Like other readers, I had grand plans when the world went on lockdown. I would begin with War and Peace. I went as far as borrowing the book from a friend, left it on my shelf unopened, and instead turned to newly published nonfiction that grappled with the question of what it is to live a good life. The most recent addition to this stack of books is Jennifer Sinor’s Sky Songs. (Disclosure: Sinor and I teach at the same university.)
Both the title and cover image of Sinor’s essay collection are drawn from Alfred Stieglitz’s photographic study Songs of the Sky (later titled Equivalents), nearly four hundred abstract images captured when Stieglitz turned his camera to the clouds. “What is of greatest importance,” Stieglitz said, “is to hold a moment, to record something so completely that those who see it will relive an equivalent of what has been expressed.”
It was an emotional equivalence Stieglitz sought, and the same could be said of Sinor’s fifteen essays. Sky Songs meditates on the defining moments of a life—the tragic death of an uncle, a dissolving marriage, new love, the birth of a child, an encounter with wildlife, the loss of one religion and, years later, the unfolding of another. Read on their own, each essay offers a patient, lyrical examination of these moments. Together, the essays offer a profound reading experience, enriched by a layering of images, a deep sense of place, and the inescapable truth that although we are often haunted by our earliest tragedies, we are equally shaped by the beauty we find in the world around us. Ultimately, Sky Songs delivers what it promises, and what it promises is no small thing: the emotional equivalence of a life well lived.
Sky Songs: Meditations on Loving a Broken World by Jennifer Sinor. University of Nebraska Press, October 2020.
Reviewer bio: Amber Caron’s fiction and non-fiction can be found in The Threepenny Review, PEN America Best Debut Short Stories, Southwest Review, Longreads, and elsewhere.
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