By Pat Bonner Milone
During the First Few Months of the Pandemic …
I fell into an erratic reading pattern. Between home improvement projects and strenuous outdoor work on our property, I juggled one or two books, a few home décor magazines, and articles in some old National Geographics I was planning to donate.
Before the shutdown I was participating in the monthly “Five Minute Open Mic” event at Books & Books in Suniland. One evening the featured speakers, Julie Wade and Denise Duhamel, read from their collaboration, “Unrhymables.” I bought a copy but was too busy to commit to it right away.
An Extraordinary Gift
A cousin in England sent me a hard copy of “Underland” by Robert McFarlane. I had never received anything more than a Christmas card from my English relatives so I figured it must be extraordinary. The description on the dust jacket is intriguing: “an epic exploration of the Earth’s underworlds as they exist in myth, literature, memory, and the land itself.” It continued to lure me in with the promise of “unforgettable stories of descents into the underworld made across history by explorers, artists, cavers, divers, mourners, dreamers, and murderers.”
And so I joined the author on “A Deep Time Journey” from “the birth of the universe to a post-human future, from the prehistoric art of Norwegian sea caves to the blue depths of the Greenland ice cap, from Bronze Age funeral chambers to the catacomb labyrinth below Paris, and from underground fungal networks through which trees communicate to a deep-sunk hiding place where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years to come.”
Robert McFarlane’s words and phrases are deliciously descriptive. I wasn’t half through it when I began to dread its end.
What book could possibly follow this?
When I did come to the end, I wished I had defaced it by highlighting favorite phrases, to easily return to the poetry of his words which seem so effortless.
I picked up “Unrhymables” again and dove in. Duhamel & Wade weave their recollections and humorous musings like the waft and weft of tapestry on a loom, a candid dialogue of female experience.
They end with a “Glossary” of women, some famous, some not, chosen to favorite works and revealing vignettes of their personal lives. I did deface that glossary, highlighting the names of poets and writers to look up later. One was Alicia Ostriker. I found her poems online and printed out “Insomnia” and “Thirsting” to share during Tere Starr’s Zoom Poetry Soirée.
After “Unrhymables” I found myself becoming restless, distracted, depressed. The Nat Geos had been devoured and donated, the décor mags had become stale. I felt listless. Untethered.
I was in that desolate limbo between a really good book and the next worthy read.
I searched among the unread books on my shelves. An old paperback caught my eye. “Three Junes.”
The cover boasts “National Best Seller” and features the gleaming gold medallion of “National Book Award Winner.” The author, Julia Glass, is described in their citation as a “word alchemist” who “weaves gold into straw into gold again.”
The back cover describes “a luminous first novel, set in Greece, Scotland, Greenwich Village and Long Island.”
I am a third of the way through, and totally immersed in the saga of “regrets, losses, comforts, and ineffable joys” of a Scottish family.
When I reach the end, I won’t hesitate to jump to the next life raft of literature to float me through this sea of cataclysmic unpredictability.