This week we got a brief but blessed respite from the Golden State’s ongoing historic drought, and it was hard to resist the urge to skip work and hole up in the coffee shop by a window to read and listen to the patter of rain. We managed, somehow; but it did put us in the perfect mood for our weekend reads.
Ashley: Written from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl searching for the truth about her past, So B. It by Sarah Weeks hooked me with the first sentence: “If truth was a crayon and it was up to me to put a wrapper around it and name its color, I know just what I would call it—dinosaur skin.” It so successfully captures a child’s fascination with the fantastical (It reminded me of my own childhood days watching and re-watching The Land Before Time) and the profound observations that come as the magic slowly wears off. That opening sets the tone for the entire story, a heartfelt tale about the nature of “truth” and “lying,” a story that hinges on some fantastical elements of its own (a never-ending lucky streak explains away how a girl raised by a mentally disabled mother and an agoraphobic neighbor manages to survive and eventually get a cross-country bus ticket). But the suspension of disbelief it requires is all part of So B. It‘s magic.
Regina: This true story is a terrific mash-up of my three favorite genres: memoir, mystery & family drama. On the surface, After Visiting Friends is about the writer, Michael Hainey, searching for the truth about his father’s sudden death when Michael was only six years old. In reality, After Visiting Friends is a cultural time machine to late-1960s Chicago. Michael’s father, Bob Hainey, was a rising Chicago Sun-Times reporter; a tough yet respected profession at the time. As Michael investigates what his father was up to the night he died, he discovers shocking family secrets, an unbreakable newsroom code of silence & a key witness who resides thousands of miles away. As Michael debunks his father’s mythical legacy, he questions whether he should continue his investigation. I especially enjoyed Hainey’s nostalgic descriptions of a long-gone Chicago. Anyone familiar with that great city’s neighborhoods, customs, or politics will find a lot to love here.
Mallory: Confession: surfing Chronicle Books’s beautiful new additions to our library put me in touch with my California-hippie side this week. I have a not-so-secret affinity for personality types and classifications — the zodiac, Meyer-Briggs*, and, most recently, spirit animals**. (In case you’re wondering, I’m a Sagittarian INFJ Wolf, natch.)
But rather than answering the more common question, “Who (or what) am I?,” this book answers the question “Who or what can help me right now?,” offering animal guides as spiritual medicine for every state of being. I tore through the whole book in an hour, devouring the author’s pithy descriptions and the accompanying artwork as if they were a pint of Neapolitan ice cream (but better), and finished hoping to bring some of the deer, the dog, the butterfly & the elephant into my life.
*Thanks to Julie, our fearless leader.
**Thanks to a dear friend and this Buzzfeed masterpiece.
Justin: John Ashbery’s first collection, Some Trees was picked out of the slush pile by the great W.H. Auden to receive the Yale Younger Poets prize (he actually beat out his friend and fellow New Yorker Frank O’Hara). Since that auspicious start, Ashbery has gone on to have one of the most distinguished and varied careers in American poetry, continually breaking new ground with each collection. I love those poems. This week, though, I wanted to go back to the beginning. These poems are considerably more traditional (and way shorter) than some of the later poems that have made Ashbery famous. Still, there’s his wit, his facility with images & his inimitable thoughtfulness. Still, his interest in the abiding question:
… Whom must we get to know
To die, so you live and we know?