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Posts Tagged ‘Marisa de los Santos’

As I’ve said many times this month, I started running with low expectations, and even a bit of trepidation. I knew a lot of people who got a kick out of running, and I was no stranger to the joys of a long walk or a sweaty, satisfying yoga class. But I knew that if running proved downright painful or unpleasant, I was unlikely to stick with it. I wasn’t sure how it would feel.

I recently reread Marisa de los Santos’ The Precious One, and one of the characters, 17-year-old Willow, is a runner. She notes, near the beginning of the book, that “when I run, my body stops being a grouping of parts and becomes a single thing. A fluidity. A living, breathing verb.”

I don’t always feel like that when I run: sometimes it’s a slog, heavy sneakers pounding on pavement. Sometimes it gets a bit monotonous. But at its best, running feels the way Willow describes it: “For me, being good was not the point. The point was cutting through the air, using the air, the way I used the ground. Who cared about good when there was joy like that?”

Running is sometimes meditation, sometimes a much-needed dose of solitude, sometimes a way to work off anxiety or tiredness or a plain old case of the blues. But often, it is that kind of joy: the physical pleasure of my body moving in concert with the air and the ground, the music pumping in my earbuds, lungs and legs and heart working together. It’s not always a conscious kind of magic, but it is always a kind of miracle. And that joy is one of the main reasons I keep heading back out there again and again.

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bargain poetry bookbook nyc

I love a well-crafted poetry collection as much as the next reader. But most often, I’m hankering for a story when I read. True or fictional, I want a compelling narrative, well told. Fortunately, many poets have turned their wordsmithing skills to prose, and their novels and memoirs are some of my favorites.

Marisa de los Santos began her career with the poetry collection From the Bones Out, but has found major success with her fiction, including Love Walked InBelong to Me; and I’ll Be Your Blue Sky. Her prose is simple, warmhearted and truly lovely, as are many of her characters. (I reread those three novels again this spring, when I was heartbroken and badly in need of comfort and hope.)

Former U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith has published four books of poetry, including the 2019 collection Wade in the Water. Her memoir, Ordinary Light, which my friend Colleen gave me a while back, chronicles Smith’s childhood in California, her deep and loving (and sometimes fraught) relationship with her mother, and her journey toward poet as vocation. Her prose is as luminous and (sometimes) as sharp-edged as her poems.

Brian Doyle, the late editor of Portland magazine, wrote anything and everything: poems, prose poems, rambling essays, rollicking or thoughtful novels like Chicago and Mink River, both of which I adored. I’ll read any and all of his work, though my absolute favorite is his essay on how he became a writer. (Also: I reviewed an essay collection he edited a few years ago, and he wrote me a brief, lovely email of thanks, which I still have.)

Poet Ross Gay (Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude) spent his 43rd year capturing ordinary joyful moments almost every day, and spinning them into “essayettes” that became his collection The Book of Delights. Like the subject matter, the result is delightful–both the mosaic of quotidian, unexpected pleasures, and Gay’s commentary on them.

For readers who appreciate a well-turned phrase and an engaging story arc, poets who write prose offer the best of both literary worlds.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it appeared last week. 

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I’m getting through a lot of books these days – so many that a monthly book roundup feels a little long. So I’m trying semi-monthly. As always, share your opinions, recommendations and/or current reads in the comments!

Love Walked In, Marisa de los Santos
After lending this to Abi, who loved it, I decided it was time for a reread. Gorgeous writing (the author is also a poet), and oh, I love these characters, especially Cornelia, who narrates half the story in a rambling, charming, old-Hollywood-loving voice. It’s a beautiful exploration of all kinds of love, and what happens when you decide to love the people who end up in your life unexpectedly.

Belong to Me, Marisa de los Santos
This is a sequel, of sorts, to the above – though in quite a different setting, and with three narrators instead of two. Some characters I already knew and loved; some I loved right away; some I came, grudgingly, to admire and even like. This book is, of course, specifically about the people who fill its pages – it shines a light on the beauty and messiness of their particular stories. But in a larger sense, it is about families – the ones we have and the ones we choose.

Patches of Godlight, Jan Karon
I’m a devoted Mitford fan, so of course I knew about Father Tim’s beloved “quote book” – what fun to read his scribblings in physical book form. Two favorites: “Be faithful in the little practices of love,” from Mother Teresa, and “Friendships, like geraniums, blossom in kitchens,” from Peter someone or other. Wise, funny and beautiful.

A Lesson in Secrets, Jacqueline Winspear
Bought and signed when I went to hear Ms. Winspear read at the Harvard Book  Store. This one’s set in Cambridge, which I found doubly interesting – for one, it’s a departure from Maisie’s usual London life, and for another, I don’t know much about Cambridge, as I am an Oxford girl. Full of intrigue, compelling characters, and Maisie’s trademark sleuthing instinct.

Imagined London, Anna Quindlen
A book about books about London – what’s not to love? Although I am an Oxford girl (see above), I’ve read my share of stories set in London, and spent some time wandering its streets, famous and otherwise. Quindlen adores London and is proud to be a speaker of “real” English; I enjoyed her tour of the worlds of Dickens, Thackeray, Trollope and others who have written about this city. Recommended if you love London, England, books or all three.

The Peach Keeper, Sarah Addison Allen
Bethany sent me the ARC she received, with a note about how this book is a story of enduring friendship, like ours. It’s also about secrets, and families, and letting go of who we think we have to be. Light and enjoyable, though I wanted more development of every plotline. (Rachel the barista – scribbling notes about people’s drink orders and what they mean – particularly made me smile. I used to practice that kind of “coffeeology” myself.)

The Thoughtful Dresser, Linda Grant
A rambling, mostly interesting meditation on how our clothes influence us, and how fashion reflects our basic human desires to be attractive and to be seen. (The author is the child of Polish immigrants to England who changed their clothing styles to fit into their new country, and has also interviewed an Auschwitz survivor who went on to work in fashion and later open her own boutique.) A sort of intellectualized version of What Not to Wear.

When We Were Strangers, Pamela Schoenewaldt
I enjoyed the story of Irma Vitale, who leaves her tiny Italian village to seek her fortune in the U.S., working as a dressmaker until she discovers a talent for nursing. She goes through some horrible trials, but makes some steadfast friends (especially spunky Irish maid Molly), and eventually finds her place in a new community. Lovely prose, and the details of clothing and dressmaking remind me of Adriana Trigiani’s Valentine series.

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