The Thing with Feathers

Jan 20, 2021

Even the most cynical among us has a hard time avoiding the contagious and perpetual hope that a new calendar year brings.

Understanding in our rational minds that nothing magical happens between December 31 and January 1st does little to quell our persistent optimism. For this, I am grateful. Yes, we are a foolish, reckless species with a stubborn unwillingness to learn from our past. But, boy do we know how to drink champagne, light fireworks, and cast aside our collective sense of impending doom. 

There is reason for hope this year—an ever growing light brought about by the scientists and healthcare workers working so hard to deliver vaccines. There’s also a darkness, revealed by the ever-widening cracks in our social contract. Understanding and repairing these cracks is the work ahead of us.

Naturally, I think reading and conversation may play a role in this work. Anne Lamott compared reading to “singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.” 

This month, I have a few titles to share—some are light and fluffy (because we need these books, too), some are serious and challenging. What they all have in common are themes of fresh starts and healing through connection. 

The Switch by Beth O’Leary 

After a disastrous presentation at work, Leena is put on a two month leave of absence. A visit to her grandmother Eileen’s in rural England sparks an idea for the two of them to switch places. Love, adventure, and healing ensue. This one is particularly good on audio. 

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson 

A poetic novel about generational trauma and loss and how we rebuild through relationship and community. 

Afterlife by Julia Alvarez 

Newly widowed Antonia is pulled back into life through the unrelenting needs of others, including a young, undocumented couple seeking her help.  

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel 

A post-apocalyptic novel may seem like a strange suggestion, but Station Eleven is less about global pandemic and more about the relationships that give our life meaning. 

No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America by Darnell L. Moore 

A memoir by one of the nation’s leading Black Lives Matter activists that examines the role of community in becoming one’s true self. 

An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer 

When Edward Schuler unexpectedly becomes a widower, he garners a lot of female attention. But it’s not until his stepchildren secretly place a personal ad for him in the New York Review of Books that he begins to consider the possibility of a new love. 

While different in subject matter, tone, and genre, each of these titles is anchored by hope—that “thing with feathers/ that perches in the soul--/and sings the tune without the words—/And never stops—at all.” May we hold tightly to hope in our reading and in our living throughout 2021!