Now Reading: December 2019
The holidays always make me nostalgic, which puts me in the mood to dig into the classics. If you share that feeling we have two recommendations from Literary Mama staff this month for outstanding books which have stood the test of time and one modern anthology.
It took more than 30 years for the book recommended by Senior Editor and Literary Reflections Editor Andrea Lani to be published, but since it was described by The Guardian as “the finest book ever written on nature and landscape in Britain” you may want to check it out. “While indulging an obsession with the British nature writer Robert Macfarlane a few weeks ago, I came across a slim book whose cover sports rows of green and purple mountains edged in gilt. Macfarlane’s name was there—he wrote the introduction—but the book itself, The Living Mountain, was written by Nan Shepherd in the 1940s, published in the 1970s, and reissued in this lovely edition by Canongate Books this year. Shepherd lived her whole life at the foot of the Cairngorm Mountains in Scotland and wrote this ode to the massif’s peaks and plateaus over a period of four years during World War II. The book is not a typical travelogue covering events in a chronological fashion, but is arranged geomorphologically and ecologically, with the chapters named things like ‘The Plateau,’ ‘The Recesses,’ ‘Water,’ and ‘Life.’ The one titled ‘Senses’ is a masterclass on interacting with, and writing about, the natural world with your whole self, tuning the ear to silence, training the eye to notice variations in light, smell, taste and feelings—reveling in every stimulus the mountain has to offer. The book is a small but powerful life history of this small chain of mountains, told by a frequent visitor to, a careful observer of, and an intimate acquaintance of those peaks and valleys.”
Libby Maxey, Senior Editor and Literary Reflections Editor, read this classic first published in 1937 but still more than relevant as background to today’s social climate. “I first heard about Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God 25 years ago during college visits, when I sat in on an English class discussing the book. Although the discussion was lackluster (and I didn’t go to that college), the book went on my reading list. What kind of novel does a Black woman in the 1930s write about a Black woman maturing through the turn of the century in Florida? The answer: an epic which follows the protagonist, Janie, through three very different marriages as she grows increasingly confident in choosing what she wants. The most meaningful relationship of her life, embraced in her middle years, puts her in the way of dangers far beyond anything that her naïve younger self could have imagined. Reading the Southern dialect, captured as it is spoken, may be both a challenge and a distraction to modern readers, so in that case I recommend the audiobook. There’s as much poetry in Hurston’s dialogue as in her narration, and her narration is beautiful. Consider the first lines of the first two chapters: ‘Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board’; and ‘Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone. Dawn and doom was in the branches.’ If Hurston’s prose makes this a memorable piece of literature, her perspective on race and gender dynamics make this a fascinating piece of history, worth adding to the picture if you’re reading Tayari Jones and Jesmyn Ward.”
On a different track, Profiles Editor Kelsey Madges shares this opportunity to take a look into the lives of solo moms: “Even though I am not parenting solo, I was intrigued when the collection We Got This: Solo Mom Stories of Grit, Heart, and Humor (edited by Marika Lindholm, Cheryl Dumesnil, Domenica Rura and Katherine Shonk) came to my attention. The essays, poems, and quotations included in this anthology represent a broad range of experiences, family situations, and perspectives. One story, ‘I Was the Different One,’ is told from the viewpoint of a young woman who was raised by her mother while her father was in prison. The poem, ‘How to Comfort a Small Child,’ reflects on parenting through a spouse’s deployment. The entries are told by familiar voices such as Amy Poehler, Audre Lorde, and Anne Lamott, as well as by newer voices that I look forward to hearing from again. The experiences on these pages convey the heartbreak, humor, and hope that are woven into so much of mothering, whatever our parenting teams might look like. They reaffirm that none of us, not even those who are mothering solo, are truly alone. We Got This is an excellent reminder to honor all the ways there are to be a mother and have a family.”
Which books have you enjoyed reading over the holidays? Share with us in the comments or tweet us @LiteraryMama. You can also follow us on Instagram @Literary_Mama and Goodreads for more recommendations.