This is my symphony

What I read & what I lived …

What I read

I put off reading Lisa Genova’s Still Alice (or seeing the movie) because Alzheimer’s disease is everyone’s worst nightmare, am I right? And I just didn’t know if my heart could take the Big Feelings I knew the story would stir up. But I’ve got to say, Genova handled a sensitive topic with incredible grace and never once gave in to the maudlin. Alice Howland is a Harvard linguistics professor who comes to realize, at fifty, that something is terribly wrong. She loses a word or a face here and there, misplaces names–but don’t we all?! Then one day she gets lost in her neighborhood on a run she has done daily–for years. None of the landmarks look even the little bit familiar, and she struggles to regain her bearing. Within days she is referred to a neurologist and it’s not long before her fears are confirmed: early onset Alzheimer’s. When the story focuses on the response of Alice’s family, friends, and colleagues it’s much as one would expect: anger, aversion, pity. But the writing soars as Alice’s memory fades and we see the world through her eyes. Her daughters become “the mother” and “the actor.” Her granddaughter’s playroom is “the room with all the loud seats.” When Alice follows her caretaker on a walk at the novel’s end she “didn’t want to leave, but the woman was going, and Alice knew she should stay with her. The woman was cheerful and kind and always knew what to do, which Alice appreciated because she often didn’t.” There is a kind of peace in Alice’s world–and while there may not be hope exactly, the fear of this horrible disease loses a bit of its sting.

My book club read this month was The Other Americans by Laila Lalami. We try to alternate reading fiction and nonfiction, and last month’s book was Jose Vargas’s Dear America about living undocumented in the United States. As its title suggests, immigrants are front and center here. The story is a multi-layered crime-mystery, love story, family saga. Driss Gerroui, who immigrated from Morocco thirty years ago, is killed in a hit and run late one night as he leaves the diner he owns in small town in the Mojave desert. His daughter Nora, a struggling musician, comes home to bury him and help settle his affairs, and in the process discovers a shattering family secret. Nora’s ambitions collide with her mother’s aspirations and she must decide to stay or go. Turns out there’s more than one way to immigrate–that sometimes our most difficult journey is coming home to ourselves.

Dystopian climate change novels don’t usually catch my eye. My all. time. favorite. is the young adult novel The Age of Miracles which I wrote about nearly ten years ago. (If you haven’t read it, you must–it’s that good.) But the blurbs for Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy were pretty compelling. “Instant bestseller.” “Poignant.” “Tantalizingly beautiful.” Franny Stone is on her way to Antarctica on a fishing vessel, following what might be the last of the arctic terns. Most bird species are extinct. The oceans are barren of fish. Even mammals in the wild have vanished. It’s us. We humans. Our greed finally destroyed the earth. An interesting premise, for sure. And while the writing is beautiful, I found it difficult to stay with this one. Franny is difficult to connect to. And unbeknownst to me when I chose the title, there’s the fact that the novel takes place (for the most part) on the ocean with all its endless tossing and turning and waves and storms and cold and …
“Thank you, Moby Dick,” she said with resentment. “You’ve ruined many a fine book for me.”

What I lived

There is no better time of year in my Great Lakes state than June. Days are warm; nights cool. My perennial garden is in full bloom and the pots of annuals haven’t yet gotten tired as they will in August. Birds. Fireflies. Oh my! I’ve got ‘summer’ on my menu and it’s chicken salad and asparagus and steak on the grill. And strawberries are in and there’s nothing better than a berry that is just a few hours–or minutes!–picked.

“The whole world is a series of miracles, but we’re so used to them we call them ordinary things.”

Hans Christian Anderson

Last week I went camping in a new spot: Sleepy Hollow State Park. What they say about the pandemic and RVs and campgrounds is correct: there’s not a spot to be found and if you do find one, be prepared to park cheek to jowls with big rigs and trailers. I was lucky enough to get a reservation the last week of school, so the campground was quiet and only half full, if that. I hiked and read and walked to the beach. I found a cute farm market and bakery. I read some more.

Close enough to heaven for me right now.

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