As the early summer days give way to mid-summer and my mind has the space it yearns for, I am transitioning into reading. Shorter essays are morphing into books, as I can now wrap my mind around longer texts. I should clarify that in the course of writing a thesis, there were many “texts,” but not ones where the words dance, the thoughts trail off merging with my own curiosity, and where the words seem written simply to see them on paper. I am glad to hang up the academic texts for a few months. The prose from these books feel inspired by long, mellow days that allow for the time to let my mind relax and allow a more natural flow of thought patterns and curiosities about the world to flow in and out.
My summer reading list explores types of writing and topics near and dear to my personal and professional heart (which I have finally embraced as one-in-the-same this past month). Storytelling, memory, grief, memorials, and silence are themes running through the books I elected as well as those given to me. In addition to those books I have put in my bags for the summer, the rest packed away for some future move, are those from friends. The friend who has encouraged me to write over the past year, now encourages me to continue reading. It may appear that I am babysitting her books, while she takes to the field, adding another heart-wrenching and joyful adventure to her list – but rather I feel I will be babysat by the prose and poetry she selected for me.
June’s first book was a clear follow on to my thesis writing, but in story form. The Bone Woman by Clea Koff, tracks her experience as a forensic anthropologist piecing together crimes of genocide through evidence found in the bones of the deceased. The book opens in a church in Kibuye, Rwanda, where she has her first field placement – the same church – where last summer, I felt moved to dig deeper into the lasting impact and memories of the genocide. In that church – the site of a horrific massacre – I slid onto the cold floor, as it felt like the only way to touch and feel what had taken place in that same space.
(1) from Koff’s work in 1994 (2) Personal photo taken in Kibuye, 2012
Yet – it is in her reflections that she won my heart:
“. . .we become at least temporarily both witnesses of and participants in those very lives [people we meet]. You mightn’t think that forensic anthropologists participate in the lives of the living, but by interacting with the dead we affect the living: we alter their memory and understanding of past events.” (260)
The books not yet read, taunt me from the shelf in my temporary room.
A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver
Journal of an Ordinary Grief by Mahmoud Darwish
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
I remember Nothing by Nora Ephron
Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver
Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
Even Silence Has An End by Ingrid Betancourt
I am not one to look up books before I open their covers and crease their spines. However, upon a quick search of reviews of the books spread before me this summer – their themes are obvious: chosen by friends, the books parallel my life. They appear to weave together stories of memory, conflict, resistance, and narrative with an attention on the everyday, happiness, and the natural world. They mix the international world with my own local context, intertwining the various parts of my life through poetry and prose. I am excited to continue breathing deeply into the summer and turning each of the pages ahead of me.