“Slow Art” and the Marriage of Art and Literature

Young Lady in 1866 by Edouard Manet

Young Lady in 1866 by Edouard Manet

This weekend I delved into the book section of the Saturday Wall Street Journal (a favorite activity) and discovered “The Image as Event,” Ann Landi’s review of Arden Reed’s book, Slow Art. Reed’s passion for “slow art” began with his repeated viewing of Edouard Manet’s “Young Lady in 1866” at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. He defines “slow art” as “a prolonged encounter between object and observer.” He contrasts this activity with the average time an American museumgoer spends with any work of art—about 6 to 10 seconds.

Reed also writes about “tableaux vivants,” which he describes as “living pictures” in which actors hold theatrical poses for 90 seconds or so, often as recreations of well-known masterpieces like Leonardo’s “Last Supper.” This art form gained popularity around 1760, waned in the 1910s, and seems to have regained steam around 1960.

But before these modern-day examples of slow art presented themselves for viewers seeking (or just needing) an opportunity to slow down and have a serious encounter with art, early Christian icons “demanded slow looking and veneration from viewers.” Later, religious processions with floats featuring tableaux vivants acting out Biblical scenes appeared. Reed ties all these into a genre he calls slow art, taking us from Malevich to Serra, and even into the fiction writing of Don DeLillo.

The-Pen-and-the-Brush-260x381Which brings me to my second “treasure” of the weekend. I started reading the book I purchased at Ernest & Hadley Books in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, when I was there for a reading/signing for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. And what a treasure—Anka Muhlstein’s wonderful book The Pen and the Brush: How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteenth-Century French Novels (translated from the French by Adriana Hunter) explores the relationship between art and literature with specific examples from Balzac, Zola, Huysmans, Maupassant, and Proust. Muhlstein chose these five authors because “each in his own way truly invented a visual style of writing.”
Balzac referred to himself as a “literary painter” rather than a writer. He enjoyed including Italian Renaissance art and Flemish painters as well as contemporary painting in his writing. He spent a lot of time at the Louvre, and his knowledge of art fed his writing. An example:

Another illustration of this genuine knowledge of paintings appears in The Peasants: as a finishing touch in describing a horrible old woman, “a hideous black parchment, endowed with movement” he adds, “her likeness is found only in David’s painting of the Sabine women,” which does indeed feature a wizened old woman as a second character.

Balzac often gave fictional characters more credibility by using a known painter’s name. Not that I’m in his league, but I chose to do this with my novel Cherry Bomb (which releases in August) by having the well known abstract expressionist painter Elaine de Kooning appear as a major character, although I fictionalized much of her story in the book.

Balzac’s ambitions include one to “paint a Delacroix in words,” and he writes at length about colors and their symbolism, especially in The Girl With the Golden Eyes, in which “Paquita’s room is bathed in red, gold, and white tones which, in Balzac’s mind, suggest inexpressible desire: “the soul has an indefinable connection with white, love is happiest in red, and gold puts passions to their best advantage.”

Muhlstein says that “Opening a Balzac novel is like walking into a museum, but a museum where the artists (and sometimes even their models) often step out of their frames to come into the story. Balzac would not be the powerful novelist he is had he settled for describing paintings and not created his own huge gallery of painters.”

I’m just now getting to the sections on Zola, Huysmans, Maupassant, and Proust, so this isn’t a complete book review. Just a preview. I can’t wait to see where these next four writers take me in their journey into the art world. I have a feeling I’ll be reading some of their novels soon….

Dear Diary,

teenager-diary-50sI kept a diary when I was a little girl. It had a little lock and key and I kept it hidden. I remember once when my brother found it and threatened to read it… not sure how I got out of that one. And here I am many decades later with a very public diary. Most of the time I write things here about books, writing, editing, publishing, art, spirituality, etc. But sometimes I write about more personal things like depression, eating, drinking, addiction, and grief. Today is one of those days.

Today’s post is in place of yesterday’s and tomorrow’s… because I’m feeling pretty empty right now. Just running on zero. My three-month book tour is over (until I start back up for Cherry Bomb in about six weeks) and it will be a few weeks until I get the galleys to proof for the anthology I’m editing, so I’m in a lull. I hate lulls. I tend to get a bit stir-crazy if I don’t have a project. I’m even considering starting to clean out the storage bins in the garage.
As I wrote here a couple of weeks ago, I had originally planned to use these weeks to get started on a new novel. But after one false start, and reconsidering a novel I started a few years ago and put down, I’m just not feeling inspired about either of those. So I’m “researching” a bit… and reading… and even watching some old movies on TV. And I’m thinking, what on earth do people do when they “retire”? At 66, I feel like I’m just getting started, and yet my vehicle seems to run out of gas more easily lately.

A-writer-never-has-a-vacation-for-a-writer-life-consists-of-either-writing-or-thinking-about-writing

So, if you’re reading this and you have a brilliant idea for my next novel, please send it my way. Especially if you know of a historic heroine I could fictionalize. Or something fascinating in the field of art. (One of the two novel ideas I’m considering involves Jackson Pollack and Lee Krasner.) I’m still thinking about Rill, the river gypsy orphan child in Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours, and I’m still wishing I had written that book.  She and Mare (my protagonist in Cherry Bomb) could be such good friends.

Meanwhile I’ll try to exercise more, eat and drink less, and get plenty of sleep. And hope to hear some brilliant ideas from my readers!

I Love Stories

BellesLettersIICov2And essays. Which is why I love anthologies. The first anthology in which I was published was Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality (University of Alabama press 2012). The editors were Jennifer Horne and Wendy Reed. And now Jennifer has just edited (with her husband Don Noble) a collection of short stories (these are all fiction) by 37 Alabama women writers called Belles’ Letters II (Livingston Press: The University of West Alabama).  Belles’ Letters I was published in 1999.

I got a signed copy of Belles’ Letters II this weekend at Ernest & Hadley Books in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I was there for a reading and signing for A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be. The two Alabama authors who contributed to this book were there to read and sign at the event—Jennifer Horne and Wendy Reed. It felt like we had come full circle, with me as editor and

Susan Cushman, Jennifer Horne, and Wendy Reed in front of Ernest & Hadley Books, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Susan Cushman, Jennifer Horne, and Wendy Reed in front of Ernest & Hadley Books, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Jennifer and Wendy as contributors. I couldn’t be more proud of this book, and of them. Or more thankful for our friendship. We spent the weekend talking shop over coffee at Wendy’s kitchen table, another visit around Jennifer’s table, and a stroll in her backyard overlooking a lake in Tuscaloosa, drinks and dinner at local bars and restaurants, and I returned to Memphis on Sunday feeling revived.

Back home today I am diving into this new collection with much appetite and enjoyment. It’s fun to read stories by three of the contributors to A Second Blooming and six contributors to Southern Writers on Writing, the anthology I’m currently editing (coming from University Press of Mississippi in 2018). It’s so encouraging to see all these gifted writers taking time to contribute short pieces to anthologies. As Madeleine L’Engle said, “We all feed the lake.” And these authors are feeding an important lake—one that I believe will become historic. A lake filling regularly with contemporary Southern literature.

Anthologies aren’t just for breakfast any more. They aren’t just something to keep on a table in the living room and pick up when you only have a few minutes to read and don’t want to dive into a longer book. They can be as satisfying as any main course. As I was beginning to read from Belles’ Letters today, I found that it didn’t matter that the stories weren’t connected. That they didn’t have a theme. It only mattered that they were well written, excellent samples of the fine craft readers have come to expect from such authors as Pulitzer Prize winner Shirley Ann Grau, Harper Lee Award winners Fannie Flagg, Carolyn Haines, and Sena Jeter Neslund, and best-selling authors such as Gail Godwin, and Lee Smith. Each story left me wanting more—and scrolling down the table of contents like a kid in a candy store, selecting my next treat.

The-Pen-and-the-Brush-260x381My spring/early summer book tour is over, and I’ve got about six weeks to regroup before events for Cherry Bomb (my novel) start up on August 8. I had initially planned to get lots of words on the page for my new novel during this break from marketing, and maybe I will, but for now I’m content to slow down and read. To refuel. I couldn’t be happier with my “to read” stack in my office. I added another interesting book to the pile, another one I picked up at Ernest & Hadley this weekend: The Pen and the Brush: How Passion for Art Shaped Nineteen-Century French Novels by Anka Muhlstein (translated from French by Adriana Hunter).

 

9781524741723The other treasures I acquired at this wonderful new bookstore in Tuscaloosa, Alabama were two copies of Chelsea Clinton’s children’s book, She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World. (I’ll be sending those to my four granddaughters in Denver soon.)

Meanwhile, I’ll get back to my stories. And I don’t mean soap operas.

Desperation Road

Smith_DesperationRoad_ARC.inddAbout a month ago (May 16) I had the pleasure of meeting Mississippi author Michael Farris Smith at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library here in Memphis. He was speaking at “Books & Beyond,” a regular book club gathering at the library. And selling and signing copies of his latest novel, Desperation Road. I was especially excited to meet Michael, since he has contributed an essay, “Keep Truckin’,” to the anthology I’m currently editing, Southern Writers on Writing (University Press of Mississippi 2018). I know most of the contributors personally, but Michael was one of a handful I hadn’t met before inviting him to contribute an essay. I’m so pleased to call him my friend now.

catfish-alley-porch1Michael is a laid-back kind of guy, who carried an easy conversation with the folks at the book club event that day, even smiling gently and not rebuffing the woman who said she wondered if the Hallmark Channel might be interested in making a movie from his book. (She obviously hadn’t read the book, which is much too dark and gritty for Hallmark.)

Desperation Road is set mostly in McComb, Mississippi, Michael’s home town. And the scenes flow over into the backroads and small towns of Louisiana at times, and up I-55 towards Jackson a bit. He does a great job creating a strong sense of place—I could not only see the images he paints so beautifully with words, but I could feel the heat, the humidity, the mosquitoes on my skin as I read. Commenting on this aspect of his writing, Michael said, “I like place being a character itself. The setting and characters play off of one another.”

Before reading an excerpt from the book, Michael talked a bit about his writing process:

I like to start with my characters in big trouble—it makes me make decisions quickly. I hold their feet over the fire from page one.

He definitely does that, and keeps the tension up throughout the entire book. Even the final few pages (no spoiler alert) keep the reader’s rapt attention. He writes in third person so that he can “be in every character’s head,” finding first person to be a more restrictive point of view for telling a story. I had just started a new novel when I heard Michael speak, so I was interested in his process, and have also chosen third person for my story.

When asked if he is in a writer’s critique group, he said he doesn’t show his work to anyone early one—he doesn’t want their opinions to mess him up. (Stephen King says the same thing.) Now he has “writing buddies,” but he’s selective about when and what he shares.

Desperation Road gets high praise from people in high places in the literary world, including Tom Franklin, who says:

Michael Farris Smith is one of the best writers of his generation, and this vey well may be his wbest work—taut, tense, and impossible to put down.

(I read it in three days, and I usually take a couple of weeks to read a book.)

Ron Rash calls it “elegant written” and “perfectly paced.”

These words from James Lee Burke sum it up:

Every once in a while an author comes along who’s in love with art and written language and imagery… writers like William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx. You can add Michael Farris Smith’s name to the list.

hands-of-strangers-front-cover-jpegI couldn’t agree more. Now that I’ve fallen in love with his prose, I want to go back and read his earlier books, especially his debut novel, The Hands of Strangers.

Looking for a terrific read? BUY THIS BOOK and READ IT NOW!

So… we’re almost half way through 2017, and Desperation Road was my eighteenth read this year. I haven’t reviewed all of these books, but here’s my almost-six-month list:

 

The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson

A Southern Girl by John Warley

Time Was Soft There by Jeremy Mercer

Garden in the East: The Spiritual Life of the Body by Angela Doll Carlson

The Statue and the Fury: A Year of Art, Race, Music, and Cocktails by Jim Dees

This Close to Happy: A Reckoning With Depression by Daphne Merkin

Heartbreak Hotel by Anne Rivers Siddons

The Girls of August by Anne Rivers Siddons

Unspeakable Things, a novel by Jackie Warren Tatum

Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

South and West by Joan Didion

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Wolf Whistle by Lewis Nordan

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith

Before We Were Yours (book review)

Have you ever been sad when you finished reading a book? That’s how I felt this weekend when I finished reading Lisa Wingate’s amazing new novel, Before We Were Yours. I didn’t want it to be over! I didn’t want to let go of Rill and Avery and the other characters I grew to love and care about so much. Although Wingate’s ending helped a lot—she satisfied my curiosity, and gave closure where needed. But don’t worry, there are no spoilers in this review (I hate when that happens).

cropped-UntoldStoryBlogHeader

 

My other immediate response to the book (other than not wanting it to end) was this: “I wish I had written this book!” Her main character, Rill, is about the same age as Mare, the protagonist in my novel, Cherry Bomb. They are both spunky orphans with big hearts. They both suffer great injustices. And they both have mysterious connections to other characters in the book.

Lisa speaking at the Memphis Library on June 2.

Lisa speaking at the Memphis Library on June 2.

I met Lisa at an event at the Memphis Public Library and Information Center on June 2. She was invited to speak about Before We Were Yours, a novel based on the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage scandal that happened in Memphis from the 1920s to 1950, when the cruel director, Georgia Tann, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country. She focuses on one family in particular—the Rills—who live in a shantyboat that often docks along the Mississippi River at Memphis, near Mud Island. This is only a few blocks from where I live, so I was fascinated by her description of the life these “river gypsies” lived so close to my neighborhood, Harbor Town. She conjured up Huck Finn-type stories that drew me into a different time, a time that sounded magical and almost unreal.

 

But reality invades when young Rill and her siblings are kidnapped while their parents are in the hospital—where her mother is giving birth to twins. The story of the horrors they endured at the Memphis branch of the Tennessee Children’s Home in 1939 is intertwined with the life of present day wealthy federal prosecutor, Avery Stafford, in Aiken, South Carolina. Avery happens upon some information that leads her on a search back through her family’s history, and she discovers connections that can either lead to healing or possibly upheaval for herself and her family.

coverIn her “Note from the Author” at the end of the book, Lisa explains how much of the story is “true,” and shares some of the avenues she took to research the book. A former journalist, it’s obvious that she’s done her homework. But this book is so much more than history. It’s literary fiction at its finest. Richly drawn characters, vivid settings, compelling dialogue, and smooth transitions are some of the tools she uses to tell this story. As she goes back and forth between 1939 and the present day, she keeps the reader safe, without confusion.

Wingate is the bestselling author of more than twenty novels. Her work has won or been nominated for many awards, including the Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize. She lives in southwest Arkansas, but is moving to Texas soon. I look forward to being with her in January at the 2018 Pulpwood Queens Book Club’s annual Girlfriend Weekend in Nacogdoches, Texas, where we will both be presenting authors.
Before We Were Yours is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Ever. It’s right up there on top of my all-time favorites list with Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides. Buy it and read it. You’re welcome.

CHERRY BOMB Book Tour is Shaping Up!

cherry bombAfter a fun and busy spring book tour for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s (11 events in five states) and A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (7 events in four states, and one more coming up next week in a fifth state), I’m slowing down a bit in June and July. Doing lots of reading and “mental prep” for my new novel, which is I’ve started and stopped in order to refuel.

Cherry Bomb (my novel) launches August 8 at Lemuria Bookstore in Jackson, Mississippi, and my publisher, Joe Lee (Dogwood Press, Brandon, Mississippi) and I are cooking up some fun events for late summer and fall. These (and more to come) will be listed on my web site’s EVENTS page, so feel free to check in from time to time for updates. Meanwhile, here’s a preview of coming attractions in Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida:

August 8 (5 pm)            Lemuria Books/Jackson, Mississippi

 

 August 19                        Mississippi Book Festival/Jackson, Mississippi (panelist for

                                                Cherry Bomb; also moderating another panel)

 

August 26 (12 pm)            Turnrow Books/Greenwood, Mississippi

 

September 1-4            Decatur Book Festival/Decatur, Georgia (panelist for A

                                                      Second Blooming; possibly also for Cherry Bomb)

 

September 7 (5:30 pm)            Burke’s Books/Memphis, Tennessee

 

October 12-15            Southern Festival of Books/Nashville, Tennessee (panelist for

                                                A Second Blooming; possibly also for Cherry Bomb)

 

October 28 (time TBA)            Capitol Oyster Bar/Montgomery, Alabama

                                                (“Choose Your Own Cover” event with live music)

 

October 30 (4 pm)            Sundog Books/Seaside, Florida

 

More events are in the works for November…. We’re still nailing down details, so stay tuned.

Life is Hard

Yesterday I attended a funeral for the brother of a young friend who goes to my church. His brother took his own life. Father Phillip Rogers, our pastor at St. John Orthodox Church, gave a wonderful talk at the grave-side burial service. Basically (but with much more eloquence and with tears) he said:

  1. Death is terrible. Whether it happens to a child or an older person, or someone in between, it’s not what God created us for, and we mourn it.
  2. Life is hard. Whether a loved one dies from a physical or mental illness, young or old, often it reflects a struggle to find light in a dark world.
  3. Christ is risen! When Father Phillip said these words, many of us at the service responded, “Indeed, He is risen!” as we often did during the recent Paschal (Easter) season at St. John Orthodox Church.
  4. God loves us. Even more than the family and friends who were present at the burial love their son, brother, or friend who died.

thoughtAnd then my friend Ethan spoke (also eloquently) about his brother—their lives growing up in a rural setting where they enjoyed nature and the beauty of God’s creation. Their mother’s love, and her love for God, which she instilled in them.

There was a slight breeze at Elmwood Cemetery, as I found relief from the early summer heat under the shade of the green tent set up near Erin’s grave. Our pastor’s words (and his tears) also gave relief, to our grief, to our near-despair. But I won’t despair, as I believe Father Phillips’ words that God loves Erin, and has him in his loving embrace.

Life is hard. But Christ is Risen!

Truly Human: Recovering Your Humanity in a Broken World

My dear friend Kevin Scherer has written an important book. I was honored to be an early reader for Truly Human. Today I’m sharing the review I posted on Amazon for Kevin’s wonderful book, TRULY HUMAN: RECOVERING YOUR HUMANITY IN A BROKEN WORLD.

OCE_MainSlide_Truly_Human

 

In Truly Human Kevin “retraces the steps of humanity” from the Garden of Eden (first three chapters of Genesis) through the actions and emotions of the humans at “the pit” at Ground Zero in New York City, saying:

“Someone who is truly human will manifest the activities, or energies, of God in their life.”

But most of the time we don’t manifest those energies. Why not?

He lays out in clear theological and psychological terms what man’s condition is, why we are the way we are, and how we can own our brokenness and find healing. Along the way he deals with some tough topics, including a straight-forward answer to a universal question:

“Why is there evil?” And, if a good God exists, “Why does He allow it?” If we are made in the image of an intelligent God, these are fair and reasonable questions, and the same scripture that informs these questions also gives us the answers…. We know from the first three chapters of Genesis that God created only what was good. It’s the human distortion of this good that we call evil. God allows this distortion, because to prevent it would require Him to restrict our free will, and without free will love and relationships are impossible.”

I’ve always struggled with why God allows suffering, but Kevin puts it in a clear light for me, helping me accept its place in my life. He describes the cycle of suffering that we are caught in because of the fall: victimization, survival, and perpetration—especially as parents:

“Despite our parents’ deep love for us, they were trying to survive their own pains and suffering. As a result, sometimes we were the emotional victims of their coping mechanisms. They, like us, didn’t set out to harm anyone else, but the reality is that they did, and we do too. When we can face up to the reality that we often victimize others in an attempt to manage our own pain, we reach a spiritual turning point.”

I have already worked through a lifelong process of forgiving my mother for her verbal and emotional abuse of me, but this insight also helps me forgive myself for the ways I failed my own children. And in recent years, I’ve begun to embrace suffering on a very small scale. Kevin’s words help me continue the process:

“Ultimately, the goal is not to remove suffering from our lives, but to transform it into a redemptive experience. Like Christ on the cross, we can abandon ourselves to the will of God and offer up our suffering in anticipation of His mercy. In these moments, we become truly human.”

Truly-Human-Kevin-Scherer__53082.1496150954.500.659In Chapter 3, “The Logic of Suffering,” Kevin takes this experience further:

“The personal experience of suffering begins when we perceive that our reality is unbearable and out of control. Our perceptions give way to feelings. Generally, when we feel out of control it triggers a self-protective and aggressive emotional response—fear, frustration, anger, bitterness, resentment, etc. These feelings can be directed outward or inward, but they are always characterized by a deep dissatisfaction with the way things are.”

That dissatisfaction often leads, as Kevin explains, to our lives being controlled by vices, rather than by living as truly humans:

“The experience and living out of these vices is the story of humanity. By understanding the psycho-logics and interconnectedness of these vices, we will begin to see the areas of our own life in need of healing and develop a deeper empathy and compassion for others who struggle with them.”

Here’s an excellent description of how the vices work together against us:

“Gluttony, lust, and greed are vicious thinking patterns targeted at how we relate to food, people, and possessions. These vices comfort the pain of our broken emptiness and give us the illusion of an identity. These vices are fueled by, and in turn produce, vanity and pride. And when the first three vices inevitably fail to satisfy the God-given longing in our hearts, they produce the vices of anger and self-pity which, if left unchecked, leads to the vice of despair. This cycle perpetually feeds itself and leads its victims into a deeper and deeper experience of hell on earth.”

So how do we “wake up” from this cycle and move towards becoming the human beings we are meant to be? Kevin says it starts with building a personal inventory (sounds a bit like a twelve steps program, but it’s so much more):

“There are five basic questions we can begin using immediately to build a personal inventory. I call them Identity Paths. These questions act like paths that lead us back to what we really believe about ourselves—the truth and the lies. When used in conjunction with the psycho-logic model, explained in chapter three, they can help us embrace the distortions of our lives and who we’ve become.”

Scherer outlines these questions in the book, and suggests we ask them in a specific way in the presence of a friend, pastor, therapist, family member, etc. In the Orthodox Church—of which he and I are both members—this is available in the sacrament of confession, in which I continue to find healing on a regular basis. But it’s also available through professional counselors, trusted friends, and family members. Kevin describes the healing provided by the church in Chapter 6, “Checking Yourself In,” where he talks about the importance of the church being a spiritual hospital.

And then in Chapter 7 he moves us from the church to the outside world in “Giving Your Life Away,” with the importance of reaching out to those in need, to the poor and suffering in the world. His personal stories of working as a volunteer at Ground Zero in New York City after 9/11, and also on the campus of Virginia Tech after the shootings there, as well as leading young people on pilgrimages to help others in various places around the world are real-life testimonies to the way these interactions can change our lives:

“I’ve discovered that the Christian life can only be fulfilled in sacrificial acts of love. Everything else is just talk. Love is our human vocation, and it is most perfectly revealed on the cross.”

He has helped the young people he has worked with see everyone—especially the poor and homeless—as “real people” and not just random faces:

“We must be willing to take the time and emotional energy to see people for who they really are and the situations in which they really live. We must seek to love real people, not caricatures—“for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20).”

Kevin takes us a step further by helping us learn to control our minds, to stay in the present, where the real work of becoming human happens:

“Our broken humanity has lost its natural intuition and no longer knows what to do with the present moment. The mind is designed by God to be active. It is the organ He gave us to be co-creators with Him. With our minds we learn, solve, and plan. In the case of the past or the future, our minds race endlessly to solve the problems of our anxieties and fears.

With the present moment, however, our minds are confused as to what should be done. Unless there is a clear and imposing objective, our minds naturally speed past the present moment toward the areas of greatest pleasure or pain. In the case of pleasure, the mind races to clear the path or duplicate the experience; and in the case of pain, it seeks to alleviate the stress and discomfort of psychological/emotional equilibrium—they are both distorted survival mechanisms.

In order to fully recover our humanity, we must regain control over our minds. The first step in this realignment operation is to help our minds stay in the present moment.”

photoThis book isn’t just for Orthodox Christians, or any “brand” of Christians. It’s for everyone who is open to understanding why we are the way we are, and how we can change and become the humans God intended us to be. I can’t recommend it highly enough. BUY IT NOW. READ IT. SHARE IT.

Kevin Scherer is a writer and speaker with twenty years of pastoral counseling experience. As a former evangelical pastor and Eastern Orthodox priest, he has pastored in seven churches and served as the executive director of two nationwide Christian ministries. He also served as a chaplain at Ground Zero following the events of 9/11 as well as the Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University shootings.

Discovering Elizabeth Strout

static1.squarespace.comI never read Elizabeth Strout’s book Olive Kitteridge. I saw the HBO series and somehow felt a heaviness about it that made me think the book would also feel heavy. Even though it won the Pulitzer Prize. But years later her writing was recommended to me by an author friend who suggested that reading her prose would help me with my own. She suggested I start with My Name is Lucy Barton, and so I did. What a powerful narrative. And a unique style and voice. She develops great empathy for her characters and at times I felt like I was living inside Lucy’s life. The complex relationship between a mother and a daughter was so well-drawn. Having lost my mom to Alzheimer’s just over a year ago, and having just published a book that exposes much of our complicated relationship, I was intrigued by these characters. The Washington Post calls it “a book of great openness and wisdom.”

And then another friend suggested Strout’s recent book, Anything is Possible, which I just finished reading earlier this week. Here’s what the writer Ann Patchett says about this book on Strout’s web site:

It’s hard to believe that a year after the astonishing My Name Is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout could bring us another book that is by every measure its equal, but what Strout proves to us again and again is that where she’s concerned, anything is possible. This book, this writer, are magnificent.

—   Ann Patchett

ElizabethStrout-anythingispossible-coverI completely agree. A friend (this one’s an artist, not a writer) asked me if it matters what order she reads these two books in, and I suggested Lucy Barton first, because she shows back up in Anything is Possible, and it’s helpful to have read the more in-depth story of her life first. In Anything is Possible, Strout weaves the stories of numerous small-town characters throughout a narrative of hard times, hope, struggle, happiness, and the complete range of human emotions. Often the characters from one story show up in another one, which I found interesting, although it took a bit of work on my senior brain to keep up with them at times.

Taking note of Strout’s craft, I noticed that she wrote one of these books in first person and the other in third. (I’m still trying to decide which to use for my next novel, which I’ve begun in slow starts and stops.) It makes sense that she wrote Lucy’s story in first, and Anything is Possible in Third, since there are so many more characters involved in the second book. My novel-in-progress has a protagonist, but also three other main characters, so I’m probably going to opt for third person. Both books are written in past tense. I started my novel in present, but I think I’m going to change it to past before I continue. I’ll make use of quite a bit of flashback, so I’m still not sure about tense.

This week I started another book recommended by a writer friend (you see, when we writers read books, it’s part of our work, our research) as I continue figuring out how to get this next book going. It’s Australian author Liane Moriarty’s book, What Alice Forgot. (TriStar pictures is going to make it a movie, possibly starring Jennifer Anniston.) It was the author who was recommended, not particularly any one of her books (two of them have been #1 New York Times bestsellers) but this one caught my attention. I’m sure I’ll be reviewing it in a couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

I’m giving myself permission to do LOTS of reading right now…. Feeding the well from which I hope to draw a rich and deserving story when I’m ready to get back to work on the new novel. I’m just pretending I’m at the beach and these are my beach reads. Next up:

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith

A Million Fragile Bones by Connie May Fowler

The Cigar Factory: A Novel of Charleston by Michele Moore

 

What’s on your summer reading list?

© Copyright SusanCushman.com