Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Belles-Lettres: Brilliant, Blue-Ribbon Books 2013

Biggest Surprise of the Year -  I Loved This Book! 
So Big by Edna Ferber; published in 1924

Top Three Non-Fiction Books That Were Entire Educations in Themselves: 
At Home by Bill Bryson; How to Live, Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell; The Island of Lost Maps by Miles Harvey

Top Three Fiction Books (not mysteries): 
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster; Equilateral by Ken Kalfus; Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury.

Author Most Read: 
Donald Westlake - Six of his Dortmunder capers

Most Delightful Reread: 
Counting My Chickens... by The Duchess of Devonshire

Brothers I Would Most Like to Meet: 
Reggie and Nigel Heath of The Baker Street Letters, The Brothers of Baker Street, and The Baker Street Translation by Michael Robertson

Best Foreign Location: 
Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen and West With the Night by Beryl Markham

Most Laugh-Out-Loud Dysfunctional Family: 
The Spellman Files and The Curse of the Spellmans by Lisa Lutz

Dreamiest Tale: 
The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys

Best Road Trip: 
The Lost Continent - Travels in Small-Town America by Bill Bryson

Mystery Writer I Am So Glad I Found: 
Peter Lovesey - The Last Detective, Diamond Solitaire, The Summons, and Bloodhounds. 

As If I Needed More Reasons Not To Go On A Cruise: 
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace.

Proof That The South Shall Rise Again: 
Mama Makes Up Her Mind by Bailey White.

Authors I Have Met and Their Books I Read This Year: 
Duffy Brown (Killer in Crinolines), William Zinsser (The Writer Who Stayed), and George S. McGovern (Abraham Lincoln)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Orchids and Angels and Creatures of the Wood

A spray of orchids. 
I took this photo in the Orchid Conservatory,
 Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden
 Charlotte, NC.

I finished out 2013 reading the December entry in Jean Hersey's The Shape of a Year. I have posted some tidbit each month from her book that is an account of a year spent on her Connecticut farm. She has proved to be a pleasant companion.

Ms. Hersey is quite busy in December. She adds to her hothouse orchid collection benefiting from the bounty of another grower who is moving to Florida and giving away his plants. She spends time with cans of spray paint gilding Christmas angels made from copies of Reader's Digest and flowers made of artichokes for her front door wreath. 

She offers two recipes - one for herb butter and another for chapattis, a flat bread made by the Hunza people of Pakistan. She takes in the warmth and fragrance of a neighbor's cow barn when she arrives to pick up a load of hay to spread on her roses for the winter.

She reflects on holidays past and is excited at the arrival this Christmas Eve of her daughter and grandchildren. She marvels at the winter stars and snows and sunsets. And, of course, she writes of the wild creatures in the woods, the gardens, and fields.

I began wondering about the animals, the shrew, the fox and the deer and all the others outside there going their quiet ways this Christmas Eve, following their own particular stars.

What did Christmas mean to all these creatures of the wilderness, and the others -- rabbits, woodchucks, and our birds that visit the feeders and even the cricket in the kitchen? Their world must feel the Christmas season, if differently. Surely some instinct tells them that the shortest day has come and gone this week, that little by little the sun will rise higher in the heavens now. Each day will be longer though imperceptibly at first.

Ah, yes. Let there be light!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Chats with Southern Writers

Eudora Welty at her desk
Photo by
Jill Krementz

I have been on a bit of a tear lately watching archived programs from C-SPAN's Booknotes and Q and A. Really, I can sense my IQ increasing just listening to non-fiction authors talk about presidents, history, books, philosophers, and other writers. 

I recently re-watched a 1997 Booknotes interview with Jill Krementz, a woman who has spent decades photographing writers. She was on the program to talk about her book The Writer's Desk (1996), a collection of photographs of authors seated or standing where they do their best work. I own this book and pick it up every now and then to reacquaint myself with the faces of such notables as P.G. Wodehouse dressed in suit and tie typing away in his study; Joyce Carol Oates at her electric typewriter that is perched in front of a large window; or William F. Buckley, Jr. on the phone in the back of the limousine he had specially built to accommodate his long legs and which he very often uses as his office. 

It is one of my favorite books and I wrote about it last year here.

I was curious to see if Ms. Krementz had other books that included photos of writers, and sure enough my library had one titled Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers (1994). The interviews were conducted between 1975 and 1994 by Dannye Romine Powell, a poet and former columnist and book editor for the Charlotte Observer.

So here we have thoughts on the creative process from Angelou to Welty with Conroy, Foote, Haley, Percy and Price in between. A total of twenty-three writers living and writing below the Mason-Dixon line accompanied by black-and-white photos taken by Ms. Krementz.

Both books feature on their cover the now-famous photo of Eudora Welty at her desk in her bedroom in Jackson, Mississippi. 

I have already skimmed through this volume to look at the photos and am anxious to read what the writers have to say for themselves and their craft. A fortunate find indeed! 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Gift Just for Me

Bloomsbury Bookbag
by Levenger

I do love to treat myself. This year I splurged and bought the above pictured Bloomsbury Bookbag from Levenger. It was on sale before Christmas (and still is for $49) and comes stocked with a selection of bookish items. Mine contained a full-size notepad, a book bungee, bookmark sticky flags, two small magnifying cards, a selection of index cards, and a telescoping pen.

It is quite the stylish tote! This bag is made of blue (not quite as dark as in this photo) cotton canvas with leather trim and handles. The inside is lined and roomy and has a zippered pocket. There are six outside pockets just made for stuffing. The bottom is flat so it sits well - an important consideration.

Also pictured are three books on my list to read in 2014 beginning with The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin and One Summer by Bill Bryson. The book that is still gift wrapped is an autographed copy of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt that I bought in Savannah on my recent Grand Southern Literary Tour 2013.

Of course, this bag will hold much more than books, but I can't think of anything else I would rather carry around with me. 

What gift did you treat yourself to this year?

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith

Even a traditionally built woman such as Mma Precious Ramotswe can jump...to conclusions, that is. As Botswana's clever detective discovers, even after the most careful investigation, sometimes what seems to be the truth isn't always. 

In the latest book about the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, the detectives are baffled by a case of the anonymous character assassination of the owner of the Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon (that gives the novel its title). Then there is the client who hires Mma Ramatswe to verify the identity of a young man who has inherited a farm from his uncle. Could the nephew be an impostor or does the client stand to gain in some way by proving that he is?

There are a few new characters introduced and, of course, there are the regulars that make this series such a delight: the prickly associate detective Mma Makutsi; her gentle husband Phuti Radiphuti; and Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni, husband of Mma Ramostswe, who owns the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors and is concerned that he is not a 'modern husband'. 

Over the course of the investigation of these newest cases, there is a deepening of the friendship and respect between Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi as each woman learns a lesson or two from the other. Quite a reminder of how valuable some friendships can be.

I love settling in with these citizens of Botswana. Mr. McCall Smith writes with such tenderness for his characters. And, somehow, he can make even an episode of Mma Ramotswe getting stuck in the mud in her little white van amusing and enchanting at the same time.  

As always, during the investigations there are many cups of tea, slices of cake filled with sultanas, talk of cattle, musings on life and human nature, and bumpy rides in the little white van that Mma R. feels such an affection for. I am always happy to be along with her for the ride.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

By the Numbers: 2013

Books Read 2013: 101 
(2012: 112)

Fiction: 16
(2012: 23) 

Mysteries: 46
(2012: 42)

Non-fiction: 38
(2012: 47)

Poetry: 1
(2012: 0)

Rereads: 2
(2012: 12)

E-Books Read: 38
(2012: 26)

Books Read From My Own Shelves: 32
(2012: 49)

Books by Female Authors: 53
(2012: 50)

Books by Male Authors: 48
(2012: 52)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Steadfast Companion - Christmas 2013

That Christmas Thing

I've spent sober Christmases
and ones so drunk I danced with the tree.
I've spent joyous Christmases
and ones so sad I sobbed by the tree.

I've spent extravagant Christmases
and ones so poor I didn't even have a tree.
I've spent family-and-friend Christmases
and ones so alone I named the tree.

I've spent warm California by-the-pool Christmases
and ones so cold I plucked icicles from the tree.
I've spent hale and hearty Christmases
and ones so sick I threw up under the tree.

I've spent loud, rambunctious Christmases 
and ones so quiet I listened to the tree.
And, this Christmas, in her honor and with love,
I promise to plant a tree.

December 1993

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Out into the moonlight...

I used to have a copy of the The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. It is the story of the worst kids in town who take over the lead parts in the church Christmas play. I wanted to read it this morning and that is how I came to realize that the operative phrase is 'used to have'. 

Sadly, it is nowhere to be found. 

That is too bad, because I remember it as being lively and laugh-out-loud funny.

So I turned to A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas which is inscribed to me - in my mother's hand - from both my parents: Christmas 1987. This is a wee book with woodcuts by Ellen Raskin. It is the irresistible account of the poet's own
childhood Christmas in a small Welsh town. A story of Useful Presents - mufflers and mittens - and Useless Presents - colored jelly babies and a false nose. A a memory of mistletoe and snow, uncles and aunts, church bells and music, firesides and tall tales. 

Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steadily falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.

And to all a goodnight!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Checking My List


I see that near the end of 2012, my first year of Belle, Book, and Candle, I set a goal for myself to read short stories, plays, and one of The Russians this year.

I have missed that exalted objective by a mile! OK, maybe three miles. I did read a few compilations of mystery short stories, but not one play nor one Russian author.

So be it. 

To my credit, over the past year I have read books by many new (to me) authors and have been delighted with some of those finds. I remember, also, that I tried new books by some favorite authors and was sorely disappointed and didn't finish reading a few of them. 

I think next year I will keep a list of Books Begun But Abandoned.

I am reviewing the books read in 2013 and soon will come up with my favorites for the year. (I am most likely the last person to do so!) What shall I call them? Belle's Best? Belle's Beloveds? Belle's Blue-Ribbon Books? 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

On This Day...

I have been entertaining myself this morning by thumbing through an assortment of diaries looking to see if anything exciting happened on this day in the lives of anyone. One book entitled English Diaries (1930) and edited by Elizabeth D'Oyley contains the musings of such worthies as Samuel Pepys, John Evelyn, Fanny Burney, Dorothy Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott, and arctic explorer Captain Robert Scott.

I couldn't find any entries for December 22 by any of the diarists in that collection, so I turned to The Assassin's Cloak (2000) edited by Irene and Alan Taylor. This is a wonderful compendium of diary entries by a wild variety of folks and is both entertaining and thought provoking.

Here is one of the five entries included for today written down by J.R. Ackerley, a British writer and editor. Mr. Ackerley (1896-1967) was the literary editor of The Listener, the BBC's weekly magazine. I must say I have to agree with his sentiments... 

December 22, 1952

The Movietone News this week had a Christmas feature. A large number of flustered turkeys were driven towards the camera, and the commentator remarked that the Christmas rush was on, or words to that effect. Next they were seen crowded about their feeding trough, making the gobbling turkey fuss, and the commentator observed, with dry humour (again I do not remember his exact words), that it was no use their holding a protest meeting, for they were for it in the morning. Similar facetious jokes followed them wherever they went, hurrying and trampling about in their silly way; for to make them look as silly as possible was no doubt part of the joke and easy to achieve: turkeys, like hens, like all animals, are beautiful in themselves, and have even a kind of dignity when they are leading their own lives, but the fowls, in particular, look foolish when they are being frightened.

These jolly, lip-licking sallies, delivered in the rich, cultivated self-confident voice of one who has no sort of doubt of his own superiority to the animal kingdom, raised no laugh from the considerable audience, I was pleased to note. I took it from the silence that many other people besides myself would have been glad to be spared jeers and jibes at these creatures who, parting unwillingly with their lives, were to afford us pleasure at our Christmas tables. 

...How arrogant people are in their behaviour to the domestic beasts at least. Indeed, yes, we feed upon them, and enjoy their flesh; but does that permit us to make fun of them before they die or after they are dead? If it were possible, without disordering one's whole life, to be a vegetarian, I would be one; nothing could have been more disgusting and degrading than the insensitiveness displayed by the exhibition I have described.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Seasons Come to Cross Creek

Cross Creek, the Florida home of 
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is quite an observer of the natural world. In her book, Cross Creek, she has a splendid tale or two to tell about the challenges and delights that each season brings. Ms. Rawlings lived on this 72-acre citrus farm in the 1930s.

She introduces the four chapters on seasons at the Creek with this: "Here in Florida the seasons move in and out like nuns in soft clothing, making no rustle in their passing."

Spring is a time of new life in the gardens and mating among the wildlife and farm animals. Calves and piglets and domesticated ducklings are born. Night-blooming jasmine perfumes the air. Birds - egrets, blue jays, and red birds - gather at the feed basket. The snakes come out to play after their winter naps.

Summer is full of days of lethargy and nights spent sleeping on the screened in porch to escape the heat. The rains come in mid-August. Some evenings the 'night spirits' come out and fog hangs eerily over the orange groves and the marshes.

In the fall, she and her neighbors wait for rain and then it comes in the form of hurricanes. Crops of beans, carrots, beets, and turnips are planted. The sugar cane is scythed and bundled into sheaves, ground, and boiled into syrup.

Winter is the start of hunting season. She and neighbors eat fresh squirrel stew for breakfast. Quail are flushed and killed. Deer are stalked, but Ms. Rawlings deliberately refuses to take aim at these noble creatures. One year, a light snow fell. If the temperature falls below 28 degrees, fires are lit in the orange groves to protect the fruit from freezing. An exhausting task and one that is not always successful. Mistletoe is gathered from the tree tops.

Here is how she describes Christmas at Cross Creek:

Most Christmas days at the Creek have been warm enough to serve Christmas dinner on the veranda. I feel a little cheated on such occasions, for although half the world is warm at Christmas, it is difficult not to think of snow and cold and reindeer and coziness in connection with the day. I have a roaring fire on the hearth no matter what the temperature, and growl a bit at the bright sunshine and the hibiscus blossoms. The holly and the mistletoe that are inseparable from the northern celebration grow in abundance at the Creek, and the poorest families gather a few sprays to hang over the mantel. The mistletoe is a parasite (which the Spanish moss is not) and sucks the substance from my pecan trees. It must be cut out once a year in any case and I have no qualms at breaking immense boughs at Christmas time for furbishing my house and for taking to town friends. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

What's the Worst That Could Happen? by Donald Westlake

This is the I Ching symbol that starts
the trouble for John Dortmunder.

What's the Worst That Could Happen? When John Dortmunder and his crew are involved, plenty. In the ninth caper starring the hapless professional thief Dortmunder, the tables are turned and the burglar gets robbed.

Here's the set up:

Trans-Global Universal Industries - TUI - is owned by wealthy, arrogant, I Ching-consulting Max Fairbanks. Max Fairbanks's Long Island home (one of his many residences) is burgled by John Dortmunder. Only Max catches John in the act. The police are called. Max accuses John of stealing his ring - a cheap thing that Dortmunder wears for good luck - and the police strip the ring from Dortmunder's hand and give it to Max, the not-rightful owner. The ring's signet, if you will, is the I Ching symbol of twee, the Joyous. It is TUI's logo and is what Fairbanks based his whole corporation on. So naturally, Max thinks he has a right to possess the ring.

The police shuffle Dortmunder off to jail, but he escapes. His mission in life now becomes Get the Ring Back. It's the principle of the thing, you know? 

He sets out tracking Max and the ring - a journey that takes him and his good friend Andy Kelp to Fairbanks's penthouse apartments in Manhattan and in the Watergate complex in Washington D.C. and eventually to Las Vegas. John is not a big fan of travel which makes his forays out of New York City all the more amusing. And as is the way in the life of The Dortmunder, the worst that could happen usually does and is always hilarious.

The following telling characterization of Earl Radner, chief of security for TUI mega-corporation, is why I love Donald Westlake: 

Anyway, Earl was not a man noted for much sense of humor. A compact, hard-muscled ex-marine probably in his fifties, he had a pouter pigeon's chest and walk -- or strut -- a sand-colored nailbrush mustache, and stiff orangey hair cropped so close to his tan scalp he looked like a drought. His clothing was usually tan and always clean, creased, starched, and worn like a layer of aluminum siding. If he had a home life nobody knew it, and if he had a sorrow in his existence it was probably that this job didn't come with a license to kill.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Two for the New Year

Ray Stannard Baker
AKA David Grayson

I am on the verge of finishing three books-in-progress before the year's end: Cross Creek by Majorie Kinnan Rawlings; What's the Worst That Could Happen? (ninth in the Dortmunder series) by Donald Westlake; and The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith, the latest in his No. One Ladies' Detective Agency series. 

I am hoping to start with a clean slate as I just bought The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin and One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson. 

I recently watched an interview with Ms. Goodwin from 
C-SPAN's Q & A program archives which introduced me to her
latest book. (You can watch it here.What caught my attention was the fact that one of the journalists featured in the book is Ray Stannard Baker who wrote for McClure's magazine, the muckraking monthly, along with Ida Tarbell and Lincoln Steffens at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Ray Stannard Baker (1870-1946) is better known to me as David Grayson, the name he used when he wrote a series of books that have found their way onto my bookshelves through discovery at used book stores. These include Adventures in Solitude (1932), Adventures in Friendship (1910), and Adventures in Contentment (1907). I wrote about Mr. Baker/Grayson and these books here.

The Bully Pulpit is a huge, 900-plus page book and Mr. Bryson's One Summer runs over 500 pages. I am making quite a commitment here with these two books and one I hope I can keep. If I read just four pages a day, I will be finished with both by the end of 2014.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Treasures from My Mother's Kitchen

It is unfortunate that I don't listen to books on CD. Over the past five days I spent about 20 hours in the car driving to and from and around North Carolina for my dear Aunt Polly's funeral and to visit with family. 

That is a lot of hours spent alone on the road, but someone reading to me puts me to sleep which is not a good condition to be in while barreling down the road at 70 miles an hour. It may be January before I can unclench my jaw!

While staying with my brother in Charlotte, I did get a chance to take a look at his bookshelves. I deemed them pitiful. This just means that there wasn't a book on them that I felt compelled to pull down and look at. And the books were shelved helter-skelter. I longed to tidy them up a bit but kept my hands and my opinions to myself. 

I did come away from this visit with a couple of treasures, though. Somehow, dear Brother ended up with two of our mother's cookbooks and one of our grandmother's. He decided it was time for them to be in my possession, so I brought home The American Woman's Cookbook (1940), The Joy of Cooking (1946) and the deluxe, eighteenth printing of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (1948).

The two that were Mom's are stuffed with handwritten recipes as well as now yellowed ones from newspapers and magazines. In my very brief look at some of these I also spotted assorted recipe pamphlets - one from Sealtest Dairy which is no longer in business and another tract claiming "250 Ways to Cook Meat."

It amused my brother and me that we didn't recognize any of the dishes as having ever made it to our dinner table. Mom was a better collector of recipes than cooker of recipes. 

It wasn't that she was a bad cook, more like a disinterested cook. She had other activities in her life that held her passion. This was a woman with a college degree in Home Economics although that field of study encompassed more than just whipping up cakes and casseroles. Even if she wasn't a gourmet cook, the family dinners were always quite nutritionally balanced.

I fear I may have inherited the disinterested gene, although I do seem to be on a roll with recipes from another era, most recently The Historic Kentucky Kitchen (which I wrote about here).

My grandmother's cookbook seems to be a repository not only for random recipes but also personal correspondence. There was even a blank check drawn on a local bank tucked in between its pages. 

It will be fun to sort through these cookbooks and see what is to be found. I am sure there are surprises in store. Perhaps the bounty of one or two of the recipes will eventually wind up on my dinner table. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Farewell, Aunt Polly

A sad day at Belle, Book, and Candle. My sweet 99-year-old Aunt Polly died yesterday. She was a great reader and, in fact, was the person who long ago introduced me to the idea of keeping a list of the books I read.

She was a true Southern Belle. She raised the most fragrant roses and credited her success to the use of banana peels as fertilizer.  She worked fine needlepoint and I am honored to have a few of the pieces she stitched. 

I will miss her.

She was my father's sister and is the last of my parents' siblings.

I will be taking a few days off to be with family and will be back soon.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Numbered Account by Ann Bridge

I just finished reading The Numbered Account, another adventure with the intrepid Julia Probyn. In this, the third in the series, author Ann Bridge has Julia in Switzerland on the trail of an impostor heiress and the two nefarious men who have employed her to steal not only money from 'the numbered account' left by the heiress's grandfather, but also the blueprints for some sort of oil pipeline that the British Secret Service would like to keep out of the wrong hands.

As usual, Julia knows just what to do and say so that (almost) all works out in the end. In this tale, she meets, works with, and falls a little in love with a British Intelligence agent with the unlikely last name of Antrobus. (Every time I came across his name I thought it was referring to a Swiss transportation company.) Anyway, he and Julia share a kiss or two, drink many glasses of chilled Cinzano, and save the day. The romance, though, is short-lived, but perhaps they will meet again in one of the remaining five books.

I must say Julia comes across as a bit of a snob in this story. She ends up befriending the young impostor heiress who is not of Julia's 'upper class' and boy, does she have some nasty barbs about the young girl's lifestyle and background. 

Other than that, Ms. Bridge has a wonderful time delighting the reader with all sorts of information about the native wildflowers and birds of Switzerland, descriptions of the various Alpine lakes and peaks, and a glimpse into the lifestyles of the Swiss citizens. 

The next adventure takes Julia to the islands off the coast of Scotland. My bags are packed.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Oh, Joy! Another Book by Beverley Nichols

The colorful dust jacket from The Gift of a Garden
Don't worry - I didn't splay the book open; this is the jacket only.

I adore Beverley Nichols, the British author who writes so humorously about gardens, flowers, homes, cats, villages and the eccentric characters he meets. 

The trilogy about his efforts to restore Merry Hall, his Georgian home and its gardens that he owned in post-war England, are just about my favorite books. I own all three (Merry Hall, Laughter on the Stairs, and Sunlight on the Lawn) and often pick up one volume just to read a paragraph or two. Any page will do with Mr. Nichols as his writing is so delightful. I have written about him many times here at Belle, Book, and Candle.

I don't often come across his books, but yesterday I discovered yet another of his delights. The Gift of a Garden or Some Flowers Remembered was on the sale table at the library. I eagerly snatched it up and paid the overwhelming price of one dollar for it!

This is actually a condensation by Mr. Nichols of three of his gardening books starting with Down the Garden Path (which I have read in its entirety and wrote about here and here), moving on to A Thatched Roof, and ending with A Village in a Valley. All tales of his first garden in 1930s England and its cottage. With Mr. Nichols the garden always comes first.

This volume was published in 1972 and has a lengthy forward by the author written Forty Years On. It still has its colorful dust jacket which is amazing as in its previous life - before I got hold of it - it was a book from the collection of the public library in a small town about 30 miles from here. It is a farming community so maybe the inhabitants weren't too interested in reading about growing flowers in Great Britain. All the better for me!

I shall enjoy tripping about the garden again with one of my favorite authors. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

BOOKS: Five tasks to prepare you for the New Reading Year

There are all sorts of articles written this time of year listing Things To Do to prepare for the year's end, such as gathering tax receipts and information, clearing out old files, and sorting through your closets and cupboards to bag up and make deductible donations.

I have some thoughts on what we bookish folks can think about and accomplish to start off the New Year with a clean shelf, so to speak. It's as easy as BOOKS:

Be ruthless. Sort through your shelves and book piles (I know you have them) and box up those that you know you won't read again - or even read for the first time. Duplicates? I have a tendency to replace paperback editions with hardcover editions and yet never seem to be able to let go of the softcover books. Donate the ones you no longer want to the Goodwill, your library, or a favorite charitable book sale. Perhaps you will even find a borrowed book that needs to be returned to its proper owner. 

Organize and clean what is left. Dust those dust jackets. Swipe those shelves with a clean cloth. Eliminate those little piles of book lint in the bookshelf corners. Take a minute to put all your books together by one author or that cover one subject. Perhaps those five books of Mary Oliver's poetry would be happy perched on a windowsill or bedside table. Get those books off the floor and into a proper home. Perhaps a new bookshelf is in your future to keep your collection corralled.

Open the journal or notebook or computer file that holds your To Be Read List. Take a look. Are there books that you have now lost interest in reading? Are there ones that have been on your list for a decade? Clean up this list by eliminating ones that are no longer relevant and starring the books you absolutely want to read in 2014. Of the Top One Hundred Books for the year listed on Amazon, I have not read a one. But there are two that interest me and are the first ones on my TBR list for 2014: One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson and The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin. 

Kickstart a reading schedule. Develop the habit of reading at certain times of the day. I try and read for an hour first thing in the morning before the computer and chores and errands start to eat up my time. I usually take a tea break about four o'clock and read for a bit then as well. I also read for 30 minutes or so every evening before bed. Other than than, it is catch as catch can.

Survey your list of books read in 2013. Get a sense of where you spent your reading time. Were your choices intentional or did you succumb to the shiniest reviews? Did you read all fiction or did you learn something from books on history or biography or nature? Are you reading only best sellers or have you dipped into the vast canon of works from the past? I don't pay much attention to the latest and greatest lists and have a tendency to read mostly mystery and non-fiction books. Perhaps I could use a little more balance in my reading choices. 

Here's hoping these simple tasks will inspire you to have a Great Reading Year!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Bonus Brought By Mother Nature

Right on the heels of my four-day retreat comes another respite. This one planned by Mother Nature. Ice, snow, more ice and then more snow. Perhaps three to four inches, but enough to keep me indoors by the fire as a safeguard against frigid temperatures.

So since Friday, I have been relishing another day or two of solitude and quiet - a bonus retreat, as it were.

I am still reading the wonderful At Home by Bill Bryson. This book is an entire education in itself. I have learned about architecture, gardening, inventions, and explorations. I don't know how he does it, but he has included everything from mousetraps, bricks, follies and ha-has, to the plague and the conspicuous consumption of America's robber barons and England's aristocracy.

Am in the middle of Cross Creek by Majorie Kinnan Rawlings. One chapter, "Our Daily Bread", is all about the central Florida flora and fauna that she and her neighbors enjoyed eating. We are talking alligators, turtles and turtle eggs, rattlesnakes, and a fruit called the Scuppernong grape. All this, of course, along with cornpone, white bacon, pokeweed, and collard greens. Definitely an acquired taste!

I will stick with tea and pumpkin bread.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey

One of the things I have learned about myself is that I work best, live best, if I follow a routine. Odd as it sounds, having a daily schedule offers me freedom. I don't have to think so much. My mind can wander a bit - while fixing the coffee, brushing my teeth, opening the blinds to let the morning light come in - because I don't have to try and figure out what I am going to do next. 

That's why the new book by Mason Currey with the extremely long title Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work: How Artists Work looks to be a fascinating glimpse in how creative folks that we know and love Get Things Done.

From the reviews I have read (here) and (here), the successful authors/artists/composers/film makers favor early rising, long walks, and setting a work schedule and sticking to it. 

Of course there are the quirky rituals - Benjamin Franklin liked to sit about naked for a while in the mornings and Patricia Highsmith ate bacon and eggs for every meal to avoid the 'What's for dinner?' conundrum. Who doesn't enjoy reading about the eccentricities of the rich and famous.

It might be amusing to try out a few of these routines and see what happens. I am definitely adding this book to my wish list.