When my kids (my daughter especially) were small I’d fantasize that they could meet people that I knew in my youth who were not around today. My grandfather, for instance. How he would have loved young Clare whose nose was always in a book. My grandmother would have found Andrew to be as irreverent as she was — she was always fond of the rebels.
One day it really happened.
Clare decided to read The Chronicles of Narnia on her own. I’d read it to both kids when they were very (probably too) young, but this time Clare could absorb more of the series.
We chatted about it as she read and when she finished she was as heartbroken as I was that Susan was not let back into Narnia simply because she’d developed a taste for nylons and lipstick. See, she felt the same as I felt about Susan — she was our favorite, almost a friend. It was like (Clare said so too) that she was meeting an old friend of mine.
Clare read other books I’d recommended (Andrew too) and this occurred over and over.
My kids were able to meet old friends of mine.
Until I was 12 years old the public library in Elgin was in a huge (to me) old building. Probably starting at age 10, my mom would drop me off at the library on Saturday mornings, I’d scale the steps and enter my very own Wonderland. I don’t recall how many books we were allowed, but I’d quickly meet that limit and then sit and read the books I’d chosen while my mother ran errands.
The original Gail Borden Library
When I turned 13 the new library was built. It was designed to match the other civic buildings in Elgin. (in other words, ugly) I guess I didn’t care, because I loved it. Mom continued to drop me off while she ran errands on Saturdays. I continued to check out my full limit of books. As I grew older the limit was higher and I borrowed heftier books. I could easily fill a paper grocery bag.
Fun fact: Dean’s mother dropped him and his sister off at the library on Saturdays too while she ran errands, so decades before we met, Dean and I spent many Saturdays in the same buildings.
Second Gail Borden Library
After I left Elgin three more Gail Borden Libraries were built: A huge modern library just down the street from the ugly one. Then two more branches out of town.
In case the name, Gail Bordon, rings a bell the libraries were named after the Gail Borden, the inventor of condensed milk. His stepsons donated a mansion to Elgin for a library but required it be called Gail Borden after their stepfather.
(blew through the word limit again…)
As with the Book House Books, my parents did the right thing by me and signed me up for the Weekly Reader book club where I would get an age-level appropriate book every month. I remember being excited when I did get a book, but I only remember a handful of the books.
Mom warned me that if I didn’t read the books she’d cancel the subscription.
The first few were picture books: The House on East 88th Street (a crocodile named Lyle lives a life of luxury in New York City); Gus was a Friendly Ghost (a ghost lives in a house in the country with a family); and Anatole over Paris (a French mouse flies on a kite over the city of Paris).
The next were chapter books. I mostly remember Ribsy which introduced me to Beverly Cleary and therefore Ramona and Bezus. The Secret Raft was about a swamp in Georgia or Florida, but I barely remember the content but it made me want to visit swamps in Florida or Georgia. Many others were left unread and mom cancelled the subscription.
Left these for the estate sale guys to dispose of
The first time I realized that reading was useful was when I figured out that I could read the television book (as opposed to the TV Guide which you had to subscribe to, the television book came free with the Sunday newspaper). I no longer had to rely on a parent to tell me when my favorite children’s show was playing.
After I realized that I could figure out what time my favorite shows were on television I searched for new children’s television programs. One particular show intrigued me was called *Denotes Children’s Program. It was listed at the very top of the left-hand column of the TV schedule on Sunday. I was confused because all the other television shows told what time and channel they were on but not *Denotes Children’s Program. I imagined that Denote was a lovely, soft-spoken woman who knew just how to entertain young children. I assumed that it must be on television very early, before the 5:30 am religious programming and I was frustrated because I didn’t know how long before 5:30 it was on.
I decided to try to watch it so I set my alarm for 5:00 am the following Sunday. I got up and turned on the television. Luckily there were only a handful of channels in the early 1960s, so I quickly went through them all with no luck: Only the Off the Air signal showed on all the channels.
I tried again the following Sunday, but this time set my alarm to 4:30 am only to have the same result.
The next Sunday I tried at 4:00 am and again, no luck.
I stopped trying at that point, possibly because my parents finally heard me getting up before dawn on Sunday mornings and explained what an asterisk meant.
(oops — I am way over the 200 word limit on this one)
The first book I read for real was Billy Brown the Baby Sitter. I remember reading it and being a little shocked that I actually read the whole thing. (It might have been aloud or it might have been silently). I think I was 5 or 6 and the book was a “Wonder Books Easy Reader” book. I have it in the house somewhere and may have written about it on another blog. I don’t remember much about the book except that Billy Brown was likely an unreliable babysitter.
My grandfather was a reader. He had bookshelves in his house, both in Elgin and in Chetek. Some were from his childhood: Horatio Alger series; some were from later in his life: Have Pen will Travel. I read many of the books on his shelves when I visited my grandparents in Chetek — two that will make an appearance next month.
A book that was not on the bookshelves in either house was a book I found in a box in the garage. As I recall, most of the titles in the box of paperbacks did not seem interesting to me, a teenager. I think they were private eye books and I was not interested in reading those. I did find one book that looked interesting, so I picked it up out of the box and took it down to the long dock to read and sunbathe.
It wasn’t what I expected at all. I think, since I loved Gothic romances (Victoria Holt was one of my favorite authors at the time), I expected it to be about a woman named Fanny who fell in love with a land owner.
I didn’t expect it to be about sex.
I continued reading.
I mentioned that I’d been enjoying reading books about women with issues lately. I think it is nice to see that there are women out there with bigger issues than I have.
Here are some of the books I’ve read that involve women with issues:
- The Objects of Her Affection by Sonya Cobb — I already mentioned this one. Besides being well written, it made me feel good that I didn’t have to worry about our mortgage.
- The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn — This was/is a best seller and I was definitely caught up in the life of a woman with agoraphobia. I was glad that I don’t have agoraphobia and especially glad my husband didn’t leave me, taking my daughter. I wish it were written by a woman though.
- Where’d You Go, Bernadette and Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple. Maria Semple likely has issues because she can create really good women with issues. These books made me glad that I hadn’t had a nervous breakdown after designing a masterpiece of a house and that my kids were grown.
- Everything by Liane Moriarty Liane Moriarty must know a lot of women with issues because, wow. Her women (and men) have lots of issues.
I have a smallish two shelf bookshelf mostly full of books for work. I bought the latest of the books at least ten years ago, and the others in the years between 2002 and the year I bought the final book.
I don’t remember the last time I consulted one of those books and that bookshelf would come in handy for other books I actually read.
Maybe during the next book purge I will get rid of some of these.
Wayne McNeill, a blogging friend, published Songbook for Haunted Boys and Girls* in 2013. Because the Danforth is mentioned several times in the book and because I met Wayne and Beth on the Danforth in 2013, I’m rereading it after what happened there last night, two blocks from the photo below’s location.
Wayne and Dona on the Danforth
Wayne and Beth with the Danforth behind them
Wayne’s inscription to me (and Dean)
*this book will make another appearance next month
I was captivated by Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull for some reason I don’t remember. I wasn’t a birder back then (and if I were, I would have objected to “seagull”).
I think I was caught up in the hype. After all, I was also a big fan of Hope for the Flowers and The Giving Tree — all of which have lost their appeal to me in my old age.
The best thing about JLS (oh shit, I just remembered that I even own the Neil Diamond recording) was how it connected me to Mr. Topolewski, the father who approached me at Ben Franklin and asked if I would be his son’s birthday present*. He, too, was a fan of JLS and gave me what I thought was a gull necklace** for playing along with his joke.
*long story, maybe I will write a poem about it next month
**it was actually a dove of peace without the olive leaf
Dennis Higgins contacted me through YouTube to ask if he could use a bit of video I’d uploaded for a time-travel book he was writing about Elgin. I think it was his third book. The fact that he lived in Elgin and wrote time-travel books (about Elgin) was fascinating so we communicated a bit and even met once or twice. He used a story I told him (with my permission) in his most recent book.
Mary Bramer, my seventh grade English teacher, wrote This is my Story, this is my Song which was about contracting polio as a teen and the struggle to become a teacher in an able-centric world. Years after I was Miss Bramer’s student, she claimed she remembered me whenever my dad would fix one of her appliances. He said she asked about me every time.
When Kate mentioned that Lali’s daughter wrote a book that Kate insisted her book group read, I knew I had to read it because I like Lali and I like her writing and I knew her daughter’s book would be good.
It was. I loved it. It was exactly the kind of book I love lately — books about women with issues. (and boy did the protagonist have issues in this book.)
Read Sonya Cobb’s The Objects of Her Affection. (I did in two days.)
When Clare was in Girl Scouts a mother of another Girl Scout mentioned her cousin’s wife’s book because I was a special education teacher and said she’d lend it to me. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to, but I accepted the book.
The book was written by a woman with cerebral palsy, married to a man with cerebral palsy who’d adopted a child they thought also had cerebral palsy. The book, The Question of David: A Disabled Mother’s Journey Through Adoption, Family and Life, is about adopting David and his first few years. I loved it. I found Denise’s frankness refreshing. The book was written with wit, clarity and wisdom. I’ve since met Denise, her husband Neil and their son David on a number of occasions. Among other things, I’ve discussed accessibility issues with Denise, danced at a bat mitzvah with Neil and gone on a wild ride through the mountains of Nevada with David, his friend and my son.
I really thought that this month would be easy, but I am finding it hard to figure out which books to write about. The books that mean a lot to me have already been written about on my various blogs and the books I have not yet written about, are that way because I really don’t have much to say about them than that I liked them. Or not.
Actually here’s a book that I absolutely hated (well, there were parts I liked) but finished (over the course of almost two years) because it was on my “Read a Shelf” list: Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks. I think it was mostly the style of writing — I call it “man-writing” for lack of a better term. I am sure Faulks is a brilliant writer. I just didn’t like Charlotte Gray. Someone in my bookgroup suggested reading Birdsong, also by Faulks, about two days after I finally finished Charlotte Gray and I think that she thought I’d gone a bit crazy because I let out a howl, “Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”
Otherwise I have learned to stop reading books I don’t get into after a few chapters. Life’s too short.
Not on the same trip as Oxford and Watership Down, but the same visit to England in 1976, Jack took us to Haworth and the surrounding moors. This was his idea because he was appalled when I told him I’d not read anything by the Brontës.
We visited the home of the Brontës, took a walk on Haworth Moor, part of the Pennine Way, and visited Top Withens, the ruin said to be Emily’s inspiration for Wuthering Heights. Somewhere in my house are photos of this trip, and one of me sitting on a stone “chair” that the Brontës allegedly often sat on.
When I returned to the States that fall, I decided to read Wuthering Heights and it is a book that I consider one of my favorites. I gave myself 15 minutes a day to read it before I began my homework, so the book took me a whole semester to read.
On my next visit to England in the winter of 1978-1979 I discovered Kate Bush, and her rendition of Wuthering Heights still gives me goosebumps.
Jack Burgoyne’s literary tours are something that I treasure to this day. He was an incredible man and I miss him.
Jeremy, Pat and Jack Burgoyne. Jeremy is showing off his blue suede shoes.
For some reason I was fascinated with rabbits in my late teens. It might have been the rabbits that lived in our backyard. It might have been something else, but I read, and loved, Watership Down in 1975 – 1976. Then I read Ronald Lockley’s “The Private Life of the Rabbit” and when Jack Burgoyne asked me where we should visit, I asked if Watership Down was a real place.
It was and it was put on the itinerary along with Oxford, camping with Druids, touching the stones at Stonehenge, sitting on posts at Woodhenge and handling dangerous objects at an air force base.
Jeremy and Dona at an air force base where we picked up objects before seeing this sign.
Jack on a stump at Woodhenge
Our campsite outside a pub. The ground was lumpy so we thought we were sleeping on Druids
Stonehenge when you could touch the stones
Jeremy at Watership down
The next winter Jeremy painted “Dona at Stonehenge.”
Jeremy’s father was a librarian. He loved to read and he loved it when other people loved to read. When I visited the Burgoynes in 1976 Jack told me that he’d take me anywhere in the UK as long as I could relate it to a book.
I chose two places and Jack picked a third.
The first two places were during the same trip. Oxford and Watership Down (with Stonehenge and Woodhenge thrown in because they were close).
Of course I wanted to visit Oxford to see the local haunts of JRR Tolkein and CS Lewis. We walked the grounds of Magdalen College and around the city of Oxford, possibly stopping at The Eagle and Child. Then we headed out of town to Headington where CS Lewis lived. Besides stopping by his house for a quick photo we visited the church where he worshiped and where he is buried. We were lucky to meet the caretaker who knew Lewis and showed us the exact pew where Lewis sat. He told us that Lewis often arrived late and left early to avoid talking to people. He told us that he couldn’t figure out why Americans were so fascinated with this man.
It probably all began when Larry Woiwode visited my 6th grade class and said my question (What courses in college should I take to become an author?) was a very good question.
Then of course there was C.S. Lewis who I didn’t know had died long before I discovered Narnia. A few years after that I visited his home, church and grave.
The Kilns: Lewis’ home
Street near Oxford named after Lewis
I suppose Phyllis was next.
Then there was Neil Gaiman. I was never near his home, but I knew pretty much where it was because it was closeish to where my grandparents used to live in Wisconsin. I lost interest in him after he divorced his wife and married that singer.
Finally, I suppose I am a little interested in Jim Lynch who lives in Olympia and has written about that town a bit. My daughter has met him a couple of times. In fact just last night she forwarded me an email from him with an unpublished story attached about a young woman named Claire who loves to read and lives in Olympia. Even her bookstore is mentioned! Anyway, it would be fun to bump into him sometime in Olympia.
One summer when the children were young I discovered Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. Maybe it was Shiloh or maybe it was the Alice books, but whatever it was, she had me hooked.
Then I discovered she lived in Bethesda. I began to daydream that I’d casually bump into her in the grocery store and we’d start up a conversation and become fast friends.
When Clare was in kindergarten I volunteered to help out at an assembly because Phyllis Reynolds Naylor was going to talk about Shiloh. I thought I would be there to corral active children, but instead I was asked to help the author sign books. I got to be Shiloh and stamp books with a special paw stamp made from his paw-print (Shiloh was a real dog) after she signed them.
We never bumped into each other at the store and never became friends, but I did get some quality time with her and she seemed pleased that my favorite of her books was one that she didn’t even realize was at the local library.
Years later, after I figured out where she lived, I toured her home when she was selling it.
I joined Facebook shortly after it was opened to non-students. I didn’t quite know how to use it and didn’t know anyone other than my kids using it so I didn’t do much on it. In fact I didn’t even remember what it was called and when I tried to get friends to join I kept calling it “Friendbook”.
After a couple years more people I knew joined and I became active — first back when everyone used third-person in their status, or that’s what I thought you were supposed to do.
Early Facebook statuses
Now Facebook annoys me more than interests me. The people I groan about the most are people who take something that is good and make others feel guilty feeling good about that thing because there are bad things going on.
Hell yeah, I care about the children who were separated from their parents by ICE and locked in cages. Hell yeah I want them reunited and I don’t want anything like that to happen again. Hell yeah I hate this administration’s policies on a lot of shit.
Can’t I also be happy that 12 young Thai soccer players were rescued from the cave?
Fuck you Facebook party-poopers.
Someone on Facebook asked her followers if they still used or owned any cookbooks. I replied that I cook from cookbooks about 25% of the time which was probably a little high, although many of the recipes I use regularly originally came from cookbooks. I tend to use other means (the internet, recipe cards, no recipe, Blue Apron) to find recipes these days.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have a lot of cookbooks. My favorites are the Moosewood cookbooks and California Fresh — a cookbook created by the Junior League of Oakland-East Bay and given to us 30 years ago by our next door neighbors, and dear friends.
Many books are stained on the pages we most often use and two cookbooks (The Moosewood Cookbook and Clay Cookery) have broken spines and have since been put in three-ring binders.
I have an emotional attachment to most of my cookbooks and have a hard time giving/throwing any away (although I did a purge of several a few years ago). Cookbooks that have outlived their duty in my kitchen (unlike those below) have their own shelf in the family room.
75% of my cookbooks. The others are elsewhere.
Bridget’s post about One Hundred Years of Solitude made me think about all the books that people I respect have read and loved and that I tried to read, but never finished.
In no particular order:
- One Hundred Years of Solitude: I swear I have started this book a dozen times and enjoy it, but once I get to a certain part (don’t ask me which, I don’t remember) I put it down and don’t pick it back up.
- A Prayer for Owen Meany: I love, love, love John Irving’s books, but, while I tried this a couple times, I couldn’t get past the first couple chapters.
- The Bible: Yes, I have tried to read The Bible a number of times but never got past the part where Moses keeps having to go up the mountain, then back down, then up again, then back down.
- Wolf Hall: I really like the historical setting but the book dragged for me.
I am sure there are more.
The Unnamed Book Club as it is unofficially called (although I prefer to call it Book Group), got its start several years before I joined in 1995.
We meet roughly every 6 weeks and our official membership is nearing 20 (although two never attend). We rarely have more than 10 women attend a meeting.
Our method of choosing books has evolved. It used to be that the loudest members chose the books, now we let the next host choose the book. We also plan ahead these days.
We rarely spend more than 30 minutes discussing the book so, honestly, the group is really more like a cover for a women’s club like my mom used to have in the ’60s which is why I don’t like calling this gathering a book club.
All that said, I love my book group and while some of the members drive me a little crazy sometimes, I love the women in the group. Many of these women have been my friends for over 20 years.
Here’s a video of my bookgroup reading The Night Before Christmas. Sorry about the quality of the image and inconsistent lighting and sound.
*Not to be confused with the film, The Book Club.
I once read a book, or rather series of books, about a boy who lived with an old relative in a large country house. He was lonely, perhaps his parents had died. He had no friends and was far from anywhere he might make friends. He eventually sees children in the house, children whose portraits are on the wall and they became his playmates. I did not remember the title, but I did remember a lot of the plot so these books, once the internet happened, were easier to locate than the books I’ve mentioned previously.
I’ve purchased the first and second of these books, The Children of Green Knowe and The Treasure of Green Knowe. I read the first, which was very good, but not as good as I remembered. it.
The book is sadder than I recalled. As a child I didn’t remember reading that the children in the portrait had all died when they were young. I also thought that the boy in the book time-traveled, but I think he mostly played with the ghosts of the children, although he did see things happening in the past.
Reading as much as I did in my youth, I was bound to have favorites whose titles I would eventually forget. One such book told the story of a girl who looked into a gazing ball and became evil. I thought she had an evil doll named Dido. When the internet finally came along I searched with the keywords “book, doll, dido, gazing ball, evil” but could never find the book I was looking for until one day I found a book called Jane-Emily in which a gazing ball was featured and bought it. It definitely was the book I was looking for, except Dido was not in the book. I searched again, this time just for “book, dido, evil, doll” and found A Candle in Her Room and bought it. Yes, Dido was there and the book, this time, scared the crap out of me. Jane-Emily was not scary at all in comparison.
I bought a gazing ball for my garden around the time I was searching for this book/these books but not a doll named Dido (although the searching introduced me to Dido’s music).
Book Cover: Twig
My third grade teacher read us a book that I loved. Since I had her twice I got to hear it again.
Years later, remembering this book, all I could remember about it was that it was about a girl who suddenly became so tiny she could live in a tomato can and use toothpaste tops as drinking glasses and acorn tops as dinner plates. She also kept saying, “Ever since yesterday.”
I wrote Miss Meyer a letter once and asked her the name of the book. She wrote back and told me but I must have not kept the letter.
It took me years of internet searching before I finally found out the name: Twig, and even longer before I was able to purchase it. I’ve had it for quite a while now, and while I have looked at a number of illustrations in the book, I have not reread it. I am afraid the magic will be lost.
Twig’s House with The Great Elf standing on top. Twig and Mrs. Sparrow dodging household items being thrown out of the house by the floor which was sweeping itself.
I picture my mother answering the door to a well-groomed woman in a tweed suit. She asks my mother if she has children and my mother replies that she has a 5-year old. My mother invites her in, the woman tells my mother that a “child who reads is a child who leads,” my mother believes her and plops down over $700 in today’s money for a set of books and supplements to ensure her daughter becomes a leader.
What probably happened was my kindergarten teachers suggested this book set for all their students.
However it happened, I am grateful that my parents paid more than they could afford for this wonderful set of 12 My Book House Books. It begins with a volume of nursery rhymes, moves on to fairy tales, through intermediate stories and finishes with the classics.
It was because of these books that I understood references in books that my peers did not. I knew about the Water Babies and The Back of the North Wind by the time I was in 4th grade. I’d read the story about the Nutcracker ballet in second grade. I learned to love literature at a tender age.
Summer of 1973 and I was not quite seventeen. My mother, not much of a reader, urged me to read Five Smooth Stones. Semi-reluctantly, I opened up the 900 page paperback was quickly swept up in the life of David and Sara who meet at college and ultimately marry during the early part of the American civil rights movement. The catch? David is African American and Sara is white.
I was raised by a moderately racist father and an enabling mother. Racially charged protests and riots had been held all over the country, even in my hometown, during the previous ten years. I never asked why. I was afraid of Black people.
Five Smooth Stones made me look at African Americans in a different way. It was the first book I’d read with non-white main character and I think I fell in love with him. I certainly loved his grandfather, who I fondly remember to this day. It also taught me about the civil rights movement and why African Americans were protesting. It changed me.
I think that is what my mother was hoping when she put the book in my hands and urged me to read it. I hope so.
What is a book? Fifty years ago that would not have been a question. Books were books: pages bound between hard or soft covers. You held it in your hands. You turned the physical pages. It had a smell — old books had their particular fragrance and new books had another.
Now we have a bigger choice in how we read books. We can read physical books, we can listen to audio-books or we can read e-books on Kindles, tablets or phones.
Back in the 1990s I listened to a lot of audio-books (then called books-on-tape) and people challenged my reading/listening, telling me that listening to audio-books didn’t count as reading.
Now I mostly read e-books and now some news articles are citing studies that tell me my comprehension of e-books is less than if I were reading a physical book.
I am reading more now because of e-books. Doesn’t that count for something?
I read a variety of all three formats, sometimes two at the same time. I think, no matter how I read, I am reading a book. I know others have different preferences, but we’re all reading.
Maybe the question should have been, “What is reading?”