Today the Sacred Chickens team is sharing some of their favorite non-fiction books!
The Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward. This book was first published in 2013 and for some reason, it’s taken me a while to get around to reading it. I think I misplaced it when a friend loaned it to me and it appeared again when I was going through our move, but the central question of the book is just as pressing now, maybe even more so. Ward, who grew up in the small town of DeLisle, Mississippi, mourned as she lost five young men she loved, beginning with her brother, in a space of four years. The truth she discovered was that context can kill. This story is haunting, both for the topic matter it covers, and because the ghosts that she recalls become real and beautiful to the reader. I am now looking for all her other books.
My garden now consists of a table full of house plants I saved from the little farm in Fayetteville, TN. By way of confession, I actually bought a few more plants, a pot of primroses and a tiny orchid, regardless that there is no more room for them in this little place. Soon we’ll be forced to wear potted plants as hats. Crow has already attempted to use one as a litter box.
Here’s the thing, when I grew a garden, in every house that I’ve ever lived in, I thought I was shaping it. It turns out, it was shaping me. Now I’m gardenless. I have no context. Before, I might start the morning clipping and speaking firmly with a monstrous Cecile Brunner rose, the one that spent all its time trying to work its way through the front window. I might then gently encourage the struggling rosemary, and apologize to the tea plant because its neighbor, the giant sage, has been sticking a finger in its eye for a week. I might follow up by asking the sacred chickens what they think of the world, all before coffee.
And it’s not just that I don’t have tasks anymore. This sounds weird, but the plants loved me back. The smell of mint crushed under my fingers, the silky feel of rose petals, the cluck, cluck, cluck of contented chickens were all little gifts to me. As though my surroundings reciprocated my dizzy passion.
Now I find myself in a condo with a few plants and a couple of cats. No more getting up to see the sunrise when the dog wakes me up at dawn. No more wandering through the pasture at golden hour until the bats herald twilight. And I notice something. It’s not just the wicked rose or the dearly departed chickens I miss. It’s some part of me. There’s a person I was in that context who seems to be missing. The pine trees outside the condo windows, the ones that protect us from the traffic sounds don’t need me at all. They have a job to do. They're doing it. They're totally self-sufficient. Maybe they would still talk to me, but I’m not sure that I want to be the crazy lady in the upstairs apartment that talks to the trees. Yet.
I suppose there’s something exciting about casting off parts of yourself. Maybe I always thought that moving on, letting things go, means you’re seeing who you really are. Now I’m not so sure about that. Maybe moving on means leaving pieces of yourself behind.
Anyway, for now, the cats, and plants and I are adrift in a little condo, hopefully to be washed up in a new garden soon, but I’ll never forget the old one. And I’ll probably never be exactly who I was in it again.
Sinclair was distracted. Distraction meant that he couldn’t really focus on the fun he was supposed to be having. There were people all around him, at that house, at that party, socializing, drinking, and generally enjoying themselves. He couldn’t do that; his brother had just died. Not that he had held any great love for that bastard, he never had. But still. Death necessitates a reaction, and as much as he had hated his brother, his lack of a pulse was still a shock. After the call came in, he excused himself to the porch, and to the company of cats (which he preferred to the company of people most of the time). He was thinking about his brother, the fighting, the arguments, and the general contempt that they held for each other that had steadily increased over the past five years. He could clearly remember dreading to come home, knowing his brother would be there with some fresh criticism or bitter remark, while his mother pretended to ignore it.
“Boys will be boys” she always said. How he came to detest that phrase, because it dismissed every insult and argument as “rough housing” and every crude remark became “locker room talk.” In essence, she was allowing his brother to act without consequence. He had been lost in thought, all the while absentmindedly stroking the cat, when suddenly the thing bit him, sinking its teeth into the back of his palm, causing him to cry out in pain. His friend Hazel came outside, startled by the noise.
Sacred Chickens is sharing some books that we want to read! Let's hope we get around to it!
Julie – Every year at the end of January, I’m desperate to get back into the garden. So my yearly tradition is to read Mrs. Greenthumbs book How I Turned a Boring Yard into a Glorious Garden and How You Can Too! It’s my all-time favorite gardening book, chock full of advice about buying expensive and possibly picky roses on end of season sale and explaining to them as you plant them that in your garden they’ll ride the bus like everybody else. No divas for Mrs. Greenthumbs! It’s advice like this plus an imaginary walk through her backyard paradise that gets me through the winter. I would love to keep up this tradition, but I’ve run into a snag. First, I lent the book to a friend. Fortunately for that friend, I don’t remember who. (I have to admit that I stole the book from my friend Kathy so…what goes around comes around, I suppose).
For some time the book was out of print. However, in the last year or so, libraries have started selling them online. I purchased one! I was out of my mind with joy! And…I packed it.
Life in the Garden
Written by Penelope Lively
Review by Jarad Johnson
Recently, gardening has become a hobby and interest of mine. However, it’s winter, and I cannot indulge myself by actually being out in my garden in these cold months, so I have turned to books until spring arrives. This book I picked up recently on a whim because it combines gardening and literature, two things that I’m passionate about. In it, the author not only describes her personal experience with gardening, but also broadly discusses how gardens and plants are used as themes in literature. I found myself looking at this book in two different ways, from the perspective of a reader and from the perspective of an (amateur) gardener.
I have a new notebook. My sister got it for me for Christmas. Actually, she got me three new notebooks. I want to use this one, but I feel kind of guilty. I have lots of other notebooks, three quarters full and I should use them first. Of course, I would have to figure out where they are and we’re in the middle of a renovation in a small space that requires moving all the things at least once a week. Notebooks take advantage of this state of things - like socks take advantage of the dryer cycle - by disappearing into wormholes.
Today, we remember and honor the leader and icon of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, Dr. King. Although not without his flaws, Dr. King serves as an inspiration and a reminder that we are all created equal and deserve equal rights. and that injustice still pervades our society. We should also acknowledge that his Dream, which he famously spoke about in Washington, has still not been fully realized. Given that, we have decided to post a portion of his Letter from Birmingham Jail, with a link to the full piece.
"Letter from a Birmingham Jail [King, Jr.]"
16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.
What is literature? If I had to define it, I would say nothing more or less than an examination and exploration of the human condition. Maybe that’s why I’m obsessed with reading story after story, digging through character’s psyches and contexts, trying to figure out life like everyone else. But, for me, stories aren’t always safely contained in books. There are real stories about real people out there too. The way we think about real human stories, the way we pass them on, the way we try to fit them into our own world views, those stories have real effects whether they are fiction, history or current events.
I recently read a book called No Telephone to Heaven by Michelle Cliff. She also used the novel to analyze gender, but in a different, less direct way than in Ashputtle or the Mother’s Ghost (I discussed some thoughts about that book here).
High Static, Dead Lines
Written by Kristen Gallerneaux
Review by Roy Peak
Lou Reed exclaimed in song that "Electricity comes from other planets," and he may be more right than he ever knew.
Reading a book should expand one's knowledge as well as entertain. It should take you to places you have never been to before, that you would not have been able to arrive at on your own. It should be a journey of openness, with mysteries revealed layer by layer as you read deeper into its pages. Once you have finished a book -- a really great book — you should be a different person than when you started.