My list of books to read this month

The Best American Essays of 2016

Edited by Jonathan Franzen

Franzen picked the essays for this compilation based on a theme: Risk. As he writes in his introduction, “The writer has to be like the firefighter, whose job, while everyone else is fleeing the flames, is to run straight into them.”

Indeed, I love the saying that if something keeps you up at night, you have to write about it. That can mean writing a piece that you can’t stop thinking about… or writing about something that feels so embarassing or painful that it would be a risk to even put it out there. That’s the writing that most makes you and others feel alive, un-alone, less afraid.

It reminds me of the most recent edition of True Fiction, which I read on my plane rides this weekend. The piece, “Unmolested” by Michael Lowenthal, is about the writer’s role as an openly gay guest-star counselor at the all-boys’ summer camp he adored attending as a kid. The camp had recently been under fire as a counselor had been accused of molesting a camper.

Lowenthal writes about being the object of an adolescent camper’s crush. And his own attraction to teenage boys.

I was impressed with Lowenthal’s bravery to “go there” and write about a complicated, potentially dangerous subject. He handles it deftly, with empathy and precision. It’s beautiful and has my vote for Best American Essays 2018.

Pippi Longstocking

By Astrid Lindgren

I love that quote. Here’s my other favorite Pippi saying:

“Don’t you worry about me. I’ll always come out on top.”

I’m re-reading this for an upcoming writing project. I loved Pippi Longstocking as a kid, but I didn’t really remember why. I knew I loved that she had her own house and could do whatever she wanted. There was something about her natural affinity for independence that I found appealing and familiar as a child. As an adult, I appreciate her resilience. She wasn’t independent just because she had her own house and horse. She was independent because she had to be. She found a way to be happy and goofy despite all her loneliness, loss, and need.

Bird by Bird

By Anne Lamott

Every writer I know loves this book. It’s Anne’s funny-fueled guide to writing and life, because usually the lessons for both overlap. Like, perfectionism is a dream killer. So is procrastination.

In fact, our human (and particularly writerly) tendency to procrastinate when we’re overwhelmed was what led to the anecdote that’s inspiration for her book’s title.

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brothers shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.’”

Bird by bird, baby. Bird by bird.

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