Elizabeth McCracken's Bowlaway: Love, Geneaology, and Candlepin Bowling

The following excerpts are taken from a long-form review of Bowlaway and interview with Elizabeth McCracken, both of which ran in the October 24th, 2018 issue of Shelf Awareness' Maximum Shelf. Bowlaway is on sale now wherever books are sold (and was one of the best books I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing in 2018). Excerpts reprinted here with permission.


It can be hard, in a world with so very many books, to find something truly unique to write about. But Elizabeth McCracken (Thunderstruck, An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination) has done just that in Bowlaway, a sweeping family saga centered on a bowling alley. And not just any old bowling alley, but a candlepin bowling alley, and not just any old story, but a love story. "Our subject is love," writes McCracken early in the novel, "because our subject is bowling. Candlepin bowling. This is New England, and even the violence is cunning and subtle."

This sets the tone for the rest of the tale, which is itself cunning and subtle, a carefully woven and darkly humorous account of one woman, Bertha Truitt, and the strange and lasting legacy of her fascinating and too-short life.

Well Hello There, 2019




Another year, another post starting with me marveling at how long it's been since last I wrote. I won't belabor the point--it's been months, and I've been busy and distracted and caught up in other things--but I will note that despite my many, many considerations of shutting this little blog down, I find myself, yet again, clinging to it for reasons I can't entirely articulate.

And so, here we are, another year gone, another post in which I lay out my intentions for the year to come. As I've written about before, I gave up on resolutions long ago, instead choosing a word to focus my efforts for each recent year. In 2015, it was light. In 2016 and 2017, it was savor. In 2018, it was presence.

Reading back through my posts about each intention, each word, I start to see a trend. It's something I wasn't conscious of in the writing of those posts, or in the selection of each word, but it's there nonetheless--a craving for presence, for space, for a pause button, for a way to feel less tired, less consumed, less exhausted, less burnt out. And so it seems appropriate, somehow, that I landed on the word spaciousness for 2019.

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Did you read the recent Buzzfeed article about millennials and burnout? No? Go on, read it. I'll wait. (Yes, it's long. Yes, it's worth it. Yes, even though it's a Buzzfeed article.)

This is one of those essays that resonated with me in ways I am still working out in my head. It forced me to truly own the fact that this whirlwind of productivity and go-go-go and do-it-all and busyness is not just happening inside my own head, but across a generation. (As a side note, I'd argue that this is, in fact, not so much unique to the millennial generation, of which I am a part, as it is a product of this time, this particular moment, this 21st-century technological wonder we live in together multi-generationally). It gave me a sense of clarity I hadn't realized I was lacking; I saw myself in that never-ending wheel of productivity, burnt out already, and realized, quite suddenly, that I was not going to wake up one day to realize that I had gotten through the burnout phase unless I figured out a way to get to something other than a burn-out lifestyle.

Before the Buzzfeed article came out, and before I'd reviewed my intentions for years past, I'd already selected my word for 2019 in my head. Now that I look at it closely, I realize that spaciousness is a continuation of the craving expressed in my words of years past. I crave space -- to breathe, to sit, to explore, to imagine. To just be. Sure, I want that space to be light, and I want to savor what comes into my space, and I want to craft that space intentionally. But what I want this year, more than anything, is pure spaciousness. I want time. I want peace. I want room to breathe, to ignore the hamster wheel of must-dos in favor of the meandering list of could-dos.

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We moved in August (a large part of my total absence over recent months), to a new house outside of city limits. We're no longer walking distance to... well, anything. I thought I'd miss the city (small though our local city may be), but in fact, I do not. I drive to town to shop, for meetings, to go out with friends, and then I get in my car and drive 15 minutes through farmland and then through wooded acres and partially up the side of a very small mountain to arrive at my house, tucked back from the road and surrounded by trees and perched atop a steep hill that makes the driveway in the front a bitch to shovel when it snows but gives us clear views of the open sky and blowing branches out the back (the image in this post's header is taken out my back window). I cannot see into any of my neighbor's windows from any point in my house. It is a sense of spaciousness I hadn't realized I was lacking; it's a sense of spaciousness I would not have wanted, appreciated, or enjoyed five years ago and yet now feels vital to my health, wellbeing, and ability to exist in a crowded, clamoring world.

But my focus on spaciousness goes beyond the physical space I inhabit, as crucial as physical space is to me. It is about creating space for the things I want, finding a balance between structure and nothingness, choosing when to live by the list and when to live by feel.

It sounds easy on paper: just quit the things I don't love and make space for the things I do. In the quitting, of course, there will come downtime and breathing room and space to just be. But what happens when most of the things I do are things I do love? And things I have no desire to quit? How do we create spaciousness for ourselves, physically, mentally, emotionally, when we crave being a part of everything as much as we crave respite from it all?

That's the spaciousness I hope to find this year; the balance between the hyperconnected, busy world I love and the calm, silent moments I also love. I don't have answers, and I don't yet know how to do this or what it will look like or what work I'll need to do to get to where I want to go. But I am fully committed to making the space to find those answers, and I wish you all the space you need in 2019 to find your own.



Review: Let Me Be Like Water, by S.K. Perry

I've been remiss in writing here, or sharing reviews, or doing much of anything. I suspect I'll pick this little blog up again eventually--I always do--but in the meantime, I'm hoping to at least share reviews I've written for other sites for the books I'm really loving lately. Here's the first of what I hope will be many more. Reprinted from Shelf Awareness with permission.

book cover of Let Me Be Like Water by S.K. Perry with a blue ocean horizon and a kite in the air

Let Me Be Like Water is a beautiful and heartbreaking story of young love and young loss. A meditation on grief and what could have been, S.K. Perry's debut offers glimpses of the sometimes magical ways the world works when life is shattered and we're left with nothing but the pieces.

#24in48: On Your Mark, Get Set...

We're coming up to the next round of the 24in48 Readathon, y'all! The goal: read for 24 hours over a 48-hour period (midnight on Friday to midnight on Sunday). 

Yours truly is excited to be back to co-host with Kristen and Rachel this time around, and while that means I'll be spending more time writing/social media-ing/monitoring than reading, I'm still so, so excited to tackle some of the books in my TBR and get a bit of non-assigned reading in.

Run the Mile You're In: Halfway Points, Intentions, and Presence

I have fallen into a questionably healthy habit (according to my hamstring, at least) of running for very long stretches at a time. Four, six, and eight hour runs have become fairly standard in my training cycles; I crave the opportunity to push myself, mentally and physically, to do more, just as I crave the exhaustion they bring. This habit has taught me many things, but of those things, this one stands out: Run the mile you're in. 

Halfway through a 50k is (approximately) 16 miles.

Here's the thing about 16 miles: it's a lot of miles, no matter how you look at it.

Spend too long thinking about how far you've already gone, and your mind and body become exhausted with recognition of what you've done. I've already run sixteen miles. Am I not done yet?

Spend too long thinking about how far is yet to go, and your mind and body become exhausted with the sheer weight of what's to come. I have sixteen miles left. I'll never get there.

It's a lesson I've found invaluable in life as well as running: presence is about more than attention. It's about recognizing where I am in a process, where we are in a process, acknowledging how far we've come and how far is left to go, knowing how to get to a finish line, whatever that may look like, all while holding on to what is immediate.

March: A Monthly Round-up

Cheers from California, friends, where I'm wrapping up the tail end of a solo vacation (the first of its kind!) after a five-day leadership retreat out here that stretched, pulled, and pushed me to be a better, stronger person in both work and life. The vacation part has given me space to think on what that better, stronger may look like. I'm still not sure I have the answers--certainly not enough to write anything coherently about them--but it's been a space I didn't realize I needed until I was within it.

Surprisingly, given the mass amounts of downtime structured into this 12-day trip, I've not been reading much. I've been sitting, and thinking, and walking, and writing, and hiking, and running, and stretching, and sitting again. I've been driving, and viewing. I've been reflecting and absorbing. I've been soaking in the literal sunshine (sorry, East Coasters, I understand it's snowing again back home...). There were some bright spots in last month's reading life, though:

Lessons Learned from *Not* Running an Ultramarathon

I was supposed to attempt my second 50k this past weekend, but due to high winds and a ridiculous number of downed (or almost-downed) trees, the race was cancelled at 4am the morning of.

To be perfectly honest, a small part of me was relieved; I'd been nervous about running under half-fallen trees (I watched a tree fall on the course during North Face last year, and it was no joke), and of all the possible weather conditions to run in, wind is hands-down my least favorite. I'll take snow, I'll take rain, I'll take heat. I hate the wind.

But once the realization that I would not be running my goal race this month set in, I was disappointed. I was angry. I was frustrated. I was wallowing in that when I got a text from another friend who was supposed to run that race: 9am. Local trails. Be there.

So I gave myself an hour to wallow, an hour to read The Pursuit of Endurance (if I wasn't chasing my own endurance, I could at least read about others' attempts), and then an hour to eat and change and get myself to the park. And then I ran for six hours, over hill, over tree--and over tree, and around tree, and through tree, and over tree, and over tree again.