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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

In Peace, Charlotte Zolotow

I woke up this morning to the sad news that children's book author Charlotte Zolotow died at age 98. She was something special and her books reflected her sensitivity and awareness of children's deepest feelings. My mother read me her books and I read them to my children and they will surely read the books to theirs. Mr.Rabbit and the Lovely Present, Big Sister and Little Sister, I Like to Be Little, Over and Over, Someday are all books I treasure. She inspired me as a child and continues to touch my heart as an adult.

The obituary in today's New York Times says that she was an awkward shy child with a back brace, black eyeglasses and orthodontic braces. "She found solace in books and determined early to be a writer," the obit says. In addition to her children's books, she was also an editor and brought books like the Newberry-award-winning Sarah, Plain and Tall to millions of young readers. 

Zolotow was honest and straightforward with children because as she once said, "We are all the same, except that adults have found ways to buffer themselves against the full-blown intensity of a child's emotions."

I pulled out my copies of her books and the pages are worn and the covers torn. These books have been loved.

Rest in peace, Charlotte Zolotow.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Books are Like Crack for Me

It's true confession time. I have a book addiction. There. I've said it. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. And I must accept that I cannot keep buying books at this rate, without off loading a few … or a hundred. Maybe you already figured out about my addiction. But I've been in denial. 

I had an intervention a few days ago by my friend The Clutter Fairy, Gayle Goddard. She already knew that books were the one thing in my house (except the people I live with) that I could not throw away. But if we ever want to move to a smaller place (and we do),  we've got to pass on some of these books (my husband, bless his bookish heart, is as bad as me, but he won't admit it …  don't tell him!). We have bookshelves everywhere. Three in our bedroom, plus stacks of books on our bedside tables and even this tower of books (see left photo). Then we have three bookshelves in the game room, two large ones in the living room, two built-in bookshelves in the family room, not to mention the coffee table books and the bench books and the cookbooks in the kitchen and the many shelves in the office where I'm sitting right now. You get the picture - books are our main household accessory.

So - with the prodding of Gayle - I had a great idea. I will start a library somewhere - maybe a Little Free Library or just a few bookshelves at favorite place - Memorial Assistance Ministries or Yellowstone Academy or Project RowhouseI have donated to the library, one of my favorite places, in the past, but I want to give my books to actual people.  I am going to start sorting my books to see which ones I can share. But if you have any helpful ideas about where I can share my collection of books, please let me know. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Power of Fiction

I recently saw a quote by one of my favorite Presbyterians and one of the world's most eloquent writers, Frederick Buechner. This sums up exactly why I love fiction. Buechner in his collection of short essays, Whistling in the Dark, said "From the simplest lyric to the most complex novel and densest drama, literature is asking us to pay attention. Pay attention to the frog. Pay attention to the west wind. Pay attention to the boy on the raft, the lady in the tower, the old man on the train. In sum, pay attention to the world and all that dwells therein and thereby learn at last to pay attention to yourself and all that dwells therein."

I believe the best books teach us something about ourselves and our world. Through novels I've learned about a Jewish girl in Budapest in 1943, a black girl in rural Mississippi in 2008, a small town Australian boy in 1959, a Chinese girl with bound feet .... These novels and many more helped shine a light on another person's situation, another's thoughts and feelings and showed me how to become more human. These books weren't always pretty and didn't always have happy endings, but they all illuminated another way of living and taught me something about humanity.

This theory of mine was recently PROVEN through a scientific study that found that "after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on test measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking."
This means that people that read literary fiction are more empathetic and more caring individuals.
Re-read the Buechner quote above, "...literature asks us to pay attention."

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Books I’ve Read in 2013

People often ask me what I'm reading and I try to keep that current list on this blog. I have fallen behind recently because of an extended trip I took to Australia.  I read at least eight books on that trip and wasn't able to post on this blog. Today when I tried to update my book list, it wouldn't load. So the solution is this blog post which simply lists the books I've read this year. Please send me a message to ask about any of these which I haven't reviewed. But stay tuned for more thoughts on books and their authors. Next - Khaled Hosseini...

When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman
Bend Not Break by Ping Fu
Dare Me by Megan Abbott
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Into the Free by Julie Cantrell
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
The Importance of Being Seven by Alexander McCall Smith
The Book of Secrets by Elizabeth Joy Arnold
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson
When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson
One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
Run Brother Run by David Berg
Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Tapestry of Fortune by Elizabeth Berg
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarity
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Tinkers by Paul Harding
Dear Life by Alice Munro
A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker
Canada by Richard Ford
Stag's Leap by Sharon Olds
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Me Before You by JoJo Mayes
NW by Zadie Smith
The Gardens of Kyoto by Kate Walbert

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Stories Coming Alive

If you like fantasy, fairy tales and quest stories, The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly is for you. Even if you don’t think you like this type of book, you might still be absorbed by the themes of loss and grief in children. The book was nominated for the 2007 Irish Novel of the Year and received a 2007 Alex Award, which honors adult books that appeal to teen readers.

I honestly cannot remember exactly who recommended this book to me. It must have been one of the geeky-cute twenty-somethings working in the auditorium desk at Montreat. We had a long discussion about fantasy novels one night this summer. All I know is a week later I was at Malaprops in Asheville, North Carolina (another one of my favorite bookstores) and I found this book title written in my notes in my iPhone. I looked for it and decided I needed a fantasy novel this summer. The Book of Lost Things did not disappoint.
As soon as twelve-year-old David loses his mother at the start of the novel, I realized I was entering the realm of fairy tales and Disney movies. This was not going to be the typical fantasy novel. Connelly manages to weave in many well-known fairy tales throughout the novel. The familiar tales are told with unfamiliar twists. This is definitely an adult novel. The malevolent Crooked Man is hideously evil and the child David witnesses horrifying sights in the strange world he enters in search of his mother.  Yes, we have portals, woods, even a Woodsman, dwarfs, trolls, wolves, evil princesses, and much more. I am a sucker for books like this one.
And the best part of all, David’s mother taught him to love books, especially fiction. She “would often tell him that stories were alive.” She told her son that stories could “take root in the imagination and transform the reader. ‘Stories wanted to be alive,’ she would whisper in his ear.”
So, of course, after her death, David’s beloved books did begin to talk to him and he was transported into another world where, indeed, his familiar fairy tales came to life and not usually with a happily-ever-after.  In the course of this amazing journey, we see the often-petulant child David mature into a wise young man who develops empathy and understanding. He learns that everything one could want to know about life is found in books. Don’t you agree?

John Connolly ends the novel with a 120 page section subtitled, “Some Notes on The Book of Lost Things.” This is a scholarly treatise on the fairy tales mentioned in the book and each one’s origins. Each story is re-told in its original or most popular form. These are stories like Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Billy Goats Gruff, Beauty and the Beast and more.  To me, this made the book even more interesting. Check it out and see for yourself.