Adding two new books to my scattershot world, including A Northern Light

Sunday, August 5, 2012


I was escaping on Thursday as I made my way to the bookstore.  The heat, a particular conversation, a pedigreed failure.  In the summer, at bookstores, I tend to stand among those tables dedicated to middle- and high-school reading lists—looking at all that I've missed, scorning my own piecemeal education, regretting my only partially successful autodidactism.  I studied the history and sociology of science at Penn.  I teach memoir.  I review (mostly) adult literary fiction.  I have (most recently) been writing young adult fiction that is perhaps not really young adult fiction.  I started out as a poet.  I am currently researching the heck out of Bruce Springsteen.  My triple-stacked bookshelves reflect my scattershot world.  Despite the fact that I have tried, since I was a teen, to read at least three books a week (and, later in life, The New Yorker, New York Times, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, and the book review sections of The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, and the Philadelphia Inquirer), I have a whole lot of gaps, always, to fill.  I am embarrassed, often, by my own not-knowingness.  I could not pass any test that might be given.

Thursday, ignoring the criminally ignored two dozen as-yet-unread books stacked on my office floor, I bought two more—A Northern Light, which Melissa Sarno recommended, and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood.  I have read all of Capote except In Cold Blood.  Don't ask why; it just happened.

Yesterday, between bouts of Springsteen research, I read A Northern Light, a young adult novel written by Jennifer Donnelly, which was a Printz Honor Book when it was released ten years ago, earned numerous additional citations, and continues to be extremely well read today.  Set in 1906 and featuring Mattie, a sixteen-year-old farm-bound girl who loves words, A Northern Light is, I found, an instructive book—thoroughly researched, strategically structured, seeded with the right kind of issues for young readers of historical fiction (feminism, race relations, the value of education and literature).  I loved, most of all, Donnelly's Weaver, an African American adolescent.  Weaver has much to say, and Donnelly, wisely, gives him room—to be smart, to be angry, to be hopeful, to be Mattie's truest friend. Boy-girl friendships that are honest and meaningful and yet not tinged with erotic desire are so rare in books, and especially rare in young adult literature, and so I was happy to spend some time on this warm weekend making this acquaintance.

6 comments:

Becca said...

Well, now you've done it...another one to add to my own teetering stack.

And I think you're being much too hard on yourself re the "gaps" in your literary background :)

Lilian Nattel said...

I can so relate to what you express here about the gaps, and yet when I look at you I am in awe of the breadth of your knowledge and the amount you read.

Bonnie Jacobs said...

A Northern Light is an excellent book. I especially liked that Mattie had a "word of the day" and even while working would ponder that word, coming up with all sorts of new ideas. Eventually, of course, Mattie thinks the unthinkable:

"Jezzum ... What if God was a woman? Would the pope be out of a job? Would the president be a woman, too? And the governor? And the sheriff? And when people got married, would the man have to honor and obey? Would only the women be allowed to vote? Emily Baxter's poems made my head hurt. They made me think of so many questions and possibilities" (p. 208).

Here's my review from a couple of years ago. (SPOILER: The comments say perhaps a bit too much, if you haven't read the book.)

http://bonniesbooks.blogspot.com/2010/01/northern-light-by-jennifer-donnelly.html

Melissa Sarno said...

Oh, I'm so glad you enjoyed your time with it! I found the book instructive as well. If YOU are embarrassed by your own not-knowingness I should hide in a cave of shame. So many books...so little time. :)

Serena said...

Sounds like you're having a great time.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Mattie feels like a personal friend. So glad you two have met. xo

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