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Books (143 posts)
Every Monday, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This week, we've been knocked to our knees by the delightful illustrated essay collection:
The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds With Common Birds
by Julie Zickefoose
"For as long as I can remember," writes Julie Zickfoose, "I've been fascinated by birds. Some of my earliest memories are of...being dazzled by their colors and sounds." Interestingly enough, you don't have to care all that much about birds to get sucked into her dreamy illustrated stories of bluebirds and phoebes, titmice and ospreys. In delicate, subtle strokes of the pen and brush, she reveals a lifetime of backyard friendships—moments spent observing a bluebird couple or listening to the calls of scarlet tanagers. Along the way, she not only endows each bird with human-like personality traits, enough so to bond you with her feathered companions, but also offers up some thoughtful commentary on our human inner lives, such as what she says while attempting to rescue a family of swallows from a rat snake, "I've never much liked catching large snakes over my head while standing on a ladder. Maybe there's a word for that little cluster of phobias. Stepnophidiophobia works; I just coined it. If what one is frightened of is truly, ridiculously scary, is it fair to call one's fear a phobia?" Zickefoose has spent a lifetime observing this particular corner of the domestic-wild world, and she did not escape these experience without gaining both wisdom and humor—about mates, about our obligation to help others or set them free, about loss and about thankfulness. "What does a bird know about gratitude?" she asks, speaking of sick white-throated sparrow she nursed back to health. "I can only say he followed me singing and, in singing, touched an inarticulate place in my heart."
Mysteries for the thinking reader
Poetry for the hard, dark days.
I know some people with dark senses of humor, so taken out of context I didn't know what to make of this -- a Louis CK-ish one-liner? A cry for help? What was my responsibility toward this person? Could I just close my browser window and pretend it never happened? What if this person actually did kill herself and it was my fault because she'd just been waiting for someone somewhere to respond? On one hand, it was none of my business. On the other, she did post it in a public place. So a few minutes later I messaged her. "Um, are you making a joke? Or, if not, uh, are you okay?"
She wrote back that she was not in fact joking, and her distress was very real. Soon her Facebook page started to populate with affirming messages from friends, urging her to be strong, reminding her of reasons to live. There was a long, wrenching pause in her responses, and then the post disappeared and an "I'm really okay, sorry to scare you" kind of message appeared. And the whole internet went, "Phew."
Anyway, it was this lonely woman I thought of when I heard about Jeff, One Lonely Guy, who posted the flyer, "If anyone wants to talk about anything, call me (347) 469-3173. Jeff, one lonely guy" and, to his surprise, received thousands and thousands of calls. He's now written a book about his experiences and recently spoke to NPR about it. Ragsdale explains that he had just moved to New York and had broken up with his girlfriend and was in a really dark, lonely place. As soon as he posted the flyer, he says he became a kind of confession booth, with tons of people phoning in to help, offer advice, or just tell him their own lonely troubles. He also says that just reaching out, having people reach back, and in particular hearing all their voices (and not just seeing them online) helped him. He started to step back from the dark thoughts. As did, I hope, my Facebook friend. We all have our lonely moments, and it's helpful to remember that there are ways to find people with which to -- in the totally-taken-out-of-context words of EM Forster -- "Only connect."
Here's the whole interview -- listen for Oprah's cameo!
How to Deal With Loneliness
Helping an Isolated Friend
Well, even though I just missed it, I'd like to belatedly celebrate TDYFRTBYKTOYAMTR Day. That's right, the big readers behind the On Our Mind blog over at Scholastic have invented the very catchy TDYFRTBYKTOYAMTR Day, a holiday in late March also known as “The Day You Finally Read That Book, You Know, The One You’ve Always Meant to Read” Day. We all have weird gaps in our reading, so why not make a point of picking up that book you've always meant to get to?
Some of their picks include The Secret Garden, Moby Dick, and The Help. I'm going to go ahead and order my copy of The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. What about you? What's your Book You've Always Meant to Read? Let us know in the comments!
Every Monday, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This week, we've been knocked to our knees by the dazzling inventive novel:
By Heidi Julavits
"This is not just a story about how you can become sick by knowing people. This is a story about how other people can become sick by knowing you," says Julie Severn, the young narrator of Heidi Julavits's new novel—one in which paranormal powers are taken as (somewhat) normal. The action starts at birthday party for Julia Severn's colllege teacher, a powerful, successful psychic named Madame Ackermann who attacks Julie with a wolf-like ball of energy that leaves her with crippling headaches, insomnia and a variety of other ills that cause her to drop out of school. But when she seeks refuge in a gorgeously imagined nursing home for victims of paranormal attacks and women recovering from plastic surgery (a brilliant parallel by Julavits—both types of patients have holes in their souls), Juile begins to wonder just who is attacking whom. A parade of mysterious characters enter and exit, including an aging paparazzi photographer, a disfigured cosmetic heiress and a ruthless, possibly deranged video artist. The many characters can, at times, bog down the story. All is saved, however by the magnetic power of the author's voice (Can words have charisma? Hers do). It keeps you spellbound, moving across the globe and time, at last weaving the final strands of the plot into an unexpected, insightful finale—one that owes much to regular old life in the present tense. This a fantasical world, yes, but one that's so relevant and moving because it has a point for us all. Psychics in The Vanishers don't predict the future; they regress into the past and often misunderstand what they see. Why? Because that's where the damage lies, and also the answers, providing that the psychic in question uses one other power—self-awareness.
The one memoir O mag editors can't put down!
Longing for adventure? Read one.
Every Monday, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This week, we've been riveted by the subtle, compelling novel:
by Peter Cameron
In the standard domestic drama, a poor lonely girl comes to work for a rich lonely man, and the two fall in love, a la Jane Eyre. The thought-provoking Coral Glynn begins in just this way. It's right after World War, and Coral comes to nurse the dying mother of Major Clement Hart—an Englishman whose leg and confidence have been badly damaged on the battlefield. The Major quickly falls in love with Coral, and the two decide to get married, until a gruesome murder in the neighboring woods sends Coral fleeing back to London. For a few pages, it seems as if this book may turn into a Gothic thriller: how will the two reunite and who exactly is the killer? But Peter Cameron is so much more of skilled and subtle writer than this. Underneath his page-turning plot is a careful, complex examination of loss—and the human ability to fully experience love after too much loss. Coral has suffered all kinds of quiet, devastating violence in her own life—the unspoken kind that's either ignored or simply expected when it comes to working-class woman, post-war or not. It's her emotional life that becomes the real mystery of the novel. Coral can't engage with others, even as they become entranced, if not bewitched, by her. She tries to connect, of course, and at strange, unexpected times, longs for more, such as when she enters a florist shop and is overwhelmed by the beauty of the flowers, feeling "in some way that ll the life and warmth of the cold, drab town, of her life, had collected in this room—that she was in the hot golden center of the world." Here is the pleasure of the novel—albeit a painful one. In bringing Coral to life, Cameron knows what not to say, how to leave the kind of tiny, white space that lets us readers imagine the huge, colorful, overwhelming world of even the most broken human heart.
What not to say in book club this month
18 new reads for spring.
Hello there, Friday! It's time to write in our gratitude journal. This week we're thankful for...
A musical performance that's almost a dance in itself
Lessons we can learn from literary friendships
How a spam email spawned international friendships
At last: Permission not to finish a book
Every Monday, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This week, we've been riveted by the courageous memoir:
By the Iowa Sea
by Joe Blair
Some memoirs you read for the feelings they inspire, and some you read to find out how in the heck they'll turn out. By the Iowa Sea manages to do both with an understanding of so-called ordinary life so raw and true you'll gasp, and a situation so pressing you'll tear through the pages. The book begins just as the Iowa River is rising (it's soon to overflow onto the small town of Oxford). Alongside this natural disaster, however, is a family crisis—Blair own doubts about his marriage and life. Fifteen years earlier, he and his wife Debra had arrived, dreaming of lives filled with globetrotting and adventure. Now he works as cooling technician; Debra is a paramedic; and they are spend long, brutal days raising their four kids, one of which has autism. What he longs for is freedom, yes, and youth, yes, but also "a passionate type of love. A fearful love. A hungry love. Jealous and violent." As the couple sandbag and change diapers and try to save their relationship (warning to the reader: their intimacies are described in exceptionally intimate detail), Blair reflects on his past, even as he takes risky, even self-destructive steps to alter his future. Some of the most moving, honest scenes are between him and his autistic son Michael, but it's the writer's unflinching reflection about himself and his choices, that make this book. "I had glimpses of the kind of man I should be," he writes. "Such are the reflections we are afforded. Passing glimpses, like small hidden ponds you pass by on your motorcycle while driving on a road you've never traveled before, a pine forest suddenly opening up and then closing again."
Jodi Picoult's rules for life
18 fresh fun reads for March
Every Monday, we'll be letting you know about new releases the editors at O and Oprah.com couldn't stop reading. This week, we've been haunted by the powerful, spare memoir:
by Sarah Manguso
This slim and swift-moving book is subtitled as "an elegy" rather than a memoir." And in many ways it is one—written in memory of Harris, a close friend of the author, who ended his life in 2008 after escaping from a psychiatric hospital and throwing himself in front of a train. Interestingly enough, we don't learn that much about Harris, save for his genius for math, music, and soul-splitting jokes. For ten-odd pages, you may think the book is, instead, about the author and her own brush with insanity and mortality. That is, until you realize that what the book is really about is grief—not describing grief, not explaining it, but feeling it, from the anger to embarrassment to the searing ache. "Nobody understands how I feel," we often think (mistakenly) in times of loss. But Manguso not only understands, she can articulate it in the precisest and most unexpected of images—an unrelated car accident, a bowl of Italian candies, a swim in the ocean. What results is a memoir that reveals not the just intimacies of the writer's life, but of your own. Most moving is that The Guardians covers a subject so rarely recognized in our society, the grief from the death of a friend, (another notable exception: Let's Take The Long Way Home). "It doesn't sound like much when I say my friend died. He wasn't my father or my son or my husband," writes Manguso. "Yet there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother, says an Old Testament proverb."
18 books to read this March
New books for nature lovers
Veronika Decides To Die By Paulo Coelho. I love Coelho because he asks important questions, like "What would I do today if I knew I'd be hit by a bus tomorrow?" This novel, the Brazilian author's 15th book, is about a woman who tries to kill herself, only to end up in a mental hospital where a doctor tells her she has just a few days to live. But then she falls in love with a fellow patient, and together they choose life. "Veronika gave me chills because it shows the power of the mind," Akerman says.
See the full list of Books That Made A Difference To Malin Ackerman.
Books that made a difference to James Franco
15 New Yorkers' favorite books
Books that made a difference to Julia Roberts
Men! What are they thinking? We can't always answer that, but we'll be posting our favorite glimpses into their world in this space every Thursday.
* The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore won an Oscar® on Sunday, and you can watch the whole charming video above. (YouTube)
* "From the age of 3 to the age of 23, Brian Spitulnik was sure of one thing: he wanted to be a Broadway dancer. When he was 24, he was cast in the long-running revival of Chicago." Find out what it's like to be a guy who wears black mesh in front of thousands of people in the Chorus Boy Chronicles. (McSweeney's)
* How great is this photo of Joe Namath in a fur coat at a 1973 Jets game? (The Lively Morgue)
* "Davy Jones was unfailingly gracious to his fans, delighted by the longevity of his career and grateful for the life it gave him."—Kerry Nolan in her lovely remembrance of the Monkees member and former teen idol who passed away this week at the age of 66. What's your favorite Monkee's song? (WNYC)