What’s Next on My Reading List?

[Bloganuary wants to know. It’s the WordPress blog prompt for January 18, 2022. Click on blue lettering to connect to websites about the books, authors, and events mentioned.]

My non-writing desk

“What are you reading?” is one of my favorite questions. It gives me permission to talk about the books I’m reading and soon-to-be-read books that I have stacked on my non-writing desk, which functions as an extension of the nearby bookshelf. And, I love to hear about what other people are reading. It’s a good way to add more books to the stack on the desk.

I’m going to cheat a bit and answer this question two ways. First, I’ll discuss what I’m currently reading. Both books are my reward at the end of the day. I read the nonfiction book in front of the TV, so I don’t have to watch it. I like to sit in the family room with my husband in the evening, but our TV-watching tastes are not aligned. I read the fiction book in bed before I go to sleep. Second, I’ll discuss some books on my to-be-read list.

My current nonfiction read is Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin (2010). This is a beautifully written nonfiction book about the Mississippi River. The story starts in the 1700s, and I’m currently reading about events and life along the river in the 1800s. The Mississippi River, the star of the story, is complex and evolving, with a wide emotional range. The stories of the people who lived along the river and worked on the river are compelling too, but the Mississippi steals the show. I like this book because Sandlin’s writing is excellent and well researched. I’m learning so much about the river and how it worked and currently works as part of a large ecosystem throughout the middle of the United States. Unfortunately, I’m learning about how people have damaged that ecosystem. When I’m finished with Wicked River, it will have a permanent home on one of my many bookshelves.

My current fiction read is Saving the Scot by Jennifer Trethewey. It’s Book 4 in her Highlanders of Balforss series. I’ve read the other three books: Tying the Scot, Betting the Scot, and Forgetting the Scot. These books make me swoon, laugh, and cry, and I hold my breath during the engaging, suspenseful action scenes. Before I read these books, I hadn’t read a romance novel in over twenty years, and even then, I could count the ones I’d read on one hand. Trethewey’s books are different. True her characters are beautiful and handsome and brave and have fast-paced adventures on their way to true love. But her characters have human flaws and problems that make them endearing and relatable. And yes, the male characters do save the female characters. BUT the female characters save the male characters too. The females are intelligent, clever, resourceful, and brave, and they’re nobody’s doormat. The supporting characters are fully developed people, each with distinct personalities, who add to the enjoyment of Trethewey’s books. As a writer, I admire the storytelling and dialogue in these books. Her books entertain me and inspire me to be a better writer. After I die, my children will have to decide what to do with these books because I’m not giving them away.

Here are some books on my to-be-read list. I have lots of books that fit this category, but I’m going to limit my list to books that I plan to read in the very near future.

  1. We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz. This book is first on my list because I checked it out from the library. It made my list because I heard the writer speak at a virtual Author Chat sponsored by Honest Dog Books. (Click here to view upcoming Author Chats, which you can listen to from home.) Bartz is originally from Milwaukee, and so am I. Her book was a Reece Witherspoon pick for August 2021. (I also read the Peter Ash series by Nick Petrie. I have one of his books in my stack. He’s a Milwaukee native too.)
  2. My Father’s Keep: A Journey of Forgiveness through the Himalaya by Ed Abell. This book made my list because I’ve met the author, I like reading books that combine adventure with self-discovery, and I had a difficult relationship with my father.
  3. Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life by Elizabeth George. I’m not a novelist, but I believe I can learn from George’s writing advice. This book made the list because I love George’s mystery series featuring Thomas Lynley. They are beautifully written: literary, suspenseful, and full of characters I care about.
  4. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren. Science is interesting, and I like memoir. I had a college professor who wanted to turn me into a biology major because I was so fascinated by my Intro to Biology course. I didn’t bite because I knew it would’ve been a mistake–the math would’ve doomed me. But I love reading about science, medicine, nature, and biology.
  5. Maggie Brown & Others by Peter Orner. This is a collection of short stories, a format that’s always appealed to me. I also write them, so I like to read short stories by other writers. I heard Orner talk at the Harbor Springs Festival of the Book in the fall of 2020. The festival is normally held in Harbor Springs, Michigan, but it was virtual in 2020. I like short story collections because I can read a story or two, read something else, and then read another story or two.

I’ll stop here because I need to go read something!

My writing desk

Kekekabic by Eric Chandler

Reviewed by Victoria Lynn Smith (This review was originally posted on Nov. 27, 2022.)

[To pre-order Chandler’s book click here: Finishing Line Press.]

Leo at Parent Lake in the BWCA

Kekekabic, Eric Chandler’s second book of poetry, will be released May 20, 2022. Prepublication sales for the book will run from January 18, 2022, through March 25, 2022. Chandler is the author of Hugging This Rock: Poems of Earth & Sky, Love & War (2017). He has won the Col. Darron L. Wright Award for poetry three times. His writing has been published in numerous journals and magazines.

Kekekabic combines prose and haiku in a poetry form called haibun. In 2018, Chandler wrote a poem after each of his workouts. His goal was “to pay attention to the world” during his workouts in the wilderness, in Duluth, and on the road as an airline pilot. In his introduction he states, “It’s a loss if skiing through the woods is just a workout. All these miles moving over the earth under my own power have meaning.” Chandler’s poems invite us to move over the world with him and share the meaning he finds as he runs, hikes, and cross-country skis.

On the cover of Kekekabic, Chandler’s dog, Leo, sits on the shore of Parent Lake in the serenity of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). Leo invites us to open the cover, read the poems, and reflect along with his hiking companion about being outside in nature. Chandler shares his wisdom about the outdoors in a haiku:

I think more people

should go outside. I think they’d

be much happier.

This resonates with me because on a bad day if I go outside, my spirits lift. Reading Chandler’s poems lifts my spirits too. Nature is an important theme in Kekekabic, and Chandler poems nudge us to go outside.

Chandler’s imagery appeals to the senses. About one of his runs, he writes, “The wind stacked the pack ice up at the fond du lac. The yellow sun sends a yellow stripe across the open water and it hits the shelf of ice and disperses. Brilliant sparkles randomly dot the expanse as the shards reflect the sun.” After a day on the Kekekabic trail, he writes, “Tail-slapping beavers sounded like full-grown men jumping into the lake.” Chandler’s poetic imagery will linger in our minds long after we close his book.

Leo joined Chandler on the five-day hike in the BWCA along the Kekekabic Trail. Chandler wrote a haibun for each day of the hike. The haiku he wrote on the fifth day—

The sound of peace is

my dog snoring on a rock

on a wild lakeshore

—mixes the wonder of nature and the joy of sharing it with family, which includes his dog. He writes of his daughter’s first time on cross-country skis: “I felt like my heart would explode due to an overload of blue kick wax joy, gliding through the trees in silence.” In another haibun Chandler recounts a run along Lake Superior with his son. They find a teddy bear on the path, and his son turns around and races back to where they had just run from to return the teddy bear to a child. Chandler’s poems remind us that small, quiet moments spent in nature with family are special.

Chandler studied the Japanese poet, Bashō, to learn about haibun. He quotes Bashō: “People often say that the greatest pleasures of traveling are finding a sage hidden behind the weeds or treasures hidden in trash, gold among discarded pottery.” In haibun that reflect Chandler’s workouts in large cities, he has taken Bashō’s words to heart—finding the sage, the treasures, and the gold among the grittiness and complexities of urban settings.

Some of Chandler’s haibun explore the theme of urban settings and nature colliding. In Fort Lauderdale as he runs, he notes “That crisp thread between the light blue of the sky and the dark blue of the water” in the distance. But as he observes the sky and water, he runs “Past the cigarette smokers. Past the marijuana smokers. Past the guy lifting dumbbells while he stands at the seawall, looking at the ocean while his car speakers thump.” He continues running down to the water where he concludes, “I got a moment’s peace and then found my way back to my room through the noise.”

Chandler’s poems written after running in cities, combine the beauty of nature and cityscapes with a harsher reality of urban landscapes, a comparison that invites us to think about people and nature as “reaching toward” one another. He writes, “Downwind now, I was struck that the world of man and the world of nature kind of reach toward one another at the border. The palm trees grow out of the sidewalk and the beach chairs cover the sand.”

In his haibun poems, Chandler encourages us to move through life with meditation and awareness. He encourages us to take journeys with family, friends, and our dogs, but also to take some journeys by ourselves. His poems inspire us to go outside and move through our world.

[For more information about Eric Chandler and his writing, click HERE to view his website, SHMOTOWN. Kekekabic will be available for prepublication sales at Finishing Line Press starting January 18, 2022, through March 25, 2022.]