Book Report: September Round-Up

October 6, 2022

Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway mysteries dominated my September reading time. I read the last four in the series of fourteen books, but the last line in the most recent book certainly indicates there will be a fifteenth book to come.

Along with the Ruth Galloway books, I read other mysteries this month.

  1. The second Richard Osman, The Man Who Died Twice (2021). His third in the series featuring old and retired characters solving mysteries was recently released and is, of course, on my list–The Bullet That Missed.
  2. Fox Creek by William Kent Krueger (2022). I enjoyed it and swallowed it almost whole in a couple chunks of reading time, but I didn’t think it was his best. But, that being said, his best is better than good.

The novel I want to highlight from this month’s reading, however, is The Midcoast by Adam White. (2022) I wish I knew who recommended this or where I learned about it. Sometimes I note in my TBR list the source of a recommendation, but I didn’t in this case. The title refers to a section in Maine where the story takes place. The narrator, Andrew, grew up in the area and returns there with his family. He is a teacher and a writer and becomes an observer of another family: Ed, a lobsterman, his wife Steph and two children, Alli who is a lacrosse star and son EJ, a police officer. How is it that this family seems to have unlimited funds and money is no object? Thus, the story unfolds.

I also recommend a nonfiction title, Windswept, Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women by Annabel Abby (2022). I’ve always been attracted to books about walking; for example, Wanderlust, A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit. I do like to walk, but I am not a long-distance walker or major hiker, so I laugh at myself when I read a book about walking. Am I like the woman I once knew who collected a pile of books about running, but never put on her running shoes and headed out the door? Oh well.

This book features women for whom walking, and often walking solo, was a major part of their lives–Georgia O’Keefe, Simone de Beauvoir, and others unfamiliar to me. The author then decides to walk some of those same paths, musing that the women walkers she admires, “walked to become,” and also how walking often leads to new thoughts. That is certainly true for me–even my short walks in the neighborhood.

The author also writes that silence is an element–like water and fire–and I keep thinking about that.

September was an incredibly busy month, and I was grateful, as always for my book companions, which allowed me to pause and take a deep breath. As much as I enjoyed the mysteries I tended to reach for in recent months, I now feel a desire to read fiction with a bit more substance. I’ll keep you posted.

An Invitation

What did you read in September? I would love to know.

NOTE:

For two other nonfiction books I read in September and highly recommend see my September 15th post.

Closing the Door

October 4, 2022

I love fall. The crispness. The colors. The sweaters. The apples and cider. And, of course, the pumpkins.

But oh how hard it is to shut the door. I know it is necessary to close the door, as the weather gets colder, but I miss the light pouring in through the storm door.

May the door of this home be wide enough
to receive all who hunger for love,
all who are lonely for friendship.
May it welcome all who have cares to unburden,
thanks to express, hopes to nurture.
May the door of this house be narrow enough
to shut out pettiness and pride, envy and enmity...
May this home be for all who enter
the doorway to richness and a more meaningful life.
           "The Siddur of Shir Chadish in Life Prayers from Around the World
           edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon

Doors in our Lives

Many years ago I asked the women in a retreat I facilitated to draw a picture of a door and its threshold. An outside door or an inside door. A real door or an imagined door. The door could be from their present life or one from the past. I asked them to draw the image of what came into their minds when they heard the word “door,” and to draw a door with as much detail as possible, but assured them this exercise was not about being an artist.

The group moved into silence and using the offered crayons and markers drew their doors. Here are some of the questions we discussed after drawing our doors.

  • Is this a door that welcomes or does it feel unwelcoming?
  • Who enters this door? Is there anyone who is not welcome at this door?
  • What do you notice about this door that you have not noticed before?
  • How do you know when someone is at the door?
  • What is on the other side of the door?
  • What does this door reveal about you?
  • What needs to be healed as you enter the door?

What a rich discussion we had as we shared the drawings of our doors. Some sweet memories. Some painful ones. Some surprises and new insights, and even a few intentions to make their doors more welcoming and inviting.

The Door as a Symbol of My Heart

What is it, I wondered, that we were really talking about when we reflected on the doors of our lives? What happens if we substitute the word “heart” for “door.”

  • Is my heart a welcoming one or does it feel unwelcoming?
  • Who enters my heart? Is there anyone who is not welcome in my heart?
  • What do I notice about my heart that I did not know before?
  • How do I know when someone is waiting outside my heart?
  • What is outside my heart?
  • What does my heart reveal about me?
  • What needs to be healed in order to live with a full heart?

What would a picture of your heart look like? Are there any improvements you would like to make in the doorway of your heart?

The Door as a Spiritual Practice

Every time you open or close your door can be a moment of prayer, of blessing your home and all those who cross that threshold. As you stand at your door, pause, give thanks, and imagine God in your doorway. Every time you open or close your door, put your hand on your heart and feel it beating love and openness and welcome. Your door can remind you to invite God, the Sacred the Holy into your life.

Nightfall...morning
I lock the door. I unlock it.
My days are punctuated with this act.
It is a rhythm, a kind of pulse.

Just now the door is locked.
I want to think of this not as 
shutting the world out or shutting me in.
I want to think of this more
like dwelling in a rhythm...
sweet measure. Soon it will be morning
and the door will be unlocked again.

I can dwell in this home as if it were a heart. When I feel that pulse
I know that all that comes to me will also go.
Living in this stream I understand
You are my lifeblood. Let me feel
You course through me, through this door,
throughout my life.
             "Locking the Door" by Gunilla Norris in Being Home, A Book of Meditations

An Invitation

What do you notice about a door you open and close everyday? I would love to know.

Book Report: The 14th Book

September 29, 2022

Recently blogger Melanie (http://comfy house.blogspot.com) posted a series of fun book topics (“Best sequel,” “Currently Reading,” “Drink Choice While Reading,” etc.). The one that captured my attention was “Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book.”

I modified that somewhat and decided to pick the 14th book on several of my bookshelves housing fiction. Why the 14th? Well some of the shelves don’t hold 27, and I just chose #14 at random.

Here are the 14th books from seven different shelves–four shelves with only hardcovers and three with paperbacks.

  • The Tomcat’s Wife and Other Stories by Carol Bly (1991). Carol Bly was a Minnesota writer who died in 2007. She was married to (and divorced) the writer Robert Bly, who is probably better known than Carol, but she was known and respected not only for her writing, but also her teaching and speaking gifts. I heard her speak on a number of occasions and always appreciated her wit and wisdom. My favorite book of hers was a collection of essays, Letters from the Country (1981), originally published in Minnesota Monthly. Do I still own that book? I will check. Anyway, the copy I have of The Tomcat’s Wife is autographed, but frankly, I am not sure I actually read it. Yet.
  • The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton (2016).I loved her previous books, The Book of Ruth and A Map of the World. I only have a vague memory of this book, a coming-of-age story set on her family farm, an apple farm, the main character “Frankie” loves dearly and worries about its future.
  • Green Earth by Frederick Manfred (1977).Manfred was another Minnesota author (1912-1994) perhaps best known for his book Lord Grizzly, but he wrote many books, many in the “western” genre. Green Earth is a big book, over 700 pages, and Manfred was a big man with a big presence. I remember noticing his big hands when I met him at a book signing event at the independent bookstore where I worked many decades ago, Odegard Books. I don’t think I ever got around to reading this book, but I am attracted to it now because it is a family saga set in what he called Siouxland (northwest Iowa, southwest Minnesota, southeast South Dakota), an area that intrigues me for its prairie landscape. At one time he lived in a house that eventually became the interpretive center of Blue Mounds State Park in Rock County, Minnesota.
  • Moo by Jane Smiley (1995). Another autographed book, this book brings back memories. I won this book in a raffle at a library event in Cleveland, OH. This is not my favorite book by Smiley, but I love how she has written books in a variety of styles. My favorite book of hers is A Thousand Acres for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1992. More recently, I throughly enjoyed the quirky novel Perestroika in Paris.
  • The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich (2008). Just holding this book makes me want to read/re-read all of Erdrich’s books, first to most current. I know there are book groups who are doing just that, and I admire their devotion, as she has written 28 books–fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and children’s books and has won the National Book Award for Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. A Plague of Doves, which is the story of the unsolved murder of a farm family that continues to haunt a community, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. And I would be remiss not to mention that Erdrich is the owner of one of my favorite bookstores, Birchbark Books, Minneapolis.
  • How It All Began by Penelope Lively (2011). Lively is a prolific and celebrated English writer, whose works often explore the power of memory, which perhaps is why I am attracted to her books. I loved The Photograph (2003) and Moon Tiger (1987), and I recall thoroughly enjoying the disparate cast of characters in How It All Began. I can imagine re-reading it.
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943). This is one of my all-time favorite books, and if you haven’t read it, do not delay. If you haven’t re-read it since your youth, re-read it now. If you decide to pick one book from this eclectic list of books, let it be this one. Enough said.

In plucking these books off some of my shelves, I thought I might discover some I could donate to a Little Free Library, but that is not the case. I was surprised by how many of the authors are Midwestern–Bly, Hamilton, Manfred, Smiley, Erdrich–and I wonder if that would be the case if I focused on a different number or other shelves. Also, I am pleased that I have only NOT read two of the five, and I am more inclined to read them soon. All in all, I am delighted to become reacquainted with these books.

Happy reading!

An Invitation

What are the the titles of your #14 books? I would love to know.

NOTE:

Next week’s Book Report Thursday will be a summary of what I read in September.

Breaking the Sabbath to Keep It Holy?

September 27, 2022

“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” Exodus 20:8

Sunday afternoon I cleaned the kitchen. All afternoon.

I emptied the refrigerator, throwing out what was no longer edible, and scrubbed the inside. I rearranged some of the cupboards, moving what is used most frequently onto the lower shelves and what is used less frequently onto higher shelves. I finally tackled the space under the kitchen sink where I keep cleaning supplies –a task that had been on my list for a long time. I sanitized the garbage can, scoured the microwave, re-organized the pots and their covers in the oven drawer. I moved methodically from one area to another, shining and cleansing and tidying and finished by washing the floor cloth first and then the floor.

I enjoyed every minute of the process.

In fact, when I stood in the dining room looking into my small kitchen, I felt refreshed.

This feeling of refreshment felt like my version of a “Sabbath exhale.”

Without the Sabbath exhale, the life-giving inhale is impossible.”

Sabbath, Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight In Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller

Sunday Routine

My Sabbath started more traditionally the night before–taking a shower, washing my hair, deciding what to wear to church the following morning, and getting a good night’s sleep. We had missed church the previous Sunday when we were staying with friends in their northern Minnesota lake home and that was its own kind of Sabbath, but I was eager to return to the Sunday morning ritual.

How good it was to sit in the sanctuary before the service started–to take a deep breath and release the busyness of the previous week. How good it was to close my eyes, to pause, to remind myself to be there, only there, to listen to the music and prepare myself for the gifts of that time. How good it was to be in community, to witness the baptism of a beloved baby and to receive the bread and the wine. I sent blessings to each person who came to the table.

How good it was to greet one another and to rejoice in this gathering, both during worship and during the education hour.

Sabbath time, and I felt refreshed.

Our tradition for many years, beginning when our children were young, was to go out for lunch after church. More than giving me a break from fixing a meal, although that was greatly appreciated, Sunday lunch in a casual restaurant was a time to relax with one another. To check-in. To remind ourselves of who we were as a family. To pause before moving forward into what was sure to be another busy week often of conflicting and complicated schedules and responsibilities. My husband and I have continued the tradition throughout our empty nest years. Now, I confess, we take the NYT with us, but it is a time of ease, an in-between time.

This past Sunday our grandson Peter joined us. He had been staying with us for a few days while his parents were out of town. He is a good conversationalist and oh how good it was to have him all to ourselves.

Sabbath time, and I felt refreshed.

Paying Attention

Once home I continued my Sabbath–by cleaning the kitchen. Yes, by cleaning the kitchen. Doing that felt like a kind of rest because I didn’t approach it as drudgery or something that needed to be done or something to cross off my too long and too dictatorial TO DO list. No, one of my spiritual practices is hometending, and cleaning the kitchen that afternoon was a Sacred Yes. I entered the time with joy and gratitude for the privilege of living in a lovely home, for the delight of sharing my life with my husband of 51 years and in remembrance of all those who have crossed our threshold and in hopes and expectation of future gatherings.

Sabbath time, and I felt refreshed.

Here’s a warning–mainly to myself. How easy it would have been for the pleasure to have turned into obsession. To clean out all the cupboards and drawers. To clean the inside of the oven, and yes, it needs it. To polish all the copper pots hanging in the window. And then to push myself to continue into a cleaning frenzy of the first floor.

The refreshment could easily have become exhaustion. And that would not have been Sabbath rest.

Dinner was easy–only leftovers. I spent the rest of the day reading in the snug.

The day had been “a piece of time that opens space for God.” (Dorothy C. Bass)

I realize my Sabbath rest may not have been a literal or traditional way of keeping and remembering the Sabbath, and many Sundays I attempt to be more intentional about resting, but this past Sunday I paid attention to my own rhythm, and I felt refreshed.

An Invitation

What does Sabbath rest look like for you? I would love to know.

NOTE:

Here are three resources about the Sabbath from my library:

  • Sabbath by Dan Allender (2009)
  • Sabbath Keeping, Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest by Lynne M. Baab (2005)
  • “Keeping Sabbath” by Dorothy C. Bass in Practicing Our Faith, A Way of Life for a Searching People, Dorothy C. Bass (editor) (1997)
  • The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel (1951)
  • A Sabbath Life, One Woman’s Search for Wholeness by Kathleen Hirsch (2001)
  • Sabbath, Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives by Wayne Muller (1999)
  • The Sabbath World, Glimpses of a Different Order of Time by Judith Shulevitz (2011)

Book Report: Fall Wish List

September 22, 2022

Recently Acquired Books

Even though I have MANY books on my shelves I have not yet read, including those recently acquired, and even though my list of books I intend to request from the library is long, I still covet many new books–yet to be released this fall or recently released. Here’s my list:

Fiction

  • Lucy By The Sea by Elizabeth Strout
  • A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny (Nov 29)
  • Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Rayburn
  • The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell
  • The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman
  • The Ski Jumpers by Peter Geye
  • The Evening Hero by Marie Myung-Ok Lee
  • Lessons by Ian McEwan

Oh, and I am attracted to the British Library Women Writers Series–forgotten works by mid-century women writers. I think there are 18 in the series.

Nonfiction

  • Sacred Nature: Restoring Our Ancient Bond with the Natural World by Karen Armstrong
  • A Place in the World, Finding the Meaning of Home by Frances Mayes
  • Hagitude, Reimagine the Second Half of Life by Sharon Blackie
  • How We Live Is How We Die by Pema Chodron

The scary thing is that I know I will be enticed by many other titles along the way–and every time I enter a bookstore. I guess as addictions go this problem isn’t too bad.

An Invitation

What new books are tempting you? I would love to know.

Going with the Flow

September 20, 2022

Since returning from our Labor Day weekend road trip to Cleveland, the days have been full. Notice I said “full,” not “busy.”

For me “full” indicates choice. What do I choose to do? What do I prefer to do? What brings meaning into my life and in what ways do my choices have potential meaning for others?

“Fullness” versus “busyness” reminds me to pay attention. When am I responding from my essence, from the person I hope to be, was created to be, instead of responding out of duty or obligation? Obviously, sometimes a task simply needs to be done, but the more I open to the life I think I am asked to live right now, the more those tasks fall into place.

All that being said, during these last two weeks I have needed to use my time and energy well, moving from task to task deliberately and intentionally and calmly. And that’s the way the next couple weeks will be, as well.

As I have moved through these days, I have thought about my word of the year, rhythm, and also the flow I hope to experience.

Word of the Year: Rhythm

As you listen closely for your deepest call, what are the greater rhythms to which you must accommodate yourself.

Christine Valters Paintner

You may recall that my word of the year is “rhythm.” I’ve been more aware in the last few months of how I need to respond to the rhythm of a day–what is planned and required in a day–but also I am more able to notice and create my own rhythm.

For example, I know my rhythm becomes raggedy and I begin to unravel when I don’t begin my day meditating, praying, reading sacred texts. Doing that faithfully, allows me to adjust my preferred rhythm to the needs of the day. At the same time immersing myself in slow silence also helps me adjust the needs of the day to my own rhythm. Much to my amazement when I ground myself in that spiritual practice, the needs of the day and my needs accommodate one another.

When that happens, I experience flow–when one thing streams into another naturally and easily.

A Reminder

Sometimes I need a physical reminder, an illustration of what flow looks and feels like.

We spent the weekend at the home of friends who live in northern Minnesota, and one afternoon we cruised their beautiful lake. We were the only ones on the water, except for a few loons, who have not yet migrated.

My favorite part was going through a narrow and shallow channel to enter another lake. Our friend turned the motor down and guided the boat under the low bridge, reminding us to keep our hands inside the boat and to lower our heads.

How appropriate was that–to bow our heads as we crossed a threshold.

Pause and bow your head.

Rest in the silence.

Experience the flow.

Discover the rhythm.

Often when I lead a guided meditation instructing participants to breathe deeply in and out, I include the phrase, “find your own rhythm.” I think I need to add, “Feel the flow. Notice the flow around and through you.”

This morning when I closed my eyes, lightly, not tightly, and breathed in and out, gently and deeply, finding my own rhythm, I imagined the shallow water in that channel, and I remembered the feeling of unrushed, undemanding, gentle and yet noticeable flow.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

The Message, Matthew 11: 28-30

May I live my life that way.

An Invitation

When have you experienced flow? I would love to know.

Note:

Here is my post on my Word of the Year: https://wordpress.com/post/livingonlifeslabyrinth.com/362

Book Report: Reflecting on Home

September 15, 2022

Sometimes a book does everything but jump into your hands. That was the case with two books I read recently.

I must have read a review of The Green Hour, A Natural History of Home by Alison Townsend (2021), for I added it to my TBR list, but when I saw it in Arcadia Books on our recent trip to Spring Green, WI, I knew I could not wait for it to come out in paperback or for the library to add it to their shelves.

First of all, look at that cover. So beautiful, and it is the kind of book that simply feels good to hold. But more than that is the topic, the themes. The author grew up in Pennsylvania and as a young adult lived in Oregon and California, but later in adulthood moved to the Madison, Wisconsin area. She writes beautifully, richly about each landscape–the kind of multi-layered, descriptive writing I love–but having lived in Madison, those are the sections I loved the most.

Her essay, “Strange Angels: Encounters with Sandhill Cranes,” is perhaps the best nature essay I’ve ever read.

Like a group of pilgrims or spiritual seekers collecting before their journey begins and uttering preliminary prayers, the cranes seem to be readying themselves, preparing for the long flight they must make, some of them for the first time.

p. 159

Like the author I love the sound of the cranes and always feel blessed hearing them. “Perhaps that is why their call is so evocative, why it seems to float across the millennia as it does, immutable and enduring.” p. 160. Cranes are not part of my life here in St Paul, and I miss them.

I also loved the essay “An Alphabet of Here, A Prairie Sampler” as well. C is for Canada Geese. G is for Great-Horned Owl. Q id for Queen Anne’s Lace and Queen of the Prairie.

Z is for zigzags, zaps, and zings of summer lightning, the zed-shaped folds of the aurora opening its luminescent green curtains on a winter’s night when it’s twenty degrees below zero, and the z-z-z-z-z-ing as we sleep–cat on the bed, collies on the floor beside us–the zodiac swirling around us like the well of life that is here, now, the only one we are given.

p. 187

Some books beg to be read aloud, and I am grateful my husband was willing to listen as I read select essays to him while driving through the countryside on our way to Cleveland recently. This books was our perfect companion.

I discovered The White Stone, The Art of Letting Go by Esther de Waal (2021) when we toured the gardens at St John’s University, Collegeville, MN this summer. Because I can never resist a bookstore, we browsed the Liturgical Press bookstore on campus, and I found this little treasure. Years ago I read her book Seeking God, her book on Benedictine spirituality, but it is no longer in my library–I may need to get another copy. This book was written during the pandemic and at a time when she is moving from one home to another, and she employs what has sustained her through the years–the Rule of St. Benedict, the gifts of Celtic spirituality, the teachings of Thomas Merton, and the Psalms–to guide her through a time of transition.

I hold on to stability but I must not be static. Here is the paradox…I must be prepared for the continual transformation in which God is bringing the new out of the old…It is just a matter of somehow keeping on keeping on, a continual bending one’s life back to God whatever happens.

p. 64

I was especially moved by the chapter titled “Diminishment,” in which she reflects on how time seems different as we age, but also that “Life now brings a greater opportunity to pay attention to look consciously at the ordinary minutiae of daily life in the things around…”

She also underscores the key question of Benedictine life: “Am I becoming a more loving person?” When we were driving through Indiana, I noticed a small sign on the edge of a cornfield, “Fear God,” it said, and I thought to myself, “How does fearing God make me a more loving person?” Instead, I suspect adhering to that idea would make me a more fearful person. I want to be a more loving person. Thanks for the reminder, Esther de Waal.

Ok, that’s it. I am so happy these two books will live on our bookshelves.

An Invitation

Have any books found their way into your hands, your heart recently? I would love to know.

Pictures I Didn’t Take

September 13, 2022

This is the only photograph I took while visiting our son and daughter-in-love in Cleveland.

I could have taken pictures of the backyard party at Geof and Cricket’s house the night of the first football game of the season (OSU 21, Notre Dame 10) or the delicious BBQ ribs prepared by Cricket.

Perhaps I should have taken pictures of the many friends who came to see the game projected on the inflatable outdoor screen or the array of dishes spread on the dining room table–as good as any church potluck. Why didn’t I take a picture of the many pots of flowers framing the backyard?

The view of Lake Erie from the restaurant where we enjoyed snacks and something to drink was certainly lovely enough to warrant a photograph and what about the cute cottage, soon to-be-an AirB&B where we stayed–just three houses away from Geof and Cricket’s house?

And why-oh-why didn’t I ask someone to take a picture of the four of us together? Silly me!

Here’s why: I was simply being present. Enjoying the conversations, the companionship, not only with our dear ones, but also with their friends. I was content to be in their presence, to feel the love and the delight in one another’s company.

And that was enough.

Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for the ability to take pictures on my phone and I do that often. And sometimes I regret not taking pictures–like our grandson at his first football game this fall or this past Sunday at the potluck after church. I love documenting the change of seasons and oh, how I love scrolling through my visual library of past events.

There are also times, however, when what I most need to do is rest in the presence and allow my memory, the camera inside my head and heart, to take the pictures.

Sometimes I need to be part of the scene and not separate from it. Sometimes I need to let the moment flow, instead of attempting to freeze it into a particular time and place.

And let’s be honest, sometimes I simply get so caught up in the moment that I forget to take a picture. Oh well.

An Invitation

What pictures live in your memory alone? I would love to know.

Book Report: August Round-Up

September 8, 2022

Along with continuing to read the Ruth Galloway Mystery series by Elly Griffiths (5 more this month), I read some stellar fiction, checking off several titles on my TBR list. I also read more nonfiction than in the last couple months–4 titles. So here’s the report.

Fiction

  • Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead (2014). I have now completed Shipstead’s back list and I have enjoyed each one for their originality and freshness of plot and her development of characters. This novel, her second, is set in the world of ballet. The main character is a dancer in her young years, later becoming a ballet teacher whose son is a talented dancer. An important part of the story is her relationship with a Russian ballet dancer.
  • Honor by Thrity Umrigar (2022). I have enjoyed earlier books by the author, such as The Space Between Us and The Weight of Heaven, and was so pleased when this new novel was ready for me at the library. The main character, Smita, is an American journalist born in India. She is in India to cover a story about a Hindu woman who marries a Muslim man and suffers tragic consequences for that love. As Smita becomes involved with this woman, she is forced to confront her own background and to make life-changing decisions. At one point another character says to Smita, “You know what your problem is, Smita? You focus on the cat hair. Try focusing on the cat.” (p. 319)
  • Recitatif by Toni Morrison. (1983, but in a 2022 edition) This is the only short story Morrison wrote and the introduction by Zadie Smith is longer than the story itself. The story focuses on two women, one black and one white, but the reader does not know which is which. Clearly, the story is meant to highlight our own racism and adoption of stereotypes.
  • Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson (2022). I loved this book and so admire the deft way the author (This is her debut novel.) kept all the twists and turns and number of characters and the changes in their lives clear for the reader. The book is based first on an island, perhaps Jamaica, but also England and the U.S and the “black cake” of the title is a family tradition and also figures in the plot of the book, as does long-distance swimming and surfing. How’s that for an interesting combination? I don’t want to say more, at the risk of giving too much away. I repeat, I loved this book.
  • I also read The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford (2016), and it was a so-so read. Agatha Christie was the main character, so that was promising, but by the end I wondered what the point was. Can’t win them all.

Nonfiction

I wrote in two previous posts about two of the books I read in August. Things to Look Forward To, 52 Large and Small Joys for Today and Everyday by Sophie Blackall (2022) in the August 11 post and Exit, the Ending that Sets Us Free by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot in the August 25th post. I read two other nonfiction titles.

  • I Came All This Way to Meet You, Writing Myself Home by Jamie Attenberg (2022). This was a plus-minus book for me. There was much in the book I didn’t enjoy and couldn’t relate to–drugs, drinking, uncommitted sex– and I am not sure I would like the author if I met her nor am I planning to read her novels. However, I copied two pages of quotes about books and writing in my book journal, and I appreciated much of what she says about solitude and about issues with her body. So plus-minus.
  • Unbinding, The Grace Beyond Self by Kathleen Dowling Singh (2017). I read this book over a long period of time, savoring and reflecting. Before this book I read and loved two others by Singh, The Grace in Aging, Awaken as You Grow Older (2014) and The Grace in Living, Recognize It, Trust It, Abide In It (2016). Unbinding, alas, was her last book before her death in 2017. I think I could read this book over and over again and not begin to receive all that is offered. Three chapters stand out for me, “Becoming,” “Aging and Death,” and “The Sacrament of Surrender.”

We are already into September and summer reading is behind us. Most of the books I read this summer were ones I got from the library, but in the meantime I acquired a number of books for my own library. I am planning to focus on those this month. We’ll see how that goes! Happy reading!

An Invitation

What do you recommend from your summer reading? Any reading plans for the fall? I would love to know.

My New Spiritual Practice

August 30, 2022

I wake up in near darkness these days as summer brightness begins its surrender into fall shadows.

Inspired by a short video, “The Beauty of Living,” (See note below.) I decided to light a candle on the dresser as the first act of the day.

I light the candle as an expression of gratitude. Oh, let me count the ways.

I light the candle as an acknowledgement of seasonal changes, as well as the changes I experience as I age.

I light the candle to welcome the day and to offer myself to the rhythm of the day.

I light the candle to open to the gifts of the day. May I see them, know them, honor them.

I light the candle to accept the challenges of the day. May I be filled with grace.

I light the candle to soften the expectations for the day, for myself in the day. May I not be driven by lists, but instead bring my whole heart into the day.

I light the candle as a sign of my connection to the whole. I am one in the all.

I light the candle to enlarge the boundaries of my heart.

I light the candle to know the Presence and to guide me in ways I can be the Presence.

I light the candle as a reminder that in everything there is shadow and in everything there is light.

I light the candle as an act of contemplation, leading to action.

I light the candle as way to enter the day.

And then I make the bed, pausing at the window to drink in the view of the gardens still lush in their summer energy.

An Invitation:

Do you have a spiritual practice that starts your day. I would love to know.

Note #1:

Here’s the link for the video, “The Beauty of Living.” https://gratefulness.org/resource/beauty-of-living/?utm_source=A+Network+for+Grateful+Living&utm_campaign=64065a9096-newsletter_october_2020_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c606570b82-64065a9096-113849461&mc_cid=64065a9096&mc_eid=f8389d4b84

Note #2: Taking a Short Break

My next post will be Thursday, September 8, when I will share the summary of my August reading.

Note #3

As a reader of this blog, you know of my deep respect for Joan Chittister. She spoke once again at Chautauqua. Here’s a detailed report on her talk. I highly recommend you read it. https://chqdaily.com/2022/08/in-closing-week-sr-joan-chittister-details-how-to-live-courageous-prophetic-life/?mc_cid=f551a77842&mc_eid=a480c5ce14