Category Archives: Favorite authors

Goodbye, Mary

Mary Oliver

It is with great sadness this morning that I say goodbye to one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. I heard the news of her passing just a moment ago, and I can’t believe her voice is now silent. We will miss you terribly, Mary, but your poems will live on in our hearts. Thank you for what you did with your one wild and precious life, and for all the beautiful poetry you shared with us.

Books Can Change Your Life

My library posted this wonderful quote by David McCullough on Facebook the other day and I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea. It is true that books can change our lives and characters can have tremendous impact on us. In my own experience, I think the book and character of Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, read (the first time) when I was in the 7th Grade, had a lifetime impact on me. I read many of the books my older brother read, and I remember that after he finished Jane Eyre he told me he thought I would like that book. I most certainly did!  I have vivid memories of scenes and impressions from the book. The strength and resilience of the character, Jane, made a large imprint on my both my heart and my psyche.

Since then, I have found many influential characters and more favorite books. But that first encounter with a character that I admired deeply, and was so influenced by, was a life-expanding experience for me. And for that, it will always be my “favorite book.”

Which is your special book and life-changing character?

 

The Outermost House

In my reading notebook from long ago, on a page with notes I took while reading a book by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, there’s a sentence I wrote down that says, “Who is Henry Beston?” I love discovering new-to-me authors by finding references to them from other authors. In those days there was no Google to instantly look him up. I took a trip to the library to find out who he was and what he wrote. Then I had to track down his book, read it, and finally understand more fully why A.M.L. admired him and his beautiful little book, The Outermost House. After forty-five years, I just reread it and found it even more beautifully written than I remembered.

Henry Beston served as an ambulance driver during World War I. After the war, he began a  writing career. He spent a great deal of time on Cape Cod, and in 1925, he drew up the design for a small getaway cottage for writing. He called it “the fo’castle.”  It was built near Eastham, on the outermost spit of land against the Atlantic Ocean. When it was finished, he went out to stay for a few weeks. Those few weeks turned into a year of solitude and writing. The Outermost House is a memoir of that year of solitude and his observations and descriptions of that “elemental” area that bring it to life for the reader. As I read it I could hear the waves, I could  picture the shore birds, I could feel the wind and the storms. I slowed myself down from the busy-ness of the holidays so that I could read it word by word and enjoy the beauty of those words chosen so eloquently to bring to life a sense of place.

His book was instrumental in, or inspired, the establishment of Cape Cod as a National Seashore in 1961. Unfortunately, although his little house withstood many storms and an everchanging coastline (it was moved inland twice to preserve it), the severe winter storms of 1978 washed it out to sea.

I loved rereading this book. I loved learning more about the life of Henry Beston. And now I would very much love to spend some time on Cape Cod.

Some favorites from the book:

…The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach. I have heard them all, and of the three elemental voices, that of ocean is the most awesome, beautiful, and varied.

…The sea has many voices. Listen to the surf, really lend it your ears, and you will hear in it a world of sounds: hollow boomings and heavy roarings, great watery tumblings and tramplings, long hissing seethes, sharp, rifle-shot reports, splashes, whispers, the grinding undertone of stones, and sometimes vocal sounds that might be the half-heard talk of people in the sea.

…We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

“Biographical Snippets” by Jessica Ellen Monk :  Click here to read her full summary of Henry Beston’s life.

  • Born June 1, 1888, Quincy MA
  • Served as an ambulance driver in WW1 – 1915
  • Began a writing career after WWI
  • Had “the Fo’castle” built in 1925
  • Spent much of the next few years there in solitude
  • The Outermost House published in 1928
  • Married Elizabeth Coatsworth in 1929
  • Donated Fo’castle to the Audubon Society in 1959
  • Died April 15, 1968
  • Fo’castle washed away by a storm in 1978

 

 

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

Death Comes for the Archbishop

“During those last weeks of the Bishop’s life he thought very little about death; it was the Past he was leaving. The future would take care of itself.”

Death Comes for the Archbishop is my favorite book written by Willa Cather so rereading it for my Classics Club challenge was a pleasure. It’s such a beautifully written book. It is an historical fiction, based on the life of Jean-Baptiste Lamy, who served as the first Archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and of his friend, Joseph Projectus Machebeuf.

From the publisher:

There is something epic–and almost mythic–about this sparsely beautiful novel by Willa Cather, although the story it tells is that of a single human life, lived simply in the silence of the desert. In 1851 Father Jean Marie Latour comes as the Apostolic Vicar to New Mexico. What he finds is a vast territory of red hills and tortuous arroyos, American by law but Mexican and Indian in custom and belief. In the almost forty years that follow, Latour spreads his faith in the only way he knows–gently, although he must contend with an unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness. Out of these events Cather gives us an indelible vision of life unfolding in a place where time itself seems suspended.

The character of Father Latour was of a gentle, caring, intelligent and introverted man. This man’s personality was in stark contrast with the rugged western landscapes and the “wildness” of the west at that time, but he showed courage, perseverance, and kindness toward all through the experiences of his life.

But Jean, who was at ease in any society and always the flower of courtesy, could not form new ties. It had always been so. He was like a very few. To man’s wisdom it would have seemed that a priest with Father Latour’s exceptional qualities would have been better placed in some part of the world where scholarship, a handsome person, and delicate perceptions all have their effect; and that a man of much rougher type would have served God well enough as the first Bishop of New Mexico. Doubtless Bishop Latour’s successors would be men of a different fibre. But God had his reasons, Father Joseph devoutly believed. Perhaps it pleased Him to grace the beginning of a new era and a vast new diocese by a fine personality. And perhaps, after all, something would remain through the years to come: some ideal, or memory, or legend.

The stories of the Archbishop’s interactions with the Mexican and Indian peoples and their cultures were poignantly and honestly told. The political problems of both cultures with the American government were complex, but reflecting towards the end of his life, the Bishop said, “My son, I have lived to see two great wrongs righted; I have seen the end of black slavery, and I have seen the Navajos restored to their own country.”

Cather’s  descriptions of New Mexico are exquisite. She uses her words as if a painter and the visions she creates in our minds are full of color and emotion.

“The sky was as full of motion and change as the desert beneath it was monotonous and still, — and there was so much sky, more than at sea, more than anywhere else in the world. The plain was there, under one’s feet, but what one saw when one looked about was that brilliant blue world of stinging air and moving cloud. Even the mountains were mere ant-hills under it. Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. The landscape one longed for when one was away, the thing all about one, the world one actually lived in, was the sky, the sky!”

I do love this work of art and the artistry of Willa Cather. Reading this book fills me with sunshine and deep emotion. I am in awe of her mastery of language.

“Something soft and wild and free, something that whispered to the ear on the pillow, lightened the heart, softly, softly picked the lock, slid the bolts, and released the prisoned spirit of man into the wind, into the blue and gold, into the morning, into the morning!”

I read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club. It was also a book on my list for my personal reading journey, “May Sunshine Light Your Day.”

 

 

No Holly for Miss Quinn

No Holly for Miss Quinn, is the 12th book in the Fairacre series by Miss Read. There are a number of books in the series that celebrate Christmastime in the wonderfully imagined village of Fairacre. They have all become favorite holiday reads for me.

from the publisher:

Nobody in Fairacre knows much about Miss Quinn, which is a rare state of affairs and much regretted by the villagers. Apart from the fact that she lives in the annex to Mrs. Benson’s house and that she works in Caxley, her past history and the amount of her salary remains a tantalizing mystery.

In fact, Miss Quinn is a highly efficient secretary to a Caxley businessman. She runs him, and her own affairs, with terrifying competence. She is completely unsentimental and plans to spend her Christmas exactly as she wants, without fuss or family.

But before the great day, her brother rings to say his wife has been rushed to the hospital, and could she come and cope with the children? Secretly dismayed, Miss Quinn sets out to do her duty.

Miss Quinn’s Christmas becomes so much more than “doing her duty.” It’s really a lovely story about family, growth and change. I love Miss Quinn’s independence and strength, and her love of solitude. But I also loved that she experienced the magic of Christmas with her nieces and nephew, and came to know and appreciate her beloved brother and his wife in a whole new way.

A wonderful holiday story that can easily be read each Christmastime.

Reading Miss Read

In the last few years, I have fallen in love with the Fairacre series, by Miss Read (the pseudonym for English author, Dora Saint). Fairacre is an imagined English village, and the stories about the life and people in this village as told by the village school teacher are absolutely delightful. Not everything is idyllic in the village, but nonetheless, I would love to live there, and I thoroughly enjoy my time spent there when I’m reading one of the books in the series. When I finish reading the Fairacre series, I will most happily move on to her Thrush Green series. Thrush Green is another village full of more delightful stories.

This is an ongoing personal reading challenge…one of my “Reading Journeys.”  I haven’t been reviewing each of the books I’ve read in the series, but this post is where I will keep track of the ones I read and link to the ones I review.

The Fairacre series:

  1. Village School – 1955
  2. Village Diary – 1957
  3. Storm in the Village – 1958
  4. Miss Clare Remembers – 1962
  5. Over the Gate – 1964
  6. Village Christmas – 1966
  7. Fairacre Festival – 1968
  8. Emily Davis – 1971
  9. Tyler’s Row – 1972
  10. Christmas Mouse – 1973
  11. Farther Afield – 1974
  12. No Holly for Miss Quinn – 1976
  13. Village Affairs – 1977
  14. The White Robin – 1979
  15. Village Centenary – 1980
  16. Summer at Fairacre – 1984
  17. Mrs. Pringle – 1989
  18. Changes at Fairacre – 1991
  19. Farewell to Fairacre – 1993
  20. A Peaceful Retirement – 1996

The Thrush Green series:

  1. Thrush Green – 1959
  2. Winter in Thrush Green – 1961
  3. News from Thrush Green – 1970
  4. Battles at Thrush Green – 1975
  5. Return to Thrush Green – 1978
  6. Gossip from Thrush Green – 1981
  7. Affairs at Thrush Green – 1983
  8. At Home in Thrush Green – 1985
  9. School at Thrush Green – 1987
  10. Friends at Thrush Green – 1990
  11. Celebrations at Thrush Green – 1992
  12. Year at Thrush Green – 1995

The Caxley Chronicles:

  • The Caxley Chronicles Omnibus: The Market Square and The Howards of Caxley

Other Works by Miss Read:

  • Tiggy – 1971
  • Fresh from the Country – 1955
  • Mrs. Griffin Sends Her Love

 

Holiday Reading

As soon as November arrives, I start my holiday reading. I love this time of year filled with lots of family activities and fun. I enjoy hunkering down on cold and icy days with a good book and a cup of tea. And I love reading holiday stories, old and new.

I started this holiday season with a short book from Miss Read’s Fairacre series (Fairacre #10). The Christmas Mouse was delightful, as are all the Fairacre books!

from Kirkus Reviews:

‘Twas the night before. . . and all through the house (will there be a dry eye?) in which Mrs. Berry lives with her daughter Mary and Mary’s two little girls (Mary’s husband has just passed on suddenly) there is still a twitch of expectation. But not for the creature who appears in Mrs. Berry’s room — with tiny pink paws, and goodness only knows she hadn’t anticipated the bedraggled little boy who turns up just before the day itself with its happy crinkle of packages. . . . Oh dear how dear, but then Miss Read’s own audience won’t be catnapping.

This was a kind and gentle story, a reminder of the things in life that really matter — family, kindness, acceptance, and love. A little book definitely worth reading on a cold November evening!

 

I Worried

I confess that I’m a worrier. I really have to keep reminding myself to just “let it go,” that worrying doesn’t get you anywhere!  This poem, by Mary Oliver, is so perfect for those of us who waste precious energy in the worry loop!

I took her advice earlier this week (before the rains returned) and this was what greeted me when I took my old body and went out into the morning. It was so much better than worrying!

 

Katherine Mansfield

Today is Katherine Mansfield’s birthday. She was born on this day in 1888 in Wellington, New Zealand, and died very young, at age 34. She wrote wonderful short stories, but years ago I read the book, Journal of Katherine Mansfield, and enjoyed it every bit as much as her stories. As I read through her journal, I copied down many quotes into my notebook (that was before computers!), and this is one of my favorites:

“Grownupedness”

Four o’clock. Is it light now at Four o’clock? I jump out of bed and run over to the window. It is half-light, neither black nor blue. The wing of the coast is violet; in the lilac sky there are dark banners and little black boats manned by black shadows put out on the purple water.

Oh! how often I have watched this hour when I was a girl! But then — I stayed at the window until I grew cold — until I was icy — thrilled by something — I did not know what. Now I fly back into bed, pulling up the clothes, tucking them into my neck. And suddenly, my feet find the hot water bottle. Heavens! it is still beautifully warm. That really is thrilling.

Katherine Mansfield having tea at her work table, at the Villa Isola Bella at Menton, in the south of France. (Photograph by Ida Baker, 1920)