A couple of weeks into December already? Whoosh! I usually prefer to write up my monthly book lists as close to the 1st of every new month as I can, but this Christmas season has the jump on me. We’ve been Nutcrackering, singing in a parade, baking bread, hitting 50 mile run weeks, swimming, keeping afloat with homeschooling, decorating (I finally finished our outdoor lights a couple of days ago), crafting, and generally trying to put 90 days worth of activity into 30 days. I’ve tried to slow us down a bit this week, refocusing on school, having days without going anywhere except for our exercise.

November seems almost ages ago, and although I enjoyed most of what I read I no doubt will not do any of it justice here. This is going to be quick. I have a small break while Katie works on the next draft of her current essay and Eric has some Lego construction time.

1. The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy (fiction, 1994)

“So everything is necessary. Every least thing. This is the hard lesson. Nothing can be dispensed with. Nothing despised. Because the seams are hid from us, you see. The joinery. The way in which the world is made. We have no way to know what could be taken away. What omitted. We have no way to tell what might stand and what might fall.”

2. Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy (fiction, 1999)

“Yet it is the narrative that is the life of the dream while the events themselves are often interchangeable. The events of the waking world on the other hand are forced upon us and the narrative is the unguessed axis along which they must be strung.”

I finished up the second and third book in McCarthy’s Border Trilogy this month, and I’ve been a bit adrift since. As much as I adore Vonnegut and Murakami, I am left looking to fill a void after these 1000+ pages of both English and untranslated Spanish (putting those ol’ language skills to the test and delighting my brain). It’s true: I’ve been scrounging around for anything to read, aware that nothing is coming close to the experience of these three texts so fresh in my mind.

The epilogue to the last book was, dare I say, on equal footing with The Brothers Karamazov; McCarthy’s language is the marriage of philosophy and literature at its finest.

I finished the last book on Veteran’s Day during a solo outing to a coffee shop, then sat there feeling gobsmacked and changed from the inside out. I had to wait 35 years to find McCarthy’s words, but at last we are united as we always should have been. The Crossing is, as for many people, my favorite of the three. If not now, then at certainly some point in the future, this trilogy needs to be on a person’s “must read” of American literature list. I don’t know of any modern American novelist crafting what McCarthy has created in these postmodern works. They are commentaries on the act of reading, storytelling, and existing—in reality or not—itself.


3. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder (historical fiction)

“These times are too progressive. Everything has changed too fast. Railroads and telegraphs and kerosene and coal stoves — they’re good to have but the trouble is, folks get to depend on ’em.”

We’re almost all of us familiar with this 6th book in the Little House series. Katie and I had read this before, though this was Eric’s first time. It was this text, in fact, which inspired the Button Lamp Disaster of 2010—which left a burned ring on our black kitchen table. Ah, well.

4. Find a Way by Diana Nyad (nonfiction, 2015)
“I have often been asked how I can be an atheist, as someone fully and constantly engaged in life and all its wonders. People often misjudge atheists, think that we are haters lacking reverence, gloomy pessimists absent of hope….I can stand shoulder to shoulder with any devoutly religious person and gasp at the beauty of our physical universe, feel profound love for animal and humankind, live out gratitude for these treasured lives of ours, remain humble to remind myself that I am only one of seven billion people currently sharing this planet Earth, no better or worse than all the rest.”

Nyad’s recent published book about her heroic, improbable, tenacious 110 mile swim from Cuba to Florida so tempted me that I took a hiatus from The Border Trilogy (McCarthy) to read  it. I had been waiting for over half a year for its arrival. Her mind, her will, her utter badassery: she is definitely one of my greatest inspirations, in any sport. She defines in every way what I seek to be not only as an athlete but as a fully engaged, philosophical, completely vital human being. I cannot overstate how much I admire all she represents. Extraordinarily alive. I love her mind, her strong and playful and deep mind. If you are in constant quest to be your absolute best self in all ways, read her book.

Later in the month, I took my daughter Katie to see Nyad speak at Chevalier’s in the Larchmont. Since Chevalier’s is in her neighborhood, she knew many of the people there—her friends already—and those of us whom she did not know, she went out of her way to greet and get to know, as did her best friend and swim handler Bonnie (who also recommended a book to Katie). Of part Greek ethnicity, Diana had stuffed grape leaves and spanakopita served at her reception, and Bonnie had the bookstore play Bob Dylan. Nyad has an exquisite mind and is a masterful speaker: funny, passionate, clear, spellbinding. I was able to ask her about one of the mental processes she mentions in her book about techniques that do not permit doubt to enter her mind before an event. She spoke to Katie a few different times and made her feel included. Rather reluctantly, but spurred on by the more outgoing Diana, Nyad’s other best friend Candace (also a handler and the only woman to accompany her on all five attempts at Cuba) led us ALL in a singing of “When You Wish Upon a Star.” As absolutely compelling as Nyad is, however—and she IS, and I admire her wholly—for me it was Bonnie who captivated me. She is a rock of a woman and one of few words—which, Nyad jokes, is why they get along. You can FEEL the legendary friendship between them, as well as with Candace. Bonnie commands a room—Kate and I watched her help set up for an hour—in a silent, exacting way as no one else does. We understood quickly and palpably, and Nyad fully owns this also, that her achievement is a SHARED achievement. That swim arose from the tenacity of several women, supporting one another. It is my read that they compete on behalf of, not WITH, one another…each one fulfilling a role in the archetypal Hero’s Journey. To see a group of vibrant, confident, compassionate women—human beings—of any age doing what everyone said was impossible to do is to witness a thing of beauty.

5. Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by his Good Mouse Amos by Robert Lawson (highly fictionalized semi-biography of Ben Franklin, 1988)

I read this with Katie and Eric as part of Katie’s curriculum. I hate it. I should probably be more professional and measured than that, given my training, but really: I’ve rarely been more glad to be done with a book. I am apparently in the Amazon minority of about 4%, and more than one of those reviews is from a child—probably a couple who may not have even quite understood it/read it all the way. So my review doesn’t bode well for me.

I do understand this book, and I just don’t find it funny or even that entertaining. Whereas some cast it as “delightful” and “educational,” I find Lawson’s Amos character to be nearly intolerable. SO ANNOYING. Considering this history of sentient rodents who help humans (Remy in Ratatouille, Anatole in the award-winning book by Eve Titus/Illus. Paul Galdone, and all the mice in Cinderella), I will say this particular mouse would have been zapped in one of my mouse traps LONG ago.

Too, the author Lawson is WAY too aware of his trope, the language comes across as affected, the liberalities with Franklin’s personality/accomplishments potentially confusing. Why not a nonfiction piece about Franklin in this curriculum? Anyway, Katie’s final project was to write a new episode for the book using the tone of the mouse Amos—she nailed the tone, so that was good.

I will note, however, that Robert Lawson is the illustrator of one of my favorite books, The Story of Ferdinand (Munro Leaf). So, I will try not to hold this against him.

And that’s it. Two pieces of solid literary literature, one nonfiction, a children’s classic, and one I really disliked. I’m a little alarmed that the rate of my reading feels like it has slowed down in November and so far for this month. In fact, this month is looking paltry indeed. I’ve finished one solid, solid new read for me (a nonfiction piece), and a C.S. Lewis classic I’ve read many times in my life (with the kids)…and three modest Minecraft chapter books. If that’s any indication how my book life is going, ha ha!! I picked up a history piece and put it down. So now, I am in the middle of the Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction—academic and interesting to a point, but also not exciting me the way I wish something would. The book I look forward to most is the reading Katie and I are doing of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, but we aren’t getting as much time per day as I wish for it…and I’ve read it a handful of times already. My friend Jeanne published a wonderful list of recommended books on her Facebook page, and I need the time to get to the library and check some out. Much of my hobby time right now has been spent in other ways this month, so I am feeling scattered with my reading. I spent several days in a row last week reading nothing of my own—which doesn’t feel good. I might need to pick up something light and fun just to keep up with the practice of reading, versus trying to read for content right now. On the other hand, those Minecraft books are pretty light… My discontent with my reading life might come from not having enough heft.

I remember this time of year being challenging in 2014 as well, as far as the book list goes. I should probably cut myself some slack….naaaah. That’s not really how I operate in my life. Ha ha!

Okay, have to go. Essay draft reading time…