The Yellow House — a gorgeous memoir

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

3 words: lyrical, evocative, strong sense of place

 

You know when you’re reading a book and the writing’s so lush and beautiful and honest and creative, you just wish so hard you could write like that? The Yellow House is one of those books. Sarah M. Broom is one of those writers.*

It’s no surprise that this book won the National Book Award. Not only is the content is important, but the book is hard to put down. 

Broom writes of her childhood home–a shotgun house in New Orleans. A home that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, which Broom terms “the Water.” 

And while her family’s home is at the heart of this book, really this is a coming of age story about family and race and inequality.

Broom is the “babiest” of twelve children, and her writing about her siblings makes a person appreciate the joy of being part of a large family. After her father’s much-too-early death, her mother raised them all herself, and that in itself is a marvel. 

The New Orleans where Broom grew up was not the Big Easy known by tourists, and she’s frank about the struggles her family experienced due to racism and financial hardship. 

The Yellow House is a memoir that’s powerful, expressive, and poignant. If you appreciate a unique and creative narrative voice, reading the work of Black authors, and experiencing a compelling reading experience, I encourage you to pick up a copy of The Yellow House

 

*You can experience Sarah M. Broom’s writing by visiting her website, especially the Q&A section

Bookish Advent calendar quotes

Each year, a dear friend and I give each other quotes to place on our Advent calendars. Then, after Epiphany, we get together and share our favorite quotes. It’s a magnificent tradition. 

This year, we’re a little bit off our game, because I delivered quotes late (oh, my) and then my friend moved and misplaced the quotes in the shuffle. 

So she’s having Lent/Advent quotes this year, and we’ll have a two-part reveal of our favorite quotes. Here are my favorites of the quotes my friend gave me this year…

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

—Isaiah 43:1

A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you. 

—Elbert Hubbard

Fairy tales are more than true—not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten. 

—Neil Gaiman, Coraline

 

 

Do you have any literary traditions that always make you happy? 

Great novels by women of color

For Black History Month this year, we’re going to take a look at some fantastic novels by women of color. We’re focusing on books published in the past few years, and this is a mere sampling… but there’s something here for practically every reading taste. 

 

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid: interpersonal, complex, pageturner

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams: raw, honest, grim but hopeful

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite: cheeky, inventive, suspenseful

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson: lyrical, impressionistic, nuanced

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: realistic, emotional, relevant

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: realistic, emotional, relevant

What books are you thinking about during Black History Month? 

In which Middlemarch amazes me

Middlemarch by George Eliot

3 words: lyrical, character-focused, absorbing

Middlemarch. I still can’t believe how much I love this book. And as the weeks go by, I continue to ponder it and feel enriched by having read it.

Part of me wishes I’d read it earlier in life, because one of the things I hear over and over is that readers who return to this book find themselves observing the characters differently as their own circumstances and life experiences change. I love that this book is bountiful enough to offer that kind of reading. I’ll have to begin my re-reading experience closer to midlife… and I’m OK with that. But it would’ve been more rewarding to have had a younger person’s take on it.

Here are the aspects I loved most…

The characters

While Dorothea Brooke could be considered the main character, the other characters — so beautifully drawn, so complex and vivid, so imperfectly human — are vitally important to every aspect of the story.

Eliot lovingly crafted not only a rich and nuanced story, but also a cast of individuals who are realistic enough that I feel like I could carry on a conversation with them. I feel like we go way back.

And the characters and the situations they face are real and painful and joyful and strange and uncomfortable and comforting and loving and harsh.

There are young people doing foolish things, and older people, too. And young couples figuring out the world and older couples who are happy. And others who are not. And the small details of their interactions make them abundantly real. I feel like this book could be read as profiles of four married couples. I didn’t expect the wisdom that emerges from the way the people of this book relate to one another. But it’s the greatest gift this book gave me.

The narrator

Another surprise: the narrative voice was fascinating. An omniscient narrator comments on the actions and secret motivations of the characters, and the warm wisdom of that voice was comforting and delightful and unexpected. It seemed a very modern way of telling the story.

The language

Classics can kinda scare me, because dense prose can be tiresome. But this book wasn’t scary and wasn’t hard to read. It wasn’t dense or burdensome. While Eliot is fond of the Very Long Sentence (some of them went on for a full paragraph), she knows how to string together words in a very pleasing way. I found that I needed to slow down my reading a bit and just enjoy the words. The reading wasn’t difficult, but it wasn’t fast. It felt like a comfortable stroll through a beautiful garden — not hurried, and so much to claim one’s attention and to delight.

Now I want more

I found myself wanting to talk with readers who are set just like me, and ask them to give me another classic that’s this wise and warm and absorbing and delightful.

Give this book a whirl if you like… a big, absorbing story; classics; reading about a village; nuanced character portraits so detailed you’d recognize the characters if you met them; fiction that inspires the reader to examine her own life

So, my fellow readers… what classic novel is your favorite, and why should it be my next big read?

What I’ve Been Reading: February 2019

February was a wonderful reading month — with plenty of snowstorms and polar vortex action and gusting winds to make it extra cozy.

My reading this month was a mix of book club assignments, recommendations from other readers, an Audie Award nominee, and the long overdue reading of a classic. We have a fine blend of nonfiction and various fiction genres to tempt any appetite…

Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon by Robert Kurson

3 words: lively, heroic, crisp

Give this book a whirl if you like… space; tales of heroic daring; the behind-the-scenes story; the full team (including wives and families) that made Apollo 8 possible, getting to know the people behind the myth

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

3 words: profound, measured, philosophical

Give this book a whirl if you like… memoirs of survivors, the power of the mind, Holocaust narratives, encouragement through difficult times

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

3 words: cheeky, inventive, suspenseful

Give this book a whirl if you like…  a mix of suspense, family drama, and grim humor; a highly responsible character trapped in terrible circumstances by the acts of a loved one; tension between integrity and family loyalty

Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

3 words: creative, poignant, whimsical

Give this book a whirl if you like… inventive style, quirky bite-sized anecdotes, delight in daily life, clever writing

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told: An Oral History by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman

3 words: irreverent, conversational, humorous

Give this book a whirl if you like…TV stars being real people, humorous memoirs, stories of couples, celebrity memoirs

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

3 words: gripping, disturbing, journalistic

Give this book a whirl if you like… true stories of audacious deception, How’d she get away with it?, true stories that seem too strange to be real, reading about white collar crime, Silicon Valley start-ups, being infuriated

Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken

3 words: lyrical, multi-generational, quirky

Give this book a whirl if you like… quirky historical fiction, a big cast of eccentric but believable characters, bowling, independent women, family sagas, a wee touch of magic, a big story to fall into

Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman

3 words: warm, charming, offbeat

Give this book a whirl if you like… the revelation of family secrets; smart romantic comedies; unusual but believable characters; unintended consequences

And that was my February.

What were your favorite reads of the past month?

Books I Can’t Wait to Read: Early 2019

Anyone else haunt their library holds list?

I revisit mine like a kid looking through the Christmas toy catalog (they don’t print those anymore, do they?) to eye all the lovely things she craves.

Though, admittedly, by the time I was in 3rd grade, all I craved were books.

Here are the highlights on my library holds list at the moment…

What books are you aching to read this spring?

Shelfies: Children’s Literature

Today we conclude our tour of the Unruly Library with the little bookcase from my childhood nursery.

My mom must’ve known she had a little reader on the way, because she made sure there was a bookcase by my bed from the very beginning. (And she read aloud to me in the womb, which we both have always believed contributed enormously to how I turned out.)

Because it feels right, my children’s books—the ones that have survived year after year of librarian-like weeding cycles—are shelved in my childhood bookcase.

Here’s a list of the authors who dominate my childhood bookshelves, listed in the order in which I read them…

  • Beverly Cleary
  • Lois Lowry
  • Louise Fitzhugh
  • Madeleine L’Engle
  • Gordon Korman
  • Paula Danziger
  • Jean Webster

And then we have a handful of mass market paperbacks from my high school years, when I read everything by Richard Bach and Catherine Marshall.

But my favorite book on the shelf is the most re-read book of my entire life: The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. I finally bought a hardcover, because my paperback literally fell apart.

This bookcase just makes me happy.

What are the most-loved books of your childhood?

Nonfiction Shelfies: Women’s Lives and Self-Improvement and Civil War and the Titanic

Today’s home library tour brings us to the reading room… which houses the lovely barrister bookcase.

I super-duper despise dusting, and besides looking all serious and historical and quaint, this puppy keeps the books from getting dusty.

The only thing I don’t adore is that each shelf is a different height, which leads to some very un-librarian-like blending of genres based solely on the size of the books. I get a little twitchy if I think about it too long. (There’s fiction on these shelves, people! Interspersed with nonfiction! Chaos reigns!!)

Despite the weirdness of the blend, there are four distinct collections on this bookcase. Let’s have a look.

Women’s Lives

I seriously adore a good autobiography or memoir by a woman who’s done remarkable things. And biographies of these women — they’re right up there, too. And sometimes I favor a perfectly told tale of everyday life. Here’s where the books about suffragists and spies and princesses are shelved.

Self-Improvement

We already know I can’t resist a solid self-improvement book. And here we have so many of my favorites…

Civil War

When I was in college and library school, my pleasure reading consisted of epic biographies of Civil War generals and lengthy, in-depth books about a single day of a single battle. I was truly a barrel of laughs. (My mom wanted to buy me clothes for Christmas, but I was committed to keeping that Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain biography at the top of my wish list. Best mom ever? I’m quite sure: Yes.) Since that phase of my reading life preceded the blog years, there’s little evidence of it here. But it’s part of me.

The Titanic

This one goes all the way back to high school, when I first read A Night to Remember by Walter Lord. And then I was down that rabbit hole for years. During my Titanic reading phase, I lived in a 1903 house, and it delighted my mind (and haunted my nighttime thoughts) that people living in my house would’ve read about the event in the newspaper. In my current 1871 house, same thing. (Life goal: always live in a place that was built before the sinking of the Titanic)

 

Next week: we head into my reading past… Children’s books are up next.

So readers… What were the topics of reading phases you remember fondly?