On a rainy fall day, for a few moments I’m gathering in some recent and ongoing reads. These few titles help refresh my imagination and inspire with their myriad tools of storytelling craft.
This is a season when some bemoan, “All is dismal” in America. We seem inept to prevent the spread of disease, and depending on your viewpoint, surging Islamic fighters and new terrorist threats. Solutions to so many nagging problems seem unreachable. The bipartisan divide continues to grow, the virulent echo chamber deafening as an election nears. So what to do?
Hitting the pause button may help.
Perhaps turn back to that fictional work that’s been enticing you. As my daughter says, spend some time with “creative types” who are questioning, sculpting, remolding, and challenging the status quo.
The “non-creatives” may be running us into the ground.
To that end, I’m currently reading a newly-released nonfiction book, Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s First Bohemians, by Justin Martin. The scene begins in the late 1850s in a basement saloon on Broadway in NYC, where Whitman and an assortment of writers, actors, editors and barflies carve out a space and legacy that is the forerunner to the Beats, and the experimentation of other creatives a century later.
How some of these characters respond to the prolonged bloodletting of the Civil War and Lincoln’s assassination will surely be interesting.
Recently, I fully enjoyed a bit of literary fiction, The Dante Club (Matthew Pearl, 2003), which my wife must have given to me some years back. An elite group of Bostonian literary giants — including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell — find themselves at the center of a series of grisly murders inspired by Dante’s Inferno soon after the Civil War. Anyone who has ever accessed The Divine Comedy and enjoys a spirited thriller would like this.
Over the summer I also read some great fiction. I found Khaled Hosseini’s And The Mountains Echoed (2013) compelling in many ways, yet it fell short of his earlier works, especially The Kite Runner. While the life arcs of a young boy and his younger sister who is given away by her father in Kabul are endearing, I thought the plot strayed too far with some disjointed minor characters.
I felt mesmerized finally reading a novel by one of my favorite authors, the prolific Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna (2009). In part an exploration of how artistic expression intersects with political movements and radical change, Kingsolver brings us on a journey from Mexico in the time of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to America during WWII and J. Edgar Hoover’s reign. Her savory descriptions of the protagonist’s childhood in Mexico, the smells in the kitchen and sounds by the ocean, all will pull you in.
That’s plenty for now. Soon on my list is another book close to my own project — Nurturing Healing Love by Scarlett Lewis (2013), who lost her son Jesse during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in 2012.
What are you reading? What helps you step back now and again?