I’ve been curating the Literary Reflections reading lists for nearly two years now, and I hope that most of what we’ve recommended to LM readers in that time has been beautiful. This month, our editors (and a columnist!) are ruminating specifically on the theme of Beauty: the physical, human kind, but also the kind of beauty that takes us out of ourselves.
Literary Reflections Co-Editor Christina Marie Speed is delighted by a pleasure long deferred: “I’d been meaning to read Honey, Olives, Octopus by Christopher Bakken since reading a Wall Street Journal review of it last year. Finally, a family trip to Greece more than a year later made the book stand out on the shelf, and I dug in. Bakken transports the reader directly to the fertile mountains, valleys and seaside that produce the Greek foods I’ve come to love: olives, cheese, honey, wine and more. The people we meet along the way share their craft, along with their love of the land and its culinary traditions. Bakken’s writing takes the reader (experienced traveler or not) beyond the place where person and honest sustenance meet. I highly recommend this title for any food lover seeking the beautiful truth behind one of the world’s most beloved cuisines.”
Andrea Lani, also a Lit. Ref. Co-Editor, suggests a story about unique beauty in a surprising place: “While on a trip to Europe, Elisabeth Tova Bailey is overcome by an illness that damages her autonomic nervous system and results in numerous relapses that leave her bedridden. During one of these relapses a friend gifts Bailey an unlikely pet: a land snail in a pot of violets. At first Bailey is annoyed with this gift, but soon finds that the quiet and slow-moving snail is the perfect companion for one who finds sounds above a dull murmur overwhelming, and turning her head exhausting. Over the months that the snail lives at her bedside, Bailey comes to know its habits, finding in this simple creature both beauty and an anchor to life; she tells her doctor that she does not think she would have made it without the snail. Weaving the writing of naturalists and poets into her own meditations on her snail, Bailey creates a beautiful ode to a little-known but fascinating member of the animal kingdom in The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating.”
Fiction Co-Editor Suzanne Kamata writes, “For better or worse, women and girls often worry about their bodies. Colby Denton, the main character of Big Fat Disaster is a case in point. She’s the daughter of a former beauty queen and a Texas politician. Like her dad, she needs her donuts, but her physical appearance could hurt his upcoming campaign. Worse, when her father leaves the family for another woman, Colby is left without an ally. She and her lovely sister, along with their judgmental mother, are forced to move into a trailer with a relative. Author Beth Fehlbaum plumbed her own experiences with an eating disorder to write this powerful novel; although written for teens, it’s the kind of book that can help us to understand our daughters, and which might instigate some meaningful mother-daughter dialogue about what not fitting in feels like.”
Fiction Co-Editor Kristina Riggle shares, “I read Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth when I was in late high school or college, and it reverberated in me like a cymbal crash: Yes! Exactly! I remember reading parts of it aloud to my dad, who spent most of his educational career in labs doing ‘hard’ science. He scoffed a bit at the declarative statements, wondering where the evidence was for her assertions. This was so long ago I barely remember the specifics of the book’s content; I don’t doubt Wolf did a better job backing up her statements than I did debating with my dad. I do remember a sense of awakening to the contrived notion of ‘beauty,’ and feeling that all the evidence I needed was in my visceral response to it. It felt true, down to my marrow, in a way few non-fiction works ever have. Now that I have a daughter, it seems to me that it’s time to read it again.”
“Four Worlds” Columnist Avery Fischer Udagawa finds beauty in the gumption of a child surrounded by ruin: “This month marks the anniversary of the end of World War II in Japan, and while ‘beauty’ is hardly a term I associate with war, it is the word for the invincible spirit of Tomiko Higa, author of The Girl with the White Flag. Translated by Dorothy Britton, Ms. Higa’s personal account of surviving the battlefields of Okinawa as a child—a seven-year-old, separated from her family, searching dead soldiers and the roots of plants for food—seared itself into my memory. It left me aghast at both the horror of war and the resourcefulness, strength, and will to survive that are knitted into our children. Tomiko Higa’s beauty leaves me in awe.”