What I am listening to (and enjoying very much!) this week:
Sad news yesterday about Ivan Doig. We’ve lost yet another wonderful author. I have a special place in my heart for Ivan Doig. My father loved reading his books, and so did I. When I read his memoir, This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind, I felt that we were most definitely kindred spirits. In this memoir, his stories of his Dad and his Grandmother and their Montana ranching lives reminded me in many ways of my own Dad and my own Wyoming Grandmother. They didn’t ranch, but they, too, were real characters shaped in similar ways by that western landscape.
As a girl from mountains, I also loved his descriptions of the western landscape that was so familiar to me.
The western skyline before us was filled high with a steel-blue army of mountains, drawn in battalions of peaks and reefs and gorges and crags as far along the entire rim of the earth as could be seen…
When my husband and I decided to relocate to the Pacific Northwest from the Intermountain West 25 years ago, I read his books, Winter Brothers: A Season at the Edge of America and The Sea Runners. Both were amazing stories that capture the heart of the Northwest, and those books, along with Wintergreen, by Robert Michael Pyle, and The Good Rain, by Timothy Egan, helped turn us into Northwesterners at heart.
One last word about the setting of my work, the American West. I don’t think of myself as a “Western” writer. To me, language—the substance on the page, that poetry under the prose—is the ultimate “region,” the true home, for a writer. Specific geographies, but galaxies of imaginative expression—we’ve seen them both exist in William Faulkner’s postage stamp-size Yoknapatawpha County, and in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s nowhere village of Macondo, dreaming in its hundred years of solitude. If I have any creed that I wish you as readers, necessary accomplices in this flirtatious ceremony of writing and reading, will take with you from my pages, it’d be this belief of mine that writers of caliber can ground their work in specific land and lingo and yet be writing of that larger country: life.
Ivan Doig was a writer of caliber, and his “poetry under the prose” spoke to me directly and touched my life in many ways. King County Library, on Twitter today, paid him a wonderful, simple and perfect tribute:
“Scene: The flat plain is a brilliant green. A lone figure walks toward the distant mountains. Goodbye Ivan.”
Anne Morrow Lindbergh is an artist who has been an inspiration to me throughout my life. I was a young mother when I first found her books. Her words touched my heart and my life in so many ways and gave clarity to my own journey to define my Self. I read her diaries as they were published, then her novels and her lovely non-fiction. Then I found her beautiful poetry.
In 1974, I marked with interest the passing of her husband, Charles Lindbergh, but in 2001, I mourned Anne’s passing. She had become a mentor, a guide, an inspiration to me, so I felt her loss deeply.
When I recently discovered there was a little book called Shells: A Cameo of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, by Virnell Ann Bruce, I was instantly curious. I haven’t read many of the biographies written about AML because I preferred to read about her life in her own words, or in her daughter’s words — Reeve Lindbergh wrote some beautiful memoirs of her parents. (Click here to watch a YouTube video of Reeve talking about her mother.) But Shells is actually a one-woman play with Anne Morrow Lindbergh sharing stories and reminiscing about her life. The author has done a tremendous amount of research for this play, (Click here to watch a YouTube video of Virnell Ann Bruce talking about AML) and it’s a lovely way to learn about AML and her amazing life. I would love to have the opportunity to see this play performed on stage.
As I read the play, I bookmarked numerous passages that resonated with me. One passage, in particular, described well what I admired about AML, and why she became my own “friend” and “guide” over the years.
I spent a lot of time over the years, looking inward for myself and my world. It’s hard work to become a whole person, to develop and understand your own heart, your mind and your true spirit. Especially since it’s a continuous process as life changes. While I spent a good amount of time in Charles’ world of action, I think I found my own place in the world. Oh, it included Charles and the children, but it also included my world of books and poetry and art. And I found many wonderful friends in those worlds.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s sensitive and insightful world of books, poetry and art continues to inspire me and guide me on my lifelong journey to understand my own heart and spirit. This little book was another lovely encounter with a beautiful artist.
How quickly, in one instant, years of happy life become only memories!
A Bridge for Passing, by Pearl S. Buck, was an interesting end for my 2014 reading year. Buck is a favorite author of mine, and I read her books slowly, absorbing her words and wisdom, enjoying the beauty of her prose.
I hadn’t heard of this book before, but when I saw the description of it, I knew it was my next read by her. One of my all time favorites of her books is The Big Wave, a story about life and death and what it means to be Japanese. I loved sharing it with my 6th grade students when I was teaching and we were studying the Pacific Rim countries. The discussions were so powerful. A Bridge for Passing is a memoir of the time when Buck was in Japan for the filming of The Big Wave. She had written the screenplay. During that time, she received word of the death of her husband, Richard Walsh. Her experiences in Japan at such a sad and difficult time provided solace and perspective, and became a “bridge” into her new life alone without her beloved husband. What an interesting experience to read this poignant book about grief and renewal, with its fascinating connection to another book I love!
My mother, at age 95, is still a prolific reader and an inspiration to me. She lives next door to a wonderful library and enjoys walking there as often as she can. During the winter months, when the weather is awful, she foregoes her walks to the library and chooses more Kindle books to read. She recently found one she enjoyed very much and she sent me an email describing it. It is a story that came out of World War II and the Holocaust, the story of a strong and courageous woman, both things of great interest to my mother. Since she hasn’t written reviews for my blog in quite awhile, I decided to include her email as a “Guest Post from Mom.”
I have just finished reading a biography called: Art of a Jewish Woman written by her son, Henry Massie. It is a remarkable story. When I read of her death at the age of 97, I could not hold back the tears, a complete surprise to myself.
From a review on Amazon I found this short review helpful in covering some important facts about this memoir, Dr Henry Massie’s’ account of his mother.
Kitty Hughes – See all my reviews
This review is from: Art of a Jewish Woman: The True Story of How a Penniless Holocaust Escapee Became an Influential Modern Art Connoisseur (formerly titled Felice’s Worlds) (Kindle Edition)
“Felice’s World is a graceful and thought-provoking read of the difficult, complex and rich life of the author’s mother. It fills in the various historical contexts of her life in a meaningful way, showing us the various worlds that Felice moved through and the ways she was shaped by and shaped the environments that enclosed her.”
Felice was able to escape the worst of the devastation the holocaust had on members of her family. She escaped to America with the help of family relatives living in the United States. She spoke a number of languages and mastered French to near perfection. She tutored young people from rich families in French, and was often able to be a live-in teacher, which helped her immensely.
From a young age, she was declared a beauty and her beauty provided definite advantages. She was certainly brave in accepting opportunities that came her way. Her story began in Poland and the war kept her moving to safer places. What an amazing story! It was hard for me to try to write about her but wanted to share a bit with you.
Alan Cumming’s memoir, Not My Father’s Son, is an important book. Mr. Cumming grew up with a cruel and abusive father, certainly a difficult subject to write about, and one that is often difficult to read. But he wrote it with honesty, courage, compassion, and fairness. And as I listened to the audiobook, which he narrated himself, I found myself admiring Alan Cumming more and more for the way he has dealt with such a dark childhood. He is a good, caring, and sensitive human being, (as well as a gifted actor!) and I appreciate him for sharing his difficult story with the world.
Fall is here and I find myself feeling my usual autumn nostalgia. Three Houses, by Angela Thirkell, was a perfect fit for my changing season days. Her little book of memories from her childhood during Victorian times was beautifully written, with descriptions so lovely that I read them slowly, savoring them. Her memories are tied to three homes from her childhood, homes filled with loving grandparents, fun cousins, family friends, and all those who helped in or visited those households.
She was the beloved granddaughter of the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Edward Burne-Jones, was a cousin of Rudyard Kipling (first cousin, once removed), and was the goddaughter of J.M. Barrie, so her childhood was filled with art and stories. She became a wonderful storyteller herself, so after this lovely experience, I am looking forward to reading more of her work.
Here’s an example of her magically descriptive childhood memories.
In the larger part of the drawing room was my grandmother’s toy cupboard. Originally begun as a toy cupboard for our visits, it had gradually fallen into her far worthier hands and she kept it and added to it with the collector’s passion. When the oak cupboard was unlocked what an enchanting sight was there. It was like a page from Nutcracker or Mouse King, or a story from Ole Luk Oie. Tiny houses, gardens, hedges, and people. Russian families of painted wood, shutting up one inside the other from grandfather to baby. Merry-go-rounds that made a little tinkling noise as one turned the handle. Tiny shops and stalls with suitable apples, pears, carrots, turnips, and cauliflowers. Flocks and herds that knew no other grazing lands than the table-cloth. Fishes of mother-of-pearl from Chinese seas. Sicilian carts drawn by bedizened oxen. Saucepans and jugs and coffee-pots carved from wood, no bigger than a baby’s finger nail — and whatever more of littleness you can imagine. He friends used to add to the collection and any one who came to Rottingdean bringing some tiny tree, or flower, or figure, was doubly welcome.
I’ve long been fascinated by Virginia Woolf. I have a number of books on my “special books” shelf — three volumes of her Diary, and two volumes of her Letters. All were read years ago, and as I read them, I wrote down quotes that particularly impressed me at the time.
It is her birthday today. She was born 132 years ago, and I realized that she was born just two years before my grandmother. Somehow, that makes her feel much closer and not so long ago.
So to celebrate her today, I’ll share with you one of my favorite quotes about her. It’s a quote from Nigel Nicholson, included in a book that introduced me to her, called Recollections of Virginia Woolf by her contemporaries, edited by Joan Russell Noble.
…Virginia had this way of magnifying one’s simple words and experiences. One would hand her a bit of information as dull as a lump of lead. She would hand it back glittering like diamonds. I always felt on leaving her that I had drunk two glasses of an excellent champagne. She was a life-enhancer. That was one of her own favorite phrases. She always said that the world was divided into two categories: those who enhanced life and those who diminished it.
I’m not feeling very well this week… so what do you read when you are under-the-weather? My quiet reading/recovery time is spent with a little book that I downloaded onto my Kindle, but I’m going to order a hardback copy because it’s a little treasure with illustrations by a favorite artist: Childe Hassam. The book is An Island Garden, by Celia Thaxter, who wrote it in 1894 at the urging of friends who loved her flower garden. She was a wonderful gardener, so I am loving reading about it and learning from her. But she was also a poet and writer of stories. I’d never heard of her before, so she’s a wonderful find for me. And this is a very nice book for someone “under the weather” in the middle of January…someone who is dreaming and planning her own garden, and longing for Spring to come!
Often I hear people say, “How do you make your plants flourish like this?” as they admire the little flower patch I cultivate in summer, or the window gardens that bloom for me in the winter; “I can never make my plants blossom like this! What is your secret?” And I answer with one word, “Love.” For that includes all,–the patience that endures continual trial, the constancy that makes perseverance possible, the power of foregoing ease of mind and body to minister to the necessities of the thing beloved, and the subtle bond of sympathy which is as important, if not more so, than all the rest.
Oh…I and DO wish I could somehow work it out to go to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, before March 8th to see an exhibit called “Flowers in Winter: Celia Thaxter’s Island Garden.”
The Endless Steppe, by Esther Hautzig, was one of those books that sat in my sixth grade classroom library for years before I read it. I gave my sixth grade library to a friend recently, a new teacher just starting out, but I set this book aside, and I am happy to report that I finally read it. I’m so glad I did! It is a lovely little book, a memoir of Hautzig and her family during the Holocaust. She and her family survived because they were exiled to Siberia. Most of her other relatives that stayed in her beloved city of Vilna, Poland, did not survive. But as you can imagine, life in Siberia was harsh and survival was difficult.
“We spent nearly six years in Siberia,” Mrs. Hautzig wrote in “Remember Who You Are: Stories About Being Jewish,” a 1990 collection of childhood reflections. “I went to school there, made friends, learned how to survive no matter what life brought.”
This book, and Esther Hautzig, left a powerful impression on me. It’s a beautifully written story, and she was a beautiful, compassionate person. It is a story of the strength of love and family, of hope, and of the resilience of the human spirit.
The world lost Esther Hautzig last November. There were some lovely tributes paid her at that time. You can click on the links below to read two of them.