The reading lists have been on hiatus for a few months during some transitions here at Literary Mama, but the editorial staff has been reading away nevertheless. Their recommendations for this month range from dystopic fantasy and quirky fiction to stirring essays and heartfelt memoir. Each encompasses the maternal or familial quite differently, but all connect it to the state of a broader world – real or imagined, intimately true or disquietingly plausible.
Blog Editor Karna Converse has been reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. “This novel is set in a futuristic society where women are divided into specific groups, each group with a specific duty or responsibility. Offred, the main character, is a Handmaid and her chief job is to bear children for the Wife. In addition to Wife and Handmaid, a woman in this society could be a Daughter, an Aunt, a Martha, an Econowife, an Unwoman or a Jezebel. Atwood’s descriptions are clever. She draws on cultural, governmental, and Christian motifs and when I took time to digest them, found them to be as scary to consider as they were entertaining. I don’t know why I just learned about this book — it was published in 1985 — but I’m glad I did. I doubt I would have appreciated it or its message at that point in my life.”
Heather Cori, “Perfectly Normal” Columnist, offers us another glimpse of dark fantasy, Divergent (Divergent Trilogy) by Veronica Roth. “It is a young adult book that appeals to teen and older readers with a Hunger-Games-like quality. The story opens when the main character, Tris, is sixteen and needs to select her faction on Choosing Day. She’s grown up in the Abnegation faction with her family where they practice selflessness. After some surprising test results, she’s forced to choose if she’ll stay with her faction or risk losing her family to become someone else entirely. It’s very fast-paced and raises questions as to what happens when we have too much selflessness, candor, honesty, amity or recklessness in ourselves and in society. I look forward to the next book in the series.”
Cassie Premo Steele, “Birthing the Mother Writer” Columnist, is reading Uprisings for the Earth:Reconnecting Culture with Nature by Osprey Orielle Lake. “Praised by Riane Eisler and Joanna Macy, this book of essays is part philosophy, part history, part memoir. It offers thoughtful reflections on our relationship to nature, revelations about our disconnections from nature and their historical bases, and insights into how to reconnect ourselves, our families, and our communities through meaningful engagement with the natural world. My personal choice for the best essay in the book is ‘Anthem to Water, Part 2: Vision Creek,’ which is beautifully written and rippled through me as I read.”
Caroline Grant, Editor-In-Chief, shares another resonant read: “The novelist Anne Enright was married for 18 years before she and her husband decided to have children, and her memoir of the experience, Making Babies: Stumbling Into Motherhood, manages to offer both something of a grandmother’s wry wisdom and a new mother’s fresh surprise. She is honest, funny and always, obviously, deeply in love with and fascinated by her two children, whether she is comparing pregnancy to alien abduction or musing on how much of every day is devoted to socks. ‘My only excuse,’ she writes in the opening section, Apologies All Around, ‘is that I think it is important. I wanted to say what it was like.’ I enjoyed every word of it.”
Fiction Co-Editor Suzanne Kamata writes, “I was first attracted to The Dragon Keeper by Mindy Mejia by its unusual subject matter: a young, introverted zookeeper, haunted by an abortion, who is overly attached to the Komodo dragon in her charge. After I started reading, I was sucked in by first-time novelist Mejia’s assured prose and fully-fleshed, pleasingly complicated characters including zookeeper Meg Yancy, whose prickly exterior masks a tendency to nurture; Meg’s nemesis Antoine, the hotshot veterinarian known for sleeping with his interns; Ben, Meg’s default boyfriend; and single mama Gemma, the iguana keeper intent on keeping her job. And then there’s Jata, the Komodo dragon, who lays viable eggs without ever having mated — a virgin birth. Meg and Jata’s peaceable kingdom is suddenly threatened by zoo politics and the mass media — and by Jata’s changing nature.”