other people’s voices | on the shelf

It was about time to go crazy from un-satiated wanderlust when a book saved me from myself and no doubt countless others.

Tahir Shah’s story (Caliph’s House) captured my attention last month by way of my parents’ kid neighbor, an apparent book fairy. The writing wasn’t overly ambitious.  But it had a sort of intoxicating, slow staying power that drew me from cover to cover.

Also, it made the perfect springboard for this post, which I’m grateful for, given the perennial “it’s July and there’s too much writing at work to do any writing at home” pit I seem to fall into each year – inconvenient for the impending second blogiversary, when I should be feeling all sorts of nostalgia and wisdom and who-knows-what-else that I could force myself to write about if I wanted a more cultivated presence here (I don’t). But aha! reading! and hmmmm! other people have thoughts! and eureka! I have a topic, friends! All silliness aside, I offer up a couple folks who, in no particular order, reached me through their writing this year:

Knausgaard, Karl Ove. Where to begin? This man knows nothing and therefore everything. His tome of an autobiography (six. books.) is so worth the time you’ll invest to find and digest them. Thought-provoking and philosophical. Also quotidian in the most enrapturing of ways. As in, be prepared to spend loads of time trying to understand why you love his work the way you do, and when in the end you still can’t do it, that becomes exactly why you love his work the way you do. Maybe the best new (to me) author I’ve read in a long time.

Soffer, Jessica. A younger voice and one who also studied in NYC which is, like, so precious of me to mention, I know. On a more down-to-earth note: I originally bought her book because I liked the picture on the front. I could have cared less if it read well and I had no idea who she was (apparently she’s a pretty big deal?). I was pleasantly surprised to find out that, truly, there’s more to this book than its cover. If you like food or family or pretty book jackets, I’d recommend Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots.

Morgan, C. E. I’ve read her debut work (All The Living) and I’m working on the next (The Sport of Kings) as we speak, so at this point reading Morgan is an exercise in seeing what topics she’s most obsessed or bothered by, and how she treats them differently. I appreciate her willingness to tackle big ideas like race and regionalism, and her gratuitous use of large words (for the challenge if nothing else – my vocabulary didn’t stop growing after the SAT). Curious to see where Morgan’s career goes, and thankful to FSG for making me aware that she existed – proving that listserv messages aren’t always spam.

Gaffigan, Jim. Which then means Gaffigan, Jeannie. Don’t laugh – and then laugh, a lot. This past year has been a roller coaster for Husband and me in many ways. We needed some comic relief to break up all the nonsense that happened in 2016, and to ground us when, in the same year, we were probably too high on our own potential. After exhausting all possible comedy specials on YouTube and other streaming services, we discovered the work of genius, Dad is Fat. We have since moved on to Food: A Love Story. I love that we can laugh with Jim, Jeannie and their small army of a family about any variety of things, from faith to life in NYC. Bonus track: they’re legitimately the nicest, most genuine people. We found this out at an event we attended with them (unrelated to reading choices) and all I have to say is #relationshipgoals #exceptmaybethepartaboutfivekids. No, I didn’t fangirl out and take a million photos when we were there. I wasn’t trying to make a fool of myself. That’s what this space is for ;).

There have been others that left their mark on me this year. Paul Elie, who’s seminal work, The Life You Save May Be Your Own, in many ways provided the groundwork for my spiritual journey this year. After this second read (the first coming years before), I’d still recommend it with full gusto to anyone on their own journey or pilgrimage or search or name-your-truth-thing-here. Just make sure you’re ready to pick it up again, because it’s the kind of book that will call you back later. Meanwhile, Rebecca Wells’ The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood is so well-loved, I’m starting to wonder how many years more I have left with the original copy I received years ago. These voices among many others, across many industries, have filled my year well.

Which brings me to the next step: selecting a short-list for calendar year 2017. We have five months left in this glorious year, friends. So tell me, whose voices should I fill them with? Think with? Laugh with? Cry with? Grow with? Surely I’m bound to find inspiration enough to exercise my own in the process, to un-shelf myself. Reading is powerful that way.

Challenge me!

Ryan Vale McGonigle

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