Friday, November 30, 2018

The Colors of All the Cattle by Alexander McCall Smith

Image result for all the colors of cattle

I have written many times about my love of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books and that meeting author Alexander McCall Smith (here) is one of the highlights of my literary life.

In this latest installment, The Colors of All the Cattle, there are plenty of cups of red bush tea, generous slices of Mma Potokwane's cake, and the lenses of Mma Makutsi's glasses still flash a danger signal when she is upset. And, finally, Charlie, mechanic apprentice and detective in training, gets a serious girlfriend. He is also instrumental in solving the case of the hit-and-run motorist.

But it was the main thrust of the story that resonated with me. As it happens, Mma Ramotswe is reluctantly running for a seat on Gaborone's City Council. This is at the urging of Mma Potokwane, matron of the Orphan Farm - as insistent as only she can be. Her reasons for encouraging Mma Ramotswe in this endeavor are two-fold: one, that arch nemesis of Mma Makutsi and pretty much every one associated with the detective agency, Violet Sephotho, is running for the same seat and who knows what havoc she would wreak as a council member.

The other reason Mma P. is so adamant that her friend should run is her strong opposition to a developer's proposed building of a garish Big Fun Hotel next to a town cemetery. In a country that holds great reverence for its late family and friends, this will never do.

We are facing a similar issue here in Louisville. A developer wants to build a 33-story condo/apartment/retail center right at the entrance to one of our fine Frederick Law Olmsted parks. It would loom over our historic Cave Hill Cemetery.

Believe me, people - and I include myself - are quite upset about this and although there have been many meetings with the developer he seems unwilling to amend his plans.

The property is actually quite small. A mere triangle of land. To me, the design looks like someone attempting to stuff ten pounds of potatoes (although that is not the word I usually use) into a five pound bag. You get the picture.

To give you an idea of the scale of this monstrosity, the tallest building in Louisville, a downtown tower, is 35 stories. It fits in with other commercial buildings in the city center. Thirty-three stories in a residential area is outrageous. Not to mention that my family and I own 'property' in Cave Hill Cemetery and we would all be resting in the shadow of such a monolith for eternity.

The plans have not been approved by the planning commission and city council as yet, but this same developer recently got approval to tear down a three-story apartment building in a nearby residential area and is planning to build a 15-story condominium in its place. That was opposed by the neighborhood association (it took the developer to court and lost) and many residents of the area. 

But, back to Mma Ramotswe and her friends. Over tea, they spend time musing about greedy property developers, the difference between good progress and bad progress, the honesty or dishonesty of politicians, and the importance of voting in civic elections.

I won't tell you how things turn out for Mma Ramotswe and Gaborone and the late residents of the cemetery as that would spoil your enjoyment of this book. 

But, even if your city or town is not being overrun by concrete and glass high-rise buildings, I think you will be entertained by this tale. It is a charmer.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Away to the Abbey

Image result for abbey of gethsemani gift shop
Abbey of Gethsemani

It is time for my annual Thanksgiving week retreat to the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky. I have been spending the holiday week with the monks for the past few years, and I have been on retreats to Gethesmani many times over the past 30 years or so. 

Last year, because the Abbey's guest house was closed for refurbishing, I retreated to Saint Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana. Although I spent a pleasant few days there, there is nothing quite like the silence and contemplative atmosphere of Gethsemani.

I'll have a private room with bath, a bed, a desk, a comfortable chair, and days of unstructured time.

I am so ready.

Of course, my biggest decision is what books to take. I usually pack more than I could ever read in a few days, but I never know what I might be in the mood for. The guesthouse has a wonderful library and I usually end up plucking a book or two off its shelves to explore as well.

After much consideration, I'll take only two books with me.

I just purchased a copy of The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll.  I have toyed with my own version of this popular way of tracking time and tasks, and although it might sound an odd choice to take on retreat, I want to give the author's ideas and suggestions uninterrupted attention.

This is the opening line:

The Bullet Journal method's mission is to help us become mindful about how we spend our two most valuable resources in life: our time and our energy.

Seems like a good choice for contemplating the upcoming year.

The other book is one I have had for a while but have not had the opportunity to fully examine: A Book That Takes Its Time - An Unhurried Adventure in Creative Mindfulness by the editors of FLOW magazine. It is filled with essays on slowing down, living with intention, and all sorts of creative paper goodies - postcards, stickers, collage elements, and fill-in lists. I love lists! It is a beautiful book and I can't wait to dive in. Slowly, of course.

I'll also take a few basic art supplies, my journal, and an open spirit. There are always surprising adventures to be enjoyed in this place that feels almost as familiar as home - but without chores and errands and the constant interruptions of technology.

If you are in America and celebrating this week, enjoy your Thanksgiving however you choose to spend it. 

Image result for a book that takes its timeThe Bullet Journal Method : Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future

Friday, November 2, 2018

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

I am here to offer you firsthand proof that the library is filled with magical happenings.

On Monday night I attended an author event at the Louisville Free Public Library. I was there to hear Susan Orlean talk about her latest non-fiction offering, The Library Book. She gave a splendid presentation, reading a few selections from the book, answering questions from the audience, and generally just charming us all with her relaxed conversation and humor.

The Library Book begins with the fire of the Los Angeles Library in 1986. A fire intentionally set that destroyed 400,000 books and damaged another 700,000. (I know. I shudder to think of the loss.) It is the largest library fire in U.S. history. The downtown building, erected in the 1926, was closed for seven years while renovation and reconstruction took place. 

This event prompted Ms. Orlean, many years later, to write this book. She is a big fan of libraries and in the book recalls her many trips as a child with her mother to their local library in Akron, Ohio. She loved that she was given free rein to roam the library, and as she said, "leave with books I hadn't paid for."

She also writes about the history of libraries in general and the day-to-day life of the institutions.

During the Q&A she spoke of her need for a private work space and of her writing process. She sorts her handwritten research notes onto 5"x 8" index cards (for this book she had 700 of them), and once she begins, aims to write 1000 words a day, revising and editing as she goes along.

After her talk, I made my way to the lobby to purchase this book and have her autograph it. I definitely felt a connection. After all, my mother was head librarian of a large branch library here in Louisville for many years; I had visited the Los Angeles Public Library (not many years before the fire) and remember the murals in its rotunda depicting the history of California; and my first job was as a page at our small neighborhood library earning 50 cents an hour. 

I had to have this book.

I stood in line, money in hand and ready to buy. But, when I got to the head of the line I was told that all the books were gone. 

Oh, dear.

I turned and looked at the folks standing in the autograph line and saw a gentleman holding a stack of seven or eight books in his arms. In my most charming manner, I approached him and said with a smile, "They are out of books. Would you consider arm wrestling me for one of yours?"

Well, dear Reader, the man did not even hesitate, but immediately handed me a book and said, "Merry Christmas!"

I was stunned. I protested that I would willingly pay him for it, but he declined asking me to make a donation to The Library Foundation instead.  I gladly made a gift in memory of my mother. 

I was last in line to have Ms. Orlean sign my newly acquired copy. We chatted a bit about libraries, my mother, books, and the generosity of the man in line.

So there you have it. Magical happenings in the library. Not only do I have The Library Book full of stories about libraries, but I also have my own story of how I came to own The Library Book

Author Susan Orlean
The Library Book

(My apologies for the terrible photo. 
The lighting in the auditorium was awful 
and my camera never fails to blur at inopportune moments.)