The 3 Books I’m Currently Reading (And How They Relate to Lithuania)
Updated: Mar 3
Anyone else always reading three things at once?
Because y'all, my pile just seems to be getting bigger and bigger. This shouldn't come as a surprise: I was a child who would crawl into the closet with a good nighttime book, reading until I couldn't possibly read any more. So, books and me? We have a history. They were some of the most important and valuable items I shipped to Lithuania from America. Seeing them on my shelves, it's like waving at an old friend, along with some treasured records.
So, I wanted to take a peek into the three books that have been highlighting my world recently, and how they impact the life season I'm currently in (change, stability, change, rinse, repeat). Let me know if you've read - or heard of - any of these books, and because I'm kind of an English nerd, feel free to also share what books are cropping up in your current life season.
Okay, let's get into it!
Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Robin Wall Kimmerer first came into my life as a guest on one of my favorite podcasts, Krista Tippett's On Being. Robin is both a botanist and a member of the Potawatomi nation, so her essays are a really interesting merge of science and spiritual, indigenous and academic. I love her words on gratitude, giving more than you receive, how to keep going in these ecologically damaging times, establishing a healthy relationship between people and planet. And here's the truth: I could have finished this book months ago, but I just can't bring myself to do it. I don't want it to end. I'm decidedly on the last chapter until further notice. Somewhere between poetry and prose, it's a great read. Lithuania Connection: In her book, she writes, "In some Native languages, the term for plants translates to 'those who take care of us.'" I feel that really strongly here, the more immediate connection with connection and culture. That Spring Equinox celebration I went to a month ago in Kernavė? Perfect example of care for culture, landscape, plants. But let's move on to the book that's lighting up my imagination in a huge way:
When I Grow Up: The Lost Autobiographies of Six Yiddish Teenagers by Ken Krimstein. Whew, this graphic journal! I first learned about it a couple of months ago, and didn't even consider that I'd get the opportunity to read it. Here's the gist: this book is a recently-discovered compilation of six entries - out of hundreds - written by Jewish teenagers across Eastern Europe in the 1930s, hoping to win a writing competition right before what would become WWII. The teens were encouraged by YIVO to be as detailed, raw, and honest in their essays as possible, so it's almost like reading Anne Frank's diary all over again - but with images. They're anonymous (how else are you going to get some teenagers to write?!), but so well-detailed that I feel like I understand who these people are. Truly, they're real life pieces of the Eastern European history I've been so curious to discover. And here's the crazy part: Vilnius librarians bravely hid the entries (and many other documents) from Nazis, from the Soviet regime, from anyone who could destroy them. And thanks to Antanas Ulpis, they were hiding in Šv. Jurgio bažnyčia (St. George Church) for years before they were discovered in 2017 and brought over to the library, where the illustrator was one of the first to view them. And now, I get to read these stories, almost like they were never gone. Lithuania Connection: This link is obvious and touching. The book calls this area of the world "Yiddishuania," showing exactly how much it thrived with Jewish life. (Is that a real term people made up!?) I've written many times about finding pieces of Jewish history in Lithuania, imagining the feel and look of a thriving Jerusalem of the North. This book has pieced together so much more of that story for me. I'm reading it on loan from the library, so it won't be sitting at my bedside forever like, um, Braiding Sweetgrass, but I can already tell it's going to stick with me.
Ashkenazi Herbalism: Rediscovering the Herbal Traditions of Eastern European Jews by Deatra Cohen and Adam Siegel. What a joy this book has been! I came across it on Instagram a month or so before moving to Lithuania, and knew that it had to join me for the journey. I've been lucky enough to become acquaintances with the extremely knowledgeable authors - and they've really written a guide on life in the Pale. My favorite thing about this book is that with each plant or herb, they provide the common name, Yiddish name, Hebrew name, heck - sometimes even the plant's Lithuanian name. Then, they go into a richer description of the plant and its location, as well as its herbal uses. Basically, I feel like I'm now the owner of an Eastern European herbal Bible, a real resource. Lithuania Connection: This book was THE bridge for me to move myself around the world and become familiar with the plant life (Braiding Sweetgrass) and the lived experience (When I Grow Up) of Lithuania. It just sits on my coffee table at all times, waiting for me to pick it up and learn more about my ancestors. I highly recommend it.
Okay, so those are my top contenders right now. Luckily they're all very different reads, so they don't have to fight each other for my attention - or my attention span. But this season is clearly calling for books about being in relationship with the Earth and honoring others' stories so they won't be lost to ancient church organs. (Yes, some of the teens' texts were found in an organ!)
Please feel free to share your current book favorites, and I hope these three books give you a little insight into why I am the way I am: a complete and total English nerd.
Until next time - viso gero! Bye!