By Katherine Arthaud
I think it’s been awhile since my last article on books and reading, so as you might imagine, I have quite a stack (it’s literally a stack) of reading material.
One book I read during These Days of Quarantine and Social Distancing and highly recommend is Untamed by Glennon Doyle. I have not actually spoken to a male who’s read this book, but I would be curious to hear from one how it affected him. For me, it is a powerful book.
Glennon Doyle is married to retired soccer superstar Abby Wambach. But don’t go thinking this is a book about soccer (though there is a good and very touching part about how stepmother Abby encourages and supports Glennon’s daughter to join an elite soccer league despite Glennon’s fears and extreme misgivings). This is a book about so many important things: being, learning, growing, telling the truth, raising daughters, raising a son, racism, having a vision for one’s life, living authentically and with gusto. There are many quotes I could share with you to give you an idea how resonant, relevant and on-point this book is.
In one passage Doyle describes how she used to contort herself “to live according to a set of old memos I’d been issued about how to become a successful woman and build a strong family, career, and faith…I thought those memos were universal Truth, so I abandoned myself to honor them without even unearthing and examining them. When I finally pulled them out of my subconscious and looked hard at them: I learned that these memos had never been Truth at all—just my particular culture’s arbitrary expectations…I abandoned the memos and began honoring myself. …When women lose themselves, the world loses its way. We do not need more selfless women. What we need right now is more women who have detoxed themselves so completely from the world’s expectations that they are full of nothing but themselves. What we need are women who are full of themselves. A woman who is full of herself knows and trusts herself enough to say and do what must be done. She lets the rest burn.”
Does that get you the way it gets me?! When I read that, I feel the way I think my dogs do when they have just plunged in cold water. They hoist themselves out of the lake, sodden, dripping with wetness, and start “flighting” (my kids and I call it)—racing wildly around and around, shedding/spraying droplets into the sunshine, so filled with energy and aliveness and refreshment and zing they just have to run and run as crazy fast as they can. That’s the way I feel when I read certain parts of this book.
Glennon Doyle is an activist, speaker, and founder and president of a nonprofit that has raised over 20 million dollars for women, families and children. She is in a strong marriage to a person with whom she experienced the most extreme case of love at first sight of which I have ever heard tell. It’s a pretty great life. Yet we learn, through some pretty riveting narrative, that this life was not simply bestowed upon her from on high, but rather, hard won. Doyle takes us through the difficulties she endured to get to where she is now. Her story is interspersed with her philosophy and feminist/humanist manifesto. It’s very well, very gracefully done.
Toward the end, Doyle describes an unusually serene moment when she and Abby are sitting together on a dock watching fish jumping and a deepening purple sunset. “Before we went back inside, I snapped a picture of us, smiling with the sun setting behind us, and later I posted it. Someone commented, ‘Gah, you’re so lucky to have each other and this life.’ I replied, ‘It’s true. We are terribly lucky. It is also true that we imagined this life before it existed and then we each gave up everything for the one-in-a-million chance that we might be able to build it together. We did not fall into this world we have now, we made it. I’ll tell you this: The braver I am, the luckier I get.’”
Sometimes this book reads like a self-help book, but it’s better and more interesting than that. This is also a story about the life of a woman who went through addiction, unhappiness, divorce and heartbreak to get to a different place in herself, in the world, and in relation to others. I’m going to keep this book close. If you see me “flighting” around the fields, you will know why.
Writers & Lovers by Lily King is excellent; about a 31-year-old aspiring writer, former child golf prodigy and waitress at a frou-frou Harvard Square bistro. Moving, quirky and funny. I loved the unusual narrative voice. Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke (winner of the Edgar Award for Best Novel) is also great—about a black Texas Ranger investigating two small-town murders. Mysterious, well written, very unusual. Fascinating twists, moods and observations. Interesting perspective on life and small-town racism and crime.
I am also on a huge Tessa Hadley kick. I found myself very sorry to read the last sentence of The Past, about an extended family vacation in a dilapidated ancestral home in the Somerset (England) countryside. Gorgeous writing. Beautiful descriptions of people and their eccentricities, affections, quirks, dreams, shames, assumptions and transformations. Subtle and poetic. This is really good. Perfect for summer. Highly recommend.
I hope you are healthy and happy, seeing friends safely, enjoying the beautiful warm weather, and maybe taking a moment to lie in a hammock or on a lawn chair and let yourself be enveloped by a very good story.