it’s time for another book list!

Every December, I go over my favorite reads of the year and then buy those books for my friends & family. Sometimes everyone gets the same book (last year, I bought five copies of Louise Erdrich’s LaRose). Sometimes I tailor it to what I think each person will love. Of course, some people on my list don’t like to read. So I buy them chocolate as a consolation.

Here are three of the most compelling books I read this year—the ones I’ll be pushing into the hands of my reading loved-ones this year:

The Overstory by Richard Powers: A book that will turn even the mildest of nature admirers into full-blown tree huggers. Powers interweaves short story-esque chapters to unfold a powerful narrative where trees feel like the main characters. I loved everything about it. If you’re a person swayed by accolades, it also won the Pulitzer Prize (not that that’s always a clincher—Less won last year, which seemed like a strange choice).

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro:  I’m pretty sure this is Shapiro’s, like, 5th memoir—most of which center around her beloved father, whose identity comes up for question in this latest book. She’s got an incredible talent for dramatic storytelling. I couldn’t put it down.

Another Brooklyn by Jaqueline Woodson: She’s actually got a newer book out this year, Red at the Bone, which I liked, but not as well as Another Brooklyn. At under 200 pages, it’s incredibly short, so it’s perfect for people will no time to read (I’m giving it to my sister busy with grad school). A story about a girl looking back on her childhood in Brooklyn—the different trajectories her close friends took and her yearning for her lost mother. Her words are like beautiful knives that will cut you on the page. If you’re into that kind of thing. But who isn’t?

And because I can never limit myself when making book lists, here are some others I absolutely LOVED this year:

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (Always read anything by Patchett. Always.)

Outline by Rachel Cusk (A writer’s writer.)

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham (A feminist/philosophical/underrated classic)

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë (How have I only now come to know what a powerful writer Anne was?)

Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo (Middle grade but I loved it WAY more than my kids. I’m a bit of a DiCamillo groupie.)

Pure Land: A True Story of Three Lives, Three Cultures, And the Search for Heaven on Earth by Annette McGivney (Without question the best non-fiction book I read this year. Well-researched, compassionate, heartbreaking.)

What were your favorite books read in 2019? Please comment & let me know! I’m always looking to stock my TBR list for next year…

Daycare is My Superpower

Lauren Groff’s new story collection, Florida, is a finalist for the Kirkus Prize in Fiction. Good for her. It was an excellent book (though her favorite of mine remains Arcadia). There was a delightful clip of an interview she gave to the Harvard Gazette when her new book came out that made its way around the internet, where she was asked to “talk about [her] process and how [she] manage[d] work and family?”

Groff responded: “I understand that this is a question of vital importance to many people, particularly to other mothers who are artists trying to get their work done, and know that I feel for everyone in the struggle. But until I see a male writer asked this question, I’m going to respectfully decline to answer it.”

Interview answers do not get more badass than this.

But still, inquiring minds want to know.

Fortunately for us, and maybe because she wasn’t asked directly, Groff does more or less answer the question in an interview for Poets & Writers Magazine (July/August 2018 Issue), which struck a profound chord in me and which you should rush out to buy and read. Alas, the article is available in print only.

Groff asserts that “American parenting remains a sexist enterprise.” As as a parent myself, I agree with her. But while we tend to assume that women will do the heavy lifting of parenting, we also tend to assume that writing isn’t “real” work.

No one would think to ask a female dentist: How did you manage to extract so many teeth this year AND have three kids at home? The answer is obvious: Someone else was watching her kids.

And (spoiler alert) that’s basically what Groff says in the P&W article: someone else–her husband–is acting as the primary parent. If you want to be a professional–to pull teeth or write novels (and aren’t the two things often one and the same?)–then you’re going to have to get someone to watch your kids. That’s it. That’s the secret.

That was the mystery I was so desperate to crack back when I was in a low-residency MFA program, staying home with a three-year-old and a one-year-old and finding it extremely difficult to get any writing done. Then, one day in the car, I heard an interview with Myla Goldberg on The Diane Rehm show (Does anyone else desperately miss Diane Rehm?). Diane asked her this very same question: With two young children at home, how do you do it? How do you write?

I leaned in, hungry for the secret.

“Well,” Goldberg said, “my oldest is in school and my three-year-old is in daycare. That’s how I do it.”

It seemed a very anti-climactic answer. And it blew my mind in the best way.

I eventually found a sitter for my kids a few days a week and got through grad school.

The secret isn’t staying up late or waking up early or writing with your toddlers in your lap, as well-intentioned people often tell me Toni Morrison did (though one of my mentors who knows her personally says this is a myth. That Toni Morrison lived with her mother and her mother watched her children while she wrote.) The answer is the same for writers as it is for dentists or Walmart employees. The mystery to getting so many customers through the check out line is simple: you don’t bring your babies to work with you.

The answer, in other words, is daycare. A stay-at-home husband. A Toni-Morrison-style live-in grandma. You are then able to, in the words of Seth Godin, put on your smock and get to work like a professional.

 

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