Last weekend, I somehow found myself with a new book in one hand, a cup of coffee in the other, and a tantalizingly unscheduled afternoon. I’d had half-hearted intentions of catching up on all the details of family life that get sidelined during the workweek, but in that moment the yellow brick road of my youth beckoned, and with a delighted sigh I answered the call. I was going to read all day long, and no amount of internal guilt over neglected duty or external offspring whining about making their own lunches was going to stop me.
I snuggled myself into a blanket on the couch and surrendered my imagination to an adorably wholesome YA romance. It had been far too long since I’d devoured a book in a single day, and my poor, neglected psyche drank in the unexpected refreshment like a forgotten houseplant being revived under the kitchen faucet.
“What are you reading?” my teenager inquired, sitting down on the couch. I wordlessly showed them the cover.
“Do we have the sequel to Children of Blood and Bone?” Yes, we did, and moments later, they snuggled up to me on the couch and dove into their own book.
Another chapter passed, and I looked up to see my six-year-old. “You guys are reading?”
“Can I read too?” he implored.
“Of course!” I gushed, and he, too, snuggled up on the couch and into his own book.
Looking at them in astonishment, I wondered what just happened? Hadn’t I made a selfish decision to neglect family and household and immerse myself in a book for an entire day? Yet here I was in a picture-perfect, 10-Easy-Steps-To-Raising-A-Book-Lover, mommy-bloggable moment. Well!
Friends, we all know this apotheosis lasted all of five minutes, but it was five minutes of pure ambrosia. The kids quickly found other things to do. Soon I was alone again on the couch, savoring the warmth their presence left behind.
Here are a few of the books your Literary Mama staff have recently enjoyed. Your mileage may vary in luring your offspring to the Garden of Literary Delights, but that’s no reason to keep yourself from reading, now!
“I can’t say exactly what drew me to Margaret Kimball’s And Now I Spill the Family Secrets: An Illustrated Memoir” muses Profiles Editor, Kelsey Madges. “Perhaps it was the striking cover—black leaves on a white background, a name written in white on each leaf—or I may have read about it in one of the bookish newsletters I receive. I’m grateful for whatever it was that brought this graphic memoir to my attention. At its root is a traumatic crisis: on Mother’s Day, in 1988, Kimball’s mother tried to commit suicide. Kimball was four years old at the time. The family did not discuss this incident, ever, and Kimball didn’t even realize what had happened until a phone call from her brother fifteen years later. Kimball writes, ‘Since Ted’s phone call in 2003 I’d circled the subject of my family like a tiger chained to a pole, scratching at our history, wondering what had happened to my mom, and, as a result, to us.’ Kimball’s story is told through the lens of her memory and supported by descriptions of family videos, photos, conversations with family members, and snippets from her childhood diaries. Some of the page layouts are straightforward, others look like annotated scrapbook pages. There’s a lot to uncover in the family history; Kimball’s maternal grandmother lived with mental illness, and her mother and brother live with it now. I was especially impressed by Kimball’s response to her brother’s paranoia, ‘Ted needed to know we loved him, that he could talk about government chips and being targeted and we’d listen. I needed to understand what he was saying.’ She knew that his concerns didn’t make sense, but she also knew how real they were to her brother and offered him the compassion of just being there for him. Kimball takes readers on her journey to understand the pieces of her past. And Now I Spill the Family Secrets is a glimpse into a world both messy and loving, populated by family members doing the best they can. I look forward to reading more from her in the future.”
Reviews Editor Autum Purdy shares: “Recently, I turned the last page of When I Ran Away, an enticing debut novel by Ilona Bannister. I’m sorry Gigi’s story has come to an end, though she’ll be a character who long stays with me. Gigi is a courageous and flawed human, and I was left in awe of her brave choices and selfless acts of love as much as I was her ability to rise from the ashes. The cast of characters in the novel are equally imperfect but intricately drawn, and their hardships and triumphs made for an incredibly relatable and refreshing read. From the first line, the author’s words drew me into the swirl of chaos, love, grief, eviscerating emotions, and shocking moments of Gigi’s life. The ironic backdrop to all the goodness and pain in Gigi’s life is the collapse of the Twin Towers in her native NYC. Gigi’s family of origin endures a devastating loss because of the attacks, and the consequences surrounding that tragic day change Gigi’s path from that point forward. Her family’s circumstances become an endless, fraying thread that ultimately pulls Gigi apart. A decade later, she struggles to overcome the traumatic birth of her second child and living away from family and friends overseas with her husband and two boys, while still grieving when the anniversary of 9/11 comes around. Eventually, all the hardship catches up with her, and the unraveling is graphic and raw. Yet, Gigi’s spiraling was somehow liberating to read about because the author portrays her undoing with such authenticity and tenderness. The impactful way loved ones come to Gigi’s aid is significant and moving. Bannister’s novel is a complex and deeply moving book that uncovers the hard and bitter truths as much as it does the beautiful and profound. When I Ran Away is a novel about one woman so greatly affected by the timing of coincidental circumstances, trying to hold on in the face of complex tragedy to all that she’s struggling to be—a mother, wife, daughter, friend, and colleague—while bearing inside the shattered pieces of her heart and mind, desperately searching for herself in the heap of life. Gigi’s story is a survivor’s tale.”
by Margaret Kimball
Harper One (2021)Buy Book
“The books I don’t finish reading tend to haunt me,” confesses Senior Editor & Poetry Editor, Libby Maxey, “so for this year’s summer road trip listening, I selected Scott O’Dell’s Newbery Medal-winning historical novel Island of the Blue Dolphins. A classic since its publication in 1960, it was assigned to me when I was in third grade, but I found it too disturbing, and only made it through the first half. Karana, a native girl living on an island off California during the 19th century, loses her father in a conflict with fur hunters, then the rest of her people as they sail away to the mainland without her. She stays behind so as not to abandon her little brother, but it’s not long before she loses him, too. At that point, eight-year-old me had had enough. Adult me, on the other hand, was completely absorbed by the episodes that make up the rest of the novel: the unexpected companionship Karana gains by taming one of the island’s wild dogs; the poignance of her brief friendship with a girl who comes to the island with another hunting expedition; the simple pleasure of a new feathered skirt made from cormorants and a pair of earrings made of stones just the right size; the eerie discovery, while canoeing, of a burial cave in which she finds herself trapped when the tide rises. The description of her experiences and perceptions when an earthquake strikes the island are unforgettable. This is not a book that makes you wonder what will happen in the end; rather, O’Dell’s realistic yet artistic narration holds readers very much in the moment with Karana, solving mundane problems related to food and shelter, listening to the natural world undisturbed by human voices, and watching the horizon for sails, with as much fear as hope.”
“Last month, I read the essay collection Like Love by Michelle Morano,” reports Blog Editor Bridget Lillethorup. “Each essay explores the concept of love with indirect precision. Morano details relationships with neighbors, students, friends, and parents, unpacking feelings of lust, appreciation, infatuation, and friendship. Each essay ends with the big question: was that love? The title essay in the collection, ‘Like Love,’ is a perfectly detailed story of Morano meeting a stranger while traveling in Hamburg, Germany. She and the stranger feel an immediate friendship, and spend nearly two days hitting the tourist sights together. Although nothing romantic happens between them, they leave each other emotionally distraught, unable to accept the distance about to be placed between them. Morano discusses how the ‘possibility of love’ can sometimes feel more ‘like love.’ As I finished the essay, my heart was broken by the missed opportunity, but also tingling with the electric charge of attraction and mystery. Morano is a master narrator and travel writer, but this book differs from Grammar Lessons, her previous work, in that it unfold geographies from both her travels and her childhood. Readers are taken on a journey spanning from the boardwalks of New Jersey—where, as teens, she and her friend roamed, hoping to be noticed by boys—to the diner in town where her parents would visit and vie for her attention as she worked. Morano takes experimental leaps in this collection, pushing social boundaries with her reflections on love in a way that feels vulnerable and human. I felt a kinship with each essay in this collection, and recommend her work to anyone who has felt that ‘love’ is too simple a word to describe the range of emotion involved in attraction and interest.”