There are times we Literary Mamas seem to become universally occupied in a common task. Like a beehive readying itself for a long winter, we keep our heads down until the challenge is complete. Perhaps I will pick up that book later, when I’m not so busy, we think. This is not one of those times. June lobs all the standard pitches in our direction—end of school, graduations, vacations, summer camp—and even a few curveballs, like a move to a new city, perhaps? But we read on, certain that reading will carry us forward with the reminder that there is more out there in the world than our own hustling hive.
Blog Editor Amanda Jaros writes, “I recently finished reading Janisse Ray’s The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food. This book is part memoir, part informational, and mostly very empowering. We all need food; therefore, we all need seeds. But the variety in our world-wide food crops is being whittled down to a few basics types of seeds, held by a handful of corporate powers. Ray shares stories of her own experiences as a young gardener, and now, later in her life as a farmer. She also passes on the stories of individual farmers throughout the US who are saving seeds and growing heirloom varieties of everything from tomatoes to apples to pumpkins. I loved this book for its honesty, Ray’s gentle and thoughtful tone, and the wealth of information about our earth’s smallest packets of hope—seeds.”
Creative Nonfiction Editor Dawn Haines shares, “I’ve just reread both of cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoirs Fun Home and Are You My Mother? There is much to learn about how to construct memoir from these books. Because the method for telling her story is in part text, in part cartoon, Bechdel organically arrives at a condensed narrative that offers layers of meaning. I am awed by how much meaning and intent she conveys through this quick and layered tapestry of experience and reflection, this relationship between image and text, as well as her pacing, her choices about what stays in and what doesn’t, and how she moves through time. The result is a multi-layered, multi-sensory experience that cuts to the bone. These lyrical books are not light-hearted. They will make you think. Refer to dictionaries and Wikipedia. Bechdel creates what all good memoir should: an engaging narrative plot, one from which you cannot look away, with the tenacity and guts to look beneath the slides, go back, go back, and find out how she feels about it all, what it all now means.” Readers can find a formal review of Are You My Mother? on the Literary Mama website.
Fiction Editor Suzanne Kamata adds, “In Here Comes the Sun: A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras, Leza Lowitz, an award-winning poet and writer—and yoga instructor to the stars at her studio in Tokyo—writes of her unconventional path to motherhood. Having survived a difficult adolescence in 1970s Berkeley, she makes her way to Japan where, in her 30s, she eventually meets, falls in love with, and marries a Japanese poet and writer. After a bout of infertility, the couple makes the difficult decision to adopt a Japanese toddler—this, in a country where bloodlines are all-important and adoption is rare. Even extended family members must agree to the process before an adoption can be made legal. A love story on many levels, Here Comes the Sun is a beautifully told, life-affirming memoir.”
Literary Reflections Editor Libby Maxey recommends, “I’ve just finished Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See. Told in tiny chapters, some only a paragraph long, the novel follows the parallel lives of two children growing up through World War II: Marie-Laure, blind and fascinated by the contents of Paris’s natural history museum, and Werner, an orphan in a bleak German mining town with a gift for scientific thinking. Both children are clever at solving mechanical puzzles, so it is fitting that each little piece of Doerr’s narrative is like a piece of a sprawling puzzle that the reader gradually assembles. Doerr’s writing is sufficiently beautiful to engage those who have no interest in war novels (e.g., yours truly), and his story, haunted by a mysterious and legendary diamond, has a fairytale quality that makes its more depressing aspects bearable. I can’t imagine anybody reading the first 16 pages without wanting to plow through the next 450 to find out how the lives of the two central characters will finally intersect. It is unfortunate that certain elements of the plot feel overdetermined; after all, even if the characters don’t know what will happen during the war, we already have a pretty comprehensive idea. We can discern which characters are destined to be sacrificed to the Nazis. Nevertheless, the book is a compelling read, admirable both as a well-designed novel and also as a sensory experience.”
Literary Reflections Editor Andrea Lani offers, “This month I’ve been rereading Settled in the Wild: Notes from the Edge of Town by Susan Hand Shetterly, and one of the things I love most about it is its size—at around five by seven inches, this little hardcover fits neatly in the palm and is just right for slipping into a bag on the way out the door. But I love even more what’s inside—a series of essays and vignettes about the natural world in Shetterly’s corner of Maine. Her quiet, reflective tone, keen observation, and willingness to admit mistakes draw readers into Shetterly’s everyday interaction with nature—from a dead pine tree to a pet raven, from a biting cricket to escaped farm salmon. I especially enjoy the essays in which Shetterly recounts moments from when her children were small and the lessons both she and they drew from the world around them.”
Creative Nonfiction Editor Rae Pagliarulo raves, “Severe anxiety and agoraphobia shouldn’t be this funny, but I found myself laughing out loud every time I cracked open Sara Benincasa’s Agorafabulous: Dispatches from My Bedroom. Sara takes us to so many different places—to her tiny apartment in Boston, to a spaced-out spiritual retreat in rural Pennsylvania, to a high school deep in the heart of Texas—and yet, our host for all this traveling is a woman who, for much of the opening essay, is not able to leave her own room. This essay collection merged two things I look for most in creative nonfiction, humor and humility. Sara never takes her own struggles too seriously, but she is wise enough to know that the stuff she’s dealing with is very real, and not just for her—for a lot of people. The best part is the prose. Sara is a born storyteller, and her pacing and comedic timing makes this a collection I will happily come back to again and again.”