We had our first hard freeze of the season last night. This morning, the sky is a deeper blue than I have seen in quite some time. The sky seems to respond well to freezing temperatures, as if making up for the dreariness of the earth. Though the dreariness will only come later. Right now the leaves on the ground are traced in frost, and the dahlias haven’t yet registered that they have reached their end. Their colors are still vivid.
I am grateful for our long, pleasant fall, but I am also breathing more deeply today. I recorded the date of the first freeze in my garden journal and felt a weight slide from my mind. I can close the page on this growing season. I do still have garlic to plant and a few more daffodil bulbs, but the seasons have taken a decisive turn. Around this bend lie dog-eared seed catalogs and sketches for the new flower garden. Piles of books, too.
When it is cold and dark, we read books in front of the fire like it is our job.
I recently finished a stunning new novel. I’ve never been in a book club, but when I closed this book for the last time, I wanted only to talk about this book. It’s that good. That thought-provoking. That beautiful. It’s Station Eleven: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel.
I once wrote about books I don’t know why I read but am so glad I did. Station Eleven would certainly qualify as one of these. First, I tend to avoid anything “dystopian,” and “post-apocalyptic” is even less appealing. Finally, I have never read any of Cormac McCarthy’s highly praised but violent novels, and I don’t think I ever will. When I heard Mandel likened to McCarthy, I had serious doubts about picking up this book. Yes, this is a book about the collapse of civilization after a serious flu bug kills most of the world’s population, but, I promise you, it’s really not about that at all.
All I can say is to forget everything I just wrote and go read this book. It isn’t violent, so we sensitive-flower types need not fret, but it is disturbing. It is disturbing in the way of excellent art. It gives you new eyes to see your life, your family, our world. It’s a book to wake up your soul. I don’t think it’s possible to read a book like this and stay just the same as you were.
But if that doesn’t convince you, it’s a compelling story. A pager-turner. The writing is beautiful, the characters are rich. And days after finishing it, I am still haunted by a single image. There is a moment when we come upon a group of survivors who have made their home in a building that was once a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant. This new world has no fast-food (and, on the flip side, no antibiotics), but humans still flourish. The old restaurant door must have worn out and needed replacing because the door on this former Wendy’s is hand-cut from heavy wood. Also, someone has carved the front with delicate flowers and vines. A work of art in a place once devoted to everything fast, cheap, and plastic.
Because survival is insufficient. – Emily St. John Mandel
Another recently finished, dearly loved book is Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time by Dorothy Bass.
It’s a lovely, wise book. You’ll find a mixture of accessible scholarship and personal storytelling. You’ll find a bit about Sabbath and a bit about the Christian church calendar. But, mostly, you’ll find lost wisdom. Time is not our enemy. And each day is a gift. Live in it, and be glad. It isn’t always an easy or intuitive way to live, especially in our harried culture. But this book will help. It is helping me.
Preparing and eating is a major component of our days, isn’t it? As much as I love food, I struggle with that. I struggle with the time required to plan and shop and cook and clean. I resent the hard work, and I resent the time it asks. I’m praying to let go of resentment. I’m praying to grow in gratitude for the daily gift of food.
A good cookbook helps. I know one reason I have struggled with preparing meals for my family is the challenge of my son’s many food allergies. Anaphylaxis really takes the fun out of things.
Against All Grain: Delectable Paleo Recipes to Eat Well & Feel Great by Danielle Walker is saving my life in the kitchen. Paleo recipes don’t all work for us (my son can eat almonds but no other tree nuts or peanuts), but most of these recipes are for foods we can and want to eat. I’m recommending this book to anyone with allergies or food sensitivities, but I also think this is a great cookbook for anyone who thinks they should cut back on wheat and dairy and refined sugar. Which, if we’re honest, is probably most of us.
There is a lot I could tell you about these recipes, but I will only share one story: I have tried and failed to make or purchase a dairy-free, gluten-free, nut-free birthday cake for my son for eights years. They have all been disappointments, some bigger than others. This past summer, I made the chocolate layer cake from this book. It was easy, used ingredients we already had on hand (though mine is the sort of kitchen where coconut oil and almond flour are always on hand), looked beautiful, and … well, my husband took one bite and looked at me with huge eyes.
“This actually tastes good.” I nodded in agreement. “No. I mean it. I would serve this to people! This tastes real.”
So. It’s good. You should check it out.
Tell me, what’s on your reading list for the dark days ahead?