Wednesday, February 03, 2016

My Reading Life: The Light Between Oceans (Stedman)

I'm not sure why I put this book on my list over a year ago but suppose it was one of those if-you-liked-that-then-you'll-like-this persuasions. So on my shelf it was. Seems like I remembered hearing that this book is being made into a movie, so I wanted to read it (since I had it already) before I see the movie.  And I've been halfway fascinated with the limited knowledge of manned lighthouses I have. The first children's book that really whet my bit of appetite was Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie.

I read most all genres and more fiction now that I am retired, but this book is what I would classify as a beach-read. It's easy, it moves quickly, there is little depth to it. Had I realized my beach-read classification, I would have saved it for the beach. Really. I'm just glad it did not take anymore time than it did to read it.

The story is interesting and fairly believable. The actions and responses are quite understandable. Love, affection, anger, hate can steer any of us down an unworthy and sinful path if right does not eclipse wrong. The characters in this story confirm that statement. Three characters stirred my emotions: Isabel, Tom, and Frank. Of those three, Isabel was the worst. I think from her entrance into the story she was rather self-consumed due to upbringing and tragic circumstances. Tom seemed to be the model of right until a selfish love and affection persuaded him otherwise. Frank, a minor character, is the one with the most substantive advice.

I like to copy thoughtful quotes from my reading to my commonplace book, but as pages were read and turned, I was sure I would not have any from this book. Yet, on page 323 and 332 of the 343 pages, I found two.

"But how? How can you just get over these things, darling?" she had asked him. "You've had so much strife but you're always happy. How did you do it?
"I choose to," he said. "I can leave myself to rot in the past, spend my time hating people for what happened, like my father did, or I can forgive and forget."
"But it's not that easy."
He smiled that Frank smile. "Oh, but my treasure, it is so much less exhausting. You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things. . . ." [W]e always have a choice. All of us."
"I mean I promised to spend my life with you. I still want to spend my life with you. . . .I've learned the hard way that to have any kind of a future you've got to give up hope of ever changing your past."
 Ratings are so, so subjective that one, in my opinion, should be "as wise serpents and as innocent as doves" when tempted to let a rating determine his reading. Out of five stars, the story held my interest for a four-star rating, the writing was just average to me for a bare-three-star rating, and the overall benefit of the story might be a 2.5. I think 3 stars is a generous one.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Watching the Almighty go about his business

From Jan Karon's latest Mitford book Come Rain or Come Shine, this quote really Did stop me: 
"You could tell a lot about people 
who would stop what they were doin'
to watch the Almighty
go about his business."

So simple. So direct. And so true. 

It's really hard to tell what I've told to people when I haven't stopped to watch. 

But I did stop to watch the other day. And told my husband to look too. 

We were on our way to church, and the snow was falling quietly, hanging on the upper edges of all the tree skeletons. What is normally at this time of year a gray mass of indistinct tangles was suddenly highlighted with design, each line different and vivid, white on gray. And beautiful.

"Ponder anew what the Almighty can do."

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My Reading Life: Bread and Wine (Niequist)

I wanted to love this book, but I didn’t. I wanted to like this book more than I did, particularly because a dear friend from church handed it to me one day and asked me to read it. We are the same age and about to see the decade of the sixties approaching this year. While in the middle of the book, we talked briefly about it, and I told her I was struggling to continue in it. We both agreed that it was difficult to relate to . . . maybe because of a generational thing. I erroneously thought that this would be a quick read, but it wasn't for my lack of interest.

I do not want to denigrate Niequist's person, her life, family, or experiences, and I do not think one can "rate" those personal and private things. I will say that to put much of those personal and private things "out there" in print for the world to read invites both compliments and the difficult-to-swallow criticism. My compliments are the recipes of which I hope to try a few. My criticism falls more in a I-have-difficulty-relating-to category and hopefully be read as such.

I understand life around the table. We raised our family at and around the table. But our life was not driven and fed by the need to have other people outside the family at the table for our personal sustenance or for entertainment. Rather, when we did have people around our table, our intention was to show hospitality. Again, I wonder if this is not a generational thing. I tend to wonder if it is more of a personality thing, introversion versus extroversion.

In my reality, I could not have Niequist's lifestyle. Parties, parties, parties. (We probably haven't had one "party" for her three over the course of our almost forty-year marriage.) For one, it would have distracted me from the duties of a wife and a mother. For another, we could not have afforded it. As I read her story, I felt that that lifestyle had to have, by necessity, imparted a somewhat division of the family . . . . By that I mean that all those life-around-the-table dinners given, most were for the adults, later in the evening, when children were tucked into bed, having eaten their meal earlier and apart from the family, and left with babysitters. That kind of life was not like mine, either growing up or raising my own children, so understanding the need for that driving force of “party” is beyond my ability.

Honestly, I am not able to wrap my mind around the economics of all the food-buying, entertaining, and the traveling. I'm not a tightwad nor a spendthrift, but frugal and prudent. I just see things differently.

The title of Bread and Wine immediately brought to my mind that the book would make connections with the Lord’s Supper. Wrong. Though the Lord’s Supper is referenced a few times as “Communion,” there is no biblical connection, and any implication is obscure.

I also have some difficulty with the expressed and ignored theology which is embraced, implied, associated and/or “related by association” in this book. That’s a mouthful, and all I’m going to elaborate on with this subject.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Pennsylvania's 2016 Farm Show

 Fun at the 2016 Pennsylvania Farm Show marking its 100th year. 

This is Pennsylvania's state fair, at an odd time of the year to me, but it make sense because it is the farmer's least demanding time of the year.

I was quite impressed with the number of 4-H-ers and Future Farmers of America young people. This is such a good opportunity for them to learn public speaking and demonstration skills. All I spoke with expressed their knowledge with confidence.

Brilliant splashes 
of color 
during a 
gray winter.


The traditional butter sculpture, this year using 1000+ pounds. I do hope all this butter, which is contained and under refrigeration, is donated to a food bank after the show ends.

Goats and sheep, 
llamas and alpacas.

Loads of the tamest, 
furriest, and 
softest rabbits.

Lots of 
docile cows.

A selection of horses, 
some miniatures, 
pony pullers, 
impressive Percherons,  
and big Belgians.


Lots of 
walking bacon 
and ham!

Monday, January 04, 2016

The Tenth Day of Christmas

Even though our bit of holiday celebrations has ended, I've never been able to really begin the new year on time. I'm always late. I'm late getting together my goals and deciding on my reading for the the new year. Sometime around Thanksgiving I begin to realize time's coming! Get your stuff together on time for once this year! But inevitably, stuff happens: Thanksgiving, sending Christmas cards, switching home decor from autumn to winter, talking with all adult children about plans for Christmas meals and planning such. In addition to all the other activities of daily life. 

But Christmas for us is not the end of celebrations and feasting. Nope. Thirty years ago I was about to pop with our third baby, and he decided to arrive one day before his due date. It's hard to believe that three of our four children are now in their thirties!

Sometimes throughout the years his birthday celebration seemed rather anti-climatic so close after Christmas. And our traditional birthday dinner and dessert sometimes was almost dreaded -- more food? More sweets? This year our birthday son simply suggested the ease of pizza from a local pizza joint and a pan of homemade brownies with butter pecan ice cream. I couldn't have gotten an easier suggestion! Everyone enjoyed this, even one kiddo who was in her Washington-area home. She virtually sat around the table with us. As we ate pizza, she was having her tilapia and steamed broccoli, and we FaceTimed.  Now that was fun for two of us who aren't in to all that gadgetry! 

Since this oldest son and third child has grown up, he's seen his birthday, one he shares with J. R. R. Tolkein,  as the Tenth Day of Christmas. So our celebrations really do not end until after this day. But in my quirky way of thinking, my new year doesn't begin until after I've spent some time to reflect on the past year, evaluate the present, and plan the future year. This next week or so will be devoted to that. And with thinking about the Tenth Day of Christmas and the song it comes from, I've read that "The Twelve Days of Christmas" came about as a way for Christians to discreetly celebrate and remember their beliefs during a time of great spiritual oppression. The twelfth day, which in the song is twelve drummers drumming, is the disguise for the Apostles' Creed, that group of twelve core Christian beliefs. I've grown to love the creed and seek to understand it deeper. What a beneficial way to start a new year!

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Conquering the clutter of online information

I have my personal share of clutter to deal with - real, tangible clutter in the forms of papers, pens, notebooks, a scrap of paper with a quote written upon it, a receipt to file. And I suppose I'll deal with that in some form the rest of my life. 
But the clutter I want to conquer now . . . the clutter that has increased almost exponentially . . . is the clutter of online information. 

Information overload. That picture is what I feel now with Facebook. I don't have a gob of "friends" on Facebook -- I've intentionally kept that to a minimum -- yet my newsfeed has recently been swamped with everyone's "likes." And to be brutally honest, I don't care. Really. I don't care that friend XYZ "likes" someone's photo - someone I do not know. I don't care that friend QRS "likes" one of his/her friend's post. It's not that I "don't care" as in wishing them something negative, it's that I don't care to see that information. I do not want to be in his/her mind.  And here I must pause and issue a true apology to any of my Facebook friends who have been swamped with all my "likes." If I had known then what I know now, I would never have clicked "like" so many times.
 Now to my recollection, Facebook used to allow in their privacy settings a way not to share your "likes" with all your friends. But that has changed big time. Wading through all of those "likes" is like slogging through a swamp - it's slow going. And I'm tired of it. I'm tired of it taking up my time that could be spent in something more profitable.
To conquer that, or to make some feeble attempt at conquering that clutter, I've done two things. I've "unfollowed" a number of "friends." (I put these scare quotes around friends because, really, friends should be few and well-chosen. Many Facebook friends are simply acquaintances.) If you are one of my Facebook friends and you've notice that I've "unfollowed" you and you are offended, I'm sorry, but don't take it personally. Unfollowing wouldn't have happened if Facebook had the simple option of letting me decide. I'm really only interested in your personal posts, not your personal persuasions, and will visit your page from time to time.  I've retracted my "likes" from pages that seem to vie for my attention with multiple postings. Many, if not most, of these are business pages. I'm not sure if many "likes" helps a business page or not; it's sure not as if I've donated money or resources to them. But if it is a means of conquering this online clutter, so be it. 
One thing I have enjoyed and benefitted from through Facebook is the opportunity to communicate with like-minded booklovers and readers. For this, I've kept my membership in those groups and the friend contact as-is. They are the friends without scare quotes. 
Here’s hoping that these online information overload decluttering attempts are successful!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

"That He would redeem us by His Son"

I always enjoy listening to Lessons and Carols on Christmas Eve day. Today's came from King's College, Cambridge. I've heard these carols throughout the years and, for many of them, this is the only time I hear them. One, in particular, stood out. The words. The message. The tune.

Ralph Vaughan Williams arranged the tune known now as "Herefordshire," and I just love it. But, I think it is too difficult for most to sing, so it's not in many hymnbooks. You can listen to it here. What a reminder of something so familiar!

Then I was stuck by the concluding prayer. The all-too-familiar nativity often shadows the offices of redeemer and judge.

O GOD, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance
of the birth of thy only son, Jesus Christ: 
Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our redeemer, 
so we may with sure confidence behold him, 
when he shall come to be our judge; 
who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, 
world without end.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Booktalk at the eye doctor

I had the BEST ophthalmologist appointment last week! It was just a checkup with the doctor I've used for the past fifteen years, and I really like her. We've always been office-friendly, but nothing more.

I had the first appointment of the day and took my current book with me to read in between everything. After the technician did her check up on me and gave me dilating drops, I read while waiting for Dr. S. I closed my book, Beach Music by Pat Conroy, as soon as she came in, but after greeting me, she immediately went right to the book. "Oooh, what are you reading?" I told her and she just swooned, "Don't you just love his writing?!" We went back and forth about his writing . . . "Oh, I copy down sentences of his that are just perfect, and then later . . . sometimes years later . . . come back and read them again with the same feeling of admiration," she said, literally with her hand over her heart as she sank into her rolling stool. Now she's not some young ditz -- she's almost retirement age and just a few years older than I am. Then we talked about his other books and how all of Conroy's books are really his life in another fictional time and place.

It was one of the greatest, and most unexpected, give-and-take bookshares ever! We were almost vying with each other about sharing this and that from his books. Then we got down to eye business. As soon as she gave me the all-good-but-here's-your-new-prescription, we went right back into book talk. We had a quick sixty seconds of a couple of favorite authors besides Conroy (Edmund Rutherfurd, Anne Rivers Siddons, etc.). As I walked outside the exam room with her, she clutched my elbow and said, "I'm always up for a good booktalk with a fellow booklover." The most memorable eye appointments ever! :)

Monday, December 21, 2015

My Reading Life: Beach Music (Conroy)

I am relishing the writings of Pat Conroy again. This gifted writer crafts beautiful sentences with expert metaphor and simile. And I have a fondness for reading him. When I read, I can hear his voice in my head . . . that slow, Southern, cultured articulation.  

My introduction to Pat Conroy was through my sister who had read most of his books at the time. My first Conroy years ago was The Water is Wide, which I loved. Being a teacher, Conroy's autobiographical teacher story was encouraging to go the extra mile, but the harsh truth of the way people who have the say-so in schools act was a good heads-up. After that, I moved into different reading spheres and didn't come back to Conroy until his My Reading Life was published. (I frankly cannot believe I've not written anything about my reading of this book-that-changed-me. I thought I had but will have to remedy that soon.)  

Earlier this year, I read My Losing Season rather reluctantly because I thought it would be all about his basketball life. The story, again autobiographical, is built around his basketball life at the Citadel, but it is so much more. After this, I still wanted to read his other books, but since they were obviously just fiction, I wasn't in any rush. Instead, I wanted to read some of the books he talked about in his My Reading Life that affected him. But when the Autumn Reading Challenge rolled around, I put Beach Music on my list. My sister said I would like it.  

And, yes, I did. I really liked it. A lot. In fact, it's one of those books that wander around with me like a shadow after finishing it. Why?  

I find great reward in appreciating his gift of composition. Conroy has a power of description, syntax, and vocabulary that all blend together for a most enjoyable experience. I once said that Conroy could write about paint drying and make it interesting. Here are two examples:

We surf-fished in the breakers catching spottail bass and flounder for dinner. I discovered that summer that I loved to cook and feed my friends, and I enjoyed the sound of their praise as they purred with pleasure at the meals I fixed over glowing iron and fire. I had the run of my grandparents’ garden and I would put ears of sweet corn in aluminum foil after washing them in seawater and slathering them with butter and salt and pepper. Beneath the stars we would eat the beefsteak tomatoes okra and the field peas flavored with salt pork and jalapeno peppers. I would walk through the disciplined rows that brimmed with purple eggplants and watermelons and cucumbers, gathering vegetables. My grandfather, Silas, told us that summer that low country earth was so fertile you could drop a dime into it and grow a money tree.

And this long one:   

In twenty feet of water, . . . the four of us watched the moonlight play on the surface of the water. It enclosed us in its laceries as we watched the moon spill across the Atlantic like wine from an overturned glass.

A porpoise sounded twenty yards away from us in an explosion of breath, startling us. . . . Then another porpoise broke the water and rolled toward us. A third and a fourth porpoise neared the board and we could feel great secret shapes eyeing us from below. I reached out to touch the back of one, its skin the color of jade, but as I reached the porpoise dove and my hand touched moonlight where the dorsal fin had been cutting through the silken waters. The dolphins had obviously smelled the flood tide of boyhood in the sea and heard the hormones singing in the boy-scented water. None of us spoke as the porpoises circled us. The visitation was something so rare and perfect that we knew by instinct not to speak – and then, as quickly as they had come, the porpoises moved away from us, moved south where there were fish to be hunted. 

Each of us would remember that night floating on the waves all during our lives. It was the year before we went to high school when we were poised on the slippery brink between childhood and adulthood, admiring our own daring as we floated free from the vigilance and approval of adult eyes, ruled only by the indifference of stars and fate. It was the purest moment of freedom and headlong exhilaration that I had ever felt. A wordless covenant was set among us the night of the porpoises.

I absolutely could smell, taste, and see that scrumptious-sounding food, and in the latter, the union of the "laceries" of the moonlight, the "silken waters," and the "wordless covenant . . . the night of the porpoises" is enchanting. 

One reason I am so glad to have read My Reading Life and My Losing Season is that in both of these books, Conroy reveals intimate details about his difficult upbringing. All that information in my memory gave perspective as I read Beach Music. Although fiction, it is apparent that Jack is Pat, Lucy is Peg, and "The Judge" is Donald. I'm sure there may be others, but these are obvious. Conroy writes about his real life disguised in his fictional characters. A good writer, I've always heard, writes about what he knows and where he is; Conroy does this, and many times it's not pretty, it is brutal and bitter. The language is coarse and crass from some characters, and it is who they are. Conroy wrote this during one of the lowest stretches of his life, one sabotaged by alcohol and depression. I don't know, but I wonder if this story was not his necessary cathartic.  While many would not find some of his stories worthwhile reading (I'm sure I could find something more profitable to read myself), I feel great privilege to be an audience of his wordsmithing art.   

Many of Conroy's books are long. This one was 628 pages. One reason for the length is the amount of background Conroy gives the reader. In Beach Music, you have the basic story involving a dozen or so characters, all either family or people the protagonist grew up with. And Conroy diverges at strategic points during the main story, usually years and many pages, to flashback on the life of a character. This background material provides a secure landscape to get the reader up-close-and-personal with the character to sufficiently understand his/her part in the story. Often this flashback involves twenty-five or thirty pages (thus the size of the books), but Conroy is magical with this technique, and the reader really "knows" the character as if they grew up together. And all this doesn't just add pages, these people are integral to the life of the story. I can understand now why so many readers of Beach Music re-read it again later -- there are so many stories embedded in stories.  

Conroy's power of description often reminds me of the marriage of a good hymn tune and its lyrics. As the lyrics speak of the glory of God, the majesty of heaven, or the resurrection of the dead, a good hymn tune is in a major key and ascending the scale. Each enhances the other. Conroy's word paintings do this too. Take, for example, these: 

[M]otherlessness caused one of the great thirsts of the human condition.

On its own, my spirit seemed to relax, like a folding chair let out by a pool.

No story is a straight line. The geometry of a human life is too imperfect and complex, too distorted by the laughter of time and the bewildering intricacies of fate to admit the straight line into its system of laws.

I had loved studying the map because it was a printed explanation of where I had been placed on earth. It was a love song to location, a psalm of praise to both measurement and extent.

[P]enmanship as pretty as a row of tulips . . .
And my favorite: 

My own tears seemed landlocked and frozen in a glacier I could not reach or touch within me.
Wow. Simply a stunning sentence in which Conroy combines his powerful metaphor and vocabulary to texturize this thought.  

Because Conroy is a lover of books and words, he is able to create this description from experience:

This room had long served as a retreat from the disharmony and sadness of the first floor, and it was here I had fallen in love with these books and authors in a way that only lifelong readers know and understand. A good movie had never once affected me in the same life-changing way a good book could. Books had the power to alter my view of the world forever. A good movie could change my perceptions for a day.

Throughout Beach Music, I was courted with the delicious smorgasbord of story, words, people, and the warp and woof of their combination which did not cease until the book was finished and closed. As I approached the ending of the book one evening, the last twenty pages I saved to read in solitary the next morning which was a good decision because Conroy's articulation of one of the last episodes just undid me. Tears slipped down the sides of my face wetting my pillow, and before long, I was almost weeping. [There is no real spoiler here -- it is obvious from the beginning of the book that this will happen, but if you want to avoid any more information, skip this next (drop-downed) quote which ends this post until after you read the book.] Any booklover will commiserate. 

It took Lucy forty hours to die and we hardly left her side. . . .We spent those last hours kissing her frequently and telling her how deeply we love her. Then I began to read Leah's children's books out loud to her. She had lived a storyless childhood, so I read in the last day of her the books she had missed. I told her about Winnie the Pooh and Yertle the Turtle, took her Where the Wild Things Are, introduced her to Peter Rabbit and Alice in Wonderland. Each of us took turns reading to her out of Grimm's Fairy Tales, and, at the very last, Leah insisted that I tell all the Great Dog Chippie stories I had told her during our year of exile from the family in Rome. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015