Read, writing

Books I Loved in 2016

Seems like a great day to review Alexandra Dane’s Best Reads of 2016 — a purely self-interest, subjective culling from the fifty books I read over the course of the year. I read everything and anything that catches my eye, mostly everything recommended to me, and then thousands of words every week of other writers’ rough drafts. I like to believe this is better than Sudoko.

2016 Favorites

Slade House — David Mitchell: I went down the rabbit hole with this author and would do it again. Don’t read late at night.

My Name is Lucy Barton — Elizabeth Strout: Spare scenes, complicated memories, will go down in literary history as one of the best books that makes the reader fill in the blanks and work for the story.

When Breath Becomes Air — Paul Kalanithi: Just read it. You need these words to wake up every day and feel blessed and mindful.

Girl at War — Sara Novic: With so much of our world at war, this story, through the eyes of a girl, will make you listen to the news differently.

Sweetbitter — Stephanie Danler: You can see a pattern of my favorites. Give it to me slant and I will eat it up. Pardon the pun. Intense story from behind the food scene.

Another Brooklyn — Jaqueline Woodson: Don’t let this thin volume fool you, the story whacks a good punch of awareness and meaning.

The Absolute True Diary of a Part-time Indian — Sherman Alexie: I am late to the gate with Sherman Alexie, especially since I spend so much time in the city of Seattle which adores him. It is no secret I love the straight-forwardness of YA and this is no exception. I asked my local Seattle bookstore owner (Phinney Books) which one of Alexie’s many genres to begin with (poetry, non-fiction, fiction, YA) and this is what he plucked off the shelf. And FYI Tom Nissley’s monthly newsletter offers a trove of good, thoughtful suggestions. Just saying — anyone can subscribe.

How To See: Looking, Talking and Thinking About Art — David Salle: The character of art itself not just the artists. Thought provoking for your year of culture ahead.

The Man Called Ove — Frederick Bachman: Don’t see the movie first, find a copy of this book and feast your eyes and heart on the unexpected lessons of love, life, anger and cats.

The Atomic Weight of Love — Elizabeth Church: A woman, an atomic bomb, an era. When I read it, in spring 2016, women were about to break the last glass ceiling. Rereading it at the end of the year, I feel the tragedy of women’s choices even more acutely. Perhaps my favorite read of 2016.

There are plenty of books I wrote down in the back of my diary that I would never read again, fiction and nonfiction, but every, single read makes me think and that is the goal, no?

Cheers and Merry and A Healthy New Year, readers.

And ps. send me ideas for 2017!

Alexandra Dane

 

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Feminism, Women, writing

Kick Butt.

I remember the day my grandmother taught me how to curtsey. She was somehow in charge of me on bridge day and I was dressed to be shown off, squeezed into an uncomfortable wool jumper, the white blouse underneath bunching up around my middle. I knew I fell short on many levels, but determined, she gave me a quick how-to before her guests arrived. Holding my plump hands in hers she positioned me in front of her and demonstrated: slide one foot behind the other, dip my knees together, look her in the eye.

I remember feeling a little sick to my stomach. At home I ran barefoot in the wheat fields. Why am I learning this I wondered. The year was 1965 and I had personally witnessed my mother throwing away her bra. “You can do EVERYTHING I couldn’t” my mother told me as she dropped it in the bin with a flourish. But I also knew, like my grandmother’s even, back-slanted handwriting, that today’s lesson held the key to being a lady, a term my mother scorned but the little fat girl secretly worshipped. I stood by the front door with my grandmother that day and executed a perfect curtsey to each guest. They cooed in admiration. This felt just fine.

So began my conflicted relationship with being a woman that frankly has not abated fifty-two years later. Does it ever abate with any woman my age? I write my essays on being white, middle aged and full of words. I question retiring from life when the kids leave for theirs. My essays and blog posts are sprinkled on the internet weekly and after publication I am full of heavy dread each time I turn on my laptop. Who will be offended? Can I live what I say and say what I mean?

But then we have the elections of 2016 and I face that I have been coasting along, letting other women do the heavy lifting. How to hone feminism and fifty and language to shape the next generation now keeps me awake at night.

“Look what we did for you!” was my mother’s favorite line when she pushed me to college, graduate school, begged me to get a PHD. This year I assure my oldest daughter as she plans her wedding, “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want,” and I know my mother would be proud. Then I order my daughter monogrammed stationary. Because, honestly, I am still doing a little curtsey with a pen in my hand, bridging the worlds that raised me.

If I want my daughter to keep the path for equality and feminism open despite the elections of 2016, for her to be the next female president (why not?) or know her, I need to trample the have to’s and remind myself and other women daily that women can do anything. So here goes another blog, and some more words, and the choice of honesty.

You will still be a lady if you kick butt. Even more of one now in 2016. And you need to.

Thanks for cutting the path, Mom. Stomping on it right now for you and all of us.

lilacs1964

Gathering lilacs at Moose Hill. Alexandra Dane, 1965

 

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LGBTQ, New Vocabulary, writing

I do not remember ever before feeling such extreme emotions. When I come in contact with the news, or politics, or domestic issues I fight the impulse to hide — behind the shelter of my white skin and safe homes. From all the anger. From the television.

Two nights ago we found a bird’s nest tucked into our Christmas tree. I thought to myself, this is an auspicious sign for the new year ahead. I need that word in my vocabulary right now. I will definitely use auspicious again. We carefully gathered the loose sticks and rested the small wild bundle on the mantle.

The next morning I woke to read that my niece was “safe in lockdown during violent episode at Ohio State.” I had to turn on CNN for the first time since November 11 and try to understand. My heart broke that day for the victims of the knifing and that lovely ambitious first-year college girl I know who will now have to look over her shoulder.

I read the New York Times daily, hoping they can stay the course of censorship. But at the same time when I read today’s news I now doubt the authenticity, question the thoroughness, wonder about the pressures I cannot see as the articles go to print. My writing groups have heavy, hesitant fingers as we wrestle with the effectiveness, racial tones, language and impact of our words. We are reluctant. We are recalcitrant. We are striving to mitigate anger, make sense and at the same time empathize in order to understand the picture before us.

I find I am becoming silent. Until I came face to face with ignorance. As I walked through my town on the coast of Massachusetts the other day, two acquaintances stopped me and laughed.

“Did you lose a button?” they asked, scrutinizing the safety pin on my jacket. I was actually struck silent. After a few words of greeting, I walked away full of anger. It was then I knew I needed a new vocabulary. And I needed to start using it.

I wear a safety pin to indicate I am a safe person, aware that people are sufficiently unsafe in their sexual preferences and appearance everywhere, even here. The incoming administration has made no secret that they believe all equality mandates should be withdrawn. I am purchasing larger safety pins but am I saying what needs to be said to educate, inform and create a safe place? No. I became angry and judgmental. Who does that remind you of?

In two days my world has swung from auspicious to violent, from recalcitrant to empathy, from speechless to this blog. This is a beginning. These will be the words:

Safe. Understand. Listen. Question. Don’t assume. Facts. Tell me. Next time, I will explain LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,Trans and Queer) to my friends when they laugh at the dime store pin on my chest, not go silent in anger. I will chose actions important to humanity, even if it makes  others uncomfortable.

The bird’s nest rests on my mantle to remind me that all worlds collide. To be a humanitarian —  for all creatures, great and small, of any color, in any place — I cannot hide. I am a white middle-aged woman full of words. I will select the ones that count for others. In my mind there is really no other option.

What words will you use?

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New Vocabulary.

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