Vacation Reading

by Rachael on August 14, 2015

If the best part of summer is reading, the very best reading is vacation reading. On vacation, the worlds on the page — Toronto, New York City, wherever — are infused with sunlight, the lapping of the lake waters, and the distant presence of the mountains. This year I read only two books — How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti and And Yet They Were Happy by Helen Phillips —  and then started Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (a reread) on the way home, mainly for its lake, though Ruthie’s lake is far deeper and darker than mine.

I couldn’t help but read both Heti’s and Phillips’s books as a writer, with a fascination for their narrative techniques. Heti incorporates what appears to be recorded dialogue and the text from emails into her story about a friendship. I especially enjoyed the narrator’s ability — and willingness — to tell us about the workings of her mind, in all its contradictions.

How should a person be?

For years and years I asked it of everyone I met. I was always watching to see what they were going to do in any situation, so I could do it too. I was always listening to their answers, so if I like them, I could make them my answers too. I noticed the way people dressed, the way they treated their lovers — in everyone, there was something to envy. You can admire anyone for being themselves. It’s hard not to, when everyone’s so good at it. But when you think of them all together like that, how can you choose? How can you say, I’d rather be responsible like Misha than irresponsible like Margaux? Responsibility looks so good on Misha, and irresponsibility looks so good on Margaux. How could I know which would look best on me?

Phillips’s book, like Heti’s, includes a main character (who is sometimes the first-person narrator and sometimes a “she”) who shares the author’s name, but the narrative techniques are otherwise completely different. The book is composed of series of linked, two-page-long fables. Although the stories are obviously fictional in a way that Heti’s “novel from life” (as the cover copy states) is not, they felt even more vulnerable to me. Here, for example, is the beginning of “fight #3”:

Sometimes a strange man and woman appear in our apartment. They have a terrible marriage. They throw their snakeskin suitcases down in the living room, pop open the brass snaps, and pull out their foolish, expensive clothing. Soon their belongings are strewn over every surface. Clinging to each other, we hide in the corner. Meanwhile, they stride bitterly through the rooms. They fight in the morning and leave for work without apologies, their minds still fizzy with hate. They enjoy hatred, the crazy freedom of it, the delightful abandon, almost like shedding the pull of gravity, taking flight from the stupid safe green earth, no longer handcuffed by the idea of home.

I read this story aloud to my husband, because we, too, are acquainted with this couple with a terrible marriage.

Phillips’s first novel was released earlier this week, and I look forward to reading it. Meanwhile, I’m making my way slowly through Housekeeping and turning the meaning of its title over and over in my mind. Like Robinson, I have feminist and religious views of housekeeping. Her views appear to be quite different from mine, however, and are sending me back to Thoreau, with whom I have long had a (one-sided) argument on the subject of housekeeping. I plan to work out these thoughts as I generally work out the thoughts I don’t really understand: through writing.

What are you reading?


The Best Part of Summer

by Rachael on July 14, 2015

Welcome to the July 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Summer Fun

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month participants talked about getting out to enjoy the warmer season as a family.


No matter how many times I have experienced it before, every year the damp heat and abundant greenery of summer astonishes me. Whereas the wind and cold of January and February feel utterly real to me, the sunshine of July and August feels too impossibly good.

Impossible, too, often seems the task of surviving these weeks as a work-at-home mom with two young kids around day after day after day. A sitter takes them out for several hours on Thursdays and Fridays, but otherwise they’re my responsibility through these long, hot days until September. I long for a home with a yard for them to run around in; lacking that, I take them to the park, garden, beach, or playground. We spend as little time inside as I can manage, because inside is where everyone seems to get in everyone else’s way, and the bickering, once it starts, is often interminable.

Meanwhile, I’ve temporarily traded my personal writing time for two hours of working on my current job every day before breakfast. Given that I also have a three-year-old who suddenly just won’t nap anymore, I’ve been spending a lot of time outside doing nothing in particular with the kids — but not much time doing my own thing by myself.

I want to enjoy these aimless days! After all, how lucky I am to be able on a Tuesday morning to sit under a tree in the park and share a snack of bunny crackers and raisins with the Gnome while we watch an enormous tractor mow the lawn. But I quickly become a resentful Mommy if I’m only Mommy all the time. When, in our current routine, is my time just for me?

The other night, I remembered that the best part of summer (or one of them) used to be taking tall stacks of books home from the library, reading them all, and going back for more. Though I might not be able to devour books as I once did, I certainly can take one (or more) along with me to the park, garden, beach, and playground, and I certainly can steal some time actually to read it (or them).

So for the remaining hot weeks of summer (eight until L’s first day of school), books will be my portable escape from life as Mommy — the escape that I hope will help me to relax and see the best part of summer as the whole thing.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:


To Myself on the Last Day

June 9, 2015

Welcome to the June 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Talking to Yourself This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month participants wrote letters to themselves. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival […]

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in Just-

March 10, 2015

We are not quite “in,” but with the return of Daylight Saving Time, warmer weather has come, and with it, many puddles. L and the Gnome do so love the puddles, but for some reason the uck of mud troubles L. As for me, I love the squash of luscious mud underfoot and to gaze […]

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The Pleasures of Childhood

March 3, 2015

The pleasures of childhood should in the main be such as the child extracts from his environment by means of some effort and inventiveness. Pleasures which are exciting and at the same time involve no physical exertion, such, for example, as the theatre, should occur very rarely. The excitement is in the nature of a […]

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December 25, 2014

It’s been a difficult December, and difficult for reasons other than the usual holiday madness, though truthfully the madness felt even more maddening than usual this year. But yesterday I thought, for perhaps the millionth time so far in my lifetime, at least I have poetry, and language. And, of course, these guys. Many blessings […]

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Don’t Steel Yourself

December 18, 2014

On the day my mother died, one of my cousins drove my sister and me from New Haven to the house where we grew up. “Don’t steel yourself,” he told us that night. I don’t remember anything else he said then, but that one sentence has been a mantra for me in times of sorrow. […]

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The Process

December 11, 2014

Everything changed this fall. In September the Gnome started preschool, where his schedule more or less matches L’s at the public elementary school. For the first time since I became a mother, I have all the weekdays to myself, at least when there’s school, and at least until about 2:30 (when I really ought to […]

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{this moment}

August 29, 2014

A Friday ritual inspired by SouleMama …

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August 26, 2014

It was about four years ago that, in reference to the lake, he said his first sentence: “No like it.” Thus it was to my great surprise yesterday that he said, “I love to swim!” Never mind that he wasn’t actually swimming. He was in the water, and he was smiling: close enough.

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