Category Archives: Non-fiction

The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables

This beautiful book called to me from the library shelf just recently. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading it and am sad to have to return it soon. The Landscapes of Anne of Green Gables, by Catherine Reid, is the story of the author, L.M. Montgomery, and her beloved fictional character, Anne Shirley. It is an exploration of place, creativity, and the inspiration of the natural world. I love reading books about authors, especially authors of favorite books, and this one was lovely. The place where L.M. Montgomery lived, Prince Edward Island, shaped and inspired the author in her own life and became central to her writing and to the life she created for her character, Anne.

In the journals she kept throughout her life, Maud Montgomery reveals so many similar experiences to those of Anne Shirley that much of the novel appears to be autobiographical.

I didn’t know that much about L.M. Montgomery, so it was very interesting to learn about her life. The photographs of Prince Edward Island were beautiful. That beauty was a driving force in Montgomery’s life and work.

What we do know of Anne is that her goal is to create something beautiful, something memorable, as she says in Anne of Avonlea, “I’d like to add some beauty to life.”

For Maud Montgomery, writing was all those things and more, as necessary as sleeping or eating, providing her the moments when she was most alive and happy. Through writing, she brought together her fertile imagination, her love of beauty, and her reverence for the natural world.

“Oh, as long as we can work we can make life beautiful.”

…photo from blackberryrambles.blogspot.com

It was lovely out this evening. I went up over the hill in the clear pure November air and walked about until twilight had deepened into a moonlit autumn night. I was alone but not lonely. Thought was quick and vivid, imagination active and bright. . . . Then I came in, still tingling with the strange, wild, sweet life of the spirit, and wrote a chapter of my new serial—wrote it easily and pleasureably, with no flagging or halting. Oh, it is good to feel well and vivid and interesting and all alive! ~ from THE SELECTED JOURNALS OF L. M. MONTGOMERY, VOL. 1

Learning more about the life and work of L.M. Montgomery made me want to visit Prince Edward Island and experience that beauty and inspiration firsthand. It also made me want to read and re-read all her works. Somehow I missed reading the Anne of Green Gables books when I was growing up. My Mom and I discussed that at one point and couldn’t figure out how we missed those wonderful books! What a lovely summer project it would be to read/re-read them all, one after the other!

If you love Anne Shirley, this book about Maud and Anne and Prince Edward Island is a must!

 

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book from Canada.

Remember the Ladies

During this Women’s History Month, I want to share some memories of my mother and parts of an email she sent me a few years ago in response to a book about Abigail Adams that I had given her as a gift. She was thinking about what it means to be a feminist, and of course, delighted in reading and learning more about the important women in our history.

My mother passed away just three weeks shy of her 99th birthday last July. Even at that advanced age, she was still very much “with it” right until the end.  I loved that she was able to text me using her iPhone, and that we talk every day on the phone, most often about books. She was an avid reader of fiction and non-fiction, with a life-long love of history. She was very politically informed, reading daily articles from The New York Times, the Washington Post, and her local newspaper (both paper copy and online!).  If you have followed my blog for awhile then you already know that she was my reading mentor/buddy, but she was also my feminist guide! She lead by example in our family, and with all who knew her. She was very much involved in women’s issues, and would be so happy with the new level of women’s involvement in the new Congress in Washington, D.C.  “Remember the Ladies” and “It’s Up to the Women” are quotes from two of her favorite historical figures, Abigail Adams and Eleanor Roosevelt, and she often talked with great respect about both women.

In the letter she sent me, she included a link to a History Channel page that quoted from a letter that Abigail Adams sent to her husband John Adams.

In a letter dated March 31, 1776, Abigail Adams writes to her husband, John Adams, urging him and the other members of the Continental Congress not to forget about the nation’s women when fighting for America’s independence from Great Britain.

The future First Lady wrote in part, “I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

Mom then shared with me some of her thoughts on the changing roles of women in our culture today, ruminating about her own experience with the women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

…It did made me think and try to identify where I fit in at that time. I began my own search of books I’d read that emphasized changing roles in women’s lives. I began first to recall women in history. Much that influenced me seemed far removed from the active, dramatic time of the bra-burning, when it was no thank you to men opening doors, or in any way making us feel weaker and dependent on them.

Eleanor Roosevelt, whom I admire so much, came immediatey to mind for she was truly a powerful role model. She made a mark in world history. Doris Kearns Goodwin said of her, “She as America’s most influential First Lady blazed paths for women and led the battle for social justice everywhere. She set women’s rights and involvement to a higher level.”

Reading Natalie S. Bober’s book Abigail Adams, I was charmed and loved Abigail. She was a quiet, dignified lady, and was a feminist ahead of her time. “Remember the Ladies,” she said to her husband John, then serving as delegate to the Continental Congress, who played a leading role in persuading Congress to adopt the United State Declaration of Independence. He laughed at her and said he’d be laughed out of the congress if he suggested such a thing.

There were other women during the early days of our country’s history that I consider feminists. At her peril, Dolly Madison’s courage saved us our most treasured painting of George Washington. Rosa Parks was a true feminist whose courage changed history. These women were our early feminists, ahead of their time…

I realize I was incredibly fortunate to have a mother who shared these thoughts and ideas with me, a mother who was a strong positive role model who encouraged me (and my brothers) to be strong and understanding, have integrity and courage to speak out, and to make a commitment to improve the lives of all women.

I miss her very much, but her ideas live on and her gentle guidance continues to influence me and our family.

A few of the books that she enjoyed reading and which shaped her thoughts on women’s rights:

It’s Up to the Women

Eleanor Roosevelt is one of my heroes! When I ran across her book, It’s Up to the Women…  “tips for living well”, I knew I must read it.  I loved the title, and expected the book to be much more political. It turned out to be more of a practical guidebook for women on how to survive difficult times during those Great Depression years. Although much of the book was dated, much of the advice was also timeless! She had so much respect for women, and her words were very encouraging and full of common sense ideas. The last few chapters of the book did deal more with women and politics.

“It is important that women think beyond the mere moment through which we are passing and acquaint themselves with all phases of life and conditions in our own country. I think we shall have fulfilled our mission well if when our time comes to give up active work in the world we can say we never saw a wrong without trying to right it; we never intentionally left unhappiness where a little effort would have turned it into happiness, and we were more critical of ourselves than we were of others.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother would often say to me, ‘You are a girl and I expect you to be more sensible and more thoughtful than your brothers.’ She was of the generation which did not demand so much recognition for women, but which accomplished many things by working through the men when they hardly knew they were being influenced. I do not mean for a minute that we should go back to the ideas of that generation or that women should return to the old status. I am merely pointing out that women, whether subtly or vociferously, have always been a tremendous power in the destiny of the world and with so many of them now holding important positions and receiving recognition and earning the respect of the men as well as the members of their own sex, it seems more than ever that in this crisis, ‘It’s Up to the Women!'”

I hope people will read it, understanding that life then was very different AND very much the same as now. Although it had some valuable and timeless parts to it, I’m afraid that I can’t recommend it without qualification. It was most interesting if you read it as a history of women and their roles in society, and in appreciation for the role Eleanor Roosevelt played in helping and encouraging women during that difficult time period. Our society and womens’ roles have changed dramatically since the 1930s and 1940s, so our sense what seems politically correct is also very different and must be kept in mind while reading this. I did appreciate the leadership and wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt, and especially her reminder that women “have always been a tremendous power in the destiny of the world.”

Definitely one of my heroes!

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.

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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All the Books of 2017

 

A new challenge appeared on Instagram this morning, and I thought it looked like a lot of December fun! It’s called “All the Books of 2017” and is created and hosted by Ann, from @annreads on Instagram. So I will be posting for the next 15 days on the books I’ve read so far in 2017.

Prompt #1 is the “first read of the year.”  My first read of 2017 was an intelligent little book by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists, and was a great book to start out the new year. It was a very positive and important book, and I think should be required reading for everyone! Click here to watch her presentation of the book on Ted Talks.

Rivers of Oregon

On my trip to the library last week I picked up a beautiful new book called Rivers of Oregon, by photographer/conservationist Tim Palmer, and published by Oregon State University Press.  “Rivers are the essence of Oregon,” stated the author, and this book is full of beautiful photographs and interesting essays about these hundreds of waterways.

“Healthy rivers are not only essential to the abundance of life and a historically robust economy in both sport and commercial fishing, but to all we do. The livability of whole towns and regions would wither if i weren’t for rivers and the water they deliver.

Oregon’s rivers are likewise embedded in our history and culture, from the route of Lewis and Clark across the Northwest to urban greenways that brighten Portland, Pendleton, Eugene, Corvallis, Salem, Grants Pass, Bend, and other towns large and small. Whether in our backyards or in our most cherished wilderness, the rivers give us a refuge from the stress and clutter of our busy lives. At the stream’s edge, we can adjust our expectations in synchrony with the natural world.”

This book is filled with absolutely gorgeous photographs of an amazing number of rivers in Oregon with information about each one. Besides being a talented photographer, Tim Palmer is an excellent writer so this is a very readable book as well as a lovely photography book.

I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Oregon, the natural world, and in conserving the beauty of nature and our rivers in this challenging time in our nation when decisions are being made that put many rivers in peril.