The Book of Life

Every so often a book lands in your lap at the right moment. You are ready to hear the message, you are ready to be swept away, you are ready to be remade.

When I first read a Discovery of Witches I was knee-deep in other lore based novels and found the love affair between Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont endearing. What hooked me was Deborah Harkness’ ability to weave an intricate mystery steeped in political intrigue with a love story older than time.

But this isn’t even the most interesting piece of her trilogy. Yes, there is love neverending, bloodshed, victory, etc. but above all else there is a bit of reality hidden in the weft. For the modern practitioner looking for threads of truth, Harkness has done an amazing amount of research on the subject of witchcraft. My only complaint is that what she unearthed could (and should!) easily fill a tome in its own right.

The third book in the series does not leave readers wanting.

The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri

The prose in this novel is written so that time and memory drift through the pages much in the same way they do in reality. Some moments blurred together artfully, masterfully; decades passing like a flowing river; other moments written word-for-heartbeat so that you’re there with the mother of a revolutionary as she bear’s witness to an event that will change the course of her entire family. 

It’s not that Lahiri’s writing isn’t beautiful, it certainly is, but that there are no extraneous thoughts, not a word out of place, not a moment over-lingered. The Lowland is like a well-used cast iron pan, no rough edges and forged in fire. The novel follows a family from post-independence India to modern day America. The choices each person makes a reflection of their own values as well as the values of their country and their circumstance. 

A must read for lovers of historical fiction (or even just plain old history). Sad, deep, enriching. Definitely not a light-read, but worth it! Pick your copy up at Cloud and Leaf.

Where’d You Go, Berndette

There was an article I read recently regarding a shaman’s perspective on mental illness; the gist of it was that western culture is too quick to medicate. Rather than embrace the discord in a body as a calling from the other side, a sign that something is out of balance and needs to change, western medicine can only eradicate.

And just like when the blackberries threatening to take over the hillside of a quiet Seattle neighborhood are removed in the middle of one of the worst rain storms in history, a lot more than mud gets dislodged when weed eradication occurs.

Bernadette Fox isn’t crazy, and when you read through the correspondence her daughter finds after her disappearance you might begin to wonder just what is crazy.

This novel is a beautifully written story of the northwest yuppy that can only bitch and moan when their luncheon is disturbed because they’ve never encountered any real problem outside of having to design the new logo for their child’s private kindergarten. It is a piece of comic genius and a tale of love that blossoms in the most unlikely places.

An absolute must read, especially if anyone in your life has complained about your weeds growing onto their property. It makes sense that author Maria Semple has also contributed to comedy classic Arrested Development.

Barbara Kingsolver – Flight Behavior

A story as rich and delicate as its subject matter, Monarch butterflies that overwinter in Tennessee instead of Mexico. A woman saved by the vision of fire on the tree tops that has no sound and no heat returns to her family changed. Although at first she is sure that she walks invisible through her life, the change informs her there is no refuge in a small town. No hiding from a bad relationship. No running away from despair. 

Until she is offered a challenge that lights her life like her vision, “being with me without being with men.” Precisely. Finding all of the bits and pieces of yourself you threw away for other people in the joy of dissecting bisecting the world into neat boxes. Silent witness of the death of a species. Watching your world float away only to find you’re completely at peace with the outcome. 

If this resonates with you then Flight Behavior is a must read. The story of a small town family feverishly brought to the present century and all of its complications over the landing of the smallest of creatures. Her best work yet. 

Sometimes a Great Notion

Want to discuss this Oregon Classic? Cloud and Leaf will be hosting a bookclub discussion of the Ken Kesey Novel ‘Sometimes a Great Notion’ on May 12th at 6:00 pm, refreshments will be served. Check back for notes and a review of the novel!

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch, a mystery set in modern-day Manhattan, Las Vegas and Amsterdam, follows a young man’s life after the tragic death of his mother, abrupt upheaval from his home, and the accidental acquisition of a priceless painting. I won’t give away an inch here since each page is a treasured jewel of novel. Read every word.

What I will tell you is that I don’t like mysteries. I’m too anxious to genuinely enjoy them. And this book isn’t riveting. But it quickly (within the first 5 pages) became a new favorite. A deep settling quality that reminded me of P.D James. Nothing frantic despite the circumstances.

In fact, the humor is easily relatable and, although the subject matter is dense, it follows the pace of life in such a natural way that I found myself 200 pages in (the hardback is nearly 800 pages) and not wanting it to end.

It’s fun, believable, interesting (I learned quite a bit about art and antiques), and completely worth a read. It makes sense that it’s been a best-seller since it was released late last year, and has been keeping the literary world buzzing. It will keep you on your toes, in a pleasant way, anticipating the fate of Theo, even though you know from the beginning, it probably isn’t going to end well, or is it?

Super Brain – Deepak Chopra and Rudolph Tanzi

When I opened Super Brain I didn’t have any clear expectation about what the purpose of the book was, or how it would help me, but this was one of the first non-fiction books I was inclined to immediately begin reading again. The advice is simple and straight-forward: you’re probably one of the many people who feels that you’re not living up to your potential. Regardless of your age and station, if you’re not one of the few meditating regularly, working on growing your inner light, or living every moment in a mindful manner (and perhaps even if you are), then you have something to learn from this book.

If only to help you see that you’re not in this alone, there are chapters that discuss the impacts of meditation on the brain, the neurobiological impacts of stress and how to change it, and synopses of recent studies that suggest the mind creates the brain, rather than the brain creating consciousness. Plus lists, so many lists that help you work through anxiety, depression, and anger.

A must read for lovers of the brain. Also, if you’re going through a major life change, this is a handy guide book. Think of it like Hitchhikers Guide to Your Higher Self.