Wise Words from Harry Truman

…photo from The Truman Library.

Wise words from Harry Truman as reported by biographer, David McCullough:

Harry Truman was a reader. He was a lifelong reader. I asked Margaret one day, “What would be your father’s idea of heaven?” She said, “Oh, that’s easy. It would be a good comfortable armchair and a good reading lamp and a stack of new history and biography that he wanted to read.” He once said that all readers can’t be leaders, but all leaders must be readers.

This seems particularly important and relevant today!

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Simone de Beauvoir

Today is Simone de Beauvoir‘s birthday. She is an author I have long been interested in but have not read any of her work, although I have two of her books on my shelf — The Second Sex, her great feminist manifesto, and A Very Easy Death, the story of her mother’s death. Both books have traveled with me through a number of moves because I really do want to read them.

When I signed up for Adam’s (@roofbeamreader.com) Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge, I put A Very Easy Death on my list. I intend to start it soon. Today, on her birthday, would be perfect!

Donny’s Desk

During my teaching years, I kept a folder for special cards and notes that were given to me. I also wrote down some of the stories that I felt needed to be saved and tucked them into that folder, too. Since reading the little book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, I’ve started going through drawers, files, boxes. This afternoon, for the first time in years, I looked through my special teaching folder. I found this little story, a real treasure, that I wrote from my first year of teaching 6th grade. As I read it, I can still see these two boys in my memory. I am reminded once again that the truth of teaching is not about testing, and only somewhat about curriculum. It’s about LIFE.

I loved my days and years spent with young people! I learned so much from them about love and friendship, strength and resilience, courage and growth…and about how to appreciate each day for the many gifts of love one receives from others, young or old.

DONNY’S DESK

Donny and Nick were inseparable. They’d been friends since kindergarten, and they moved alike, talked alike, and thought alike. Like two young playful puppies, they were constantly jostling and wrestling each other. They couldn’t stand in a line together without a little shoving or shoulder bumping or tousling of the other’s hair.

Once, when Nick went on a family trip for a week, Donny walked around the classroom with a totally lost look on his face. “What are you going to do without your best buddy this week?” I asked him. “I dunno,” he replied with a shrug and a look on his face that showed the loneliness inside.

Yesterday, Donny didn’t come to school. Today I got a message over the intercom from the office saying simply, “Donny moved this weekend. He’ll be in to pick up his things today.”  I looked at Nick in surprise and asked him if he knew anything about this. He didn’t.

Donny came in and cleared out his desk just before lunch. His mother told us quietly where he was moving. “We’ve moved in with friends,” she said with tears in her eyes. Donny said his quiet goodbyes to Nick, and the class. Then he was gone.

The class worked somberly, silently, asking no questions. A little while later Nick quietly came up to my desk and said, “Mrs. Rice, can I move into Donny’s desk?”

Birth Year Reading: The Important Book

Robin in 1949…

I’ve noticed that around the blogosphere there are a number of challenges for reading books published in your birth year. Since I’ve already taken on a number of reading challenges for this year, I’m not going to join any of the official birth year challenges, even though I’m very interested in them. Instead, I’ll review each book I read in a special “birth year post.”  I love the idea of reading more books published in 1949, since that year was the beginning of my lifelong love of books and reading!

The Important Book, by Margaret Wise Brown, was published in my birth year of 1949. Her book, Goodnight Moon, is one of our family favorites. The Important Book, with its illustrations by Leonard Weisgard, is a book that I used more in the classroom during my teaching years.  It’s a simple idea, each page starts with “The important thing about…” and identifies an object and then lists numerous characteristics of that object. It always ends with the most defining characteristic, saying “But the important thing about ___ is that____.”   The repetition and the simple, daily objects that are focused on, capture children’s interest and expands their way of looking at things and expands their vocabulary as well.

I used this book as a teaching tool in my poetry unit when I taught  6th grade and later when I taught 2nd grade. The format of the book really is a form of poetry. The students always seemed to enjoy the book, the ideas, and the challenge of describing interesting objects by their characteristics and then nailing the most important characteristic of all. Each student then would write and “publish” their own “Important Book.”

The Important Book is an idea book, and although it’s not warm and fuzzy like Goodnight Moon, I know that children enjoy it and I think it’s an important book to share with them.

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

When my grandmother died, we found that she had prepared well for the distribution of her belongings. On the bottom or on the back of her most important items, we found a small strip of masking tape with a family member’s name on it. We’ve remembered that over the years with humor and affection, and appreciation. Many years after her death, I turned over one of two kitchen chairs she had given me, and felt a rush of warmth and remembering when I saw the slightly curled piece of masking tape with my name on it.

Much like the planning ahead my grandmother did at the end of her life, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, by Margareta Magnusson, is a book chock full of ideas on getting rid of the clutter in our lives. It is a book that would be helpful to read at any age! Her ideas are very practical and encouraging, and she addresses many of the roadblocks we run into when we are trying find the courage to let things go that we have spent a lifetime collecting.

“Sometimes you just have to give cherished things away with the hope that they end up with someone who will create new memories of their own.”

I will be putting many of her suggestions into gear immediately because I’m already in the purging mode this January. When I spend more time indoors, out of the cold weather, I realize how much stuff we have that we really don’t need anymore. And we are getting on in years, as well, and I definitely don’t want my children to have to deal with all our stuff.  It’s really an act of kindness and love to go through the process of letting go of the clutter now instead of leaving it for them to deal with after we are gone.

My Mom, who is 98 years old, is also reading this book and we are talking about the ideas and the process from both our perspectives. It’s a wonderful ongoing conversation right now, and an important one.

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The Rainbow and the Rose

As many of you know from my past blog posts, I love the stories of Nevil Shute. He describes things beautifully and doesn’t hurry through the telling. He takes care to build very human characters in interesting and believable situations that reveal their best qualities. His male characters are decent, kind and hardworking. His female characters are intelligent and hardworking, as well. I enjoyed reading The Rainbow and the Rose for exactly those reasons.

Nevil Shute was an aeronautical engineer, and his passion for planes and flying is in many of his books, including The Rainbow and the Rose. This story is about a pilot and a younger man he taught to fly some 30 years earlier…

That year we had a terrible July. I was sitting there one evening half asleep, listening to the radio and the wind outside and the rain beating on the window. The seven o’clock news was just coming on, and I stayed to listen to that before going in to tea. I sat dozing through all the stuff about Egypt and the Middle East, and all the stuff about the floods along the Murray. Then there came a bit that jerked me suddenly awake. The announcer said something like this:

‘It is reported from Tasmania that a pilot flying a small aeroplane upon an errand of mercy crashed this afternoon on a small airstrip on the west coast. The pilot, Captain John Pascoe, was attempting to land to bring a child into hospital, Betty Hoskins, aged seven, who is suffering from appendicitis. There is no practicable land route to the Lewis River and all communications normally take place by sea, but no vessel has been able to enter the river for the last ten days owing to the continuing westerly gales. Captain Pascoe is reported to have sustained a fractured skull.’

I was a bit upset when I heard this news. We all knew Johnnie Pascoe because for a time Sydney had been one of his terminals and he still passed through now and then. The world of aviation is a small one in Australia. But I knew him better than anyone, of course, because I had known him off and on for thirty years, ever since he taught me to fly in England at the Leacaster Flying Club.

That begins an intriguing story of how the main character attempts to rescue both the sick little girl and his seriously wounded pilot friend/mentor. This is an unusual story because the main character identifies so closely with his friend, and under the stress of repeated rescue attempts,  the two characters merge. It’s really quite intriguing how NS wrote this story. I liked it very much.

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

My TBR Pile

The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge is hosted by Adam (@roofbeamreader.com). This challenge is a fun way to read books you already own and that have been sitting on your bookshelves for a long time just waiting for you to decide it’s time to read them! It’s time!

Click on the graphic above to read Adam’s rules for the challenge. And check back here to follow my links to the books I’ve finished and reviewed.

My TBR Pile:  Some of these books have been on my shelf for a very long time!

  1. The Enchantress of Florence, by Salman Rushdie
  2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
  3. The Princess Bride, by WIlliam Goldman
  4. A Very Easy Death, by Simone de Beauvoir
  5. This Star Shall Abide, by Sylvia Engdahl
  6. A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf
  7. The Joys of Motherhood, by Buchi Emecheta
  8. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
  9. Clandestine in Chile, by Gabriel García Márquez
  10. Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry
  11. Death in the Castle, by Pearl S. Buck
  12. Dipper of Copper Creek, by Jean Craighead George

Alternates:

  1. Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande
  2. Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life, by Marta McDowell

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, dear friends! I am so happy to leave 2017 behind and make the great leap into 2018!  I am looking forward to my 2018 reading, and am planning on taking on some longer books that have been waiting on my bookshelves forever.

There are a few reading “resolutions” I’m going to make for 2018. One is to read at least 10 of the classics on my Classics Club list of 50 books to read in 5 years. I’m also going to focus on my TBR pile of already owned books. To help with motivation and accountability, I’ve decided to join Adam’s (@roofbeamreader) TBR Pile Challenge. I will post about it shortly.

I plan to blog as often as I can, knowing that when the weather warms up and I can get out into the garden or work on my training for 5k races, I won’t have as much time to sit in front of the computer. It’s funny how at this stage of life (retirement), I absolutely love being outdoors and am spending much more time out there than I have since I was a child!  It feels like a really healthy thing to do…and it’s fun!

I’m also looking forward to seeing what your 2018 plans are and what books you choose for your first reads of this new year.

Happy reading, dear friends!

Painting by Charles James Lewis. “Reading by the Window, Hastings.”