Category Archives: Memoirs

The Magic Apple Tree and Sunflowers

The Magic Apple Tree, by Susan Hill, is a magical memoir about her years living in the English countryside. I loved reading it, and will enjoy rereading it again before too long. One of the passages I highlighted from the book was about summer and sunflowers. It reminded me of my own sunflower garden from a few years ago, and I’m sad that I didn’t plant any sunflowers in our yard this year. Next year, for sure!

Summer means sunflowers – better called by their exquisitely apposite French name, tournesol. It is folly to try and grow them very tall here, of course, the wild winds of the early autumn nights bend and break their thick stems and bow their great shaggy heads to the ground, but I do try nevertheless, because I love them so, their bright faces and open-golden look, and the way the bees swarm about them, I should like a whole marching line of them up against the wall near the woodshed.

My sunflower garden from 2015.

Reflections: June 2019

My June reading was a total pleasure! I didn’t read as many books as I have in each of the last few months, but I enjoyed every minute of the books I did read. It was the beginning of my summer reading, and the weather was nice enough to allow me to sit in my favorite reading spot on the porch for much of the time. July will get too hot for afternoon reading out there, but for now it’s just perfect.

It’s hard to choose my favorite of the month because I read some terrific books! I absolutely loved The Ravenmaster, by Christopher Skaife, a book recommended to me by my bird-loving daughter. The audiobook is the way to enjoy this book because Christopher Skaife narrates it himself which adds tremendous fun to the experience. His stories of the ravens that live at the Tower of London are both fun and fascinating. I learned so much about ravens from him!

I just loved Cider With Rosie, by Laurie Lee, which I also listened to on audiobook and which was also narrated by the author. Mr. Lee’s voice was full of nostalgia and emotion, and I felt as if he was sitting right next to me sharing his memories with just me. I was reminded of my grandfather, and my father, both great storytellers.

A different type of memoir stole my heart next — Susan Hill’s The Magic Apple Tree is one of the loveliest books I’ve read in a long time. I was so captured by her beautiful writing and her remembrances of her life in the English countryside! Even before I finished the book, I started searching for two others that she wrote in a similar vein. They were hard to find, but I ordered them from Abe Books and was delighted when they arrived. More summer reading!

Some time spent reading The Hunt for Red October, by Tom Clancy, and then re-watching the movie with my husband was fun. A light mystery, a classic science fiction novel, and a return to my childhood with a re-reading of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse rounded out the month.

I hope you are enjoying your summer reading as much as I am enjoying mine!

Cider With Rosie

Cider With Rosie, by Laurie Lee, is a memoir that captures beautifully a time and place. Laurie Lee was a poet, and this memoir (the first of a trilogy of memoirs) was poetic and lyrical and beautiful to read. I also had the pleasure of listening to the audiobook of Laurie Lee himself reading this first volume. For me, it was a very moving experience. His old voice was filled with emotion and nostalgia. As he read, I thought of my grandparents and of my father … the stories Laurie Lee told were familiar and in some ways similar to stories my elders told me as I was growing up. My father, too, grew up in a small village in a small valley. He, too, told stories filled with nostalgia, and his descriptions of the valley and the stories of his childhood became part of me. So I loved this little book and look forward to reading the next two memoirs.

Below are two samples of his storytelling, and examples of why I loved this book.

A brief snippet from one chapter that told wonderful stories about two old ladies in the village, their lives and deaths completely intertwined…

“Me dad planted that tree,’ she said absently, pointing out through the old cracked window.
The great beech filled at least half the sky and shook shadows all over the house.
Its roots clutched the slope like a giant hand, holding the hill in place. Its trunk writhed with power, threw off veils of green dust, rose towering into the air, branched into a thousand shaded alleys, became a city for owls and squirrels. I had thought such trees to be as old as the earth, I never dreamed that a man could make them. Yet it was Granny Trill’s dad who had planted this tree, had thrust in the seed with his finger. How old must he have been to leave such a mark? Think of Granny’s age, and add his on top, and you were back at the beginning of the world.”

A description of his mother’s garden…

“Our terraced strip of garden was Mother’s monument, and she worked it headstrong, without plan. She would never control or clear this ground, merely cherish whatever was there; and she was as impartial in her encouragement to all that grew as a spell of sweet sunny weather. She would force nothing, graft nothing, nor set things in rows; she welcomed self-seeders, let each have its head, and was the enemy of very few weeds. Consequently our garden was a sprouting jungle and never an inch was wasted.”

 

 

 

 

I read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club. It was also on my list for my 2019 TBR Pile Challenge. And I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust“– to read books from each country of the world. This was a classic from United Kingdom.

Sunday Afternoon Listening

It’s a warm Sunday afternoon. Our neighbor is burning leaves and stuff in her backyard, filling our yard with the smoke. So we are inside instead of working outside for awhile, and I am listening to a new audiobook:  Cider With Rosie, written and narrated by Laurie Lee! It’s like sitting next to my grandpa listening to him telling stories from his life. It’s a lovely old recording, and he is a beautiful writer and storyteller.

November Reflections 2018

With the darker, colder days arriving, I found it much harder to keep my spirits up during November. That’s not unusual for me, or for many people at this time of year, especially in the Pacific Northwest.  Seasonal Affective Disorder is real. The change of light, the shorter days, and staying indoors more on colder days can lead to melancholy or depression. My reading is my personal antidote to that SAD feeling. It broadens my perspectives and gives me new ways of looking at the world. That cheers me up and also gives me a new appreciation for friends and family.

So with that said, November turned out to be a pretty good reading month for me. I enjoyed getting lost in a variety of books — a mystery, some classics, a Christmas book. I read a number of graphic novels this month, and I’m liking that genre more and more. I especially loved Debbie Tung’s Quiet Girl in a Noisy World, and look forward to her new book, Book Love, to be released in the U.S. on January 1st. My favorite book this month was Michelle Obama’s, Becoming, because it was full of courage and dignity, and hope.

For those of you living in the northern hemisphere, I hope your reading in November was enjoyable and an antidote to the darker, colder days. And for the rest of you, I also hope your November was spent immersed in wonderful books!

My November reads:

 

Becoming

If I could give a six-star rating (based on the Goodreads five-star system), I would give it for this book. Becoming, by Michelle Obama, is beautifully and honestly written, full of wisdom and hope. And listening to her narrate the audiobook version is a delight. It’s the best thing I’ve read in years and years!

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

“The thoughts that occur to me while I’m running are like clouds in the sky. Clouds of all different sizes. They come and they go, while the sky remains the same sky always. The clouds are mere guests in the sky that pass away and vanish, leaving behind the sky.”

Haruki Murakami’s book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, was a delightful surprise. I downloaded the audiobook this week expecting to enjoy hearing about his running experiences, but I didn’t expect to love this book. But I did love it and gave it 5 stars on my Goodreads review!

In this little book, he talks about how he became a runner, about the technical details of preparing for and running races, of the mental and emotional struggles of long-distance running. But it is also a fascinating memoir of the growth and changes he experienced as he became both a runner and a writer — two “obsessions,” really “passions,” that define who he is as a person.

“Being active every day makes it easier to hear that inner voice. “

Murakami spoke to my heart with this book. I’m a walker with the heart of a runner. I wish I had discovered at a younger age this love of moving fast, participating in races, and learning all about myself from the daily experience of getting outside and losing myself in motion. But I didn’t start my “running” journey until age 65, and my knees will not let me run, so I am content with the walking experience. However, I identified with his love for running and writing, was touched by his descriptions of aging (he and I are the same age, born 2-1/2 weeks apart), am inspired by his passion for life, and I totally agree with his longing:

“I’ll be happy if running and I can grow old together.”

Dreams From my Father

My book blogging friend, Andi, at Estella’s Revenge, recently listened to the audiobook of Dreams From my Father, by Barack Obama (narrated by the author). She rated it 5 stars on Goodreads, and talked about how much she enjoyed listening to it. She inspired me to follow suit, so I downloaded the audiobook from Audible and am just starting it. My mother (age 98) is also going to listen to it so that we can share our thoughts about it on the phone in our daily conversations. We both miss the Obamas greatly and thought that listening to Barack Obama tell stories about his life and family would be very enjoyable. Thanks, Andi, for the idea! This little shared project is going to brighten our days!

Mom and I have been sharing books and reading experiences for a lot of years!

 

A Very Easy Death

A hard task, dying, when one loves life so much.

A Very Easy Death, by Simone de Beauvoir, is a beautifully written, powerfully emotional account of her mother’s death and her own emotional journey through her mother’s illness and death.

At age 78, her mother fell and broke the top part of her femur. She was hospitalized and during examination, the doctors found that she had cancer. It was a highly aggressive sarcoma, and her illness and decline were rapid. Simone and her sister, Poupette, spent most of their time at the hospital with their mother throughout that time, and Poupette was there the night she died.

This is a story that so many of us have gone through with a parent or loved one. Because the journey through illness and decline is a familiar one, I was acutely aware and appreciative of the honesty with which de Beauvoir shared their story — the story of two daughters in the process of losing their mother, and of their mother’s struggle to LIVE while dying.

Before reading the book, I thought that the term “an easy death” meant that the person didn’t have to suffer very much before dying. My family used that term about my father’s passing. He didn’t suffer long with his illness, and we were so grateful for that. But that is not what de Beauvoir meant by “an easy death.”  On the contrary, her mother suffered terribly before she died, but she had her daughters with her throughout the decline, and they helped her, advocated for her, and shared courage together in facing the inevitable. That was a luxury that de Beauvoir felt many people don’t have at the end of their lives.

With regard to Maman we were above all guilty, these last years, of carelessness, omission and abstention. We felt that we atoned for this by the days that we gave up to her, by the peace that our being there gave her, and by the victories gained over fear and pain. Without our obstinate watchfulness she would have suffered far more.

She and her sister were with her mother constantly during her illness, so de Beauvoir also describes the very painful reality a loved one faces in going through the agony of cancer.

…In this race between pain and death we most earnestly hoped that death would come first.

…Friday passed uneventfully. On Saturday Maman slept all the time. ‘That’s splendid,’ said Poupette to her. ‘You have rested.’ ‘Today I have not lived,’ sighed Maman.

…Nothing on earth could possibly justify these moments of pointless torment.

And she poignantly details the final aloneness of death.

…The misfortune is that although everyone must come to this, each experiences the adventure in solitude. We never left Maman during those last days which she confused with convalescence and yet we were profoundly separated from her.

All the way through this book, I thought of my own mother.  Simone de Beauvoir’s mother was 78 when she died, which seems so young to me from my vantage point now. I am incredibly fortunate to still have my mother who is 98 years old and still very much alive and well! But she and I are also very aware that time is getting short, which gives a special aura to every conversation, every visit, every moment we share. She and I talk about the end quite often, and our shared hope is that it is quick and painless. I live 800 miles away from my mother, so I know it is possible I won’t be with her when that time comes, to help ease her final journey, and that is hard for me.

Nothing prepares any of us for death. Even if fighting a terminal illness, Simone de Beauvoir said: “A hard task, dying, when one loves life so much.” Her mother clung tenaciously to life:

What touched our hearts that day was the way she noticed the slightest agreeable sensation: it was as though, at the age of seventy-eight, she were waking afresh to the miracle of living.

And on the finality of death itself, de Beauvoir said:

There is no such thing as a natural death: nothing that happens to a man is ever natural, since his presence calls the world into question. All men must die: but for every man his death is an accident and, even if he knows it and consents to it, an unjustifiable violation.

Simone de Beauvoir was a gifted author and influential existential philosopher. This was the first book I read by her, but I am very anxious now to read more of her work. I was so impressed with the beauty of her writing and with her deeply thoughtful honesty. With this book, she has touched my heart and mind like no other author has done in a long time.

Simone de Beauvoir with mother and sister…

This was a book that was on my list of 50 books to read for The Classics Club, and was also on my TBR Pile Challenge list.

Christmas in Plains

I’ve begun my annual reading of Christmas books/stories/poems, and this morning read one that has been on my TBR list forever! Christmas in Plains, by our former president, Jimmy Carter, was a delightful way to spend my morning. Here’s my review from Goodreads:

This was a very pleasant book to read on this foggy Saturday morning. While I enjoyed President Carter’s memories of Christmases over the years, I was most appreciative of the reminder of what a real president is like — a person who is kind and caring to all, someone who is dedicated to peace and unity throughout the world, a leader who believes in solving problems through diplomacy and negotiation and who has respect for all cultures and differences.

A heartfelt THANK YOU to President Carter for sharing these memories. And a very Merry Christmas this year to President and Mrs. Carter, and their family.

A Christmas in Plains…

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