My Life in Books

Not everyone can say this, but I still live in the same town where I was born.  I was temporarily away, as I was raised twelve miles outside town, but in western Kansas that meant I could practically see the hospital from the farm.  I spent a summer in New Jersey in the 60s, a boyfriend thing.  I lived on yet another farm two counties away for almost 35 years, a marriage thing.  Even during those first-marriage years, though, I wasn’t more than a half-hour from my birthplace.  And now I’m back.

You might be tempted to think that my life has been deadly boring, but you’d be wrong, although the potential was certainly there.  On the contrary, thanks to the incredible world of books, I’ve traveled just about everywhere and gotten to know people I’ll never forget.  My mom, a woman wonderfully ahead of her time, started reading to me from approximately the second I popped my head out in the delivery room, and she did the same for my sisters and brother.  Books were always a hot topic of conversation in our house and pretty much nothing was off-limits if we thought we were big enough to handle it (other than the fascinating volumes I discovered in my parents’ closet, but that’s a story that shall never be told).

Our mom fully understood that reading holds the power to ward off prejudice, ignorance, and dullness of spirit.  We all shared the isolation of the farm, but she had no intention of letting that shape us for life.  We even got by with ducking work sometimes, as long as it was for the sake of a book, the unspoken agreement being that we had to make sure no sibling saw it happening.

If you locked me in a room with only a bodice-ripping romance novel for company, I’d scan it for erotic parts, strictly in the interest of Continuing Adult Education, but I might not read it.  I’m not sure I could.  I’d rather count fly-specks on the walls or stains on the carpet.  If that makes me sound like a snob, I apolo … um, no, I don’t, it’s the truth.  But that’s just me … I’m not judging. Full disclosure, I was the girl who read the backs of cereal boxes and devoured the Reader’s Digest from cover to cover, so take me with a serious grain of salt.

Give me a great biography or autobiography, a historical novel, a sophisticated mystery, a realistic crime novel or true account, an entertaining travel journal, stellar fiction … then walk away and I’m not likely to even notice.  A question I’ve never been able to answer … “What’s the best book you’ve ever read?”  Impossible!  Usually it’s the one I just finished.  I crawl inside every good book I read and live there until it’s done.  And then I take time to mourn just a bit before I pick up the next one …

***A summer rerun from early in my blogging days. And I’ve since moved from my birthplace to a land of peace and discovery.

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The Unbearable Lightness of Reading

A marathon it’s been, the best kind – three books in quick succession, by three distinctive authors, and connected by one unbroken muscular thread – The People, as they have always called themselves – and their existence from time primeval.

First in the “series,” entirely by happy chance, was MAUD’S LINE, written by Margaret Verble and published in 2015, the fictionalized story of a young Cherokee girl becoming a woman in 20th Century Oklahoma. Its contemporary portrayal of a time just past hooked itself into my imagination from – hallelujah, page one – and delivered me directly to book two.

Which – I assume you’re taking notes – was LAKOTA WOMAN, by Mary Crow Dog and Richard Erdoes, published in 1990, and not fictionalized at all. The author was active and instrumental in the Bureau of Land Management and American Indian Movements of the 1970s and 80s with Russell Means, Dennis Banks, so many others, and her gritty recounting of all the seemingly unrightable wrongs that have altered The People’s reality since the White Guys got here burned itself into my consciousness, not to put too fine a point on it.

So when both a friend and an esteemed nephew recommended Annie Proulx’s BARKSKINS within hours of each other it was clear that lil’ Ms. Serendipity had dropped in again and placed a shiny object in my path. Off the top, let me quickly address a few negative comments I’ve seen: that perhaps Ms. Proulx’s focus is…unevenly focused…that she hammers, that she commits “stylistic infelicities.” Yes, I caught all of that, recognized it, owned it and read on. The scope of the story is so expansive, so unexpectedly gripping, that the combined weight of all the odd little imperfections adds up to less than that of a feather – notable by virtue of existence, but in the end taking nothing from the whole.

Annie Proulx, author of THE SHIPPING NEWS, for which she won a Pulitzer in 1994; BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, for which she won the prize called “We’re turning your book into a movie;” along with at least a baker’s dozen more titles, has at 80 years of age turned out an epic about trees, of all things, that kept me absorbed from first page to last. Aside from her colossally amazing book, I love that she’s even older than I am, has been described as “sassy,” and knows how to write like a mutha.

Annie takes us from 1693, starting with the French in what became Canada, to 2013 in what is still Canada – with side trips to London, New Zealand, what we now know as the continental United States, and points everywhere around the globe, the entire saga stemming from one family line and diverging throughout multiple others, from the French, to The People, to the Dutch, et.al. And the wonder is that she makes us care about the majority of those characters, even though we sense they are soon to be swept from the stage to make room for succeeding generations, each more fascinating than the last.

I like big books and I cannot lie, and at more than 700 pages BARKSKINS was too short. Annie Proulx knows how to put us at the scene of the tale with a lovely economy of language; how to scatter engaging and/or redeeming characters into all parts of the story, avoiding what could have become a tedious litany; how to illuminate dilemmas that we would downplay if left on our own. If that shedding of light is “hammering,” we’re clearly in need of a butt-load more of it – the denuding of nearly all this planet’s original forests is but one ongoing dilemma of many.

BARKSKINS indelibly lays out the sins of the past and their consequences for humanity while also serving up reasons for hope, that essential tool of survival. Hang onto it, you future humans, and may it save your hide since most of your forebears have never carried, nor do they (we) carry, their (our) fair share of responsibility for what your present might look like.

As William T. Vollmann wrote in his New York Times book review:

“Now our own world is likewise fading, thanks to climate change. The root cause of our self-impoverishment is thoughtfully teased out in BARKSKINS, whose best line may well be this: ‘My life has ever been dedicated to the removal of the forest for the good of men.'”  – June 17, 2016

***It’s summer re-run time and this is a piece that was published in another forum a couple of years ago.

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Random free-time calisthenics…

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  • How could a girl be anything but happy when a beautiful man plays guitar several hours a day in their shared space? That’s just silly to contemplate.
  • A potential unforeseen consequence of painting a silver head of hair with reddish-brown streaks (billed as mahogany) is that one could appear to have been beaten mercilessly about the head and shoulders with a flail. Not likely, but possible, and worth considering in advance.
  • Long overdue tasks like cleaning the screens on all your toys takes mere seconds once finally begun, but the existential lift it provides can’t be measured. Ah, those smooooth, silky, flawless surfaces. You must never touch them again.
  • Ridding one’s environs of prodigious amounts of needless accumulation is euphorically cathartic. If only it were a long-term high, but – sweet while it lasts.
  • Without the distraction of social media during every waking hour it’s surprisingly easy to pay bills in a timely fashion and keep a steady supply of clean underwear stacked in the dresser drawers. Who knew?
  • Also when you do three years’ worth of work in two days, you come face to face with the possibility that you could be a whiney-ass malingerer because look at what you can do if you really want/need to.
  • When you can’t get out of bed the next morning you remember why you  keep a mental list of limitations, but it’s so worth it you don’t even care for once.
  • Saturday Trivia: My iPad is currently home to a library of 318 books, all of them quality and most of them acquired free or for a dollar or two on BookBub over the past five years or so. When space is at a premium but you can’t survive without books it’s the only way to go. Or, you know, there’s always the City Library. {Smacks self in forehead.}
  • When you play a Rubik’s Cube-like game on your phone during all those moments away from home when you’d otherwise be checking Facebook, you get pretty dang cagey at it. I think it’s called counterbalance. Or trading one addiction for another – yeah, probably that one.
  • There have been only a handful of weekends over the last twelve years when Kim hasn’t made his Saturday Breakfast, and in all that time, including this morning, the quality, flavors, and presentation haven’t varied except to get even better. Aroma, too, which is calling my name as we speak. Gotta go have some more of that slooow food with the love cooked in.
  • Happy Weekend to all of you. Be sure you’re making time work for you and not the other way around.

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A Mother’s Day Tribute

Brought forward and adapted from my original blog …

My mom has been in my thoughts all week.  It probably doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that Sunday is Mother’s Day, but there it is.

 My mother was a complex contradiction in terms, as moms the world over tend to be.  She grew up all tomboy with six brothers and two sisters, while at the same time evolving into an indisputably voluptuous young woman.  She was born and raised in a small Kansas town, went to tiny schools, and was afforded the limited educational choices that generally attach to such an environment; but curiosity, intelligence, and EQ were in her DNA, so she was on a quest for learning from the start.

 Mother graduated high school and then earned what was known as an Emergency Teaching Certificate through a six-week course at the nearest state teachers’ college, 150 miles away.  This was during WWII and the times called for desperate measures.  At 18 years of age, she taught for one year in a country school where most of the older boys were taller than she.  Then she met my dad and that temporarily ended her teaching career.  She married a few months short of her 19th birthday, and three weeks shy of her 20th she delivered her first baby – me.

   Four more babies followed, one of whom she lost during delivery, and what with being a mother and a wife and filling countless other roles, she didn’t get around to college again for a decade and a half.  There was never a time, however, when she wasn’t reading at least two or three books and filling journals with her thoughts.

 Finally, when I was a junior in high school, she enrolled in the local community college and graduated with honors.  Then she went on to the local four-year college and matriculated with highest honors.  With those credentials she taught English, Drama and Yearbook for several years at the high school my siblings and I attended.  My two sisters and brother all experienced the genuine privilege of having her as a teacher.  Later, she taught EMR (old label which stood for Educable Mentally Retarded) classes, and was one of a handful of women who founded the Learning Co-op for this part of the state.  I was thoroughly immersed in my own life by then and didn’t keep up with everything she was doing, but I knew enough to be very proud of her.

 Somewhere in there, Mother earned a Master’s degree, and had family circumstances not intervened it’s highly probable she would have gone on to get a doctorate.

   Because of Mother’s love of learning and reading, my sisters and brother and I grew up in a household of books.  When we were little she spent a lot of time reading to us, and later on carted us to the Carnegie Library every week or so and let us choose our own stack of books to take home.  She had a small office filled with books, and her end of the couch was surrounded by yet more books and notebooks.  Each of us absorbed her priorities and ended up with our own love of reading and writing.

 Sadly, we had to say goodbye to our mother far too early.  A sudden heart attack took her from us when she was just 67 years old.  I often find myself wondering what she might be like now in her 80s, but I need only remember what her mother – my grandmother – was like into her 90s — beautiful, intelligent, interesting, kind, thoughtful, fun-loving and funny.  I miss them both,  and therein lies another story ….

Mommy & Me on Mother's Day

Mommy & Me on Mother’s Day

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You might be a book lover if …

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Ten things …

Ten Things

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I love Stephen Wright

“I’m writing a book.  I’ve got the page numbers done.”  ~Stephen Wright

Quote

My Life in Books

Not everyone can say this, but I still live in the same town where I was born.  I was temporarily away, as I was raised twelve miles outside town, but in western Kansas that meant I could practically see the hospital from the farm.  I spent a summer in New Jersey in the 60s, a boyfriend thing.  I lived on yet another farm two counties away for almost 35 years, a marriage thing.  Even during those first-marriage years, though, I wasn’t more than a half-hour from my birthplace.  And now I’m back.

You might be tempted to think that my life has been deadly boring, but you’d be wrong, even though the potential was certainly there.  On the contrary, thanks to the wonderful world of books, I’ve traveled just about everywhere and gotten to know people I’ll never forget.  My mom, a woman blessedly ahead of her time, started reading to me from approximately the second I popped my head out in the delivery room, and she did the same for my sisters and brother.  Books were always a hot topic of conversation in our house and pretty much nothing was off-limits if we thought we were big enough to handle it (other than the fascinating volumes I discovered in my parents’ closet, but that’s a story that shall never be told).

Our mom fully understood that reading holds the power to ward off prejudice, ignorance, and dullness of spirit.  We all shared the isolation of the farm, but she had no intention of letting that shape us for life.  We even got by with ducking work sometimes, as long as it was for the sake of a book, the unspoken agreement being that we had to make sure no sibling saw it happening.

If you locked me in a room with only a bodice-ripping romance novel for company, I’d scan it for erotic parts, strictly in the interest of Continuing Adult Education, but I wouldn’t read it.  I really don’t think I could.  I’d rather count fly-specks on the walls or stains on the carpet.  If that makes me sound like a snob, I apolo … um, no, I don’t, it’s the truth.  But that’s just me … I’m not judging.

Give me a great biography or autobiography, a historical novel, a sophisticated mystery, a realistic crime novel or true account, an entertaining travel journal, stellar fiction … then walk away and I’m not likely to even notice.  A question I’ve never been able to answer … “What’s the best book you’ve ever read?”  Impossible!  Usually it’s the one I just finished.  I crawl inside every good book I read and live there until it’s done.  And then I take time to mourn just a bit before I pick up the next read …

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