A guest post by Betsy Jordan.
"'Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,' grumbled Jo, lying on the rug." I grew up reading Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and went on to enjoy many of her other books as well. In my opinion, though, Little Women is her opus - an enduring gem worth treasuring. Also check out the 1994 movie version for a terrific screen adaptation.
"The nurse walked out of the room, closing the door behind her, and Mrs. Pollifax looked at the doctor and he in turn looked at her." After finding out that there is nothing at all wrong with her except for a middle-age-crisis, Mrs. Pollifax decides to follow through on a lifelong dream - she walks into the CIA and announces that she wants to be a spy. Dorothy Gilman's The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax takes women's mysteries to a whole new level. This book (and the subsequent series) is highly recommended to someone who is looking for something new to fall in love with in the new year.
"It was difficult, later, to think of a time when Betsy and Tacy had not been friends." Maud Hart Lovelace wrote an amazing series about three childhood friends. The first few books start out short and written for a somewhat younger audience, but they age (and lengthen) along with the characters. Betsy-Tacy is the first book in the series that culminates with Betsy's Wedding. While the books will probably be most appreciated by girls, there is no reason that an adult can't fall in love with these books as well. (And yes, just in case anyone wondered, I was named after the main character in this series and was even given Betsy's Wedding as a wedding gift.)
"Once upon a time, sixty years ago, a little girl lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs." This is another one of those books that I think everybody should read. They're not just for girls, either - my father enjoyed them a lot and even read this series out loud to us as children. Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods is full of memorable moments, great characters, and a family that I always wished was my own. No offense, Mom!!
(None taken. :) )
"Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin." A. A. Milne's original Winnie-The-Pooh, before it was turned into a children's cult classic, will actually be enjoyed more by adults than by children. While it is about certainly about a child and his toys, its many inside jokes and humorous incidents will endear it to any grown up looking to recapture their own childhood.
"This is not the way to spend a beautiful spring morning! Elena Klovis thought, as she peered around the pile of bandboxes in her arms." So begins Mercedes Lackey's fantastic retelling of the classic Cinderella story in The Fairy Godmother. NOT a children's book, this is a great journey into the mythical world of the Five Hundred Kingdoms where fairy tales are lived out every day, from a master in the art of writing great fantasies. If you're familiar with Lackey's Valdemar series, you'll know what to expect in terms of great characters, amazing depth and detail, and the extensive worlds the author creates. If you're not, try this book and you may have a new favorite author on your shelf.
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." Whether you are a religious person or not, I don't think anyone can deny the impact that the Bible has had on the world over the past 2,000 years. No other book has been printed more or banned more often. No other book has inspired such dedication and such controversy. So, if you haven't read it yourself, find a nice readable version (New International Version, The Message, Young Readers Version, etc.) and see what all the fuss is about.
I hope you enjoyed this look into some of my favorite books, and that it inspires you to find some new books for the new year!
Read Well, Friend
More about Mrs. Polifax here -- http://abookwithaview.blogspot.com/2009/08/dear-mrs-pollifax.html
To see the first half of this post, scroll down or click here -- http://abookwithaview.blogspot.com/2009/12/beginnings-for-new-year.html
Another review by Betsy -- http://abookwithaview.blogspot.com/2009/09/oh-to-be-ordinary.html
Having recently placed my Mom in a seniors' home and lost both my father and husband, I feel qualified to comment on the book Finding Purpose Beyond our Pain, by Paul Meyer and David Henderson, both Christian psychiatrists. The book is divided into sections of four chapters each, one section devoted to each of seven issues: injustice, rejection, loneliness, loss, failure, discipline, death. According to the authors these are life’s most common struggles; I suspect they are correct in that. At the end of each section there are several pages of practical steps to take, points to remember, and questions to contemplate. I always appreciate a self-help book with a feature like this. By the time you’ve studied several chapters on a topic, it’s easy to lose track of the forest for the trees.
Of course, I was especially interested to read the authors’ take on the subject of loss. Interestingly, it deals with several kinds of loss, including time, significance and control. They go on to look at what we can gain through the experience of losing something important. I was a bit surprised, but pleased, to see they also discussed the issue of whether what can be gained is worth the suffering. Most writers, especially Christian ones, would automatically assume it is, but even the strongest person can find themselves asking “Is it really worth it?” during tough times.
Each topic is treated with this same thoroughness and honesty. The complete, if brief, coverage of topics here makes this book useful for those who work with or know someone who is struggling with the problem of pain. The honesty makes it a book that challenges but never condemns. While it is a christian book, it doesn't push religion until the final section on fear of death, so it could be used by non-Christians, too. All in all, I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in the topic. It should be useful to individuals, and would make an excellent resource for those who deal with people, whether as a counselor, pastor, or friend.
A guest post by Betsy Jordan.
"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." Honestly, if you haven't read The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, I don't think you can say that you are a reader at all! This is the classic book that laid the foundation for the blockbuster Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's much more approachable than LOTR, so if you haven't yet read it - do yourself a favor. Read it!!
"They didn't say anything about this in the books, I thought, as the snow blew in through the gaping doorway and settled on my naked back." Thus begins the account of the daily life of a new veterinarian in rural England. James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small is a fascinating - and often hilarious - memoir written by a man whose arm is up a cow. Literally.
"It was raining. A soft, silvery drizzle sifted down out of the night sky and wreathed around the blocky watchtowers of the city of Cimmura, hissing in the torches on each side of the broad gate and making the stones of the road leading up to the city shiny and black." I love this book! And the series that followed it. The Diamond Throne by David Eddings is full of well developed characters, intricate plot lines, and incredible readability that should put this delightful fantasy at the top of anyone's reading list.
"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is definitely one of my favorite books. It can be difficult to read at first though, as she has so many characters. So, feel free to watch the A&E miniseries of the same name for a great intro to this classic. Then, go tackle the book. You won't regret it!
"'Elnora Comstock, have you lost your senses?' demanded the angry voice of Katharine Comstock while she glared at her daughter.'" A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter is over 100 years old now, but has lost none of its charm. A coming-of-age tale about a young girl and her mother, it follows Elnora through high school and into womanhood against the fascinating backdrop of the Indiana woods.
"Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17-- and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow Inn and the brown old seaman with the sabre cut first took up his lodging under our roof." This may well be one of the longest first lines ever, and it does demonstrate Robert Louis Stevenson's wordy writing style, but Treasure Island should not be discounted because of it. It's a grand adventure that is just as much fun read aloud as it is read privately.
Read Well, Friend
She's good, isn't she? Tune in soon for the rest of Betsy's list. In the mean time, read another review by Betsy here. http://abookwithaview.blogspot.com/2009/09/oh-to-be-ordinary.html
The narrator clearly remembers the overwhelming joy of his childhood holidays, and his young listener responds enthusiastically. There are stories of pelting cats with snowballs and the dining room catching on fire. “Something was burning all right; perhaps it was Mr. Prothero, who always slept there after midday dinner with a newspaper over his face. But he was standing in the middle of the room, saying, ‘A fine Christmas!’ and smacking at the smoke with a slipper.” The only presents our narrator ever received, it seems, were “useless” sweaters, mufflers, and “And pictureless books in which small boys, though warned with quotations not to, would skate on Farmer Giles' pond and did and drowned; and books that told me everything about the wasp, except why.”
Every year I look forward to the childish joy in both narrator and listener, particularly the insistence that it always snowed at Christmas, and the snow was infinitely better than the kind that falls now. "Our snow was not only shaken from white wash buckets down the sky, it came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss …” Now that I think of it, the same is true of the snows from my childhood Christmases. Thomas’ story ends with the magical sleep of the night after Christmas. “I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steady falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.”
Merry Christmas, Friend
We all have Christmas traditions, and some of them are so important it wouldn’t be Christmas without them. When I was a girl the youngest in our family always read Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth. Since I was always the youngest, it didn’t take me long to begin saying it from memory every year. When Bill and I married, we began our own annual reading, taking turns reading aloud from Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. Later we added The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson. These are my first two recommendations for your holiday reading. It would be especially cozy to enjoy them by the fire with a mug of apple cider or hot cocoa. However, I’ve never had a fireplace, so I can vouch for their value wherever you are.
“The Herdman’s were absolutely the worst kids in the world.” Meet the six Herdman kids of Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever-- so wild and mean that their own mother would rather work at a shoe factory that stay home with them, and every teacher passes them from one grade to the next just because there’s another one coming. First they steal a chemistry set, mix all the chemicals together to see what happens, burn down a shed, and then scarf all the donuts sent to the men putting out the fire. Personally, I love the description of them walking their cat on a length of chain. The local mailman insists it’s not a regular cat at all, but a bobcat. “’Oh, I don’t think you can tame a wild bobcat,’ my father said. ‘I’m sure you can’t,’ said the mailman. ‘They’d never try to tame it; they’d just try to make it wilder than it was to begin with.’” Take one church Christmas program, throw in six wild kids, and you get smiles, chuckles, and a fresh look at the Christmas story. The ending has stuck with me since the first time I read it. “And I thought of the angel of the Lord -- Gladys, with her skinny legs and her duty sneakers sticking out from under her robe, yelling to all of us, everywhere: ‘Hey! Unto you a child is born!’”
“Marley was dead to begin with.” He wasn’t the only one, though. That Ebenezer Scrooge was spiritually and emotionally dead is established from the very beginning of Charles Dickens famous novel. “The cold within him froze his features, nipped his nose, shriveled his cheek, made his thin nose blue, and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. He carried his own low temperature always about him, and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.” How many versions of A Christmas Carol do you think you’ve seen? From classic black and white movies, through the Muppets, dogs, George C. Scott, the Jetson’s and Mr Magoo, to Disney’s new version with Jim Carey, it’s been interpreted so many times we know it by heart. But have you read the book? If you do, you’ll see that it’s more than a fun story of ghosts, Tiny Tim, and the softening of a hard heart. From the beginning Scrooge’s attitude is contrasted with his nephew’s, “What reason do you have to be merry? Your poor enough,” he tells his nephew. “What reason do you have to be dismal? You’re rich enough,” is the reply. So is established one of Dicken’s themes, the emptiness of a life lived only for material gain. Ebenezer despises carolers, men collecting contributions for the poor, even innocents who merely wish him a merry Christmas. For me, one of the most chilling statements in literature comes when Scrooge castigates men asking for money to help the poor. “Are there no poorhouses?“ he asks. Told that many would rather die than go there, he declares they should be allowed to die, and “decrease the surplus population.”
As much as I love some of the dramatic versions of A Christmas Carol, I think the impact is more profound in the written story -- especially when it’s read aloud. Even when the same passages are used in plays, they tend to fly by, lost in the visual effects and dialogue. When you read you can contemplate. And there’s much worthy of contemplation here. “’There are some upon this earth of yours,’ returned the Spirit, ‘who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.’” "It is always the person not in the predicament who knows what ought to have been done.” "‘It is required of every man,’ the ghost returned, ‘that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and, if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.’ So many passages like this, as well as Dicken’s own words telling the story, make A Christmas Carol worthy of rereading every year.
"And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”
Read Well, Friend
Tune in tomorrow for two more books to enjoy this holiday season.
I hope all of you have a blessed Christmas/Holiday season, wherever you are and whatever your beliefs. And peace on earth, good will to men. Teri K.
O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appears. O come, thou root of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan’s tyranny; from depths of hell Thy people save and give them victory over the grave. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
Lo, how a rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung! Of Jesse’s lineage coming as men of old have sung. It came, a flower bright, amid the cold of winter, when half-spent was the night. Isaiah ‘twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind; with Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind. To show God’s love a-right she bore to us a Savior, when half-spent was the night.
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see Thee lie! Above the deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by; yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. For Christ is born of Mary; and gathered all above, while mortals sleep the angels keep their watch of wondering love. How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given! So God imparts to human hearts the blessing of His heaven.
Silent night! Holy night! All is calm, all is bright ‘round yon virgin mother and child, holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace. Silent night! Holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light radiant beams from Thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord at Thy birth, Jesus, Lord at Thy birth.
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head; the stars in the sky looked down where He lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.
What Child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthem sweet while shepherds watch are keeping? Why lies He in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christian, fear for sinners here the silent Word is pleading. This, this is Christ the King whom shepherds guard and angels sing; haste, haste to bring Him laud, the Babe, the son of Mary.
Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains, and the mountains in reply echoing their joyous strains. GLORIA, GLORIA IN EXCELSIS DEO!
The first Noel the angel did say, was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay keeping their sheep, on a cold winter’s night that was so deep. “Noel, Noel, born is the king of Israel.”
While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground, the angel of the Lord came down, and glory shone around. “Fear not!” said he, for heavy dread had seized their troubled mind, “Glad tidings of great joy I bring to you and all mankind. To you, in David’s town this day, is born in David’s line, the Savior, who is Christ the Lord, and this shall be the sign: the heavenly Babe you there shall find to human view displayed, all meanly wrapped in swathing bands and in a manger laid. All glory be to God on high, and to the earth be peace; Goodwill henceforth from heaven to men begin and never cease.”
Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light, and usher in the morning; ye shepherds shrink not from affright, but heed the angels warning. This child, now weak in infancy, our confidence and joy shall be, the power of Satan breaking, our peace eternal making. He comes, a Child, from realms on high; He comes the heaven’s adoring; He comes to earth to live and die, a broken race restoring. Although the King of kings is He, He comes in deep humility, His people to deliver, and reign in us forever.
Hark! The herald angel’s sing, glory to the newborn king!
Bring a torch Jeanette, Isabella, bring a torch, come hurry and run. It is Jesus, good folk of the village, Christ is born and Mary’s calling. Ah, ah, beautiful is the mother; ah, ah, beautiful is the Child.
O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, O come ye to Bethlehem; come and behold Him born the King of angels. O come let us adore Him. Yea, Lord we greet Thee, born this happy morning. Jesus, to Thee be all glory given; Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing; O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
Joy to the world! The Lord is come; let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing. Joy to the earth! The Savior reigns; let men their songs employ; while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy. No more let sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found. He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love.
Good Christian men, rejoice with heart and soul and voice! Give ye heed to what we say, Jesus Christ is born today! Man and beast before him bow, and He is in the manger now; Christ is born today, Christ is born today!
Merry Christmas to All!
However it works, I love discovering new words, even if I don’t remember them all. That’s one reason I enjoy the PBS radio show Says You so much. It revolves around fascinating bits of knowledge and obscure words. That’s where I learned the word moot doesn’t only mean previously decided and therefore not worth arguing, but also open to argument or debate, (supposedly what “it’s a moot point” means). Don’t you just love English? It’s always full of surprises. Says You also taught me the very useful word omphaloskepsis, which means navel-gazing. I hope to have reason to use it someday. That brings me to one of the natural benefits of being well read -- showing off. Not that I’d ever even want to do that. Not me. Still, it’s an ego booster when the six erudite members of the show’s panel get stumped by words that seem simple to me. Screever, for example. I can only guess that none of them were ever fans of Mary Poppins; my friend Linda Ketchum and I saw the movie every day it played in our little town. “Today I’m a screever, and as you can see, a screever’s an artist of highest degree,” Burt sang as he drew pictures in chalk on the sidewalk. I knew that, but none of them did. So don’t ever say movies are a waste of time.
I learn new words reading blogs, too. My latest discovery is conflation, found on a comment about Pride and Prejudice. (I do find fans of Jane Austin tend to have better than average vocabularies. Is that because they learn new words by reading the books, or they enjoy the books because the have the vocabulary to read them? Another chicken-or-the-egg debate, if you are so minded.) The word in question is conflation. The writer used it while discussing Mr. Darcy, admitting she was “conflating both of the movies.” I thought it was a typo at first. I couldn’t figure out what word they meant to use, so I wondered if the writer had made it up. (What’s the word for a made-up word?) I tried to deduce the meaning from the roots, but got nowhere so I decided to look it up. Sure enough, it was a real word, meaning to bring together, meld or confuse two or more individuals, concepts, or places, until there seems to be only one identity and the differences are lost. Awesome.
Fromage is a word you and I already know from cooking, as it’s French for cheese. When it was used as part of a French phrase in a movie review I did a double take. I don’t know the language, but a lot of times you can winkle out the meaning by finding word parts you do know. (Winkle: to pry, force or displace from a position, often used with out.) It didn’t occur to me to change cheese to cheesy, which is indeed another use of the word. The other word that stumped in context came up recently. I’ve been reading Mari Strachan’s debut novel The Earth Hums in B Flat. I picked it up because of the title and was drawn in immediately, then thrown back out upon reading that Jones the Butcher had his faggots cooking outside, intended for consumption by all the families in town. Were the people in town so poor they’d been reduced to consuming bundles of sticks? Or military men? Old women? It made no sense, so I ignored it until it came up two more times. What in the world were they eating? If I knew more about my roots, I would have understood immediately, as Faggots (Ffagodau) are a Welsh meatball made from minced pig liver, onions, breadcrumbs, and lots of pepper. Their name is based on the word meaning a mixture or combination. There are recipes available on the web if you need something for dinner tonight. Or you could try Welsh Rabbit, a conflation of fromage served over toast. Bon appetite.
Read Well, Friend
BTW -- NEOLOGISM is the word for a newly invented word or phrase.
Books I Only Pretended to Read.
The first book I remember lying about was The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. It happened in my freshman year, when our class was presented with several books to read as groups. I’d read all of the others, and hated the idea of reading a ‘war story for boys’. So when my English teacher asked which group I wanted to be in, I told her I’d read them all. I remember the moment, I was sitting just right of center in the second row, Sharon Parrish was next to me, and I had just lied to Mrs. Gilliland -- right out loud. No one in the room questioned me, since I usually had read everything. I regret lying, but managed to graduate with straight As without reading Lord of the Flies, only skimming through The Scarlet Letter, and giving up on Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene not long into it. Now that I think about it I realize I’ve ‘not read’ The Faerie Queene three times. Mrs. T’s Senior class was just the beginning.
It happened again my freshman year of college. Not realizing I didn’t have to take all the bonehead classes they suggested for new students, I signed up for Intro to World Lit. It turned out that I’d already studied everything we covered in that class except for, you go it, The Faerie Queene. I resolved to finish it this time, but of course this excerpt was longer, and I failed again. After that I had no illusions. When it appeared on the syllabus of yet a third class, I admitted to some fellow students that I’d never finished the selections, and wasn’t looking forward to trying again. The one boy who had actually read it before told me not to bother, it wasn’t worth it. We generally agreed on literature so I happily took his advice. Joseph, wherever you are, the third time's on you. The same class brought me to my literary knees again. Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage by Byron was introduced as not being as great as the book said. According to my Professor it had sections of great beauty ruined by many difficult, awkward, and boring passages. He was right. I started with great gusto but never finished. Both of these poems are written in Spenserian stanzas. Is it possible I’m simply allergic to that form? I’d like to think so.
In my search for ever more interesting lit classes, I signed up my sophomore year for Modern American Drama, number 400 and something. No problem, until I arrived and found that all the other students knew each other. They were very friendly when I came in, but seemed to be regarding me as an unusual specimen of fish. When the teacher showed up he looked surprised to see me, too. It turned out that this class was actually required for graduate drama students, but was listed in the 400s because the department didn’t have enough undergrad classes to meet their quota. I was offered a chance to switch, but declined. It became one of my favorite classes, I learned so much, and they treated me like an equal. Here I studied plays by Tennessee Williams, Ibsen, and others. And for the first time I admitted to my teacher that I had deliberately not finished something. The play was Strindberg’s Miss Julie, and I hated it. Unfortunately, one of the required essays on the Final meant I had to compare it with two other plays we’d read. Falling on my sword I admitted that I’d found it very distasteful, and had stopped reading it. Therefore, I explained with what I hoped would read as dignified humility, I would be comparing and contrasting the other two plays only. I got an A on the paper and the class, perhaps more for my guts than anything.
You might be wondering by now if I’ve gone back and read the books I skipped in school. I will tell no more lies, I have not. The Faerie Queene, the longest poem in the English language, has been described as allegorical and allusive. Just pondering that can give me a headache. As for Childe Harold and his Pilgrimage, quite a few of the experts agree with my professor. I still enjoy reading short pieces of it occasionally, though. I don’t think I need Lord of the Flies to show me what depravity man can sink to, and I read the Cliff Notes so I know how it ends. Strindberg doesn't tempt me, while not reading The Red Badge of Courage has become such a tradition, I’m almost afraid to pick it up. I actually think I might upset the great balance of the Cosmos. Or something.
Sometimes, just like a fisherman, I find myself thinking about the ones that got away. Then I pick my current book and read on. It is possible to lead a full and rich life without understanding The Faerie Queene. Fortunately.
Read Well, Friend.
As I am sure many of you have no doubt noticed, Teri (my mom) has been AWOL for awhile. She has been experiencing a myriad of computer problems that my husband and I have been unable to fix for her. She is going to be sending her computer into the company to be repaired (it seems to be an issue with the internal modem - why on earth is she still using dial-up anyway???!!) , so hopefully it will not be too much longer before she is up and running again. In the meantime, I leave you with this to ponder...
Oh, how could this be?!
Read well, friends.
October -- the month of too much, leaving too soon. “The month of carnival of all the year, When Nature lets the wild earth go its way, And spend whole seasons on a single day. The spring-time holds her white and purple dear; October, lavish, flaunts them far and near.” My birthday is in October so I’ve always had some proprietary interest in it. I thought Lowell a fool for writing “What is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days.” I approved, instead, of Helen Hunt Jackson for saying “O suns and skies and clouds of June, And flowers of June together, Ye cannot rival for one hour October's bright blue weather.” It‘s true that “bright blue weather” might not be a description worthy of great poetry, but it was accurate, so I turned up my nose at British summer days, championing my beloved Colorado’s autumn instead. (And I’m still willing to put the blue of a fall Colorado sky up against any other in the world. There is nothing like it. Trust me, I know.)
October is hard to define. Writer’s often infuse it with a sense of melancholy, for the year is dying soon, and so are we, they enjoy reminding us. William Cullen Bryant's October, says it is “When woods begin to wear the crimson leaf, And suns grow meek, and the meek suns grow brief And the year smiles as it draws near its death.” Frost, in another poem of the same name, begins “O hushed October morning mild, Thy leaves have ripened to the fall; Tomorrow's wind, if it be wild, Should waste them all.” But there’s much more of life left in this month than that. October is the home of Halloween after all, the don’t be a fraidy-cat, “trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat,” candy stuffed old holiday, "and the goblins will get ya if ya don't watch out!" It’s the month of high school football games, popcorn and candied apples, cider and sweaters. It used to be the season for TV programs, too. Every show started in September and by October you knew which ones your family was watching, and what nights you had to hurry through chores and piano lessons to catch your favorites. (These days I can’t even find a good show until one week before the finale, which for some reason is in July or August.) Halloween and television may never be the same, but still these October nights I hear my neighborhood kids playing outside in the dark, till someone calls them in for dinner. I smell wood smoke most evenings, and some mornings, too, if I happen to be near an open window. It might not be cool enough for me to wear sweaters yet, but I can leave the windows open day and night now, which is a blessing not everyone understands, and I get keep an extra blanket on my bed, just in case. After all...
Of course we miss the flowers, and the blossom on the trees,
And the mumble of the hummin'-birds and buzzin' of the bees;
But the sir's so appetizin'; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
It's the pictur' that no painter has the colorin' to mock--
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock."
(A Calendar of Sonnets: October written by Helen Hunt Jackson; What is so Rare as a Day in June, James Russell Lowell; October's Bright, Blue Weather, H. H. Jackson; Little Orphan Annie and When the Frost..., poems by James Whitcomb Riley.)
Some cookbooks are designed to be read. They intend to Instruct You in something, like how to become a vegetarian or purchase and fire up your grill without singeing your eyebrows. I remember reading Recipe for a Small Planet, written by Ellen Ewald, in college. I learned about incomplete proteins and how to combine them cheaply and efficiently to make a complete protein. I also gained a tomato soup recipe that is out of this world. A few years later as a new bride on a tight budget I discovered food writer Jane Brody’s Good Food Book. It, too, discussed combing incomplete proteins so I didn’t have to buy expensive meats as often. Going beyond that, it included sections with titles like “Milling, the Rape of the Wheat Berry,” “Oats: Neigh for Horses, Yeah for Us,” and “Garlic: a Clove for All Seasons,” providing interesting reading for quite some time. Being a farmer’s daughter I was familiar with most of what she said, but I couldn’t recall anyone saying, as she did, that millet wasn’t just for the birds. In the next section of her book I learned that a cutting board, sharp knives and kitchen timer are essential items for a cook. I had to agree. The cheese cloth, corkscrew, mortar and pestle, and melon baller seemed less essential, (though I do have a melon baller now). With so many interesting ideas packed into Ms Brody's Good Food Book, I read it over and over for days, and I still read and cook from it. Her carrot cake recipe is super, and a little doctoring of the black bean soup with cumin created a perfect dish.
Jeff Smith, aka the Frugal Gourmet, is another great cook and food writer. He's especially known for authoring cookbooks that blend recipes and history. Want an interesting introduction to Greek, Roman and Chinese history, with some good eating included? Read The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines. Another of my favorites, The Frugal Gourmet on our Immigrant Ancestors, looks into their history -- the countries they left, their experiences here, and the recipes they brought with them. He doesn’t just cover the usual countries, though. Going alphabetically, Smith opens his book with Armenia and a recipe for double stuffed meatballs that I’m finally going to make now that I have a reliable source of lamb. He continues with the Basques and Cambodia, working his way through Latvia and Lebanon. Quite a few Lebanese settled in my town, so I‘m going to check his recipes against theirs. This cookbook concludes with Wales and Yugoslavia. Since my maternal grandfather was Welsh, I always enjoy this section, despite the fact that Smith writes “The cooks of Wales have never gained international fame… and, to be honest with you, I suppose they don’t deserve it.” How embarrassing. He does commend them for their love of hymn singing, probably passed down from John Wesley‘s many visits to the coal miners. I may never become a fan of Welsh cold pork pie, but hours of hymn singing I definitely enjoy. That's something, at least, that I got that from my Welsh ancestors. It’s probably a good thing, though, that my recipes were passed down from the German side of my family. No one ever said they can’t cook.
Tune in next time for more cookbook reading. In the mean time…
Read Well, Friend
"Long and long ago, when Oberon was king of the fairies, there reigned over the fair country of Phantasmorania a monarch who had six beautiful daughters." So begins one of my favorite childhood books - The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye. I actually have lots of "favorite childhood books," and frequently have trouble figuring out exactly which one is my true favorite at any given moment. But lately, I've been feeling nostalgic and have rediscovered the joys of Princess Amy - actually, Her Serene and Royal Highness Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne.
Poor Princess Amy. You see, she was the seventh princess born to her parents. When her fairy godmother came to the christening she took pity on the little baby surrounded by such a perfectly lovely royal family and gave her a unique gift. Her proclamation - "You shall be Ordinary." Not ravishingly beautiful, wonderfully clever, prodigiously musical, or even the possessor of a great personality. Nope. She would be ordinary. And as Princess Amy grew up, the ramifications of her "gift" became obvious - mousy brown hair that wouldn't curl, freckles, and a turned up nose would be hers. I kind of knew how she felt, too. I had always wanted to be a princess, but they were so... so... unachievable. Breathtakingly beautiful with perfect complexions, beautiful hair and teeth, sweet natured with little musical laughs, etc. You know what I mean. Finally - finally! - I had found a princess that felt a lot like me.
Although she was still very much loved by her family, Princess Amy was pretty much left up to her own devices. She discovered at a young age that she could climb down a wisteria outside her window and run off into the forest to play anytime she wished. I always wanted to be able to do that very same thing, but there were never any big trees outside my first-floor bedroom, nor any forests full of "dappled deer, the frolicsome rabbits, and little gentle woodland creatures" to run off into. One thing I did have, however, was a vivid imagination. So I would run off with Princess Amy and together we would "do such exciting things" and pity her six perfect sisters ("oh! what a lot of fun they miss by not being me," Amy would say).
Over time, Amy and I grew up. Her sisters all got married and it was her turn, except that no one was interested in Amy. "One after another, after their first shocked look at the Ordinary Princess, they hurriedly remembered previous engagements. They apologized for having to make such a brief stay and said that if they should ever happen to be passing that way again they would of course drop in. After which they would pack their luggage and hurry away the very next morning." The suitor situation got so desperate, her father even considered hiring a dragon to lay waste to the country so they could marry Princess Amy off to whoever vanquished the dragon. Once again, Amy and I seemed to be kindred spirits. My friends and family were all getting married, having children, and going on to their own happily-ever-afters. While no one was offering to hire a dragon to help ME out, neither Princess Amy nor I would have been too happy with that solution. You see, Amy ran away. And oh, how I wished I could go with her!
Amy and I discovered the joys and pains of that four-letter-word all ordinary people become intimately acquainted with - w.o.r.k. We both learned that single girls don't make much, and that it can be kind of lonely on your own. I envied Amy her two new friends - a squirrel named Mr. Pemberthy and a crow, Peter Aurelious. MY landlord didn't allow pets.
And, in time, Amy and I both found what we had really been looking for all along - our prince. Mine came in the guise of a business customer at the bank where I was working, and Amy's, well, that's her story. Needless to say, both our stories turned out well, and our princes sound remarkably similar... "And indeed a more ordinary person...you could not wish to see. His velvet doublet was stained with moss and rather torn where he had caught it on a branch while climbing an oak tree to pick acorns. His hair was very ruffled and full of bits of bark, and he had a smudge on his nose." Amy's prince built her a little cottage in the woods, and my prince and I are saving up for ours.
I guess that, in the end, Princess Amy says it best. "'This has been quite the nicest day of my life,' thought the Ordinary Princess. And she thought, too, that the nice young man was easily the nicest person she had ever met. 'It's because he is an ordinary sort of person - like me,' she decided."
Here's to being ordinary!
Read Well, Friend
You know Alan Lerner -- of course you do. You must have heard of Lerner and Lowe. Brigadoon, Camelot, My Fair Lady, Paint your Wagon, Gigi? They did some other musicals, and later adapted them to the movies, but these are their best.
Born August 31, 1918, Alan Lerner is member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He received an Academy Award for Gigi, both the score and the title song. Can anyone forget hearing Maurice Chevalier croon "Thank heaven for little girls, for little girls get bigger every day, Thank heaven for little girls, they grow up in the most delightful way!" Lerner also received an Academy Award for writing the screenplay of An American in Paris, though George Gershwin composed the music.
One of the first live plays I ever saw was My Fair Lady, and I loved it. In fact, I convinced my mother, who had taken my brother and me to Nebraska with her while she worked on her MA, that I needed to see My Fair Lady -- every single night. I think it ran two weeks, and I never tired of Eliza Doolittle or Professor 'Iggins. From "Why can't the English teach their children how to speak?" and "All I want is a room somewhere, Far away from the cold night air. With one enormous chair, Aow, wouldn't it be loverly?" through the rain in Spain staying mainly in the plain, (finally) and "I could have danced all night," we arrive at the finale "I've grown accustomed to her face. She almost makes the day begin. I've grown accustomed to the tune that She whistles night and noon. Her smiles, her frowns, Her ups, her downs Are second nature to me now; Like breathing out and breathing in." When I later read Pygmalion I understood, even approved of, the ending. But I secretly rejoiced that I had already experienced it differently.
So today I take a little time to salute a special kind of writer, one who could write "Hand me down that can o' beans Hand me down that can o' beans Hand me down that can o' beans I'm throwing it away," then give us "The mist of May is in the gloamin', and all the clouds are holdin' still. So take my hand and let's go roamin' through the heather on the hill." and finally this 1965 Grammy winner.
Rise and look around you
And you'll see who you are.
On a clear day
How it will astound you
That the glow of your being outshines ev'ry star.
You'll feel part of ev'ry mountain sea and shore.
You can hear, from far and near,
A world you've never heard before.
And on a clear day...
On that clear day...
You can see forever and ever more!"
Thanks to you, Alan J. Lerner
(Pygmalion, written by George Bernard Shaw.)
I’m sorry, Mrs. P., I know you prefer not to be referred to as old, but what else could I say? Elderly is even worse, and Senior just doesn’t describe you at all. I can only hope I’ve known you long enough to get away with a little cheek. I hear that you are unofficially retiring from our organization, which you never officially worked for to begin with. I shall have to miss the lovely garden party, and seeing your Cyrus beaming over you like a benevolent guardian Cyclops, only Cyrus has both his eyes. (I was trying to think of someone very tall and strong -- oh well, if you don’t know what I mean after all these years and all we’ve been through, well, shame on you.) Of course this is a time to look back, and funnily enough my first memory of you, Emily, isn’t a memory at all. It’s that check-up you told me about during that cold, frightening night we were locked with Hafez in Castle de Chillon. The check-up where that pathetic young doctor ask you if there wasn’t something you always wanted to do with your life, and when you told him he laughed in your face. I like to think he’s a lonely old doctor by now, thinking of the dreams he once had and how sorry he is that he didn’t take them more seriously. (Don’t say that’s unkind of me, I know it is but I wish it anyway; you’re much more lady like than I.) I feel like I knew you then, but of course I didn‘t see you until you stepped off the bus, walked into the office, and offered your services. You realize, I’m sure, that everyone else thought you were nuts, but I understood your logic. You said you’d lived a full life, you were in excellent health, and our country could better afford to lose you than a young person. (You were wrong there.) I guess I understood even though I was much younger than you. (Why do I feel much closer in age to you now? You just get younger all the time.) At that point my life seemed destined to be, to my great disappointment, kind of ‘samey’ and safe. Because you took courage in hand and stepped in Headquarters, both our lives drastically changed, dear friend, and I am so thankful! You deserve to ‘retire’ but oh how I shall hate not working with you again.
I am looking forward to having you over when you get back from Sofia. Make sure Cyrus keeps you out of trouble, I should hate to miss out on any last minute escapades you might fall into. Have you talked about driving around the little square one more time? No one could justify the Panchevsky ‘Institute’ as a tourist site, except maybe those of us who helped Phillip and the others escape. Do you know what I wish? That somehow I’d managed to hold on to the list you made at our planning meeting-- the one where you recorded all our assets: geese, one pistol, fireworks, knots, motorcycle, bow and arrow. Can you believe we actually got everyone out of that prison fortress, toppled General Ignatov and managed to get that nasty Nikki in trouble, too, with only those assets, and your refusal to give up? So much has changed in Bulgaria since then, I wonder if any of the rest of them are still alive? Bishop says there’s no way to tell, and he would know. I’m sure you’ll go by the government cemetery while you’re there. Please leave a token for ‘Tsanko’. For me.
You were right about being married to Bishop, you know. He spends all day at work organizing people’s lives to protect the free world, and then he tries to organize and protect me. If you asked him who I need to be protected from, I’m afraid he might say you. But don’t worry, when he gets too bothersome I suggest a nice excursion to Mexico, perhaps a visit to a bookshop where we can look for a copy of a certain book. He starts muttering about Albania and Ferrell, and gets very pale. Personally I don’t think you can be persona non grata in a country you never officially entered and from which you escaped as quickly and quietly as you possibly could. But you know how he worries, so it works every time. I once tried to blackmail him by offering to travel back to Turkey and introduce him to Anyeta and the other gypsies. He thought it sounded like fun, so if you get a postcard of a caravan from us some day, you’ll know he took me up on it. Speaking of the gypsies, Cyrus would just adore them, and if we could arrange another love-in, well, can you imagine watching him dancing with flowers in his hair, if he had any, with all the lovely Turkish girls? There are so many fond memories of that mission I can almost forget finding Magda drugged and held prisoner in the house of Dr. Belleaux, the man who was supposed to be helping us. I learned what courage is when you and Colin dragged her down the main staircase and out the front door in the sight of him and all his important guests. Not to mention Magda, Colin, you and I hurling ourselves into the police helicopter while they chased and shot at us. I’ve always felt one of your crowning moments, Emily, was when Magda asked you if you knew how to fly a helicopter. You said “Of course not!” and proceeded to do it anyway. How many cars did you take out on the way to the Kayseri Airport? I’ve forgotten.
There is so much more to talk about, but my plane from Hong Kong is about to leave. I’ll take a bit of a nap -- or sleep like the dead, as Bishop insists -- and write more tomorrow, my dear Mrs. P. (as you will always be to me.)
Your Friend in Adventure.
Read Well, Friend
Hear about Mrs. Pollifax on NPR by clicking here.
(Books referred to in this post are The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax, The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax, and The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax, some of the series written by Dorothy Gilman.)
”Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Lookin' for adventure
And whatever comes our way…”
(Born to be Wild)
Born to be wild or not, nine hours of construction on 1-40, construction on I-55, and, you guessed it, construction on I-57 makes for a long, not so exciting day. As much as we enjoy each others company, if we hadn't had the books to talk about -- which ones would be there, what kind of condition would they be in, how would she get the extra shelf space -- the nine hours would have seemed a whole lot longer. Thanks to our GPS we made it to the pick up point with some time to spare. There we found an angel of books waiting for us in her garage. The Garage, filled with books, “hundreds of books, thousands of books, millions and billions and…,” oh all right, it was just those 197 books, the ones that her co-workers had urged her to throw away. Instead they were neatly tucked in 19 boxes, each box numbered with a matching list of contents. We’d had visions of lugging all those books up narrow stairs from a dank, poorly lit basement, through the house out to the street -- one armload at a time. Instead, Sue had a cart to load the boxes on and helped us tote all nineteen to our car, thrilled that someone wanted her parents castoffs. That night we loaded the hotel’s luggage cart with some of the boxes, lined them up between our two beds, opened them and plunged in. What would we find? A Shropshire Lad, Nicholas Nickleby, The Compleat Angler, Homer’s Odyssey, The Tales of Hoffman, or William Tell?
In case you don’t know, (because I sure didn’t), Heritage Books released about 1000 titles between the 1930's -- 60’s. An imprint of George Macy Companies, they were reprints of the exclusive Limited Editions Club. The idea was to offer the same special volumes, though less luxurious, to people who couldn't afford to be one of the 1500 subscribers to the special editions. Each volume was treated as an individual release, its size, cover and shape chosen to suit that title. Tucked inside is an informative, sometimes amusing, pamphlet called The Sandglass, and every volume is fitted into a matching slipcase. One surprising feature of Heritage Press books are the illustrators. Imagine, Picasso's sketches interpret Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata. Francisco Goya’s works illustrate a novel about him, This is the Hour. Norman Rockwell did Poor Richard: The Almanac, and the childrens classic The Wind in the Willows illustrator is, of course, the incomparable Author Rackham. Who else? Because of the illustrations you can't just pull out the books you recognize; you have to open every single one to see what's inside. You might find full page paintings, an occasional small woodcutting, or colorful border decorations on each page. Eager to look at our plunder, we loaded the hotel’s luggage cart with boxes of books, then lined them up in the aisle between our beds to easily share the wealth. We ooh’d and aah’d for some time until Betsy, exhausted from all the driving, fell asleep. I fondled Walden, dipped into Elegy, renewed my friendship with Paul Bunyan, and honestly goggled at the brilliantly colored, intricately Middle Eastern-style decorations on every other page of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam until, exhausted, I couldn't hold it upright any longer.
It's always faster driving home. I don't know if it's because the impatience created by anticipation is gone, or because I begin to recognize the landmarks while still hundreds of miles from home. This way to St. Louis; here's that lousy construction stopping traffic again; 22 miles to Lambert's, Home of the Throwed Rolls. Yep, we're almost home. (Yes, they really do throw the rolls to their customers, sometimes. Mostly it's a pig out on all the Southern food you want place to eat.) Eventually we turned into the driveway, greeted the dogs, and toted in boxes of books. The driver, not surprisingly, was exhausted. The passenger, me, was energized and ready to do something. We excavated a few more boxes, then Betsy picked up one of her old favorites, one of those books you've loved for years but somehow misplaced, and settled in to read. I pulled out books only to replace them. I carried stacks to the sofa, read a bit here and there, then carefully put them back into the correctly numbered box. Darn that book fairy lady! If she hadn't been so helpful I could be alphabetizing and recording each book, matching up the sets and noting the publication dates. Instead I was left with nothing to do but read. Betsy finished The Mysterious Island and eagerly began The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan. No, not Ali Baba, though he and Hajji might be cousins I suppose. And don't assume, as I did, that Hajji Baba is a book only someone who double majored in History and Middle Eastern Studies would look forward to reading. It turns out to be a classic romantic comedy offering a true portrayal of Persia of that time. Watching her happily immersed in her second book, something dawned on me. Trying to take on 197 new books has created a type of reader’s overload in my brain, a dog pile of choices that makes it impossible for me to single anything out of the crowd. Walden Pond? Longfellow's poetry? The Brothers Karamazov? Something, please? My eyes glaze over just looking at the boxes. I've stopped peering inside them, stopped studying the six page list. Should I read an old favorite or something I've never heard of before? Maybe I'll pick the shortest one and read it really fast, and have it over with. I could pick a number or close my eyes and point, like people do when they want help from the Bible but have no idea how to find it. It's been almost a week since our drive to Chicago, and I'm still bookless, unable to find a way to force myself to make a choice. I haven't a clue how long this deadlock will go on, but if I ever manage to actually read anything, trust me, you'll be the first to know.
Read Well, Friend
"Hundreds of books" paraphrased from Millions of Cats, written by Wanda Gag.
The sharp names that never get fat,
The snakeskin-titles of mining-claims,
The plumed war-bonnet of Medicine Hat,”
(Steven Vincent Benet)
I, too, am I love with American names, and the maps that show me those names. What better time to meditate on the great variety of our country's names then on a 'quick' drive to Chicago and back with my daughter at the wheel. Two nine-hour days of interstate, our only Chicago sightings Wrigley field and the airport. A pity really, as Chicago is a city to spend a week in, at least. Still, even super fast road trips needn't be all bad. The best part of traveling, besides arriving where you want to be, or maybe getting home from some place you didn’t want to be, is the scenery and the names of the towns you pass. Since you can’t always count on the scenery -- I-70 through Kansas, anyone -- I rely on maps and road signs for inspiration. Probably we've all joked about the oddity of travel in America. For example, on the way to Chicago we found our selves passing signs to Manhattan, which got Betsy pretty excited. The Statue of Liberty, Broadway shows! Unfortunately our deadline kept us from that detour. I did point out that it might take us on a much shorter trip to Manhattan, Kansas. But that plainly didn’t interest her at all. It seems our family has driven through Kansas way too many times already. (No offense to Kansans intended.)
In the same way, from my own little corner of the country I can travel quite easily to Egypt. Memphis and the pyramid are just a few minutes away. A little over an hour takes me to Cuba Landing where, presumably, refugees regularly sneak ashore under cover of night. I don’t begrudge them. I do, however resent our proximity to Paris. After I save up all my quarters and finally visit France I'll come back proudly sporting my Eiffel Tower T-shirt and carrying my Gay Paree hand bag and no one will even notice. They’ll just assume I spent a few days in Paris, TN. How deflating! The same would be true of Milan, Moscow, London, Hayti, (sic) and Belfast. Kind of makes you wonder why we Americans bother going overseas at all, doesn’t it?
Leaving aside the towns named by people either homesick or completely lacking in imagination, I prefer the Illinois towns of Eureka, Goodfield, Sweetwater, and Fidelity. What treasure made the towns people cry Eureka? How special is that good field, really? If I swing by Sweetwater for a quick drink will it taste better than the freezing cold, uncontaminated water coming straight from a Rocky Mountain stream? Is that even possible? Could it taste sweeter than the natural artesian that comes out of my taps everyday? I’ve drunk a lot of water from a lot of places around the world, and some of it was nasty. If all that water was lined up side by side would Sweetwater's win? I’d like to think so, but I have my doubts... As interesting as the town’s I’ve just named are, the one that intrigues me the most is Fidelity. Just think of it --Fidelity. Did the women of the town get to pick the name? Or the preachers? Is naming a town Fidelity a warning to any riff raff to keep moving? What happens to fools who don’t live up to the name? Puzzles like this give one something to think about on those long car rides.
My home state of Colorado is blessed with strong sounding town names that describe its history and terrain. Copper Mountain, Leadville, Marble, Gypsum, Granite and Silverton speak to our mining past. It’s no surprise, then, to learn that high in the Rockies one finds the National Mining Hall of Fame. Well, alright, so it did surprise me. Obviously I need to brush up on my Colorado maps. With towns called Aspen, Snowmass, Evergreen, Crested Butte and Elk Springs, who needs a glossy tourist brochure? Add Gem Village, Whitewater, Grand Lake, and my personal favorite, Tin Cup, and I’m not sure why I ever left. Personally, I think Colorado has the best town names anywhere, but I’m forced to admit some people believe the honors should go elsewhere. One of those people is a certain southern governor’s wife. Meeting a television producer who had several successful shows set in the South, the governor’s wife encouraged him to research the names in her state for the setting of his next project. And why not? Choosing from Apple Spur, Lone Sassafras, Pickles Gap and Tomato, Flippin and Toad Suck, (please don’t lick the toads, they’re hallucinogenic), Violet Hill, Frog Town and Tulip can’t be easy. One wonders how he made that decision. Why, soon after that meeting, was the television world introduced to Burt Reynolds and Marilu Henner in Evening Shade, Arkansas? What do you think of the choice? Better yet, what would Stephen Vincent Benet say? You decide.
"You may bury my body in Sussex grass,
You may bury my tongue at Champmedy.
I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass.
Bury my heart at Wounded Knee."
Read Well, Friend
Let me know what you think, share some of you favorite place names with the rest of us, or nominate your favorite state for the honor of Best Names.
Also, I want to thank you for your patience and support during this difficult time. I am doing a little better, and I hope to be up to full speed again soon.
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
William Lauren Kelsey
April 15, 1958 -- August 12, 2008
(Abide with Me composed by Henry Francis Lyte in 1847.)
I could tell as I read that Mary Ann Shaffer was a lover of books. (Annie Barrows is her niece and a childrens author. She stepped in at her aunt’s invitation to complete revisions when Mrs. Shaffer became to ill to finish them herself.) Mary Ann had worked as a bookseller, librarian and editor. A marvelous story teller, she also wrote prolifically, but never managed to produce something that satisfied her. Her standards, it seems, were high. The Guernsey Literary… Society, set in a post WWII Channel Island, began in 1967 (according to her obituary) or 1980 (her publisher), as a biography of the wife of polar explorer Robert Scott. Disappointed by a research dead end in Cambridge, she took a side trip to Guernsey. Socked in at the airport by dense fog, she did what any sensible person would do, and looked for something to read. Here a bit more mystery arises. Was there, as her obituary relates, a library at the airfield, or was it simply a bookstore, as her publisher claims? I suppose it doesn’t matter, but I really hope it was a library. In the literary society’s Guernsey a branch library would have been installed to benefit all who passed through. Mrs. Maugery would have insisted. Whatever the source of Jersey Under the Jack Boot, it and other books on the Nazi Invasion of the Channel Islands fascinated her. That interest eventually allowed her to fulfill her lifelong ambition to “Write a book that someone would like enough to publish.” When her book club convinced her to do just that she started to write seriously. She was about 70 at the time.
To some reviewers Dawsey Adams and rest of the accidental literary society seem far-fetched, too quirky to be true. I didn’t find them strange, maybe because I grew up in a rather remote, rural area myself. Ingenuity, mutual reliance and eccentricity are almost required in a small isolated society. Shared hardships seem to makes those qualities stronger. My grandmother’s family made soup out of straw during the great famine that eventually drove them from the Ukraine to NE Colorado. In similar circumstances Potato Peel Pie sounds pretty clever to me. Had she known of it, Great Grandma Bauder might have asked for the recipe.
The deprivations people suffer in the book were very real in England and Europe during WWII. The tiny island in the English Channel actually was occupied, and their children were evacuated before the invasion, some never to be reunited with their families. One book reviewer mockingly asked if no one on Guernsey at that time ever read a trashy novel. I don’t imagine they did. Books would have been burned for fuel soon after the wood supply ran out. Guernsey’s bookseller, we are told, boarded up his shop because people are buying up his treasures to use as fuel. Only a book valued highly by its owner might have been saved, and only by someone as strong minded as Amelia Maugery, the supplier of the society's books. Before she wrote her novel, Mrs. Shaffer spent years researching the Nazi occupation of the Channels and corresponding with many of its survivors. Whether created by the author’s imagination or drawn from documented facts, Guernsey and it’s people are real to me. Maybe because of what they lived through the literary society member’s letters don’t just portray facts, but truths as well. “’When my son, Ian, died at El Alamein…’” Amelia Maugery writes, “‘visitors offering their condolences, thinking to comfort me, said "Life goes on." What nonsense, I thought, of course it doesn’t. It’s death that goes on.’”
It’s true that The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is endearing, charming, smart and joyful, as critics have said. If that’s all it were it would be enough. We could use more well written books like that to lift our spirits and make us smile, couldn’t we? It was more than that for me last night, though. It didn’t just lift my spirits, it comforted me, gave me some confidence and a bit of hope. My daughter said the she felt that, too, when she read it. I don’t want to sound mystical, or somehow imply that The Guernsey Literary… Society is a profound work. It isn’t and I’m glad. But when a book can tell its story honestly, with real characters and situations that feel true, it gives us more than a great read. It gives a piece of life. Why that means so much to me at this moment, I honestly don’t know. But it does.
Read, and sleep, well, Friend
Oh, and by the way, don't forget today is National Book Lovers Day.
Read Well, Friend
We were students then- holds up our feet,
And goes on ahead of us for a mile.
Beneath us the teachers, and around us the stillness."
Henry Bly, Gratitude to Old Teachers
- In honor of all those returning back to school this month: students, teachers, administrators and every one who supports education.
Read well, Friend
It was bookstore love at first sight. I managed to control myself, however. I showed great restraint. I put back books I really wanted, really needed. Eventually I narrowed it down to eight. I found my first volume right inside the door. A cloth bound hardback with green printing on a cream spine caught my eye immediately. My favorite colors. The Near Woods by Millard C. Davis needed a look. I passionate about books on natural history, especially if they’re about trees and woods. A few peeks inside convinced me it should be mine. Thank you, Murrey David Goldberg, for passing it on to me. It was a steal. Around the corner I found several shelves of books about writing. They yielded Novel Ideas, (Cute title, no?), in which ‘Contemporary Authors Share the Creative Process‘. Two of my favorite things to read, essays and books about writing. Definitely a keeper. In the same section I found What’s in a Word?, one of those books about the source of common sayings and names. Opening it randomly I was taken aback to see bassinet in the military section. As a grandmother to be, I had to read on. It seems the term started in the Middle Ages when the French developed a bowl shaped helmet. As it resembled a basin they christened it bassinet. Somehow, passing down from French soldiers to Sir Walter Scott, folks decided the similarly shaped baskets their infants slept in should also be called bassinets. If you don’t find that fascinating, well I just don’t know what to do with you.
The most exciting find of the day was a beautifully preserved, probably never even taken off the shelf, copy of How To Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. A classic first published in 1940, I’ve wanted it for years, but for some reason I never actually bought it. Now I know why. This absolutely perfect copy, published in 1972, has been waiting for me. It’s pristine, feels absolutely right in my hands, and cost me 6 dollars. It doesn’t get any better than this. The next books I picked out are two old favorites -- The Count of Monte Cristo, (Dumas), and Howard Pile’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. Pile's is the version I grew up with, a big green cloth-bound book with occasional color illustrations, all managing to make men in tights look pretty good. Actually, I didn’t pay too much attention to that part; I was much more interested in joining Robin and Friar Tuck and Allen a Dale. We would all live outside in Sherwood Forest, hunting and cooking, singing songs and telling stories. We’d wash our clothes in the river, and play tricks on rich, pompous travelers. What a grand life! I’d been camping in the Rockies, and I knew camping could be dirty and smelly, but this was Sherwood Forest. It would be perfect.
I bought Jude the Obscure because my daughter-in-law told me to. That's not quite like it sounds. I’d just spent 8 weeks there, and we both love reading, writing, and talking about them both. (We both love my son, too, but that’s neither here nor there.) I mentioned at some point that I’d never managed to finish anything by Thomas Hardy because his books seemed soooo depressing. She recommended Jude; she was even pretty sure I’d actually like it, so I’ll give it a whirl. Just for her. I made myself stop shopping then. I had enough books to keep me reading for a while, and I'd spent as much as I could afford to help the store survive. I was done. Then something magical happened to me on the way to the register. My eye was drawn away by a familiar black and orange binding. The boldly lettered title jumped out at me. The Power and the Glory. It had been so long, too long in fact, since I’d thought of the whiskey priest and his struggle with organized religion, God, and most of all, himself. That’s why I ended up walking out of the store with nine books and no regrets. I’ll find space on a shelf, probably by taking some not so worthy books to the store and trading them in. For more books of course. It could be worse. I could collect bassinets. Imagine how much space I'd need then.
Read Well, Friend
( Novel Ideas by Shoup and Denman, What's in a Word? by Garrison, and The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene.)