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For the Wonder of Books: National Book Lover’s Day

Me ReadingI have always loved reading, even when I was a kid. 

But if you need an excuse to read a book, this is it:  Today is National Book Lover’s Day! 

Still—it seems to me—every day should be considered National Book Lover’s Day.  Books are the best gifts and the best friends in the world.  They open doors to adventure, people and ideas.  They build bridges and create communities.  Books inspire awe and wonder, outrage and determination, insight and understanding.  They teach lessons, build awareness, spark imagination, and present possibilities.  They can awaken readers to love and prejudice, commitment and injustice, degradation and renewal—and the courage to make a difference.

One of the best things about being retired is I can spend so many hours reading, without the worry of having to attend an early meeting after a sleepless night, just because I could not stop turning pages!  I always have books going, usually one at a time, but sometimes with several open wherever I sit and relax.  One of the best things about owning a kindle is that I can bring a decent library with me wherever I go.  Getting stuck in traffic as lanes are cleared of an accident’s aftermath or waiting much too long for the doctor to get back from an emergency is not so bad, if I can read.

ladies 16My fall back for fun reading is a good murder mystery.  If a dog or animal is part of the plot, even better.  I do have favorite authors who I wish would publish new books more often:  Tony Hillerman and now his daughter Anne Hillerman, Barbara Kingsolver, and Alexander McCall Smith come to mind.  A favorite I have only recently discovered is Stan Jones, who brings life in small town Alaska to life.

Robert bookJust recently I finished a novel by a cousinit is so cool to know actual authors! His novel turns the fear and hatred from current headlines into a war novel about a terrorist invasion in America in 2016.  I posted my review of his book—Robert Owens’ America’s Trojan War—on Amazon, if you want to take a look.  Yesterday, I reread The Little Prince to be filled again with the love and hope that silencecomes from being tamed as well as the appreciation of flowers and foxes and little travelers that only someone who never truly grows up can understand.  Several books ae coming up next on my to-read list:  Joyce Carol Oates’ In Rough Country: Essays and Reviews; Louise Erdrich’s The Game of Silence; Katherine Anne Porter’s Ship of Fools, and Carl Safina’s Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel. 

terribleWhenever someone asks me for reading suggestions, I mention my favorites.  But, of course, no one can go wrong with the classics from Shakespeare animaliato Angelou, Faulker to Morrison.  And there is not much better than Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find.  More recent authors you might like are J.K. Rowlings for her Harry Potter series, Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, or any title by Sherman Alexie.   For kids, anything by Dr. Seuss is always fun as are Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth and Judith Viorst’s Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  Even Graeme Base’s picture book Animalia is a great place to start.  The title does not really matter.  If it captures your fancy, it is worth the effort.

The point is to read!

Personally, I would love to hear what you have been reading, so I can add more titles to my neverending list of books-to-read-next.  There’s another fun book, The Neverending Story by Michael Ende.


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Dr. Seuss always offers good advice:


“To be allowed, no, invited into the private lives of strangers, and to share their joys and fears, was a chance to exchange the Southern bitter wormwood for a cup of mead with Beowulf or a hot cup of tea and milk with Oliver Twist.”  Maya Angelou

“Oh, how scary and wonderful it is that words can change our lives simply by being next to each other.”   Kamand Kojouri

“Free time is a terrible thing to waste.  Read a book.”  E. A. Bucchianeri

“With a library you are free, not confined by temporary political climates.  It is the most democratic of institutions because no one—but no one at all—can tell you what to read and when and how.”  Doris Lessing

“Books are the plane, and the train, and the road.  They are the destination, and the journey.  They are home.”  Anna Quindlen

“All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was.”  Ernest Hemingway

“She reads books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.”  Annie Dillard

“The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it.”  Dylan Thomas

“Some women have a weakness for shoes.  I can go barefoot if necessary.  I have a weakness for books.”  Oprah Winfrey

“You can find magic wherever you look.  Sit back and relax, all you need is a book.”  Dr. Seuss

“If you want your child to be intelligent, read them fairytales.  If you want your child to be more intelligent, read them more fairytales.”  Albert Einstein

“You will be transformed by what you read.”  Deepak Chopra

“There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book.”  Marcel Proust

“We shouldn’t teach great books.  We should teach a love of reading.”  B. F. Skinner

“You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me.”  C. S. Lewis

“This is part of the beauty of literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone.  You belong.”  F. Scott Fitzgerald

“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.”  Lemony Snicket

“From your parents you learn love and laughter and how to put one foot in front of the other.  But when books are opened, you discover you have wings.”  Helen Hayes

“No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”   Confucious

“There are many ways to enlarge your child’s world.  Love of books is the best of all.”  Jacqueline Kennedy

“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.”  J. K. Rowling

“Just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier.”  Kathleen Norris

“To learn to read is to light a fire.”  Victor Hugo

“The book to read is not one that thinks for you but the one which makes you think.”  Harper Lee

“A book is a gift you can open again and again.”  Garrison Keillor

“All I have learned, I learned from books.”  Abraham Lincoln

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”  Cicero

“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”  Mark Twain

Some last words from Dr. Seuss:


Rock with Wings: A Book Review

Lt. Joe Leaphorn

Officer Jim Chee

Officer Bernie Manuelito

If you have read Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn and Chee Mystery Series set in and around the Navajo Nation, then you know and love these three main characters.  They are the tribal police officers who solve the problems inherent in each novel’s main action.  Their humanity shines through as they deal with not just their work but with love, family and culture as well.

After Tony Hillerman’s death, his daughter Anne Hillerman continued the lives and stories of these (and other) characters, much to the delight of her father’s fans. Her first effort –Spider Woman’s Daughter—proved she was up to the task of continuing the characters and stories bought to life by her father.

AnneHillermanrock with wings coverHer second novel Rock with Wings (2015) is another fitting addition to the series, adding another layer of complexity to the inter-relationships of the primary characters while exploring several interrelated mysteries.  Anne Hillerman uses adept character development and a sensitive sense of place to weave together an impressive tale as intricate and beautiful as a carefully designed rug. She weaves the lives of these likable characters together with a movie about Zombies, solar energy, secondary characters such as lost teens and an elderly grandfather, financial intrigue, and photo tours into a seamless whole that builds to an engaging conclusion that ties all the loose ends together.

IMG_5768Rock with Wings starts with Bernie and Chee planning a short vacation to Monument Valley to visit one of Chee’s relatives.  It is their first get-away since their honeymoon two years earlier.  As can be expected, the overdue vacation is interrupted as various cases and family matters pull at the time and attention of the two tribal officers.  Bernie is bothered by the nervous behavior of a driver she stopped for a traffic violation; the guy tries to bribe her to let him off with a ticket.  Federal interest further sparks her curiosity into this ongoing investigation aided by her attention to detail and interest in local flora.

The vacation is initially interrupted when Bernie rushes home to address family problems.  At the same time, Chee is temporarily re-assigned to work at the Monument Valley office, in part to serve as the liaison to a film crew using Monument Valley as its backdrop for a zombie movie, of all things.  This movie production twist allows Hillerman to skillfully add film history of the area into the novel.  In fact, John Ford’s classic Stagecoach offers a useful clue to solve one of many intertwining cases Chee is juggling.

Although exploring her odd-driver situation, Bernie also tends to family matters with her mother and sister. There are even a few glimpses of Chee’s rather atypical relationship with his mother-in-law.  Since the couple are separated for several days, when Chee is not working, he willingly helps his cousin who is setting up a photo tour guide business within Monument Valley.  This domestic theme shows insights into Navajo culture and adds a refreshing balance to the criminal trails that each officer is following.  This thread with its strong focus on family life is a nice addition to the series that Anne Hillerman brings to the novels.

Hillerman does a masterful job balancing Bernie’s and Chee’s investigations, and eventually—step by step—solving all the little questions and even showing some overlap of their various cases as part of a bigger picture.  An integral aspect of the novel that helps solve the cases is Lt. Joe Leaphorn.  He is retired and still recuperating from being shot in the head in the last novel.  His recovery is slow, but he is able to find ways to contribute to the investigations as both Chee and Bernie seek out his input and advice.  Hillerman has made these characters her own even while subtly clarifying their interdependence and allowing them all—especially Bernie—to develop new skills.

Anne Hillerman continues her father’s practice of making Nature in general and the Navajo Nation specifically an integral part of each novel.  The location is more than just a backdrop.  The protagonists’ constant awareness of the world around them—the pending rain, the gorgeous sunsets, the morning runs to welcome the day—highlights the importance of Nature to the characters; through Nature they are better able to achieve hozhoni, the Navajo sense of peace, harmony and balance.

In addition, the open spaces, long distances and rough terrain of the Navajo Nation compound the work conducted by tribal officers.  Bernie even gives a civic talk in this most recent novel, explaining how the long distances and rough country make policing the Navajo Nation a major challenge on the best of days.  Often, the tribal officers are on patrol alone, and they frequently have to travel long distances to and from crime scenes as well as to various offices.  Effective communication is often non-existent when not only cell phones but patrol car radios do not work given the rocky terrain.

IMG_7350But sense of place plays an even more important role in Anne Hillerman’s Rock with Wings. For one thing, “Rock with Wings” is the Navajo name for Ship Rock, an impressive monadnock that holds significance for the Navajo and is the exact setting for one of the major events in the novel. The rock formation rises almost 1600 feet above the high desert floor.  Second, Monument Valley—called Tse Bii Ndzisgaii in Navajo or Valley of Rocks—is the exact setting for the other major case being explored.  The realities of these places contribute to the stories as they unfold.



I was incredibly lucky last spring to have literally visited both Ship Rock and Monument Valley just weeks before reading Rock with Wings.  The impressiveness as well as the isolation and openness of the two locales stayed with me as I read the novel, making the reality of the mysteries even more evident.  If you have not yet read Rock with Wings, I suggest you do—and if you can visit the Navajo Nation, do that too.  The novel can stand alone as an engaging mystery, but complex layers of character and place emerge if you read it as the continuation of the Leaphorn and Chee Mystery Series.

Either way, Rock with Wings is a good read.  I am hopeful that Anne Hillerman will offer another novel in the series, soon.

TOPIC R: The Power & Magic of READING

Topic R:  The Power & Magic of Reading in 3 Parts

 Part 1:  Reading Is a Way of Life

“We read to know we are not alone.”   C. S. Lewis

“When you sell a man a book you don’t sell him just 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue—you sell him a whole new life.”  Christopher Morley

“When I get a little money, I buy books.  And if there is any left over, I buy food.”  Erasmus

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read.”  Mark Twain

“A man is known by the books he reads.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Let us read and let us dance—two amusements that will never do any harm to the world.”  Voltaire

Flight Behavior book coverI love reading.  Most days, I am working on reading several books.  Right now, my bed stand holds Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior.  She is one of my favorite authors.  The next book up is The Book Thief by Zusak.  I have recently purchased a Kindle and have downloaded several free or cheap murder mysteries, just in case.  I would never want to be anywhere without a book to read! Right now, on Kindle, I am reading Higashida’s The Reason I Jump to learn about autism from an inside perspective.

I also follow hundreds of WordPress blogs, reading some every day.  One—The Classroom as Microcosm—has recently been discussing the role of reading fiction in the development of creative and critical thinking.  Most comments are praising reading—fact or fiction—because it expands what is possible and explores different perspectives; these skills carryover to all over facets of life.  Two other blogs—Autism Speaks: Blog and Daily Good: News That Inspires—often lead me to entertaining and educational articles about many aspects of life.  I just always have to be reading something!  Heck, doesn’t everyone read the back of cereal boxes if nothing else is at hand to read?

Part 2:  Reading Is an Essential Skill

“You’re the same today as you’ll be in five years except for the people you meet and the books you read.”  Charlie Jones

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”  Frederick Douglass

“A book is the most effective weapon against intolerance and ignorance.”  Lyndon Baines Johnson

“Literacy is not a luxury, it is a right and a responsibility. If our world is to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century we must harness the energy and creativity of our citizens.”  President Clinton on International Literacy Day, September 8, 1994

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture.  Just get people to stop reading them.”  Ray Bradbury

“People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book.”  Malcolm X

Given my love of reading, it is difficult for me to imagine that others not only do not read vociferously but that many cannot read well enough to see reading as a friend, an escape, a path to new learning, simply a fun activity.  I know reading is taking place since millions seem to be scouring social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter to read and often loudly respond to so many silly messages. But real reading—reading for learning and understanding, for expanding perspectives and seeking new ideas, even for fun and escape—might not be that prevalent.  I do not have any real statistics to support my worry.

Heck, general reports indicate that CIA’s World Factbook gives the literacy rate in the United States of America as close to 99%.  But I am not really convinced.  Back in 1985, Jonathon Kozol wrote Illiterate America, calling into question some of the methodology used by the Census Bureau when it determines literacy rates.  Back then, the U.S. literacy rate was reportedly 86%.  Some of the methodology used to generate that number were simply asking people if they were literate and assuming if someone had been in school through the fifth grade that they must be literate.  Well, at least functionally literate. But functional literacy means meeting the bare basics of reading; it says a person can read basic instructions, know what a stop sign says, stuff like that.  Maybe the methodology has improved, but I am doubtful.

In 2002, the U.S. Department of Education conducted a study called NAAL (National Assessment of Adult Literacy).  Since then, some follow-up studies have completed research on smaller groups, noting minor shifts in the initial numbers reported.  The NAAL study looked at prose, document, and quantitative literacy, and it used various measures to test literacy levels.  Some of the factors this study used to assess literacy included being able to locate information in text, making low-level inferences using printed materials, and integrating easily identifiable pieces of information into communication.

These factors seem to basically assess if a person can complete such activities as deciphering a train or bus schedule, determining a politician’s stance from reading a speech or editorial, or pulling information from sources to use in support of his/her own arguments.  I am not certain that these low-level factors would even assess if a person can judge whether an internet source is credible or not—that is a higher level skill.  Using these factors, NAAL concluded that 21% to 23% of adult Americans were not literate.  On the flip side, only about 25% of American adults reach the highest levels of literacy.  I am not certain which statistic is sadder.

Earlier this year, Cinthia Coletti published Blueprint for a Literate Nation:  How You Can Help.  Her work sounds intriguing, and I am definitely adding her book to my list of must-reads. One news article about her publication shares this detail:  Apparently, 67% of American children are struggling with attaining literacy.  That statistic does not surprise me.  As a teacher, I have always been aware that if students do not master reading by about third grade, then school becomes a greater challenge.  It is that year that more text than pictures fill the pages and that students are expected to read on their own for directions and basics of the assignment.  If they are not reading well, then everything else starts getting harder too.

Donald J. Hernandez, sociology professor at Hunter College, shared this conclusion in his 2011 research:  “Third grade is a kind of pivot point.  We teach reading for the first three grades and then after that children are not so much learning to read but using their reading skills to learn other topics. In that sense if you haven’t succeeded by 3rd grade it’s more difficult to [remediate] than it would have been if you started before then.” His study predicts that students who are not reading on grade level by the third grade are four times more likely to not graduate high school by age 19.

But what does reading well for a young student mean?  Well, for one thing, it means much more than the ability to sound out words touted by teaching phonetics.  Yes, students need to be able to sight read or sound out words.  Those are important skills.  But mastering them does not make little Janey or Johnny a reader.  Doug Adams, Institute of Reading Development, offers this analogy to explain the connection between reading speed and comprehension:  “A film is made up of still images flashed in rapid succession to simulate movement.  Slow down the film, and the movement and meaning slows and the film’s impact is diminished.  Viewers won’t learn as much about the film as if it were shown at normal speed. With reading the same thing can happen. When a person reads word by word, like frame by frame, they are not reading at the level of ideas. You need to read on some level that’s more conversational and allows things to coalesce into ideas themselves.”

To be a reader, then, students must have a certain proficiency with knowing the words, so they can move on to comprehension and reflection.  Reading well means liking to read, reading fast enough to capture meaning, and reading frequently to improve skills.  Think of when you first learned to drive a stick shift.  In the beginning, you had to focus intently on releasing the clutch, just so, to move forward without grinding gears—that was not driving.  When you could finally stop focusing on those details and just do them, then you could really say you were driving and eventually enjoying the ride.  But to be a good driver, you need to keep driving.  It is the same process for young readers as they develop their reading skills.

Part 3:  Reading Is the Best Gift Ever

 “The more you read, the more things you will know.  The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  Dr. Seuss

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”  Emillie Buchwald

“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”  Jacqueline Kennedy

“Reading aloud with children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read.”  Marilyn Japer Adams

“There is no substitute for books in the life of a child.”  May Ellen Chase

“So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, go throw your TV set away, and in its place you can install, a lovely bookshelf on the wall.”  Roald Dahl, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory

“One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years.  To read is to voyage through time.”  Carl Sagan

The question then becomes, “How can we help?”  How can caring adults help the special children in their lives develop reading skills, master a love of reading that will help them throughout life?  Fortunately, helping kids learn to love reading is not that hard. Coletti’s book promises to share ideas that will help foster literacy in local neighborhoods, but I’ve not read her work yet.  It just makes common sense to me that the adults simply need to share their love of reading with the special children in their lives.

Me about 5 Reading in My Favorite Chair--Still A Great Place for Reading

Me about 5 Reading in My Favorite Chair–Still A Great Place for Reading

Here are some basics that typically help encourage a love of reading:

animaliaStart reading to your kids when they are very young, infants even.  There are the classics like Good Night Moon and any book from Dr. Seuss.  It is the storytelling and the time together that are the draw.  One of my favorite books to give as a gift is Animalia.  It is as much for the parents as for the kids—they need to explore its pages together. And browsing the pages encourages observational skills and creativity.  As the book jacket explains, “Animalia is much more than A is for Apple.  The letters of the alphabet explode into images that delight the eye and words that thrill the ear: A is for An Armoured Armadillo Avoiding An Angry Alligator. [This book provides] an incredible imaginary world. . . . “

Establish a set time to read with your kids on a regular basis.  Every day is best such as at bedtime.  But any schedule works:  after dinner, every Sunday after church, Friday nights to start the weekend, after school.  Set and keep a schedule.  I am not meaning tell the kid to go read by herself.  The time together is part of the process!  My favorite class in sixth grade was Reading.  Every day after lunch the teacher read us a chapter of the class book, and then we moved into the class assignments.  My favorite book that year was Flowers for Algernon.  My adult nephews have fond memories of reading the Wizard of Oz series together as kids with their mom.  And now, even as adults, there are some Christmas stories they like to re-read together—it’s tradition!  A friend’s older grandkids are going to start reading the Harry Potter series with younger siblings, now that the younger kids are old enough.

Have books and magazines around the house, okay kindles and nooks too.  Maybe even a collection of books that is special for those who are good readers or old enough to understand—a goal to reach for!  Something forbidden always attracts attention.

Read on your own time to demonstrate reading is a skill you practice and value—and encourage kids to read on their own with you!  Telling each other what you are reading or reading a book together is great time for adult and child.  If you encourage reading, at some point you will share the delight of your young child demanding to be read a story, as presented by a great blog Slouching towards Thatcham.

Photo from Clip Art Photos

Photo from Clip Art Photos

Take trips together to the library and check out books together.  This gives you a great opportunity to explore areas of interest with your kids:  dinosaurs, princesses, trucks, space exploration, elephants or other favorite animals, whatever—there are books with great pictures and words to entice the child into reading.  Comic books are often a great place to start as well.

Give gifts that encourage reading or at least of love of words.  Of course, this includes books.  There is something about owning your own book!  But also consider games such as Scrabble or Boggle, even download Words with Friends—then actually play with the kids.  Even a set of magnetic alphabet letters for the refrigerator is good. New words can magically appear on the refrigerator every morning!  Or get one of those magnetic poetry sets for more extensive sharing of words and ideas.  Cookbooks might be a fun read that produces good eats as well and builds living skills and confidence in kids, when they are allowed to do the cooking.


The holidays are just around the corner.  Get creative and figure out a way to share a love of reading with those you love.  WHAT DO YOU THINK?  What are your ideas for helping kids develop their reading skills?  What are some books you would recommend as gifts for kids or adults?  What books are you reading right now?

Some Final Quotes on the Power & Magic of Reading

“Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light.”   Vera Nazarian

“Learning to read is probably the most difficult and revolutionary things that happens to the human brain and if you don’t believe that, watch an illiterate adult try to do it.”  John Steinbeck

“When writing the constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, John Adams wrote:  “I must judge for myself, but how can I judge, how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading.”

 “Just a thought.  What sets us above all other life on this planet is our ability to read.  What we read can determine our relationship with all other life on this planet.”  M. J. Croan

“All that mankind has done, thought, gained, or been; it is lying as in magic preservation in the pages of books.”   Thomas Carlyle

IT’S ABOUT TIME: 8 by 58

I swear!  Just yesterday it was January 2012.  So what happened to the last 4 months?  Or what happened to me during these last four months?  When I look back, I start to see some details that might suggest what has been going on:

  • I lose time.  I am sitting down to watch TV or read or something and next thing I know it is morning—or at times it seems to be days later when I am next aware of what is happening around me.
  • I feel isolated, violated at times.  This usually happens when I am barraged by Facebook messages or emails from various companies insisting/suggesting what other items I might want to buy.  At times these feelings surface when watching general news stories about stealth helicopters and hidden GPS trackers and such other horrors out in the real world.
  • At other times I feel frightened about the future.  This is typically in reaction to news items about politics and upcoming elections—and the increasing onslaught of reality TV. Those Hulu Commercials about aliens using television to numb our minds so “They” can eat our brains do not seem so far-fetched anymore.
  • Often I awake from a fitful sleep with an ever increasing number of aches and pains that I cannot account for, black and blue marks that just appear—as well as the need lately for extensive dental work.

I can only draw one logical conclusion:  I have been abducted by aliens, over and over again.  That has to be it!  I will stay more vigilant in the hopes of thwarting future abductions, so I can get back to my usual routines.  Wish me luck.

My first attempt at getting back to normal is to share my goals and expectations for the rest of the year, an entry I had planned to write back in January in conjunction with my birthday.  But here it is now, 4.5 months later.  I started this sort of review last year when I shared some goals to be completed by the time I turned 57 years old.  This year my plan involves working on 8 goals to be completed by the time I turn 58 (January 2013).  Here’s my list:

  1. Last year, I planned to launch a website to advertise my skills as an educational consultant.  The page exists, but diligent exploration of jobs has taken a back seat.  This year, I will keep this goal.  I have some revisions planned for the website and have started a campaign to reach out to community colleges in the state.  So now I just need to put my plans into action!
  2. Last year, I worked on sorting and scanning some old family photos, both mine and my parents’. I accomplished quite a bit, but the task is ongoing as more and more photos surface. 
  3. Plus I need to re-do some of the photo scanning I completed last year.  I did not get some of what I had accomplished already backed-up and my laptop died.  Tough lesson:  always back up whatever you are working on!  This task needs to be an ongoing task—one that I need in print to help me remember how important it is!
  4. Last year, I listed eating healthier and exercising more as two separate items.  I had limited success in each area, but these—too—need to become ongoing tasks if they are really going to become just my normal routine.  So, they remain a stated goal this year!
  5. Last year, I talked about reading more, especially attacking the long to-read list that has been in existence for years.  I have been reading more, and more and more.  I even took some items off the list, knowing they were no longer addressing my interests.  This year, in addition to keeping up with my reading, I plan to start writing some book reviews as part of my blog.  I hope to share at least one review before this month is over, and then get in the habit of writing two reviews a month, at a minimum.  
  6. Last year, I planned to recreate some of the nature writings I completed in the past so they would be accessible via an online format, if I chose to go that route.  I have found some of the hard copies of my older work and have the photos mostly scanned and ready to go.  I have even explored some online self-publishing sites. But this project really has not been completed, so it remains on my list.
  7. I miss getting out and about to take photos.  For the last several years, I have not really taken any vacations, even mini-trips, so have not taken many new photos.  My goal this year is to enjoy some trips, even if only day or weekend excursions.  This goal has the added benefit of helping me enjoy Nature a bit more than I do through my usual day-to-day routine.  Enjoying Nature makes everything better! 
  8. My final goal for this year, well for the rest of this year, is to work on downsizing the stuff in my apartment.  I have a couple chairs I want to give to the Salvation Army, but I still have not called for a pick-up.  I have boxed some other items but there are more closets and drawers to go through.  And the shelves of books really need to be culled, but that task is very, very daunting.  It is really hard to think about giving away books.

So, these are the 8 major tasks I will complete by the time I turn 58 years of age in January 2013.  They seem more likely to be accomplished, once I make them public.  Of course, I really need to be able to eliminate the alien abductions in order to work on these with any sense of dedication and diligence.  Wish me luck!

What have you been doing, or not doing, thus far this year?

Any other alien abductees out there?

Books with Fascinating Titles: A Baker’s Dozen

Give me an afternoon to wander a bookstore and browse the shelves, and I am perfectly happy.  Time stands still as I wander from shelf to shelf, category to category and peruse whatever catches my eye.  But what books do I really pull off the shelves?  Or better, take home to be read?  For me, it is often a catchy title that helps make that final decision.  But in trying to appropriately describe those titles, I explored several adjectives.  Odd?  Too dismissive.  Curious?  Too strange—or odd.  Quirky?  Too lighthearted.  Silly?  Well, just, too. . . silly.

I settled on fascinating, suggesting an ability to engage one’s interest for a variety of reasons.  I then started looking over my own shelves to see what books I could offer as examples, books where the titles are part of what landed them on my shelves to begin with.  Most were bought; some were gifts.  All have been read.  I will list thirteen titles here, in no special order, with a little commentary on each.  I am hopeful some of my readers will also have books/titles to share!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows present a delightful novel set just after WWII that offers an historical view of that difficult time in the lives of the civilians living in Europe during the conflict.  It offers wit and wisdom as well as tender insights and much humor as the characters interact with each other through letters and telegrams.  Its literary device and subject matter and time frame are reminiscent of 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanf. That novel also looks to life during the war through the correspondence between two of the main characters.  I recently read Guernsey from my list of books-to-read, so I can officially claim to be making some progress on one of the goals I set myself to complete before January 2012.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven. Sherman Alexie writes a compelling novel full of gritty realism and dark humor that delineates life of Native Americans in and around Seattle.  You laugh a lot, at times to keep from crying.  He shows the strength and grim details surrounding life for many on and off the reservation. 

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America. Firoozeh Dumas gives a heartwarming account of her family and life as she grew up in an America that became more and more wary of strangers.  Her honesty and humor make the book a great read.   This book was used in many classes on a community college campus, when the author came to speak, and the students loved it!

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  Judith Vorst eloquently captures Alexander’s youthful angst as he fusses and fumes through a terrible day.  We all have these days—and it is fun to laugh along with Alexander’s struggles.  I love kids’ books that meet adult needs as well.  Other children’s lit favorites for me are Animalia and The Phantom Tollbooth, but those titles do not really qualify for this list.  I have not yet read Go the Fuck to Sleep! 

Thinking in Pictures: My Life with Autism.   Temple Grandin is a remarkable woman who has helped shed some much needed light on living with Autism.  Her scientific understanding is phenomenal, and she shares her insights about life with openness and honesty.  HBO recently made a movie about the author that won some good reviews and awards. 

Bimbos & Zombies.  Sharyn McCrumb stumbled onto science fiction writing as a struggling graduate student who entered a contest with a delightful title and then went on to write a novel worthy of the title.  And it went on to some critical as well as popular acclaim.  This tome is actually an anthology of two shorter works:  Bimbos of the Death Sun and Zombies of the Gene Pool.   These offer a fun, witty escape!

Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt. Harvey Mackay does offer a sub-title that helps show this book is full of tips about managing and surviving in the business world:  “Do What You Love, Love What You do, and Deliver More Than You Promise.”  His advice is direct, honest, and often applicable.  The title was reminiscent of Sheldon B. Kopp’s If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!  Friends recommended that book in the past, but I never read it—but I love the title!

The No Asshole Rule: Building A Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t.  Robert J. Sutton wrote this book almost on a dare to use the title.  When discussing life in the business world, all agreed that assholes were around, but rarely did the articles and books written offering business advice share such direct insights.  His analysis and conclusions seem to truly understand office dynamics and how to maneuver in them without getting beaten or becoming an asshole yourself.

High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never. I first appreciated Barbara Kingsolver from her novels Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven. But this title caught my eye—and indeed proved to be about a crab’s attempt to keep to the high tide schedule as if it existed in the desert, once he was carried home from a vacation to the shore by the author’s little girl.  I like the science, the observations, and the musings the incident generated. 

Mutant Message Down Under. Marlo Morgan offers a story that she claims is based on reality. She tells of an American woman who accepts an invitation to go on a 4-month walk-about with an Aboriginal tribe in Australia.  As she conquers the physical and spiritual challenges, she learns great lessons about life and ancestry and the human connection that might help us all preserve ourselves and our world.

“. . . and then we’ll get him!”  This collection of Gahan Wilson’s macabre cartoons is a real treat.  It shows his frightening but funny world in action.  The title is from one cartoon that shows the childhood toys discarded over the years, waiting in the attic for the owner to come and reminisce and “. . .then we’ll get him!”  His work is wonderfully common place, creepy and unexpected!

Titters:  The First Collection of Humor by Women. Deanne Stillman and Annie Beatts edited this collection of raw, gritty humor in 1976.  It offers a fun compendium of humor from a woman’s perspective.  Some of the content was considered racy at the time!  It includes work by women such as Phyllis Diller, Erma Bombeck and Gilda Radner as well as such entries as “Clampax Instruction Booklet” and a “Male Nude Centerfold.”

The Dictionary of Imaginary Places. Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi edited my expanded edition dictionary back in 1987.  Its pages help the reader explore many destinations, such as Ursula LeGuin’s Iffish, Borges’ City of the Immortals, Tolkien’s Imaginary Island, and Juster’s Mountains of Ignorance—and these are just from a 2-page spread.  It is always fun to scan these pages and visit these locales, especially on a rainy afternoon.  I expect later editions (such as what is pictured) would help transport someone to Rowling’s Hogwarts too!    

So, what titles fascinate you?  Or what other books can you suggest?


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“The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”  Mark Twain

 “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.”  Groucho Marx

 “Five years from now you will pretty much be the same as you are today except for two things:  the books you read and the people you get close to.”  Charles Jones


Lately I have been reading a book called One Thousand Gifts.  My sister gave it to me, and again she is right:  it is great, provocative, potentially life changing.  It is not fiction; I guess I would label it a memoir or maybe devotional.  Ann Voskamp, the author, shares her journey from overwhelming grief to a life filled with thanksgiving and appreciation, a life—for her—that leads back to God.  What initiates her journey is her journal where she records 1000 items that capture her attention and her thanks.  It does not have to big things like world peace—just the day-to-day details and moments that often go overlooked. 

For example, Ann’s list includes the following items:

  • First frost’s crunch
  • Kettle whistling for tea on a cold afternoon
  • Mama delivering chicken soup to the back door
  • Toothless smiles

Her gratitude makes sense to me, in part because I already note the items of nature that capture my eye and heart.  But I never thought about keeping a catalog before of those items as well as of the daily occurrences that are easy to overlook. Her book suggests that slowing down to notice and appreciate these items can help set an attitude of gratitude for life.  It’s the mindset that makes the difference.  Ann starts realizing the power of her journal when a friend questions her about the change that is becoming evident:  “Yes . . . you’ve changed.”  Ann goes quiet, pondering how to respond, since she had not realized the change she was feeling was becoming visible. 

Her thoughts capture her quandary:  “I don’t say it, but I am thinking she may be right and I had felt it for months, the maturing, the swelling, the something different that had begun to happen.  But I had thought the re-creation was still embryonic, a bud of hope. I hadn’t thought it had fully bloomed.  I hadn’t thought that anyone could see the light in the eyes.” Her friend suggests the change is a result of the list she’s been writing.  Slowly, Ann offers her answer, “’Yes . . . “ There. A moment. And yes. ‘It’s The List.’”

Since I had been thinking about writing my own list, this week seemed an especially good time to get started. After all, I had a special experience I could add to the list.  No, I am not listing that I was freshly pressed—although that was terrific!  I had already shared in an earlier posting that the sense of audience inherent in keeping a blog is powerful.  Therefore, getting close to 1400 views in one day, almost more than I had received since I had started my blog months ago, was overwhelming.  But my appreciation is being recorded for the sense of community that became real to me through the feedback provided by others. Some “liked” what I wrote, others left comments, and a handful subscribed. 

It was the camaraderie, the shared experience that stays with me.  To extend the connection, I have visited the blogs of those who stopped by—and was rewarded with wondrous entries that made me laugh and cry, took me to new worlds, or suggested new ideas to ponder.  I collected book titles and recipes and travel destinations. It’s nice being a member of this blogging community—and that is what I am thankful for!

The other items I catalog as I start my list I share with my readers as a way of saying “Thanks!” Thanks for your feedback.  Thanks for making me feel part of this blogging community.  Here’s the start of my list—maybe you will find something here that you appreciate as well:

A sister who loves and supports me, and who I could always count on to play (as kids and adults)!

Being part of a blogging community

Roses in all their variety and splendor

Wind rustling through the trees unexpectedly about 3 am, catching my attention and then lulling me to sleep

The laughter of my neighbor’s kids as they run in from the pool

Snuggling under a blanket on a chilly morning

A cat’s ability to hide in plain sight

Seeing a wolf at Yellowstone, even though it was too far off to capture a picture

The satisfaction of finishing a novel that has kept me up all night

Catching glimpses of birds darting across a field, daring anyone to identify them

Dogs—mine from long ago that I still miss at times and any others I am lucky enough to meet along the way

Bringing a bit of spring indoors

So, THANKS, readers for being part of my blogging community.  What are you grateful for?

Don’t You Just Love Quotes? Books?

I love quotes. I love books. So it makes sense that I would love books full of quotes. I have many of them on my shelves: quotes about dogs, friendship, teaching, writing, leadership and quotes by specific people like poets and statesmen. When I was a kid, my mom had a book of quotations that I would peruse for hours, enjoying the wonder of what I found. I would sprinkle quotes into letters and into essays at school. In 6th grade I won an American Legion Essay Contest about what it means to be an American—and, if memory serves, I used a quote by JFK. I’m sure I started collecting my first books of quotes back then too.

Back in 1980—when I was taking my first job after graduate school away from home so away from my mom’s book of quotes—I bought myself Familiar Quotations. It was a little bit of home I could take with me. The book was the 15th and 125th year anniversary edition of the book of quotes first published by John Bartlett back in 1855. I can download this book for free now and easily conduct a search by topic or author, maybe even ask for random quotes to be displayed. But there is something more personal about curling up with the book and diving in.

Today, as I pulled my old well worn tome off the shelf, I randomly opened the book to p. 614. There in close juxtaposition I found, “For the Snark was a Boojum, you see” by Lewis Carroll and “There is nothing harder than the softness of indifference” by Juan Montalvo. I have loved Lewis Carroll for years, and the quote brought a smile to my day. But I do not think I would have stumbled onto Montalvo online—and I had not heard of him before. His words made me think about the hurt that can come from staying quiet too long or from moving on even if something needs to be resolved or defended. His quote reminded me that we are all as fragile as Blanche DuBois, who “can’t stand a naked lightbulb, anymore than. . . a rude comment or a vulgar action.” Or just being ignored or overlooked.

But I also stumbled upon a delicious little book full of wit, sarcasm and some downright mean commentary. The book’s title was almost bigger than the book itself: The Little Book of Venom: A Collection of Historical Insults compiled by Jennifer Higgie. This collection of quotes is only 167 pages long, but it contains a wide world of insight and criticism. There are 12 chapters arranged around various categories like art, music, love, history and politics. The largest chapter takes up 36% of the pages and is “On Writing.” The book’s index lets the reader search for quotes by specific people and about specific authors and subjects. To do justice to this little treasure, I simply have to share some of the quotes:

“Wagner’s music is better than it sounds.”
Mark Twain (1835-1910), on Richard Wagner

“Far too noisy, my dear Mozart, far too many notes. . . “
Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91)

“The American has no language. He has dialect, slang, provincialism, accent, and so forth.”
Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

“England and America are two countries divided by a common language.”
Attributed to George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

“Reader, suppose you were an idiot; and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.”
Mark Twain (1835-1910)

“He grew up from manhood to boyhood.”
R. A. Knox (1888-1957), on G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

“His imagination resembles the wings of an ostrich.”
Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-59), British historian, on John Dryden (1631-
1700), English poet

“A large shaggy dog just unchained scouring the beaches of the world and baying at
the moon.”
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94), on Walt Whitman (1819-91)

“The way George Bernard Shaw believes in himself is very refreshing in these
atheistic days when so many people believe in no God at all.”
Israel Zangwill (1864-1926), British dramatist and novelist, on George Bernard
Shaw (1856-1950)

“He has never been known to use a word that might send a man to a dictionary.”
William Faulkner (1897-1962), on Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think emotions come from big words?”
Ernest Hemingway, on William Faulkner

“The Puritan hated bear-baiting, not because it gave pain to the bear, but
because it gave pleasure to the spectators.”
Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-59), in his History of England

“The more I see of men, the more I admire dogs.”
Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, Marquise de Sevigne (1626-96)

“The majority of husbands remind me of an orangutan trying to play the violin.”
Honore de Balsac (1799-1850)

“He was meddling too much in my private life.”
Tennessee Williams (1911-83), on why he had stopped visiting his psychoanalyst

But as fun as it was to spend time enjoying these quotes, finding the book was actually rather bittersweet. You see, this book was a gift about seven years ago from a good friend. We were really quite alike, so she ended her inscription with “If you laugh at these too. . . ?” and I definitely did/do. We have not been able to laugh together over a book or piece of chocolate or anything in over a year now. It’s complicated. I guess I am just being wistful, remembering that laughter is sweeter if shared with a friend. There’s got to be a quote about that somewhere.

What’s your favorite quote?

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