Category Archives: favorite authors

The Most Amazing Privilege

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Last year, I discovered a new-to-me author that I really like. Victoria Connelly writes kind stories, with characters that I enjoy getting to know and that I care about. I appreciate the gentle wisdom she shares with us through her stories and the sense of fun she puts into her writing. My favorite of her books so far is The Book Lovers, because I am a book lover and it’s clear that she is, too!

‘So how did you end up loving books so much?’ Callie looked thoughtful. ‘I’m not sure,’ she said honestly, ‘but I remember one day in the school library. It as one of those quiet lessons where you’re meant to be reading in silence, and I was sitting there looking at all the books on the shelves, thinking that it was the greatest gift in the world to be able to walk up to any of them and choose one, open it up and dive into a brand new world. That seemed like the most amazing privilege to me.’

The Need for Solitude

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Solitude is something I need.  I don’t need a lot of it, but it is a definite need. I recently read Mary Oliver‘s new book, Upstream, and although I knew it already, she and I are kindred spirits…

Not to be alone–ever–is one of my ideas of hell, and a day when I have had no solitude at all in which to catch up with myself I find mentally, physically and spiritually exhausting. When one is alone one is receptive–a ready vessel for the sights, the scents and sounds which pour in through relaxed and animated senses to refresh the inner man.

My moments of solitude each day have almost always been in the early morning before others in the house awaken. I love and need those quiet moments with my cup of tea, a good book or some knitting in hand. Moments for just me…and then I can take on the world.

We Should All Be Feminists

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My first book read in 2017 was a very short but eloquent work by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. We Should All Be Feminists is a wonderful explanation of what exactly is feminism and why it is important to look closely at our ideas about gender and how we raise our sons and our daughters in our culture. She very clearly explains why “Gender as it functions today is a grave injustice” for both women and men. It’s a very important little book to read.

“My own definition is a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better. All of us, women and men, must do better”

Click here to see a 30-minute YouTube video of her speech on We Should All Be Feminists.

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A Return to Middle Earth

In honor of J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday today, I’d like to share some memories of how his books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, touched my life almost 50 years ago and are still today something that I turn to and love to reread.

1968 was an incredibly powerful year in my life. In late January of that year, I returned from living for a year in Argentina as an exchange student, a life-changing experience.  On my return, I immediately started college, another life-changing experience. The Vietnam War was raging and some of my high school friends were already gone. In April, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. In June we also lost Bobby Kennedy. And later that year, three astronauts orbited the moon. I remember the despondency I felt after the two assassinations and the awe I felt at the moon orbit. I remember vividly the overwhelming sense of the world spinning and life taking off at exponential speed, as indeed it did.

In the middle of that year of upheaval, I read a great book review in the New Yorker about a series I’d never heard of: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I immediately went out and bought the books and immersed myself in that world…and that experience was also life-changing in a way. The world that Tolkien created was so complete and so beautifully written. The books are an epic story of courage and dignity, of the power of goodness and friendship, and of the regular “little guys” being able to make an incredible difference in a world filled with darkness. It was a great tale, but I loved it especially for those nuggets of truth that spoke so eloquently to me and which are so often quoted now on the internet:

‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo. ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’

And I loved it, too, for the sense of nostalgia for times past and for home and the simple things in life. I’ve reread them numerous times now, and they capture me each time. So in early December, feeling overwhelmed by the state of the nation and the world, I realized that I wanted to read them again. I read The Fellowship of the Ring slowly, not wanting to miss a single word, song, or poem! And I am 1/2 way through The Two Towers now. Once again these books are helping me to put things in perspective, reminding me that “there is a seed of courage hidden (often deeply, it is true) in the heart of the fattest and most timid hobbit…” and giving me hope that each one of us can make a difference in the world today. There is always Hope.

That’s a pretty amazing experience/connection to have with a story, with any book! But, that is exactly why I love. to. read.

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Wise Words

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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

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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

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I am so sad to hear that Natalie Babbitt has passed away. 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.

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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…