Category Archives: favorite authors

Wise Words

mary-oliver

Mary Oliver

It’s been an emotionally draining week, this election week in the United States. Wise words from an author and from a blogging friend are helping me through the emotional maze. Mary Oliver‘s  profound wisdom, as shared in her new book of essays, Upstream, is helping me to understand the bigger picture of what is happening right now. And my friend, Nan (Letters From a Hill Farm) shared an insightful comment on my Instagram post about why I have turned to Mary Oliver this week: “Because she talks about what really matters; what is real; what has been here through all the various presidents, and will continue on.

As a retired elementary school teacher, I have been very concerned about the impact of this election on all our children. We are seeing reports now of an increase in bullying and hateful rhetoric by young people in our schools and communities. Some are simply mimicking the behaviors of the adults around them, but others are acting out from feelings of powerlessness and confusion.

Adults can change their circumstances. Children are powerless, and in difficult situations they are the victims of every sorrow and mischance and rage around them, for children feel all of these things but without any of the ability that adults have to change them…

But the essay goes on to describe the pathways she, herself, found that took her “beyond such circumstances.”

…Whatever can take a child beyond such circumstances, therefore, is an alleviation and a blessing.
I quickly found for myself two such blessings–the natural world and the world of writing: literature. These were the gates through which I vanished from a difficult place.

In the first of these–the natural world–I felt at ease; nature was full of beauty and interest and mystery, also good and bad luck, but never misuse. The second world–the world of literature–offered me, besides the pleasures of form, the sustentation of empathy (the first step of what Keats called negative capability) and I ran for it. I relaxed in it. I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything–other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned:  that the world’s otherness is antidote to confusion, that standing within this otherness–the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books–can re-dignify the worst-stung heart.

Her wise words give me hope that we can find positive ways to help our children, and ourselves, through these circumstances and alleviate that feeling of powerlessness…and re-dignify our worst-stung hearts.

 

An Alternate Reality

alice-munro

The other day I wrote a post confessing that I’m an “escapist” and have turned to my books to get away from this awful election season. This morning I read a different view of that kind of “escape” from the brilliant writer, Alice Munro.

“She read modern fiction too. Always fiction. She hated to hear the word ‘escape’ used about fiction. She might have argued, not just playfully, that it was real life that was the escape. But this was too important to argue about.”

~ from Too Much Happiness, by Alice Munro
(I found this quote and a brief description of this new book on the Vintage Books & Anchor Books Facebook page.)

A slightly different view of the idea of “escape,” but I won’t argue with it and very much like the idea that my reading is my reality and that real life is the alternate reality!

Note to self: I must read more and more Alice Munro!

Natalie Babbitt

natalie-babbitt

I am so sad to hear that Natalie Babbitt has passed. She is one of my favorite authors and I loved reading her books aloud to my 6th grade students when I was teaching. Most people remember her as the author of Tuck Everlasting, which is a book I loved and loved to use as a unit of study in the classroom.  But my personal favorite of all her books is the hauntingly beautiful love story, The Eyes of the Amaryllis, a story about how love transcends death.

Her writing is so beautiful and her stories so honest and full of wisdom. Her books stole my heart many years ago and I loved sharing them with young people year after year. Her intelligent, beautiful, lyrical voice will be deeply missed!

Click here to read her obituary in the NY Times.

the-eyes-of-the-amaryllis

 

Reading Escapes

I must admit that I am an escapist. The national election scene in September and October has been an awful place to hang out. Yes, I watched all three presidential debates. Yes, I did my homework on local issues and candidates. And yes, I have voted. But it all left me feeling breathless, cold and shaken as if the Dementors have been hovering nearby!

So my reading list for September and October reflects my need to close out that crazy ugly world of politics and find more uplifting places in which to spend my time. I search for those kinds of books and appreciate so much the ones I find with kindness in them.

There. A kind word, a word of encouragement or admiration, could shift the heaviest, most recalcitrant baggage.
~from Precious and Grace, by Alexander McCall Smith

So, my September and October escapes…

A Quote from Anna and her Daughters

Anna and Her Daughters

Going through my reading notebook this morning, I discovered a quote I had copied from Anna and Her Daughters, by D.E. Stevenson. It was a book I really enjoyed, by an author I love, and I particularly liked this paragraph:

The storyteller has always been a valuable member of society. Even in prehistoric times when men hunted wild beasts and lived in caves they sat round the camp-fire at night and listened to stories. Your profession is one of the oldest in the world and one of the most useful. “Away!” I cried, laughing. “It is, really. And we need stories more than ever now. We need stories to entertain us, to help us to forget our troubles, to fill our lives with colour.

The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine

Sunshine

“Sunshine” seems to be my theme for this week!  A few months ago,  I pre-ordered Alexander McCall Smith‘s most recent #1 Ladies Detective Agency novel, The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine. It arrived on my Kindle just in time to bring some needed sunshine to a dark, rainy weekend. AMS’s books are always a breath of fresh air with happy and humorous reminders to focus on the kind and good in life rather than getting bogged down in the negatives that surround us all.

“Everything could always be worse,” she would say, “and so be grateful that things are only as bad a they are.”

The main character of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency novels, Mma Ramotswe, is a kind, intelligent, caring detective. She makes a difference in people’s lives — in the lives of the people in the books and also in the lives of the readers! I love her outlook on life, her interactions with the other characters, and the way she problem-solves the situations she faces in her business and in her personal life.

So many people had lost that sense of identification with the land that gave meaning to life; that fixed one firmly to a place one loved. At least we still have that, she thought: at least we still have land that we can call our place; acacia trees that are our acacia trees; a sky that is our sky because it watched over our mothers and fathers and took them up into it, embraced them, when they became late. We still have that, no matter how big and frightening the world becomes.

With humor and words of wisdom, this is a book series that definitely brings sunshine into our lives.

Tasha Tudor, 100 Years

Tasha Tudor

Tasha Tudor is one of my favorite artists. She was the author and illustrator of many children’s books, including my favorite edition of The Secret Garden, and she is beloved worldwide. She was born 100 years ago today, and so to celebrate her centenary, I bought a copy of a lovely book about her: Tasha Tudor’s Garden, by Tovah Martin, with beautiful, beautiful photographs by Richard W. Brown.

There is so much beauty and inspiration in this book! I look forward to reading it and learning more about Tasha Tudor, about her elegantly “simple” lifestyle, and about her gorgeous gardens. I will read it slowly, absorbing as much as I can of the natural beauty she created and surrounded herself with during her long life.

Please visit her family website to learn more about her life and her work.

photo by Richard W. Brown

photo by Richard W. Brown

Garden Reading: Emily Dickinson’s Gardens

Now that I am retired, I’m spending more and more time in my garden. I started my garden blog as an online journal for myself and family. Now I’ve decided to open it up and share it with those of you who love gardening, too. If you find me missing from my book blog…you will most likely find me on my garden blog. I’d love to meet you there!

[The following review was published on my garden blog. I reposted it here, but something happened and it never showed up! Rusty blogging skills?] So here it is, reposted. Again.

Emily_Dickinsons_Gardens

During the hot afternoons of the last few days, I completely immersed myself in a lovely book– Emily Dickinson’s Gardens: A Celebration of a Poet and Gardener, by Marta McDowell. I love poetry, and I love reading about the gardens of the great gardeners, so this was the perfect choice for me. And to add depth to this immersion, I pulled from my bookshelf my volume of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, as well as another beautiful little book for young people, Emily Dickinson: A Brighter Garden, with some of her poems illustrated by the wonderful artist (and gardener), Tasha Tudor. What a lovely way to spend my heat-wave afternoons!

The “Belle of Amherst” was a brilliant poet who drew much of her inspiration from nature and from her garden, in particular. Her love for flowers and for gardening started very young, as did her love for words and poetry. As a teenager, she put together a very impressive “herbarium,” a collection of dried and pressed plants, all beautifully organized and identified by their Latin names. She loved spending time in her family’s gardens and in the meadows and woods adjacent to the family homestead.

During her lifetime, Emily DIckinson was known as a gifted gardener. Not everyone knew that she also wrote poetry, although she shared many of her poems with friends and family. Very few of her poems were published during her lifetime, and no one knew the extent of her writing until after her death when her sister, Lavinia, discovered almost 1,800 poems tucked away in a drawer.

This book was organized by the seasons of the year, and included descriptions of the plants that were grown in Emily’s garden each season, and poems that were inspired by those plants or by the season. A lovely combination! The author, Marta McDowell, is herself a gardener, so she lovingly included how-to information and special tips for other gardeners.

The mix of very interesting biography, descriptions of Emily Dickinson’s gardens with beautiful poetry interspersed, and very helpful gardening advice made the book a pleasure to read and a wonderful learning experience.

The beautiful illustrations below are by Tasha Tudor from Emily Dickinson: A Brighter Garden.

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Happy Birthday, Marc Chagall!

MarcChagall

Happy birthday to one of my favorite artists!  Marc Chagall would be 128 years old today.  I dearly love the colors in his ethereal paintings and stained glass, especially the blue. His dreamlike paintings are colorful, happy, and full of love. Chagall was a man of deep passion for life and for art. He was a happy man, if you can judge by the many photos of him with family and at work.

A few years ago, I read a wonderful biography of him, Marc Chagall: Painter of Dreams, by one of my favorite authors, Natalie Bober. If you love art, or are just interested in the life of a gifted artist, I highly recommend this little book. You can read my post about it here.