#FridayReads: Special Guest Contributors Edition

January 23, 2015 • Top Books

Our #FridayReads have been such a hit around the office that now the whole team wants to get in on the action. We thought that was great, figuring it’s important to hear from some fresh voices now and then. Besides, some of our usual contributors could use a well-earned week off.


Lyndsey: Like many, I have one friend that I trust above the rest for book recommendations. So when she told me she’d just finished Kathleen Grissom’s novel, The Kitchen House, I picked it up without knowing anything more than the title. What ensued was an emotional journey, spanning two decades of love, loss, injustice, perseverance, and most importantly, an understanding of what truly makes family.

Set around the turn of the 19th century, the novel is narrated by two women: Lavinia, an orphaned Irish immigrant, and Belle, a slave with a unique tie to the Virginia plantation’s master. Their individual and often contradicting viewpoints drew me in as I saw two sides to each and every character. Grissom does a masterful job portraying the boundaries between slaves and those they served as seen through the eyes of a vulnerable child who’s simultaneously struggling to find her place in the New World. Reading this book over the holiday gave it a special sense of importance, revealing not just where we were, but how far we’ve come and, at times, how much further we still have to go.

Isobel: Although Lucia Perillo’s sixth collection of poems offers little comfort to the optimistic, if you’ve ever been crippled by choice in a department store or experienced an existential crisis reading the comments section of a website, there is some catharsis to be found in these pages. These poems perfectly capture the pervasive unease of life under late capitalism. In “My Father Kept the TV On,” she laments the “…green republic where the pilgrims came to land!” and proclaims, “If I’m going to choose my nostalgia it is a no-brainer/that I’m going to side with books, with the days/before the lithium-ion battery…”

Perillo imagines suburban denizens “swaying to the music of cash registers in the distance” and shares the sensation of manufactured majesty induced by a visit to a home improvement superstore: “You know/you should feel like Walt Whitman, celebrating/everything, but instead you feel like Pope Julius II/commanding Michelangelo to carve forty statues for his tomb.”

In these poems, the Earth, however neglected, still manages to be both beautiful and terrifying, “glowing so lit-up’dly” from space where one cannot see the junk that fills our oceans and our homes, where far below we are “Queasy from our spinning but still holding on,/with no idea we are so brightly shining.”

Niree: The introduction to The Kundalini Yoga Experience says: “Do the best you can.“ This is advice I did not heed when younger, particularly when it came to yoga. Why not just do the best, full-stop? Though I’d been practicing yoga for many years, my flexibility and strength had waxed and waned with various injuries and the inexorable progress of aging. Case in point: a few years ago I grew envious of a certain yoga instructor’s Instagram feed, which routinely featured her doing impossible-looking handstands in exotic locales. So that year, I resolved to nail handstands. Then came carpal tunnel syndrome, locking my wrists. Even a simple down dog was much too painful to practice. Distraught, I gave up yoga entirely.

Then I found The Kundalini Yoga Experience. Like your very own personal yoga instructor, this book unspools centuries of yogic wisdom, the basis of which is knowing yourself from within. That means listening to your breath and your body and adjusting your practice accordingly. This book is all about balance: emotional, physical, and spiritual. It’s both a comprehensive look at the history and pillars of yoga as well as an illustrated guidebook for posture and breath. Anyone practicing yoga—from newcomers to regulars—can benefit from its wisdom.

Regina: I’m three weeks into my New Year’s resolution to walk 10,000 steps per day—and I’m totally nailing it, in case you were wondering—thanks to my recent foray into audiobooks. This week, as I walk to the office, the grocery store, the movie theater, literally everywhere (where else is there to go, really?), I’m listening to Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight. The story is equal parts mystery, drama, and suspense. Kate, a grieving single-mother, pieces together the events leading to the death of her 15-year-old daughter through text messages, Facebook posts, and e-mails. 

As Kate makes some unsettling discoveries about the high-pressure, constantly connected reality her daughter was living in, she’s compelled to revisit some unpleasant history of her own. While the focus of the story is Amelia’s death and the ensuing investigation, it is also a heartbreaking commentary on the sacrifices and struggles of single-motherhood. Khristine Hvam narrates it all with skill and subtlety, bringing to life not just Kate and Amelia, but also the angsty teenagers, gruff cops, and slick lawyers who appear throughout the story. This is by far the most engrossing and theatrical audiobook I’ve listened to.

wedding

Alex P: I’ve just started Bianca Stone’s book of poems, and I’m having trouble coming up with the right words to describe it. I started looking for an emblematic quote, but can’t find one; every line is and every line isn’t. The poems vacillate between surrealistic imagery built of mundane minutiae and painfully realistic portraits of relationships in all their absurdity and beauty and pain and joy. She’s judicious and succinct with language but makes every stanza somehow lush, and has a wry sense of humor that permeates each piece. I’ll be spending more time with Someone Else’s Wedding Vows this weekend (strange as that sounds out loud), and maybe after that I’ll have a more concrete sense of these strange and wonderful poems. But maybe not, in which case I’ll continue to savor each line despite my gossamer grasp.