Monday, November 17, 2014

Revisiting James Herriot

Yesterday afternoon as I snuggled down under my warming throw with a cup of hot cocoa, I picked up James Herriot's Yorkshire Revisited. I'm not a particularly nostalgic person, but James Herriot can bring out some rampant nostalgia in me.

I read all four of Herriot books at least twenty-five years ago after we first were introduced to him through PBS's All Creatures Great and Small series which aired every Sunday evening. So I always equate watching the shows with Sunday nights. That's why I picked up his Yorkshire Revisited yesterday - on Sunday.

James Herriot was author Alfred Wight's pen name and preferred to remain anonymous and secretive about the actual places he described. I suspect he didn't want to spoil these favorite vistas with the possibility of increased visitation from his readers.

Jim Wight, Alfred's son, writes the introduction to this picture book. From the first paragraph, he has composed a couple of most beautiful sentences.

"I gazed at the view with feelings of pleasure mixed with deep appreciation. I have stood here on many occasions, and familiarity with the surrounding scenery has done little to dampen the surge of excitement it generate in me." 
And then, Wight the senior -- writing as James Herriot in All Things Bright and Beautiful,
"I hadn't thought it possible that I could spend all my days in a high, clean-blown land where the scent of grass or trees was never far away; and where even in the driving rain of winter I could snuff the air and find the freshness of growing things hidden somewhere in the cold clasp of winter. My work consisted now of driving from farm to farm across the roof of England with a growing conviction that I was a privileged person."
For these reasons, I moved the first book in the series, All Creatures Great and Small, into my Winter Reading Challenge. I've decided it's time to revisit these wonderful books.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Winter Reading Challenge

 It's been several years since I've hosted or participated in a reading challenge. And I've decided it's time again. Reading challenges (those like this one--without rules or tasks) help me to be intentional about my reading.

In the past, I've chosen my reading along categories to help balance genres. But in the recent past years, I've been lazy about that and allowed myself to read without regard, often an imbalance of too much fiction.

Since I'm easing back into intentional reading, I've decided that my reading categories will not be strict for myself. Not yet, anyway. There will still be a heavy dose of fiction as I try to renew some goals of the past at the same time. One of these areas includes my morning reading routine of scripture reading and some spiritual classic, is still in the works. I'll add those books as I go along. My hopes are that by the spring challenge, I'll be fully back in the swing of things.

As I have for the past few years, I'm reading only books from my shelves (except audio from the library) and mostly getting "new" ones through PaperBackSwap. And I'm putting most of those I finish back on PBS. This way, I'll do some immediate shelf decluttering.

This Winter Reading Challenge will begin December 1 and continue until February 28. After a taxing autumn, I'm planning to begin with a week of indulgence in the two Karon books. Here's my developing list with a little explanation; I'll decide the others as time goes on.

In the Company of Others (Karon) Excited that Karon is back; I'd put a hold on reading any after Home to Holly Springs was disappointing.

Somewhere Safe with Someone Good (Karon)

An Irish Country Christmas (Taylor) Something seasonal.

To Every Thing There Is a Season: A Cape Breton Christmas Story (MacLeod) Something seasonal and from a place we've traveled.

Gilead (Robinson) Promises of good things; I've not read any Robinson.

Stillmeadow Calendar (Taber) It's been thirty years since I've read any Taber and wintertime spells Taber.

Loving Will Shakespeare (Meyer) A juvenile historical fiction....reading my stash of juvies and moving on.

Belong to Me (Santos) A dear reader-friend pushed this one on me.
All Creatures of Great and Small (Herriot) Rereading after twenty-five years.
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Lewis) Rereading for the 7th-8th time.

The Attributes of God -- audio (Tozer) Available

Known and Unknown -- audio (Rumsfeld)
Franklin and Eleanor -- audio (Rowley)
Twelve Years a Slave -- audio (Northup) 

If you would like to join the challenge, list your books (and authors) in a comment, and I will update a post to include all the books everyone is reading.

Let the inspiration begin!

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Reminiscing: Seasonal Soundings Reading Challenges

Anyone remember these? I was reminded of them out of the blue this morning when I read this. We used to do seasonal challenges too! But when I went to the Goodreads site for details, I realized there are more rules and regs than I'd ever want to be trapped into. Having the moderator approve your book?! Maybe I'll get to that point in my reading life, but I'm not banking on it.

Since I've been thinking about reading challenges lately anyway, that posting made me think some more. I really want to be more intentional about my reading again, but a fall challenge is too soon for me. Maybe a better start time will be a winter challenge beginning December 2014. Can we revive the Seasonal Soundings Reading Challenges? What do you think?

I've been trying to finish some books in a couple of series so I can "move on." And I've been reading in prep for our Iceland trip which commences in just a few days! When I return, I hope to finish those few lingering series-books, then acclimate myself to a more intentional (and beneficial) reading plan by the first of October.

Do you plan your reading to some degree? Are you up for a SS Winter Reading Challenge December, 2014?

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Getting it back...

Finally, I think I may be getting my juju back.

After several months of scattered weeks at the beach and planning for another week away, I've felt like I've lost my moorings and have been adrift, accomplishing little of anything. Being a listmaker, I would dutifully make my list the night before, yet cast not a glance at it the next day. Several days of this and I felt pretty useless and unmotivated.

But, after four days back, stuff washed and put away despite no juju, I got a good night's sleep and feel more like myself.

After mid-September, I'll have about eight months of no trips (save my usual after-Christmas visit at my sister's). I hope to get into a routine of housekeeping, reading, and studying by October. My bookshelves still need some organizing, but at least the books are in groups now.

Since list-making makes me happy and (usually!) productive, I intend to develop a reading list (sort of like the years-ago reading challenges some of us did), along with a study schedule. I'm inclined toward church history which will give me the opportunity to read the biographies (children's and adult's) of important church figures that I already have on my shelves. This excites me (gives me some juju!) and motivates me to press on.

Although I read Church History in Plain Language (Shelley) over a decade ago, I might go back through this one. And I definitely want to go through The Church in History (Kuiper). It's pretty straightforward without details I don't want to deal with.

The other day I had a blog comment on an old post which caused me to go back through many of the posts over the years. I was saddened at my neglect of blogging. I remember the days of writing daily and the deeply knit friendships that developed through comments left. I don't know if it's too late to revive the slogger-blogger or not, but that's on my list, too.

After months of despair while teaching in the private school and agonizing over the decision whether or not to return, I was lightened of heart when this thought came to me one morning on the drive in:  "The Intentional Pursuit of the Good Life." Yes, that was what I wanted. And that was an intended blog post. The post hasn't happened yet, but I hope to bring those thoughts to fruition in the next few months.

But, right now, the grass has finally dried off enough to be given an overdue cutting. With strong storms moving in tonight, I'd best be getting to it. Here's off to that task on my list!

Press on.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

My Reading Life: Islands

Oh. My.

As I read this book, my first by Siddons, I kept thinking how I would scribble my thoughts about the book. At first, the book was okay and nicely written. Kind of hummmm.

But then Siddons evidently was working her magic prose and pulled me in. I was eager to finish tasks so I could grab a few extra minutes and pick the book up. Her character development is extraordinary. Her descriptions are realistic. Her vocabulary usage is smile-worthy; she's not a typical Southern fiction writer like Mary Alice Monroe (who I have enjoyed in the past but writes in an easy-to-read simplistic vocabulary). I like that fact that Siddons used vocabulary sometimes unfamiliar, sometimes unknown to me, and did so frequently. That alone moved my rating from three to four stars. She writes to include the reader as one of the group. You really do feel like you are that silent invisible other in the group.

But the thing that changed the "Hmmm" to "Oh. My." happened in the last twenty pages of the book. I did not see that coming.

I don't have any more Siddons' books and with the number of others I have already to read, I don't plan to get any any time soon, but I will. She just may rise to the top of my beach-read list for next year.

How did I find Siddons? Her name was unfamiliar to me until I read Pat Conroy's My Reading Life. He sings her praises, and if he does, then I must read her. (I am adding his suggestions to my already too-long list.) Funny though, many don't consider Islands to be her best work. I'm glad it was my first and am eager for the best one. This was an enjoyable Southern beach fiction read. I hesitate to classify it as "brain candy" like I would a Mary Alice Monroe, but maybe more like an exquisitely decorated petit four or a fine meringue.

Oh, and have some tissues handy. Some things are very touching and heartfelt. There is loss and sadness.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My Reading Life: Slogging through the saga -- Independent People (Laxness)

Independent People
This book has been a burden to my reading life for the last couple of weeks. Yet, I've made myself finish it. Why? First, because I don't like to quit books, especially ones that have garnered such high ratings from readers that are much more well-read than I. Second, my curiosity was teased; I did want to find out what happened in the end to Bjartur of Summerhouses. And third, because I wanted to have a "taste" of Iceland before traveling there in a few months. 

In the beginning of the book, I liked what I read for the most part. Yes, as others have said, author Halldór Laxness is most descriptive and wordy; he reminds me of how I think. His lengthy descriptions are like a translation to words of our lightning-quick thoughts or dreams that flit from one thing to another and make sense only to us in our own minds. Describing a dream that you cannot seem to wrap your own head around is most difficult, yet we alone understand something of the dream without the use of words. Laxness, however, paints a picture with these words, and what a bleak picture he paints. I did not realize when I began this book that it is basically a tragedy. If I had, I’m not sure I would have started the journey. With the many five-star reviews, I was confident that I would enjoy the story. But the further I read, the less I liked. I reminded myself of my favorite book ever, Michael O’Brien’s The Island of theWorld, which is some ways, began similarly with me. There was bleakness there for many pages, yet through a series of crucifixions and resurrections, the protagonist emerged triumphant. Independent People, however, never had resurrections or triumphs, only crucifixions, unless you count the last few paragraphs.

I see books in color when I read. And this book is the antithesis of the extraordinary beauty of Icelandic landscape pictures I have seen. When I read this book, I saw gray everywhere. Everywhere except at the very beginning and later towards the end of the book when son Gvendur travels to the coast in anticipation of going to America. There is a drabness, dreariness, dirtiness, and darkness in the shadows of descriptions in Independent People. As far as reading this book for a "taste" of Iceland before travelling there, umph. I'll settle for pretty Internet pictures instead.

Bjartur of Summerhouses is a character that causes a disturbance within me and makes me want to slap him. He is independent for sure; he is uncaring and unloving to his family and so “practical” that he is almost machinery. His first and foremost care is toward his sheep. And the more sheep he has, the more help he needs. And that help has to come from his family. I’m not sure I can really use the word “family” to accurately describe those people around Bjartur; they are actually his physical family, but he treats them not at all like family. Life for them is drudgery and miserable and the only thing they know. I'm not truly sure that Bjartur's foremost care is toward his sheep though; I think Bjartur is a man eaten up with pride in himself and keeps only those things around him that add to that pride. Yes, I meant things; I don't think Bjartur saw people, even his family, as anything more than things.

Someone said that reading this book was like Bjartur’s life struggle to independence: slogging through snow, ice, and mud. It is. And my stubbornness to finish the book anyway is a smidgeon of the ornery stubbornness that Bjartur embraces. I have to say that that man did not give up in the face of difficulty and grief, though I don’t think he was capable of grieving much at all. He persevered, yet in his determination to be beholden to no one, he loses everything. Almost. The last few paragraphs of the book, after 482 pages, redeemed Bjartur for me. But only a bit.

Whenever I hear or read the word “independent” now, I don’t think my mind will conjure up positive images again. At least, not for a long time.

Should you read Independent People? If you are a fairly fast reader, at least you won’t feel like you’re living in frozen mud on a gray landscape for too long, so go for it. If not, be prepared. And, I will one day read another one by Laxness since I have several. But not for a while.

Some interesting links I found:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Teaching: The Hard Part

Here lies an excellent article.

My husband and I had a short conversation about teaching recently. He said he thought I might return to it. I said no, but that I did love teaching. He said that was a necessary quality of good teacher and, again, that I might return to it. But I told him that I'm not willing to pay the costs again. There are such steep costs to that love, and it cost me a lot.

It cost me being able to listen to the birds at my birdfeeders, mowing the grass, being outside, enjoying leisure in the true sense of the word,; it cost me being able to read for pleasure; it cost me enjoyment with life. Those who say your efforts are enough and to be satisfied with it apparently have never really taken the educational triage bull by the horns. They just have no idea. 

Thursday, May 01, 2014

My Reading Life: The Outsiders

After several reluctant-reader students, in years past, had read The Outsiders and pushed it on me, I thought it only fair to read it, particularly because I push books on so many others.

I had my doubts about becoming interested in the story, a '60s coming-of-age, gang-related short novel. Recently, I'd read for the first time two other coming-of-age stories (Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and A Joy in the Morning). Those two had a female protagonist; The Outsiders, a male named Ponyboy. Somewhat reluctantly, I began the book and was drawn into the story enough to finish. Had I been a teenager reading it instead of a fifty-something, I'm sure my take on it would be different.

I was impressed, though, that the author was female. I always read the back cover, then any postscripts first and discovered that early on. I had fallen for why S. E. Hinton used her initials; since she wrote the book in the '60s, she did not want reviewers to discount her work because she was female. Smart move. But a better impression was made on me -- along with another strike in the reluctance camp -- when I read that she wrote this book when she was sixteen. Impressive, but how could a sixteen year old's first book be a winner? I was nine years old. (Interestingly, I'd never heard of the book until the last decade.) Hinton did what successful authors do; she wrote about what she knew and where she lived.

Growing up in the sixties and visually familiar with the "Fonz" from Happy Days who loved his hair, I heard those terms "hood" and "greaser," too, referring to the boys from the blue-collar class. The "greasers" I knew did not use hair grease from which the name came. Those were the boys that "good" girls didn't go out with. Those were the boys in my school who left lunch early and went out behind the cafeteria to smoke, just like in the book. I guess I was a Soc.

What I found satisfyingly curious was that these recent three coming-of-age books had protagonists who were all readers and read a lot. Hmmm. I'm still intrigued by that one. In The Outsiders, the one book that was a connecting, maybe a healing, point was Gone with the Wind. I revel in connections and convergences, and the one for me, now, is that Gone with the Wind was one of Pat Conroy's favorite books. And Pat Conroy has become my 2014 author idol. (A Pat Conroy post is in the making.) Even though I typically do not re-read books, I do plan to re-read Gone with the Wind. I had read it in high school but now remember very little of it. And I have a brand new copy of it on my shelves. When I do read it again, it will be interesting how Ponyboy and Pat Conroy will figure into my mind's eye.

The best reading audience, in my opinion, for this book would be teenage boys.

Friday, April 25, 2014


The blue jays found my birdseed cafeteria about two weeks ago. Beginning at first light, and then about every four hours, throngs of blue jays feast. When I looked up what a group of blue jays is called, I found a "band," "cast," "party," and "scold" of jays. I favor "scold" because that's exactly what they sound like they are doing.

This morning I counted a dozen, plus one red-bellied woodpecker at one time. There were more jays in the trees though. They love the large platform feeder but won't bother the seven hanging ones. And when they have had their fill, they move out, and the goldfinches and cardinals move in. Such a delightful kaleidoscope of colors this spring!

And, a serendipitous moment came when a new word came across my newsfeed: gökotta -- the Swedish word meaning "dawn picnic to hear the first birdsong," the act of rising early in the morning to watch the birds.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

My Reading Life: The Wednesday Wars

The Wednesday Wars (Schmidt) was not on my to-read shelves. In fact, it wasn't even on any shelf. Rather, it was on someone PaperBackSwappers shelf before mine. I do wish I could remember what rabbit trail I followed that caused me to end up with the book. Especially now when I've been in a half-a-year-long book cull-and-purge. But it made it onto the shelves very recently. 

The lure of the juvenile fiction book was that it involved Shakespeare, seventh grade, and school. This combination piqued my curiosity. Even for an adult, The Wednesday Wars is humorous, sometimes downright laugh-out-loud funny. 

The setting is Long Island, New York during the late 1960's. I could relate because I was in the seventh grade in 1968, but our whole school set up was different. I smiled my way through this book as class assignments were given; if only my schooling had been half as good as the protagonist's. How I wished I had had a Mrs. Baker in my life. The Wednesday Wars is also a coming-of-age book, a second one in a row that I've read, and set in New York, too. 

If you know no Shakespeare, some of the humor will be lost on you. But even if you know a bit, you will appreciate how lines written in the sixteenth century are quickened and applicable in the twenty-first century. Reading this book stirred me again to strive to read through the plays I've already read again, and to add the others to the to-read list. 

The writing is well done, too. I like good description. Here's an example: 
I walked home under gray clouds whose undersides had been shredded. (Can't you just see that?) They hung in tatters, and a cold mist leaked out of them. The cold got colder, and the mist got mistier all through the afternoon, so that by suppertime a drizzle was making everything wet and everyone miserable -- especially m y sister, who believed that she had hair that belonged in southern California, where it would be springy and bouncy all the time, instead of in gray, cold, misty Long Island, where it just hung.

As always, I get author-curious after reading a good book. And after reading bio sketches about Gary Schmidt here and here, I really wish I had had him as a teacher.

If you have middle schoolers, convince them to read this book! And if you are like me, and like an interesting juvenile fiction once in a while, tolle lege!

Monday, March 24, 2014

My Reading Life: Or Give Me Death

Or Give Me Death was my first Ann Rinaldi, and I have several more of her books that I look forward to reading. I'm always a little skeptical about reading juvenile fiction -- historical or otherwise -- at this stage of my life, but this was an engaging read.

Rinaldi is a self-made writer, groomed for that position with years of reading and writing in her job as a newspaper columnist. Her interest in historical fiction was fed from the urging of her son and her subsequent participation in his various interests in historical reenactments. All combined together was fodder for her pursuit into juvenile / young adult historical fiction.

Or Give Me Death,  a story of Patrick Henry's family was unknown to me, and I found myself thinking about it at times when I wasn't reading it. That's always a good sign that the book has grabbed me. Even though the story was engaging, it was sad, a sadness that hangs like a cloud of poison gas around a family trying to do the best they knew how during a challenging time in American history. Rinaldi explains in the afterward which parts are true and which parts she fictionalized for the sake of the story. This helped to clarify the history for me. I'm glad I read the afterward first and then again at the end of the book.

I have several other Rinaldi books to read, ones that I had stocked my classroom library with but came home with me when I did. After I finish them all, they will go onto a homeschooling sale board to move on to another's shelves, but Rinaldi's evident skills as a wordsmith will remain in high regard with me.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Catching a curve ball

Why I chose this post title, I don't know. It just floated into my mind. And it seemed to fit. Here's how:  For the past several years, I've rubbed shoulders with the title of the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I had several students ask me if I'd read it and push it on me, because I hadn't. Although the title was familiar from long ago, I'm sure I'd never read it. But I recently put it on my want-to-read list and requested it from PaperBackSwap. When it became available and arrived, I shelved it with all the other recently received PBS books waiting to be ordered onto my bookshelves.

After finishing a planned book, I decided to start A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, even though it wasn't on my list yet. I can get a little OCD about doing things out of order. The first night I was tired and only read about fifteen pages. It was ho-hum, nothing grabbed me and told me this was as good of a book as everyone lets on. Sunday afternoon, I picked it up again for a few more pages to see if maybe there was a yes-I've-got-to-read-this-book sign. Nope. But I did finish a couple of pages before naptime overcame me, and I was up to the beginning of chapter two. Picking it up again later that night, I silently told myself that if I wasn't grabbed after this nightly dose, back on the shelf it goes. I had far more books I knew were waiting, and I couldn't afford a time-waster, even if I do have a 50-page rule. (The 50-page rule is to try my best to get through fifty pages, and if nothing grabs me to finish, I give myself permission to put the book aside.)

Well, here was the curve ball. An unlikely throw that not only grabbed me but knocked it out of the park for me. If you've never read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, bear with me and read all of this quote, delighting in the words and thoughts:

"The library was a little old shabby place. Francie thought is was beautiful. The feeling she had about it was as good as the feeling she had about church. She pushed open the door and went in. She liked the combined snell of worn leather bindings, library paste and freshly-inked stamping pads better than she like the smell of burning incense at high mass.

"Francie thought that all the books in the world were in that library and she had a plan about reading all the books in the world. She was reading a book a day in alphabetical order and not skipping the dry ones. She remembered that the first author had been Abbot. She had been reading a book a day for a long time now and she was still in the B's. Already she had read about bees, and buffaloes, Bermuda vacations and Byzantine architecture. For all of her enthusiasm, she had to admit that some of the B's had been hard going. But Francie was a reader. She read everything she could find: trash, classics, time tables and the grocer's price list. Some of the reading had been wonderful; the Louisa Alcott books for example. She planned to read all the books over again when she had finished with the Z's."

Now, that grabbed me! As I read those words, my mind pictured my own little hometown library inside the noisy old building of hardwood floors that resounded with amplified bouncing basketballs every time you entered. But once you turned the large brass doorknob on the old half-glassed door and pushed it open, you entered into a different world. A quiet world, save the creaky floorboards as you walked in. Closing the door quietly, and almost tip-toeing in if you were wearing hard shoes (which all of us did back then and in the day when libraries encouraged quiet), you entered the juvenile fiction section of the library. I distinctly remember this was where all the Little House books were. This short entry hall led to the library's main desk. It was set up high and unreachable for anyone in early elementary grades. I remember those smells too. And they were lovely and comforting smells. The children's section was small and crammed up close to the library desk and divided from a couple of tables, the card catalog, and the rest of the library by a half-sized bookshelf. This library was not one that offered comfortable chairs to read in. It was one where you came, did your business, and left. Maybe all libraries were like that back in the 60s, but this is the only one I was ever in then.

I loved being in this place of solace. I liked one of the librarians too. She was an older lady; of course, she was probably the age I am now. She was kind and helpful, but not overpowering so. Yet, she didn't offer guidance with books and show me ones that she thought I'd enjoy. I guess she thought I didn't need help. But she was wrong. I did need help because, as many of you know, I did not grow up a reader with books in the house. And my school did not encourage reading. Or even require reading. I didn't know one book or author from another. But I loved books. And libraries that smelled rich with wood and book-smell. I wanted to read those books. I wanted to be like Francie.

It would take me years to become her though. It would take having my own children to become her. And then, I became that librarian-who-pushed-books-on-people.

So, I've caught that unlikely and unexpected curve ball thrown by Betty Smith. Yes, Francie, I'm going to read all about your next few years of life. And I think A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is going to be one of those books that leaves me forlorn when I finish the last page. I don't relish that feeling. It is bittersweet: glad to have completed the book but sad to bury the character lives in the past.

Saturday, February 08, 2014


Sarum. Edward Rutherfurd. What a book. What a tome. No doubt it took Rutherfurd less time to write these almost nine hundred pages than it took me to read them. (Actually, it took him three and a half years to write it.)
When I think back on my days with Sarum, I remember opening that heavy book every evening in bed and carefully balancing it for some time of reading. Often, I would sigh as I got the book into place. Sigh because of the long journey with the story and the story of stories, and the characters and the relationships of the characters throughout its 10,000 year scope. But then, as I began my reading ritual that always enabled me to fall asleep easily when the book was closed, the sigh faded, and I became absorbed in the story. 
And now that the story is done, I wander almost aimlessly lost in body and soul. Isn't that how it is when you finish an absorbing book? Its stories follow you around like a shadow throughout the day until your next new story begins. 

I'll tell you how this book ended up on my shelves. Back in late 2011 or early 2012, we began to plan a trip to the United Kingdom. If I can, I always like to read something ahead of time about wherever we travel. And about this time, a long-distance friend had recorded that she had read New York by Edward Rutherfurd. Inquisitive as I am about other people's reads, I looked it up, being unfamiliar with the author. I wasn't interested at all in reading about New York, but he had written two that caught my eye: Sarum and London. Just perfect timing for our trip! I ordered nice, used hardback copies of these and began Sarum first. 
I was teaching at the time and couldn't hold my eyes open long at all at bedtime, but I did manage to get a third of the way through the book. I liked it. I learned. The characters intrigued me. But I knew I would not be able to finish it before the trip. And since I was dragging through it anyway, I decided to lay it down for a while. That "while" lasted almost three years until I determined to pick it back up in early January. I was surprised at the progress I made this time, especially since I am not a really fast reader. But I am persistent. And besides, now that I'm not teaching, I can read as long as I want at night.

In many ways, I'm saddened that I did not finish this before our trip in 2012 because we were there. We were right there. At least I had read, before the trip, the part about the perceived building of Stonehenge because we marveled at it and one of the outcrop areas in southwest Wales from which those bluestones were taken and dragged almost two hundred miles.
Bluestone cairns in Pembrokeshire, Wales

 The land between Stonehenge and Salisbury

Stonehenge is such a beautiful site. 
Peaceful. Still.
Silent except for murmurs from visitors and caws from the ravens who like to sit on the stones.

 We entered the Close in Salisbury through St. John's Gate. 

 I'm so glad I took a gazillion pictures and that some of them were of the models. Now I can look back at them and understand more of the building descriptions in the book.

The cloister was always described as a place of quiet walk in Sarum. It is beautiful, but it wasn't too quiet on our visit with the multitude of people.

Rutherfurd has a way of introducing many new characters with each new time period but all of these people have attachments, usually relatives, from the previous period. Even so, Rutherfurd draws you in through his writing to make you want to know these new people. The ancestry tree in the beginning of the book helped to keep them all straight, for the most part. 

I'll never brush over a last name of "Mason" again without remembering all the Masons in the book. Or Shockleys. Or Forests. And I looked up more medieval English vocabulary dealing with taxes and landholding than I'll ever remember or recognize again . . . escheat, scutge, tallage, virgate.

Throughout the many years described in building the cathedral, Rutherfurd helped me to have a better understanding and appreciation of its construction, and particularly, of the carvings. 

Someone described Rutherfurd using his characters more as "placeholders in history" to build the historical context. Yes, he does. But he does it so effectively. His narrative might tend to get long, maybe even border on tedious at times, but by doing so, he drops his reader right in the middle of the stone dust from cathedral carvings. I like a book which makes me part of the story, even when I'm laying in my bed five thousand, five hundred, or fifty years later than the depicted event. At one place in the narrative, Rutherfurd describes political life in medieval Europe, and by doing so, really describes how the book is written: 
. . . the kingdom and provinces of Europe in which the merchants operated remained related to each other by family ties. the ties were endless. They crossed the continent like huge and intricate spiders' webs; and the shifting family ambitions and alliances of the rulers frequently overrode all considerations of peace, prosperity, or even common sense.
 Some new vocabulary and phrases to me:
hirsute = hairy
vexillology = the study of flags
schnorer = one who wheedles others into supplying his wants
 torpor = the state of dullness in body and spirit
"Plenty of wealth but no money"
"He had not met the term before" as describing a new word
"He crossed the sky of England's history like a meteor."

On Rutherfurd's website is an interview with him in which he garnered even more of my respect:
[M]y books contain both fiction and non-fiction. I think they're an easy way to learn history. But above all, I try to tell gripping stories that move along with pace. It's the storyline that excites me, the art of telling a tale. . . . I believe I've some ability to absorb complex information and retell it in a compelling way. I'd like to think I might have made a good schoolteacher.

. . .The books also popularize history; and I believe that a knowledge of history is one of the most important things any citizen can possess. 
 Before I ever begin reading a book, I have a habit of reading the back cover first, any end acknowledgements, and then the jacket flaps. I'm sure I did that months ago when I first began the book but had long sense forgotten. And when I end a long book, I repeat the process ending at the front cover. This time I paused and smiled as I read the jacket flap information about Edward Rutherfurd. He was born and raised in Sarum. Well, now, how appropriate! No wonder he could write with such description. And he wrote the book in 1987, just a couple of years after the ending date of the narrative which concentrates on raising funds to stabilize the cathedral spire, the tallest in the United Kingdom. The work on the spire began in 1986 just as described in the book. Nothing is said whether or not this book helped provide some funding for restoration. The timing, though, was perfect.

On an almost sidenote, I was reading The Poetic Wonder of Isaac Watts (Bond) during part of this time. Watts lived in and around Southampton, but I'd not bothered to look this up on the map. I finished this book the same day I finished Sarum, otherwise I'm not sure my small mind would have made the connection, but toward the end of Watts, there was mention of New Forest which I recognized from Sarum. At once, I checked, and yes, New Forest is the short distance between Salisbury and Southampton. My inner being jumps with delight when connections like this are made. 

At some point in the future, I plan to embark on Rutherford's London. And I'm sure I'll need to return to England when it's done and visit anew and again all these places which have made such vivid impressions on me.