Diane Cook is the author of the story collection Man V. Nature, and was formerly a producer for the NPR radio show, This American Life. Man V. Nature was a finalist for the Guardian First Book Award. She shares five things she’s reading, watching and thinking about right now.
1. Fire Season: I read a lot of non-fiction because I like my curiosity to be led around. I thought Philip Connor’s Fire Season was a beautiful addition to the world of place-based natural narratives. An all around excellent book on its own. But even better was how beholden and reverential it was to other texts. I went down a Norman Maclean and Aldo Leopold rabbit hole after finishing Fire Season. A good book keeps you reading long after you’ve finished with it.
2. Ericailcane: I love this artist a lot. He often puts animals in human situations, and what I love most is how he is able to capture or impose what we think of as human emotions in their faces: terror, rapture, malice. It reminds me that these might not be strictly human traits at all.
3. Lena Dunham: Honestly, I wish she’d been around when I was younger. The day after I was diagnosed at age 39 with severe endometriosis, her Lenny Letter published a whole issue devoted to the disease, nudging young women to know their bodies well and not take pain as the general rule of being a woman. Basically, everything I’d never done. I don’t know if Lena Dunham is helpful to women her age. Perhaps younger women aren’t as moved or enthralled or grateful, perhaps it’s all obvious, like a journalist reporting on an event you’re already attending. But much of what she points to was never obvious to me when I was young, and I’m really happy she’s around.
4. Islands: ‘In the life of each of us…there is a place remote and islanded, and given to endless regret or secret happiness. . .’ This is a line from Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs, a favorite of mine. I like solitude very much. I’ve always loved islands and have always wanted to live on one. I used to think of them as lonesome, isolated places. But this is just a romantic notion of an island. I’ve never really known what the true nature of an island is. We think of it as apart from the mainland, when really an island is its own mainland. Islands probably think we’re the remote ones and pity us, or wish to be us depending on their temperament. I’m islanded often. It’s both lonesome and beautiful. To fuel my endless curiosity and love of islands and being islanded, I’m reading two island themed books right now. Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith and The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni and so far they are both wonderful. Their islands and their character’s reasons for being there are so different. Another win for islands. They won’t be defined.
5. Google Maps: I love opening Google maps and zooming into remote places with the satellite function. I try to find roads in remote places, or better, remote places with no roads. As I narrow in from a wider view I imagine what it would feel like to be lost there. I’ll take screen shots and make a kind of abstract image of an empty wilderness, all greens, blues, brown sands, white ice. Making it something different just by looking at it stripped of its context. I like Northern Canada the best for this. So much unexpected water.
Photograph © Google Earth