Category Archives: Favorite authors

Virginia Woolf: They Have Loved Reading

I have sometimes dreamt that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards — their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble — the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.”

Today we celebrate Virginia Woolf who was born on this day in 1882.

A Sad Loss

The world has lost a wonderful author today. I was saddened to hear the news of Ursula le Guin’s passing. I’ve enjoyed a number of her books, and I was so happy, when I was teaching second grade, to introduce my young students to her wonderful imagination by reading them the Catwings series. They loved those books, class after class, for many years! I’m sure a number of those former students are Ursula le Guin fans today and are also saddened by our loss.

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.

Bookends

 

My first read of 2017 was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s, We Should All Be Feminists, so it was very fitting to read another short work by her, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions,  to end my reading year. Wonderful bookends for 2017!

Click here to reread my review of We Should All Be Feminists. I feel even more strongly than I did one year ago, that this short book is essential reading for all! The word “feminist” is such a scary word to so many people, but this book gives you important understandings of why we need to set aside fear and open our hearts to the ideas of feminism which empower and enrich the lives of both men and women.

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions was a letter written in response to a request from Adichie’s friend about how to raise her newborn daughter. Simply put, I wish this book had existed when my daughter was born 39 years ago. I did have some strong female role models that inspired and guided my parenting of both my son and my daughter, but this little book, so succinctly and eloquently written, would have been my hand guide. I decided that I will give a copy of it , along with the knitted blanket and baby sweater gifts I make for the new arrivals of family and friends. It would be a gift of love and caring for both the new family and for the future of our planet!

These two books were excellent bookends for a year full of conflicts, contradictions, and challenges to our national norms and priorities when it comes to families and the future. There is HOPE in these two books, and ideas that can make us better people making better choices.

A photo from 39 years ago! I am, more than ever, in awe of my strong, resilient, beautiful daughter!

Son and Grandson

A photo from 6 years ago. I am also in awe of the gentle and nurturing way my son parents his own son!

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Furry Friends

Jessie_Willcox_Smith

We have allergies and asthma in my family, so unfortunately we’ve never been able to have a cat for a pet. I do love reading stories about cats, though, and have read a number of very sweet books with cats as the main character. There are many cat books to enjoy, and I’ve delighted in each one I’ve read so far…

The Abandoned, by Paul Gallico, is a book written out of love for his own cats. It’s quite a story! A little boy, neglected by his busy parents, runs into the street to rescue a cat that is in the way of a truck speeding down the road. The little boy is hit by the truck instead, and he survives but immediately enters the cat world, as a cat! I know that sounds weird, but the magic works and the little boy has to learn how to BE a cat because he is still very much a little boy. A kind cat, Jennie, befriends him and teaches him everything he needs to know to survive as a cat. It’s quite fascinating to read, and a poignant little story, beautifully written. I love the writings of Paul Gallico, so this was a special treat to read.

Tiggy, by Miss Read (who wrote the Fairacre and Thrush Green series), is another fun story. Tiggy is the true story of a stray cat that came to visit, bringing her kittens with her. How to tame the stray Mama, and then domesticate her kittens enough to find homes for each one, is a story full of heart and humor.

 

Nellie

I found Nellie, A Cat on her Own, by Natalie Babbitt, at the library. It was a story of a wooden marionette cat who loved to dance and who longed to roam freely even though she was happy living with the little old lady who made her. The story is sweet and magical, but more complex than you realize. It has to do with happiness, independence, growth and change, and friendship. A very interesting story!

The old woman had made Nellie from wood and yarn and broom straws, and every afternoon would take her down from her peg, wind up the music box, and pull her strings to make her leap and dip and spin, just like a dancer on stage.

Belong to yourself, then, like me,” said Big Tom. “That way, when changes come, you’ll always be ready to hold your tail high and move along.

Some other special cat books include The Catwings series, by Ursula le Guin, which was a favorite of my second graders for many years in a row!  I read The Fur Person, by May Sarton, many years ago but still enjoy giving that small volume to cat-loving friends for Christmas. And sitting on my nightstand is another little cat book that I intend to read soon:  The Guest Cat, by Takashi Hiraide.

And just to reassure you that I do have real live cat friends, despite our allergies… two neighborhood cats have made our garden and porch their own special places.

 

The Writer’s Almanac

One of the nicest things I’ve discovered recently is The Writer’s Almanac, with Garrison Keillor, a daily podcast of literary and historical notes, and the reading of a poem. It is an utterly delightful 5 minutes in my day and a wonderful antidote to all the ugly and negative news events that inundate us these days.

“Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”
~ Garrison Keiller

The Unicorn and Other Poems

 

One of the special books on my bookshelf is The Unicorn and Other Poems, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I bought this book many, many years ago, and revisit it often to read the poems that touched my heart when I first read them and now have special meaning in my life. They express so eloquently many of my own inner feelings and thoughts, and so have become treasures for me.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh was the wife of the famous aviator, Charles Lindbergh, who was a hero to many. After finding this book of poetry, and then reading all of AML’s diaries and fiction, she became for me the real hero in the family. She was a gentle soul, but with a tremendous inner strength, forged partly through tragedy. She lived an amazing life traveling all over the world with her husband, and she became a pioneer aviator herself. She was intelligent and introverted, and a beautiful writer. Her books, North to the Orient and Listen! The Wind told fascinating stories of their world travels. Her diaries and letters were her way of processing life as it happened.

“I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.”

In her wonderful book, Gift From the Sea, she “shares her meditations on youth and age; love and marriage; peace, solitude and contentment as she set them down during a brief vacation by the sea.” (words from her daughter, Reeve).

But as I said before, it is her poetry that really touches my heart. One of my favorite poems in this book is called “Bare Tree.” I loved it the first time I read it, but it is even more meaningful to me at this age and stage of life, so I love it now in a whole new way.

BARE TREE

Already I have shed the leaves of youth,
stripped by the wind of time down to the truth
of winter branches. Linear and alone
I stand, a lens for lives beyond my own,
a frame through which another’s fire may glow,
a harp on which another’s passion, blow.

The pattern of my boughs, an open chart
spread on the sky, to others may impart
its leafless mysteries that I once prized,
before bare roots and branches equalized,
tendrils that tap the rain or twigs the sun
are all the same, shadow and substance one.
Now that my vulnerable leaves are cast aside,
there’s nothing left to shield, nothing to hide.

Blow through me, Life, pared down at last to bone,
so fragile and so fearless have I grown!

I chose to reread this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club. It’s a book I have re-read many times in my life and each time I read it, I love it even more.