In the spirit of National Poetry Month, I’ve been randomly reading my way through Phyllis McGinley’s Times Three, a collection of light verse that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. McGinley writes about the many ages of woman and mundane experience generally: eating blue plate specials, playing hostess, reading the newspaper, gardening, trying not to hate other people. Her “Sonnets from the Suburbs” include titles such as “P.T.A. Tea Party” and “Lending Library.” She was criticized by the edgier writers of her day (Sylvia Plath among them) for the traditional quality of her style and the comparatively innocuous tone of her work. Her “housewife poetry,” however, is far from cheap. Insightful and mature, it may provoke a laugh, but it also strikes some rich chords. McGinley is a true wit; she reminds me of Ogden Nash, only less glib, or Dorothy Parker, only more charitable. Nearly everything she published is now out of print, but easily available on the used book market. I’m enjoying my first taste of her so much, I think I already know what I’m giving my mother for Christmas.
Heidi Scrimgeour, Literary Reflections Editorial Assistant, raves about a find of her own: “I just finished reading The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey and absolutely loved it. Set in Alaska in the 1920’s, it tells the story of a childless couple, Jack and Mabel. One night they build a child out of snow; the next morning it has vanished but they glimpse a real child in its place, running through the trees. This is one of the best novels I’ve ever read, and a profoundly moving account of what motherhood means and how it renders us vulnerable in the extreme.”
Blog Editor Amanda Jaros writes, “I just finished reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It recounts the author’s several-month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, interspersed with lots of backstory about Strayed’s mother’s death, the earth-shattering life event that prompted her trek. Having thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail by myself years ago, I found Strayed’s descriptions and her feelings about being a woman hiking alone in the wilderness to be spot-on. She captures the intimate details of the struggle and joy of a long backpacking trip perfectly. After many missteps, Strayed ultimately finds her way, logistically and emotionally, and in the process made me ache with nostalgia for my own adventure in the woods.”
For those in the mood for urban insights, “Four Worlds” Columnist Avery Fischer Udagawa offers a suggestion: “I enjoy dipping into Paris Was Ours, an anthology edited by Penelope Rowlands, which portrays the City of Light entirely through the perspectives of outsiders. David Sedaris is perhaps the best known of the 32 contributors, who include a museum director, a homeless woman, an Iranian exile, and a talented corps of journalists, writers and teachers. The essays include translations from French, Arabic and Spanish. The topics covered include fashion, parenting, studying, cruising, reading, and, of course, eating, Paris-style — and the book perfectly complements a baguette or a chocolate éclair. I appreciate this multi-layered portrait of a city I have never seen — and the idea at its heart, that outsiders can say something authentic, and even necessary, about their adopted place.”