All in What I'm Reading

Writing to Heal Our Ancestors

I was reading Writing Begins with the Breath by Laraine Herring last month, when a particular section stopped me cold. Chapter 11, to be specific: "Ancestors as Source."

"When I was just beginning my teaching career, I attended a reading given by Joyce Carol Oates. In talking about her writing process, she mentioned the idea of writing to heal one's ancestors. I hadn't thought about writing for that purpose before, but once I heard the phrase, it was obvious to me how true it was. Writing is a way we can rewrite our stories. A way to understand the chaos of our lives and worlds."

Its truth immediately became obvious to me, too. My memoir isn't just about my family's history; it's my vehicle for making sense of their past. And if I can't offer my ancestors healing, I hope to at least learn from their past, and prevent the suffering they experienced--the mental illness, the sex abuse--from rippling through future generations. 

For writers on similar paths, Herring offers several questions: 

How Parenting Became a Full-Time Job

The baby has been teething all week. He wakes up to nurse every two to three hours. I've reached the stage of sleep deprivation where the world feels a little surreal. Like at any moment, a llama could walk by on stilts and serve me coffee from a seashell and I'd say, "Oh. Yes. Thank you." 

Somehow I managed to focus my eyes long enough to read Heather Kirn Lanier's recent essay in the Establishment, "How Parenting Became a Full-Time Job, and Why That's Bad for Women." I'm so glad I did. I related to a lot of what Heather wrote, and it put the politics surrounding motherhood in a brand-new perspective. 

Textbook: An Unconventional Book Review

GEOGRAPHY

I found Textbook by Amy Krouse Rosenthal in the new book section of the library last weekend.  Rosenthal’s first memoir, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, sits on a shelf in my bedroom between the collected letters of John Steinbeck and a Toni Morrison novel.

HISTORY

I read Encyclopedia shortly after I graduated college. I was working two part-time jobs and scribbling in my journal every chance I got.

I hoped that the thread of words would lead me to a better life: a life more like the one I'd envisioned as a child, where I worked as a journalist or an author and wrote meaningful things rather than the weekly bar specials I copy-edited for ten bucks an hour.

Encyclopedia blew my head right open. I hadn’t realized that it was possible to write a book like that. One that felt both subversive and sweet. Unconventional and ordinary. Serious and silly.

Shrill: Lindy West's New Book is Helping Me Find My Voice

I didn't want to like this book.

Maybe it's professional jealousy, or a snobby disregard for online media (Lindy West used to be a staff writer for Jezebel), or likely a combination of the two.  

"She's a good writer," that mean girl in my head sniped as I listened to the audio version of Lindy West's new book, Shrill, "but her work will never withstand the test of time. Those pop culture references will sound dated in ten years and indecipherable in twenty."

By the time I'd gotten half an hour in, Lindy had completely won me over.