sly, witty narrator of this YA novel – has lots of plans for Gael and his nearest and dearest. An absolutely delightful look at love in all its forms. The narration is so clever and fun. My favorite line: “Real love makes you better than you ever knew you could be.”

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Amy Krouse Rosenthal
I loved Rosenthal’s previous memoir, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. This one is organized topically: Pre-Assessment, Language Arts, Social Studies, Science, etc. Rosenthal’s writing is quirky and luminous – she holds a mirror up to the beautiful pieces of everyday life. Her Modern Love essay recently went viral, right before she passed away – and before Nina recommended this book at Great New Books. The timing, as well as the whimsy and gentle gravity of the memoir itself, make it even more worth reading.

Summerlost, Ally Condie
Since the car crash that killed her dad and brother, Cedar Lee has felt lost in her grief. But when she, her mom and other brother return to her mom’s hometown for the summer, Cedar makes a new friend, and begins edging back toward feeling whole again. A funny, sweet, gorgeous middle-grade novel of friendship, summer theatre festivals and learning to dream again. I loved it.

The Secrets of Wishtide, Kate Saunders
Mrs. Laetitia Rodd, a clergyman’s widow in 1850s England, uses her entirely correct social position as excellent cover for solving mysteries. Her narrative voice is wonderful – wry and keen-eyed – and the mystery was satisfyingly tangled. Her supporting cast – including her lawyer brother and plainspoken landlady – is also highly enjoyable. First in a planned series, and I’d gladly read the others.

The Lost Letter, Jillian Cantor
As Katie Nelson faces the dissolution of her marriage and her father’s increasing memory problems, she finds an intriguing item in his stamp collection: an unsent letter with an unusual German stamp from World War II. With the help of a stamp dealer, Katie digs into the stamp’s history and uncovers a connection to her own past. I like Cantor’s thoughtful, compelling historical novels and this dual-narrative one was satisfying. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 13).

Mary Russell’s War, Laurie R. King
I love King’s series of novels about Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell, and enjoyed this collection of short stories featuring same. Russell’s narrative voice is always a delight, and appearances by Mrs. Hudson, Dr. Watson and others are pure fun.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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piece of the world book candle

Immortalized in Andrew Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World, in which she crawls across a field toward her family’s Maine farmhouse, Christina Olson lived a quiet, private life. She was hampered and eventually crippled by a degenerative muscular disease, but insisted on living independently (with the help of her brother, Alvaro) for as long as she could. Christina Baker Kline delves into Christina’s story – her razor-sharp mind, her stubborn family, her fierce pride, the degenerative disease that eventually stole her mobility – in her sixth novel, A Piece of the World.

Christina, with keen powers of observation and completely without self-pity, shares the details of her life with readers: geraniums “splayed red like a magician’s handkerchief,” the sweep of the sea beyond the fields of her family’s farm. She relays her family’s seafaring history, her own love for Emily Dickinson’s poetry, the ill-fated love affair with a summer visitor who eventually stopped writing back. And she delights–cautiously at first–in her friendship with Andy, the young artist who finds himself drawn back again and again to the humble Olson farmhouse.

I’m over at Great New Books today, sharing my thoughts on A Piece of the World. Please join me over there to read the rest of my review.

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