There's this phenomena that readers experience when trying to choose what to read next. Should you go with something from the new book shelf? Or something that you wanted to read in the past but haven't gotten to? That book your neighbor loved and told you about when you saw each other at the mailbox? Or something from the stack of books you actually own but haven't cracked open yet?
It's a struggle.
A struggle that always gets harder because new books are always on the horizon! To keep track, here's my list of upcoming new releases (and a few that are already out but my library doesn't have yet) I'm adding to my already-complicated process of choosing my next book.
The Bones of Paradise by Jonis Agee. I'm not particularly fond of classic westerns but I do love a good historical about the American West. To me, the point of a western is the cowboys+Indians motif, whereas the point of an historical novel is to explore characters, the time period, the morality of choices made by real human beings (not stereotypes). Pioneers, ranchers, explorers, Native Americans, even some cowboys here and there, made into a story with good writing: I love those. The Bones of Paradise is set in Nebraska just after the Battle at Wounded Knee, and is a multi-generational novel about friendship which happens to be set on the prairie. Aug 2.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett. I've only ever read State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (I KNOW. She totally seems like one of those writers I would've read everything she's ever written!) I loved it, so I'm anxious to read this one—a tale of family and divorce and remarriage—to see if I just liked that book or of I actually really like Anne Patchett. (The second book you read by an author whose first book you loved is perhaps more important to your reading relationship that the first one is, don't you think?) Sept 13.
Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood.The Tempest retold...by Margaret Atwood! What more can I say? The Tempest isn't my favorite Shakespeare, but I like it quite a bit and, well: Atwood. Oct 11.
Here I Am by Jonathan Saffron Foer. Actually I'm not 100% on this one, partly because I'm not sure I can read a novel based roughly on the story of Abraham and Isaac, which is a point of contention between the bible and me. But I loved Everything is Illuminated so very much that I will likely try this one just based on the strength of that one. Sept 6.
Leave Me by Gayle Forman.This is Forman's first adult novel, after several YAs that I loved. The main character, Maribeth, has a heart attack, and when her recuperation seems to, you know, put out her husband and kids, she decides to leave for awhile. Who hasn't fantasized about escaping for awhile, just to figure out who you are outside of wife and mother? (Wait...I really hope it's not just me.) Sept 6.
Leaving Lucy Pear by Anna Solomon. Bea, a young Jewish girl in WWI Massachusetts, leaves her newborn baby under a pear tree, so she can go off to pursue her musical ambitions. The baby is picked up by an Irish Catholic woman, Emma, who raises the girl. When Bea returns, decisions must be made. (I confess: I sort of want to read this just because "Lucy Pear" is such a great character name.) July 26.
Little Nothing by Maria Silva. A novel about a woman who was born a dwarf early in the 20th century in a small European village. Somewhere along the years of her life, with all the treatments her gypsy parents can find, she picks up the talent of transforming her surroundings. I am intrigued! Sept 13.
The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver. Set about 15 years in the future, this novel predicts an American apocalypse caused by financial ruin. I have yet to read Lionel Shriver, even though everyone who's ever read her tells me I should. I think this book will be The Shriver for Amy to Read! July 21.
Mischlingby Affinity Konar. If I ever write a book, I might publish it under a pseudonym. The name I have in mind is so less-boring than my own, and related to my family history and my individual quirks, and has the added bonus of not being burdened by my wish that I hadn't changed my name when I got married. Which has absolutely nothing to do with this book, except for "Affinity Konar" sounds like a pseudonym. (A really awesome one.) No, this novel is about a set of twin sisters during WWII, who are captured and taken to something called Mengele's Zoo, which feels like something I have read about but forgotten. WWII novels are endlessly fascinating to me. I hope this one is as good as I want it to be. Sept 6.
The Mothers by Brit Bennett. A 17-year-old girl gets pregnant with the local pastor's son's child, and her decisions affect her community in surprising ways. I am drawn to adoption narratives (when they are well done, which is surprisingly not-very-often; it is too easy to make the birth mother either a martyr or a monster), which this seems like it might be. Plus it's getting plenty o' buzz on the Internets. Oct 11.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles. Her Enemy Women is such a good book about the Civil War. This one is in the aftermath of that same war, when an itinerant man agrees to help a young Kiowa back to her tribe. Oct 4.
Night of the Animals by Bill Broun. In post-apocalyptic London, a homeless man sets out to release the animals in the London zoo. July 5.
The Risen by Ron Rash.I've only read one other book by Rash, The Cove, but I continue to think about it, so I feel like I am a Ron Rash Fan-in-the-Making. He does small-town messiness so well. This one is about two brothers in North Carolina, and an intriguing girl. Sept 6.
Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler. What? Anne Tyler retelling Shakespeare? Anne Tyler retelling The Taming of the Shrew? Yes, please. This is part of a series, Hogarth Shakespeare, wherein contemporary authors retell Shakespeare. Jeanette Winters wrote one, and that one up there by Margaret Atwood is also in the series, and I want to read them all! June 21 (Should I wait for the library's copy? Or buy the one I saw at Costco last week?)
The Wonder by Emma Donoghue. I feel fairly neutral about Donoghue's ultra-popular Room. But her book Kissing the Witch is one of my all-time favorite fairy tale reimaginings (for grown ups) and it makes me want to read everything by her. This is set in a small town in Ireland. You had me at Ireland, Emma Donoghue. Sept 20.
Have I missed any upcoming releases you're excited to read?
When I was in Europe in June, Haley and I visited four cities: London, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Paris. "Which was your favorite?" people asked me once I got home, and even though I loved and adored Amsterdam, I'm not sure I could have loved and adored anywhere else more than London.
In fact, when I arrived in London, just as we walked off the plane, before I had actually seen any part of London save a white cement hall in the Heathrow Airport, I started crying. Haley was all sorts of embarrassed and requested that I just please chill.
But I couldn't.
Because for this English Geek, London is a sort of mecca. Don't get me wrong: the pull of London (or even England in general) has absolutely nothing to do with the royal family. I don't care a whit how many babies Kate has or what dress she wore three hours after giving birth. I'm not obsessed with British royalty in the least. (Although we did walk to Buckingham Palace. When in London...)
No, for me, the pull of London has everything to do with history and books.
I hail from a line of people who lived in London (sure...during the 17th and 18th centuries, but still).
I am fascinated by British history, especially the ancient, pre-Roman part and the stories of the wives of Henry VIII.
How many novels set in London have I read?
How many poets and writers who have influenced me (as a writer and a reader and a human being) have lived in London?
Arriving in London felt to me nearly as magical as arriving in Narnia or Middle Earth might. A place I have imagined and wanted to see but wasn't sure how to get to. Well, OK, London is a little less magical than a made-up place, but look: C. S. Lewis and Tolkien both were British.
Loving London (and England) is part, for me, of being a lover of books and literature and so is fairly inherent part of my identity.
(The statues in the courtyard outside Buckingham Palace.)
When Haley and I came out of the Underground at St. Pancras station (which is right across from Kings Cross Station where, you know, platform 9 3/4 is) it was pouring. And I had forgotten my umbrella! So I was pulling my suitcase and carrying my bag and holding my cell phone so I could follow the Google Maps directions (I could not have managed this trip without Google Maps!) and getting soaked. So at the second shop I saw that had umbrellas (the first one had some for £50), I tucked into and bought one.
Looking back a month later, the memories of my first foray into London are so sharp. The rain, and trying to find a way to balance everything, and how odd it felt to look right-left-right before we crossed a road. The undeniably British feel of the buildings. The bubbling up of excitement: I was in London.
After we found our hotel—we stayed at the Swinton Hotel, which felt dowdy and comfortable in a British way, like the sort of place the Fossil sisters would stay—we headed round the corner to a tiny...I don't think it was a pub, but it wasn't a restaurant. A cafe? It was called Nivens, and they made us breakfast, and I still was pinching myself (and Haley was still telling me to chill!)
(Walking by the Thames. I sort of have A Thing for Walking by European Rivers.)
That was the beginning of our London adventure. Here's a list of the things we managed to cram into our two days:
The British Museum
The National Gallery
Walk through Trafalgar Square
Walk down Charing Cross Road (because books)
Buy a used copy of something from a book store on Charing Cross Road
Visit Liberty of London and buy some fabric
Sightsee: The London Eye, Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Tower of London (These were places we walked past but didn't have time to go inside of)
Eat: Fish & chips (Haley had both, I just had the chips)
The British Library (quite possibly my favorite place in London)
St. Paul's Cathedral (Although, alas, we got there after it was closing, so I only got to do a quick walk through)
Shop at the Top Shop (Haley spotted this and wanted to stop, I'm definitely not cool enough to know this is a Thing)
Find the original place where the Globe Theater used to be (one bit of the circle can be seen in a parking lot between two apartment buildings
Visit the rebuilt Globe Theater
Cross as many bridges as possible (we did Tower, Southwark, Millennium, Westminster, and Golden Jubilee)
The list of things we didn't do is fairly long, obviously; I am saddest about not being able to tour St. Paul's or enter the Tate Modern. We got a late start on our second day—we got up and ate breakfast, but when we got back to our room we all crashed—and I didn't time things quite right (I should have left Haley shopping at the Top Shop while I went into St. Paul's because churches weren't her thing). But I think we fit in almost everything we could in the time we had.
(I will write more detailed posts about several of my London experiences.)
(The Tower Bridge in the background.)
Two days in London was definitely not enough for this English Geek. It was just enough to give me a taste and to let me know that I need to plan another trip, my fabled one: a grand tour of the British Isles, with hiking and museuming and architecture gazing and castle exploring and maybe even driving on the left side of the road.
In a book I just finished, The Spellbook of Listen Taylor, there is a spell for making two happy people have an argument about absolutely nothing:
Do twenty jumping jacks.
Write a list of everything that makes you sad.
Put the list at the bottom of a box of Kleenex.
I don’t want anyone to have an argument over nothing, but I did feel compelled to write my list of Things that Make Me Sad (right now) (even though “sad” isn’t quite the right word to capture what I have been feeling).
In my head, I keep going back and back through time, trying to find the month or the year or the day I didn’t have this underlying sense of doom or anxiety. I think it started way back with Kendell’s first surgery, when he had his hips replaced. I have done much work and had many happy days since then, but still: I don’t think I’ve ever stopped worrying, that he wouldn’t make it through the surgery, and then that his post-op complications would never get better, and then that he would still be in pain. There was a tiny little respite, maybe, for about 8 or 9 months, when he was fully recuperated from the surgery, starting to exercise regularly, and really feeling like life could be normal. Then we found out about his heart and he had his first heart surgery. My clearest memory of that day was when his heart surgeon called me from the operating room and said “we just put him on bypass.” It was so surreal, knowing I was sitting at my house (his surgery was at a hospital just a half mile away from our house), curled up on our bed waiting, and his heart wasn’t, at that very moment, beating at all.
He recuperated from that surgery, and then 18 months later had his gall bladder removed.
And then a few weeks after that, we found out that Kaleb also has a bicuspid aortic valve.
And then we found out, a year later, that he has a bulge on his aorta.
And then Kendell’s dad died.
And then, a year later, my dad died.
And then, the next year, Kendell’s mom died.
And then my mom was under strict orders not to die, which she didn’t, but she did have an incredibly difficult back surgery and a long recovery that was muddled with family tensions and long-buried resentments.
Then, last summer, we found out Kendell had to have his valve replaced again.
And then in April he almost died. He should, but all logic and statistics and medical understanding, have died.
Mix in what for me has been the hardest part of parenting—raising teenagers. I love my kids and I am proud of them; they are good kids trying to find their way in the world, but it has still been hard. I have some mom friends who have loved this part, but for me it has been anguish, and feeling guilty over the anguish makes the anguish even worse. Add in the feeling that my extended family (my mom and sisters and nieces and nephews) is fracturing. There have been so many heartaches in my kids’ lives, friends and girlfriends and boyfriends who have betrayed them, mistakes and disappointments and the ongoing struggles of modern adolescence. And all of the every day sort of worries and troubles, car wrecks, stitches, bike collisions, broken bones, sprained ankles and twisted knees and smashed fingers.
Plus my back has hurt for 92% of those years.
I just feel like asking the universe for a break. But apparently the universe is not done with me. Because at first I started writing my List of Things that Make Me Sad (right now) right in the book, until I decided it was just too grisly and depressing.
But if I am honest, I can say: I’m in a bad place right now. So, as to avoid causing anyone to have an argument over absolutely nothing, I’m going to write my list on my blog instead. There will be no jumping jacks or bottoms of Kleenex boxes. But maybe if I write it down, it will remind the universe: Amy has had enough. Amy is at her breaking point. Please, give Amy a break. (Because…Amy is writing in third person!)
There is some unexpected medical fallout from Kendell’s cardiac arrest. I feel entirely alone and unable to know even where to start dealing with this, as he doesn’t really see it, only I do. (I am being vague because I am not yet ready to hold it up to the light.)
Kaleb had his annual heart check up in June and it did not go well. This is another thing I just really, really can’t even look at yet. Living in constant fear that your husband could die is one thing. It’s entirely another thing with your child.
You know that feeling when something happens that lets you see clearly that a relationship you thought you could trust is actually fairly untrustworthy? Like when you caught your best friend in high school making out with your boyfriend. That feeling, except with adult friendships it’s less about the boy (actually, there is no boy involved) and mostly about realizing you trusted and loved where you shouldn’t have. That happened to me this past weekend, with a friendship I have relied upon for years, and I don’t really know how to change my life to adapt to it. I do know this: the brushing-off of a friendship in whatever form of betrayal it occurs is always, whether you’re 13 or 43, an ugly feeling, one that is based surprisingly on shame and embarrassment. I’m embarrassed to have thought for so long that I actually mattered to this person. (This time I’m being vague only to protect the not-really-innocent-but-whatever.)
Speaking of relationships. Another fairly important one in my life I am realizing will likely never be how I had hoped it would be. There is still goodness and connection there, but different than I had hoped. I need to make peace with the reality of this relationship rather than the wishes I had had for it. I just don’t know how. (Vague because…I love this person so much and would never want to burn any bridges.)
Recent decisions of various people have left me feeling like I have failed myself, my family, and God. How do you make peace with failing God? He gave me one job. And sure, everyone will tell me it’s not my fault and people make choices. But all that means is that I failed at teaching how to make good choices. I failed.
When we were in Paris, Haley’s cell phone and all of her credit cards were stolen. It’s been kind of a nightmare getting everything functional again. We mailed her a new phone…and it is stuck in the customs office in Madrid. After much research I still can’t figure out how to get it out. The replacement credit card she was sent is an emergency card, which doesn’t have a chip, so it doesn’t work at most of the places she needs it to work. She’s got two weeks left and needs cash and the phone needs to get to her before she comes home and I just am so tired of worrying about this. (I actually just googled air flights to Madrid. So I could, you know. Fly to Madrid, fetch that *#&%*+!~# cell phone, and then just hang around in Madrid for a week. That actually might be the perfect answer. Who’s coming with me?)
Or, to sum up: continuing medical troubles; terror at my child’s heart; betrayal; an emotion I don’t have a word for which is equal parts grief, regret, yearning, and self-loathing; failing God; and a kid without a cell phone or money in a foreign country.
And I know: this blog post is a great big pity party. It’s dark and sad and whiny; it fails to remember that during the years since Kendell’s first surgery, there have been a lot of good things, too. Vacations and high school graduations and birthday parties and holidays and delicious meals, running and hiking and learning and growing. I am stronger than I was when this started. My kids are all alive and in one piece and moving forward.
But oh, dear Universe. I need a little pause. A small one, but a real one. A moment when nothing is weighing on my heart. And maybe that isn’t possible, maybe a heavy, troubled heart is the universal condition of adulthood. Maybe I am asking for too much.
But still, I am asking. I need light. I need to not feel despair. I need to, for just a little while, feel like I did something right. Anything.
I’m not sure that is possible. But I need it, if it is. We all of us, in my family, need it.
I’ve been home from Europe for a week now. The jet lag is finally worn off; I am down to waking up only two or three times a night wondering how I fell asleep in my hotel room with the door open and panicked because certainly someone’s stolen my suitcase and don’t I need to catch a train? I’ve made a cursory pass through my photographs and I’ve sorted out my souvenirs (mostly post cards of my favorite paintings from the many museums we went to) and put away all of my travel gear—except for my suitcase which is still by my bedroom door.
(Maybe I should put it away and then I could sleep through the night.)
(Outside the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. Yes, I totally wore trail runners and skirts.)
People keep asking me how the trip went, and I have to be honest: I have some conflicted feelings about it. There were some really, really good moments: when Haley and I first saw our hotel room in London, and it felt like the very best kind of shabby British establishment. Braiding Haley’s hair for her before we left for the day, and the next day when I tried to fishtail it and it was a big fat mess. Eating fish & chips (for Haley) and chips (for me) in our room on the second night, thoroughly exhausted from all our walking. The moment it stopped raining and the sun came out in London. Walking across so many bridges. Belgian waffles (more than one!) in Brussels, shopping for souvenirs in little shops, a cruise of the river Seine, a meal in the late Paris twilight. There were tears of many sorts, and wet shoes, many wrong turns and not a few wrong buses. There were three distinct miracles—four, really—and one near disaster.
I learned many things, about myself and about Haley and about our relationship. I learned how to get around on a metro. I learned I don’t only get anxious about missing air plans, but about missing trains, too. I learned there are bathrooms that are dirtier than the filthiest Ragnar honeybucket. I learned that the keyboard on French computers are different from English ones, and then I laughed to realize I’d never thought about keyboards in other languages. I learned that even with wrong turns, stops closed because of construction, and a language barrier, I can figure out how to get around in an unfamiliar city. I learned I can survive for quite a while without eating anything much at all. I learned you should always bring a back-up credit card, photograph your passport, and print your boarding passes from home.
I learned I am quite the museum crier.
The museums! The art. That was my favorite part. Not seeing a painting in a book, or a print on someone’s wall, but the real, actual painting touched by the person who created it: that is, to me, an amazing thing. It’s sort of a time travel mechanism; the artist is gone but his (usually!) art is still here, a way to sort of experience the artist, except in some sense you know more about his (or, rarely, her) life than he did. I adored visiting the museums.
But it was hard to be the tour guide. It’s different to experience a city in real life, as opposed to plotting out your route on Google maps. Well, obviously, and of course I knew that, but I felt overwhelmed the entire time, and like I had to hide my overwhelmed feeling so the trip could feel smooth for my traveling companions. I had a moment at Heathrow, when we’d gotten our luggage and it was real: I had to get us from the airport to our hotel, which was luckily a straight trip from Heathrow to St. Pancras station on the tube. I wasn’t ready for transferring trains yet. I almost panicked right there, but then I took a deep breath, tried to remember what I learned from all the guide books I read, and followed the signs to the Tube station. Our Oyster cards worked, we could only go one way on the train, and we made it to the hotel (eventually…I had forgotten my umbrella and it was pouring rain, so I stopped at a random shop and bought one, but then I was trying to pull my suitcase, keep my carry-on bag on my shoulder, hold my umbrella up, and follow the navigation app on my phone).
And needing to be on time for four different trains really did give me a constant, low-level anxiety that ran underneath everything.
It was difficult for me to decide where to eat, between trying to keep a reasonable budget and feeding vegetarians.
And I think I was thirsty 90% of the time.
Still, it was a week in Europe with my daughter and her friend. I got to see a Van Gogh almost every day. I got to go running in Amsterdam and Paris. I walked all over London and sat in underappreciated churches in Brussels and walked through the red light district in Amsterdam. I got brave asking “parlez-vous anglais?” in Paris. I saw priceless, ancient statues in the Louvre and the British Museum; I bought fabric at Liberty of London and a used book at a bookshop on Charing Cross Road. I recounted British history and I bought a small (and likely not authentic) piece of Delft pottery and I wandered around the Grand Place in Brussels.
How was my trip? It’s hard to sum up. I keep thinking about how to blog about it, and I think I will have to break it down into very small parts. It wasn’t a relaxing trip by any means. But it was an adventure, one I will think about a remember for my entire life; one that made me hope for other European experiences (hopefully not so rushed next time); one that I was glad to share with my daughter.