A new year tends to make me want to revisit Verlyn Klinkenborg’s The Rural Life. Organized by months, January through December, it’s a collection of small meditations on life in the world—a world that those who lived in the United States 100 years ago could recognize, the one that includes pigs, bees, potatoes, horses. This book of quiet observations and thoughtful ruminations is the ultimate in bedtime reading, but it would be a good choice at any other time when you’re looking for something of substance with which to fill a crack in the day. Memorable for Klinkenborg’s mature and unpretentious writing, gentle yet deeply grounded, earnest yet amusing, it’s one of my favorite books.
Blog Editor Amanda Jaros writes, “For my master’s program, my mentor had me read Amy Irvine’s Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land. I have been utterly awed by this book. It is an amazing nonfiction story about a woman who moves to a remote desert county in southeast Utah. There, in an intense landscape, she seeks to find the truth within herself. She explores her Mormon ancestry, the legacy of Mormon power in Utah, and her relationship—or attempts at relationship—with modern-day Mormons. Irvine also explores the Native people’s history, both recent—Navajo and Ute—as well as ancestral. Through all these topics she skillfully weaves her own personal story, her passion for the land and her boyfriend, and the battles she faces as a tree-hugger living in rancher territory. This book is stunning. I highly recommend it.”
Literary Reflections Editor Andrea Lani raves, “I recently finished reading Knitting Yarns, a collection edited by Ann Hood that includes beautifully crafted essays by the likes of Barbara Kingsolver, Hope Edelman, and Andre Dubus III, among many other well-known and new-to-me authors. It is the best kind of anthology: a simple, single theme (knitting) that a wide range of writers riff on, all stitching together wildly different stories. There are stories of learning to knit and teaching to knit and failing to learn to knit; of knitting well and knitting very, very badly; of the ways knitting weaves a thread through generations; of knitting and sex and sexuality; of knitting into love and out of a bad marriage; of knitting down blood pressure and knitting (or observing knitting) to quell nerves; of knitting through grief. These are heartfelt, heartening, heartbreaking stories, all threaded together with yarn and needles. I think anyone who knits or has tried to knit or loves someone who knits will love this book.”
Fiction Editor Suzanne Kamata shares, “As the mother of a biracial boy who is brother to a sister with disabilities, I was especially interested in Sleep in Me, a memoir by Jon Pineda, son of a Filipino father and an American mother. Before Pineda became an award-winning poet and writer, he was a skate punk, a football player, a kid who listened to angry rock at top volume while playing a guitar (badly). In other words, he was an American boy like many others. But after his glamorous elder sister was in a serious car accident and became severely disabled, he became ‘the brother of that girl.’ On one level, this is a coming-of-age story, in which we glimpse the secret life of boys, including the casual cruelties they inflict upon one another. (In one scene, another boy stuffs a poisonous jellyfish into the front of the author’s swimming trunks; as far as I could tell, he never told his mom about this.) On another level, this book is about the ravages of grief, and how one tragic instant can change a boy, and a family, forever. Pineda’s prose is precise and beautiful. While this is an emotional book, it is never overwrought.”
Former “Four Worlds” Columnist Avery Fischer Udagawa adds, “I just devoured a novel about a mother who births, nurtures, plans, sacrifices—and hunts, with deadly ferocity. Jackal and Wolf by Shen Shixi, China’s ‘King of Animal Novels,’ spins the tale of a female jackal living near the Tibetan border. The jackal, Flame, endures the killing of her pups by a wolf with whose offspring she forges a bond. The novel reminds me of the bobcat’s-view chapter in Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, yet is something else entirely. The translation by Helen Wang preserves elements of the Chinese telling (such as anthropomorphism) that are at first jarring, but then seem integral to Flame’s story. I could not put this book down; I recommend it to mothers who seek titles they can enjoy while reading with upper elementary and older children.”