They Jump Into the Abyss
"Maybe right before the phone rang, tomorrow
Was just another day”
-Jacqueline Woodson, brown girl dreaming (uncle odell)
"and then there was only a roaring in the air around her
a new pain where once there wasn’t pain
a hollowness where only minutes before
she had been whole.”
-Jacqueline Woodson, brown girl dreaming (uncle odell)
This one took me back to February 2010 and knocked the breath right out of me.
Reading this book I’m reminded of something I have heard John Green say in a few different interviews.
"This is what I love about novels, both reading them and writing them. They jump into the abyss to be with you where you are."
brown girl dreaming is one of those books.
(Source: I found the quote on Goodreads, and I’m not sure how accurate it is, but it does seem to capture the essence of what I’ve heard him say before. It’s a lot longer than what is posted above and I recommend clicking through for the full context).
To jump off in the midst of the sea, rise again, nod to me, shout, and laughingly dash with your hair.
Walt Whitman, Song of Myself
The Names, by Billy Collins
Yesterday, I lay awake in the palm of the night.
A soft rain stole in, unhelped by any breeze,
And when I saw the silver glaze on the windows,
I started with A, with Ackerman, as it happened,
Then Baxter and Calabro,
Davis and Eberling, names falling into place
As droplets fell through the dark.
Names printed on the ceiling of the night.
Names slipping around a watery bend.
Twenty-six willows on the banks of a stream.
In the morning, I walked out barefoot
Among thousands of flowers
Heavy with dew like the eyes of tears,
And each had a name —
Fiori inscribed on a yellow petal
Then Gonzalez and Han, Ishikawa and Jenkins.
Names written in the air
And stitched into the cloth of the day.
A name under a photograph taped to a mailbox.
Monogram on a torn shirt,
I see you spelled out on storefront windows
And on the bright unfurled awnings of this city.
I say the syllables as I turn a corner —
Kelly and Lee,
Medina, Nardella, and O’Connor.
When I peer into the woods,
I see a thick tangle where letters are hidden
As in a puzzle concocted for children.
Parker and Quigley in the twigs of an ash,
Rizzo, Schubert, Torres, and Upton,
Secrets in the boughs of an ancient maple.
Names written in the pale sky.
Names rising in the updraft amid buildings.
Names silent in stone
Or cried out behind a door.
Names blown over the earth and out to sea.
In the evening — weakening light, the last swallows.
A boy on a lake lifts his oars.
A woman by a window puts a match to a candle,
And the names are outlined on the rose clouds —
Vanacore and Wallace,
(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound)
Then Young and Ziminsky, the final jolt of Z.
Names etched on the head of a pin.
One name spanning a bridge, another undergoing a tunnel.
A blue name needled into the skin.
Names of citizens, workers, mothers and fathers,
The bright-eyed daughter, the quick son.
Alphabet of names in a green field.
Names in the small tracks of birds.
Names lifted from a hat
Or balanced on the tip of the tongue.
Names wheeled into the dim warehouse of memory.
So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart.
All Fall Down
I’ve been familiar with Jennifer Weiner for a long time, but had never
read one of her books before this summer. As I’ve mentioned before, I
used to be a bit of a book snob. I’ve been thinking a lot this year
about the types of books I read, and more specifically about what I
don’t read and the reasons why. Jennifer Weiner herself was actually a
major catalyst in changing my way of thinking. I’ve long loved The
Bachelor franchise and made peace with the show being a pure pleasure,
one I have no intention of feeling guilty about.
Jennifer Weiner live tweets all episodes of the show, and I’m pretty
much zero fun to watch with because I sit with my phone in hand the
whole time and pay more attention to her commentary than the screen.
In between her witty remarks about the show she tweets a lot about
popular fiction and the different levels of attention and respect given to female authors, as compared to their male counterparts.
I decided that since I love her tweets I would probably also love her
books. She had a new one out this summer, All Fall Down, about a woman who becomes addicted to pills and her subscent time in rehab. First off, I can see why her books are so popular. She is a great writer and storyteller and makes you really feel for her characters. The woman in the story is a wife and mother, and as her husband’s job at a
newspaper becomes less stable, she is increasingly becoming more
successful in her career. This book made me think a lot about pressure
put on women to have it all.
Another book I loved this year was The Financial Lives of the Poets,
and these two books felt like they were made to go together. Both
protagonists are dealing with pressure their genders have endured for
the ages, for men to be providers and for women to achieve perfection
in all realms of their lives. In both books, this pressure is
exacerbated by the recent financial crisis.
I’ve recommended Walter’s book to so many people, men and women alike. And while I’ve recommended Weiner’s book to people, none of those people have been men. I didn’t think it would be interesting to them.
I recently read Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, and in the essay Beyond the Measure of a Man, Gay addresses this specific issue.
"Narratives about certain experiences are somehow legitimized when mediated through a man’s perspective. Consider the work of John Updike or Richard Yates. Most of their fiction is grounded in domestic themes that in, in the hands of a woman, would render the work ‘women’s fiction’. While these books may be tagged as ‘women’s fiction’ on Amazon.com, they are also categorized as literary fiction. These books are allowed to be more than what they are by virtue of the writer’s gender, while similar books by women are forced to be less than what they are, forced into narrow, often inaccurate categories that diminish their contents.
I’m really glad for the ways my views have been challenged this year,
knowing I still have a ways to go. I’m also so happy there are authors
out there who make sure we are continuing to have a conversation about
stories and which ones are worthy of our attention.
the stories of South Carolina already run
through my veins. Jacqueline Woodson, brown girl dreaming, (february 12, 1963)
I remember discovering this book as a teenager, and reading the opening pages as I soaked in the bath.
Waste not, want not. I am not being wasted. Why do I want?
Those lines stuck with me. In my memory they are the opening lines of the book, but in reality they fall somewhere early in the second chapter.
I don’t often reread books, but I did reread this recently and it was as good as I remembered.