Thursday, November 19, 2015

Nontraditional Nonfiction


"Until we have found our own ground and connection to the Whole, we are unsettled, grouchy, and on the edge of falling apart...afterward, you know you rightly belong in this world, and that you are being held by some Larger Force.  For some seemingly illogical reason life then feels okay and even good and right and purposeful." Richard Rohr

Nontraditional Nonfiction: This week we will be focusing on the nontraditional side of reading nonfiction. Nonfiction comes in many forms. There are the traditional hardcover or paperback print books, of course, but then you also have e-books, audiobooks, illustrated and graphic nonfiction, oversized folios, miniatures, internet publishing, and enhanced books complete with artifacts. So many choices! Do you find yourself drawn to or away from nontraditional nonfiction? Do you enjoy some nontraditional formats, but not others? Perhaps you have recommendations for readers who want to dive into nontraditional formats. We want to hear all about it this week!

I thought this week's prompt was going to be one I couldn't do, as I almost always read print books, but after reading some of the other blogger's entries, I decided to broaden my thinking a bit about what I consider "reading."

I have discovered that nonfiction is often easier for me on Kindle than in print.  I think partly this is because on Kindle, I don't become discouraged by the sheer volume of so many nonfiction books.  Spillover by David Quamman, for example, is a book I have been struggling to finish for over two years.  I would make a little headway, then set it aside and not pick it up for months, until September when I decided to try it on my Kindle while I was in South Africa.  Once I migrated to Kindle, I finished the last half of the book in a little over a month.  It had taken me two years to read the first half.  I also find that I seem to be able to focus better on my Kindle than I do on print books.  I know this is counter to the experience I'm supposed to have.  I've read the studies.  I don't know how to explain it.  Maybe my brain processes backwards.  That would explain a lot, actually.  I think my next Kindle project is going to be Annals of the Former World by John McPhee.  I've been watching Making North America on PBS, and I read somewhere that this was a recommended read by the series host, Kirk Johnson.  I'm a sucker for a science book. I also like Kindle for my daily self-help type reading.  Right now on Kindle, I'm reading Richard Rohr's Breathing Underwater, The Upanishads, and re-reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.

Audiobooks seem to be a very popular nontraditional format for a lot of people.  My only real success with audiobooks has been comedy, David Sedaris in particular.  His voice is absolutely perfect for his stories.  I don't have a lot of time to listen to audio, and I find my mind often wanders when I try.  With the coming of winter, I hope to be walking at the indoor track more.  If anyone has any recommendations for audio books to listen to while I walk, please share them.  Just remember the options need to be light and fairly easy to follow, or I'll zone out.  Walking into a wall is not beyond the realm of possibility for me if I get too intent on what I'm hearing.

Although it's been several years since I read one, I have thoroughly enjoyed the graphic novels I have read.  Three that stand out in particular are Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman and American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang.  I've had Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi on my shelf for years.  May be a good time to get to that one.

Another different way I read is via email.  I subscribe to Richard Rohr's daily email, and most days I read it before I even get out of bed.  It's a good length for a quick but thought-provoking read.  In the last several months, he has published series on Buddhism; Jung; Nonviolence; Myth, Art and Poetry, and on AA's 12 Step program.  Check him out.  I love his work.

My last nontraditional format may be a bit of a stretch, but if audio books count, Podcasts should count too.  At one point I was trying to listen to TED talks, The Moth, Literary Disco, and several others, but I was getting overwhelmed and not really listening to any of them, so I've narrowed my Podcasts down to On Being with Krista Tippett.  I have never been disappointed with these weekly, thought-provoking conversations.  This week's interview with Lisa Randall (here) is especially appropriate for a Nonfiction November post. Now I want to read all of her books.  Sigh.  So many books, so little time.  I need to retire.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Whole World Sparks and Flames

photo by Amy Brandon

"But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn't flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames."  Annie Dillard

This week's Nonfiction November topic suggestion to pair a nonfiction book with a novel is easy for me, as two of the books I've recently finished lend themselves to pairing in multiple ways:  both are narrated by mountain-loving, independent-thinking women, both are set in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, both revel in the beauty of the natural world, and both are books I loved but would hesitate to recommend to everyone.  If all of that's not enough, my edition of Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith sports an endorsement by Annie Dillard, the author of the nonfiction part of the pairing, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  

I recently blogged about Fair and Tender Ladies (here), an epistolary novel which tells the story, through her own words, of Ivy Rowe, a Virginia mountain woman who is wedded more completely to her precious home mountain than to any member of the human race.   

The second part of this post is going to be a bit more difficult, not because I liked Pilgrim at Tinker Creek less, but because I loved it more.  I loved it more, in fact, than about ninety percent of everything else I've ever read.  Maybe I'm overstating, but probably not.  Now before you get all 1-Click happy and buy you a copy, hear me out.

There have been many times I've jumped blind and head-first after a book based on a blog rave and then been completely taken aback when I thought I was getting A Tale of Two Cities and ended up with an engineering text on city planning.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is not a novel.  It is not linear.  There is no catchy dialogue, no clever character development, no plot twists, no climax, no denouement. What exactly it is defies definition.  It is poetry.  It is beauty.  It is a prayer, a meditation, and a continual revelation. It is water and light and wind and wild and earth and luminosity and brilliance and obscurity.  At its simplest, it is the journal of one woman's year on Virginia's Tinker Creek.  At its most complex, it is, well, I don't know, because I haven't grasped it all yet.  In between, it is theosophy, philosophy, theology, biology, entomology, and lots of other -ologies I can't name.  I am already re-reading it.  I suspect I will be constantly re-reading it over and over again.  It must be read slowly and thoughtfully and much of it must be felt instead of understood.  It is a balm for the weary soul.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek taught me to see. And oh, the things I have seen:

  • a dragonfly hovering right at eye-level, facing off against this odd-looking interloper in his territory on a paddle board,
  • a globular spider launching up and down, up and down, spinning against the back-lit, blue pink, twilight sky,
  • a hognose snake reared up and puffed up like a cobra looking dangerous and angry but in truth benign and terrified
  • scores of schools of fish, silver-bright twisting and turning in the jade waves as they break and reassemble all around me, my skin slippery with their quintessence
  • a pin oak leaf spinning in a crazy dance on a barely visible web filament in a breeze so gentle I missed it until I saw it transform a dead leaf into a gift of extraordinary, exquisite beauty.
I've spent countless hours looking at nature before.  I've been awed and inspired by her beauty before.  But usually, I was looking for the big picture, the grand view, the obvious impression. How many of these small, lovely things would I have missed simply because I never thought to look?  We see what we expect to see, and I fear this is more curse than blessing.  When you open your eyes, really open them, and look around, you find something breathtakingly beautiful in every minute, even it it's just the bright, iridescent green fly occupying the space where your hand will soon be on your car door.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Nonfiction November


Your Year in Nonfiction: Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

After I decided to participate in Nonfiction November and read the first set of questions (above), I looked back over my year of reading and realized I had only completed two nonfiction books.  That's just sad.  It doesn't mean I haven't been reading nonfiction, just that I haven't been completing it.  I'm still in the middle of Spillover by David Quamann, which I find fascinating but have to be in a certain mood to read, and I'm also still in the middle of Immortal Diamond by Richard Rohr, which I am enjoying but need time and silence to absorb, both of which are in very short supply for me lately.

One of the books I have finished is one of the best, most unusual books I have ever read:  Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.  I don't usually have favorite books, but this one may be an exception.  That said, this book is not for everyone.  It is not easy.  It cannot be read quickly.  It requires patience, and parts of it will defy understanding on certain days and in certain ways.  I loved it, but I hesitate to recommend it, knowing how difficult it is and how hard it is for me to know who will love it and who will be like:  huh?  One day I will tackle the task of blogging about it, but not today.

In the spirit of Nonfiction November, I just went to the library and checked out four nonfiction books to dabble around in this week-end.  I don't limit myself to topics or types, although I tend not to like biography.  What I hope to get out of participating in Nonfiction November is the specific goal of finishing or at least making good progress on Spillover, as well as possibly finding my next Nonfiction read.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

It Was a Wonderful Life


"The hawk flys round and round, the sky is so blue.  I think I can hear the old bell ringing like I rang it to call them home      oh I was young then, and I walked in my body like a Queen"
Ivy Ransom in Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith

I know this may sound crazy, but sometimes, I don't really know for sure if I like a book, even when I am in the middle of reading it.  I read so much and so variously that novels seem to run together.  Sometimes, I can't even remember for sure exactly what I have and haven't read.  More problematically, I suppose, often I go into reading a novel with a bias based on my past impressions of the author.  I've found this to be a real problem, as my reading tastes seem to change daily.  At one point in my life, for example, I read a lot of Ruth Rendell and loved her. I remember thinking The Crocodile Bird was fantastic.  A few years ago, I read some of her more recent works and thought, "yeah, not so much."  Now I don't even remember what I didn't like or why.  And don't even get me started on Harper Lee.  To Kill A Mockingbird framed my youth and my young adulthood as one of my reasons for being a lover of literature.  Now I am making myself struggle to finish Go Set a Watchman.  But that's a different post for a different day. 

Right now, I want to talk about Lee Smith.  I have been hit or miss with Lee Smith.  I loved Oral History, and I loved On Agate Hill.  But I had to make myself finish The Devil's Dream, and I was completely underwhelmed by Guests on Earth. So when I started Fair and Tender Ladies about four different times and it never caught me, I was on the verge of giving it up for good.  Then Alexandra of The Sleepless Reader gave the book five stars on Goodreads, and I thought, "maybe I need to make myself finish this one."  I am so glad I did.  About half way into the novel, in my own constant interior monologue and also in my dreams, I found myself thinking in Ivy Ransom's voice, and that's when I knew they had me, Lee Smith and Ivy Ransom, they had me, and I loved this book and this character. 

The book is a collection of letters Ivy writes to various people over the course of her life.  I wasn't sure at first if I was going to like the structure or not, but it worked for this novel's purpose of revealing Ivy's life in pieces over time.  And what a wonderful life it was. I try to avoid re-telling plot points or revealing much about characters, but I do want to note this:  I love that Ivy Ransom never loses herself. She never loses sight of who she is; she never loses her own voice. I find this difficult to believe, given her time, place, and culture.  One of my grandmothers would have grown up in almost exactly the same time and place as Ivy Ransom.  The lessons of that culture still haunt me today. Those cultural mores usually overwhelm you in the end.  I've fought against them my whole life, still do.   And I will have to admit that I don't hold on to my own voice nearly as honestly nor as fearlessly as Ivy Ransom did.  She is my hero, and I hope some day I learn to live as honestly and as ferociously as she did.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My Excuse for Being Gone...

There is the same difference in a person before and after he is in love as between an unlighted lamp and one that is burning. The lamp was there and was a good lamp, but now it is shedding light, too, and that is its real function.
-- Vincent Van Gogh –
I'm so sorry I haven't blogged about what I've been reading lately.  I promise I have been reading.  I'll try to update my Books Read list soon, but I'm having a heck of a time getting any blog posts written.  On July 4th, Ken proposed, and I've been a little distracted since then.  We are getting married at the end of September. 
I promise I am still reading.  But between work responsibility and personal life, I haven't been able to write much recently.  I fell and hit my head over a week ago, and I have a concussion now, which does not lend itself to written reflection.  My daughter leaves for UNC-Chapel Hill on Friday.  After that, I hope to be able to get back to normal.  Sorry for the crazy interruptions!
In the meantime, Read On!  I am :)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

CCQ II -- O Pioneers!

photo by Anna Reavis

"He felt as if a clear light broke upon his mind, and with it a conviction that good was, after all, stronger than evil, and that good was possible to men." from O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

I've finished the second Willa Cather novel in my Comprehensive Cather Quest, and I think I'm in love again.  O Pioneers! made me feel like I remember feeling after stumbling onto My Antonia purely by accident on a trip to Alaska, of all places.   Since that serendipitous discovery in Anchorage in 2000, My Antonia has remained in my memory as one of my favorite books.  

Thursday afternoon, as I was finishing the novel, I began to sense reflections and hear echoes of words, ideas, and thoughts I had read earlier in the day as I read in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.  So I opened both books and started to compare.  If you ever look for similarities, allusions, common thought processes, they seem to be everywhere.  As I read back and forth between the two books, inevitably, it seems, I began to hear whispers of other, earlier thinkers.  Was Whitman the father and Thoreau the grandfather of these revelations?  Eventually I discovered that O Pioneers! is named after a Whitman poem, but I didn't know that at the time.  It's amazing, really, when you begin to follow the logical progression of ideas down its time-defying rabbit hole.  There have been so few truly enlightened thinkers in our recorded history, and so many of their revelations tend toward the same end:  that grace, beauty, hope, and redemption are what matter, that the world is full of light if we will just see it, that nirvana, salvation, enlightenment is reached in exactly the opposite way we letting go and letting life unfold as it will.

O Pioneers!, the first novel in Cather's Prairie Trilogy, is the story of the unfolding of life for strong, independent Alexandra Bergson, who, as a teen, takes control of her family's struggling farm and builds it into a sprawling, thriving estate.  As the novel opens, John Bergson lays dying.  One of the few things we learn about him is that he only trusts his adolescent daughter, Alexandra, to run his fledgling farm.  Although he has two sons near her age, he knows only she has the foresight and feeling for the land necessary for success and survival for his recently arrived immigrant family.

Alexandra devotes her life to the family and farm, sacrificing her chance to have a family of her own in order for the land to flourish and for her youngest brother, Emil, to have what she considers a chance at the proper kind of life.  Emil does go to college and has plans to become a lawyer.  Having reached the age where I no longer judge success by ascendancy, I see quite a bit of irony in Alexandra's inability to judge herself a success.  I find her to be one of the most successful, courageous women in literature.  She has both big courage and little courage, which I find the hardest kind.  The big, grasping courage life sometimes requires isn't the difficult kind of courage.  When life sweeps you away and requires that kind of courage, you push ahead and are carried along by adrenaline and momentum.  Obviously, Alexandra has this kind of courage.  She takes over the family farm in her teens after her father's death.  The difficult kind of courage is the small, everyday kind, the kind required to live in ennui, routine, and loneliness.  That, I think, is the courage that allows Alexandra to succeed.  I just wish I had that kind of courage.

I love the people and the places of this story.  This book met so many of my requirements:  likable characters, lovely setting, strong woman lead, thought-provoking ideas, and finally, redemption and hope at the end.  Just reading the words calmed and centered me.  The novel is luminous; the story, the words, they are luminous.  Cather's writing feels like an Aaron Copeland song:  open, expansive, and full of hope and promise.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Comprehensive Cather Quest

"Under the moon, under the cold, splendid stars, there were only those two things awake and sleepless; death and love, the rushing river and his burning heart."

Finally, I've begun my Comprehensive Cather Quest, and what a lovely little first book for its beginning was Alexander's Bridge.  I'm not entirely sure why this novel appealed to me as it decidedly does not meet my normal criterion of happy or uplifting, but at this particular moment in time, it is striking me as one of my favorite of her novels.  The characterizations are wonderful, and the plot of this short, moral tale is quick and tight.

Alexander's Bridge ostensibly is about one man's mid-life crisis and the extra-marital affair resulting from his attempt to re-capture his youth.  Like every other Cather novel I've ever read, however, the plot only scratches the surface of the novel's substance.  At novel's beginning, Bartley Alexander is just becoming aware of the depth of his quotidian disquiet. On a trip to London, upon reflecting on his life, "He found himself living exactly the kind of life he had determined to escape." When he soon crosses paths with the love of his youth, his life veers in a direction he didn't anticipate but probably should have. That's what lack of self-awareness gets us, I think.  We don't know ourselves well enough to realize we're miserable until we do something drastic, like stray from a marriage.

Given the author's age at the time of her writing this novel, I wonder if she were beginning herself to feel the "dulling weariness of on-coming middle age."  Maybe the approach of the "dead calm of middle life" is what prompted her after the publication of Alexander's Bridge to embrace herself as a novelist and shrug off the interference of the daily grind.  I do think we all come to a time in our lives when we have to start living our true selves, letting go of social expectations, and accepting that our own path very well may not follow the "accepted" way.  Thank goodness for the bravery Willa Cather found to follow her path, which allows us today the gift of passages like this one:

"After all, life doesn't offer a man much.  You work like the devil and think you're getting on, and suddenly you discover that you've only been getting yourself tied up.  A million details drink you dry.  Your life keeps going for things you don't want, and all the while you are being built alive into a social structure you don't care a rap about.  I sometimes wonder what sort of chap I'd have been if I hadn't been this sort; I want to go and live out his potentialities, too."

As I learn about Cather's life, I begin to suspect that the variance in her work is a reflection of her complex, complicated personality.  In the prologue she wrote to Alexander's Bridge, she seems to be apologizing for its not being like her later work.  I love My Antonia; it's one of my favorite novels, but some of her other work...not so much.  While Alexander's Bridge isn't in the same vein nor of the same caliber as My Antonia, I found it to be much more enjoyable than some of her other work (The Professor's House, for one).  Maybe a re-read of those novels will help me understand what I missed the first time.  I wonder if I was just disappointed in them because they weren't My Antonia, and then I went into Alexander's Bridge expecting to be disappointed and was thus pleasantly surprised.  I'm a perverse person that way.  Don't tell me I'm going to like something, or I won't, and vice versa.  I'm going stop trying to analyze it and just be thankful for a such a good experience to kick off my quest to know Cather more fully.  Next up are her first three short stories and then on to O Pioneers!  Read along if you'd like!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!


I won an Anthony Trollope novel from
Yay for generous book bloggers...
Now for more reading time!
Thanks, Karen!

Monday, May 4, 2015

I Can't Even...

Crazy David Copperfield Notes
" mean in anything, never be false; never be cruel.  Avoid those three vices, Trot, and I can always be hopeful of you."  Aunt Betsey to David Copperfield

Because I'm nothing if not scattered these days,  I've picked up and put down more books than I've read this year.  SO annoying!  In addition to being book fickle, I've also been blog paralyzed on trying to write about David Copperfield.  I'm over-thinking, over-planning, over-analyzing, and just plain talking myself down about what I could possibly have to say about such a classic.  My reaction to the book felt a bit under-whelming, probably because I had expected to adore it, and I didn't.   I liked it, but I've enjoyed other Dickens works more. The scope of the novel was sometimes so overwhelming that I feel sure I missed a lot.  Even with all the note-taking, I don't know that I followed all of the character and plot developments.

I can't even process it all, much less blog about it, so all I'm gonna say is this:  the characters, places, and time of the story felt so very real to me that I began to feel like the events and people were actual memories rather than just something I had read. Maybe that's what makes a novel a Classic.  That we, the children of the 20th century living in a seemingly disposable world of such rapid change, can pick up a novel set in a distant place and time and suddenly become part of that time and place and have it become so much a part of us that sometimes even a single sentence can alter the course of our lives.  How lucky we are to have access to such an accumulated wealth of wisdom.  Maybe instead of requiring make-overs and sound bites from our politicians, we should just require that they read...broadly and often.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Readathon Ramblings

Roscoe, Les Miserable

"Every bird that flies carries a shred of the infinite in its claws."  Victor Hugo
I wasn't a legitimate Readathon participant in Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon, as I can't do anything for 24 hours straight, and I also can't skip sleep, but I did read and drop in and out on Twitter as much as possible yesterday.  I decided to use the day to survey some of the books I've had on my shelves forever and have never gotten around to reading.
In Hour One, I dipped into Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel.  I read these books as a teenager and enjoyed them.  The first few chapters grabbed my attention, but when I tried to go back to it in Hour Fifteen, I became impatient with the odd "dialogue" between Creb and Iza.  Just fatigue?  I'm not sure.
In Hour Two, after some homemade biscuits and jam and a bit of yoga to stretch, I read the prologue of Spiral by Koji Suzuki.  I've had three of his books on my shelf for years and don't know anything about either him or the books.  I can't even remember how I came to have them.  I do think, however, after that quick look, that I will go back to this one.
The beginning of Hour Three was interrupted by these visitors:
Anna was supposed to be with her dad today, but as she was dog-sitting for a friend, she thought I might like some puppy time.  Roscoe is a Boxer/Catahoula mix and is briefly delightful.  I'm too old for puppies long-term.
After settling down a bit, I used Hour Three to read a few chapters of Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather.  Last year, I decided that I wanted to try to read all of Cather's novels in order, so this is what I hope will be the beginning of that project.
In Hour Four, after more yoga, more Roscoe, and pizza for lunch, I dipped briefly into The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.  I really want to read this one, but I'm afraid it may send me into despair.  I already spend too much time worrying about our impact on the planet.
The bubble bath, candles, and Anthony Trollope novel I chose for Hour Five led to a major nap in Hours Six and Seven.  This combination was not a good choice for a Readathon.
Hour Eight was my hour to read in Les Miserable.  I have been working my way through this one for years.  Luckily, I was at an interesting part.  If you haven't read the description of the garden at the house Jean Valjean rents upon leaving the convent, find it and read it! Truly fabulous stuff! I'm going to keep plugging away at this one I'm sure for many more months.
Hours 9-11 were given over to life and a lovely steak dinner.
Hour 12 was Ken's and my hour to read aloud from To Kill A Mockinbird by Harper Lee.  I love this book every time I read it, and it's so much fun to read and share aloud. 
Hours 13 and 14 belonged to Ken.
Hour 15 I went back to Alexander's Bridge.  I think I'm going to like this one!
And that was it for me.  Hours 16-24 + belonged to The Sandman.  I require a lot of sleep.  I loved being able to give myself an excuse to read all day!  I do this a lot anyway, but yesterday, I had a reason for it.  No guilt! Yay!  Definitely something I'll dip into again in the future!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Wherein Russian Names Almost Defeat Us

Nellie Olsen Again Unimpressed With Weighty Books

Ken and I finally finished Doctor Zhivago last night.  It definitely is not a book to read aloud.  Let me repeat that:  DO NOT attempt to read this book aloud.  It should come with a warning label to that effect.   I am thoroughly confused about what happened and to whom it happened, when, where, and how.  So many different characters with so many different, unrecognizable names and different permutations of those names.  Lest you are tempted to adopt haughty airs, as did I, and think, "Oh, I can handle that one;  I know all about the movie," let me just say that the movie only tells about half the story, with fewer characters who all consistently use the same names.  And in the movie, someone else is pronouncing things for you and, I repeat, consistently using THE SAME DAMN NAMES.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to pick a name and stick with it, especially if it is a long-ass Russian name made up of multiple consonants in a row.  I took Russian in college, and those names still defeated me.  Of course, I only remember how to say Hello, Good Day, How are You, and Where's the there's that.

We've been struggling to finish this one for months.   Listening to us trying to pronounce these names for each other became almost farcical and was a better exercise in patience and understanding than any couples counseling session could ever be.   It was my choice for an oral co-read.  Ken's staying with me through it I think says something about his commitment to me.  Either that or he's too confused to leave now.  He's chosen To Kill A Mockingbird for our next co-read.  I'm pretty sure we'll be able to pronounce those names. 
And now, perversely, after I've said all that, let me admit that I am seriously considering starting the novel over on my own, because I feel like I missed too much that I should have caught and considered.  Don't analyze me; it won't get you anywhere.  Talk about down a rabbit hole, sheesh.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A New Discovery


It's been a rainy, Rumer Godden week-end for me.  Last week, while I was waiting for my other books by Chimamanda Adichie to come in, I was trolling blogs looking for some reading ideas when I came across a review by Kate at Nose in a Book about Rumer Godden.  For some reason, the name seemed familiar to me, although I know I've never read her work, nor did I know anything about her.  On a whim, I decided to see if my library happened to have any of her books.  Often my small, underfunded library doesn't have what I'm looking for, but lo and behold, they had several of her books on the shelf.  It seemed like they had more Juvenile Fiction than Adult Fiction by her, but they did have a few novels shelved, as well as a book by her sister, Jon Godden.

My first choice, The Kitchen Madonna, was shelved as an adult novel, but I think should have been in Juvenile Fiction.  This is a lovely little book about a reserved, unusual young boy who finally bonds with one of his sitters, an older Ukrainian woman named Marta.  When Marta tells Gregory that she is unhappy with the lack of a small holy place for a Madonna in his family kitchen, Gregory sets out on a journey to find Marta a Madonna.  Throughout the course of his project to provide Marta with a "Kitchen Maddona," Gregory begins to open up to the scope and power of loving other people.

My second choice, Pippa Passes, was odd.  I enjoyed reading it, but it was decidedly odd.  Parts of the plot felt random and forced and not particularly believable, and a few times I felt like Godden was proselytizing for the Catholic church, but the writing was solid, and the setting was Venice.  I love reading about Venice, because I love Venice.  At the end of the book, I decided it was probably just not one of her strongest works, even so, I was engaged and interested by it, so I went back to the library this morning to pick up her other books.

I think Rumer Godden is going to be a great author for me to pick up when I'm between denser reads looking for an entertaining break.  I have a hard time finding authors to fill this need for me because I have neither the patience nor the time for poor writing.  What a wonderfully diverting discovery!  Thanks Kate !

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Fun Sensoria Event!

Susan Pardue, Kristin Knox, Carin Siegfried, Emily O'Shields, and Amy Brandon

This past Monday, I had the privilege to serve on a panel with some excellent fellow North Carolina book bloggers at Central Piedmont Community College's Sensoria event entitled "Blogging in the Literary World."  Amy Burns with the CPCC library did a great job organizing the event.  The lively discussion ranged from why some of us accept books for review and some don't, to stalking in the literary world, to using Twitter as a micro-blog, and on to questions from authors in the audience about author blogs, and questions from professors on to how to incorporate book blogs into lesson plans.

I thoroughly enjoyed an entire morning devoted to books and blogging, and I am so happy to have met these new friends in living color!  Thank you so much to Amy for putting the event together.  Here's a list of the panelists and their blogs.  Check them out!

Susan at

Kristin at

Carin at

Emily at

Amy at

And last but not least, NC's newest resident blogger (she just moved from MA) who came to cheer us on:

Care at

If you are a fellow NC, or even SC, book blogger, let me know who you are in the comments, or if you'd rather, email me at amypbrandon at icloud dot com.  I'd love to "meet" you too!

Friday, March 13, 2015

It's Been Both DNF and CNF For Me Lately

Nellie Olsen is flabbergasted that I can't seem to finish this book.

Winter is nearly over, Spring has almost sprung,  and I just now finished my first book of the year.  I have been mired down in David Copperfield and Doctor Zhivago since before Christmas.  For a person who loves checking completions off a list, this has been a trying few months.  I am truly beginning to believe I will never finish David Copperfield.  I've been in the 930s of 990 pages for days.  Every time I open the book, I feel like I'm starring in my own personal Groundhog Day.

In January, I tried to break up the toiling with The Sun Also Rises, which I hated and abandoned.  So that went well.  I have decided I have a serious Hemingway issue, which I am ignoring for now.

In February,  I listened to Krista Tippett's interview of Mary Oliver (an On Being podcast:  it was fantastic, and I can't recommend it enough), and I decided after listening to Mary Oliver basically say she sucked at poetry when she first tried it that it was now or never for me, so I'm now spending more time writing.  I started a WordPress blog for my poetry to keep it separate from my book blog.  That address is for anyone interested.  Please don't steal my poems.  Obviously, I can't really stop you, but seriously?  Why would anyone except a Dementor want to steal my memories and emotions? 

This week, I read An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski.  I love the idea of the book, the idea that one small thoughtless act can save a life, but I didn't love the voice of the narrator. Because of the structure of the book, she often came across as self-congratulatory and redundant.  If  Maurice had been a co-narrator instead of everything being told through Laura's voice, I think this issue could have been avoided.  The writing seemed simplistic and predictable, but that could be because everything does now that I've spent months with Dickens and Pasternak.

On another note, a blogger I follow recently published a list of the books Rory Gilmore read on The Gilmore Girls.  As I love Rory Gilmore, and I love a book list, I promptly printed off this list to add to the other 10,000 lists on the side of my fridge.  I noticed several books by Nick Hornby on the list.  I have never read Nick Hornby.  Any recommendations on where I should start? 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

For Ivy Annalise


Here we sit
sorting our lives
like the daily mail,
measuring our progress
by old photographs,
judging our worth
by unseen gain.
Then here you come
waited, wanted, already loved,
beautiful and perfect in your own right,
and more important than any
unseen, unfelt, unwritten belief.
That you are here,
that you are ours,
that you are loved,
forever now,
no matter.


Monday, February 16, 2015

The Woodpecker


The woodpecker brash and brawny
plans his attack on the cat food,
darting up and down and in and out,
snatching at the morsels
like avian ambrosia.
Red-hooded, white-throated, bodkin-beaked,
he flings his chirruping song into the air all around him.
How like him we are,
perpetually darting,
snatching at shards of bliss,
grasping, clutching, grabbing,
as the slivers slip ceaselessly from our hands.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Sun Also Goeth Down


“It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing.”   --from The Sun Also Rises

This week, I had to shelve David Copperfield to read with my daughter.  As this is her last year at home, and one of our favorite things to do is co-read, I decided I would try to keep up with her AP English reading.  It's like having homework.  I don't like someone dictating my reading choices and schedule (that's why I don't join book clubs). The sacrifices we make for our kids!

Don't tell the teacher, but I am behind.  I'm about half-way through what is a re-read of Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises for me, and so far I am yet again underwhelmed by Hemingway. I read an assertion once that readers like either Faulkner or Hemingway but never both.  Well, I LOVE Faulkner, so you see where that puts me with Papa.  I need someone to tell me what is so great about Hemingway.  I'm trying to keep an open mind here.  I'm trying to like his work.   I even went into this reading determined to like this book.  I just don't get it.  Maybe I'm not hip enough.  Maybe it's my small-town naivete, my lack of cosmopolitan flair.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I see no value in it, and I'm not saying it's not good.  It's just not great to me, and I really want someone to explain to me what I am missing.  The dialogue is abrupt, terse, even brusque and disjointed.  He writes like drunk people think...scattered and overestimating their own wit.  Reading Hemingway makes me feel like the only sober person at the party.  Maybe that's the problem.  Maybe I need to be drunk to appreciate it.  I'll try that with the second half of the book and report my findings next week when I wake up.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

David Zhivago and Yuri Copperfield

photo by Anna Reavis

"I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see." John Burroughs

I’m sure some of my blogging friends think I’ve fallen prey to the dragons at the edge of the world, but I promise I have been reading.  I just haven’t been finishing anything.  For some ungodly reason back in December, I thought it would be a good idea to read David Copperfield to myself concurrently with reading Doctor Zhivago aloud with Ken...because the plethora of characters in either of these novels individually wasn’t challenging enough, I guess. 

Shortly into this literary equivalent of scaling two sheer granite facades at the same time, one with one half of my body and the other with the other half, I realized I would have to study character maps and make profuse notes on each novel to maintain some semblance of clarity.  (This was soon after I imagined David Copperfield heading toward Yuriatin to help Lara hide after she shot Mr. Murdstone.)    So, as if the reading of these two door stops wasn’t enough of a time suck, now there were the notes to make.  Then I got the flu.  Then Ken went into atrial fibrillation for a week and ended up in the hospital.  Let me just say that sickness and hospital stays do not, in fact, lend themselves to reading.  I spent a lot of time staring out the window like someone in need of a lobotomy.  Or a strait-jacket. 
And now we are both on the mend so it's time to head back to London to see how Pasha is getting along with Mr Spendlow.  One day I will finish these books and actually write about them.  In the meantime, I’ll just complete novels vicariously by reading book blogs at work.  (That is NOT true, Mark.  I do not read book blogs at work.  I only work prodigiously on insurance matters at work.  Except at lunch.  At lunch I download porn.) 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Will I Read All of Willa?

photo by Anna Reavis
What was any art but a mold in which to imprison for a moment the shining elusive element which is life itself -- life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose. 
Willa Cather

Let me begin by saying I love Willa Cather.  But I'm having a hard time figuring out what to say about Sapphira and the Slave Girl.  Maybe part of the problem is that I dislike so many of the characters.  And while there is some element of redemption in the fate of one of the main characters, Nancy, there seems to be no change of heart or growth of character in the others.  It's really strange to me that the same person who wrote this also wrote My Antonia.  Some of Cather's works seem more simple and entertaining, while some transcend entertainment and become art.  I have also read Death Comes for the Archbishop and O Pioneers!, and while I don't remember loving them as I did My Antonia, I do remember them as more complex and more...literary?  Is that the word I'm looking for?  Sounds so pretentious to pass judgment on the "literary merit" of a work, but I guess that's what I am doing. 

As a rule, I shy away from using the phrase "favorite book," as it would be impossible and I think unjust to choose a favorite, but My Antonia is certainly one of my favorite books, and it was pure serendipity that I read it at all.  I had read Sapphira and the Slave Girl at Wake in some upper level English class (maybe Literature of the South), and I had read O Pioneers and Death Comes for the Archbishop at some point along the way on my own.  Because I had not remembered loving any of the three, I may never have sought out more Cather.  But...when travelling, I usually read some or all of a random book I find in the house or condo I am in.  On a trip to Alaska in 2000, I found an old, slightly battered copy of My Antonia in the house I was in, started reading it, and fell in love.  I have since shared it with my daughter, and it is now also one of her favorite books.  I'm almost afraid to re-read it.  What if it doesn't live up to the hype I've created in my head?

What I would really like to do is find out more about Cather and her life and then read all her works in order of publication to see if I can gain some understanding of the variance in her work.  Maybe that can be a summer reading project.  January will be spent finishing Dr Zhivago and David Copperfield, both of which I am loving, but neither of which is a quick read.

How to Save a Life, One Day at a Time

photo by Amy Brandon   "Little things heal our hurts. Sounds, scents, the spoken word, and music that may mean nothing to someon...