Wednesday, March 24, 2010

For readers, size matters. Especially between the covers.

A huge stack of books are on my to-be-read shelf. Of course. What writer doesn’t have one? I whittle the pile, but add to it at what seems like the same rate, so it never really diminishes. Fortunately in that pile are books of varying lengths and which require differing degrees of engagement, so that occasionally when I have a lot of other reading to do as well (books to review, a pile of student work to read), I can pull out a slimmer volume.

Which is how I came to consume the new memoir Lift by Kelly Corrigan, in about an hour one recent evening. I’m not sure memoir is the precise name for it, as it felt more to me like a long braided personal essay. Then again, I am not one to quibble about what we call the various forms of personal creative nonfiction. Corrigan, just as in her more traditional memoir, The Middle Place, is lyrically engaging and absorbing (you can read an excerpt from Lift here).

While the abbreviated length (89 sparsely set pages) seemed on the short side for a book, it felt just the right length for the particular piece she wrote. I finished a little teary, glad to have spent the hour in her company, and hungry for more – which is maybe the point. Aside from Corrigan’s literary gifts, surely her publisher was eager to quickly get something new on the shelf to follow-up the success of The Middle Place. And who can blame them? Were I lucky enough to be in Corrigan’s shoes, I’d have done exactly the same thing.

I also recently read Under a Wing by Reeve Lindbergh – yup, one of Charles’s daughters. Published in 1999, it’s a series of essays about various aspects of her life both as a girl and later, a woman. I came to this book because of how much I loved her mother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s, thin lyrical collection of short metaphoric essays, Gift From the Sea (1955), with its seashell and beach imagery drawing parallels to the stages of a woman’s life, motherhood and marriage. Reeve Lindbergh’s prose was surprisingly well constructed, and though not a linear narrative, she delivered a strong narrative sense threaded through the essays – something I’m struggling to embed in my own linked-essay memoir-in-progress. Today, UPS dropped off her later memoir, Forward From Here: Leaving Middle Age and Other Unexpected Adventures (2008), which landed – where else – in the to-be-read pile.

When I see a larger-than-usual block of reading time ahead – a vacation, a long train ride or flight, the flu – then I grab those thick books and/or the ones which I know I will have to read with more care. But I like having the thinner, quick-to-read ones in the pile too. Having an assortment at hand is a luxury, I know. And while my credit card and the online book retailers are on intimate terms, I wouldn’t even know how much a manicure or an “it” bag costs these days. Mind you, I wouldn’t say no to either one, on someone else's dime. It’s not that I’m opposed to luxury, only that mine typically arrives these days between covers (of any thickness).

3 comments: said...

I'm with you! I'd take new books over a mani/pedi any day.

Can't wait to read yours Lisa!

Susana Mai said...

yep, those long books sure are intimidating. novellas should expect some good times in the future.

Christina Katz said...

Hey, Lisa. I am also a BIG HUGE fan of Gift from the Sea and gave it to all my college buds the year we turned 40. Congrats on getting in Why We Ride. I know Verna and Samantha Waltz. I need to find out who is in there. Hope to attend the reading at Powell's in June. :)