Summer Reading — Don’t Miss This

The toes in the hammock are a good sign. They mean I’ve remembered, for today anyway, that I already have enough. Enough time to rest, to play, to reconnect with my own idle, dreamy, summer-child self. They mean that, at least for today, I know this: my challenge is not to chase a perfect life, but rather to pause long enough to appreciate a perfect moment. Toes in the hammock mean that, just for today, I am choosing not to be overworked or overwhelmed or overcommitted. Today, some things are going undone. Not all expectations will be met, not all emails will be answered, and dinner will consist of the leftovers in the fridge. Instead of typing words on a screen or staring down a to-do list, or giving more than I can graciously afford to offer, I’m taking a break. I’m lying on my back under a tree, reading a book cover to cover, allowing my heart to fill and overflow with poetry, my soul to be nourished by the words of a kindred spirit.

I ordered Jena Strong’s first collection of poems, Don’t Miss This, a few weeks ago, just as soon as I read my friend Lindsey’s passionately enthusiastic review. Although I am a serial reader of memoir, it’s been a while since I allowed a new poet to enter my life. I’m a loyal re-reader of the poets I love, more likely to return to my handful of old favorites – Mary Oliver, Jane Kenyon, Danna Faulds, Donald Hall, and Stanley Kunitz – than to tune my ear to a new voice, no matter how heralded.

But Jena’s book drew me immediately, in part because it is a memoir in poetry, a collection in which each poem stands fully and beautifully on its own while, at the same time, adding another strand to a story that I can’t imagine being told in any other way. As Jena explains, “The poems here trace a journey – to some extent in real time – through marriage, motherhood, sexual awakening, separation, and healing.”

I was startled, when I opened the book at random the day it arrived and began to read, to find myself in tears. Startled to feel such a powerful connection to this woman whose life path is so different from mine — who is so much younger than I am, and who is in the throes of mothering two small daughters, claiming her sexuality, coming out, and creating new relationships even as she struggles, with great care and compassion, to protect and honor the sanctity of old ones.

This, at a glance, is not the story of my life. And yet, it seemed as if every poem I read revealed to me something that is absolutely the story of my life. And what took my breath away was not the superficial details that separate me from this gifted young poet, but the slow, undeniable revelation of all that connects us: the intensity of emotion, the longing for self-acceptance, the faith that guides our steps and the sense of mystery that astonishes and humbles us as we make our slow, halting way forward. The love for our children, our spouses and partners and friends, and finally, for our own vulnerable, imperfect selves. The sustenance of seeing the sacred in the ordinary, the soul work of cultivating gratitude for a life that is not at all the one that was planned but that is, instead, the one we are meant to live. The courage to share a personal struggle, in the belief that it is only by revealing our cracks and fissures that we grow up spiritually, into our own true selves, at last.

To read this small, exquisitely written book and do it justice, I knew I needed to clear space. I needed to leave my cell phone on the kitchen counter, my work on my desk, the dishes in the sink. I needed to lie in the hammock beneath a vast, all-encompassing summer sky and allow myself the necessary luxury of deep reading. I have taken Jena’s title as a directive: don’t miss this. And so, today has been a first-page to last-page day, a vacation day right in the midst of everything, a gift to myself of time and poetry, beauty and kinship, summer air and chosen silence.

May you clear an essential space in your own life during this final month of summer and sink right down deep into something nourishing and good, something that feeds your soul. Take a chair outside, put your feet up, read a book that gives you back to yourself. Don’t miss this.

>SUMMER READING!

Last week, I gave away copies of Mary Oliver’s Collected Poems, Volumes One & Two. In the spirit of summer reading, and because I so enjoy sharing books I love, I’ve decided to give away a book each week during the month of August.

Jena’s book is available to purchase here. (And her lovely blog,about “waking up, making the coffee, and seeing what happens” is here.)

To be eligible to win a signed copy of Don’t Miss This, just leave a comment below, and tell me what YOU are reading this summer. I’ll draw a winner at random on Tuesday, August 7.

In the meantime, it’s a pleasure to share one of Jena’s poems, one I’ve read every day since the book arrived. (As I said, I am a devoted re-reader of poetry that speaks to me.) And if you’d like to read more about Don’t Miss This, click HERE to read Pamela Hunt Cloyd’s beautifully nuanced review.

What If?

What if you knew
that everything was going to be okay,
that something was in motion
beyond your field of vision,
beyond even the periphery
of your knowing?

What if you knew
that everything you want,
everything you’ve been seeking,
trying to figure out, missing,
is right here, already whole
in your hands, in your life?

What if taking in what is
could satisfy your longing?
What if you could rest your frantic, racing, busy mind
and rest your neglected, tired body,
put your head down in someone’s lap
to have your hair stroked,
like a cat, or a child?

What if you didn’t need to understand
how it works,
but could enjoy the magic
of how love shows itself
in the most unexpected, simplest of gestures?
What if everything is just as it should be?

What if nothing had to be better,
bigger, different, or other?
What would you do then?
Who would you be?

JIMMY FUND MARATHON WALK UPDATE:

My training is underway for my 26.2 mile walk on September 9, in memory of my friend Diane. I’ve taken a few 8-mile walks, am picking up the pace, and am feeling the soles of my feet growing tougher, my legs growing stronger by the day.

To read more about my reasons for making this walk, click HERE.

Click HERE to make a donation on my personal fundraising page.

And to all of you who have already supported me in this effort, my heartfelt thanks!

for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. Thank you for this reminder. My family and I are heading off to our favorite spot on earth at the end of this week. We will be there for the duration of the summer. Toes in hammocks, toes dangling off the dock, toes nestled in sand – can’t wait. But I stop to think, what if it’s all here right where I am? In my suitcase awaiting my time is Wild, at least 6 people of recommended this book and hopefully a copy of Don’t Miss This too!
    Thank you!
    Domonique

  2. I just wrote down today, “there are five more weeks of summer. What do I want to do with these days?” Your beautiful post is a perfect reminder that I must listens to that which my soul whispers. I know I need alone time, quiet time, reading time.

    I’m ordering Jena’s book today. (I missed Lindsey’s review as I’ve been out of my regular blogging loop. So glad to read your review here.)

    xo

  3. I’m so glad you loved Jena’s book as fiercely as I did. It made me cry, too, and produced an intense identification that I get rarely – but memorably – with books. Like yours!! I’m reading a lot of fiction this summer, though I did read (and love) WILD. xoxo

  4. I love the ‘What If’ poem you posted by Jena and will put ‘Don’t Miss This’ on my list. I don’t read a lot of poetry but this poem spoke to me. Loved your whole post, as usual. You are so generous to share your gifts with us. I’m listening to ‘Wild’ and I am loving every minute of it.

  5. Tobey Willden says:

    I am reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

  6. Oh I love this book. She is amazing.

    I am reading a bunch of books at once:”Carry the One,” which is a bit too slow for me, “Journey into Power,” which I love, “Wife 22,” which is a bit too sweet, “Unbroken,” and “The Age of Miracles,” which I love.

    I already have Jena’s book:)

  7. Anne R Brusca says:

    For the past six years, I have been a full time caregiver for my husband who has Alzheimer’s Disease. I had very little spare time and limited my reading to the newspapers and TIME Magazine. My husband is now living in an assisted living facility, so I have returned to reading, at this stage, old favorite authors. I am currently alternating between Anne Tyler who writes novels that take place in Baltimore, our home for 35 years; and Maeve Binchy who writes about Ireland, a country that I have visited and love. Eventually, I will branch out, but right now, it’s comforting to be among friends.

  8. Joni Peth says:

    I’ve been reading everything from the historic fiction “Wolf Hall” and Bring Up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel to “Wicked Business” by Janet Evanovich. I tend to read anything that catches my fancy.

  9. Rachel C. says:

    I love the poem. Definitely speaks to where I am as well! I am reading Of Woman Born.

  10. Christine says:

    I just read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. SO good!

    Thanks for sharing this poem.

  11. Susan Todd says:

    Beautiful poem – thanks for sharing!

    I’m reading another of Lindsey’s recommendations: Brand New Human Being and also perusing Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

  12. I feel summer slipping away, too, and I have a few days, just like yours, that I want to fit in before it’s all said and done (or as much as I can manage with a two-year-old underfoot). I have done sadly little reading this summer, although I am an ardent reader of The Sun magazine. Do you know it? I’m sure you do. If not, I’m confident you’d love it!

  13. This book looks beautiful. Thanks for sharing it, Katrina! I’m slowly savoring AN ALTAR IN THE WORLD by Barbara Brown Taylor, which offers another reminder about living fully and with heart in the here and now. And also still slipping through YOUR TRUE HOME, Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful book of quotes. Happy summer!

  14. This summer has been surreal as my husband entered in home hospice for two terminal illnesses…and I am his caregiver. We began this journey May 1 and at that time I began to read The Mindful Woman by Sue Patton Thoele, Anger by Thich Nhat Hanh, and Moon Tide by Dawn Clifton Tripp. But the reality is that I am finding it hard to concentrate on anything for very long so I am dipping in and out of many books…taking what I need at the moment…Thank you for posting Jena’s poem, What If? It spoke to me deeply…and know I will come back to sit with it for a while. Also a lover of Mary Oliver’s work and turn to her when sometimes I just can’t find the words for the things in life we just have to walk through. Peace.

  15. Krista Roscoe says:

    Jena’s book and Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, by Jeannette Winterson. Jena and I connected via Maezen and our shared story. I’m connecting with Winterson through her uproariously comedic narrative of growing up gay in a Pentecostal family — been there done that, too! Glad I stumbled on your blog — your writing is beautiful.

  16. Katrina,
    Thanks for sharing your slow-down day (including taking the time to get a pedicure, or at least do your own nice red polish!), for sharing what you are reading, and for inviting the rest of us to share as well.

    I loved Cheryl Strayed’s Wild; it is so incredibly well written. Am also savoring (belatedly) The Help. These are both books that, as writers, we can stand back in awe of how well the authors have captured our hearts and echoed our personal struggles.

    A friend gave me a copy of Julia Alvarez poetry: The Woman I Kept to Myself. It is marvelous–drop dead in your tracks–memoir poetry. I had never heard of her (where have I been?), but definitely recommended this book of poems for summer reading.

    Thanks again for your wonderful work.

  17. Thank you Katrina for your lovely, comforting words that give me permission to relax and enjoy my slow summer days. I really liked the poem, “What If”, so good for workaholics or Super Moms.
    I’m transitioning to the “Empty Nest” phase of life and wrote about it on my website blog if you’d like to read it.
    I was first draw to your book when someone sent me the youtube of you reading a part of it. My kids were teens then and one had just left for college. Now he’s got a job & just moved out into his own apartment. The youngest will leave for Univ. of Hawaii next month. What a transition after 24 years of motherhood! I love to read and write also. I find writing helps me through these difficult, emotional transitions of life. I hope all is well with you and I hope I win a free copy of the book! Oh, the book I’m reading this summer is “The Second Journey” by Joan Anderson and also “The Dance” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. Have a wonderful, relaxing summer. As Willy Wonka said, “So much time, so little to do.” (Counter to what we normally say.)
    I also like the Spanish proverb, “How wonderful it is to do nothing, and then rest after.” :) Warmly, Linda Marten

  18. I am awaiting your next book with great anticipation! :) Congratulations!! You deserve many books in a hammock for such accomplishment! One of my goals for the summer was to read more and have succeeded in finishing some great reads of strong women/families Elizabeth Street by Laurie Fabiano, Mudbound by Hillary Jordan, and Sarah Rio’s The Violets of March and The Bungalow with a step back to the 40′s with romance and mystery. Will be excited to add your new one to my list, dear Katrina! And Don’t Miss This as well! Thanks for the intro. xo

  19. Im reading “Younger Next Year: for women”. By Chris Crowley & Henry Lodge, m.d.
    teaching me that we age, but our bodies absolutely do not have to decay. Exercise exercise exercise…. Its inspired me and shown me a different view of what getting old means.
    Thank you for sharing your books.

  20. I loved Wild, the Puzzle Box, and I am reading the Book of ebeneezer LE Page. Also read some M Twain for fun. Can’t wait for Sat. : ))

  21. Susan Hickey says:

    I hate for summer to leave!! I am an avid reader and have luckily spent many hours on my front porch reading book after book this summer. I still have a stack to get through of which I keep adding!!
    Currently I am reading a fun book called What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. It’s about a woman who falls and bumps her head and forgets the last 10 years of her life. So while it is funny it is also a story about how we can let worldly things change us and forget the important things in life. Alice is finding out she doesn’t like the person she has been for the last 10 years!!! Excellent read!

  22. I just finished Wild by Cheryl Strayed…very good.

  23. As usual, I have about ten different books I am reading simultaneously all over the house. However, I just finished The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty as well as The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith. I recommend both.

  24. Sarita Arden says:

    I’ve lived a long time with the belief that everything will work out! It is so true & allows me the freedom not to worry.
    Currently reading: Abundance, A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund, opening line:
    “Like everyone, I am born naked.” delightful reading of a young girl experiencing her life.

  25. This was a beautiful reminder today. Thank you Katrina and Jena.

    I am currently reading Nourishing Wisdom by Marc David. I really am appreciating my new understaning about how are perceptions shape our body and whether it is nourished appropriately or not.

    Namaste.

  26. A few of my favorite summer reads have been Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks, Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser, and Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen. Thank you for sharing Jena
    Strong’s poetry. I have been savoring it all morning long.

  27. Beautiful and poignant. I would love to read more. I have been on a memoir kick myself. Just finished my last Mary Karr and started Virgin Time by Patricia Hampl. I’m working hard to carve out quiet time each day to read. I feel so much more present after I escape.

  28. LOVE this poem! Once again the timing of your blog is in perfect sync with my emotional life.My husband and I have decided we are putting our HOME up for sale this week. I know you had made the same decision with as much deliberation and heartache as I feel about selling the home I have raised my children in, but your book, your blog, and this poem helps me to feel and remember it will be okay…just as it always is. Cherishing moments…moment by moment as they come!
    I always make time for reading! Loved Wild by Cheryl Strayed, The Good daughter, and What remains by Carol Radziwell, all memoirs.

  29. Paula J. says:

    Beautiful reminders to make time for what matters and let go of doing, doing, doing

  30. Dee Matthews says:

    I have just finished “Home to Woefield” by Susan Juby (laughed out loud, alot). Have also read “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed (what a woman). I will now tackle “The Orchard” by Adele Crockett Robertson. In case you’re wondering, I’m a teacher with this summer off (the first in 30 years) so I’m reading up a storm and loving every minute of it! Would love to win Jena’s book of poetry.

  31. Shelby Lessary says:

    I have two small children and barely have time to breathe, let alone read, but I used to be an avid reader and I know when this season of life passes, I will be again. On my list for this summer are the books by Karen Maezen Miller and Aleph by Paulo Coelho. Thank you for this opportunity to win a copy. It isn’t likely that my local library will carry this anytime soon and I am dying to get my hands on this book.

  32. jen goldman says:

    great post!! will be sharing some great quotes from here. I am reading Game of Secrets, Maine, and might read The Leftovers.

  33. peggy dlugos says:

    Great poem! I am reading Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Kidd’s Travelling with Pomegranates.

  34. Katrina,
    I have been with you since your first book “Mitten Strings for God”, and have read most of what you have written, your books,articles in magazines, and now your blog. You have a way to help me see myself and situations. It must be your honesty mixed with your tolerance that speaks to me. I look so forward to your next book. One of the reasons I have followed you is that my oldest two boys are close to your boys ages and I can relate on so many levels. I wish you were my neighbour or friend, I would have so much to say and talk to you about. I feel like we would connect so strongly. I am grateful for you and the thoughts you encourage in me. I look forward to picking up Jena’s book.

  35. Karen Dulak says:

    This book of poems mentioned sounds wonderful and I would love to take part of a lovely remaining summer day and read it, toes up in a lounge chair, a glass of ice tea sweating right along with me!

    I just finished The Hunger Games…it was a strong request from my teenage daughter. Now we are moving on to something with more substance and we are both going to read Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austin. We have planned a lunch outing to discuss it and then some serious back to school shopping following that. I love that my reading girl can spend hours in her bedroom reading – that her favorite places are bookstores and libraries! I have always told her that with books around, you should never feel bored. I don’t think I have ever heard her say that word!

  36. I am no great reader of poetry, but an endorsement from you, Lindsey, and Pamela goes a long way to converting me.

    I’ve spent most of my summer offline and have had the chance to indulge in several terrific books. A favorite was Kristin Lavransdatter, an early 20th century Norwegian epic set in the Middle Ages. I savored it from start to finish.

    May the end of your summer be filled with wonderful words. xo

  37. Hi, Katrina …

    I have just read two books in recent weeks… Both memoirs …. suggested by the very engaging and well read owner of my newly discovered favorite book store in Belfast, Me called the Left Bank Books. I read Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchell about the strong bonds and challenges of true female friendship. And then I read autiobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy… And the challenges and insecurities posed by being different and set apart …. How do you come to terms with illness, and the need for love and acceptance when you have been so clearly set apart from what is “normal”… Both wonderful memoirs…very thought provoking…

  38. Don’t include my name in your giveaway! But I did want to share that the most recent book I finished was “A Place to Stand” by Jimmy Santiago Baca. A deeply moving memoir. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

  39. I have read all three “Hunger Games” books this summer and am now re-reading “Pull of the Moon” by Elizabeth Berg. Love the poem “What If?” and the book sounds very interesting. I plan on taking a day to read as soon as the olympics are over! Enjoy the rest of yoru summer :0)

  40. love hammocks! and a day in one is on my list of favorite things to do :)

    i just finished gone girl by gillian flynn and just started the virgin suicides by jeffrey eugenides.

  41. Wow. Powerful review on what must be a lovely book.

  42. P.S. I just finished “Dreaming in French” and will begin a John Baxter novel next. All things Paris lately.

  43. I read all the comments so far, and all the books mentioned sound good. This summer I read The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister – I loved it. I ordered it from Chinaberry which always has the best selection of books. That catalog is how I first discovered Mitten Strings for God.

    Reading books is one of my very favorite things to do.

    Thank you for writing these wonderful posts – I so look forward to reading them.

    Happy August!

  44. Thank you for this exquisite and generous offering…deeply grateful. At this moment I am reading the new novel by Deborah Harkness, Shadow of Night. In the memoir genre, loved Priscilla Warner’s Learning to Breathe and Anna Quindlen’s Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake.

  45. I’m reading Brene Brown’s “I Thought it was Just Me” a book written for women based on how we ALL experience shame and how we’ve been conditioned not to talk about it. It is seriously changing my life and I highly recommend it. I’m intrigued by “Don’t Miss This” perhaps its the simplicity of the poems that convey such a strong message. Thanks for the recommendation!

  46. Wishing there was more time for reading, but in these days of mothering young children, I keep re-reading my autographed copy of Mitten Strings for God and also – Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic…a hammock sounds really nice right about now.

  47. This sounds like a book I need to read now! Or as soon as I finish Wild by Cheryl Strayed…another book written in a voice so honest and true it’s impossible to put down.

  48. Just ordered “Don’t Miss This” and can’t wait to sit back and absorb it!

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