The Stories We Need (Octavia Butler and Other Literary Mamas)

One of my favorite places in the whole world is a reading K-hole. I’ve been diving into these other realms since I first learned to read at age 3. (Necessity bred invention.) Even now when the going gets tough this toughie gets to reading, and even then I worried about how I’d resent any partner or offspring who kept me from a book. (A life-defining worry, as it turned out.) By kindergarten, I was on a first-name basis with everyone at my local library; today I volunteer at my neighborhood branch. The best is when I discover an author I love: I queue up all her books and sit pretty with the knowledge that I’ve divine company for weeks to come. My first such affairs were with Louise Fitzhugh, Madeline L’Engle, and Jane Austen. Then, when I needed a map out of my father’s kingdom, Marge Piercy. There’ve been so many since.

The last five days I’ve lived in a hammock under gently waving trees and read Octavia Butler, the speculative fiction author whom I’ve known I would love for 20 years but put off reading. Now I know why: I most need her at this juncture. I’m reading the Patternist series first, which is all about successfully harnessing psychic ability to create a functional community of conscious, connected people. As a woman who calls herself Carrie not entirely ironically, I’m inhaling these books like they’re oxygen and I’m underwater–which, let’s face it, I have been lately. I need to understand how to manifest what I’m starting to be shown in dreams and in my physical and emotional malaise. Butler’s words are a very fine place to start. She lets no one off the hook but devises brilliant solutions for the shadows and sunshine latent in everyone’s nature.

I always think of what Ray Bradbury wrote: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” I treasure the beauty of words, yes, but this is not why I love literature. I love it for the blueprint it offers the lonely, inventive child we each carry. This is why my favorite fiction is prescriptive rather than merely descriptive. I am looking to improve the human condition, starting with mine, and reading makes us all daughters of the universe.

3 Lady Music Biopics to See Now

Music biopics – both documentaries and narrative features – are a dime a dozen these days. Even if your only claim to fame is cult status as a 1970s folksinger, chances are good someone has made a movie about you. That is, unless you’re a woman. Although 2013′s “Twenty Feet from Stardom” put the spotlight on ladies in music, biopics about female musical artists are still few and far between. For that reason alone, it’s worth checking out these three documentaries about groundbreaking female singers that were released this summer. Happily, there are plenty of other reasons to do so as well.… Read More

Refuge of the Roads

I was stuck on an interminable Amtrak ride yesterday, surrounded by fussy kids. In those situations as in so many others, children are basically tiny drunks. I love my god daughters and respect others’ choice to, uh, perpetuate their lines but lordylordylordy: I had that feeling. The “I am spinster lady, hear my cry of freedom!” feeling. I tried not to roar, amused myself instead by dropping fat winks without smiling at all the screaming children. Most of them got so freaked that they stopped their tomfoolery at least temporarily. (It takes a special sort of person to recognize the secret communion offered by a wink between generations.)

The universe being the gorgeous creature that it is, the flip side of that anti-child sentiment came flying toward me today as I was walking down Massachusett’s Minuteman lane.… Read More