Summer Reading

photo by Maureen Didde
photo by Maureen Didde

I was thinking this week about all the books I’ve read over the course of writing The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures. Some I read primarily for research, others to immerse myself in the genre of personal narrative and memoir. I wouldn’t say all of these are suitable beach reads—some are what my friend Marie would call kind of “intense.” (Marie calls lots of things intense, including certain movies and giving birth.) Nonetheless, here, in no particular order, are some selections from my Saltwater reading list.

The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, Jonathan Gottschall

From the dust jacket:

Humans live in landscapes of make believe. We spin fantasies. We devour novels, films, and plays. Even sporting events and criminal trials unfold as narratives… Storytelling has evolved, like other behaviors, to ensure our survival.

“The Little Mermaid,” Hans Christian Andersen

Far out in the ocean, where the water is as blue as the prettiest cornflower, and as clear as crystal, it is very, very deep; so deep, indeed, that no cable could fathom it: many church steeples, piled one upon another, would not reach from the ground beneath to the surface of the water above.

If you haven’t read this, you really should. It’s a perfect, creepy and utterly disturbing and magical fairy tale that has been analyzed and dissected in fascinating ways by feminists and other smarty pants scholars.

Lonely: A Memoir, Emily White

The feelings of isolation that accompany loneliness are entirely different from the more sated and creative feelings that accompany solitude, and it’s entirely reasonable to feel lonely and yet still feel as though you need some time to yourself.

A thoughtful investigation into a hard to quantify and describe state.

The Book of Deadly Animals, Gordon Grice

In which I learned this word: anthropophagy—the eating of humans and in which the author discusses humans’ peculiar belief that we have a special place at the top of the food chain. (We really don’t.) We are, however, far more proficient at killing human beings than any other animal on the planet. Continue reading Summer Reading

early Valentine

Winter chicago snowy streetI can’t help it, sometimes I’m susceptible to a little bit of magical thinking. Supposedly, this isn’t a bad thing. It’s not unusual, at any rate. Human beings are wired to see patterns, connections, to create narrative and ritual out of the raw material of our lives. We can’t help but seek meaning. In fact, a neuropsychologist in Zurich has actually linked a lack of magical ideation to a reduced capacity to experience pleasure. People who don’t exhibit any signs of magical thinking are more likely to be depressed. So, a little magic in the heart of a Chicago winter may not be a terrible thing. It’s cold, it’s dark, the holiday hullabaloo is a distant memory, and all that remains are slushy, grey streets and long, long nights. The twinkly lights have been put away and those of us in the northern hemisphere are in for thirty-one of the coldest days and longest nights of the year. The world is crying loss, loss, loss. At least, that seems to be my January lot: loss. Jobs, relationships, pets – for two years running, January has appeared determined to kick my ass. (I know it’s February now. Believe me, I’ve been counting the days.)

This past weekend I was having one of those moments when you simply cannot take any more. I was scoured out by worry and sorrow, bone-weary and trying to get out the door to meet a friend – and I couldn’t find my cell phone. As a consequence, I was walking around my apartment yelling, “It’s not fair!” (My poor neighbors – I hate to think what they overhear. I sing to the dog to get him psyched for dinnertime or walktime – never mind the fact that, being a dog, he’s already pretty psyched about those things; I howl like a banshee because the world is not going according to my plan.) Anyway, there I was, desperately seeking my cell phone, when I heard music mysteriously coming from the bedroom. Continue reading early Valentine