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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Speaking of books . . .

. . .  there is one I forgot to mention in my recent bookish post.

 I recently received a nice little congratulatory message from WordPress acknowledging the 10th anniversary of Lifeonthecutoff.

How did 10 years go by so quickly?

From my first tentative, picture less  maiden voyage, to the arrival grandchildren, illness and losses, woodland walks, flower arranging, poetry, prose and my many, er, “falls from grace”, you have been a treasured and appreciated part of this journey. Whether you were there on my first post, or just started following me today, thank you, one and all, for wandering along this road called life with me.

The one book I forgot, and pictured above, was my Christmas gift last year from Katy, Tom,  Kezzie and Ezra. I was as touched as I was thrilled when I received it and enjoy going back in time in my first published book.

Life is grand!

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I closed the cover of Delia Owens’ enthralling novel, “Where the Crawdads Sing” with a few tears in my eyes and the sadness one sometimes feels at the end of a story well written – and an ending one did not expect. As I put this book down, I realized that it has been a long while since I last posted any book recommendations or reviews. Actually, it has been some time since I posted anything, for which I apologize. I hope to return to posting more often.

“Where the Crawdads Sing” came to me from my dear friend Elaine, who rushed up to me, book in hand, and said “you have to read this“. She was correct, I did. Once opened, it was a book I could not put down. How Kya survives abuse, abandonment, loneliness, poverty and being ostracized from the community while creating a family of sorts with wildlife and waterfowl is amazing. It lives up to all the hype and worth a read. Our book group will be discussing it at a future date – a discussion I look forward to.

These two books (below) were audio, from local libraries, “read” while I was out and about in my old car that had 6 slots for DVD’s – one of the few things I will miss from that now ancient vehicle. You know, the one with the latte body and mocha interior. (or was it mocha with latte interior?).

“The Library at the Edge of the World” was a delight to listen to about returning home, belonging, family conflict and, of course, books! “Becoming Mrs. Lewis” was equally delightful. It is historical fiction about Joy Davidman’s life, friendship and love of C.S. Lewis.

 

 

“A Fatal Twist of Lemon” by Patrice Greenwood is the first of several books in a murder mysteries series, the Wisteria Tearoom Mysteries. The books are set in and around a haunted house/tearoom located in Santa Fe. Mystery, murder, historic preservation, opera, seances, weddings, culture – you name it, the series is delightful. Short in length, they are best read on a winter afternoon with a cup of tea and a tasty morsel (a few recipes are included in the books).  This first book of the series, found in the library, was truly a book judged by its cover.

 

 

 

Centuries and Sleuths Bookstore is a small, charming, well established purveyor of histories and mysteries in Forest Park, just barely outside of the boundaries of the City of Chicago.  It is a bit out-of-the-way for me, but, worthy of a trip a few times a year to see what they have on the shelves over their unique plaid carpeting, and their knowledgeable and conversational owner. I think of Sherlock Holmes whenever I enter.

The bookshop has books concerning Chicago and the surrounding area and holds many events at the store, including book signings and author lectures. If I lived closer, I would be there all the time. I stopped in one chilly spring afternoon and was drawn to this short novel about a teenaged girl, Sarah, who is the second daughter of Jewish immigrants. Sarah’s family lives in a multi-cultural neighborhood surrounding Hull House during the late 19th century. Sarah wants to be an artist. Her father is a butcher, the shop close by, her mother holds a secret from the past, her brother is often ill, her older sister has romantic interests with a young Irish lad – and the Columbian Exhibition is about to open. Juvenile/young adult fiction, I enjoyed reading this. My father’s family settled in this area, his parents immigrants, his friends of many different cultures. When I was in 5th or 6th grade, our class had a field trip to Hull House, leading me to want to learn all about Jane Addams (who makes a few appearances in the book). A short read, “Her Mother’s Secret” by Barbara Garland Polikoff is a book you might enjoy.

One afternoon, some time ago, I had our local WGN/Chicago radio station turned on in the car. Do any of you listen to John Williams, or listen to local personality in your area on the radio?  John was reviewing and praising a book he couldn’t put down, “The Feather Thief:  Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century”” by Kirk Wallace Johnson. I was so intrigued by John’s enthusiasm that I purchased “The Feather Thief”, only to let it sit and collect dust. My garden club will be discussing it early in 2020, so, I opened the pages and was immediately immersed in the history of bird and feather collecting and categorizing in the 19th century, detailing the places scientists, ornithologists, and others traveled to collect exotic birds, skins and feathers for ladies’ hats –  and for salmon fishing lures in the Victorian era. They travelled in harsh, hazardous conditions, obliterating species for fashion, sport and greed.

But wait – there is more.

The book begins with a  20 year old flautist, Edwin Rist, a gifted, talented American, who, in 2009, hops on a train after performing at the the Royal Academy of Music in London. Under the cloak of darkness, Edwin travels to the Tring Museum at the British Museum of Natural History, climbs a wall, breaks a window and methodically steals hundreds of rare bird skins, coveted by salmon fly-tiers, of which Edwin is one, and hold many awards.  This is a fascinating, true story of ornithology, fashion, the fly-tying craze, environmental issues, autism, the internet, crime – and more.

What are you reading?

Centuries and Sleuths – https://www.centuriesandsleuths.com

 

 

 

 

 

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“When the girl returned, some hours later, she carried a tray, with a cup of fragrant tea steaming on it; and a plate piled up with very hot buttered toast, cut thick, very brown on both sides, with the butter running through the holes in great golden drops, like honey from the honeycomb. The smell of that buttered toast simply talked to Toad, and with no uncertain voice; talked of warm kitchens, of breakfasts on bright frosty mornings, of cosy parlour firesides on winter evenings, when one’s ramble was over and slippered feet were propped on the fender, of the purring of contented cats, and the twitter of sleepy canaries.”
― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

A trip Up North usually, happily, involves a bowl, ingredients, stirring and baking and more than one cook in the kitchen.

Not hot buttered toast, nor contented cats, but, the quote is a favorite of mine, as are these two cherished charmers.


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I was first introduced to the writings of Doris Kearns Goodwin by the mother of a dear friend of mine. Aware of my interest in history, and a history lover herself, Mary shared a book with me that she thought I might enjoy. Then a mother of young children and working full-time, I stole moments here and there, during my lunch hour, in between chores, children’s activities, waiting for a freight train to pass and often late at night. Slowly, but surely, I consumed Goodwin’s Pulitzer Prize winning “No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II “.

Mary was right. I did, indeed, enjoy the book. As time went by, I read other books by Doris Kearns Goodwin and I make a point to catch her on television and radio interviews and to read printed articles about her. She never disappoints me.

So it was, a month or so ago, one fine day, that several emails and texts appeared. “Penny, did you see this (know about this, hear about this)?”

My friends know me well.

 I clicked on the site for Elmhurst College, found the lecture series, secured a ticket, and eagerly anticipated the Rudolf G. Schade Lecture in Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel at Elmhurst College.

Doris Kearns Goodwin Team of Rivals: The Leadership Lessons from Abraham Lincoln.

 

Several friends and I arrived early, knowing that parking would fill quickly. We stood in line with other eager and cold ticket holders, waiting for the doors to the chapel to open. We quickly learned the lecture was sold out. Finally, the doors opened, we found good seats, chatted with others we knew, and then the lecture began to an enthusiastic audience of college students, faculty, officials  – and armchair historians.

From the moment Doris Kearns Goodwin walked onto the stage, she held her audience in rapt attention as she related stories and her experiences during her five decades of serving Untied States presidents and researching others beginning with Abraham Lincoln. Her warmth and wit were as real as her depth of  knowledge as she wove facts and insight into a blanket of leadership qualities.

I look forward to reading her latest book, “Leadership in Turbulent Times” in the days ahead.

Have you read any of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s books?

“I shall always be grateful for this curious love of history, allowing me to spend a lifetime looking back into the past, allowing me to learn from these large figures about the struggle for meaning for life.”

Doris Kearns Goodwin

 

 

 

 

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Then . . .

. . . there were chunks of ice, falling en masse, individually, randomly, sporadically. The racket would stop; a calm, silent, pregnant pause that would last a few minutes or an hour, then a fresh volley of frozen winter “fruit”.  Born from an ice storm, the chunks of ice would frazzle the steadiest of nerves as they hit the roof of the house, the skylights, the pavement, the arbor and more.

With frost quakes and frozen cannonballs, we have been experiencing a rather raucous winter,

a winter with tree “fruit” sparkling amid uplifting sunrises and spectacular sunsets.

Snow can be peaceful, pristine and startlingly beautiful. It is a great equalizer; a coverlet, in equal measure on all that it touches, with indifference to income level or social status – at least at first snowfall, before the snowplows work time-and-half or double-time to clear the roads.

Ice, in all its glittering glory, is a lethal weapon when falling from above. It is challenging to walk upon. Its weight bears down on wires, creating outages which can become emergencies for medical needs, heating, communication. We have been fortunate. Our power has remained on, though our cable connections (which include landline, television, and internet) went out the other day. Thankfully, service resumed in a few hours. We really cannot complain.

We are coping, grateful for a warm house, food, cars that start and roads that plowed and are salted.

We have, however, entered into that 5th season –  pothole season. Rough winters and heavy vehicular traffic conspire to create amazing crevices – potholes –  in the pavement. This year, for some reason I have yet to discover, the potholes are harder to see. They are smaller, deeper, closer together and reveal themselves upon impact! I am wondering if the frost quakes have something to do with this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So it goes, here on the cutoff. Stews and soups, hot tea and books are good for the winter-weary soul (not that I need a reason). More often than not, I can be found near the front window, a blanket on my lap, tea on the table and a book in hand.

On a recent late afternoon, I pulled out an old friend, “An American Year; Country Life and Landscapes Through the Seasons” by Hal Borland. It is a journal of sorts, filled with Borland’s seasonal essays and accompanied by illustrations from a host of “Distinguished Contemporary Artists”.  These are Hal Borland’s words from February, page 179.

The temperature still falls and the wind still roars, but there is smugness here and comfort and companionship. The night draws us all closer together. Surely it was not by chance alone that hearth and heart came so near to being the same word.

 

 

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Sitting in my favorite overstuffed rocker, a cup of tea precariously positioned on a pile of decorative storage boxes at my side with a current “read” in hand, I was quite content in the stillness of the approaching end of day. I like this spot for reading, and other spots as well, but, truth-be-told, I can read a book just about anywhere.

How about you?

Do you have a favorite spot where you like to read? A chair, perhaps, or on the couch, in the cafeteria, or your car? Really, Don’t laugh. Natural light pouring in from the sun roof on brilliant day naturally illuminates the words on a page, especially for those of us who find the need for “cheaters”.  It  isn’t a very practical place for a long read, but works quite nicely when stopped by a freight train, but, I digress. Do you like to be wrapped in a blanket by the fireplace or propped on a beach towel at the pool? Do you need complete silence or mood music?

This is the first page in my Reading Women engagement calendar. The painting, by Adolphe Borie, brings to mind my Greek grandmother who read to me while I sat on her lap. She would turn the pages and tell the tales, even though the book was often upside down and without illustrations. Yia Yia could neither read nor write, but, she gave me a love of books sitting on her lap in much the same way as Borie’s painting.

As my mind was wandering with bookish thoughts as sipped a new tea, I realized that it has been awhile since I have shared some books that you might enjoy and asked what you might be reading. Here are few books that captured my interest over the past several months.

“Here’s a thing I believe about people my age: We are the children of Hogwarts, and more than anything, we just want to be sorted.”  

from “Sourdough” by Robin Sloan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would also like to recommend this wonderful tea. It was a gift from a dear friend who knows how much I enjoy tea along with literature.

Literary Tea.

 

 

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Tom awoke even earlier than usual to shovel the drive and carve a path to my car before leaving for church to help with set up for Sunday service. I heard the door close and lingered a little longer under the warmth of the covers, then padded down the stairs where the kettle was filled and sitting atop the stove. A few tea bags and a cup and saucer were set out, as they are every morning, waiting for me. I forget to thank him, far too often, for his thoughtful gesture each morning – a gesture for which I am always grateful.

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

G. K. Chesterton

I took the long way home after church, as I often do. It gives me time to ponder and pray, to sing along to tunes with the volume at “rock the car” loud, or to simply hold close the gift of silence, solitude, and scenery. I drove through stately old neighborhoods with bumpy brick streets and wound through pleasant subdivisions and past neighborhood parks that brush the suburban landscape.

I had a William Kent Krueger audiobook playing in the car today. “Sulfur Springs”. Krueger’s mysteries hold my attention. I appreciate his writing, in part for his ability to create with words a vivid sense of place and in part for strong character development in his tense, tangled mysteries, which are usually set in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. In this latest book, I was taken along with Krueger’s main character, the protagonist of most of his mysteries, Cork O’Connor. A frantic call from Cork’s new wife’s son on July 4th thrusts the reader into the oppressive summer heat of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert. This was, actually, a welcome change of scenery as the heater in my car was being fussy.

I headed toward the sloughs and preserves that I often visit. The Saganashkee Slough was frozen and still and reflected the mood of the frosty afternoon. I sat for a few moments then turned onto the route home.

A summer monsoon was drenching the Sonoran desert in Cork’s audio predicament while the temperature gauge in my car showed an outdoor temperature of 19 degrees (F). Homeward bound, I made a quick stop at Crawdad Slough, curious see if there were any ice skaters gliding across this pond. With nary a blade or a hockey stick in sight, I turned the car around and was greeted by this heavenly glow which arrived, as if on cue, to  guide me home.

 

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