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.

Be Gentle With Yourself/Myself

November 22, 2022

Note: No post on Thanksgiving Day. I will return on Tuesday, November 29. Have a blessed holiday.

One day this past weekend I wrapped myself in my favorite shawl and moved into the snug to browse through a pile of new home decor magazines. I needed a time-out. Escaping into pictures of beautiful homes, possibly delicious recipes and contemplating holiday decorating is one of the ways I am gentle with myself. One of the ways I restore myself into a rhythm that is calm and open and essential.

These are confusing days; these days right before Thanksgiving and leading up to Christmas. At least for me.

These are days of conflicting messages. The grocery store is loaded with all the fixings for Thanksgiving dinner, but at the same time stores are full of Christmas decorations. Driving through neighborhoods especially in the evening, I am surprised by the number of homes with Christmas lights sparkling against the snow, and I even catch glimpses of Christmas trees all aglow inside homes.

Some people have strict guidelines about not decorating until after Thanksgiving and others are busy doing that right now.

We have received our first Christmas cards, and a couple people have told me they are done with their shopping. And that is fine. Whatever works for you and however you meet the demands of your life is your decision, but I can feel myself tightening, wondering how I will get everything done.

Advent begins in a few days, and I am not ready!

There is always a lot to do this time of the year, and I wonder how I managed before our children were grown when I was working full time and my husband was a busy family doc or those years when we traveled from our home in Ohio to the rest of our family here in Minnesota. Now we don’t host Thanksgiving, and we don’t have as much shopping to do as we once did nor do we decorate in the same extravagant way.

Our grandson will come get the bins of Christmas decorations out of the storage space for us this week, and I will decorate beginning Friday. On Thanksgiving Day we will have our photograph taken with our grandkids and then I can order copies for our Christmas cards, but I am not yet in the mood to write an accompanying letter. Maybe I won’t do that this year.

I want to do some entertaining, and I always bake many loaves of cherry walnut bread. It would be fun to make some different cookies this year, too. My husband said he would help. (That’s when I will miss having a big kitchen.) We’ve done some shopping, and I bought wrapping paper, but need to get ribbon.

In the midst of the December list, I also need to do some planning for the new year. When in January should I start the winter series of the church writing group I facilitate and when can I set aside time for the planning of those sessions? What about the other groups I lead?

For the most part I relish it all, but at the same time I am aware that day to day life continues. I meet with clients, fix dinner, pay bills, do laundry and even write my twice a week blog posts. (I don’t anticipate much other writing will get done.) I am also aware of those I love who are in pain and trying to manage what is unwelcome and unexpected. How do I stay open to those needs?

We live near the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. A place sacred to the Dakota people. An area important in their creation stories; an area of great energy and meaning.

These November-December days feel like a confluence to me–time flowing into each other, joining the past year, leading to a momentous birth and on into a new year and new beginnings. Beginnings that may grow from endings. Past, present, and future almost all at the same time, and at times that can feel chaotic. But eventually the rivers of time become one, and order of some kind is created.

I wonder how many times I have advised someone to “Be gentle with yourself. Remember to breathe.”

When we seem to be in a time of confluence, when the past is moving quickly into the future and the present is overflowing, treating oneself with gentleness is not just a good idea, but a necessary one.

An Invitation

What are the ways you practice being gentle with yourself? 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/

Being A Vessel

November 15, 2022

At a recent session with my spiritual director, she noticed how I cupped my hands as I spoke. That posture suggested a word to her. Vessel. The word resonated with me, and I wondered about the implications of that word in my life.

Soon after that session I read a prayer, “Blessing the Fragments,” by Jan Richardson in her book, The Cure for Sorrow, A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief. This is the first verse.

Cup your hands together,
and you will see the shape
this blessing wants to take.
Basket, bowl, vessel:
it cannot help but open
to welcome what comes.

Welcome what comes? I’m not so sure about that. Why, for example, would I welcome the sadness I feel about a friend’s dire cancer diagnosis. Then I read the last verse.

Look into the hollows
of your hands
and ask
what wants to be 
gathered there,
what abundance waits
among the scraps,
what feast
will offer itself 
from the pieces 
that remain.


“Oh, Nancy, ” I say to myself, “You do not yet know the gifts of this time. And you can’t know if you live with your hands clenched in a rigid fist.”

With my hands cupped I …

Receive and Release

Open and Offer

Honor and Hold

Isn’t this what we envision for ourselves when we walk with someone who experiences pain or confusion, doubt or fear?

At those times I want to receive what is shared, spoken or unspoken. Not only do I want to release my own fears, but also my need to control or correct or fix or solve.

I want to open my heart and listen with the ears of my heart. I open to the inner voice, the Divine that whispers to me.

I open to surprise, to possibility, to what feels new and perhaps not quite acceptable. I open to change, to transformation, to hope and salvation. I open to imperfection and a lack of answers. I open to the spaciousness of this time, whatever that means.

I offer what I can, what I am able. I offer myself, my heart and my intuition, too, along with my understanding, even when I don’t understand.

I offer my presence.

I honor for we are beloved. We are holy. I honor our fragility that lives within our wholeness. I honor vulnerability and the willingness to be seen, to be known.

I hold the space for all that is swirling or sometimes for all that feels static. I hold the fear and allow love to be borrowed, if love feels distant. I hold the in-between times. I hold myself accountable, even as I am gentle with myself.

I hold the present moment with my presence.

I hold open the door.

I remember my prayer bowl, a vessel that sings. When I strike the rim the tone is clear and strong and reverberates for a long time, fading gradually into the space around me. The energy and the memory remain.

May I be that vessel–a vessel that receives and releases, opens and offers, honors and holds. A vessel that sings even as she cries.

An Invitation

Cup your hands. What do you see? What kind of vessel are you carrying? I would love to know.

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.

The Landscape’s Answer to My Spirit’s Need

November 8, 2022

What do you see here? How would you describe this scene?

I imagine some would call this bleak, cold, barren, dismal and wonder why I would even take this picture.

This landscape is exactly what I needed recently.

Last week I was cranky, easily irritated. Unsettled and touchy. When I feel that way, I know I need more time in morning meditation. I need to write in my journal, read sacred words and ponder them, sit in silence, and pray. But this past week, although it looked spacious enough on paper, somehow zoomed past without room for what I most needed. A correction: The time was there, but I failed to use it in the ways I knew would help.

A dear friend has received a dire diagnosis, and I am grieving for her and for her family. And I am grieving for myself, too. I wake up in the morning in the midst of thoughts for her, and a prayer for her is the last thing on my lips before I shut my eyes at night. I experience both grief for what is being lost right now, and I anticipate the grief that will come.

I am so sad.

At the same time I want to be present to my friend and whatever she needs right now. A helper. A doer. A responder. A receiver. A calm and quiet presence. Whatever is needed in the moment.

A Call to Roam

The past week was beautiful, warmer than normal temperatures. Sunny, and many leaves were holding on in a continuation of fall’s majestic show. But Friday was cooler and grey; a day signaling introspection and contemplation.

How grateful I was that my husband and I had set aside that day to roam. At his request we drove down along the Mississippi River on the Wisconsin side of the river–one of our favorite routes. The towns along the way. Maiden Rock, Stockholm, Pepin, are busy on summer weekend days, and I imagine not long ago the leaf-peepers were oohing and aahing at the color and the sparkling water.

Now every tree was bare. The skeletal branches revealed the essence of each tree, and the sky and the waters almost blending together as one whispered a message of connection, of wholeness.

How grateful I was to be able to rest my eyes. Instead of missing what was no longer there, I paused in what is. This is beauty, too. This is love, too.

I still felt sad, but I also felt a kind of peace. The spaciousness I glimpsed between the branches reminded me that we are each part of the ongoing cycle the seasons offer us.

We crossed the river back into Minnesota and found a quiet place for lunch, next to a railroad track and right on the river. How fun it will be to return there in another season when the days are warmer and the scene is livelier and more colorful, but this was just what I needed in that moment.

An Invitation:

What landscape nurtures your soul’s need? I would love to know.

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

October into November

Some people hide their heads in the sand, but, I guess, squirrels choose to hide their heads in the pumpkin. I love my pumpkins, and seeing them become squirrel food is frustrating, but I had to laugh. And some days you need to laugh.

We are bombarded these days with so much that worries us, especially as we head towards election day. How important it is to open ourselves to what amuses us and makes us smile, even if I wish my pumpkins had not become a feeding trough.

Sunday I drove through the neighborhood, stopping to fill Little Free Libraries with a stack of books —food for other readers, and I felt fed by what I saw.

What a gorgeous fall it has been, and I am grateful for each of these days; each one calling me to open my eyes, to find beauty, to notice what brings us comfort and joy. And to smile.

An Invitation

What feeds you these days. What has made you smile? I would love to know.

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.

Dilemmas in Downsizing #2

October 25, 2022

The love of variety is one of my challenges when I think about downsizing/decluttering.

I love decorating for the seasons, and the house never looks the same, one season after another. Not only is that because I have so much stuff, but because I enjoy rearranging and using what I have in new ways. I’m not very good with my hands–don’t sew, don’t do crafts, but I know I have a good eye and know how to put things together. And oh, how fun it is to discover something tucked away in a cupboard that is just the perfect touch on a tabletop or shelf.

My mother once commented on a neighbor, a dear friend of hers, who in all the years they knew each other never changed the centerpiece on their kitchen table. A wooden bowl of artificial fruit, if I recall. She couldn’t imagine living that way. At least I know where my comfort and desire for change comes from, but as I declutter, little by little, I wonder if there will be a time when I won’t feel the urge to change the dining room centerpiece or the living room coffee table? As I continue this process of simplifying what is tucked in cupboards and closets, will I simplify my interest in and need for variety?

Here are some positive signs:

One day last week when I sat with a client in the snug, I noticed cobwebs floating under a bookshelf. Ugh! It was time to do a more thorough cleaning, and as I did that, I gathered a few small pieces of silver sitting on top of piles of books. Just sweet little accessories collected over the years with no real purpose, but adding a touch of shine to the shelf. Each one needed to be polished, which I started doing, and then I asked myself, “How would it feel to add these to our garage sale pile? Will I miss them if I no longer own them?”

Much to my surprise, I was ready to release them. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but one thing leads to another. By the way, I did keep two pieces I particularly love–a small English chocolate or tea pot from a hotel and a creamer.

As I continued cleaning, I pulled a few books off the shelves and added them to the Little Free Library basket, and I also made another decision. Decades ago when I worked in an independent bookstore, I bought books signed by every author who visited the store, usually for a book signing event. Many of those books I have never read, and as I stood in front of the living room bookcase, I realized I probably never will read them. Obviously, I will confer with my husband about this, but I envision clearing much more space soon.

Bruce and I have been antique collectors all our married life. Going to antique shows and shops has been our hobby, a form of entertainment, and although that activity has decreased in recent years, it has not disappeared. This past weekend, however, we decided not to go to an annual fall show; one we have always enjoyed and where we have often found treasures. Making that decision wasn’t difficult. Not a sacrifice. We quite simply didn’t feel a pull to go. I recognize that doesn’t mean our interest in antiquing has retired, but it is more moderate. That feels like a good thing.

Decluttering is a process. Unless you have a team of people who swoop in, take over, and do it all, once and for all, decluttering can not be done in one big now or never moment. Decluttering is a one drawer at a time process. One closet at a time. Even one shelf at a time. And as a process, it is possible to integrate it into my daily life–to organize what is scattered and to choose what still gives joy and what just feels like stuff, and to clear space as I clean.

Stay tuned, for I have a feeling there will be more Dilemmas in Downsizing to share.

An Invitation

What are you learning in this process? I would love to know.