Shelf Life for Summer 2020, pt. 1

Books In Progress
How To Be An Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
Hard Times by Studs Terkel
Time Loops by Eric Wargo

Books Finished
Devolution by Max Brooks
Rising Strong by Brené Brown
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Boom-shacka-lacka by William Marquess
A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry

What’s this called again?

Oh yeah. Writing. Lets’s give it a shot, shall we?

I haven’t sat at a keyboard and put together much more than social media posts in a while. Same with pen and paper. The last significant writing I did was back on July 9 – over two months ago – when I wrote the May edition of Shelf Life.

I desperately hope that writing this is the first step back onto the path of daily writing. We’ll see. Fingers crossed.

Anyway, books …

There’s a hell of a lot of ‘em here (including some not pictured above), and they’re all attached to what I think are interesting circumstances. The easiest way to go about this, I guess, is to just go from the top and work my way down. Rather than take things title by title (not enough time or energy for that), I’ll group books together by circumstance and see what happens. Hopefully whatever it is, it’ll hold your attention.

Three books challenged me this summer and continue to do so as I work my way through them. Two of them because of their subject matter, and the other (Time Loops) because, as I wrote back in July, it’s a weird topic to wrap my brain around at times. 

Ibram X. Kendi’s How To Be An Anti-Racist is one of the most thought-provoking, challenging books I’ve ever read. I find it impossible to read more than a dozen or so pages at a time before I have to stop and take a few days to process what I’ve read. If America had a required reading list, Kendi’s book would – or at least should – be on it. Some who haven’t read it assume a lot about the author’s perspective, and they couldn’t be more wrong. If you haven’t read How To Be An Anti-Racist, I hope you do. 

I started reading Studs Terkel’s classic oral history of the Great Depression, Hard Times, at the beginning of summer for two reasons. One: I’m trying to better understand the construction of oral histories. Two: what better time to learn more about the first Great Depression than on the cusp of a possible second? What could possibly go wrong? Well, a reader could wind up even more depressed than they were before they started reading. So, yeah, it’s a tough one, but Terkel’s a master of the craft and makes it worthwhile.

Three of the five books I read this summer – A Wolf Called Wander, On Writing, and Boom-shacka-lacka – were read in the wilds of Belvidere, VT, one of the tiniest towns in the state. I went over there on a four-day, solo camping trip to refocus on writing and reading back in June. It was great while I was there, but circumstances and lack of will power didn’t let the experience stick. 

Anyway, King’s book about writing and his life as a writer is a modern classic, and I don’t know that I can say much that hasn’t been said. Other than that it bears consideration as one of the all-time great love stories ever written. Not between King and writing, mind you, but between King and his wife, Tabitha King. There’s a deep, abiding love and affection he has for her, and it’s one of the most tangible parts of the book.

A Wolf Called Wander is a new-ish middle-reader (on the early end of the scale) book based on a true story. It tells the tale of a young wolf separated from his pack and how he survives. I was drawn to this because I have an animal story I want to write, and I’m exploring different approaches. A few months back I read E.B. White’s classic The Trumpet of the Swan, an all-time favorite of mine, with similar intent. Between Wander and Swan, I see my story leaning more toward the anthropomorphized but grounded Wander than the magical realism of Swan. If you’ve got a young reader who loves wildlife (or if you do), Wolf Called Wander is worth tracking down.

The late William Marquess’s Boom-shacka-lacka made its way into my hands thanks to my good friend and podcast co-host Troy Millette. He and I have discussed the book a few times on our What the World Needs Now podcast (available wherever you listen to podcasts), and I’m grateful he loaned me his copy. Reading the short story collection in my tent on a cool, early summer evening was a sublime experience that I won’t soon forget. I’d write more about it, but you can hear plenty on this episode of What the World Needs Now. You should go give it a listen.

I read Brené Brown’s Rising Strong as part of an online book discussion/therapy group my counselor put together over the summer. I’m still processing quite a bit of it, but it’s definitely a book for our times, as the country collectively experiences multiple crises of vulnerability and the need to get back up from being knocked down.

Ok. Gonna do something here I’ve never done before with an edition of Shelf Life. I’m splitting it in half. This is going super-long, so I’m hitting the pause button. When we come back, I’ll share my experience of rejoining the world of new- and used-book shoppers in the time of COVID-19 and praise the genius of Max Brooks. 

See you soon.

2 thoughts on “Shelf Life for Summer 2020, pt. 1

  1. Pingback: Shelf Life for Summer 2020, pt. 2 –

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