I came across some fun books at the library website in July, both e-book and e-audiobook. I also got the Basho book in the post, from a Swiss ebay seller. I am quite interested in haibun as a form.
Mostly Water: Reflections Rural and North by Mary Odden
When I clicked on this book title in the ‘new to library’ section of the library website and read the description, I knew I wanted to read it. It is a collection of personal essays drawing on the author’s life in both ‘cowboy country’ Oregon, where she grew up, and interior Alaska, where she has lived as an adult. Having lived in both places, although not in the same towns, I was intrigued. I loved this book, both because of Odden’s stories and reflections on her life and the world she inhabits, but also for the memories it evoked for me. When she mentions eating seal oil and ‘Eskimo ice cream’ at potlucks with Alaska Native people, I remembered my own experiences doing the same. I could picture certain areas of Alaska as I was reading her thoughts and descriptions of them. There was one chapter near the end that, in an ‘it’s a small world’ sort of way, seemed kind of weird, because she spends some time writing about someone I knew, albeit in passing (the husband of a linguistics/anthropology professor that I knew when I was in the anthropology department at university in Fairbanks). Music was her jumping off point for that chapter and within a few paragraphs of her section on this guy, she talked about being in a Killybegs pub once. I would have enjoyed this book even without the similarities to my own life, but being able to relate to it in this way made it an even better read than it would have been otherwise.
Becoming by Renaada Williams
This is a debut poetry collection that considers what it means for someone to grow into who they are, to stand up for what one needs, to be a Black woman, and more.
Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn (audiobook read by Diana Dimitrovici)
This was in the ‘new to library’ section of the library e-audiobook page. I wasn’t sure about it, but gave it a try. I was gripped from the start and ended up changing my plans one night because I was eager to finish it and see how the story ends. It was longlisted for various prizes in 2018 and 2019. It is written in flash fiction format, so the chapters are very short and while the story does move along, it is definitely choppy in a way because of the format. Some chapters were written in first person through Alina’s point of view and others were written in third person, as if by an observer who was reporting on what was happening to her.
The book is set in 1970s Romania. We first meet Alina when she is at the end of her teenage years. We learn that she has a troubled relationship to her mother, who is an enthusiastic supporter of the communist regime. She also has an aunt who clings to old folk ways in spite of having been married to a government official. Alina marries Liviu and things go well at first. But when Liviu’s brother defects, they become targets of the ‘secret’ police. Their careers are harmed, they are under surveillance, they suffer physical and psychological violence and their marriage is threatened. Alina turns to her aunt for advice. Will the old ways provide a path out of their dangerous situation?
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Matsuo Basho (translated and with an introduction by Nobuyuki Yuasa
This is Basho’s (1644-1694) most famous work. It’s in the form of haibun , which I am quite interested in—spare travel writing with haiku interspersed throughout. There is particular attention paid to nature. This slim volume is one I will return to again and again. I loved it.
I hope this first day of August is treating you well.