Book Report: May Round-Up

June 1, 2023

Five Nonfiction Books.

Six Novels.

No duds! Now that’s a good month. I should say, however, that I quickly discard a book, if it doesn’t engage me in the first few pages, so the chances of being disappointed by a book is less and less. I am sure I miss some books because of such fast judgment, but so many books, so little time is becoming more true with each birthday. Sometimes, however, I know a particular book just isn’t the right one at the moment, and I don’t discount returning to it at another time.

Thus, the reading adventure continues.


Three of six novels read in May receive the “I couldn’t put it down.” rating

  • The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd. I initially thought of this book as a good “palate cleanser” book after reading American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, the first book I read in May and highly recommend. (See May 11, 2023 post ). I needed something lighter, but the further I read the more engrossed I became in the story, which focuses around a group of mapmakers, map experts. Much of the story is set in the New York Public Library, but also in a town that doesn’t exist. Mystery, some fantasy. A good summer read–and just out in paperback.
  • The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn. I have not seen this on any other list and only heard about it through Minnesota Public Radio’s book newsletter, The Thread. I am so glad I was led to this book–even though there are so many books about WWI and WWII right now. The story is about three siblings (complicated–different fathers, different mothers) who grow up in rural England and are devoted to one another. One day a dead whale washes up on the shore and Christobel, the oldest, claims the skeleton and uses the bones to build an outdoor theater. She later becomes a spy in France. Well, the plot is involved, but I loved the characters and the writing was fresh and even at 50 pages kept moving.
  • Homecoming by Kate Morton. I don’t know why, but I didn’t expect this book to be as good as it was. I think I expected a fluffier, more lightweight book, but I was impressed with how the story kept unfolding, revealing new facts, new information, new aspects of the characters. Set in Australia in two times–1959 and 2018. A mother and three of her children ( a 4th, a baby, is missing) are found dead at a picnic site. The same day the visiting sister-in-law, who is pregnant, has her baby early. In 2018 that woman is dying and her granddaughter Jess, who was raised by her, returns to Australia from England to be with her–and the story begins to unfold. Lots of secrets. I like this quote from close to the end:

Being old, he had come to realize, was like being stuck inside an enormous museum with hundreds of rooms, each crammed full of artifacts from the past.. He understood now why the elderly could sit, seemingly still and alone, for hours on end. There was always something else to take out, to look at from a fresh angle and become reacquainted with.


As mentioned earlier, I started the month reading American Dirt. I also read Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club by J. Ryan Stradal, a Minnesota author, and the book is set in Minnesota. The story is about a family, with emphasis on the women, who has owned a supper club for generations. A pleasant read. One other novel on the May list is Private Way by Ladette Randolph. Earlier this year I read and liked her memoir Leaving the Pink House. (March 30, 2023 post.) Set in Lincoln, Nebraska, I liked parts of Private Way very much, especially the references to reading Willa Cather’s books, but I thought the premise of the book–why the main character leaves her life in California and rents a home in Lincoln– a bit of a stretch. She learns much about herself along the way and develops key relationships, and I am not sorry I read it, but it was a bit uneven.


The star on May’s nonfiction book is One Hundred Saturdays, Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World by Michael Frank, which I wrote about in the May 18, 2023 post, but I can easily recommend four other titles.

  • South to America, A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation by Imani Perry. A remarkable book. I didn’t always understand each of the references, especially related to music, but repeatedly I felt stunned by her insights and revelations. Perry examines specific states/cities in the South–a chapter on each– and in that way it reminded me of Clint Smith’s How The Word Is Passed (see December 1, 2022 post). No matter how much we know about the terror of slavery, more needs to be understood, along with the legacy of that time. This would be a good book to read in a group, one section at a time.
  • Sacred Nature, Restoring Our Ancient Bond with the Natural World by Karen Armstrong. In her brilliance and her exhaustive research, Armstrong’s books are never easy reads, but worth the effort. This book looks not only at the dire straights we are in because of how we have separated ourselves from nature, but also the views of a variety of religions about nature. In Christianity and Judaism, nature hasn’t played much of a role, but that is not true in other traditions.
  • Catching the Light by Joy Harjo. I am so attracted to her words, and this little book in the “Why I Write” series is no exception. I loved her memoir and also her book of 50 poems for 50 days. (See post on March 30, 2023.) Harjo writes to remember (“The old ones urge and remind us, remember. Remember to remember.” p. 42)–and we white privileged need to read about and understand the ways we colonizers have traumatized indigenous people.
  • Lost and Found, Reflections on Grief, Gratitude, and Happiness by Kathryn Schulz. This is another book now full of my underlining. At times, I admit, I found the book a bit tedious–for example, when she wrote about how the last letter of the alphabet was not “Z,” but “&”. Interesting, but what most engaged me was the focus on the dying and death of her father and the finding of love. And then the “and” of life; how life goes on. Beautifully written, which is no surprise because she is a writer for The New Yorker. One quote out of so many I could share:

This type of circular mourning, the grieving of grief itself, is perfectly normal and possibly inevitable yet also misguided and useless. There is no honor in feeling awful and no betrayal in feeling better, and no matter how dark and salted and bitter cold your grief may be, it will never preserve anything about the person you mourn. Despite how it sometimes feels, it has never kept anyone alive, not even in memory. If anything, it keeps them dead: eventually, it you cannot stop mourning, the person you love will come to be made only of grief.

p. 67.

So now that it is June, summer reading begins. I have started The Postcard by Anne Berest. You can check out my thoughts about summer reading in my May 25, 2023 post. Happy Reading.

An Invitation

Did you read anything this past month that deserves the “I couldn’t put it down rating”? I would love to know.

Re-reading Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb”

May 30, 2023

My mouth dropped open when I heard the reports about Amanda Gorman’s poem, “The Hill We Climb,” being removed from shelves in the elementary school section of the library in a K-8 Florida school. One parent said the poem included “hate messages” that served to “cause confusion and indoctrinate students.” The objection to the book did not include examples from the poem to support the parent’s argument.

I always wonder when I hear about yet another book being banned (or in this case, the school argues, it was not banned, but rather, “moved.”) if those who are so concerned about a specific book have actually read the book. In this case I also wondered if they had seen Amanda Gorman read her poem at President Biden’s inauguration–days after the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

When I heard the reports about the attack on her poem, I remembered how striking this young woman appeared in her tailored yellow coat, a column of gold, standing and speaking confidently as our country’s leaders sat behind her listening intently. I remember the beauty of her hands –motioning not in accusation, but beckoning all of us to climb the hill of justice, the people we have always said we want to be. I’m afraid I don’t remember what Biden said in his speech, although I remember thinking, “Good job. This is a good start.” But I do remember, however, Gorman’s play on words: “‘just is’ isn’t always justice.”

I don’t remember words of hate.

I don’t remember thinking “Oh dear, this could be really confusing for young children to read or hear.”

But then again I am an old woman and I forget where I put my phone and just this morning I misplaced a favorite pen, so perhaps I needed to read “The Hill We Climb” again. I had purchased a copy of the poem, with its Forward by Oprah Winfrey –the complainant said Winfrey was the author–as soon as the book was published.

I read the whole poem aloud. And then I read it again, pausing often, asking myself, “Is this phrase full of hate?”

Somehow, we've weathered and witnessed
A nation that isn't broken, but simply 
To compose a country committed
To all cultures, colors, characters,
And conditions of man.
And so we lift our gazes not
To what stands between us,
But what stands before us.
We close the divide,
Because we know to put
Our future first, we must first
Put our differences aside.
We seek harm to none, and harmony for all.
We will rebuild, reconcile, and recover,
In every known nook of our nation,
In every corner called our country,
Our people, diverse and dutiful.
We'll emerge, battered, but beautiful.

I found no hate. I found hope wound in an out of the hard work required of us all.

In a way I am glad this decision by a Florida school has come to our attention, for it highlights the gift of Gorman’s words. Jo Harjo, the twenty-third Poet Laureate of the United States, in her book Catching the Light refers to poets when she writes, “As scribes of our generation, we are called to remember what matters.” (p. 39) She also says every poem is a prayer, and Gorman led us in prayer.

I found no hate.

One more note. I believe children generally know what they can handle, what they are ready to read–and it is usually more than what we give them credit for. People who want material removed from libraries or classrooms often do that, they claim, in order to protect their children from things they aren’t old enough to understand, from what might be confusing or might influence them in an unhealthy way. I am more inclined to believe that those parents are protecting themselves from the need to explore hard questions with their children and from confronting their own contradictions and fears. I wonder if they aren’t afraid they might not really believe what they say they believe if they open themselves to a different vision.

The new dawn blooms as we free it,
For there is always light,
If only we're brave enough to see it,
If only we're brave enough to be it.

An Invitation

Can you recall a time when a book led to a serious or deep conversation with a child? I would love to know.

Amnda Gorman reciting her poem at Biden Inauguration:

Book Report: Summer Reading

May 25, 2023

This is the time of year when lists of books for summer reading appear. Often summer reading is lighter. Beach reads. Vacation reading. Summer reading often appeals to people who don’t feel they have enough time to read during other months

Well, I am a voracious reader all year round and always have been, so what I read or if I read is not dictated by the time of the year. What changes for me is where I read. Not only do I continue to read in the snug or in bed, but during the summer I also read on the patio and in our side garden, “Paris.” However, I am still attracted to those summer reading lists, and one of my favorite summer reading lists is Anne Bogel’s guide. I listen to her podcast, “What Should I Read Next” and get her “Modern Mrs Darcy” newsletter/blog. I have browsed the new guide and know I will spend more time with it, weighing which titles to add to my TBR lists.

In the meantime I have a number of books waiting for summer reading time on my shelves.

  • For Mother’s Day I received two books: The Postcard by French author Anne Berest is getting lots of attention, even though it is long and some have called it “weighty,” but compelling. The other book is The Lost Journals of Sacajewea by Indigenous author, Debra Magpie Earling. Both books are appealing, and my daughter was delighted she selected books I have not already read or purchased myself.
  • The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese. Through some great luck I was at the top of the library hold list. I loved Verghese’s earlier novel Cutting for Stone and based on the reviews I know I will love this new one. It is a long book–over 700 pages–which is not a problem for me, but I want to savor it and not worry about returning it on time. Plus, I am quite sure my husband will want to read it and perhaps others in the family, so I returned the library copy and bought my own.
  • At the same time I bought the Verghase book I bought The Midnight Library by Matthew Haig. This book has just been released in paperback after a long life on bestseller lists as a hardcover. Here’s an intriguing sentence from the back cover: “We all have regrets–choices we could have made differently, paths we didn’t take, other lives we might have led. But what if you were given a chance to fix your past? Enter The Midnight Library.”
  • At that same trip to a favorite bookstore, I bought two other books from my TBR lists: Lost and Found, Reflections on Grief, Gratitude, and Happiness by Kathryn Schulz; Indiana, Indiana by Laird Hunt (I loved his National Book Award finalist title Zorrie. The character Zorrie is introduced in this book.); and a title I had not heard about but it just appealed, and was my Wild Card purchase of the day, Our Woman in Moscow by Beatriz Williams. She has a long backlist, so this could be a great discovery!
  • Earlier this spring I bought one of the titles in the British Library Women Writers series, Father by Elizabeth von Arnim This is a case of being attracted to the look of a book. Pretty. The whole series appeals to me because of the focus–female authors who enjoyed broad appeal in their day. The fictional heroines in these books experienced life at a time when the role of women changed radically. Von Arnim (1866-1941) is perhaps best known for her book, The Enchanted April.

If I have a goal for my summer reading it is to finish the books on my 2022 TBR lists. I have only four more novels to read, and I am currently reading one of them, Private Way by Ladette Randolph and another is waiting for me at the library, Flight by Lynn Steger Strong. And I have three titles left on the nonfiction TBR. One of those is Lost and Found, mentioned earlier.

I have no doubt I will veer from this pile of proposed books for summer, but shouldn’t summer be all about fun and discovery and being open to what presents itself. Needless to say, I will keep you updated on my June, July, and August reading.

An Invitation

Do you have any reading plans for summer. I would love to know.

Book Report: One Hundred Saturdays, Stella Levi and the Search for a Lost World by Michael Frank

May 18, 2023

I waited for this book for a long time. The library only had two copies and the people who checked it out must have renewed it more than once and then not returned it on its final due date. Finally, I received the notice that it was my turn. I must admit I wondered if the wait would be worth it. It was.

Stella Levi grew up in the Jewish area called Juderia on the Aegean Island, Rhodes. That Jewish community had existed there for half a millennium until the Germans seized control of the island in September, 1943. The following July all 1650 residents were deported to Auschwitz. It was a mystery why, when Germany was so close to being defeated and the end of the war so near, they went to all this expense and effort, but that is the nature of war, I guess.

Stella survived and eventually immigrated to the U.S. As an elder she met Michael Frank who was interested in her story, and this book is the result of 100 Saturday visits over a period of six years. Frank listened, asked respectful questions, and over time she trusted him, and they developed a rich friendship.

I’ve read many books about WWII and the Holocaust, but in each one I learn something new and come just a bit closer to imagining the horror of that time, but there are also moments of rejoicing when people somehow live beyond the terror and the evil. Stella is one of those people.

“You have to remember that the first time I ever left Rhodes was when they took us to Athens and from Athens through Europe by train. I looked out the window, I watched the stations flash by: here was the continent I’d dreamt about for so long. And afterward…afterward in the camps themselves, we met the French women and Madame Katz and Paula, who were from Belgium. They spoke about Paris, Lyon, Brussels. They had actually seen and experienced, or were connected to, the places I had longed to know and to visit. They’d lived there. They were from there, of there…”

Under the unlikeliest of circumstances, the wider world came closer.

p. 68

“Very early on, almost from the beginning, something curious happened. I detached myself from the Stella who was in Auschwitz. It was if everything that was happening to her was happening to a different Stella. not the Stella I was, not the Stella from Rhodes, the Stella I knew. I watched this person, this other Stella, as she walked through this desert, but I was not this person.”

After a moment she adds, “There was no other way.”

p. 140

About Stella’s relationship with Frank:

“And then you came along and were curious. And patient with me, even though I wasn’t always so…so easy. And in speaking to you I have learned a good deal about myself. As I tell you my stories, I learn. One thing I learn is that there is no single truth; there is a changing truth…and you understand a good deal from going back, returning, and more than once, to what you thought you knew, and felt, and believed.”

p. 208

A bonus in this book is that it is illustrated by Maira Kalman who is the author and illustrator of over 30 books for adults and children, and her work is exhibited in museums around the world.

This is her portrait of Stella.

One of my favorite books she illustrated is the classic The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr and E. B. White. Her illustrations make grammar palatable.

Here are Strunk and White:

And here is Maira Kalman.

An Invitation

What books have you waited for? Have they fulfilled your expectations or been a disappointment? I would love to know.

Book Report: A Controversial Book–American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

May 11, 2023

When American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins was published in 2020 and selected for the Oprah Book Club, controversy erupted. I remember hearing and reading about the objections–that the author who identified as white, although her grandmother was from Puerto Rico, had indulged in stereotypes and didn’t accurately portray the truth of migrant experiences. A conversation arose about who has the right to tell a story, and that conversation continues.

I didn’t rush to read it, but kept the title on my TBR, and there it remained until last week.

I was moved by it, often feeling tears on my cheeks, and I sometimes needed to remind myself to breathe, as I worried about the fate of the characters. One criticism is that it was too easy of a read–a book meant for the screen. I didn’t find it easy on the emotions, however, and should s book be criticized because it eventually, through a long and arduous process, finds its way to the screen? (American Dirt has not yet been translated to film, by the way.)And just because a book is a page-turner does that make it any less worthwhile?

The main character is Lydia who owns a bookstore in Acapulco. Her husband Sebastien is a journalist who writes about Mexican cartels, and he and many members of their family are murdered after he writes a particularly incriminating article. Lydia and her young son, Luca, realize they need to flee because one of her customers is head of a cartel, although initially she was not aware of that fact, and he has fallen in love with her. The bulk of the novel is their harrowing movement towards el norte. I read the chapters describing the dangers of accessing and traveling, illegally, of course, the trains called La Bestia, with my mouth open and my heart pounding.

I rooted for Lydia and Luca and for some of their companions as they did what they needed to do to escape. The ethical and moral issues raised are as harrowing as the physical dangers and demands. I realize that this is one picture, one story, one perspective, but the depiction of fear and strength and hope seems authentic.

Something to Think About: Two Passages

The first passage is about Luca, the remarkable young son, learning about his own situation. Rebeca, mentioned in the section, is a teenage girl also trying to get to el norte.

As Rebeca reveals what scraps of story she does have to Luca, he starts to understand that this is the one thing all migrants have in common, this is the solidarity that exists among them, though they all come from different places and different circumstances, some urban, some rural, some middle-class, some poor, some well-educated, some illiterate, Salvadoran, Honduran, Guatemalan, Mexican, Indian, each of them carries some story of suffering on top of that train and into el norte beyond. Some, like Rebeca, share their stories carefully, selectively, finding a faithful ear and then chanting their words like prayers. Other migrants are like blown-open grenades, telling their anguish compulsively to everyone they meet, dispensing their pain like shrapnel so they might one day wake to find their burdens have grown lighter. Luca wonders what it would feel like to blow up like that. But for now he remains undetonated, his hours sealed tightly inside, his pin fixed snugly in place.

p. 166

We are invisible, Luca says to himself, and he closes his eyes. We are desert plants. We are rocks. He breathes deeply and slowly, taking care that his chest doesn’t rise and fall with the cycle of the breath. The stillness is a kind of meditation all migrants must master. We are rocks, we are rocks. Somos piedras. Luca’s skin hardens into a stony shell, his arms become immovable, his legs permanently fixed in position, the cells of his backside and the bottoms of his feet amalgamate with the ground beneath him. He grows into the earth. No part of his body itches or twitches, because his body is not a body anymore, but a slab of native stone. He’s been stationary in this place for millennia. This silk tassel tree has grown up from his spine, the indigenous plants have flourished and died here around his ankles, the fox sparrows and meadowlarks have nested in his hair, the rains and winds and sun have beaten down across the rigid expanse of his shoulders, and Luca has never moved. We are rocks.

p. 333

I think this book is well worth reading. At the same time I have no doubt there are major discrepancies in the white publishing world and that people of color do not get deserved recognition or financial support and payment in the same way that white writers do. Perhaps the debate about this book will make a difference.

An Invitation

What authors and books about migrants and immigration do you recommend? I would love to know.

Book Report: April Round-Up

May 4, 2023

Have you noticed I read far more fiction than nonfiction?

Part of the reason is, quite simply, that I prefer fiction. My first career was as an English teacher—reading novels and short stories and poetry, too, was just part of the deal. That preference has only grown throughout my life. Another reason relates to my reading routine. I often read a book related to spirituality during my meditation time, and I tend to read those books more slowly–perhaps, only a few pages in one sitting. Finally, one of my daily reading times is in bed before turning out the light, and many nonfiction books require more concentration than that posture allows. Most of the time I read a nonfiction book alongside a novel, but the novel is usually my first choice during my reading times.

This month I read three nonfiction books. Two were about aging. I have an extensive library of books about that topic, which is becoming more and more relevant in my own life, but I am also becoming more choosy about what I add to that collection. I decided to keep only one of the two I read in April and put the other in the basket for a Little Free Library.

  • Alive Until You’re Dead, Notes on the Home Stretch by Susan Moore. Moore is a Buddhist and has written extensively about aging, challenging readers to be curious about this stage of life. I need to think more about her desire to “release my grip on my preferences. I wanted to stop worrying about whether what I was doing was the very thing that I most wanted to be doing.” (p. 23) I find myself thinking more and more about what it is I most want or most need to do; how I want to spend my time and energy, so Moore’s perspective interests me. The book includes an excellent chapter on practices to contemplate death, including walking in cemeteries, reading obituaries, and making a day of the dead altar. This book has found its place on my bookshelves.
  • Growing Old, Notes on Aging with Something Like Grace by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas. I appreciate the author’s sense of humor and her common sense treatment of loss, including losing one’s hearing or keys and other things, along with losing significant people in one’s life, but the picture of her on the back cover lighting her cigarette with a birthday candle seemed inappropriate and not funny. I am not keeping this book.

The other nonfiction book I read was Enchantment, Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age by Katherine May. Perhaps you’ve read her earlier book, Wintering, The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. I had intended to buy Enchantment, but before I did I spotted it on the Lucky Day shelf at the library. Lucky Day shelves hold current and widely requested books–just your luck to find one–but they can’t be renewed. By the time I was done reading it, the pages were dotted with colorful sticky tabs highlighting passages. I don’t often buy a book I have already read, but that’s exactly what I did in this case.

It occurs to me that I am resting. It is not the same as doing nothing. Resting, like this is something active, chosen, alert, something rare and precious. (p. 26)

I tend to think that God is not a person, but the sum total of all of us, across time. That only makes the imperative greater. We have a duty to witness the broad spectrum of humanity, rather than to defend our own corner of it. That is the work I crave: the sense of contact. The possibility that it might change me in ways that I can’t predict. The possibility that I might one day do better. (p. 100)

Play is a disappearance into a space of our choosing, invisible to those outside the game. It is the pursuit of pure flow, a sandbox mind in which we can test new thoughts, new selves. It’s a form of symbolic living, a way to transpose one reality onto another and mine it for meaning. Play is a form of enchantment. (p. 137)

April Fiction

I read nine novels in April and in earlier April posts wrote about three of them, each book memorable: Still True by Maggie Ginsburg and Women Talking by Miriam Toews and Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano.

Out of the remaining six my least favorite was Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan. My main objection to the book, a family saga, is that the characters, mainly women, didn’t grow or change in any significant way. If these characters were real, I am not sure I would choose to spend time with them.

The other five were well worth reading, and I recommend each one.

  • Astrid and Veronika by Linda Olsson. A friend recommended this book to me. (Thank you!) In fact, she has bought several copies and given them away as “must reads.” Set in Sweden, Veronika, whose fiancé has recently died in an accident, rents a home next to an older woman, Astrid, whom the village sometimes refers to as a witch. She prefers her solitary life. The two women gradually become close friends; a model of intergenerational relationships, I think. They share their pasts, hurts, secrets, and develop deep trust with one another. They often shared a meal together –a kind of sacred ritual. Veronika is a writer and there were many lovely passages about writing.

It was as if the story were a fragile cobweb, and she had to take the utmost care not to rip the thread…The words on the screen in front of her seemed to paint an almost forgotten landscape. It was as if she were slowly unpacking, pulling out one scene after another and exploding them to this bleak light. The effort was enormous. Here, now, each passage seemed out of place, like clothes bought on holiday.

pp. 17-18

One of my favorite passages is about change.

It is in the nature of things to change. Nothing can last beyond its given time. And I think instinctively we know what time is. What is it that makes us know when the summer turns? The smallest shift in the light? The slightest hint of chill in the morning air? A certain rustling of the leaves of the birches? That is how it is–suddenly, in the midst of the summer heat, you are overcome by a tightening of your heart. The realization that it will all come to an end. And that brings a new intensity to everything: the colours, the smells, the feeling of sunshine on your arm.

p. 72

Now I want to read Olsson’s back list.

  • My Antonia by Willa Cather. I decided to sign up for a series of zoom events sponsored by the Willa Cather Foundation, and the first book discussed was My Antonia. I needed to miss that conversation, unfortunately, but oh, how I loved reading this book again, my third time. The story is told by Jim Burden, who as a boy was orphaned and leaves Virginia to live with his grandparents in Nebraska. The day he arrives on the train so does a Bohemian immigrant family, the Shimerdas, including daughter, Antonia. Antonia’s spirit sustains her, and she is loved by all who know her. She is not the only character in the book, however, who displays a hardworking and resilient nature, hopeful and strong.

The landscape is a major character, too, and reading the descriptions made me want to drive to the prairie right now.

As I looked about me I felt that the grass was the country, as the water is the sea. The red of the grass made all the great prairie the colour of wine-stains, or of certain seaweeds when they are first washed up. And there was so much motion in it, the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running…I felt motion in the landscape, in the fresh, easy-blowing morning wind, and in the earth itself, as if the shaggy grass were a sort of loose hide, and underneath it herds of wild buffalo were galloping, galloping…

pp. 17-18

One of my favorite books of all time is Giants in the Earth by O. E. Rolvaag, another immigrant story, and I am drawn after reading My Antonia to reading that once again. I read someplace that books are like nesting dolls–one leads to another. How true that seems.

  • Writers and Lovers by Lily King. I had read this before and didn’t much care for it, but recently I heard a conversation about it and decided to re-try it. This time I really liked it, which goes to show how much mood and timing enter into an assessment of a book. Casey is a struggling writer living in a potting shed (!) and her awful landlord says to her, “I just find it extraordinary that you think you have something to say.” (p. 2). She becomes involved with two men–one, a writer her age and the other, older and a successful writer with children who adore her. How will it turn out?
  • I Have Some Questions For You by Rebecca Makai. I loved her earlier book, The Great Believers, and I am happy to say I really liked this one, too. Bodie returns to teach at the boarding school where she was once a student –and where her roommate was murdered. She becomes obsessed with investigating this murder, convinced the man convicted was not guilty. There are lots of threads in this book, but Makai is a deft writer, preventing confusion for the reader. A couple favorite lines;

“When my husband passed,” Sheila said, “it was like losing the bookend to a row of books. We all tipped over sideways.”

p. 82

Not a single cell of his body was the same as it had been in 1995. But he was still himself, just as I was still, despite everything, my teenage self. I had grown over her like rings around the core of a tree, but she was still there.

p. 418
  • The Last Painting of Sara DeVos by Dominic Smith. A good novel about an art restoration expert, a young woman, and the man who owns the painting she forges. The original was painted by a Dutch woman in the 1600s. The art forger and the art collector develop a relationship (of course!), but it is told beautifully and not stereotypically. They meet again 40 years later when the painting is part of an exhibit. Good story. Good writing.

Wow–that’s a lot of books to share! Hope this didn’t detract too much from your reading time. Perhaps your TBR has just grown, however.

An Invitation

Any recommendations from April? I would love to know.

Book Report: Reading Dilemmas

April 27, 2023

Recently, I received an email from the Willa Cather Foundation about a virtual study course for four of Cather’s books, My Antonia, A Lost Lady, The Professor’s House, and Death Comes to the Archbishop. Benjamin Taylor, whose biography of Cather will be published in November, 2023, will host the series. I love each of those books, and I am tempted to sign-up for the series and, of course, reread the books.

Here’s the dilemma: each book I re-read means I don’t read something on my TBR list. Each time I sink into a much loved book, I am not reading a new release that sounds really good. And in the meantime the attraction to books, new and old, and the ongoing growth of my TBR list continues.

This week I got an email from the New York Times with the headline, “12 Books You Should Be Reading Right Now.” RIGHT NOW! EEEK! I probably should not have read further, but I did and was pleased to see I have read one of the titles, Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano, and I am even more pleased to report I did not add any other titles to my TBR list. But how long will that restraint continue? Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs Darcy and the podcast “What Should I Read Next” will soon release her acclaimed Summer Reading Guide, and a plethora of other summer reading lists are just on the horizon.

If I ignore them, I may miss a book that would be a truly good match for me. Plus, I confess I like to be in the know about new books, an interest nurtured by working in an independent bookstore decades ago. I read a variety of book review sources, and bookstores are truly my happy place.

Perhaps I should think of this passion as a hobby, like knitting or bird-watching.

My TBR Lists

I keep elaborate book lists in my book journal. At the beginning of 2023, I transferred 57 unread titles from 2022. I have been working on that list steadily since then and am happy to report I have only 16 left on the list. I hasten to add I have not read, beginning to end, the remaining 41. I have at least started each of them, but only decided to complete a handful of them. If a book doesn’t appeal when I start reading it, I quickly discard it, usually returning it to the library or if I own it, adding it to the Little Free Library pile.

Of course, I have a 2023 TBR list, but I am trying to be more selective about what I add to that list. As of today, I have 59 titles on that list and have read or discarded 21 of those titles. Then there is my lists of acquired books and mystery series and the British Library Women Writer Series and books I want to re-read.

So far this year, by the way, I have read 45 books.

Current Thoughts About My Reading

I just finished reading Enchantment, Awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age by Katherine May, who wrote Wintering, The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times. In this new book, which I am so glad I read, she decides it is time to

reset my terrifying “to be read” pile to zero and allow myself the possibility of choosing new books for this age I’ve landed in.

p. 150

Is that what I need to do? Close my book journal, except, course, to record what I’ve read. Forget the TBR list entirely–not an easy prospect for someone who loves to make lists almost as much as she loves to read. Perhaps I need to just read what is on my shelves already—the great majority are books I have already read and can imagine re-reading.

Obviously, as problems go, this is not major, but as a devoted and voracious reader what to read next is an issue, as is how to approach reading time. At age 75 there is more sand in the bottom of the hour glass than in the top.

I am aware that I am more and more attracted to re-reading old favorites, and at the same time reading older books I missed along the way or reading the backlist of an author when I read a current title.

What I suspect is that I will continue to muddle along –reading as much as I can, picking and choosing based on unscientific criteria, breaking my own rules, and quite simply loving the journey.

An Invitation

As you age, are you noticing anything different about your reading routine or rules, reading desires or interests? I would love to know.


Willa Cather Foundation

Anne Bogel blog and podcast

Book Report: Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano

April 20, 2023

Sitting on a balcony in beautiful Door County, WI, reading a stunning book–what could be better than that? Well, maybe a balcony with a water view, but no whining allowed.

So far the books I’ve read this month have all been worthwhile, even memorable. I wrote about two of them in an earlier post this month, Still True by Maggie Ginsberg and Women Talking by Miriam Toews, and in my April summary on Thursday, May 4 I will share the other titles. I couldn’t wait, however, to tell you about Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano.

I loved the characters, even when I didn’t like them. Sometimes I wanted them to be something more than who they were, but I admired the growth and the recognition of the pain they held within themselves.

I loved the writing, the impeccable sentences, and the fullness of the descriptions without being overwrought.

I loved the pace of the plot, Not too slow. Not too fast.

I loved that each chapter focused on one of the characters. The point of view, third person narrator, stayed the same, but somehow I experienced each person’s perspective.

I loved the overwhelming love, the humanity of that love, so tenderly, but sometimes so fiercely expressed. Powerful, redemptive, heartbreaking love. At times as a reader I wanted them to relax into that love.

Loosely based on Little Women, with emphasis on the word “loosely,” the characters have their times of being Beth or Meg or Jo or Amy. And there is a Laurie, too, in the character of William. We are absorbed into this family of sisters who don’t seem to need others until they do. A friend who loaned me her copy of the book said it made her envious of women who have sisters, and it made me think a bit more about my mother who was the oldest of four sisters and what her reaction to this book might have been.

Ok, the plot: William Waters grew up almost invisible in his own family when his parents could not cope with tragedy. He found solace in basketball and then in the love of Julia, the oldest sister. As each sister discovers her own identity and as William experiences a mental breakdown, all are forced to change and meet new challenges. I don’t want to say more.

A Few Favorite Passages

Julia experiencing the birth of her child:

She was a mother. This identity shuddered through her, welcome like water to a dry riverbed. It felt so elemental and true that Julia must have unknowingly been a mother all along, simply waiting to be joined by her child. Julia had never felt like this before. Her brain was a gleaming engine, and her resources felt immense. She was clarity. (p. 107)

They were dismantling their habits and routines, and it was like pulling up floorboards and finding joy underneath. (p. 349)

At their father’s wake, a young paper-factory worker said, It’s impossible he’s gone. And that man had been right–that had been an impossible loss…But perhaps what felt impossible was leaving that person behind. When your love for a person’s so profound that it’s part of who you are, then the absence of the person becomes part of your DNA, your bones, and your skin…the losses ran like a river inside her. (pp. 360-361)

“When an old person dies,” Kent said, “even if that person is wonderful, he or she is still somewhat ready, and so are the people who loved them. They’re like old trees, whose roots have loosened in the ground. They fall gently. But when someone dies…–before her time–her roots get pulled out and the ground is ripped up. Everyone nearby is in danger of being knocked over.” (p. 371)

Independent Bookstore Day is coming up on April 29. This would be a good book to purchase then. I guarantee there is already a long “Hold” list at your library, so unless you have the patience of Job or can borrow a copy from someone else who has had the wisdom to buy it, buy yourself a copy.

An Invitation

What book is tempting you these days? I would love to know.

Book Report: Blizzard Books

April 6, 2025

Welcome April 1! This was the view out our front door Saturday morning. Not only that, but we had no power for most of the day. What to do? Read, of course.

The sun was pouring into the snug, giving me plenty of light. I wrapped up in a blanket and read and read and read. In fact, I finished one book and most of another, and they were both excellent.

Still True by Maggie Ginsberg was a recommendation several months ago in the newsletter of one of my favorite bookstores, Arcadia Books in Spring Green, WI. Ginsburg is a senior writer at Madison Magizine, but I hope she leaves enough time to write a second novel, for this one is stellar. You may recall that one of my favorite books of 2022 was Beneficence by Meredith Hall. Well, this book needs to sit on the shelf next to Beneficence.

The plot is fairly complicated, as I think about explaining it, but as I read, it didn’t feel that way. I think that says a great deal about the polished, smooth and compelling writing. Secrets, lies, grace are all themes in this story about a devoted, long-time married couple, Jack and Lib, who don’t live in the same house. Also, key to the story is Charlie, a young boy who has recently moved to Anthem, WI with his parents, and he becomes Jack’s buddy. Enter Matt who is Lib’s son, whom she left when he was baby. This is news to Jack. And Matt becomes involved with Charlie’s mother. See what I mean? Just read the book and ponder the questions, What is truth? What is true? Are some lies worse than others?

Maybe this is what grace felt like. Maybe the best things were too big and good to be understood. maybe what was holy, by definition, couldn’t be truly comprehended by mortal man. Maybe that was what he’d always sensed in the two of them, and in everything they held dear: that together they were so much bigger than the sum of their respective working parts.

p. 270

Women Talking by Miriam Toews is the book that inspired the award-winning recent movie by the same name. Read the book. See the movie. Both are excellent. The novel is based on a true story about a Mennonite community in Columbia, South America. The women, who have not been allowed to learn how to read, have been sexually-abused, and they struggle with a decision — to do nothing, to stay and fight, or to leave. These women may not be able to read, but they can think, and their deliberations will challenge and impress the ethicists, philosophers, and theologians of the world. They struggle with what they have been taught, with what the men have told them is in the Bible, as they clarify three things they are entitled to. “We want our children to be safe…We want to be steadfast in our faith…We want to think.” p. 153. One of the women says,

I believe that my soul, my essence, my intangible energy, is the presence of God within me, and that by bringing peace to my soul, I am honoring God.

p. 109

The author, by the way, was raised Mennonite and left her family at the age of 18.

I think my April reading is off to a good start. Now, if only the snow would melt.

An Invitation

What books have you read recently that challenged your thinking? I would love to know.

Book Report: March Round-Up

March 30, 2023

I know here it is only the 30th and there are 31days in March, but I am eager to enter April, so why not post the summary of this month’s reading now. And what a month it has been!


I finished two books I mentioned in a previous posts this month.

  • The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Treuer. I read it slowly, trying to absorb facts, and stories, and reflections. Such an important book. Perhaps the section that most fascinated me was the detailed analysis, which he included near the end of the book, about the protests at Standing Rock. Don’t be deterred by the length of the book, for it is well-worth the time and energy you give it.
  • Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light, 50 Poems for 50 Years by Joy Harjo. I loved many of the poems, but I also loved her notes about each of the poems, their content, inspiration, and often the mechanics of the poem, also. Such a good companion this was to the David Treuer book. April is National Poetry Month, and I recommend this book as a way to celebrate poets and poetry.

I also read two other books in the broad nonfiction category. One is a book of meditations and the other, a memoir.

  • Embers, One Ojibway’s Meditations by Richard Wagamese (1944-2017). A beautiful book in appearance and in its short reflections. I read a few pages in this book each morning during my meditation time. The author says morning meditation is his time to reclaim himself, and I concur with that sentiment. The book is divided into seven sections: Stillness, Harmony, Trust, Reverence, Persistence, Gratitude, and Joy. He writes this in the very first meditation:

I am my silence. I am not the busyness of my thoughts or the daily rhythm of my actions. I am not the stuff that constitutes my world. I am not my talk. I am not my actions. I am my silence. I am the consciousness that perceives all these things. When I go to my consciousness, to that great pool of silence that observes the intricacies of my life, I am aware that I am me. I take a little time each day to sit in silence so that I can move outward in balance into the great clamour of living.

p. 15
  • Leaving the Pink House by Ladette Randolph. This book made me nostalgic about living in the country during our years at Sweetwater Farm. Randolph and her husband buy a dilapidated house outside of Lincoln, Nebraska, and she describes the year spent renovating it and making it habitable, but she also reflects on the years that led to this decision and about changes in her faith along the way;. Randolph refers to herself as a “devotee of the quotidian,” and her writing draws us into her daily sights and experiences.

I best understand my life through the houses where I’ve lived. I have only to remember a particular house to summon clear memories of a given time and place. Like many adults, I’ve returned to those places–both in memory and in person–seeking from this exercise I’m not sure what: some part of myself, some time in the past I want to better understand. Houses are often the archives for my deepest, most resonant memories, the places where I’ve curated life stories.

from Introduction


I read ten novels this month, and will highlight five of them.

  • Afterlife by Julia Alvarez. Perhaps you read some of her earlier books, including How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents or In the Time of the Butterflies. If so, you know what a good writer she is. Antonia’s family, which includes her three sisters, immigrated from the Dominican Republic. Antonia is now 66, a widow, and poet and English professor. Her eldest sister, who is mentally unstable, disappears and the sisters rally to try and find her. At the same time Antonia becomes involved with a teenage unwed mother who is undocumented, and along the way Antonia faces her own “dragons.”
  • The Swimmers by Julia Otsuko. What starts as a playful writing style and content (Has one writer ever used so many parenthetical phrases and done it so effectively?) becomes a poignant view of a dementia patient in a memory care unit. Alice is a faithful swimmer, but when the pool closes for good, her issues become more unmanageable. Sad and revealing and well-written.
  • Island of the Missing Trees by Elif Shafak. A treasure of a book. Set in Cyprus in the 1970s and then again in 2000s and also in London, a Turkish woman and Greek man fall in love, but are separated, eventually reuniting. They have a daughter Ada who in her teens mourns the death of her mother. Her mother’s sister plays a role in helping Ada heal and also fills in the blanks of her parents’ lives. The father, Kostas, has brought a fig tree with him to London from Cyprus, and the fig tree tells its own story. I know this seems strange, but I believed in the fig tree just as much as the human characters.
  • What Are You Going Through? by Sigrid Nunez. A woman dying of cancer ask a friend to be with her as she plans to take life-ending drugs. The woman is estranged from her daughter and has asked others to be with her, but all have said “no.” The friend, more of a distant friend from previous times in their lives, does agree, however, and they become closer and closer. The story is written from the friend’s point of view, but she relays everything the woman tells her. Brilliantly written.
  • The White Lady by Jacqueline Winspear. Many of us eagerly wait for the next book in the Maisie Dobbs series. Well, we need to wait longer, for this new book by Winspear is a stand-alone, but definitely a good read. The main character, Elinor White, however could be Maisie Dobbs’ soul sister, for she is also courageous, compassionate, and intelligent. White was a spy both in WWI and then again in WWII, and she carries demons with her during her retirement years in an English village. She is drawn out of her quiet life to help a neighboring family who want to remain separate from the husband’s organized crime family.

Waiting for me are two books from the library, Still True by Maggie Ginsburg and Women Talking by Marian Toews. I saw the acclaimed movie,Women Talking, and now am eager to read the book.

An Invitation

What have you read this last month? I would love to know.