Friday, January 27, 2017

Keeping Our Spirits Up - Suggestions from You

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Last week I listed the books I was using to make up my Happy Pile  - books to Keep My Spirits Up. I invited a few bloggers and others to send me recommendations and the favorites that never fail to uplift and comfort them.

It seems many return to treasured tales from childhood and the ever comic Bill Bryson was on many a list. Helene Hanff's 84 Charing Cross Road and Gladys Taber of Mrs. Daffodil fame each garnered two mentions.

There are several authors and series listed below that I am not familiar with and I am happy to learn of them. Always on the lookout!

Childhood favorite: Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
"They're the only books I re-read and re-read, often when I'm feeling particularly stressed. I once told a co-worker that if he ever saw me toting around the Alice books, he would know I was headed for a meltdown!"
Ruth Galloway mysteries by Elly Griffith
Cork O'Connor mysteries by William Kent Krueger
Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris 
Brother of the More Famous Jack, Temples of Delight, and Juggling by Barbara Trapido
Greengates, Chedworth, The Hopkins Manuscript or anything else (although hard to find) by British playwright and novelist R.C. Sherriff
A Rope - In Case and The Hills Is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith

Childhood favorite:  Anne of Green Gables series
"I've loved Anne since childhood, and the books are true comfort reads."
Fifty Acres and a Poodle by Jeanne Marie Laskas
By Brother Michael, This Rough Magic, and The Moon Spinner by Mary Stewart
Shut Up and Live! by Marion P. Downs "A 93-year-old's guide to living to a ripe old age - offers optimism on aging."
84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
P.G. Wodehouse and cozy mysteries

Stillmeadow series, a collection of magazine columns, and the novel Mrs. Daffodil by Gladys Taber
Home Life books by Alice Thomas Ellis - domestic columns written for The Spectator
Fashion is Spinach by Elizabeth Hawes. Kat writes: "She was a twentieth-century fashion sketcher, reporter, and critic for The New Yorker. Part autobiography, part critique and history of the fashion industry in the 1920s and '30s, this engrossing book sparkles with wit."

Childhood favorite: Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
"I find myself picking up The Long Winter when a blizzard overcomes the Chicago area."
84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Poets Billy Collins and Mary Oliver


The Corfu Trilogy by Gerald Durrell, a memoir of his childhood on the Greek island of Corfu. "It kept me entranced and amused immediately following the Christmas holidays, a true spirit lifter. Some episodes are laugh-out-loud hilarious."

Joyce in KC

Another vote for Gladys Taber. "Her writing is so calming - tragic things might happen but they are just part of life...she shares her life and you just feel like you have enjoyed a visit in person."
Novels by Maeve Binchy, Rosamunde Pilcher, Marcia Willett are a few of her favorite comfort authors 
Cozy mysteries and the deeper mysteries of Louise Penny and Jacqueline Winspear
In the Company of Others by Jan Karon (audio book)
Irish country doctor series by by Patrick Taylor

Thanks for all the suggestions. Hope this helps. My Happy Pile grows and grows. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

In Which I Make a Plan to Keep My Spirits Up

My Happy Pile

This past year I have been disappointed in my reading. I spent way too much time perusing 'stuff' online leaving my once robust reading routine in tatters.

On the upside, I did attend many author events in 2016 - more than I wrote about - and am grateful to my library for inviting so many outstanding writers to speak here. At least I brushed against some fine writing. 

I rarely seek out new books anymore although I do occasionally stumble across one that piques my interest.  I am especially put off by book reviews that use words such as 'sweeping', 'saga', 'multi-generational', 'dark', 'violent', 'tragic', 'downfall', or 'dystopian'. And it seems as if most reviews do. 

Sigh. I do believe I am in a grand reading funk.

Maybe this is what "a certain age" looks like. I long for the comfort of a book I know is well written, entertaining, and if it makes me laugh all the better. 

To combat my despair - not only about my reading but other things as well - I made a plan to read books that will Keep My Spirits Up. (OK, I know it should be Keep Up My Spirits but it sounds better with the preposition at the end.)

So, to make it easy to grab one, I have created My Happy Pile of books that I know will make my spirits soar:

Merry Hall trilogy by Beverley Nichols - One cannot be blue when in the company of Mr. Nichols, his cats, and his house and garden restoration schemes.

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson - A book I bought when it was first published but has languished on the shelf. Mr. Bryson is guaranteed to make me laugh out loud.

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne - What could be more pleasant than spending time in the Hundred Acre Wood.

Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield - I feel my spirits brightening just thinking about this delightful book.

My Life and Hard Times by James Thurber - Things that go bump in the night are sure to bring on a smile or two.

Endangered Pleasures by Barbara Holland - A refreshing defense of naps, bacon, martinis, and other indulgences.

Simple Pleasures - British writers look at 'the little things that make life worth living' - published by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Of course there will be the gentle mystery or comic crime caper at bedtime.

In case my choices leave you cold, I have received responses to my call to bloggers and commenters with suggestions for their own Happy Pile and will be putting them together for you next week. 

Let's all hang tight and Keep Our Spirits Up.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Two More for My Inspiration Bookshelf

I received these two books as gifts over the holidays and I am very happy to add them to my Inspiration Bookshelf.

Urban Watercolor Sketching by Felix Scheinberger

Urban sketching is simply a phrase used to describe drawing on location, indoors or out, whether one is in her hometown or a foreign city, visiting the desert or ocean, or sketching people or pets. It's a way of capturing one's world. Paint what's around you.

There is so much more in this book than just pages of how-to. Oh sure, Mr. Scheinberger, who is an illustrator and designer living in Berlin, offers tips galore but also a bit of philosophy and art history. It is chock full of examples of his own work. It is an entire watercolor course in one place. 

Plus, I love his style: pen and black ink drawings combined with watercolor.

My version of the cover image
 of Urban Watercolor Sketching.


Art Escapes by Dory Kanter

This book can't help but jump start my creative self with demonstrations, page-a-day ideas, and inspirations for artistic journals. Ms. Kanter takes a look at collage, watercolor, doodling, and even combining two paintings with paper weaving. 

Also helpful are her pages on color triads. Who knew color triads had personality? There are the full-spectrum, earth, sun, and water triads. Her explanation of perspective looks valuable. I have difficulty with perspective and shadowing. Must be a math thing. 

She gives careful step-by-step instructions on creating a no-sew, fabric sketchbook portfolio to protect and carry a sketchbook along with the basic supplies one needs for sketchbook, watercolor, and collage tool kits. 

I like her have-fun-and-don't-take-yourself-too-seriously approach. Very encouraging. I am ready to Art On!

Cool effect with paper weaving
from Art Escapes.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Bookstore Quest 2016: Part Two

We had our first snow of winter yesterday and the view from my window was quite white and holiday-greeting-card lovely. As I counted the slowly falling flakes, I realized that in the previous letter concerning my Bookstore Quest I failed to mention the titles of the two used books I purchased at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill.

The used book area was really just a space cut out of the store's event room. A few bookshelves and a display table or two were all that furnished the area but there were enough books to choose from and I quickly put my hands on two I could not live without. You know how that goes.

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The Outermost Dream: Literary Sketches by William Maxwell

This collection by the novelist and long-time fiction editor of The New Yorker is a splendid choice. It contains his thoughts on books of biography, memoir, diary or correspondence by such authors as Colette, Lord Byron, Virginia Woolf, E.B. White, Isak Dinesen and others perhaps not so well known. Mr. Maxwell relished reading true accounts of everyday lives. So do I.

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My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

I have a fondness for books like this. The author's life was profoundly affected upon reading Middlemarch as a young woman and this memoir intertwined with George Eliot's biography looks to be a fascinating read.

Many years ago, I was determined to read Middlemarch. I had an ancient copy checked out from the library. The hardcover book was small, just right for reading in bed, but the print was very tiny and crammed onto the thin pages. It's a wonder I made it through to the end. But I remember feeling such a sense of awe and accomplishment when I turned the final page. And there were many pages to turn.

Perhaps reading Ms. Mead's experience with the book will prompt a re-reading of the classic.

As you might remember, I had these books gift wrapped. I do hope I get around to reading them. I haven't unwrapped them yet...