Monday, July 16, 2012

Books, Beautiful Books: What are Your Favorites?


I love to see little girls walking, dawdling, slowly trailing behind their parents in stores and on the street. These girls with their intense faces glued to the pages of a book have the look of someone in another world. Watching them, magically walking without tripping, I sense these girls are kin. My mother spent her childhood in a tree reading. She’d go up in the morning with a bunch of red apples staying up on a large branch as long as she could.  Books have been a huge part of my life since I was 10.  I’d lay down on my stomach in the long grass of  my backyard, holding my chin up with my palms so I could read my book on the ground. At lunchtime, my mom would bring out peanut butter and homemade strawberry jam sandwich along with a glass coke bottle full of cold, sweet lemonade. Childhood summers were heaven because of books and my backyard. I could read all I wanted.

Even now I always have a book going. They have touched my heart, taken my breath away with their authors’ gorgeous words, or given me adventures I never would have had in my real life. A few even radically changed my thinking way when I thought I knew everything. I have made a short list to share. Since the Patriot Act, libraries no longer keep records of all the books checked out. It’s too bad, because I don’t have perfect recall of each book I held in my hands that I was grateful to have stumbled upon.

I am kind of fussy about books. I’ll give them 25 pages or so to amuse me or intrigue me, then I’m on to another. These all caught my attention right away. Maybe you will find something great to read for yourself and in turn, make list of your own to share. I truly hope so because right now, I’m out of new books; all my holds from the library came and went, so I need inspiration. As soon as I click “publish,” I’m sure that I’ll remember a book I adored and forgot to add.

This past year has been really difficult.  I’ve hardly written at all. I’ve been writing, but in short spurts. I’m painting and working on a children’s book, but I am not feeling very inspired right now. I’m hoping to rely on my writing colleagues to help me out. There are few things I love more than finding a new author. 

Maybe these will seem light weight to some of you, but I’ve read most of the classics and these still are my favs that nurtured me and stay with me still.

Childhood Favorites

Madeline-Ludwig Bemelmans- Children’s book about a smart, sassy, good little girl in Paris. Pure magic.

The Island of the Blue Dolphins - Scott O’Dell- Historical fiction about an Indian girl who lived on a Pacific island by herself for over 20 years.

Little Women - Louisa May Alcott- Jo, the writer as narrator, tries to grow up being true to herself, among her sisters during the Civil War. Jo, more than anything, wants to be a great writer.

Lovely book with Alcott’s transcendental view shining through.

Spirituality and Society

The Kingdom of God is Within You- Leo Tolstoy-Tolstoy gives the best analysis of state, war, and soldiers I’ve ever read. This is the book Gandhi read before he began his work in India. I read it 30 years ago and its powerful stories have stayed with me.

A Path with a Heart - Jack Kornfield-All purpose, keep going back to, book about spirituality and meditation.

Cries of the Spirit-A Celebration of Women’s Spirituality- edited by Marilyn Sewell-Every woman poet from Atwood, Dillard, Giovanni, and St. Vincent Millay write about love, God, children, work, body image, and the Spirit. I used it as a text for a class I taught.

Spiritual Pilgrims-Carl Jung and St. Teresa of Avila- John Welch – A great book for learning more about ourselves and spirituality in mid-life. Another book I go back to time and time again.


The Secret Life of Bees-Sue Monk Kidd –A young Southern teenage girl runs away from her abusive father during the civil rights struggles. A perfect story. I wish I had written it. Kidd’s “Dance of the Dissident Daughter” is awesome as the story of her spiritual growth.

The Life of Pi- Yann Martel-A boy travels across the sea in a small boat with a tiger. Sounds weird, I know, but such a great page turner written by a talented writer with an important message.

Like Water for Chocolate-Laura Esquivel-A magical realism work of fiction about a Mexican family that has a daughter who does all the cooking. Her emotions show up when people eat her food, they cry, they laugh, sometimes even fall in love.

The Prince of Tides-Pat Conroy-This book is worth is just for the descriptions of Southern low country geography. Storytelling at its finest. His other books are great as well. Santini, Conrac, try them all.

God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater –Kurt Vonnegut- One of Kurt’s best. A wealthy young man set up a table where people can come tell him what they need. He’s giving away all the family’s money and they are trying to put him away in the loony bin!  Funny and smart.

King’s Oak-Anne River Siddons-All of her covers look like she writes romance novels. Don’t be deceived because she is an excellent writer who uses every discipline to make her novels interesting, including anthropology. Also she has about 20 novels that all start out like they are telling a light little tale, then wait…

The Good Conscience-Carlos Fuentes-a graduate school favorite. A rich Mexican young man tries to reconcile what he is taught at church and school with his family’s business values. Excellent.

One Hundred Years of Solitude-Gabriel Garcia Marquez-So dreamy, funny, sweet, it’s worth the try. A multi-generational family in Latin America tries to maintain its isolation from other towns.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society-Mary Ann Shaffer-It’s one of those books where you love all the people, hate to finish it so you slow down so it won’t end too soon. So good.

Water for Elephants-Sue Greuhn–A great story, beautifully written, where you are rooting for the orphan Vet student to come out of his experience alive and well and get the girl and the elephant.

Mysteries and Detective Novels-I love mysteries and follow lots of detective writers, but these are the best I’ve found.

Malice-(or anything in the series) Robert Tanenbaum-This is part of a series about a quirky family, super honest Butch Karp, the NY District Attorney, his wife Marlene, the violence-prone defender of domestic violence victims, their cute twin boys, and daughter, the multi-lingual Lucy, with her mystical visions of St. Teresa.  Start with the earliest books in the series so you so it all makes sense.

The Camel Club (or anything in the series)-David Baldacci-The main character is an ex-CIA special ops agent, but now lives in Lafayette Park across from the White House, in a tent. He is worn out physically, burned out emotionally, and yet still tries to save the world, along with his great friends that include  a Secret Service agent, a librarian from the Library of Congress, and many others. All in the Camel Club series are really entertaining and smart.

Newest Favorite from this Summer

God’s Hotel-Victoria Sweet-A doctor working from San Francisco’s Laguna Honda hospital tells the poignant story of alms houses for the poor, European medical history, and her own search for a better way to help sick people. Sweet works part time at the hospital while she pursues a doctorate in medical history using Hildegard of Bingen (a nun from the middle ages who was a healer, herbologist, writer, musician, and abbess of her own monastery) as her point of trajectory to compare the two methods of medicine.

Some Assembly Required: My Son’s First Son-Anne Lamott- Anne’s honest and moving journal about her first grandson’s first year. I loved this one and most of her earlier books like, Operating instructions and Rosie.

Other authors that have read and I love all of their books:

Alice Hoffman

Kristin Hannah

Lorna Landvik

I hope you find a new author and write your own blog about your favorite books!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Rebecca's Earth Day Facts: Pass It On!

Rebecca’s Earth Days Facts:

Pass It On!

Casually, I said to Rebecca, now 7, “Most people are good, I think.”  . She answered with a knowing smile, “Yes, Grandma, except for the rain forest stuff.”   Well, okay...

 Coming home from school on Monday, she was really excited. She went on a field trip with her first grade class to see, “Chimp,” she was in a good mood, but also had learned some hard facts in her class and from the film.  She started quizzing me. I didn’t know any of the answers. She was appalled. I told her most adults don’t know this stuff. I told her I’d pass it on in my blog. So here goes. I hope you know the answers better than I.did.

Pass it on!

1.     How long does a plastic bottle take to break down?

a.     50 years

b.     200 years

c.     450 years

2.     How long does a plastic bag take to break down?

a.     10-20 years

b.     450 years

c.     3 months

3.     Which takes the longest to break down?

a.     Plastic bottle

b.     Milk carton

c.     Glass bottle

4.     Which takes the least amount of time to break down?

a.     Plastic bag

b.     Plastic bottle

c.     Milk carton

Answers: 1. 450 2. 10-20 3. Glass 4. Milk carton

Scary, no?  Pass it on!

Quiz from Scholastic News Earth Day 2012

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Warm Hand to Hold

It was a relief to see the positive journal open call. I needed an opening to begin again. I haven’t written for four months because so much has happened in my life, some of it filled with hurt and disappointment pushing me into a space of anger and fear. Both places I hate, knowing full well the results of giving in to an emotional freefall. Heidibeth has sent a kind open invitation to journal about the positive so I’ve decided to accept. Even the simple sensual elegance of fingertips on the computer keys feels soothing to my soul. I’m hoping that I can convey the small, but important time that made me happy today.
Sunday afternoon, I took my oldest granddaughter, aged 7, to see the movie The Secret of Arrietty, from the Borrowers book series. The film is so delicately illustrated, scenes of the outdoors reminded me of the finest watercolors, light through trees, leaves used for umbrellas, postage stamps for wall art, a straight pin substitutes for a sword. The colors are scrumptious. Delightful, slow paced, with just enough humor. In one scene, a clearly American family sits down to dinner, but whip out their chopsticks to eat. It’s Japanese anime, but not so you would notice. I’m not wild about the big eye thing.
The main character, Arrietty, is a strong, feisty, and compassionate teenage girl. As a grandmother, I found her attributes to be refreshing compared to all the princess role models lately.
The film is very endearing, but not in a sappy way.. During a tense moment in the movie, where the menacing housekeeper is phoning an exterminator to get rid of the little people, my Rebecca leans over, with eyebrows knitted, whispers to me, “She’s a bad bad person.” I told her, “Yep, but I think it will turn out okay.” Rebecca leaned closer to me and put her small warm hand on my arm.