"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Review and quotes: VALENTINE

Title: Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore

Book Beginnings quote:
Sunday morning begins out here is a oil patch, a few minutes before dawn, with a roughneck stretched out and sleeping hard in his pickup truck.
Friday56 quote:  
In the church where I grew up, we were taught that sin, even if it happens only in your heart, condemns you all the same. Grace is not assured to any of us, maybe not even most of us, and while being saved gives you a fighting chance, you must always hope that the sin lodged in your heart, like a bullet that cannot be removed without killing you, is not of the mortal kind.
Summary: In 1976 Odessa, Texas is on the cusp of an oil boom. Men embrace the potential prosperity while women know and fear the violence that will follow.
In the early hours of the morning after Valentine’s Day, fourteen-year-old Gloria Ramírez appears on the front porch of Mary Rose Whitehead’s ranch house, broken and barely alive. The teenager had been viciously attacked in a nearby oil field—an act of brutality that is tried in the churches and barrooms of Odessa before it can reach a court of law. When justice is evasive, the stage is set for a showdown with potentially devastating consequences.---the publisher
Told in the alternating voices of six females which shows their vulnerability and their strength. As we learn their stories , as they circle around the first violent event, we realize how these stories help them stay alive.

Review: Valentine was suggested by a book club member due to the enthusiast review she had from her daughter. Based on this recommendation I expected a much different book than this one. First, and the title is partially to blame, I expected a love story. Secondly, I had no idea that the book begins with a horrific rape. I had no trigger warning, but now you do. I did get pretty wrapped up in all the females' stories and never felt fully prepared to move to the next narrator. But I admit throughout the listening (I consumed the audio version of Valentine), I kept asking myself if I actually liked the book, since that is the first question we always have to answer at book club. How can someone like a book when the subject and the setting are so bleak, depressing, and aggravating? But the writing is so strong and characters are very memorable and heroic in their own way. So, the answer is yes.

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from current book.
e Friday56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56 to share. 

Visit these two websites to participate. Click on links to read quotes from books other people are reading. It is a great way to make blog friends and to get suggestions for new reading material.  


Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Review: EVIDENCE by Mary Oliver

Evidence: Poems by Mary Oliver arrived in my car truck when the library started curbside checkouts last week. It was part of a big haul of books, totaling fifteen books in all. Apparently one mustn't sit at home during a pandemic and blithely place holds on all the library books one wants or they will all arrive at once. Out of the haul I plucked this small volume of poems to read first, my soul felt just parched in need of a long drink of refreshment by my favorite poet.

Parts of just about every poem spoke to me. It always seems that Oliver is talking about one thing when suddenly she is talking about something much broader and more universal like this in the poem "Swans": What we love, shapely and pure, / is not to be held, / but to be believed in. (3)

I've been thinking about end-of-life scenarios because of all the deaths due to COVID-10 these days. My husband and I even filled out medical advanced directive statements recently. Just in case. In   "Thinking of Swirler" Oliver reminds us that even with the best of intentions, one's life is precious: In my house these are a hundred half-done poems. / Each of us leaves an unfinished life. (9)

But in "Then Bluebird Sang" she helps us remember to awaken every morning to the joys of nature...The birds, the brook, "and the rustle / that greet me whereever I go / with their joyful cry: I'm still here, alive!" (12)

Usually Oliver's poems point us to beauty of nature but all of them cause us to reflect on our lives. In
"Spring" she reminds us of the creator: Faith / is the instructor. / We need no other... / Of course I am thinking / the Lord was once young / and will never in fact be old. / And who else could this be, who goes off / down the green path, / carrying his sandals, and singing? (15)

In "More Honey Locust" she reminds me to prayerful and thankful for all the world has to hold:
...and I hope that you too / will say a word of thanks / for such creation / out of the wholesome earth, / which would be, and dearly it is needed, / a prayer for all of us. (18)

The poem "Halleluiah" was written for anyone who had a hard start in life. The line, Halleluiah, anyway I'm not where I started (19), should be our mantra. I'm not where I want to be but I am sure farther along than where I started!

My favorite poem in the collection is the book's title, "Evidence". It is divided into three parts with little pieces of wisdom and evidence of our good world, or how we should live:
  • ...Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.
  • ...And consider, always, every day, the determination / of the grass to grow despite the unending obstacles.
  • ...I ask you again: if you have not been enchanted by / this adventure--your life--what would do for you?
  • ...What blackboard could ever be invented that could hold all the zeros of eternity?
Reading this collection was a meditation, a prayer, a respite.


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

TTT: My favorite books read each of the last twelve months

 TTT (Freebie week):
 My favorite book for each of the last twelve months.

July 2020
Close to Birds by Mats Ottosson 
This stunningly beautiful book provided me a few moments of respite from all my worries.

June 2020
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nishi Coates
A unique imagining of the underground railroad. 

May 2020
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi 
A timely and important read.

April 2020
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
An epic story of the old west. I'm guess this will also be the favorite book on this list. 

March 2020
The subtitle is correct. This a collection of letters deserving of a wider audience. Loved it.

February 2020
I was busy reading YA nonfiction in January and February for the Cybils Award. I really got into this one about the formation of the Food and Drug Association.

January 2020
Another Cybils finalist (it ended up the SH Nonfiction winner) about classical musicians accompanied by a Spotify playlist of a few of their pieces of music.

December 2019 
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
A brother and sister and their special relationship with each other and with the Dutch house.

November 2019
Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
A quirky book by a favorite author.

October 2019
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
Thought by some to be the Nigerian Harry Potter 

September 2019 
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
A mystery surrounding the LA Public Library.

August 2019
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Interconnected stories all having something to do with trees. Brilliant.

Note: This was fun, going back in my records and determining a favorite from a list of five to ten books read that month. Some months I loved many books and other months were slim pickings. I am not surprised that half of my favorites were nonfiction. Also, it was strange doing this activity now. With the pandemic raging and the world stuck at home, it is odd looking back on what I read and when. Did I really only read that book last month? I would have thought I read it a few years ago. Two of my favorites were super long and took me ages to read, Lonesome Dove and The Overstory, yet the time was well spent. They were both so good. I encourage you to make your own year long favorites list and see what ends up the top of the heap.



"May my heart always be open to little birds who are the secrets of living." -E.E. Cummings //////Pictured: The Eurasian Blue Tit

Close to Birds is the most beautiful book I've read in ages, maybe ever. It is chalk-full of gorgeous photographs of our fine-feathered friends taken by Roine Magnusson, an award-winning photographer who has contributed to National Geographic. He seeks unconventional ways to approach his pictures and explains the techniques he used to get these phenomenal shots, though I couldn't really understand how he did it even after the explanation. I guess it is trade secret.

Pictured: The European Goldfinch
Mats and Asa Ottosson are both journalists and nature lovers. They wrote short essays to accompany the stunning photography and shared charming and little known details from the birds' lives. So the reader learns a bit along the way, like why a robin sings so early in the morning and that the iridescence of the male mallard duck's feather make them look green but they aren't really. Along with each essay are short remembrances of each bird collected from other bird-watching enthusiasts. These people shared simple pleasures of moments shared with the birds. My favorite was written by Hakan Nunstedt who works as a university department chair, when he isn't hiding at a lek, waiting to see and hear the Western Capercaille. It starts, "I was no older than thirteen when I first heard the capercaille cocks' snapping sounds in the great dark forest. It awoke something in me. The anticipation, the mysticism, the unpredictability!" He goes on to say that he's camped out for capercaille lekking over 276 times. (Lekking is from Swedish and means a communal breeding display.)
Pictured: Western Capercaille, male
Close to Birds was translated from Swedish by Kira Josefsson. A book loses or gains merit based on its translation and Ms. Josefsson did an excellent job bringing the material to life in English for us non-Swedish readers. Though I have never heard the work 'lek' before and had to look it up, she knows more than I the particulars of language.
Even common birds like this Common Wood Pigeon are shown to be special in this book

My only complaint about the book is that the birds for the most part are ones found in Europe almost exclusively, with the exception of those which are found worldwide or were transplants from North America to Europe or vise versa. They even had a little note on the Canada goose which made me roll my eyes. We feel the same about them here. Not that I didn't love learning about their little and large birds, I just wanted the same treatment for birds over here.  Hint hint. Hey team, make a book that is the same but uses North American birds!
Pictured: Eurasian Jay
I got lost in this book for a few days, which was just the respite I needed from all the political and social upheaval happening all around us here in the USA. I highly recommend it to you, too!

Pictured: The Great Tit


Monday, July 27, 2020

Review and book discussion: ME AND WHITE SUPREMACY

Back in 2018 Layla F. Saad hosted a 28-day Instagram Challenge called 'Me and White Supremacy.' Every day for a month she posted a topic related to the title and asked participants to journal about it, to do the necessary and vital work toward improved race relations. In January of this year the book Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor was published by Sourcebooks, expanding on the original challenge.
This eye-opening book challenges you to do the essential work of unpacking your biases, and helps white people take action and dismantle the privilege within themselves so that you can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too.---from the publisher

My book club, which has been in existence for nearly twenty-five years and made up exclusively of old white ladies, decided to read this book for no other altruistic reason than its e-version was available for unlimited checkouts from our library. Everyone could check-out a copy of the book from the comforts of their own home for free. We typically use the library book kits but those weren't available due to the coronavirus pandemic. With the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations it was a timely selection.

As I delved into the book and its daily topics myself, I knew the book discussion was going to be tough and possibly a little perplexing. We are nice white ladies, but we also live in a bubble of our whiteness. I knew it was going to be tough for us to get it but we were all willing to make a start.

As the day for the book club (socially distanced, wearing masks) approached I searched around for discussion questions. I didn't find any. The book was stuffed with questions itself but we didn't have enough time to discuss each of them. I had to narrow it down, so I generated a list of questions myself as conversation starters and hoped I was up for the task of guiding the discussion in a meaningful way.

Right off the bat things got off the rails. One gal said she had trouble with the book because she felt accused of racism and she "is not a racist." I couldn't remember if I read the definition of racism in this book or one of the other books I've recently read on the topic. Eventually I pulled up Merriam Webster which is in the process of changing the definition. “Racism is not only prejudice against a certain race due to the color of a persons skin, as it states in your dictionary. It is both prejudice combined with social and institutional power. It is a system of advantage based on skin color” (NYT) Having this new definition in mind was critical for our discussion. We are all racists in a way because we are part of the 'social and institutional power' structure which has held blacks down for 400 years in our country. And as our discussion proved a lot of that is unconscious but definitely in play.

As we more or less bumbled along trying to tackle each question, I  became more and more convinced that having one club discussion over the book was a terrible idea. There were too many new ideas and so much new terminology for us to digest in one setting together. At the end of the book Layla F. Saad suggested that people who want to do more work toward becoming 'good ancestors' join a group (Circle groups) and meet regularly to discuss the variety of topics introduced in Me and White Supremacy. That seems like a much more likely opportunity for making real change than meeting once for two hours at my house in a book club setting. We tried and did our best. We want to do more, but I fear our book club meeting was not enough.

Here are the questions I used:
  • What is the difference between being racist and being prejudiced?
  • What is white supremacy? White privilege? White fragility? White superiority? White exceptionalism?
  • Do you agree that we tone police black people? Examples
  • Is what ways have we been participating in ‘white silence’?
  • When people say they are color blind is that a good thing?
  • Examples of anti-blackness against men, women, children.
  • Examples of racist stereotypes
  • What is cultural appropriation?
  • ‘A white person does not get to proclaim themselves an ally of BIPOC but rather seeks to practice allyship consistently.’ Why not?
  • In what ways are we displaying white apathy?
  • How do you feel about taking responsibility for your own anti-racism education?
  • ‘If you unconsciously believe you are superior, then you will unconsciously believe that your worldview is the one that is superior or normal, right, and deserves to be in the center.”Do you do this white centering? In what ways?
  • How can we live in a more inclusive way?
  • What are some examples you can think of that show us black tokenism? Do people and companies use this to prove they aren’t racist?
  • Give ‘White savior’ examples starting with slavery. “We have to stop perpetuating the myth that only white men can save the world. It is not based on facts. Our heroes don’t look like Matt Damon.”
  • How does optical allyship deflect being called racist? How can we avoid this? What are some examples of this?
  • What's the difference of being called out/called in? Should we? Do we?
  • What does the Feminism movement get wrong when it comes to BIPOC?
  • Why is this quote from Nelson Mandela important: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of their skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than the opposite.”
  • Anti-racism is a lifelong commitment. Let’s all take a pledge to continue to work and grow, becoming more and more anti-racist along the way. See page 201 in the last chapter for ideas how to proceed.)
  • What did we do wrong in holding ONE book club session on this book, this topic?


Saturday, July 25, 2020

Sunday Salon, July 25, 2020

Weather: Friday it was cool and overcast all day. Saturday it was lovely and warm. We are moving toward a heat advisory for Monday when it will be very hot.

Friday: Don and I spent our furlough adventure day at the Billy Frank, Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. We knew it was summer not because of the weather but because of the ripe blackberries we saw everywhere. The sky threatened rain but the cooler temperature made our walk very pleasant. We walked the whole boardwalk (over a mile long one way) out toward the Puget Sound in the middle of the estuary. As we returned to our car we saw the funny social distancing sign, reminding us to stay at least two hawk wings, 36 Pacific frogs, or one harbor seal lengths away from others.

Comet-viewing: This past Saturday, Don and I drove up to Sunrise Park on the north side of the Mt. Rainier National Park to see if we could spot the NEOWISE comet. We did, but it was pretty underwhelming. However, we did enjoy the beauty of the mountain, the flowers and trees, and the lovely sunset. In the photo above you can see our photo of the comet in the bottom right frame.

In the "This is cool" department:
  • A Navajo speaker recorded this radio message to encourage his people to register to vote. Have a listen here. 

  • Completed
    • The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the End by Katie Roiphe. Read my review here.
    • Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism,  Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla Saad. We had a great book club discussion, though it was a tough topic.
    • Heart Berries: A Memoir by Terese Marie Mailhot. A suggested book to help me better understand my BIPOC brothers and sisters. This was a hard book to read due to the subject matter: child sexual abuse and its fallout.
  • Currently reading 
    • Cast Away: Poems for Our Time by Naomi Shihab Nye
    • Close to Birds by Magnusson, et al 
    • Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
Good news:
  • Three unexpected ways that Biden plans to fight climate change. (Mother Jones)
  • The Essential and enduring strength of John Lewis. (New Yorker)

  •  George Will, a conservative commentator, makes it official. He will vote for Biden in November. It will be the first time he has ever voted for a Democrat in his life. He also recommends that people vote OUT all Republicans, not just voting out Trump. (Huffington Post)
  • Minnesota legislature passes police reform package. "A major step forward." (CBS)
  • Greta Thunberg has pledged to donate 1 million euros — more than $1.14 million — in prize money. The 17-year-old climate activist was awarded the inaugural Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity, which recognizes people for their contribution to climate change mitigation and adaptation. (CBSN)
  • Joy Reid's debut as commentator on the ReidOut on MSNBC had 2.6 million viewers. As a black woman she is filling a much-needed role on the prime-time line-up. (The Hill) I read a tweet by a man about the debut who said his young daughter squealed with delight when she saw Joy Reid on TV saying, "She has curly hair like me." We need representation from all races on TV. (Sorry, I couldn't find the tweet again to link.)
  • Trial of COVID-19 drug given by inhalor is very promising. It can reduce the need for ventilation and increase survival rate. (Guardian
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) Responds to Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL). If you haven't seen this speech, you really should. Women are sick and tired of being objectified and treated with so little respect. (C-Span
  • Concerned with COVID infections, 65% of people support 'no-excuse' absentee voting (Pew Research)
  •  This isn't good news, it is sad news. But it is good that General Mattis is speaking out.
  • LeBron James' voting rights group is helping ex-felons in Florida pay off their debts so they can register to vote. (CNN)
Musical Interlude: (Try listening to one of these songs for inspiration today)
  •  Glory performed by the Detroit Youth Choir, featuring IndigoYaz [Inspring message of hope performed by the group that came in second last year on America's Got Talent. Shared with me by my sister Kathy. I can't stop listening to it.]
  • The Sound of Sunshine  by  Michael Franti [It is good to spend time in the sunshine, especially when things are upsetting and the world seems upside-down]
  • It's Time by Imagine Dragons (Acoustic) [It is time for Black Lives Matter, for freedom from the tyranny from those who want power, for gender equality, for voting rights, for LGBTQ+ rights, to love whom you want, for health-care for all, for a living wage and a guaranteed minimum...]
On the lighter side:

1. Trumpfeld:

2. You knew I'd find something related to Hamilton, huh? Something tells me that this guy's reputation will NOT improve with time.

3. Both of my sisters and daughters are now sharing items of interest with me every week to include on my Sunday Salon post. These next two are from my sister Grace, who is a teacher concerned about what will happen this coming school year.

4. School openings have been a focus of editorial cartoons, too.

5.What is happening in Portland right now (and a city near you soon) is not funny, it is frightening.

Let's just hope this isn't a hot item this Christmas season...

And finally, just in case you need help identifying the members of the Trump family...

A few thoughts on "It's Time":
  • It's been more than 50 years since the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act, and MLK telling his jailers that "what you people want" is respect. Now we can start to dismantle systemic racism whole and entire. It's time.
  • It's been 130 years since the Pledge of Allegiance (written in 1892, adopted by Congress in 1942) asked us to support a Republic with Liberty and Justice for All. I'm game. It's time.
  • More than 240 years since the Declaration of Independence told us that All Men [sic] are Created Equal. It's time.
  • Its been at least 2800 years since Amos prophesied, But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Quoted by MLK, Letter from Birmingham Jail and many speeches) It's time!  
  • For a much longer timeline of "it's time", check here on DailyKos

More images from our home:
  • We startled a junco (bird) when we watered our geranium hanging basket. We found this little nest in the middle of the plants. Just hatched, still hatching...
  • My best-smelling rose, aptly named 'scentimental'.
George and Fred: George is playing hide-n-go-seek; Fred is contemplating chewing on yet another power cord.

Comments make my day and let me know that you've been here. Thanks for making a comment here or on Facebook!


Thursday, July 23, 2020

Review and quotes: THE VIOLET HOUR

Title: The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the End by Katie Roiphe

Book Beginnings quote:
Prologue: I forgot how to breathe. I was being pulled underwater. The taxi driver carries me into the emergency room because I've passed out in the cab and my mother can't lift a twelve-year-old.
Friday56 quote:
When Susan was sixteen, she wrote in the notebooks, "It is a bullying fear of death, the stretching, the straining to comprehend the incomprehensible...'I will die too'...But how is it possible for me to stop living...How could anything be without me?"
Summary: The subtitle succinctly gives a summary of the book: greats writers at the end [death.] The referenced great authors are: Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas, Maurice Sendak, and in an epilogue, James Salter. The 'end' isn't just what happened at the end of each of these writers' lives, but what they thought about death in general. All of them, with the exception of Salter, had spent a good deal of their lives focused on death, fear of dying, or warding it off.

Review: It surprised me how much I enjoyed reading The Violet Hour. I'm not familiar with the works of any of these writers outside of Sendak, and what person who grew up in the last fifty years isn't familiar with his works? So I wasn't attracted to this book because I wanted to learn more about these writers. Nor am I particularly fascinated by the topic of death as my faith gives me a strong assurance that there is life after death. So why did I feel compelled to read it in the first place? I don't recall why I placed it on my TBR list but I suspect some other blogger spoke about it back in 2016 when it was published and it sounded like something I'd like as I always seem to be attracted to books about books, this seemed to fall into that category. When I came home from the library with the hugely hilarious book haul of twelve books last week I sat down and read twenty pages of so of about half of them, trying to determine which of them I'd actually have time to read. By page ten I knew this is a book I'd have to finish. Why? The writing was so strong and captivating.

Katie Roiphe filled her book with intimate and surprising revelations about each of the highlighted writers lives. She obviously did a LOT of homework so she could fill each section with examples from the writers own works but also interviews with associates and loved one making each writer come alive in my imagination. Since many of these writers died recently, there are even TV/radio interviews with the authors themselves.

Roiphe doesn't say it directly but one is led to believe by reading the prologue that she herself is fascinated by death since she was very near death several times in her childhood, as we see in the opening lines about the near-fatal taxi ride. Susan Sontag, considered a consummate intellectual by many, couldn't imagine dying (Friday56 quote) or life going on without her. She did seem to be able to fight off death after battling cancer and winning two times before succumbing to it after a third cancer appeared. Freud refused to take any painkillers stronger than aspirin even though his throat cancer and open sores of the mouth clearly caused great pain. He didn't want his sense dulled at the end and wanted to work as long as he could. John Updike worked on poems from his hospital bed after he received a shocking diagnosis of lung cancer. Even when he was too tired to go one he still forced himself to finish his last book, a collection of poems written about his end.  Dylan Thomas seemed to know that he was going to die. Or did he kill himself with drink? At any rate so many of his poems point to clear obsession with death and/or warding it off. "Do not go gentle into that good night..." Sendak, who had a very sad childhood and experienced a heart attack at age 39 incorporated many of his fears or thoughts about death into his children's book. One theme, which I completely missed when I read his books, was adults attempting to bake children into cakes or pies. When he was a child he was reminded by his parents that he had no right to be happy since his relative had been baked in the oven during the Holocaust. Can you imagine a childhood filled with that kind of despair?

Roiphe's interview with James Salter was described as a epilogue because he was alive at the time and she wanted to talk to him about death because he seemed to so clearheaded about it in his books. He, unlike the other writers, said he didn't think much about it even though he was in his eighties when she interviewed him. During the interview Salter asked Roiphe what she thought about her project to write about these authors and their deaths and she answered that their deaths kind of reassured her. Salter asked for examples to highlight what she meant and Roiphe relayed several stories told to her about the other five. Salter listened intently and then said, "We make our own comfort." Roiphe realized that that was it. Death stories can bring us comfort.

I'll close with a quote from page 285:
The beauty I found in these deaths was what surprised me. The life rushing in, the vastness of the work, the great, sometimes deranged seeming courage, the mad love in the last moments...Part of the creative work these people did, their art, was their lives themselves. There is something glorious in the conflagration of everything at the end. The beauty was what ambushed me.
I felt a little ambushed by this book, too, but in a good way.

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from current book.
e Friday56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56 to share. 

Visit these two websites to participate. Click on links to read quotes from books other people are reading. It is a great way to make blog friends and to get suggestions for new reading material.