Archive for the ‘Books and Reading’ Category

You can’t tell a book by its… title.

Monday, January 18th, 2021

“Two Loaves” starring Shirley MacLaine was based on this book.

Spinster.  Now, there’s a word you don’t hear much anymore.  In fact, it’s a term that’s been out of fashion for my entire lifetime.  Even so, it’s the title of a book I first read in 1960 — just a year after it was published by Simon and Schuster.  It was recommended reading for one of the post-baccalaureate education classes I took in order to get my teaching credential.  It seemed, at the time, to be the most incongruous suggestion I’d ever heard from a college professor.

That’s what I thought then and what I continue to think, even now.  It’s the story (fictional) of a teacher among the Maori of New Zealand.  It’s long out of print — Timberland Library got it for me through inter-library loan from Western Oregon University in Oregon.  My memory of the book is about how, some days, the spinster fortified herself for school with a half a tumbler of brandy.

And I’ve remembered how she captured the hub-bub and enthusiasm of the infant room where she was the only teacher of 70 four-and five-year-olds.  And, for all these years, I’ve remembered her firm belief that children come to school chock-a-block full of experiences and wonder and joy and anger.  We have only to help them unlock it all and put it into context — that’s the sum total of our job as teachers;  The rest will come.

Sylvia Ashton-Warner, 1908-1984

Well, that’s what I remember of the book.  That, plus it’s one of the most important books about teaching I’ve ever run across.  At first, I wondered why it was so strongly recommended to us fledglings… I was probably stuck on the brandy and a bit horrified by it.  Now as I re-read Spinster, I realize that it was Ms. Ashton-Warner who turned my interest toward our youngest learners and that her unconventional thoughts and methods were the underpinnings of my teaching for all those years — though not the brandy part, I hasten to add.

Seen through the broader context of today’s racism and divisiveness, it resonates even more deeply today.   It’s a must read, especially for  teachers — past, present, future.  I urge my readers to track it down and be prepared to see the world differently while you’re reading it — and maybe for the rest of your life.  Don’t confuse it with her second book, Teacher, which is also good.  But not as.

Really??? Is there no oversight by Amazon?

Monday, December 21st, 2020

ScreenShot

Fifteen or sixteen years ago, I offered to act as “Guest Editor” for an issue of the Pacific County Historical Society’s magazine, the Sou’wester .  I wanted to gather  stories by “kids” (like then 80-year-old Bud Goulter) who had grown up in Oysterville in the 1939s, ’40s, and ’50s.  PCHS liked my idea and “Growing Up In Oysterville” was published in 2006.  It’s one of several Sou’westers I have written or edited over the years, and  it’s one of my favorites.  All of them are a labor of love — no remuneration involved.

Sou’westers are one of the perks of PCHS membership.  For the modest sum of $25 a year you, too, can become a member and receive two copies of the magazine each year along with periodic newsletters and other bonuses. Extra copies of the magazines, including back-issues, are for sale in the Society’s Museum Gift Store in South Bend as well as at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum in Ilwaco.  I’m not sure of the price for individual copies.  It used to be nine or ten dollars — certainly not in the triple-almost-quadruple digits!

ScreenShot Close-up

So, imagine my surprise when I came across an Amazon.com page offering a copy of that very Sou’wester for $955.67!  Not only that, but according to the “seller” (who is based in Texas and is apparently approved by Amazon.com) four or five happy purchasers have written positive “endorsements” about the magazine.

That’s some markup for a 52-page magazine, even considering that it was a double issue!  I have a gazillion questions, of course, the first being where did the Texas outfit get their copies?  Wouldn’t it be nice to think that the bulk of their profits were going back to South Bend, WA as a donation to PCHS?  I know… I know.  I have a rich fantasy life.  But even so, I could never in a gazillion years dreamed up this bizarre scenario.  It certainly has moved right up to the top of my “Buyer Beware” list!

 

My Uncle Wede, Raconteur and Word Man

Tuesday, December 1st, 2020

Willard Espy:  Author, Wordsmith, Raconteur

In same ways, my uncle Willard Espy had a checkered career — as in a number of disparate jobs.  But all of them, one way or another, had to do with writing.  Now he is remembered mostly for his books on wordplay, or if you live around this neck of the woods, for his book Oysterville, Roads to Grandpa’s Village.  But it was his hob-nobbing with the rich and famous that always interested me most.

In the 1940s, Wede was the Public Relations manager for the Reader’s Digest.  Part of his work in that capacity was to write the back cover for each monthly issue.  Actually, he was a ghost-writer (in lay-terminology) and, as such, he set up interviews with prominent personalities who then “wrote” endorsements for the magazine.

This morning I ran across some of Willard’s notes — apparently impressions from some of those interviews and also from a later radio show called “Personalities in Print.”  The format was fifteen minute (daily?) interviews, also with well-known people who had, for one reason or another, a book or article currently in print.  How I wish I could ask him a little more about each.

Duke and Duchess of Windsor

Duke of Windsor (and the Duchess) — her remarkable capacity to seem to focus her whole attention on what was being said to her.
Albert Einstein — his patched sweater, his lack of sox, the halo of hair behind his head, his aura of utter saintliness, his sailing ability (well — not too hot.)
Winston Churchill— watched him consume a bottle of brandy before delivering a stirring address to the joint Houses of Congress.
Richard Nixon — his disquisitions on luck, with examples from his own life; his stopping all other work in the Vice Presidential office to locate Adlai Stevenson when Stevenson’s son was injured in an accident.
H.L. Mencken (before my Digest days), sitting in his backyard and consuming bottle after bottle of beer.

Lillian Gish, Silent Film Star

Lord Halifax in a receiving line, somehow causing even his most distinguished guests to look like red-faced butchers as he shook their hands.
Jim Gavin’s crash course in French when he was made Ambassador to Paris — all the French he knew before was what was required to haggle with the madams in the towns his division captured over the rates she would charge his boys.
Lillian Gish and the seagull.
Trying to persuade Betty Friedan to serve me breakfast in bed.
And dozens, scores, more — some from my old radio program, others from Readers Digest.

That last sentence makes me think he was compiling the list for his editor with an eye toward another book.  I wish it had happened; it would have been a fun read.

 

 

Our Pick For The Season… Maybe.

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020

As most of us know all too well, the world is full of wackos.  One of the wackiest (in a good way) is author Carl Hiaasen.  Nyel and I are reading his latest book, Squeeze Me, almost as we speak.  (Nyel is a day reader and a night sleeper; I am a day writer and a night reader…  Don’t ask.)

According to his website, Carl Hiaasen was born and raised in Florida, where he still lives.  A graduate of the University of Florida, at age 23 he joined The Miami Herald as a general assignment reporter and went on to work for the newspaper’s weekly magazine and prize-winning investigations team. Since 1985 Hiaasen has been writing a regular column, which at one time or another has pissed off just about everybody in South Florida, including his own bosses.

We met him at a Pacific Northwest Bookseller Association in the mid-’90s.  I can’t remember which of his books had just been published — the number to date is 35 — but we were already fans as were many of our Bookvendor customers.  He seemed like a “normal” sort of guy, although his ready sense of humor had just a bit of a twist to it.

Carl Hiaasen

Without revealing much of anything, I’ll tell you a little bit about his latest.  It is set in Florida (as are most of his books) and opens with the disappearance of a wealthy elderly woman.  She belongs to a group of like-minded 70-and-80-year-olds who have been married multiple times to ever-richer husbands and who have formed a group called the “POTUS Pussies” proclaiming brassy loyalty to the new, crude-spoken commander-in-chief.  The incident takes place at a high-end (so to speak) fund-raiser for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

By the time you learn this much, you are on Page 2… and the 336-page story gets stranger and more improbable as you proceed.  Although… there is enough “reality” to make you wonder,   And, if you don’t already feel a perverse affection/aversion to the “Everglade State” — also called the “Sunshine State.,” The Orange State,” “The Alligator State,” and “The Flower State,”  among others. — your impressions by book’s end are bound to be affected, or perhaps conflicted.

I’m not sure this is the perfect book for reading over the holidays.  It is anything but warm, fuzzy, and nostalgic which are feelings we’ve learned to associate with this time of year.  On the other hand… this year is different.  And here’s a book to match!

 

Jeeves, Pooh, “The Boys” and me

Monday, October 19th, 2020

Don’t get me wrong.  I am delighted that Timberland Library is up and running and even more delighted that they are being mindful to the max — not allowing us inside, quarantining books, double-checking our card numbers. But, when the wait for a book turns into weeks rather than days, I have to revert to our home library which at this point in the Time of Sheltering is getting to be Old News.

Nevertheless, last night, in a bit of desperation, I grabbed a P.G. Wodehouse book — Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves and found it was “just the t.” as Bertie Wooster might say.  Like A.A. Milne’s Pooh books and G.M. Ford’s Leo Waterman series with its improbable cast of wino operatives known as “The Boys,” Jeeves and Bertie never cease to amuse and amaze — no matter how many re-reads they get.

As peculiar as it seems, all these authors ring the same bell for me.  They take a look at human character through an unfamiliar lens and remind me that whatever my own problems are, they are pretty puny (and boring) in the great scheme of things.  And even better right now, they encourage me to look at our own lives in their current situation as a bizarre and improbable story.  I can’t help but wonder if it were in book form, who would claim authorship.  It certainly wouldn’t be my choice for bedtime reading.

 

The Best Book EVER!

Wednesday, October 14th, 2020

Front Cover

I stayed up until the midnight hour (late for me) last night reading the Author’s Notes and Acknowledgements at the end of Daniel Silva’s latest book, The Order. The protagonist, who Silva admits shares many of his own traits, is legendary spy and art restorer Gabriel Allon and the setting is, for the second time in the series, the Vatican City.

Of the 21 books Gabriel Allon books, I consider it the best yet.  Making such a judgement is not done lightly.  This book is not only topical, but combines current, historical and fictitious information into a seamless whole — a thriller/espionage book that will leave you with questions (and even some answers) that you had never before considered.

Back Cover

I plan to read it again and would have begun it this morning except that it is Nyel’s turn.  I hope he powers through it so I can re-read it and get it back to the library before our two weeks are up!  Meanwhile, I  will order a few of the dozens of books that Silva “consulted” while writing The Order — beginning with Pontius Pilot by Ann Wroe.  I can’t think of a better opportunity, during this Sheltering Time, to being learning more about a topic I’ve always “taken for granted.”

Meanwhile, if you haven’t read The Order, I highly recommend it.  But, if you haven’t read any of the Gabriel Allon series, I suggest you hold off on this one until you have read the first twenty… in order!

 

Aw shucks! I missed it!

Monday, October 5th, 2020

Banned

I guess I’ve been so occupied with other affronts to the thinking public that I entirely missed Banned Book Week which was September 27th – October 3rd this year.  Promoted by the American Library Association and Amnesty International, and celebrating the freedom to read,  the last week in September has marked this observance since 1982.

Apparently, anyone can nominate a botok for banning, but this is most often done by parents or librarians.  (Say what?  Presumably they are not members of the American Librarry Association.  Go figure.)

The process for banning a book seems all too easy.
First: Someone files a complaint with the library regarding a certain book. Within their complaint, they must specify what they found offensive or why they are filing the complaint.
Second:  A committee or board reviews the challenged book to determine if the claim is substantial or unfounded.
Third:  Depending on the verdict of the committee or board, the book is either banned or removed from the library, or is left on the shelves.

The “battle of the book” can escalate to an actual court room where a judge will decide the book’s fate. If one party disagrees with this decision, they can fight to get the verdict overturned in a higher court of law. This fight can potentially escalate all the way up to the Supreme Court, where they will issue a final verdict that cannot be challenged again.
The list of the ten most frequently banned books includes:
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker.
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.
  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding.
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.
  • One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Banned

I am happy to say that I have read all of these books, some of them many times over.  Not only that, but I highly recommend all of them and to anyone who is old enought to read them with understanding and to sustain their interest throughout.  I don’t believe you can put parameters on the ability to think and to reason.

Plus, of course, it amuses me to think that, for many of us, knowing that a book has been “banned” is the ultimate challenge to read it!

 

 

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Betwixt and Between

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020

So, now that the library is open, we are back to the waiting game.  Only worse.  The books that were on hold for us in March are again making their way through the list of waiting patrons, but the books we were reading to tide us over are long since finished and returned.  So, I’m still reading from our bookshelves here in Oysterville.

Right now, it’s Life In A Medieval Castle by Joseph & Frances Gies (1974) complete with many photographs and diagrams showing towers and guardhouses, baileys and barbicans and all that good stuff.  Probably my dad’s.  I’m interested in the construction methods and designs only because I’ve visited many of the castles and/or ruins that are described.

William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke
By Kjetilbjørnsrud, CC

What interests me more are the stories of those who lived in those castles.  Take John Marshal who, in the chronicles of 12th century England won mention as “a limb of hell and the root of all evil.”  Among his other ‘accomplishments:’ during a battle he hid out in the bell tower of a burning church and, despite the lead of the tower roof melting and a drop splashing on his face and putting out an eye, he refused to surrender.

Later, having made good his escape, he was prevailed upon to hand over his young son William to the king as a hostage against a possible act of treachery during a truce.  John went ahead, committed the treachery and when King Stephen threatened to hang young William unless John surrendered his castle, John cooly replied that he did not care if his son were hanged, since he had “the anvils and hammer with which to forge still better sons.”  Yikes!

Magna Carta, 1215

Luckily (probably for us all), young William’s “cheerful innocence” as he was led to the hanging grounds won the King’s heart and the child was spared.  He grew up with his father’s “soldierly prowess but without his rascally character” to become one of the most distinguished of all the lords of Chepstow Castle and the most renowned knight of his time.  According to the authors, “He served King Richard and then King John for many years and played a leading — perhaps the leading — role in negotiating the Magna Carta.”  And I’m only on page 36!

It’s always nice to know how really difficult periods of time turned out.  We can only hope that we are still around to see how our own siege is resolved.  Who will be the William Marshal of our time?

 

Hooray for Timberland Library!

Sunday, July 19th, 2020

I am SO glad the library is open once more.  Finally, we are beginning to receive books that we’ve had on order since before its closure in March.  Right off the bat we were notified that Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley had come in.  I took no time in going to collect it and found the new pick-up system slick as a whistle.

As for the book — the jury is out, but I’m only seven chapters in.  It came highly recommended by the same friend who sent me Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens — a book that went racing to the top of my all-time favorites.  Right up there with To Kill a Mockingbird and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and 84 Charing Cross Road .  For starters.

So far, though, Sweetness at the Bottom… is a little dark for my tastes.  It centers on an eleven-year-old girl who, so far, I don’t find very believable or engaging but perhaps she will grow on me.  She certainly has been a hit with other readers; this is the first in the Flavia de Luce Mystery Series which now numbers ten, or possibly eleven, volumes.  As I say, my personal jury is out.

With the library closed these last months,  I’ve bought a few books, though I’ve tried not to.  One thing this house doesn’t need is more books!  And, I find that once I have a book, it is really difficult to let it go — even when giving it to a good friend.  On the plus side of that reluctance, however,  I’ve revisited some old friends lately.  I highly recommend the Catherine LeVendeur Mystery Series by Sharan Newman.  Like the Brother Cadfael Chronicles by Edith Pargeter, the LeVendeur stories take place in the 12th century, but in France rather than in England.  If you delve in, do read them in order…

Oysterville: Twixt Hamlet and Tref?

Monday, June 8th, 2020

“The Summer of the Danes”

I’m re-reading Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael Chronicles — or at least the few that we have on our shelves left over from our bookstore days.  As it happens, we are also watching the old Masterpiece Theater Cadfael series right now.  The books are infinitely better.

It’s our first viewing of the TV series and, in some ways,  it might as well be my first reading of the books.  It’s been at least 30 years since I’ve picked one up and I’ve forgotten most of the plots — but not the characters and certainly not the twelfth century world of Brother Cadfael.

The series is “okay,” but the books are glorious.  It’s the  liberal usage of medieval vocabulary and the cadence of the language that make all the difference.    English author Ellis Peters (nom de plume of Edith Mary Pargeter, 1913 – 1995) was a master of both.  Her published works cover many categories, especially history and historical fiction, and she was also honored for her translations of Czech classics.  I don’t know how her expertise with the Czech language might have related to her ear for medieval English, but somehow it must.

The Brother Cadfael Series

Currently I’m reading The Summer of the Danes and from the get-go I am enthralled.  Right away, on the first page of Chapter One, my eye was caught by this phrase:  …and the laity from the princes of North Wales down to the humblest cottagers in the trefs of Arfon.  Trefs??  What in the world is a tref?  A valley, perhaps?  Or in medieval-speak, maybe a dale?

So, I looked it up.  Said Merriam-Webster:  a group or area acting as a single community as regards cattle and plowing, constituting a taxable unit, and consisting typically of nine houses, one plow, one oven, one churn, one cat, one cock, and one herdsman.

Derek Jacobi as Brother Cadfael

OMG!  Not a landform at all!  And now I know that Oysterville is somewhere between a hamlet (100 to 150 people) and a tref!  In the definition of tref, of course, is the implication that those nine households do a lot of sharing.  I’m not sure that we could find that many people here willing to share an oven and never mind the plow or churn or cat.  The cock, of course is long gone.  We’ll have to find one for sale (or barter?) — perhaps in the nearby hamlet of Nahcotta.