Reaching for Powerful Words

I’m thinking about the reading I’ve been doing since the election. For a few days, honestly, I couldn’t find anything to read. This has only happened to me a couple of times in my life, and it’s always scary. Because…not being able to pick a book? Not being able to lose myself in a story, in characters, in words? That’s absolutely terrifying.

Then one day I knew I wanted to re-read Kristen Cashore’s Bitterblue. It’s the third of her Graceling books, and–for me–it’s her best. It’s the story of a young woman who has inherited a kingdom, a kingdom full of people whom her father controlled and tortured, manipulated with his mind, forced to do terrible things. Memories are traps for everyone in her world, including herself, places of gaping holes and sudden transports into the past. Bitterblue’s need is to learn and understand as much as she can about the past, to fill in the holes, and find some way for everyone to move forward from the travesty they all lived through. While Bitterblue is active and physical and well able to defend herself, she is a hero of intelligence, of logic and code-breaking and puzzle-solving. I think I needed to seep myself in “smart,” in the power of someone to ease people’s pain through analysis and thinking and direct speaking.

Since then, I’ve stayed in fantasy–reading through several books by Cinda Williams Chima. Chima’s books are tightly written and draw me easily into the heads of characters who look head on at their own problems and at the larger problems of the world around them, who tackle those problems with force and focus, and who–after many losses–win the bigger picture.

I think what I’m craving in my reading these days, is the feeling that we can do this. That we can take on the next four years and, frankly, kick our enemies’ asses. For now, I’m finding this reassurance in fantasy, in words that don’t look a whole lot like ours, that give me some distance and escape from the crap we’re facing, even as–at the same time–they maybe give me strength to believe in the battle.

I think I’m also, though, craving words of power. Both Cashore and Chima are good writers, strong writers. Their books don’t lose me in vagueness or mushy prose–Cashore, in particular, has done an amazing thing in writing a book about mental powers that feels anything but inactive. I’m not sure I could read a literary novel right now if you paid me. I know that, at some point, I’ll step out of the fantasy world and back into reality, but when I do I think I’ll still be craving strength and energy from the story words. I rarely read poetry, never have, but I found myself thinking this morning that maybe I needed to get a collection of Adrienne Rich’s poems and read through one every day or so. For the power and the strength in her words.

What I did do was track down Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise and listen to it again. “Does my sassiness upset you?” No, it doesn’t. It expands my heart.

Has your reading been impacted by the election results? Have you noticed yourself reaching for a certain book, a certain kind of book? What books of power have you turned to? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “Reaching for Powerful Words

  1. Jenn Hubbard says:

    I’ve been reading memoir mostly, books that reassure me that people have lived through all sorts of things and come through the other side.

    Like

    • beckylevine says:

      I can see that. I’m still struggling, though, with the suffering that comes before they reach that point. I do better with fiction in that area, I think.

      Like

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