I had such high hopes in May . . . and such a high stack of books that I wanted to read. Why is it that I always labor under the assumption that I’ll have more time to read during the summer, and not less? I think perhaps that I’ve never really gotten over that schoolgirl feeling that once May is here, I’ll have lots more time available to me.
I’m ten years old, golden-haired and skinny-legged. Lilacs are blooming, the birds are singing, it’s warm and sweet outside. I have flung my schoolbooks aside; I’ve pulled on shorts and t-shirts are have lost my shoes for the summer; the town pool is open and every day is an adventure! I have responsibilities to my mother and my family, but many days, if I want to (and I want to), I can sit for hours and devour a new, delightful book. I can make that choice! As a schoolgirl, this was definitely the way it was, happily. It’s not true any longer, sadly.
One more little skip down memory lane, and and then I’ll share my book list. In Nelson, the little town in Nebraska where I grew up, we lived across the street and down the block from our tiny town library. I knew that little building (and all of its contents!) intimately. I remember the summer that I discovered Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books and I read them hungrily, one by one. I can still see exactly where they sat on the shelf, their worn bindings all different colors, and I get a little shiver of delight even today when I think of them. I remember clearly huddling in a comfortable chair in the library in our home, shutting out the noises of the house while I read for hours at a time. One day when my mom happened to walk through the room, to see me sitting there reading, I snapped to the present and felt a flicker of guilt: should I be up and on my feet, helping her with something? Had she asked me to do something in the garden?
My mom, bless her heart, saw me sitting there and said “I love to see you enjoying a good book!” and breezed on past. She let me be. To read, and to dream, and to be still. I try to remember that moment myself, when I see my own kiddos enthralled with a book. Getting lost in a new, fascinating book is such a delight! I hope that you were able to carve out more time than I this summer, Gentle Reader, and that you were able to lose yourself in some truly good books.
Life is too short not to, don’t you agree?
That said. Since I disappointed myself in not reading as many books as I would like, I’m going to share with you what my loved ones read this summer, as well as what I read. My post will not appear quite so pitiful this way. Perhaps.
My daughter Bethany taught me a valuable lesson this summer. She was working as an electrician’s apprentice at our local community college, and she discovered that if she spent her two (paid, happy dance!) 15-minute breaks during her weekdays reading, that she could read more than she would have ever guessed! She’s my reading superstar this summer, so I’ll start with her account of what she read. This is what she read:
The Three Musketeers, by Alexander Dumas. I am putting this old classic on my reading list for this fall, per Bethie’s suggestion. I don’t think I’ve ever read it. Bethie shared with me that it was a delightful book, and that she was astounded with how humorous it was. She said that it “was filled with action and suspense. Every day I looked forward to opening up its pages, and discovering what new adventure these intense characters were going to take me on!”
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. I’m so happy that Bethie read a couple of old classics that I had never read, because after her report, I’m determined to read them both. Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale, in Bethie’s words, was “less about mangy pirates, and more the heroic attempts of a young boy to save the day.”
Bethie also read, and suffered through, Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte.
I remember having to read this book in college literature class, and that I found it profoundly depressing. Oh, those dreary moors, and that awful Mr. Heathcliff! I was interested to see what Bethie would say about it, and not surprised that she felt much the same way about it. Also I was impressed that she couldn’t put it down. In her words: “This book was–well–miserable. I must say that I did not enjoy this book as much as the others. It is a lot more dreary, but just as well written. This book caught me with a strange fascination, and a sort of horrified wonder, and it simply would not let me stop reading it.”
Of course I did a little reading, too. I really can’t help myself. Some days it’s necessary to use the ole’ toothpicks-holding-up-the-eyelids trick, but it must be done. Here are some of the books that I enjoyed:
The WAR of ART by Steven Pressfield. Are you an artist, or a writer, or have you been thinking about starting a business or doing anything Big or Out of the Ordinary, but you feel Something holding you back? Are you wondering, also, why I keep Capitalizing Certain Words for no apparent Reason? Then, my friends, you really need to read this book. Steven Pressfield puts a label on this Something: he calls it Resistance. It shows up in various forms: fear, procrastination, justification, etc., but however it shows up, it keeps you from acting on your ideas, from moving forward, from succeeding at your dreams.
This was an eye-opening, profound little book, a kick-in-the-pants that I really needed. Perhaps you need a kick in the pants, too, Gentle Reader? Steven Pressfield encourages: “Sit down and do the work.” It’s that simple.
Pressfield is a prolific writer, and the next book of his that I plan to read is this one:
Do the Work by Steven Pressfield. It’s in my Cart. I love the drawing on the cover, don’t you? Well done, Mr. Pressfield! (See how I just slipped this book that I plan to read into my summer reading list, thereby fleshing it out and de-pitifulizing it? See how I just made up a new word?)
The Church Mice books, by Graham Oakley. My daughter-in-law Rachel introduced me on to this wonderful series of story books years ago, and I’ve been collecting them ever since. They are some of the finest picture books that I’ve ever read, and as a mum of 6, I’ve read them all! The stories are funny and engaging and understated in a typically British way; the illustrations are delightfully detailed, funny, and impressive to me, as an artist.
Little Mack loves these books, and although he is old enough now to read his own chapter books, he still will carry one of these books to me every now and then and ask me to read it to him, and we’ll curl up on the couch for a giggle together. There are twelve books in the series, and most of them have become collector’s items, so they are a bit difficult to find. Most are out of print, but they are well worth seeking out!
(Cough) I did find one that I didn’t have at our thrift store for 35c this summer. Best Day Ever! So this could happen to you, too, and lucky you if it does!)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. We are big fans of Roald Dahl in our house. He’s so irreverent, so funny, so creative, so . . . so . . . weird. Little Mack has glommed onto his brand of humor just like all the rest of my strange children, and so we are reading through his books, one by one. I read him a chapter of this book every day before his “Rest Hour” (read: Leave Mom Alone Now Time, Or Else) and now we’re reading the sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. These books will make you giggle, raise your eyebrows, wince, and burst out laughing–maybe even all at once (is that possible? Might have to practice a bit . . .). One more really sweet thing about these books, is that (when you read them aloud to your children, or your mom, or your dog) you can practice doing funny voices for each character, because there are a lot of strange and wonderful characters in them.
Roald Dahl was so weird.
There are two reasons that I read this book: Dakota, by Kathleen Norris. Well, probably three: 1. My son Matthew gave a copy to me as a gift and recommended it highly, 2. My son Matthew is the best-read person I know, so I always take his book recommendations, and in this case it was actually a book that I could understand, and 3. I devour anything written about life in the Great Plains. I’m a child of this harsh climate, good, hard-working people and common-sense ideology, after all. I fell in love with books by Nebraska writer Willa Cather (who grew up in Red Cloud, Nebraska, not far from where I grew up in Nelson) and Bess Streeter Aldrich, as a teenager.
This is what Publisher’s Weekly had to say about this book: “Nearly 20 years ago, poet Kathleen Norris and her husband moved from New York to the isolated town of Lemmon, South Dakota, home of her grandparents. Living there radically changed her sense of time and place, forcing her to come to terms with her heritage, her religious beliefs and the land. Norris learned to value the prairie landscape and to cope with the harsh climate. She found small-town life a mass of contradictions: generous hospitality mixed with suspicion of strangers, inertia and a sense of inferiority. One boon to her new life was a community of Benedictine monks; with them she recaptured her (Protestant) Christian faith and discovered inner peace. This is a fine portrait of the High Plains and its people as well as a very personal memoir of a spiritual awakening.” My thoughts, exactly. Wait. Did I write that?
Okay, just one more, and then I’ll let you go have your coffee, or eat your lunch, or bounce your baby on your knee, or something truly important.
This book. Did you know that E.B. White, author of the children’s classic (and one of my all-time favorite books) Charlotte’s Web, (also Trumpet of the Swan and Stuart Little) also wrote essays and stories? I don’t know how I got to be as old as I am (and that’s old) without knowing this. But never mind. Water under the bridge. I know now. I love these essays, and someday I have a fond hope of writing as brilliantly and as beautifully as E.B. White did.
Mr. White’s essays are funny, insightful, and well-written. I feel almost like he’s having a conversation with me when I read his stories. He’s been thinking about New York and its inhabitants, he will tell you, and this what he’s come up with. On another occasion it may be the personality quirks of his old dachshund Fred, or the controversy over white versus brown eggs. Anything and everything is food for thought, and he treats it all with humor and sympathy.
Here’s a quote from a story I was just reading about his preparing for an approaching hurricane. This, about his wife, who is nonplussed about the entire deal: ” . . . I was doubtful as to my chances of evacuating my wife from any room whatsoever, as she doesn’t readily abandon well-loved posts, especially if they are furnished with traditional objects that she admires and approves of, and she is inclined to adopt a stiff-backed attitude about any change of location based on my calculations.” I just love that. And it reminds me of my daughter, Amalia.
That’s it for our book chat for now, Gentle Reader. Hopefully I’ve reminded you that you really do need to sit down and read a good book, sooner rather than later, in fifteen-minute increments if that is what you’ve got. Hey, it’s better than worrying about violence in the Middle East or reading another article about Miley Cyrus, for pete’s sake.
Today’s a good day to start, don’tcha think?