Book Report: December Round-up AND Favorite Fiction of 2022

December 1, 2022

Today’s post will do double duty. First, a look at what I read in November and then a list of my favorite fiction of 2022. Last year I was asked by a few readers to post my favorite books of the year before the year ended as an aid for Christmas shopping. Next week I will post my list of favorite nonfiction from this year. So here goes.

November Summary

Compared to October when I read 13 books, I was a slouch this month! Only 9 books.

Three of the fiction titles are on my 2022 favorites list —The Overstory, Foster, and The Beekeeper of Aleppo. Each of those books were emotional reads in which I felt such warmth and concern for the characters, although these books could not be more different from each other. I thought The Maid was an ok read–a good one to read in one sitting. I was disappointed in Fly Away by Kristin Hannah. I have enjoyed other books by her, but in this one the characters never seemed to rise above their whininess and I didn’t see much growth. It was a long running soap opera kind of book.

The last book I read this month was Writing and Healing, which I have had on my shelf for a long time, and it is a series of exercises used in a group of cancer survivors. I got some possible writing prompt ideas for the writing group I facilitate.

I borrowed one of the books from the library, and I am sorry I don’t own it. How The Word Is Passed, A Reckoning With The History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith is an amazing book, beautifully, poetically written and it opened me to so much I didn’t know or had never considered. I littered the book with tags and have made copies of many of the passages. Smith visits several key places in the history of slavery, including Monticello, Whitney Plantation (Louisiana), Angola Prison (Louisiana), Blandford Cemetery (Virginia), Galveston Island (Texas), New York City, and Goree Island (Senegal). It felt like an honor to read this book, and at the same time I felt shame for the necessity of this book.

No Cure for Being Human (And Other Truths I Need to Hear) by Kate Bowler is about the author’s struggle with colon cancer (at age 35). She writes openly, honestly about this life-threatening challenge and wonders about the ways we approach adversity in this culture.

Finally, The Electricity of Every Living Thing, A Woman’s Walk in the Wild to Find Her Way Home by Kathering May. I was attracted to this book because I am always attracted to books about people going on extended walks (I wonder about that attraction in myself!) and also because I loved her more recent book, Wintering, The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. This book was a surprise, however, for it was really a journey in her discovery of herself as someone with autism. The walking gave her room to realize and contemplate this about herself. Quite the book.

I suspect I won’t read as many books in December, but there is always January and snow days. Now onto the end of the year lists.

Favorite Fiction This Year

When I decided which books to include on my “favorites” list and then gathered books to illustrate this post, I realized how much I now use the library. Most of my favorites are books I borrowed from the library and few are ones I acquired. Because my list of favorites is so long, I divided the list into First Tier and Second Tier. I listed the books in the order in which I read them–not according to which favorites were my most favorite!

First Tier Favorites

  • The Sentence by Louise Erdrich
  • Oh William by Elizabeth Strout
  • The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World by Laura Imai Messina
  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yea Gyasi
  • Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk (a reread)
  • Four Letters of Love by Niall Williams
  • The Floor of the Sky by Pamela Carter Joern
  • A Town Called Solace, The Other Side of the Bridge, and Road Ends–all by Mary Lawson
  • Beneficence by Meredith Hall
  • Great Circle, Seating Arrangements, Astonish Me –all by Maggie Shipstead
  • The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields (a reread)
  • French Braid by Anne Tyler
  • Three by Valerie Perrin
  • Honor by Thirty Umrigar
  • Recitative by Toni Morrison
  • The Midcoast by Adam White
  • Fencing with the King by Diane Abu-Jaber
  • The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian
  • The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams
  • Landslide by Susan Conley
  • The Other Mother by Rachel Harper
  • The Overstory by Richard Powers
  • Foster by Claire Keegan
  • The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

Second Tier Favorites

  • Celine by Peter Heller
  • The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
  • Zorrie by Laird Hunt
  • The Eighth Life by Nina Haratischvili
  • The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Sharfak
  • Belgravia by Julian Fellowes
  • Matrix by Lauren Groff
  • Jubilee by Margaret Walker
  • Solar Storms by Linda Hogan
  • The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher (a reread)
  • The Love Songs of W. E. B. DuBois by Honore Fannone Jeffers
  • Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce
  • Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson
  • A Single Rose by Muriel Barbery
  • Violetta by Isabel Allende
  • Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian

Mystery Favorites

As I write this I await for the arrival of Louise Penney’s latest. Because I am such a generous soul, I will hand it over to my husband to read it first. I will wait for a day when I can fully immerse myself in it and savor every word.

  • The fist two in the series by Richard Osman: The Thursday Murder Club and The Man Who Died Twice. I am on the list for the third one.
  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
  • A Sunlit Weapon, the latest in the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear
  • The Frieda Klein series by Nicci French. The first is Blue Monday and they progress through the days of the week, ending with Sunday Silence
  • A couple by Chris Pavone: The Expats and The Paris Diversion
  • The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers
  • The Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. I think there will be more in this series.
  • Fox Creek by William Kent Krueger, the most recent in the Cork O’Connor series. I didn’t think this was his best, bu I can’t not read WKK.

I make the decision to not continue reading a book quickly, which is why I don’t have many books listed in my Book Journal that I didn’t like. Sometimes I will bring home a pile I have requested from the library and only read one or two. I am sure that there are times if I had continued to read a specific book, I would end up enjoying it, but that is a chance I am willing to take. Too many books–too little time.

An Invitation

What were your favorite fiction titles of 2022? I would love to know.

Book Report: Bookshelf Browsing

November 17, 2022

I am a happy woman today.

I will spend a chunk of the day planning two more sessions for the writing group I facilitate at church. Each session I offer some quotations related to a specific theme, followed by a writing prompt.

For example, the theme this month is hospitality. Last week the quotes I presented included:

In your own way, do you keep a lantern burning by the roadside with a note saying where you may be found, “just in case?” Do you place a jar of cool water and a bit of fruit under a tree at the road’s turning, to help the needy traveler? God knows the answer and so do you!

Howard Thurman in Meditations of the Heart

The guest in Benedictine spirituality is a visit from the God of surprises…Guests bring the world in, place it at our feet, and dare us to be who and what we say we are.

Joan Chittister in The Monastery of the Heart, An Invitation to a Meaningful Life

The quotes may be poems or prayers. They may come from novels, as well as books or articles on spirituality or they may be Biblical passages. The first week we explored hospitality, for example, I included only one quote and that was the Martha and Mary story as told in Luke 11:38-42. Most often, however, I invite exploration of the topic through a variety of quotes–and a variety of sources and writers, balancing men and women’s voices, also.

Sometimes the theme is the result of something I have just read. Sometimes I think of a prompt first and need quotes to support it. No matter the doorway into the planning of a writing session, I love the scavenger hunt for supporting content.

I stand in front of my shelves in the garret and ask, sometimes even aloud, for guidance. What books will have the perfect words for deeper understanding and insight and inspiration? Sometimes the answer is obvious, for there is a specific book that addresses the topic. For example, Invited, the Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness by Leslie Verner or The Art of Gathering, How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker. I glance at what I have underlined and I note sources the author mentions. As I immerse myself in the topic, I think about other books within my reach or file folders in my drawers that may have a nugget on the topic. I have a journal of quotes I have read in other people’s blogs and I may page through that, often finding just the piece of wisdom I need for myself that day

I turn to my favorites–Jan Richardson, Christine Valters Painter, Joan Chittister, Richard Rohr, Parker Palmer.

I add sticky book flags to pages that seem relevant and begin a stack of books on the top of my desk.

One book leads to another. And searching for material for the current topic often leads to ideas for future topics or for other programs I facilitate. Or for my blog posts or essays I may want to write.

Ultimately, I only use a few of the quotes I find, but engaging with this process, an intuitive and playful process, immerses me in the topic and opens me to whatever direction the participants in the writing group may go with their writing. The process broadens me and deepen my own reflection. It is a process that leads me into a kind of stillness, even as it energizes me.

Moving from book to book I realize this is meditation, this is prayer.

Yes, today I am a happy woman.

An Invitation

Is there a quote in your life that continues to inspire and guide you? What does that quote prompt you to do, to be? I would love to know.

NOTE:

An essay I wrote is featured on the Brevity’ Nonfiction Blog site today. I hope you will read it. Here’s the link: https://brevity.wordpress.com/2022/11/17/to-continue-or-not-writing-the-memoir-that-is/

Book Report: The Overstory by Richard Powers

November 10, 2022

I’m not sure why I finally decided to read this book. It has been on my “fiction yet to be read” bookshelf for a long time. Often when I finally take a delayed plunge I wonder why I waited so long, and this was the case with The Overstory by Richard Powers.

Perhaps I finally settled into this big book (500 pages) because I had discarded several books I put on hold at the library. The descriptions of each of those books appealed, but after reading the first few pages I knew they would not satisfy a barely perceptible itch for something more substantial.

Perhaps I finally turned to The Overstory because of the season and how much more aware I am of trees as they shed their leaves and reveal their bones.

Perhaps I was influenced by the paperback release of Richard Powers most recent book, Bewilderment.

Perhaps after reading thirteen books last month, I was ready to settle into the world of one book.

This is a novel about trees–their significance and how we treat them. That is a simple statement, but this book is not simple.

In the first section, “Roots” we meet nine main characters. Yes, nine, and each one is essential. We learn their backstories, each one fascinating, and then in later sections, “Trunk,” “Crown” and “Seeds,” we learn how some of them interconnect as tree defenders and for others the understanding of the essentialness of trees is discovered in more solitary ways.

As I read further and further into the book, I thought about a walk I took almost every day when we lived in Ohio. Sometimes our old dog Boe went with me, sniffing and shuffling along the trail. At the beginning of my walk a large oak tree, a tree I thought of as the Grandfather tree, welcomed me each day. I often stood in front of the tree, taking several deep breaths, before veering off onto the trail along a small lake. Boe was always eager to get moving, but I needed a moment to settle myself and find the rhythm of the day and to listen to what whispers the tree might offer. Further on I encountered another large, very large tree, with a sizable opening at the base of the tree. I imagined this was where Peter Pan and the Lost Boys descended into their underground world. Once I peered into the hole, almost as tall as I am, hoping I could hear them. There were other trees at other stages of their lives, juveniles reaching into the sky or fallen elders, still present, but giving life and wisdom in more discreet ways.

I didn’t think much on my walks about how trees are above and beyond and deeper than humanity and how they are our ancestors, but I think at some essential core, I knew that. Powers clearly knows that and wants us to know it, too, and his beautiful and passionate writing creates and reinforces that knowing.

If you’re holding a sapling in your hand when the Messiah arrives, first plant the sapling and then go out and greet the Messiah.

page 89

…a great truth comes over him: Trees fall with spectacular crashes. But planting is silent and growth is invisible.

page 89

Now they only need to learn what life wants from humans. It’s a big question to be sure. Too big for people alone. But people aren’t alone, and they never have been.

page 489

This book is not an easy read, but that’s not a good enough reason not to read it. You might want to consult one of the many reviews of this book for some guiding insight. Here’s one: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/09/books/review/overstory-richard-powers.html

I look out our front window and realize the ash trees along the boulevard (or as it is called in Cleveland, the “tree lawn,” which I think is a wonderful name) are at the end of their lives and soon we won’t benefit from their shade and their energy. How sad that makes me, and I think about a Chinese saying Powers quotes, “When is the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago.”

This book is Powers’ contribution to increasing awareness and call to action regarding climate change. What will be your contribution?

An Invitation:

What big books are waiting for your attention? I would love to know.

Note:

One of my favorite nonfiction books about trees is The Healing Energies of Trees by Patrice Bouchardon (1999), but I also have on my TBR list To Speak for the Trees, My Life’s Journey from Ancient Celtic Wisdom to a Healing Vision of the Forest by Diana Beresford-Kroeger.

Book Report: October Round-Up

November 3, 2022

Oh my goodness, what a good reading month it has been. You would think this was a hibernation month, when, in reality, the weather has been fall perfect.

I read thirteen books this month, but who’s counting! People ask me how I manage to read so much. (Is there an implication that my life is dull?) I guess the answer is that I structure reading into my day, beginning with my morning meditation time, which includes reading a book on a spiritual topic. This month I read three books in that category:

  • The Art of Gathering, How We Meet and Why It Matters by Prya Parker (2018). I am quite sure this would not be shelved in the spirituality section of a book store, but thinking about how we connect with one another and how we offer hospitality is a totally spiritual topic, I think. Written in a breezy, conversational style, this book has lots of helpful and insightful ideas that can make a difference when you plan a small dinner party or a big work or community event.
  • Meditations of the Heart by Howard Thurman (1953). This book had been on my list for a long time, and I read it slowly, savoring one brief meditation at a time. For example, in #10, “In the Moment of Pause, the Vision of God,” he writes, “It is good to make an end of movement, to come to a point of rest, a place of pause. There is some strange magic in activity, in keeping at it, in continuing to be involved in many things that excite the mind and keep the hours swiftly passing. But it is a deadly magic; one is not wise to trust it with too much confidence.” Keep in mind, if you read this, the time period, for the language is sexist, but there are gifts to be found here, and Thurman is one of the greats of the 20th century.
  • Trusting Change, Finding Our Way Through Personal and Global Transformation by Karen Hering (2022). One of the first programs I attended at Wisdom Ways when we moved back to St Paul in 2013 was a book launch for Karen Hering’s Writing to Wake the Soul, Opening the Sacred Conversation Within (2013), a book that has inspired my own writing. Since then I have participated in writing retreats and sessions with her. She is a gifted teacher and writer, and this book is packed with insights and inspiration. The book offers ten skills for living on the threshold (actually, I wish the title included the word “threshold”) and deep and creative exercises to do by oneself or with others. I have a feeling I will refer to this book often as I plan for the writing and other groups I lead. Hering is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister who has worked as a literary minister. Isn’t that intriguing?

Along with devoting part of my meditation time to reading, I read during lunch, but I also try to leave my garret desk at about 4 and read before I start fixing dinner, and, of course, I read before going to bed. That time adds up to a bunch of books. I guess I am a fast reader, and sometimes that is not a good thing, for I don’t always retain what I read. That is one reason why I keep a journal of what I read.

Here are my top four October novels:

  • The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian (2022). An American movie star invites friends and colleagues to join her and her new husband on a honeymoon safari in Tanzania. The novel is set in the 1960’s when the country was still called Tanganyika. Kidnapping, murder, page-turning suspense. The big question is who survives? The descriptions of the Serengeti and the animals they see are breath-taking, but be still my heart, so is what happens. This is the first book I’ve read by this author and I went on to read The Hour of the Witch (2021), which, even though I have never been drawn to books about the days of witch-hunts in the colonies, this book intrigued me, and I am afraid I am going to have to read Bohjalian’s extensive back list.
  • Fencing with the King by Diane Abu-Jaber (2022). Amani accompanies her father from the U.S. back to their Jordan homeland where he has been invited to celebrate the birthday of the king by engaging in a fencing match with him. What is more important about the story is Amani’s search to learn about her father’s mother, whom she resembles. Secrets are uncovered in this beautifully told story.
  • Landslide by Susan Conley (2021). I almost read this book in one sitting, for the witty and natural dialogue moved the story along so easily. Set in Maine, Kit has a serious fishing accident and Jill needs to cope with their two teenage sons, whom she calls “the wolves.” I loved all the mother-son interactions, reflecting teenage angst, the mother’s typical, but also difficult worries, and all the love needed to survive and move forward.
  • The Other Mother by Rachel M. Harper (2022). A complicated story of secrets and trauma related to the secrets. Two women are in a relationship with one another, but one is more committed to the relationship, and she wants a baby. The other woman agrees, but even though she adores the child, does not want to adopt him. Much of the story takes place when the child, Jenry, starts college at Brown University where the man whom he believes is his grandfather is a famous African-American professor. Some secrets are revealed, but others….well, I don’t want to reveal too much. I was intrigued by this book.

I also read five other books, each worth reading or I would have discarded them fairly early on!

  • Violeta by Isabel Allende (2022)
  • The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams (2021)
  • A Share in Death by Deborah Crombie (1993)
  • The Last Time I Saw You by Elizabeth Berg (2010)
  • A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (2015)

One more book note. This past weekend our roaming destination was Red Wing, MN, and, of course, we visited the library. I was impressed with the comfortable and set-apart reading room, but also liked some of the hand-outs available to patrons, including this one:

I would love to know what books are read to fulfill this challenge.

An Invitation

What did you read this past month? How are you challenging yourself in your reading life? I would love to know.

NOTE:

I loved this article about one’s personal library. https://psyche.co/guides/how-to-nurture-and-grow-a-personal-library-of-books

Book Report: Library Field Trips

October 27, 2022

Public Library, St Peter, Minnesota

My husband and I love to roam. “Roaming,” I think is a bit different than traveling. No tickets are involved or reservations. There is no need to stop the mail, board the dog, if you have one, or hire the neighbor kid to shovel your walk it if snows. Nope, all we do is pick a destination, make sure the car is filled with gas, the plat book is handy, and off we go.

This fall we decided to include in our casual itinerary the libraries in the towns we visit. Because it has been such a busy fall, we have only explored two Minnesota towns so far, St Peter and New Ulm. At some point I intend to write about what we learned about each of these towns, but since it is Book Report Thursday, I will focus just on the libraries.

The St Peter library is a new structure–not particularly inviting from the outside, but the inside was an entirely different experience.

I immediately felt welcomed and uplifted without feeling overwhelmed. Even though the limestone could have felt cold and unapproachable, the light pouring in from above and the entire perimeter of the building added to the hospitality of the space. And it was busy. Not noisy, but buzzing with people of all ages.

I know libraries these days are not just places for books and readers, but are an integral part of the community, responding to community needs and interests, and that was evident in the St Peter library.

Along with bags of books for book groups, we spotted these Memory Kit bags. Clever, creative, helpful, innovative, and accessible. Good job, St Peter.

We visited New Ulm on a Friday and the downtown was active and bustling, but that was not the case in the library, even though it is located not far from the downtown area. In fact, Bruce and I were the only people in the library other than the librarians who quizzed us about why we were there. Did they think we were state library officials on a surprise inspection?

That isn’t quite fair, for I think the library staff have done the best they could do with an extremely unattractive building in the Brutalist style of architecture.

Brutalism dates from the 1950’s and is characterized by minimalist constructions showcasing bare building materials and structural elements over decorative designs. Cold concrete, and I ask you is that the look you want in a library!

As I said, however, they have done the best they could do with what they have, and I loved the sculpture of children’s writer/illustrator Wanda Gag (Millions of Cats) outside. We had hoped to tour the house where she grew up, but it wasn’t open.

The saving grace of this library was the spacious and bright children’s space. This was the old Carnegie Library and is attached to the newer facility. The space was filled with art work and areas for creative activities. I hope on other days and times the space is alive with children and their excitement for books and reading.

We intend to continue our library tours, including ones in our own area. One summer when our grandson who is now fourteen was nine, he and I visited a few St Paul libraries, and, of course, came home with stacks of books. Obviously, we don’t do that when we visit libraries in other parts of the state.

How grateful I am for the public libraries and urge you to use and support them in your community. In fact, I am about to head to my library where a stack of books I have placed on hold is waiting for me. Happy reading!

An Invitation

What do you appreciate about your library? I would love to know.

Note:

Next week I will share my October round-up of books read in the past month.

Book Report: The Reading List

October 20, 2022

Recently I read The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams (2021). I am attracted to books about books, bookstores, booksellers, and libraries –both fiction and nonfiction–and this one is a delightful example of that genre. Another example is The Sentence by Louise Erdrich (2021), which is set in a bookstore and is one of my recent favorites. I also remember reading years ago a memoir by the mystery writer Susan Hill, Howard’s End is on the Landing (2009) about the year she read only books she already owned. I could do that, but then I better hurry up and buy the new Maggie O’Farrell and Barbara Kingsolver and…

Back to The Reading List. I loved each of the characters, especially the two main characters. Mukesh is an elderly man who is grieving the death of his wife and Aleisha is a young woman who has a complicated family. They meet at the library where Aleisha has a summer job. A list of books labeled “In case you need it:” appears to both Mukesh and Aleisha as well as other characters and thus begins a reading adventure, but more than that, support and even transformation.

And what a great list this is! I have read each of these books; some, more than once. I love how the lessons and the insights gleaned from these books are woven into the narrative–once again suggesting the power of books and reading.

Thinking about my own “In case you need it list,” I remember a charming illustrated book, My Ideal Bookshelf, Art by Jane Mount, Edited by Thessaly La Force. (2012). Over 100 cultural figures share the books that matter the most to them and why. Here, for example is librarian Nancy Pearl’s bookshelf as depicted by Jane Mount.

I am not familiar with most of Pearl’s choices, and that, of course, could lead to an even longer TBR list.

Here’s doctor and writer Atul Gawande’s shelf. I’ve read more of these books, but this isn’t a contest. Rather, an insight into a person’s life and development.

Naturally, this makes me think about what would be on my shelf. These are a few of the possibilities–novels I have read more than one time and that have impacted my life.

  • Giants in the Earth by Ole Rolvaag
  • All of Jane Austen’s books
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Persuasion by A.S. Byatt
  • A sampling of Nancy Drew books
  • Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
  • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  • Fresh Water for Flowers by Valerie Perrin
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  • The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson
  • Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I need to stop or I will need a very long and sturdy book shelf.

An Invitation:

What is on your “ideal bookshelf”? I would love to know.

Book Report: Downsizing My Books

October 13, 2022

A frequent conversation among elders is what to do with our stuff. We all have it.

We know it’s only stuff. But it’s our stuff, and we don’t want anyone telling us what to do with our stuff.

I can feel my body become rigid, my throat constrict, and my eyes narrow if anyone dares tell me I have too many books. What is too many? I am not willing to have that conversation.

But, of course, the truth is I do have lots of books.

What to do?

I know that the next move, if and when that happens, will be to a much smaller space; one in which there will be much less room for all our books. Does that mean I need to empty our bookshelves now and never purchase another book? Or do I just ignore the elephant –in this case hundreds of books–in the room(s)?ownsizing

Strategies and Process

My main strategy is to recognize and to practice the PROCESS of downsizing. Here’s what that means:

  1. Use the library more and buy fewer books. So far this year I have checked out almost 80 books from the library, and I have purchased a little more than half that amount.
  2. Every time I read a book I own I consider if it is one I might want to read again or refer to in my work as a spiritual director or small group facilitator. If I decide I don’t need or want to keep it, it is placed in a basket of books to take to a Little Free Library or set aside for our annual garage sale or pass on to someone else and say, “No need to return.” Occasionally, I want to re-read a book I no longer own. Well, there’s the library to save the day!
  3. The last two years my Lenten spiritual practice has been to eliminate at least one book from my spirituality/theology bookshelves each day. I intend to continue that practice this year, too.
  4. Each time I return a book to a shelf or find space for a new book, I spend time looking at the other books on those shelves and often I decide I don’t need to save one of the nearby books any longer.
  5. No books are allowed to gather in piles on the floor. Books do not become the base for a lamp or prop up a table leg.
  6. There are no boxes of books in storage areas. Seeing my books not only gives me pleasure, but that prevents the “out of sight, out of mind” issue that solves nothing.
  7. The books I have acquired, but not yet read are kept on two shelves. Nonfiction books are on a shelf in the garret and fiction in the snug. That means I am aware of them when I finish a book and wonder what to read next.

Practicing Awareness

Part of this downsizing process is to ask myself –not just once, but periodically–what is the meaning of this specific category of stuff? Why do I hold on to these books?

There is more than one answer. First of all, I am a passionate reader, and I prefer to read books in their paper form. You may prefer listening to books or reading on a Kindle. Good for you, and maybe, someday I will do that, too, but not now. Books are beautiful and are part of my decor and add to the warmth and personality of our home. I feel the presence of the writer and their words by having books physically present. Also, I am a writer and a teacher and browse my books for inspiration, for answers, for reinforcement and support and for ideas to broaden my perspective. I suppose I can do that on the internet, but it’s not the same. Finally, my books offer a glance into my history, a view into who I am. And my books remind me to continue the process of growth and evolution.

I know someday I will have to face (or my family will) the challenge of what to do with all these books, and I guess should apologize for that, but oh well… I continue to remind myself that downsizing is a process, and I am in the midst of that process. I am becoming aware that each book I let go of makes it easier to let go of another one.

One more thing: I’ve noticed it is much easier to prod someone else to do something about their stuff, than it is to tackle our own stuff. I’m guilty of that, and I am trying to reform and focus on my own stuff. Enough said!

An Invitation:

What stuff is plaguing you and what are you doing about it? I would love to know.

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.

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.

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.