Whatcha Reading, Sarah C. Townsend

Every week we ask an interesting figure what they're digging into. Have ideas who we should reach out to? Let it fly: info@seattlereviewofbooks.com. Want to read more? Check out the archives.

Sarah C. Townsend is a Seattle-area writer and teacher. Her book Setting the Wire: A Memoir of Postpartum Pyschosis was just published by The Lettered Street Press in April. She'll be appearing at the University Bookstore, 6pm on July 10th, in conversation with Alexandra Panic.

What are you reading now?

You’ve caught me in the midst of a love affair with recent books by Portland writers. Right now, I’m reading Chelsea Biondolillo’s lyric essay collection The Skinned Bird, in which she pairs the acquisition of song in birds with the imprint of early memory on human experience. An arresting collage of ornithological research, observations of landscape and relationship, photographs, and memories, The Skinned Bird is an exacting dissection of loss and relocation.

I admire the intimacy of this spacious book and its layered threading: “These in-betweens, these micro-geographies can be a welcomed respite…” Biondolillo’s careful arrangement is multimedia and interdisciplinary. With its detailed observation of the natural world and matters of the heart, The Skinned Bird leaves me feeling less alone.

What did you read last?

I’ve heard it said, “We read for voice.” This was certainly true for me when reading Liz Scott’s new memoir This Never Happened. The book found its way into my backpack, the car, and I carried it with me back and forth on the commuter ferry to Seattle. On more than one occasion, I had to muffle my own laughter. This Never Happened is a sweeping portrait of narcissistic parents told with candor, compassion, and a healthy dose of dark humor. Through short vignettes, letters, and family photographs, Scott attempts to puzzle out a dizzying relationship with her mother and abandonment by her father. The telling of this story demonstrates a tremendous capacity for empathy, which Liz Scott has put to great use in her more than forty years as a psychologist. I had the pleasure of having real life conversation with Liz Scott. Of course, I felt as if I already knew her. Liz has a new essay up at The Millions.

What are you reading next?

I’ve been saving Sophia Shalmiyev’s memoir Mother Winter to read next, anticipating its potent and poetic unfolding. The story of a motherless mother, Mother Winter promises to be “equal parts refugee-coming-of-age tale, feminist manifesto, and a meditation on motherhood, displacement, gender politics, and art.” I look to Shalmiyev as an intellect and with interest in her unapologetic experimentation with narrative form.