Monday, November 4, 2013

Still Life, With Books

I'm hoping for some moments to be still this November.  Our Fall has been full--of soccer games, Cub Scouts, football watching, house cleaning, and all the little tasks and routines that help the transition from summer to school year go more smoothly.  Sure, there will still be lunches to pack, uniforms to launder, emails to send, and homework to supervise in November, but I am hoping that I can slow down this month.   I want to fortify myself with a little bit of peace and relaxation before the holiday season consumes everything.

In November of 2008, I successfully defended a dissertation and subsequently had the opportunity to truly read for pleasure for the first time in seven years.  Sure, I had read plenty of books unrelated to my project in the years leading up to that milestone, but seldom had I read them without a tangible sense of anxiety about the research and writing awaiting me.  Anyway, I was free and clear in November of 2008.  I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer.  I loved the book and cherished (still do) the experience of reading whatever I wished.

I am forever thankful for the books in my life, especially in November.

I hope to be still and savor these books this November ...

Bridget Jones is an old and treasured friend of mine.  I have been waiting for Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones Mad About the Boy for many months.  It arrived weeks ago, but I'm postponing the pleasure until I can put my feet up, read for at least an hour straight, and maybe pour a glass of wine (Bridget surely would).  If I really have to say goodbye to Mark Darcy, I think he deserves my full attention. 

A friend read Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea with her boys this summer.  They finished the book on a rainy day, all three cuddled in her bed with her youngest son hiding under the sheet so no one could see that he was crying.  I'm prepared to cry my eyes out at this story of a beloved teacher and the students he sees and understands.  Some November days are gloomy, and it's somehow easier to have a book match that mood, at least for me, in a cold month than in a warm one.

I've been making my way through the six books of E.F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia books for about five years.  There is something calming and charming about this ongoing tale of middle-aged frenemies and their quirky contemporaries in a small English village --drinking tea, playing bridge, staging coups, throwing dinner parties, and shifting alliances--confident that they are the very center of all the world.  The Mapp and Lucia books offer witty social commentary with a side of comfort, content, and cozy.  I look forward to the last of the six volumes:  Trouble for Lucia.  Heads up that most of E.F. Benson's books are now in the public domain and free or close-to-free ebook editions are available.  

 If you're looking for some titles to be still and savor this November, you might consider...

Longbourn by Jo Baker might end up being my favorite book of 2013.  This book tells the story of the servants of Longbourn, the Bennet estate in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, with their stories told to fit within the existing timeline and geography of the novel.  I read Pride and Prejudice once a year and love it with everything I've got.  Baker's Longbourn feels like a supplement to or extension of the novel, a gift offered by someone who knows and loves these characters as much as I and so many others do.  Beautifully written.  It will break and lift and fill your heart.  If it doesn't, you don't have a heart (I don't think I am joking here).

There is NO ONE better for cozy reading than the late, great Maeve Binchy.  I'm a fan of all her novels, but I especially love Scarlett Feather.

Finally, two Novembers ago, I read Kathleen Flinn's memoir, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School:  How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks.  November marks the onset of hibernation fantasies for me, and I found Flinn's book informative and inspiring.  If you're going to stay close to home, this book will help you to eat the best food possible in your own kitchen.

If November yields fewer moments for still life with books than you hope, you might consider a good audiobook to keep you company as you bake a pumpkin pie or pack up the kids' suitcases for Thanksgiving at grandma's house.  I'm listening to Return to Oak Pine by Ron Carlson.  David Aaron Baker is a skilled narrator and something about this tale of old friends in a small Wyoming town makes it a great Fall listen.  Scenes of football games, Homecoming celebrations, and bonfires add to the autumnal ambience.

Okay then, what's on your list for November?  What are your picks for reads to be still and savor?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Summer Library Gems for Kiddos

When my three kiddos and I head to the children's section of our local library, it is not a "let's browse in a leisurely fashion" situation.  We've got to check on the frogs, love on the life-sized stuffed animals (as I cringe and think of school-wide head lice warning letters), head to the far corner to examine chapter books, sneak off to the playroom, stack up ten DVDs for mom's consideration, poke the aquarium glass, visit the drinking fountain, settle in at the puzzle table, whine to be allowed to use the computers, etc.  With three kids in three different directions, I open my bag and choose books as if I am on Super Market Sweep.  I scan titles on the "new" shelf, choose adventures from among old favorites like Franklin and Little Critter, and toss every third book displayed on top of the shelves into our bag.  Half the fun is figuring out what we have when we arrive home.

It's hard to lose when choosing picture books (unless your child sneaks a Disney Look and Find into the bag), but earlier this summer, we really won with two of our haphazard picks.

In Yes, Let's by Galen Goodwin Longstreth and Maris Wicks, a family has a perfectly imperfect summer day of road tripping, hiking, creeking, picnicking, stopping for burgers and milkshakes on the way home, and unloading sleepy kids from the station wagon at dark.  The book captures the beauty of those long, happy, free form summer days spent with those we love the most.  The summer days that can still warm your heart in January and whose promise keeps you going in that long stretch between spring break and the last day of school.  Great illustrations--fun and full of humor--and text that is a pleasure to read aloud.  My kids and I were equally enchanted.

Our other summer gem was Brothers at Bat:  The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team, written by Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Steven Salerno.  It's all in the title -- a true story of a baseball team made up entirely of brothers.  My boys and I just loved it.  When I raved about it to a friend with two baseball-loving little guys (3 and 5 years old and already memorizing stats for MLB players), she revealed that Brothers at Bat is her husband's choice every time he's in charge of bedtime stories.  My kids are especially intrigued by stories that "really happened" and gleefully summarized this book for their dad.  The gorgeous, old-fashioned illustrations in this book made me nostalgic for childhood (or nostalgic for a childhood I never had since I grew up in the 70s and 80s instead of the 30s and 40s).  If I were doing a baseball-themed boys' bedroom, I would buy several copies and frame and mat the illustrations (keeping at least one for reading and rereading, of course).  Pardon the pun, but Brothers at Bat hits it out of the park.

Any summer gems for kids in your library bag?