Archive for the ‘Books and Reading’ Category

Remembering what Ratty said…

Saturday, September 17th, 2022

“Believe me my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats,” said Ratty to Mole in Kenneth Grahame’s classic 1908 novel The Wind in the Willows.

Oh how I wish Mole had listened and had spread the word to all his kith and kin years ago.  Then, perhaps, I wouldn’t be traveling, once again, in this Land of Lament that is my otherwise marvelous looking lawn.  Perhaps the Mole People would have messed about right on out to sea.  After all, Mole never did go back underground.  He liked it along the riverbank with Rat and there he stayed.  It could as well have been the banks of Willapa Bay… and beyond.

In Our SE Corner

I’m not sure where, exactly, the Mole People  have been all Spring and Summer.  But now, all of a sudden, I know exactly where they are.  At least some of them.  Right in the southeast corner of our garden.  To be fair, it’s probably the best place they could have chosen — mostly out-of-the-way and not immediately apparent.  But still…   And, I do know that all those mole hills are probably the work of one Mr. Mole.  Only one.  Which gives me a Case of the Dreads.  What will tomorrow bring?  Or more specifically, how many more moles and where?


Maybe I should take up knitting…

Thursday, September 15th, 2022

I’m re-reading Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, The Complete Short Stories, a 1985 compilation by G.P. Putnam’s Sons of previously published stories.  I’m sure I’ve read them several times before — certainly when this book was published and probably, for most of them, when they were first in print, as well.

As I read the stories now, I have a vague recollection of each — but not a “full disclosure” sort of memory, so I still read with interest.  And, besides… now that I am “older and wiser,” I’d like to think I have quite bit in common with Miss Marple — starting with her age.  However, Mrs. Christie was actually a bit vague about that.  In At Bertram’s Hotel, published in 1965, it is said that “Miss Marple visited the hotel when she was 14 and almost 60 years have passed since then,” implying that she was nearly 75 years old.  However,   in 4:50 from Paddington, published almost a decade earlier in 1957, Miss Marple says she will be “90 next year.”  So… I content myself that I’m in the ballpark…

Dame Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple

The other bit we have in common, Miss Marple and I, is that we both live in small villages.  Of course, St Mary Mead is truly a village — with a doctor, a policeman, shops, and other amenities, whereas Oysterville is but a collection of residences with a long, wonderful history.  Still, the opportunities for observation and speculation regarding our neighbors might be comparable.  Fortunately, I don’t know that there has ever been a murder here and, in any case, I seriously doubt that I would have any of Miss Marple’s skills in picking out the clues.

Plus… there’s the knitting.  Another of those “attention to details” occupations that I am hopeless at.  So… I guess Miss Marple and I are not so much alike after all.  Besides, I’d much rather enjoy reading about her than trying to emulate her.  Now emulating Mrs. Christie — that’s another matter.  Did you know that she is the best-selling author of all time — outsold  only by the Bible and Shakespeare?  Wow!

If your mind isn’t open…

Sunday, August 21st, 2022

Today I find myself considering the words of wisdom I ran across in Sue Grafton’s M Is For Malice.  I’m sure I read them back in 1996 when that book came out — plunk in the middle of her Alphabet series which ended with Y Is For Yesterday in 2017.  Although she planned to finish with Z is for Zero in 2019, she died before even beginning to write it and, as her family and fans said at the time, “For us, the alphabet ends with Y.”

Since it’s been a full quarter century since I’ve read her M book, I’m more than hazy on the details.  And, even at the time, I’m sure I wasn’t reading these “down and dirty murder mysteries” (as Nyel called all paperback series of that ilk) for any wise words to live by.  But no sooner had I settled into this one than I read (on page 92):  “If your mind isn’t open, keep your mouth shut, too.”

Boy oh boy, do I wish I’d paid attention to those ten words way back when!  How many useless arguments or how much unnecessary angst would I have saved myself?  When I think about it, I am probably the Queen of Closed Minds.  “The way we’ve always done it…” or ” but it’s a tradition!”… or “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” are all phrases that come out of my mouth probably all too often.

I’d like to say that the closed mind part comes with age, but I’m not so sure that’s true.  I know lots of elders who are always up for new experiences and new adventures.  I am, too, until it comes to being the gatekeeper of history.  That’s when the second part of Grafton’s adage (well… it should be an adage) comes into play.  I do believe I need to work on that mouth part.  Beginning now.

Mind-boggling beyond my comfort zone!

Friday, August 5th, 2022

“I learned so much about oysters that I hadn’t known before,” my neighbor Paul told me.  He was lending me a book by Rowan Jacobsen called The Living Shore — a smallish book that I felt I might be able to handle, at least in bits and pieces.  It was April or May and Nyel was struggling as was I, right along with him.  I needed a distraction now and then — maybe even something to talk with Nyel about. Something not quite so tied up with doctors and hospitals and blood draws and medications.

And there, on page 25, I chanced upon the words “Shoalwater Bay (today known as Willapa Bay)” and we were off and running — soon accompanying Jacobsen and a team of marine scientists on an expedition to the remote coast of British Columbia.  We were looking for the last pristine beds of Ostrea conchaphila, the Olympia oyster — the very oyster that drew my ancestors (and Dobby’s and Tucker’s and scores of others) to this remote area of “the Oregon Country” — soon to become Washington Territory.

We soon were on a quest — a vicarious one, to be sure — that became an exploration of our ancient connections to that “living shore” of bays and estuaries.  We learned about revolutionary archaeological discoveries from British Columbia to South Africa showing how deeply people have bonded with the coast and how it has influenced our development and well-being from our modern origins 164,000 years ago to our colonization of North America.

My take-aways were simple.  I now am not only glad/content/ecstatic that I live on the coast, I also understand the reason I feel a profound connection to the shore.  And I understand why I love salt and how fortunate we all are that the importance of iodized salt was discovered a century or so ago.

And I also understand why Peter J. D’Adamo’s book, Eat Right for Your Type was so NOT right for me.  And why, when our ancestors moved inland and we left our seafood diet behind, “the four-million-year-old freight train of brain expansion ground to a halt” according to Steven Cunnane, Professor, Universite de Sherbrooke.

And besides all that — the book is just plain fun to read.  It moves right along, takes you to places (both good and bad) that you never thought you’d visit and challenges you to think even more deeply about what we are doing (and not doing) to protect this planet we call “home.”  Let me know what you think!

Can hope exist without memory?

Tuesday, July 12th, 2022

“Happy 96th!” Sydney and Mom, 2007

Some years back, when my mother was still living at the nursing home up at the west end of Pioneer Road, we had an incident which I’ve never forgotten,  Nor have I ever quite come to an understanding of it.

It was one of those pouring down January evenings — cold, pitch black, but not yet dinner time.  Nyel and I had gone to pick up mom and take her home for fried oysters or clam chowder or another of her favorites — I’ve sort of forgotten.

Mom looks at Dear Medora with Nyel, 2007

She was smiling as the nurse’s aide brought her outside and she stood with me patiently under the overhang as Nyel brought the car as close to us as possible .  He leaned over, opened the passenger door, and  I quickly manuevered her into the car.  But not quite quickly enough.

As soon as the rain hit her face, she began to scream.  And then to cry.  “It’s okay, Mama!” I kept saying.  “Get in the car.  It’s okay.”  But she was terrified.  It was cold.  It was wet.  And she had no idea what it was or what was happening to her.

We all — Nyel and I and the aide — understood that she did not “recognize” the rain — had no memory of it.  Or of much else.  And when I kept repeating, “It will be all right,” those words had no meaning either.

Once in the car, of course, she began to calm down. And soon all was well. When we got home, Nyel cleverly drove directly into the garage and we were able to get her into the house without going back out into the rain.  But I’ve never forgotten her fright.  Nor have I ever forgotten the realization that without memory, there can be no hope.

By Thomas Bulfinch, 1867

Last night, I re-read the story of Pandora and her box (or jar as the story is related in Bulfinch’s Mythology). When “she slipped off the cover and looked in, forwith there escaped a multitude of plagues for hapless man — such as gout, rheumatism, and colic for his body, and envy, spite, and revenge for his mind…”  Only hope was left at the bottom of the jar…

No mention is made of memory, at least not in the story of Pandora and her jar.  And when Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, is spoken about later (as mother of the nine muses) there is no connection made between memory and hope.  I’m sure that must have been an oversight…

Deep breath in. Deep breath out.

Saturday, July 9th, 2022

Louise Penny

A copy of author Louise Penny’s July Newsletter arrived in my inbox this morning.  It was just what I needed — a welcome diversion from the “sea of despond” which laps at my toes now and then.  The last family members returned to their normal lives a few days ago, gently leaving me to find my own “new normal.”  It will take some time, I know.  And I also know, as Nyel so often reminded me, patience is not one of my outstanding qualities.

Marie Lagrouix, Quebec City Guide

But, like the characters in her wonderful Armand Gamache series,  Louise Penny’s newsletter speaks to me in soothing, meaningful words.  It has always been so and, in this issue, the words “Deep Breath In.  Deep Breath Out.” were just what I needed.  She, however, was writing about her recent horrific experiences with airline travel.  To me they were the perfect advice for these difficult days of adjustment to life without Nyel.

And, as I read Ms. Penny’s words in their familiar cadence, I thought about the “Trip to Three Pines” that Nyel and I went on with three other members of our Mystery Book Club.  On the last day, we had scheduled a guided tour of Quebec City where we would visit some of the places the author had highlighted in a recent book.  And, not only that, we would get a glimpse of where she had stayed and where she’d eaten and where she’d had afternoon coffee during her days of research there.

Coming November 29th!

We met our guide at the tourist information center.  She was a little late and arrived with a welcoming smile, but with an ashen face.  “Michael died this morning,” she began.  Louise Penny’s beloved husband.  Her anchor.  Her helpmate.  Her strongest supporter.  Her prototype for Armand Gamache.  We all wondered if she would continue to write…  But, of course, she has continued — all the while praising and thanking her friends and millions of fans for their support.

I thought about all that as I took a deep breath in and another deep breath out.  And I’m looking forward to her next book — the 18th in the Gamache series — “A World of Curiosities.”  It’s due out November 29th!



And what would he say now, 100 years later?

Friday, May 6th, 2022

E.B. White

E.B. White wrote a lot of books.  Books for children.  Books for adults.  Books for writers wanting to improve their skills.  My favorite — and probably yours, too — is Charlotte’s Web.

By all accounts, White was a shy man and writing didn’t always come easily to him.  According to one report, from September 1922 to June 1923, (he was 23/24) he was a cub reporter for The Seattle Times. On one occasion, when White was stuck writing a story, a Times editor said, “Just say the words.” He was fired from the Times and later wrote for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer before a stint in Alaska on a fireboat.

In 1924, after a few years “out west” White returned to New York City. When The New Yorker was founded in 1925, White submitted manuscripts to it and received offers to become a staff writer.  However, it took months to convince him to come to a meeting at the office and additional weeks to convince him to work on the premises. Eventually, he agreed to work in the office on Thursdays.

His contemporary, James Thurber, said of him:  Most of us, out of a politeness made up of faint curiosity and profound resignation, go out to meet the smiling stranger with a gesture of surrender and a fixed grin, but White has always taken to the fire escape. He has avoided the Man in the Reception Room as he has avoided the interviewer, the photographer, the microphone, the rostrum, the literary tea, and the Stork Club. His life is his own. He is the only writer of prominence I know of who could walk through the Algonquin lobby or between the tables at Jack and Charlie’s and be recognized only by his friends.

Although I will never forget Wilbur or Fern or Templeton, I did lose sight of the fact that Mr. White had spent time in the Northwest.  It was running across the following poem that prompted today’s blog:

Our Own History

Long ago
Things were slow
Down by Elliott Bay.
Cougar tracks
One room shacks
‘Neath the forest lay.
Minus fears
thought they’d start a town:
Lumber mills
Homes on hills
Street cars up and down.
Things went right
Over night
Sprang a heap big city,
Trade was good
Fish and wood
Added to the kitty.
Here we are
Gates ajar
Ships upon the way;
Mighty well
Just to dwell
Down by Elliott Bay.
    E.B. White, 1922

What goes around, comes around.

Sunday, May 1st, 2022

My grandmother, Helen Richardson at 18– the year before she married Harry Espy in 1897

At our Friday Night gathering, the conversation drifted around to language and how our use of it is changing.  We lamented that the kids of today who aren’t learning cursive will never get to read the love letters of their grandparents.

“WHAT???  WOULD YOU WANT THEM TO?” came from Fred.  And, since I have no grandchildren, I couldn’t answer with complete honesty.  I could only say that I learned a lot about the 1890s by reading the letters my own grandparents exchanged during their courtship in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I think Fred would find them pretty tame!

We then segued into a discussion about the breakdown of vocabulary — using letters to represent words, like BTW and WTF and a host of other increasingly used shortcuts to writing (and speaking.)  But, I’m here to tell you that P.G. Wodehouse was using similar “shorthand” in his books written in the 1920s and ’30s and I don’t see that our vocabulary has suffered unduly in the last hundred years.  In fact, it has no doubt expanded the possibilities.

From Wikipedia:  Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, KBE (/wodhaos/WOOD-howss;;  15 October 1881 – 14 February 1975) was an English author and one of the most widely read humorists of the 20th century. His creations include the feather-brained Bertie Wooster  and his sagacious valet, Jeeves…

I am just re-reading Wodehouse’s 1934 novel, The Code of the Woosters and came upon these (somewhat subtle) examples of the Wodehouse minimalism:

I spoke with satirical bitterness, and I should have thought that anyone could have seen that satirical bitterness was what I was speaking with, but she Merely looked at me with admiration and approval.
“You are clever, Bertie.  That’s exactly it.  Of course, you needn’t wear a mask”

“You don’t think it would help me throw myself into the part?” I said, with sb., as before.

So there you have it!  I can’t really think that Wodehouse limited our expansion of English language.  But that’s just IMHO.

Living Inside An M.C. Escher Painting Or…

Monday, April 18th, 2022

Escher Staircase

Sometimes I feel that I am living inside a vortex — a strange whirlpool of force like the one in Oregon where “The House of Mystery” has been attracting visitors since the 1930s.  Or maybe our old house is actually an M.C. Escher lithograph or woodcut.  Especially our dining room.  And if you have ever been here, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.

Partly, it’s that the floor slants rather sharply to the northwest.  It’s not a problem with the floor joists or with the foundation.  Not exactly.  We’ve had our underpinnings checked and rechecked.  It’s that our foundation, once as firm as could be, is built on the shifting sands of this Peninsula sandspit we call home.  Drop a pencil on the south side of the dining room and it travels neatly toward the north side of the kitchen — sometimes stopped by the threshold between the two rooms, sometimes not, depending upon the shape of the implement and the momentum it picks up enroute.

House Of Mystery in Gold Hill, Oregon

Today we had a new vortex experience.  The  Cranberry Museum had ordered 18 of my Arcadia Oysterville books and I brought them from the storage area into the dining room and stacked them on the table.  Two piles of nine books each.  But one pile was clearly an entire book higher than the other.

I recounted.  Nine books in each pile.  So I left them there until my Business Manager (that would be Nyel) had time to write up an invoice.  As he wheeled his chair by the table, he said to me: “You’ve only got 17 books there.”  And a discussion ensued, culminating in several countings and re-stackings.  No matter how we divided the eighteen, the stacks were never even in height.  Period.

Optical Illusion?

We considered that the paper used for some of the books (in a different print run?) might be of a thinner quality.  But… no.  Or that pages had been inadvertently left out of some books.  No again.  It was the Vortex Effect, pure and simple.  Even though the table looked level and even though we put the stacks in different spots on said table, two piles of an equal number of books was never the same height.  Vortex, I tell you.

And no wonder I am often half a bubble off!  Or more.

Coming Soon! May 2nd, to be exact!

Thursday, April 14th, 2022

This is “almost-but-not-quite” the final version of the cover. (What do you think has changed?)

According to the Arcadia Publishing website, my newest book with them makes its debut on May 2nd, two weeks from this coming Monday.  WOOT! WOOT!  Look for it beginning that day on the shelves at your local book stores!

The book is called The Ghostly Tales of the Long Beach Peninsula and is part of Arcadia’s new “Spooky America” series for middle-school readers.   These particular tales were adapted from stories in my 2014 book in Arcadia’s Haunted America series — a bit less explanatory background and history, perhaps, and just a tad bit scarier than the originals.  “That’s what middle-schoolers want,” the editor told me.

I had no doubt that such was the case, but just to be sure, I checked with Gabi and Dani Wachsmuth, two of Tucker and Carol’s grandchildren.  “Yes!  Spookier!  Creepier!” they concurred.  Being the stickler that I am for telling stories the way I heard them and without gratuitous embellishment, made the writing a bit of a challenge.  I’m sure my young consultants will let me know how I did!

There once was a Pacific House in Oysterville (shown here in 1870) but, as far as is known, there was never an “Oysterville House.”

Meanwhile, I see on the Arcadia Publishing website that this is what they are saying about the book:  Ghost stories from the Long Beach Peninsula have never been so creepy, fun, and full of mystery! The haunted history of Pacific County comes to life—even when the main players are dead. Visit the Oysterville House to catch a glimpse of the wandering spirits who still call it home. Or step foot into Sprague’s Hole, but be careful or you’ll end up trapped for eternity, too. Dive into this spooky chapter book for suspenseful tales of bumps in the night, paranormal investigations, and the unexplained; just be sure to keep the light on.

I wrote the editor and asked if they might tone down that “come-on” a bit.  Just what is the “Oysterville House” that readers are being invited to visit??  (I surely hope it’s not mine or anyone else’s here in our little village.)  And suggesting that they “step foot” into Sprague’s Hole (which fortunately doesn’t exist anymore) seems a bit beyond responsible.  The editor’s response was that the blurb has actually been “out there” for quite a while and, besides, readers are being “invited” into the story — not into the actual places in the book.  Yes, I get that.  But will the readers??  SIGH!