Posts Tagged ‘books’

Wow! This one is tough!

Friday, December 2nd, 2022

Dust Jacket – Front

Louise Penny’s latest book arrived on my front porch right on time.  In fact, probably 12 hours earlier than the “pub date” which was November 30th.  I was waiting with baited breath, having timed my life so I could dive right in.

A World of Curiosities is the 18th book in Penny’s Inspector Armand Gamache series.  I expected to read straight on through and surface only to eat and maybe sleep a little.  But that’s not how it’s working.

Dust Jacket — Back

This book is hard going, at least for me.  Really hard.  I can only read a smidge or two at a time.  I’ll tell you that, as usual, the topic is timely and of concern to each and every one of us — those are the things Ms. Penny gifts us with time after time.  The subjects that bring up past and present concerns (or perhaps horrors) and make us intimately aware of the extent of our ineptness and, yet… the infinite capacity for good that abides in us all.  Almost. Maybe.

As always, I am impressed with — no, overwhelmed by — Penny’s percipience and her almost uncanny ability to gently push her readers onward until they, too, see the possibility of hope.  Or closure.  Or can come to terms with… whatever it is.

I’d love to sit down and chat with her, though I know the “conversation” would be one-sided and I’d feel way out of my depth.  On the other hand… the times I’ve seen her interviewed on various television networks, she seems full of humor (often at her own expense) and infinitely approachable.  I am full of admiration.  She is a master at her craft and a genius at human understanding.  How lucky we are to have her in our lives, only a printed page away!


There’s always a flip side!

Tuesday, November 8th, 2022

The invitation arrived this morning by email from Josephine LaCosta, a woman I’d never heard of (or so I thought) and, apparently an author.  I was a part of a string of folks being invited to a book launch party because I was “so generous as to agree to be interviewed by me two years ago for my forthcoming  book, Tangerine on the Sill.”

Really?  I was?  I have absolutely no memory of the author, the proposed book, or the interview.  Damn this aging process, anyway!  I looked back through my emails (few of which I trash) and there on February 21, 2021, I found this:

* The following brief vignette on Oysterville is interspersed with selections from an interview I conducted with Sydney Stevens, a third generation Oysterville resident. We had the interview after I wrote this section. Sydney’s words are in italics. 

(p) Quickly after toast, Laura and I gathered ourselves and drove to Oysterville. This town sits asleep, forgotten, yet still inhabited by “children of the pioneers” at the tip of the Long Beach Peninsula along the Willapa Bay.

My mother was born in 1911. There were more businesses here in her childhood than there have been in my lifetime. 

In the graveyard a headstone for two unnamed, drowned sailors reads, “And the Sea Gave Up the Dead.” 

But I often wonder what’s going to happen when there is a tsunami. I just wonder how much water will come into Oysterville from the bay. Will it really be 30 feet of water, or not? I just don’t know. My plan, if this does happen, is to go to the cemetery and hug a tree! It’s the highest place in Oysterville at 30 feet above sea level. 

Oysterville Baptist Church and Congregation

Adjacent to the graveyard is a grassy, undulating field. At its feet a house rests crookedly, half caved in, with its erect side lifted by the collapse like a sinking ship. The whole town seemed to be sinking into the marsh. 

During high tides, the path down along the water is under water. My mother said that along that path there was an old road and there were old businesses that were on pilings there. They didn’t care too much about permanence in those days. All of Oysterville eventually just withered away. Businesses moved down to Nahcotta when the train came. Houses were left vacant. I remember abandoned barns and old sheds falling in. This has happened in many of America’s rural communities which have been left behind. 

I watched small waves from the bay lapping up against the coastline, slowly swallowing its shape. The marsh itself was moving with the tide and the distinction between land and sea went slack. It did feel like the town was under a spell. 

(laughs) Yes, the peninsula is almost floating these days.

Time had moved through Oysterville only as far as a cry can travel underwater: muffled.  Something about the mist in the air, or the sag in the marsh had preserved it. All of the low slung fences were covered in usnea and they were leaning. Before climbing back into the car, I noticed how wet it had gotten and wondered if I had gotten that wet or if it had even rained. 

Photo by Susan Andrews

During very high tides, the water has come as far as 4th street and covered the road. This has only happened twice in my lifetime, and I’m 84. High tides are fleeting, as soon as they come in they go right back out.

Laura suggested we cruise down the main drag, past the chipping paint and the sea glass bottles in windows and the historic plaques, one last time. But I couldn’t bear it. We were yawning, Oysterville was beginning to slow us too.

When hunger snapped us from the jaws of historic torpor, we found ourselves pulling off the side of the road towards a ramshackle painted wood sign which read, “goat’s milk, goat’s cheese, and soaps” on three different planks.

Wow!  So there it was!  Do I remember the interview now?  No.  Are the words about Oysterville mine?  Yes — right down to my age at the time!  How I wish I could attend the launch party but it is scheduled for the same day as our next House Concert here!  I am so sorry to miss it but hope to learn where to get the book.   Stay tuned!  Meanwhile, I can only say that forgetfulness I am willing to accept as part of this aging process — but could we also be blessed with the ability to clone ourselves?  Just for book launches, maybe.

What’s wrong with stability?

Monday, November 7th, 2022

I think I missed a cog.  I’m trying to remember why bigger is better, why new ideas are now always preferable to the “tried and true,” and why being in a constant state of turmoil and uncertainty is a good thing.  Have we completely given up the idea of “STOP and smell the roses?”  Do we really need to start babies reading in the womb?  For heaven’s sake, what is the big rush???

Granted, there is a lot out there to learn about.  But there always has been.  Once upon a time, even within my memory, it was a fine thing for each person to pursue that which interested him/her most.  If a degree of expertise was gained along the way, we clapped and cheered and consulted if we needed to know beyond our own interests.  We didn’t need to know it all.  And we didn’t need to go to college or even trade school if we were lucky enough to be mentored by an expert.

But this rush toward “more” has ever been so, I am afraid.  I recently re-read a few of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael Chronicles — mysteries set in 12th century in England between about 1135 and about 1145 during “The Anarchy,” the destructive contest for the crown of England between King Stephen and Empress Maud.  On re-reading the final (20th) book in the series, Brother Cadfael’s Penance, this sentence stuck with me:  Any end that will let men live, and till their fields, and ride the roads and ply their trades in safety, is to be desired above any monarch’s right and triumph.

A commentary on the chaos of nearly 1,000 years ago!  For all our desires to make “progress,” we haven’t come all that far, have we?






Seems unbelievable, but…

Tuesday, October 25th, 2022

Betty MacDonald, 1907-1958

…over the years I have met more people than you might imagine who are utterly mystified about tides.  Not one among them was unintelligent and all of them, except for one, lived right here on the Peninsula where, for most of us, the gentle rhythms of the tide direct our lives in subtle and not-so-subtle ways on a daily basis..

So, as I was continuing to read Betty MacDonald’s Onions in the Stew, her description/understanding of “tides” before she became a resident of Vashon Island jumped right out at me:  …I am very well satisfied with my conception of the tide situation, which is that every twelve hours somebody, perhaps the man in the moon, pulls the plug and lets out some of the ocean,  After a while he turns on the faucet and fills it up again.  If he is in a hurry we have a tidal wave.

I’m really glad that I hadn’t remembered her explanation back when I was teaching young students.  Although… come to think of it, they may have understood that a lot better than all those models of the sun and moon and earth and yadda yadda.  Time enough after third grade to learn such words as “barometric pressure” and “coastal configuration” and other scientific concepts that Betty’s husband tried to explain to her.  (She doesn’t say so, but I think he gave up…)

Full Beaver Moon – November 6, 2022

I wonder what she would have made of “King Tides” and our recent “resurrection” of the ancient names for various full moons.  The next one, by the way, is on November 8th at 6:02 A.M. EDT and is called the Beaver Moon.  There is some disagreement as to the origin of the name — (there often is…).

Some say that it was at this point of the year, before the swamps freeze, that Native Americans set beaver traps  to ensure a supply of warm winter furs. Another interpretation suggests that the name Beaver Moon comes from the fact that the beavers are now active in their preparation for winter. It’s also called the Frosty Moon.  (Brrrr.  I’m already feeling cold.  I’m going with “Beaver Moon.”)

So… no telling what (if anything) author MacDonald would have done with a few of those tidbits!   I’m sure it would have been hilarious, whatever spin she put on it, and I, for one, could do with a little hilarity.

Re-reading “The Classics”

Monday, October 24th, 2022

Books in the Library

When you live in a house filled with five  generations of great books, it makes no sense at all to run out of reading material.  Except… how did people 100+ years ago manage that teeny-tiny print?  There are shelves and shelves of books from the 1880s clear through the 1930s that I always thought I’d settle down and read “when I retired.”

Surprise!  My old eyes simply cannot handle the miniscule fonts.  Magnifying glasses?  Yes, this house is full of them — at least five fine large ones from my grandfather’s time — but they are awkward to use and don’t make for a joyful reading experience.  And besides, I can get any of these books in more modern editions through our wonderful Timberland Library System should I be so inclined.

Books in the East Room

No.  I just like the idea of knowing I can grab a book off a shelf on a whim and sit by the fire and… well, you know.  So, after lunch today I did just that, being careful to choose a book that had belonged to my Aunt Mona in the 1950s.  Print size, no problem.  That I’d read it before, probably in 1955, the year it was published, also no problem.  I remembered only that I liked it then and the first few pages have reminded me why.  Although it is about island living here in the northwest, when I was growing up here on the Peninsula in the 1940s, it could have easily been about here — especially during the stormy winter months when the ferry might or might not be running.

Says the author:  I cannot say that everyone should live as we do, but you might be happy on an island if you can face up to the following;

     1.  Dinner guests are often still with you seven days, weeks, months later and sleeping in the lawn swing is fun (I keep telling Don) if you take two sleeping pills and remember that the raccoons are just trying to be friends.

     2.  Any definite appointment, such as childbirth or jury duty, acts as an automatic signal for the ferryboats to stop running.

     3. Finding island property is easy, especially up here in the Northwest where most of the time even the people are completely surrounded by water.  Financing is something else again.  Bankers are urban and everything not visible from a bank is “too far out.”

    4. A telephone call from a relative beginning “Hello, dear, we’ve been thinking of you…” means you are going to get somebody’s children.

Books in the East Room

     5.  Any dinner can be stretched by the addition of noodles to something.

     6.  If you miss the last ferry  — the 1:05 A.M. — you have to sit on the dock all night, but the time will come when you will be grateful for that large body of water between you and those thirteen parking tickets.

     7.  Anyone contemplating island dwelling must be physically strong and it is an added advantage if you aren’t too bright.

Perhaps, by now, you recognize Onions in the Stew — written by Betty MacDonald of The Egg and I fame.  I’m not sure it was what I had in mind when I thought I’d read “the classics” in my retirement years.  But it is, indeed, a classic and I am enjoying it thoroughly!

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!

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!

In the eyes of the beholder…

Thursday, July 21st, 2022

Sue’s Chair… at first.

Last summer — or was it summer before last? — Nyel and I were on a garage clean-out marathon.  Among the  things we put a “For Sale” sign on was the ugliest chair in the world.  It had been in the Back Forty for as long as I could remember.  I don’t think I ever did see it in use and I’d have been happy just to haul it to the dump.

But “no” said my ever-practical husband, and he put a reasonable price on it and set it outside on the verge.  I didn’t think much about it as long as there were strangers looking at all our sad discards.  But then along came our friends, Sue and Bill Grennan, and… Yikes!  Sue was actually sitting in that ugly old chair!

And then… were they actually considering buying it???  I was truly mortified.  “But I really want it,” said Sue.  “You don’t know how hard it is for my short little legs to find a chair that’s comfortable — a chair that I can sit in and have both feet on the floor.  And, in this case, maybe even rock a bit!”

When I saw that she was serious, I tried to give her the chair.  “Just take it,” I said.  But she was having none of it.  I can’t remember what she paid, but she truly looked so pleased with herself that I wondered what I was missing.

It took a long time to find out…  and it’s still a work in progress.  The wooden frame has been stripped of it’s ugly varnish — did Bill say it was mahogany?  The back has been re-caned and, says Sue, will be done again.  “It was a learning experience,” she laughs.  “By the time I got to the seat — that ugly old upholstered seat — “I knew better what I was doing.”  And now she plans to re-do the back.

I should have known!  Sue is a prize-winning quilter.  She’s good with her hands.  She’s a perfectionist.  And, she’s obviously motivated by those needy little legs of hers, though I don’t believe that for a minute!  I have a feeling that only other quilters and caners and knitters and crocheters will truly understand.  But no one will clap louder than I!


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!



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.