The White Album by Joan Didion is a epistographical novel covering the turbulent period from the 1960s-1970s. Spanning topics including the Black Panthers, the Manson murders, and even the collapse of her own marriage, the book critically examines the meaningless experience of existence and the atomization of society during this time period.
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” reads the opening line of the book. From that instant, I was hooked. I’ve been reading Didion’s oeuvre for more than a year now, starting with Slouching Towards Bethlehem as a required reading my junior year of high school. That book changed my life, and The White Album did not disappoint either. Her perfectly restrained emotion, her clarity of thought, and her perceptive insights combine to lend meaning to even some of the most senseless experiences of the 60s- such as the Manson murders. Didion even details, with the delicate removal of writing a grocery list, her meetings with Linda Kasabian, key witness in the Manson trial. She speaks of the short silk dress she wore to her wedding- and in the next sentence, mentions a similar white dress she herself purchased for Kasabian to wear on the first day of her testimony. The compassion she reserves for some is replaced with acrid disdain for others- Doris Lessing is described as someone who “does not want to ‘write well.’ Her leaden disregard for even the simplest rhythms of language, her arrogantly bad ear for dialogue- all of that is beyond her own point.” Even Huey Newton, a key leader of the Black Panthers is not spared- she describes him as “someone for whom safety lies in generalization.” She relates every experience with the utmost honesty and provides a matte-glass window into the experiences of our country’s, and her personal, pasts.
I would recommend this book to anyone, really! I’m a huge Joan Didion fan 🙂
Even though many more volunteer organizations are opening up as we approach the close of lockdowns across the country, volunteering from home can still be convenient for many of us looking to make a difference from the comfort of our own homes. Whether you’re looking to help out because you love animals, or just want service hours for school or approaching college applications, there are opportunities galore. Below, you can find a few opportunities for volunteering from home for animal lovers!
eBird is run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and is based around tracking avian data around the country, to better support threatened bird populations. Even if you’re a first-time bird watcher, the lab offers tons of incredible resources to make the experience fun and rewarding! Plus, you’d be contributing your data to the largest citizen-run data science project in the country. You can find them at https://ebird.org/home. (Full disclosure- I myself have not volunteered with this particular project, so I won’t be able to field any questions about it. Apologies!)
2. Comfort for Critters
Comfort for Critters is an organization that focuses on providing comfort and care for abused animals in pounds and shelters across the country. If you can sow, knit, or crochet, you can help out by making blankets for the animals- if not, they have easy-to-follow tie blanket patterns on their website as well. When you’re done, you can mail the blankets to a shelter near you (they have a list of participating shelters on their website). You can also make or color cards for shelter employees and volunteers! Their website is https://www.comfortforcritters.org/volunteer-resources
3. Humane Society
The Humane Society has tons of in-person and virtual volunteer opportunities for older teens! The most popular position is a phone or text bank volunteer- if you choose this, please be sure that you’d be comfortable talking to strangers. Although the choices are a little bit limited, you can rest assured that you will have a real impact through your work with the Humane Society! Find them at https://www.humanesociety.org/volunteer.
Written over the last four years before her death, Ursula LeGuin’s (1929-2018) So Far So Good is a fascinating study of nature, aging, the past, and the end.
I’ve been reading LeGuin’s oeuvre for quite some time now- and this final book did not disappoint whatsoever. I have previously expressed admiration for her variations in vocabulary and style while still maintaining a crystal-clear theme; nowhere in her works was this more prominent than in So Far So Good. The subject matter is far more narrow in this book than it is in others, limited to only discussions of her past and the nature that surrounds her in her present- which I suppose is in keeping with her approaching the close of her life.
However, even with this narrow subject matter, LeGuin does not disappoint. Her vivid, lush imagery, and adept skill at painting landscapes was clear as day in this book- her musings about the afterlife and the ancestors also never fail to captivate and spark thought. I would highly recommend this book, and this author, to anyone looking for a meditative, easily digestable, and quick poetry read.
have you seen me? by Kate White is an excellent novel of mystery, suspense, and nail-biting thrills.
The book opens with main character Ally Linden arriving to her workplace an hour earlier than everyone else. However, she soon remembers that she has not worked there in five years- and even more troubling, she doesn’t remember where she has been for the last three days.
Determined to find out what caused her fugue state and what she did, Ally hires two private investigators to retrace her steps for those three days. Quickly, questions begin to pop up- why didn’t her husband report her missing? Where have her purse and phone gone? Do the bloodstained tissues in her pocket mean something? Could the episode be related to a traumatic incident she experienced in her past? Every time we think we’ve figured it out, a new twist reveals that everything is not as it seems.
I really liked this book! The surprise ending left me in complete shock- I’m usually very good at guessing what’ll happen at the end of suspense novels and solving the mystery, but the resolution of this book completely caught me by surprise- it was ingenious. White used diversion and opaque writing masterfully to her advantage, weaving the perfect web of suspense. While the writing was a little too technical in some parts (financial journalism was described in excruciating detail), I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a dark suspense thriller.
have you seen me? by Kate White is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Libby.
The Answers, a novel by Catherine Lacey, is a profound memoir of an ordinary/not-so-ordinary young woman’s forays into an ordinary/not-so-ordinary love.
Mary has been in pain her whole life- the result of an undiagnosed illness that has left her with crippling symptoms and a massive medical-bill debt. When she discovers a shady, New-Age alternative therapy called PAK-ing, that gives her the only relief from her sickness that she’s ever had, she’s determined to find any way she can to pay for it.
Which is where things get strange.
Mary finds a job listing that’s offered to pay her everything she needs and more- with a few caveats. The position involves being one of the many girlfriends of reclusive actor Kurt Sky, who is running an experiment to find what qualities actually lead to lasting romantic connections- in other words, to find what creates love. Each ‘girlfriend’ is given complicated directives in order to complete the experiment. However, the position may not be as innocent as it seems- Mary finds herself drawn deeper and deeper into something she’s not sure she understands.
I was completely hooked by this book. Once I picked it up, I just couldn’t put it down until I had finished it. It’s definitely a very liminal, intellectual novel- but if you’re a fan of those, like me, you’ll really love this book. What I enjoyed most was Lacey’s ease and mastery at writing morally-grey characters. Every person in this book is one- but Lacey so closely and excellently interweaves it with the real human experience that it doesn’t feel like you’re reading a book, but that you’re in a hazy dream- watching this unfold in front of you. The novel is chock-full of nearly infinite new perspectives- a great read I’d recommend to anyone!
This novel contains some descriptions of sexual violence that may not be suitable for all audiences.
Released three years after Tupac’s murder in 1996, The Rose That Grew from Concrete is his writings from the time he was nineteen to just a few months before his passing. The poems are simple and concise, written in rhyme and Tupac’s loving shorthand.
Again, I tend to shy away from celebrity poetry and posthumous collections/albums- both of those labels usually hint at money grabs. However, I decided to make an exception for Tupac- and I’m very glad I did.
Tupac is an almost mythical character in the American psyche. He was a pioneer of hip-hop, of rap, of social justice in a way that is often downplayed. He knew it too- his writings hint that he always knew he was destined for great things. Still, these poems serve to humanize Tupac in a way that has never been presented before. Although the poems are a little clunky at times, they speak of a person– of a human being who fell in love, fell out of it, wanted better for himself, had hopes, had dreams. The poems being presented in his handwriting, as written, only adds to this. They prove that, at the end of the day, Tupac was just as human as the rest of us- just as pained and angry and lovelorn and real as anyone else. And this is the true essence of this book- far beyond the words on the page.
Women Are Some Kind of Magic is a poetry and prose series by Amanda Lovelace, dealing with themes of toxic relationships and self-love. The series consists of the princess saves herself in this one, the witch doesn’t burn in this one, the mermaid’s voice returns in this one, break your glass slippers, and shine your icy crown.
Lovelace writes about common themes in many women’s everyday lives with a tone that mirrors the simple advice of a best friend. Her writing is empowering in a way I haven’t really seen before- the poems are short, and the illustrations are succinct, but the confidence and self-assuredness she possesses really shine through.
I just recently finished the last book in the series. The books don’t have to be read in order- you can read them as stand-alones, but I personally preferred them in series format. These books are simple and easy reads- you can finish one in just about a day. I originally intended to use the books as ‘palate cleansers’ between some heavier reading material, but I was actually pleasantly surprised! It is typical run-of-the-mill, feel-good prose, but Lovelace has a style of writing that makes even simple phrases and writing seem profound. I would definitely recommend this book to any woman feeling down- it really helped me 🙂
Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky is set in a time of political unrest in an occupied country. Sequenced as multiple short poems, the story is told from the perspective of three characters: Alfonso Barabinski, his wife Sonya, and later Momma Galya Armolinskaya.
I really, really enjoyed this book. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot (I was quite surprised it even had one in the first place, considering it’s a book of poems). I really enjoyed Kaminsky’s use of the townspeople’s deafness as a metaphor. However, what I most enjoyed about this book was its relevance to modern times. Kaminsky himself grew up in post-Soviet Ukraine, and while reading the book (even though it was released many years before today’s events in Ukraine), I saw chilling parallels to not only the current wars in the Middle East and Ukraine, but also to the attitudes of many in the United States.
This book is definitely not for the weak of heart; the content is extraordinarily emotional. However, I’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a new perspective regarding current and past world events. It’s quite a short read with easily digestible language. There was one particular line that will stick with me forever:
“At the trial of God, we will ask: why did you allow all this? / And the answer will be an echo: why did you allow all this?”
As a rule of thumb, I usually stay away from books like this one- I’m of the firm opinion that most celebrities have no business releasing mediocre poetry books for huge success and profits while real writers struggle. However, I made an exception for this book on a whim, and I was pleasantly surprised. Halsey’s prowess as a master songwriter and lyricist really shines through here- not only has she managed to create an entire book of poems in perfect rhyme and meter, she has sagaciously sidestepped the usual cumbersome nature of such poetry.
Her near-perfect use of tempo and rhythm, honed during her twenty-odd years as a musician, is delicate and nimble- a refreshing read. Featuring lines from some of her more recent song releases, her writing, rather than being mediocre and hard to digest, is a raw and beautiful excavation into the deepest parts of herself and her psyche- and really, we’re just along for the ride. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a slam-poetry-type read with some deep and heavy undertones, delivered in a fun (dare I say funky) way 🙂
This book contains implicit sexual content that may not be suitable for all readers.
Late in the Day by Ursula Le Guin is a poetry and prose book, encompassing Guin’s writings towards the end of her life. The book is based on nature- on subjects as vast and meaningful as the sea, to as simple as a Canada lynx walking through a forest. However, in each small poem, Guin cleanly delineates each small, but significant lesson that the natural world can teach us.
I really enjoyed this book. I haven’t read poetry and prose for quite a while, and was a little apprehensive about a book as simplistic as this one, but I was completely surprised by the implicit depth and complexity of Guin’s writing. What I found unique about Guin’s writing is not her syntax or the breadth of her expression (both of which were, by the way, incredible), but her ability to use mundane, everyday situations, common to us all, and weave them into a detailed tapestry on every subject, from society to love to life itself.
Le Guin herself passed in October of 2018, but her writing is timeless, and as meaningful (arguably more so) to our world today as it was seven years ago. The necessity of interconnectivity and harmony with the natural world becomes more pressing day by day- and Le Guin’s writing masterfully explains why and how.