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Showing posts with label books. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books. Show all posts

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Books Read, Books Shared

Last week I said that I had donated a number of the books I have read in the past few years to our public library. Of course, I kept a few of my favorites. Below is a list of a few of the books our reading circle chose to read and discuss in the past year. I read others, because I enjoy mystery, poetry, and spiritual formation books,  but these are among my collection of memoir. I am thankful for books to read, and thankful that I am able to share them with others.

Amazing Grace, A Vocabulary of Faith  by Kathleen Norris

Committed, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Founding Mothers, by Cokie Roberts

A Bushel's Worth, by Kayann Short

Not the Mother I Remember,  by Amber Starfire

My Life in France, by Julia Child

Dakota, A Spiritual Geography, by Kathleen Norris

In Order to Live, by Yeonmi Park

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Reading Circle

For several years I have participated in an online reading circle through my membership in Story Circle, and international group for women writers. In this reading circle, we choose 12 books for the year ahead, and members volunteer for a book for which they would like to lead discussions. In this post and next week, I will focus on some of the books, all of which are women's memoir.  Last year, September's book led to meaningful thoughts and conversation. Written by Nessa Rapaport, House on the River: A Summer Journey, is a book I probably would not have picked to read from a library shelf.  But I liked the author's style of writing and found her poetic in many of her descriptions, poignant in her awareness of herself as a woman and a mother. I recently passed the book on to a young woman who expressed interest in reading about ways we model value, faith, and traditions to our children. I sent the following email during our discussions of the book, changed only for confidentiality of members to whom I refer.

Thanks to all who have commented on the reading this month. D, I particularly like your use of lines from the book which you intend to use for writing prompts.  That is often an enjoyable and productive way for me to continue my appreciation of a book I have finished. I read the book and have been too busy to comment further until now. I found it meaningful that I was finishing the book at Rosh Hoshanah, (Sept. 14-15) which gave extra meaning to her words for me. This past week on the 23rd Yom Kippur was celebrated.  I was once told by a Jewish friend that is the holiest of their celebration days, the day of atonement.   

Responding to the thoughtful questions:

1.  Did you identify with the author in any way?  Did she seem real?  Did you like her? 

As J said, "I identified with that desire to gather loved ones around and take a journey that was meaningful to all of them, celebrating their relationship knowing that it is ending sometime in the near future. "  

I have loved having my sons and their wives and our granddaughters gather around our dining table after fun together in the kitchen making the food we share. 2 of my adult sons and their families live within 15 minutes of us and go to church with us, so we used to have Sunday dinners together here almost every Sunday. Our middle son has lived 4 hours away in the same state for 9 years and although they are here less frequently, make it for family occasions and holidays. They are relocating soon to Reno, Nevada, and our gatherings with everyone here will be fewer. In addition, as families grow and change, and their schedules change, in addition to hospitalizations and health challenges for both my husband and me, our Sunday dinners have "gone away."  There was a time I would look around the table and say a prayer of thanks along with a realization that these changes would inevitably come.  

2.  Can you relate to the importance she places on her faith, or the not quite traditional and accepted ways she and her family practice it?

I liked the author's family ways of making the celebrations their own, and the ways in which the significance of their faith was being passed to generations.  I believe that one of my greatest commitments as well as a joy is the "telling" of our faith story as Christians to my children and grandchildren.
3.  So many of this year’s books referenced place in one way or another.  Do you have a magical childhood place that’s important in your memory?

I think of a number of special places that bring back sweet memories.  Tea cakes at my grandmother's table, the one that is now in my own dining room. Picking blackberries with my grandmother. Playing under our raised back porch with my little sister, using huge hydrangea leaves and blossoms from the bushes by the porch for tea parties and dressup.  Riding with my Daddy in his pickup or on his tractor.  Helping Mother in the kitchen to make a chocolate cake and licking the bowl.  I see that these are all as much people centric as place centric. I still find the relationships and people more important than the "where" in my life. Maybe that is because between 17 and my early 50's I moved so often?

4.  How important is your experience with extended family in your life?  Lots of fun get-togethers? Rarely see them?  Wish you had more family ties or less? 

My family of origin was small, only my sister and me. But we lived only a few miles from both of sets of grandparents and a number of aunts and uncles. I believe extended family has always been important, and that hospitality for helping this to happen is a gift.

5. Please share any special take-aways from this book, and if you liked it or not.

I loved the book, and admired the range of vocabulary!  Words like hegemony, architectonic, inchoate, palimpsest are not ones I regularly use! 
My own list of lines to remember and write from are:

"I am trying to accept that henceforth all joy will be dappled...yet I am pristinely happy."

"fascinated by the way life can circle upon itself...reacquainting (among others) with the place that symbolizes the possibility that we imperfect creatures can find true repose."

among the duties of parenthood she relishes " the cultivation of memory."

"This journey - an experiment in ignoring the taunt of the workday's receding finish line."

her mother's  "no vacation from nutrition"

On page 51 there is a descriptive narrative (more significant in the light of the fact that the Jewish calendar is lunar, so it begins at dusk) that reads like poetry. Much of her writing felt like that for me.

"The trees on the shoreline facing me are black, with only a tincture of green remaining. The sky is bleached of color, pale blue above my head but fading imperceptibly to white over woods. The lake is not transparent but a moire of black, in which the trees are reflected, long and dusky in the rippled water."

"I do not taste my disappointment or anticipate sorrow. Instead, I taste these words: peace, wonder, light, calm, peace."

"the trip is a meditation, not a narrative."

"not matter how much you do, you never think it is enough."

I am grateful for the nudge to read this book. I am grateful for the ways in which reading a book can be a meaningful experience for me.  And I am grateful for my reading circle sisters, who have become friends although I have only met a few of them.  Because of this circle, I acquired several shelves of women's memoir volumes.  Due to our recent move and the necessity to reduce the size of our library by more than half, I recently donated a large box of these books to our public library system in Fort Bend County, hoping to share this experience with many more.

Friday, January 8, 2016


Tuesday, October 13, 2015


"The heart of Autumn must have broken here, and poured its treasure out upon the leaves."=
Charlotte Fiske Bates

Books are everywhere in our home. Even though both Joe and I read many books on his Kindle and my iPad and listen to audio books as well, we have stacks and shelves of printed books. Bible study books, theology books, gardening resources, mysteries, memoir, poetry, and fiction. In the kitchen, 50 plus years of our cookbook collection keeps growing, mostly due to gifts from those who know my love of cooking. In the spirit of cleaning, clearing clutter, and paring down, I have filled boxes to donate to the library, and have passed down a number of cookbooks to family members.  Honestly, I don't know anyone else who has both their mother's and their grandmother's cookbooks!  Treasures, these.  I have written about them before and will again, but soon it is time for them to go to one of my own granddaughters.

There are a number of favorite books of different genre that I keep and go back to regularly.  The little book in the above photo is one of those.  Autumn. by Susan Branch, "From the Heart of the Home." This wonderful collection of whimsical drawings, quotations, celebrations, and recipes was given to me.  It is autographed by the author: "To Mary Ann - Happy Fall! Susan Branch 2004."  But I value more the note written under that - "Thanks for all the nice things you do for others. With love, Jen."

As the title announces, the book is an invitation to celebrate this time of year in magical ways.  I love to settle down with a cup of tea or hot cider and turn the pages one more time.  And yes, we do follow up with "doing" and enjoy some of the recipes. I particularly enjoy the seasonal quotations sprinkled throughout.

Hang bunches of fresh herbs, pepperberries, yarrow, and hyrangea.
Candles, candles, candles! Lots of votives in green or gold glass. Pop a votive in a citrus shell.

"If you were to ask what is most important in a home, I would say memories."  Lillian Gish

"In the village store someone says 'I heard the geese go over,' and there is a moment of silence.  Why this is so moving I do not know.  But all of us feel it."  Gladys Taber

Recipes for Spiced Pecans, Garlic Shrimp, Red Chili Onion Rings, Corn Pudding, Indian Shuck Bread, and Maple Butter!

Bring leaves and pinecones in for a Thanksgiving table.

Fun gifts to assemble in baskets and old bowls for Christmas.

"Display old books!  Heidi, Pollyanna, Wuthering Heights, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  And all your favorites!"

"Autumn is the best season  in which to sniff, and to sniff for pleasure, for this is the season of universal pungency."  Bertha Damon

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Celebrating Libraries

This is National Library Week, a time to focus on our public library systems and refresh our gratitude for the ways these libraries are available to us - quantities of collections for us to use for resource and enjoyment, free of charge.  A discussion this week about times that a library was important to us led to several remarks about checking out books weekly when we were children. Of course, for me and those near my age, there were no televisions, tablets, computers, or smart phones to provide information and entertainment. I read my stack of books quickly every week and was ready to go back to the cool quiet of the small library in Jacksonville, TX long before Mother was ready to drive me back!

Currently, many of our libraries also provide a wide selection of audio books which are vitally important to those whose vision no longer allows print reading.  These books also provide many hours of reading for those who have long commutes or travel. is an incredible audio resource that allows building a personal audio library at minimal cost. Thousands now read e-books on a Kindle or tablet and can take a virtual library with them that is smaller than the size of a single book. E-books are also loaned from many public libraries along with devices on which they can be read.

 I sincerely hope we will continue to support and to utilize the wealth contained on the shelves of  material in our public libraries.Celebrate your local library this week by checking out a new book.  Take your children or grandchildren!

Thursday, February 12, 2015


I was recently asked to write a brief piece about reading and how it shapes us, and shapes how and what we write. Because I have written about my books and reading a number of times, I repeat some thoughts. But since circumstances change and books continue to add dimension and depth to my life, there will always be new thoughts.

A few tattered and faded children's books rest on shelves in our home library.  There are several shelves loaded with books of all sizes and shapes that belonged to my sons when they were growing up.  Now my granddaughters like to go to those shelves and choose books to read when they are here.  Sometimes I give one to Skye that has Sean (her daddy) printed on the inside cover. Or I may send a few home with Maddie and Jordann marked with "for Jeremy, from Mom and Dad" - books that belonged to their dad, our second son.  I have already given not yet one-year-old Nora books that include her own daddy's name, Ben, as the proud owner. 

But the name on the first books I mention is "Mary Ann." Mother Goose. Children's Prayers. Henny Penny.  They are books from my own very early childhood, so that makes some of them nearly 75 years old.  There are others on the shelves that were mine when I was a little girl and reading was already part of my every day life - The Five Little Martins, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, The Bobsey Twins and Nancy Drew series. Once in a blog post I wrote about the significance of these books by saying: Beyond the edges of the pages in these children's books is a narrative of family choices and values that is dear to me.  Neither my grandparents nor my parents were well educated or wealthy. "Times were hard." is an expression I heard often when they spoke of past years.  The fact that books were important speaks volumes about family standards and values. I cannot hold these books and finger their fragile pages without thinking of being read to when I was little, and remembering that my mother had the same advantage.  It was natural that reading to my own children was always one of my favorite things to do.  It is sweet to see that tradition carried on as my sons have their own little ones who share bedtime prayers and bedtime stories.  

Reading has indeed shaped my life and naturally shapes how and what I choose to write. I believe we are enriched by the stories of others, and that the more we read the wider our own life experience becomes.  This is more than just finding good prompts in what I read.  I read a wide variety of genres, including poetry, and often find a phrase turned in a way that it becomes a part of my own language.   I said it this way in a blog post about reading and keeping books:  there are those volumes I read that intrigue or entertain or illumine, that somehow stay with me as a changed piece of my heart.  Even the little yellowed children's books that I show my grandchildren saying, “this storybook was mine when I was a little girl,”  are me, like my brown eyes and freckles.  Many books in my library become part of me in different ways when I reread them in later years....

Books I have recently read which have stretched me, often making me laugh and cry out loud are Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon and All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Both are fiction, but the genre differs. They are such very different reads, but I feel each has enriched and filled me.  What books have made you feel that way?
The blog posts I have quoted from are below.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Public Libraries

I am both a patron and a champion of public libraries. We now live in a county that has a wonderful library system with state of the art technology. I can open my laptop and go to the library website, search for books, place them on hold, and go by to get them from a shelf, then check them out myself with computerized scanning. If a book that I want is already checked out, I can request that I be put in the queue and notified. If I wish, I can go to this spacious, sunlit library and curl up in a comfortable armchair in one of several cozy sitting areas to read or research material I don't want to take with me. I take my granddaughters to the younger readers' section of the library and enjoy their pleasure in choosing books as well as remembering how much our public library meant to me when I was their age.

                                          The University Branch Of George Memorial Library, located in Sugar Land, Texas

I don't have photographs of that childhood library, but it was located in Jacksonville's City Park, near the spot the little gazebo occupies in this old picture. The library has changed its location, but still serves Jacksonville's citizens as well as others in Cherokee County. My memory pictures always include the dark wood floors, the racks of wooden drawers which held the card catalogs where my fingers clicked indexed cards instead of computer keys, the kind librarian who helped me find books, the smell of old books and cleaning polish, and the hush. I loved the library but I spoke in whispers there. I am grateful for that little library that supported my love for reading, for my parents, who took me there, for books that took me places beyond my imagination. I now read e-books on my iPad, listen to audio books while I am driving, cooking, and cleaning, buy books in tempting bookstores and on Amazon, but I am forever glad there are still libraries.

A photo courtesy of the Cherokee County Historical Society shows Mrs. C. A (Minnie). Childs bending to lay the first stone for the Jacksonville Public Library in 1940.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thank You, Jane!

Coming Into My OwnComing Into My Own by Jane Hill Purtle

I will preface my remarks and commendation with saying that the biggest reason I bought and read this memoir as well as the reason it had such attraction and impact (push and pull!) is that the author's story and mine intersect very personally. We have the same great grandmother. My grandmother and Jane's grandfather Hill were half brother and sister. But the family tree is not the only thing we share. Although we have not crossed paths physically many times in our lives, we are alike in many pursuits - loving art and literature, writing, keeping family stories, nurturing friendships, grandmothering, enjoying gardening and birds, seeking spiritual truths and making faith and family priorities

I may have read it for different reasons than you will, but you will be bettered by sharing Jane's journey.

After I posted the above review on GoodReads this morning, I wrote my cousin a note to wish her Happy Birthday since I read in her book that her birthday is September 13. I told her that on this day (9/11) of remembering many sad things as well as acts of bravery and courage, plus stories of family and faith, I wanted to let her know I was remembering her and her birthday. I am grateful for her story.  Thank you, Jane.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Lifelong Friends

I have been working lately at clearing clutter in our house and garden, reducing the number of things I need to clean and care for.  Cleaning out closets, clearing shelves, sorting out the pantry and organizing cabinets is not so much house cleaning - more a spiritual and physical reorganization, I think. But I am loyal to my friends, and many of my books are lifelong friends.  Books like the one in the photograph have been with me ever since I was old enough to read. Then there are the books our sons loved and read over and over again. Add to those the classics, mystery series, poetry, memoir, writing books, and the shelves of books which have been Bible study and spiritual formation guides. I know that the key to reducing the numbers of books lies in beginning to give them away and to stop buying anymore, but I am not making much progress.

I may be able to fill boxes for the Friends of the Library book sale by taking stacks of paperback mysteries, perhaps even some of the series of books written by an author I enjoyed.  But many others I will choose one at a time to introduce to a friend or a granddaughter.  I have always believed in practicing hospitality and  introducing my friends to each other. It pleases me to know that my lifelong friends can become the same kind of friend to someone else.

I previously mentioned my book friends in this post:

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Journal Keeper

When I read a book which I know from the beginning I will read again, I like to encourage others to read it, too. I have chosen not to advertize or monetize my blogs, so this is not a pitch to go out and buy The Journal Keeper, but it is so worth reading.  I think your public library will have a copy.  I know that I identify strongly with Theroux because I value journaling, and have done so for many years.  I admire her journey of faith and smile knowingly at her adventures with her aging mother, remembering my own and our long farewell with Alzheimer's. Of course, there are many elements in her life far different from mine, but I really do think Phyllis Theroux and I could sit down with a cup of tea and pick right back up even though we have never had the beginning of the conversation.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


I am a bookkeeper.  To be more I accurate I am a book keeper.  Although it is true that I managed the accounting portion of Parker Geophysical Inc. and Parker Consulting, Inc., companies which Joe and I owned during the past 20 years, that is not the books which are in this story of keeping.  A few weeks ago, in a cleaning and clearing out project I undertook, I handled every book on the shelves in our library.  I rearranged the shelves to make more space and resolved to put fewer books back after I cleaned the shelves.  That is alwas a difficult thing for me.  As I said in the beginning, I am a book keeper!

Apparently, Mother was a keeper of books as well because I still have several of my childhood books in addition to books that belonged to her and her brothers nearly 100 years ago.  The bindings are frayed, the colors faded, and the pages yellowed, but oh my, what a rich legacy these are!  Not because they are valuable in terms of dollars, but because they tell a story far beyond the printed words on their pages. 

Beyond the edges of the pages in these children's books is a narrative of family choices and values that is dear to me.  Neither my grandparents nor my parents were well educated or wealthy. "Times were hard." is an expression I heard often when they spoke of past years.  The fact that books were important speaks volumes about family standards and values. I cannot hold these books and finger their fragile pages without thinking of being read to when I was little, and remembering that my mother had the same advantage.  It was natural that reading to my own children was always one of my favorite things to do.  It is sweet to see that tradition carried on as my sons have their own little ones who share bedtime prayers and bedtime stories.  

So these books won't go back on the shelf, at least not my shelf.  I will offer them to my children who can decide if they want to be book keepers.  In this age of going paperless and storing everything digitally, there are some things that can't be saved in a document or picture file.  There are still stories that defy having The End on the last page.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Books and Lobster Shells!

“Books... are like lobster shells, we surround ourselves with 'em, then we grow out of 'em and leave 'em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development.”
Dorothy L. Sayers
With a nod to Sayers' wit, I confess I have the surrounding myself with books thing down.  That has never been a problem.  I do seem to trip over growing out of them and definitely have a problem with leaving them behind!  In an effort to balance this, plus reducing the load on library shelves and most other flat surfaces in the house,  I have been sorting books to leave behind.  I have donated books to the local library,  put out books for Purple Heart pickup, and am practicing giving books away rather than loaning them – in particular, cookbooks!  I confess this has barely made a dent in the book population here.
The problem for me is, a book doesn't just become a temporary acquisition or a brief part of me.  Not that the occasional book doesn't merit tossing after a single read – but there are those volumes I read that intrigue or entertain or illumine, that somehow stay with me as a changed piece of my heart.  Even the little yellowed children's books that I show my grandchildren saying, “this storybook was mine when I was a little girl,”  are me, like my brown eyes and freckles.  Many books in my library become part of me in different ways when I reread them in later years. I know I need to shed alot more shells, er..books.

Yes, I will still work on leaving behind the outgrown lobster shells.  But I will keep and treasure the books that have grown with me which I do not outgrow.  When I no longer need them, perhaps my granddaughters will pick them up and say “this book was Granmary's”.   In the meantime, I think this is a good afternoon to finish Frances Mayes' Every Day in Tuscany - a trip to Italy this afternoon- and still be back to make dinner!