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Reading Notes: Mid April, 2018 (Part II)

Here is more of what I’ve been reading so far in April. If you missed Part I (Poetry and Nonfiction), you can find it here:

Fiction (Children’s): And my ongoing attempt to curate a collection of children’s books for my own library, no easy task in an age of excess. But the project comes with perks, like the joy of reading these four books. All of them, I am happy to say, are keepers:

This is a Poem That Heals Fish, by Jean-Pierre Simeon, Illustrated by Olivier Tallec (Enchanted Lion Books, 2007). An absolute treasure of a story about a child trying to understand what a poem is. Every child, every poet, every lover of poetry should have this book. I first saw it reviewed here, on Brain Pickings by Maria Popova. If you’ve never visited that site, you are in for a treat.

Bao Phi’s A Different Pond, Illustrated by Thi Bui (Capstone Young Readers, 2017). A beautiful book by a Minnesota author and poet I admire. It’s the story of a little boy up early to fish with his dad and all he learns via that experience. He learns about that ‘different pond’ where his dad had fished with his own dad long ago in Vietnam, yes; but also about the world of work and labor, about providing food for a family that struggles to make ends meet, about parental sacrifice, about loving and being loved. Wonderful illustrations throughout.

On A Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Allemagne (Harper, 2016). A fun and necessary book about a child who spends days glued to her gaming device, until she can’t…and all she ends up doing when there’s “nothing to do.” Darling.

A Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell (Fiewell & Friends, 2017). A Picture Book and the 2018 Caldecott winner. I’m always amazed at how well a story can be told entirely in pictures, in this case with a few whimpers, howls, huffs, and barks thrown in. And the illustrations (by the author) are delightful.


Fiction (Middle Grade): Ditto for Middle Grade fiction on the difficulties of curating in an age of excess. But here are two books that really stand out. Inside Out & Back Again, by Thhanha Lai (HarperCollins, 2011). This is the award winning immigration and transition story of 10-year-old Ha and her Vietnamese family, told by Ha in the form of a long poem. A beautiful and important narrative, delivered in a fun and compelling voice.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers) is exquisite in both story and writing. I can see why it has won so many awards, including the 2017 Newbury, and why it has been up for so many others. In keeping with Barnhill’s own understanding of the best middle-grade fiction, her novel is a “big tent” book where everyone is invited; and at 60+ I felt so. Beautiful characters, a gripping, well-paced story, and plenty of magic. A sheer delight.


Fiction (Adult): The Matisse Stories by A.S. Byatt (Random House, 1993). Three matissestories, each inspired by a Matisse sketch. These are lovely narratives told by a master storyteller. Each elevates daily life itself to art. This is another book I likely bought at least in part for the cover. And this is my second time around with it (to keep or not to keep). I loved The Matisse Stories more the first time, so I will let this little volume go (the original hardcover) to make room for a story collection I have my eye on. If anyone has a good home for it, speak up—otherwise to the library sale it goes.

life we buryThe Life We Bury by Allen Eskens (Seventh Street Books, 2015). Let me just say this: despite my misgivings about the level and graphic nature of the violence (for which I have a very low threshold), I had a hard time putting this book down. The story is both disturbing and tender and the telling is very, very good. I need to write more about this book and this reading experience and the questions it raised for me. Another day.




Reading Notes: Mid-April, 2018 (Part I)

Here is the first installment of Reading Notes, a monthly, perhaps even bi-monthly round-up of what I’ve been reading. What follows aren’t reviews in the conventional sense; there will be no thumbs up or down, no rating system, stars or otherwise. I rarely finish books I don’t enjoy and generally don’t say much about those. I am my mother’s daughter (“If you can’t say something nice…”); so, if books show up here I think they’re worth reading. Only brief notes, light commentary or annotations will accompany most titles, enough I hope to spark your interest, and you can take it from there. Each installment of Reading Notes will open, however, with a slightly longer look at a book I’d like to feature. I might have found it especially beautiful and appealing, as is the case today. Or maybe it loomed particularly important to our time. Or perhaps it helped me think through an idea, a situation, an issue that troubles, challenges, or inspires me.

deja vu

Déjà Vu: Poetry by Laura L. Hansen (Finishing Line Press, 2017)

Early April brought me back to Laura L. Hansen’s Déjà Vu, a slim but weighty volume which I bought before Christmas, when the poet signed books at our local arts center. At the time, I could only page through the collection; but I knew I’d come back in earnest when I could give it more attention.

From the opening poem, “Déjà vu,” through “The Truth Upon Waking,” “Her Body,” “The Mythology of Loneliness,” “A Cup of Sky,” and “Mitosis” (to name only a handful of favorites), to the closing poem, “Desire at 60,” I found Hansen’s poetry at once sating and stimulating, each poem like a bite of rich chocolate dessert—it completely satisfies but also sets you yearning for the next bite.

The poems I like best in Déjà Vu look inward, even as they reach out toward the reader, occasionally in spite of themselves (“Sometimes I Pray That You Won’t Talk to Me”); they are introverts, these poems, perfectly fine with their own company yet longing to be heard and appreciated. There is beauty in every poem, whether the subject be mundane or elevated, dark (“Testimony”) or pulsing with light (“Mitosis”); they are well-wrought with exquisite language that can stun or stifle (and more!) to appropriate effect. And flowing through it all is the river of Hansen’s awareness, so keen the reader just knows she is in excellent hands. pray me

Also in Poetry: Ellen Doré Watson’s Pray Me Stay Eager (Alice James Books, 2018). The title drew me in: that’s my kind of prayer. As did the book’s cover: I’m such a sucker for green, growing things. And now I’m just glad to have these astonishing, sometimes strange or surprising, often difficult poems in my life! Here’s snippet from “Women for the World” –one, of many favorites:

…Sharp- or honey-tongued, she / legals, loyals, triages, stops the superhighway. She sings / herself, and everyone. Flecked with paint or pain, knee- / deep in the way out or in. She drives. We women–elected, / reflecting, dissecting, refracting–ignition for the world. (56)


In Nonfiction: At the time of Ursula K. Le Guin’s death I was reading No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters (HMH, 2017). This month I followed up with Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter: Writing About Life and Books, 2000-2016 (Small Beer Press, 2016). Individually or taken together, these two latest-in-life collections of essays, reviews, blogposts, journal entries and more (many not previously published) are a tour de force. They offer so much of what is needed right now: strong, unminced words, not just from someone who has been there, but from someone who cares deeply about the future– of words, of writing, the arts, women, humanity, the planet. These two volumes will hold pride of place in my library for a good long time

Attracted, as usual, by any title that involves a dinner table (be it literal or metaphorical), I found myself reading a book I likely would not otherwise have picked up– A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community by John bigger tablePavlovitz (WJK Press, 2017). I am here to tell you, that no matter where you are in your relationship (or lack of relationship) to religion or spirituality– institutional or otherwise, Christian or otherwise–there is a great deal you can take away from this book. If you are interested in fostering more truly inclusive community in these deeply divisive times; if you long to become more of a ‘big-table’ person in your personal life, I hope you will read this book. 

Coming soon~ Reading Notes, Part II: Fiction (Children’s Books, Middle Grade, Adult) 




A warm welcome to Danielle Dufy, c’est moi, the website and blog of someone you might otherwise know as Deborah — writer, reader, vegetable gardener, table setter, queen of the road. Why Danielle Dufy?  That was my name in high school French class, at which time I could not possibly have foretold how I would hold that young French girl in my heart my whole life. What Danielle has meant to me / still means to me (as, among other things, a lifelong guardian of my best hopes) is well worth honoring here. I’m working on a title poem for the About page. I’ll let you know when I have it.

So what will you find at Danielle Dufy, c’est moi? That’s a good question. I’ve blogged before, ages ago, when blogs were still called ‘web logs’ for Pete’s sake; and there were relatively few people doing it so that very tight nationwide, even international communities–of garden bloggers, food bloggers, book bloggers–formed easily and firmly.  I still have some of those friends. Back then, I posted about gardening, cooking, traveling, and reading.  I’m guessing there will be some of all that here too.

But Danielle Dufy (as is her way) emboldens me to talk about writing in this place as well, even though I am pretty new to the kind of writing I am now trying to do, and even more new to sharing it with anyone. I certainly haven’t abandoned the essay, which is a natural outlet I suppose for someone who’s written academically and journalistically; but I want even my essays to be more creative, imaginative, out-of-the box. I’m writing some poetry which isn’t over-good yet. But that’s okay. I am patient. I keep working. And I am willing to grow better in ways that matter to me (which means, I think, coming closer and closer to my own authentic voice, style, expression with each poem). And here’s a surprise. I have been gob smacked by the urge to write fiction. I say ‘gob smacked’ because at no point in my life would I have predicted it or believed I was in any way equipped for or interested in being a writer of fiction. But I am a faithful listener to my gut in all things. So bring it on.

For now, Danielle Dufy, c’est moi will stay a humble, self-designed, self-managed place and I may lumber along a bit in that regard. (Aging isn’t making me any more tech saavy, I’m afraid). But I know who to call if I need help, or if I want more bells and whistles; and I’m very grateful to Corey at MidState-Design for that assurance. So wish me luck in this new space, and please do come on back.   ~ Deborah