Thursday, August 04, 2016

Recent Reading: Wendell Berry, Esther Ehrlich, and Another One From My Daughter

I dropped this beautiful book and marred the cover with a pronounced crease.  Somehow, though, that seems more than okay. 

I finished Wendell Berry's Hannah Coulter last week and discovered for myself why my friends, when the title comes up, gasp and seem to rise from the planet for a moment as they relive their own experiences of reading it. When they circle back down to earth and are able to speak again, they always mention underlining and highlighting and the lyrical beauty of the writing. 

They are right. And I have joined their ranks. 

Title character Hannah Coulter, now in her 70s, is looking back over the many years of her life. Hannah shares her history with us in prose that is both simple and reflective. I don't think it's a spoiler to share this passage, which comes very early in the book: 
When you are old you can look back and see yourself when you were young. It is almost like looking down from Heaven. And you see yourself as a young woman, just a big girl really, half awake to the world. You see yourself happy, holding in your arms a good, decent, gentle, beloved young man with the blood keen in his veins, who before long is going to disappear, just disappear, into a storm of hate and flying metal and fire. And you don't know it.
My copy, with its creased but lovely cover, is full of such underlinings. I read with pencil in hand, marking passage after passage, ripe plums that I wanted to preserve and remember forever. I read Hannah quickly and slowly: flying through the pages, but savoring the words of a world that has passed into memory.


I read Nest, by Esther Ehrlich, in just the last couple of days. 

Nest, deliciously set in 1972, is narrated by eleven-year-old Naomi Orenstein, nicknamed Chirp, after her love of birdwatching.

Chirp has an awful lot going on at the moment. There's something wrong with her beloved mom, but the doctors aren't sure what. Chirp's older sister, Rachel, is going to weird parties ("Something feels funny; like they're all on one team and I'm on the other.") Chirp's next-door-neighbor, Joey, comes from a family that Chirp's psychiatrist dad says has "significant issues," so he might be scary or he might be nice…it's hard to tell, when a boy has a rock in his hand, just what he plans to do with it. Chirp's haven is Heron Pond, where she goes to look for her favorite bird, the elusive red-throated loon, which can be extremely awkward or immensely graceful, depending on where it is and what it's trying to accomplish.

I loved this book so much. Ehrlich's writing is iridescent; it shimmers like the sunlit water that has been part of Chirp's world since she was born. And that gorgeous writing serves well a story that is full and weighty. Sadness, deep pain, grief, and love mingle with insight and hope. Bring the tissues.

My only caveat is that it's billed as middle-grade fiction -- it could be too much for very sensitive children, as it covers extremely serious issues.

Read it for yourself, because it's worth the grown-up read. Then you can decide who you'll share it with.


Finally, I've mentioned NaNoWriMo before, but who knew the craziness was encouraged in July? Camp NaNoWriMo is November madness in the middle of summer. Betsy, who has completed five NaNo novels in the past, did another one last month. She finished 60,000 words before the end of July, let me read her first draft (that almost never happens), and she made my cry with one of her plot developments. Reading doesn't get any better than that. 

Ramona set herself a goal of a 10,000 word story for July and met it. She hasn't let me read her story yet, though -- not sure when she'll release a draft to me. And Anne-with-an-e is trying a longer work for the first time ever, so I'll keep you posted on future Edmisten-Daughter books, and whether or not they make me cry. 


Jennifer said...

Awesome! I love your girls. Will Hannah Coulter make me cry?

Karen Edmisten said...

Parts of Hannah will make you cry in a certain way. But it's beautiful, beautiful.

sarah said...

So wonderful to hear of young novelists :-) Like most people who've read Hannah, I loved it too <3

Sonja said...

Thank you Karen! I've been bereft of a novel for the past month, and I'm happy for your recommendations.

Karen Edmisten said...

Sonja, I hope you like them!

Sonja said...

Hi Karen, I finished Hanna Coulter on Monday. It was a lovely book. I was surprised at the simple beauty of it. The author had a way of letting us into the silence and the laughter of the very human and therefore beautiful lives of the people in the story. I especially noticed the silence that spoke love through many actions. Making a bed, holding a hand, taking a deep breath and moving on became holy actions in this story. Thank you for passing it along.

Karen Edmisten said...

Sonja, what a beautiful summary of the loveliness that is Hannah Coulter. I totally agree. So happy you read and enjoyed it!

And btw, I finished A Canticle for Leibowitz awhile back, and if you want to discuss it, feel free to start in the comments section of
this post. No one else seemed to want to discuss -- so, take it away! :)