“Every poem should remind the reader that they are going to die.”
— Edgar Allan Poe
“Every poem should remind the reader that they are going to die.”
— Edgar Allan Poe
“I just can’t help thinking what a real shake up it would give people if, all of a sudden, there were no new books, new plays, new histories, new poems…”
And how proud would you be when people started dying like flies?” I demanded.
They’d die more like mad dogs, I think–snarling & snapping at each other & biting their own tails.”
I turned to Castle the elder. “Sir, how does a man die when he’s deprived of the consolation of literature?”
In one of two ways,” he said, “putrescence of the heart or atrophy of the nervous system.”
Neither one very pleasant, I expect,” I suggested.
No,” said Castle the elder. “For the love of God, both of you, please keep writing!”
― Kurt Vonnegut Jr.,
“What use is a god with boundless mercy, sir? You mock me as a pagan, yet the gods of my ancestors pronounce clearly their ways and punish severely when we break their laws. Your Christian god of mercy gives men licence to pursue their greed, their lust for land and blood, knowing a few prayers and a little penance will bring forgiveness and blessing.”
― Kazuo Ishiguro,
“It is clear that the books owned the shop rather than the other way about. Everywhere they had run wild and taken possession of their habitat, breeding and multiplying, and clearly lacking any strong hand to keep them down.”
— Agatha Christie (The Clocks)
All The Birds In The Sky is a book that defy’s all possible genres and does so quite successfully. It’s the story of a witch and a tech mogul and the world between them.
The novel opens with a young Patricia in a Doctor Dolittle-esque that consists of a wounded bird, a mean older sister, a cat and a wise old tree. The scene serves as an introductory to Patricia and her abilities as she begins to discover her own uniqueness.
Following this initial glimpse into Patricias life, we are soon introduced to a young tech nerd named Laurence who is quite the savant when it comes to technology. Laurence finds himself being a social outcast at his school, he spends his free time building devices that he finds instructions for on the internet. One of his projects is an Artificial Intelligence program that dwells in a computer in his bedroom.
Inevitably Patricia and Laurence meet and become friends as they go to the same school together. They begin to mature into their respective abilities. This gets the attention of a certain member of a Nameless Order that attempts to interfere with the ultimate destiny of these two. As the children grow, Patricia starts exhibiting the powers she possesses as a young witch while Laurence hones his technological abilities. They help each other get out of trouble when necessary. Interestingly, Patricia and Laurence begin to grow together and apart almost simultaneously as they each have to come to terms with each other.
This attraction and polarization of Patricia and Laurence is done quite well by Anders – it showcased that despite these twos sharp differences, there is something that transcends these that’ll bring them together. Although the book does focus on the relationship between Patricia and Laurence, it does so in a world that is on the verge of complete collapse. Hurricanes are wiping out large portions of the United States while other disasters arise that must be confronted. Can magic and technology come together to help solve these crises instead of warring against one another?
This is perhaps the strength of All The Birds In The Sky as it serves as an allegory for the world that we live. Anders does not make an assertion that one field of thought is better than another, that true strength comes with solidarity rather than war.
★★★★★ ALL THE BIRDS IN THE SKY by Charlie Jane Anders
“The story is told that when Joe was a child his cousins emptied his Christmas stocking and replaced the gifts with horse manure. Joe took one look and bolted for the door, eyes glittering with excitement. ‘Wait, Joe, where are you going? What did ol’ Santa bring you?’ According to the story Joe paused at the door for a piece of rope. ‘Brought me a bran’-new pony but he got away. I’ll catch ’em if I hurry.’ And ever since then it seemed that Joe had been accepting more than his share of hardship as good fortune, and more than his share of shit as a sign of Shetland ponies just around the corner, Thoroughbred stallions just up the road.”
— Ken Kesey (Sometimes a Great Notion)
Nina Riggs is diagnosed with breast cancer – initially considered to be rather benign in nature, the spot of cancer resist’s treatment and progresses into stage four, The Bright Hour is her story.
The book begins when Nina is initially diagnosed with breast cancer and her initial method to cope with it – learn more about it. She remarks that when she tells people that she has breast cancer, many people respond by telling her that they know someone who also had the disease and had survived. The book is broke up in four parts representing each stage of cancer. The first part is rather melancholy in a way. There is optimism that the chemo therapy will take care of the cancer. You get a sense of Nina’s apprehension and hope throughout this section as she tries to deal with her diagnosis and initial treatment with humor and educating herself.
The book continues on with this mixture of hope, humor and heartache as the cancer takes over Nina’s body. Through the book Nina makes numerous literary references to a distant relative, Ralph Waldo Emerson (a quote of his from which the title of the book is derived) and also references to Michel de Montaigne, a french philosopher that Nina admires. Running parallel to Nina’s affliction with cancer is the story of her mother who is also has a fatal disease.
When I began The Bright Hour it wasn’t easy for me to get in to. The first half of the book felt very sporadic and directionless. I went into this memoir not knowing exactly what it was about, aside from a woman who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The further I got into the book, as the cancer progressively got worse the narrative becomes narrower and more focused as Nina begins to use her writing as a way to come to terms with the inevitable.
Almost 8 years ago, my own mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember the apprehension and constant worry surrounding the disease as my mom went through treatment. The uncertainty as to whether the chemo was working. The constant sickness my mom had and, eventually, the slow recovery. I could recall all of this as I read Nina’s story. This memoir really made an impact when it made me consider what would have happened if my mom’s cancer had also resisted treatment and went terminal like Nina’s.
When I got to the section of the book titled Stage Four, it got tough for me to turn each page. I could not help but imagine my own mom in that very place, trying to come to terms with a terminal illness. There was that terrible ‘what if’ thought floating through my mind that I kept super-imposing over Nina’s story. I believe this is why The Bright Hour resonates so well – many people know of someone who have had (or currently has) cancer.
There is no happy ending here. Nina was unable to see her own book published earlier this year. Nina Riggs died at the age of 39 on February 23, 2017. Consider picking this book up.
There are no principles, only events; there are no laws, only circumstances: a superior man espouses events and circumstances the better to influence them. If fixed principles and laws really existed, countries wouldn’t change them as often as we change shirts. One man can’t be expected to show more sense than an entire nation.
— Honore de Balzac, Father Goriot
When Helen Macdonalds father dies unexpectedly on a London street, she is overcome with grief. This is to be expected, however Macdonalds form of coping with this grief is anything by traditional.
Macdonald is a falconer – a person who trains or hunts with birds of prey. As the title of the book suggests, the bird of prey that Macdonald goes out to train is a goshawk. Macdonalds particular goshawk is named Mabel. As Macdonald trains Mabel, she also explores the work of another falconer; T. H. White, a writer most well known for his novels that, published together are called The Once and Future King.
In short, H is for Hawk is quite the complex memoir, despite its numerous topics that center around training a goshawk the overarching theme that runs through this book is how a person dealing with a lot of grief due to loss attempts to deal with it. Mabel becomes Macdonalds tool for handling – or at least distracting her from – the loss of her father.
At times when reading this book I felt that Macdonald had taken on too much between the T. H. White analysis, the falconry and the death of her father. I spent much of the time reading this wondering how Macdonald was going to tie up all of these topics – and after finishing up the book I do wonder if she had.
This is one of those books that becomes easier to like IF you can relate to the type of grief that Macdonald is experiencing. The dark, bleak atmosphere that is set in this memoir can be off=putting if you as a reader don’t have a relateable experience. This is a book that isn’t for everyone, the writing and the story is superb, but liking or disliking the book may largely depend on whether you have the ability to relate to the emotions that Macdonald writes about.
Unlike Just Kids where Smith presents a rather linear story about her life and relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, M Train is much more stream of consciousness – a compilation of recollections of Smith’s life and travels as she recalls them from her favorite seat in her favorite coffee shop. The title of the book could almost be thought of as “Memory Train” as each section Smith takes you with her on a trip into her past.
Her memories in this memoir revolve around person’s, places and things. This is an aspect of this memoir that I found particularly fascinating. Many memoirs tend to focus on interactions with people, pets or places the author has been, however Smith recognizes that objects often hold with them the memories that we associate with them. In M Train one of those objects is a novel by Haruki Murakami that captures Smith’s imagination to the point that it influences her travels.
Admittedly I enjoyed the linear style of Just Kids more than the stream of conscious style found in M Train – the truth is, it feels like I got to know Smith much better in M Train despite this preference. M Train was far more introspective than Just Kids. Smith allows you into her life in M Train, allowing far more emotion than what was provided in her other memoir.
Perhaps the most important thing to know about M Train is the difference in style – especially if you are going into it with the expectation of reading something similar to Just Kids. The stories in M Train are connected, so you will not be entirely deprived, however, of a linear story.
M Train, just like Just Kids are two books that I plan on revisiting in the future. They were both too captivating for just a single read.