Hot summer days… no air conditioning at our house during this hotter-than-normal-July in our town… my favorite place to spend some cool hours! I wish our sweet local library was open on Sundays!
On our walk this morning across the campus of Pacific University, we found a new “Little Free Library” in the middle of campus. What a nice way for the University to encourage reading and sharing books … for the college students and for us townsfolk, too!
I just finished reading a really good book, The Keeper of the Bees, by Gene Stratton-Porter, and as always when I finish a book I’ve been completely immersed in, it’s hard to decide what to read next. With the publication of Harper Lee’s book, Go Set a Watchman, I am very tempted to start that one right away. However, I’m scared! I’m afraid to read it because it might damage my relationship with Atticus Finch, one of the most decent men in literature, and it feels to me that decent men in literature are somewhat of a rarity these days. Three come to my mind immediately: Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird; Danny’s sparky Dad in Danny, the Champion of the World; and now I can add Jamie MacFarlane in The Keeper of the Bees. These are kind, caring, compassionate men who are not afraid to take a stand, who give wholeheartedly, who are not afraid to cry, and who remind us of all that is good in the world. I think I’ll wait to read blogging friends’ reviews before I start the new Harper Lee…just in case.
The Keeper of the Bees, one of Stratton-Porter’s last novels before her untimely death in 1924, was also about a decent man. Jamie MacFarlane was an American war hero (of Scottish descent) who had been seriously wounded in the war and who had just spent the last two years of his life in a military hospital with wounds that would not heal. His spirits were deeply damaged, too, and the doctors treating him had given up on finding a way to help him. He overheard them talking about his case and deciding to send him to a sanitorium for the terminally ill. He decided to walk out of the hospital, since he is going to die anyway, because he would rather die out in nature than in the sanitorium. So he began his “great adventure.”
As he had made his way down the driveway from the hospital to the road, it had occurred to Jamie MacFarlane that for a man in his condition to walk out of the only shelter on earth to which he was entitled without a penny in his pockets was a Great Adventure.
The story is a poignant search for self and for meaning in the face of death, and in the process of that search, he also finds health and life. It’s a very human story, all about relationships and about the deepest questions we all face. It’s also a book that I’d describe as maybe a little “old-fashioned,” because there’s a bit of moralizing, a bit of preaching that were more common in stories written in the late 1800s/early 1900s. But I was so drawn to this kindly character, Jamie, and so immersed in Stratton-Porter’s beautiful descriptions of the natural world, that I couldn’t put it down. I just wanted so much for Jamie to get well and to find the happiness he so deserved.
A passage late in the novel details Gene Stratton-Porter’s intent in writing this story, and describes the decent man young Jamie MacFarlane became:
“To my way of thinking and working, the greatest service a piece of fiction can do any reader is to leave him with a higher ideal of life than he had when he began. If in one small degree it shows him where he can be a gentler, saner, cleaner, kindlier man, it is a wonder-working book. If it opens his eyes to one beauty in nature he never saw for himself and leads him one step toward the God of the Universe, it is a beneficial book, for one step into the miracle of nature leads to that long walk, the glories of which so strengthen even a boy who thinks he is dying, that he faces his struggle like a gladiator.”
I was saddened to hear the news today of the passing of Omar Sharif. As with any of these losses, a bit of my past goes, too. Dr. Zhivago was one of those books and movies that stay with you forever. I loved reading the book, by Boris Pasternak, as a teenager. Such an epic tale and passionate story of a man and a country! And I loved even more the movie by David Lean…a stunningly beautiful film. I always felt they were one of the best book/movie/music combinations ever! And, oh my, that beautiful and passionate actor with the most expressive eyes, Omar Sharif! He WAS Dr. Zhivago! In remembrance, I think I’ll watch David Lean’s movie again, and also see if I can find my old, well-worn copy of the book.
A few weeks ago I received an email from my beloved KCLS (King County Library System). They have started up a new program called “Book Match.” You fill out a short questionnaire about your reading interests, listing favorite books and authors. Then, a librarian reviews that information and hand picks some books you might enjoy, and sends you your own personalized reading recommendations!
Yesterday, I received the nicest email from librarian, Michelle, who told me she enjoyed putting my list together, named the list “Excellent Stories, Excellent Writers”, and hoped I would like the recommendations. I was thrilled with the list and with what felt like having my very own librarian! Here’s a screen shot of her recommendations. I’m going to enjoy reading these selections!
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.
It’s been so hot here recently that I’ve spent very little time in my favorite summer reading spot: my chair on the front porch. This morning, though, the air was cool and just perfect for some time spent reading instead of doing all my other morning activities. It was heavenly!
Currently enjoying The Keeper of the Bees, by Gene Stratton-Porter.
Half of my June was delightfully spent traveling. We enjoyed a lovely family get-together, a time to celebrate my inspirational reading Mom, who will be turning 96 in August. The family spent a week reminiscing, laughing, walking, visiting a museum and a special library, eating at as many different restaurants as we could, watching sports and fun mini-series on TV, and talking about books. I’m always interested in what others are reading, and I particularly love to hear what my family recommends. Here are a few of the books that were being read or that we discussed: