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Nose In A Book- December 2014

The less time I waste on line, the more books I read. Gee whiz–how surprising! My selections have been eclectic, and I’ve been quite happy with my nose in a book. Here’s is the run down:

1. Up Jumps the Devil by Michael Poore

The devil is alive and well and moves forward and backward in history throughout this book. I’m totally engaged and can’t wait to see what happens next. The main character is, indeed, the devil dba Johnny Scratch, who is smart, compassionate and much nicer than I remember him from Catholic school. This devil is more than just an anonymous evil force, he’s a character. He has sassy conversations with God and criticizes God’s choices. He falls in love and gets dumped. He gets frustrated with stupidity. And he has a code that governs his super powers. The author’s imagination allows the devil to mingle with Ben Franklin, Pocahontas, all kinds of soulful musicians as well as being fully present in contemporary society. Poore is masterful with his creativity as well as his craftsmanship as a writer. My husband and I are reading this book chapter by chapter simultaneously, and we both find the point of view to be captivating and thought provoking. It’s a red hot winner (that was awful, sorry… mortal sin!)

2. Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Ariana Huffington

The publisher sent me a copy of this book to review, and I confess, I did approach this title with some negative attitude. First of all, how many books do I or anyone else need to read about achieving success without destroying your life? Secondly, why do celebrity writers think they have so much wisdom to share? Well… I was wrong. This book does have useful information, especially the chapters about self-care in the midst of chaos. Huffington takes a careful look at the price we pay for success and questions whether, indeed or not, it is success when one loses oneself in the process. She encourages meditation, yoga, getting ample sleep, and paying attention to one’s own inner barometer. Her writing includes references to serious medical research and is well documented. She also incorporates the ideas of the Greek and Roman masters and other Great Thinkers from around the world in her writing. It was an interesting read. The sections that bored me were easily skimmed, and I was quickly re-engaged and underlining my book. I made many connections to my yoga and meditation practice, and her chapters on unplugging and charitable giving confirmed what I already knew but appreciated the validation. It’s the type of book that after you read once, you keep it nearby and revisit it when needed. It is also perfect for gift giving.

3. Your Fathers, Where Are They And The Prophets Do They Live Forever by Dave Eggers

I can never remember this title and call it “Eggers’ Fathers and Prophets”. Eggers addicts know exactly what I mean. What I love and respect about this book is that it always keeps me off kilter and questioning everything. It makes me think, like problem solving, but better. The characters are weird, the plot is bizarre and yet, I couldn’t put this book down. Eggers ruffles feathers and the whole bird. This work reminds me of early Chuck Palahniuk’s writing, minus the body fluid excesses. Eggers chronicles the life of a man who is questioning the values of contemporary American society. He tries desperately to make meaning and find justice. At first we think he’s just another deranged character stuck in ennui, and then we start to root for him. Not everyone will drawn to this novel, but I found it exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Some Eggers books I like, some I don’t. This one was worth the work to make it from cover to cover.

4. The Story of Rose: A Man and His Dog by Jon Katz

I love a good story about animals and spent some time earlier this year reading Thornton Burgess, Beatrix Potter, as well as  modern day Tom Ryan’s Following Atticus. I’m always curious to see how writers present the animals, make them come alive on the page and, hopefully, not just sound like humans covered in fur. That’s why I appreciated Katz’s The Story of Rose. Rose is a hard working farm dog, and the story is told from her point of view. The reader sees what she sees through her eyes. She has her struggles, and we are right beside her observing the world through her senses, feeling the struggles, and appreciating the determination she has every day from morning through night. It a very good read. I would have loved to read it aloud to my kids when they were little. It is a joy to read as an adult.

5.  Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health  by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers

This is one of the most thought provoking books I’ve read in years. The authors successfully show the value in analyzing health issues as they affect both humans and animals. Crossing species lines and sharing information reveals all kinds of connections and possibilities that would not be noticed if one only focused on an individual species. The writing is superb: both well researched and written so well that I enjoyed the language as well as the content. This is another book that I bought five copies of to give as gifts. I kept finding interesting sentences that I read aloud to my husband… that led to entire paragraphs and pages… and finally I got him his own copy of the book.

I’m collecting books to read in 2015.  It’s like making a list and checking it twice, only to ignore the list and enjoy the thrill of a serendipitously enticing book. I will keep you posted and hope you find yourself lost in many delicious books this New Year.


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Every once in a while there’s a book that I’m afraid to read, but I know I should read it. Usually they contain some sort of horrible behavior that will give me bad dreams for a long time. Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder, is one of those books that I have been avoiding since it was published in 2009.

I had read, totally respected, and enjoyed several other Kidder books: House, Among Schoolchildren, and Mountains Beyond Mountains. What kept me from Strength in What Remains was the story of genocide in Burundi and Rwanda 1994-2008.

I was mistaken in avoiding this book, because although it tells the story of man’s inhumanity to man and the unspeakable atrocities that took place, it is just as much a story of one man’s ability to survive under these horrific circumstances. Deo is this man, and Kidder makes him come alive in every paragraph, every sentence, every picture that the reader creates in his/her mind.

This is a book I could not put down. I started it on Saturday and finished it on Sunday morning. Deo suffers greatly, and yet is able to push through the pain, the misery, the loss of his old life, and the trauma in the new life. The reader sees the battle to survive in war-torn Africa but also sees the desperate struggle to survive in New York City with two hundred dollars in Deo’s pocket, unable to speak English, and vulnerable to every sort of vermin the City has to offer. Both experiences create desperate, debilitating, unforgettable memories that may fade, but never go away. They haunt him like shadows in a darkened hallway forever.

Reading this book certainly put life in perspective for me. It presented struggles that were real and traumatic. It shows hope build and then be dashed. These are stories that were difficult to tell, but needed to be spoken, and most importantly, needed to be heard. Kidder is a wise, articulate, compassionate writer. He tells Deo’s story, and we can’t put it down.


Green Sprouts

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Some spring days try to fake me out into thinking it’s summer. That has happened recently. The sun shines brightly on the deck, the chairs look warmed and cozy, and there’s an ever so gentle breeze that bends the trees. It looks like it’s perfect for an afternoon with a book and a lemonade.


However, once out there, my feet are cold, I need a sweater, and I’m saying “Screw the lemonade, I need some hot black coffee.” So having donned woolen socks and sweater, grabbed a cup of steaming java, I persist in moving the chair around the deck to catch the most direct rays of the sun. Yes, I know, I’m pushing it. Jumping the shark or something like that. But I do long to bask in the sun with a good book… it will happen, just with layers for awhile.


Today a walk to the beach was truly an aerobic exercise in staying vertical against the wind. It was “refreshing”— ok- it was nippy, and I walked fast because if I stood still, I’d complain more. At WoodNeck, the windsurfers were out in full glory. Sails, black suits, full beards and huge smiles. One energized 60+ year old said the water was 50 degrees and the air was 50 degrees, so that makes it 100. I bitched about nothing after that.


It’s true that the daffodils have bloomed and the azaleas and forsythia are full color. Periwinkle and all types of short wild flowers have started to open. Spring is really happening, just a little late and a little slower than usual.


I’ve also noticed that I’ve got a couple of “anniversaries” that are happening right about this time. I’m marking the beginning of my fourth year of retirement from teaching at Bentley University. This is the first year that I was completely unaware of semesters, final exams and last day of classes. I’m having a blast doing exactly what I want, when I want to. The freedom is exhilarating and my list of “want to do’s” grows each day—in a good way. I’ve had the opportunity to read from my stacks of collected books as well as raid the library for some unexpected delights. I love the lack of curriculum and the full range of opportunities.


On a similar note, I’m celebrating my second blogiversary of Two years of writing generated 99 posts, almost 6000 views and a tremendous amount of fun and satisfaction for me. It’s a place where I can write about my passions: the Cape, my life, my books, my fun with fiber and anything else that captures my attention. Taking photographs has been a new skill to work on. The iPhone camera is a blessing. It makes learning by trial and error plus lots of practice very attainable.


I also just celebrated my first year of doing yoga. Now that is a very big deal. With the help of many compassionate, wise teachers, I have begun my practice and continue to expand it. My back no longer hurts me; I can move without aches and pain; I’ve lost weight and am much healthier than ever. All of this is exceptionally good news because I’m about half way to 122 years old, and I’d like to be flexible and balanced right up to the last breath. Three yoga classes and one Pilates class per week should help me get there.


So all of this spring/rebirth/new growth stuff is working. I have no complaints and am looking forward to it all. Life is good.


Nose in a Book: January 2014

The New Year has added fuel to my yearning to burn through some terrific books that have been waiting all too patiently for me. It has been almost two years that we’ve done away with television and cable, so there’s more time to get lost in books.

My current books in progress are quite an eclectic collection:

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling  audio book from

Moby Dick by Herman Melville, the Norton Critical edition

Manage Your Day to Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus & Sharpen Your Creative Mind  edited by Jocelyn K. Glei

The Last Elf by Silvana De Mari

I’m sure that all four aren’t are anyone’s college syllabus, and I love the variety and experience each is providing.

First, The Casual Vacancy is a J.K. Rowling book for grown ups that I struggled with when I had the hard copy in my hands. Nothing seemed to stick– not the characters– not the plot– not the book. I put the book down and decided to “let it go”. The plot thickens: my daughter Kate gave me a subscription to for Christmas. I hungrily grazed over the long list of possibilities and started my wish list. I put The Casual Vacancy on it because I just couldn’t believe that I couldn’t engage with that book. This was the author who kept me and half the universe mesmerized with Harry Potter. Maybe the audible format would change my perception of the book. I hadn’t used books on tape/cd’s/etc before and thought it would be a good experiment.

Well, I’m hooked. I downloaded the text, plugged in my ear buds and asked the rest of the world to leave me alone as I listen. Maybe it’s the lack of distractions or the newness of the toy, I don’t know. I’m now three fourths of the way through the book and want to see what happens next. I’m not sanctioning the novel as great literature, but it’s an enjoyable, adventure into the life of a small town with many degrees of dysfunctional characters. I listen while I knit and can manage to multi-task and do justice to both endeavors. I plan to listen to one book a month this way.

The next book is a tome that has been on my “to read” list for years: Moby Dick.  My Norton Critical Edition dates back to 1967; I was in high school from 1966-1970. The pages are yellowed, it cost only $1.95, and it contains not only the novel, but reviews, letters by Melville, analogues and sources as well as criticism. It’s a megillah and remained unread until this month when a friend of mine, Stan, mentioned that he was reading it. We volunteer together at the cat shelter and every time I saw him, he had something interesting to say about Moby Dick. He talked about the allure of the sea, the whaling industry, New Bedford, Nantucket, and crazy characters. Living so close to it all was another reason to jump in. Before I knew it, I was turning the pages and scribbling notes in the margins. Stan and I continue our discussions about the book and the narrative comes alive. I find myself reading and re-reading sentences that resonate; there are many. I also give myself permission to skim the passages that are dense and numb my skull. There’s no pressure– no quiz– just an exciting adventure at sea.  I notice patterns and think about what message might be intended, but that comes automatically to this geeky retired professor. A friend from my knitting group heard me talking about the book and said she wants to start reading it too.  It’s a movement!

The next book is Manage Your Day blah blah blah. Someone should have better edited the title, in my humble opinion. It’s another one of those books that I have a tendency to buy and then wonder why I did. The lessons are pretty straight forward: eliminate the distractions and make time for all that’s creative. Do the important stuff first, then fill in with the trivial tasks. I do like the advice to indulge in “unnecessary creation”; that’s using personal creative projects to explore new obsessions, skills or ways of working in a low-pressure environment. My photography, socializing cats, colorwork knitting, reading Moby Dick… are examples of ways to stretch beyond my comfort zone and try something different.

The last book on my January list is a treasure. My daughter Molly gave it to me for Christmas and described it as a book like the ones we read together when she was younger. The Last Elf is just that… I’m enjoying it as a novel, but also using it as a delightful vehicle to remember when we shared the Narnia series and so many other memory making books. When I see her, we’ll pour a cup of tea and gab about this for quite awhile.

I often think that there are so many books and so little time. I’m making more time to get lost in books, and it’s a fine way to start of the new year. I haven’t thought about what books I’ll tackle in February, but there’s no rush. They have a way of choosing me.

Seeds and Tweeds

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Surf Drive

Surf Drive

Traffic around town has lightened up.

No one’s chair or blanket is within ear shot at the beach.

And our pizza, antipasto and wings from Stone L’Oven is delivered in less than 25 minutes.

Yes, Fall is coming to the Cape.

It’s cool enough to throw on a light sweater in the morning and wonderfully breezy enough to keep the windows open all day. It smells like “back to school” but I’m not going!

Like potato chips, but better

Like potato chips, but better

I love this time of year. It’s when I make my own agenda of what I want to “cover” this non-semester and where I want to spend my energy. Looks like I’ve got a larger than usual pile of books, project bags full of knitting, writing that’s waiting to be done, and an exercise program that I’m looking forward to making a habit. I am so tempted to buy a new notebook, pencil case, and book bag, but I know I don’t need any of that. I have a Staples warehouse in my basement and a resolution to not buy the unnecessary. These are the seeds for the new season.

Beach Plums Bike Path

Beach Plums Bike Path

Being a perpetual student excites me. Going to the library or on-line to find answers to big or little questions is good for my brain and my soul. After reading The Hare with Amber Eyes, I was curious to see what the art pieces looked like as well as learn more about the author, Edmund de Waal, and his family. Working on my own writing has me looking at what other writers have to say about writing. Brainpickings has been a rich resource about writing and all kinds of curiosities. I can learn as much or as little as I choose. I’m the barometer, the metronome, and the rubric.

Stone Mama

Stone Mama

I’ve been toying with Keri Smith’s book How to be an Explorer of the World. The basic premise is to sharpen your observation skills as well as your creative documentation of what is observed. I like the invitation to find patterns in my observations, and the problem solving that goes along with it. What I don’t like is Smith’s expectation that I “collect stuff” in generous quantities…i.e. pick up 30 items of interest on your daily, random walk today. The last thing(s) I need in my life is more stuff… so I’m going to have to re-create that part of the assignment or maybe not do it (the nuns are turning over in their graves). Slowing down to notice objects, actions, behavior, ideas, questions and possible answers is a worthwhile endeavor.

Hitchhiker Shawl

Hitchhiker Shawl

Taking more photographs is a way to capture a memory, a thought, a feeling without having clutter to contend with. I like that too. It’s amazing how having an iPhone has increased my opportunity to practice taking photos. It’s always handy. I can point and click. No trip to the drug store to get film developed; it is an open invitation to practice, practice, practice taking lots of shots.

This time of year reminds me of New Years; one parcel of time is winding up, the other winding down. But after a bit, I realized that Spring is a period of renewal for me, too. Guess these observations say more about me than I realized.

Blueberries in My Thrown Bowl

Blueberries in My Thrown Bowl

I Do, I Did, 41

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A quiet 9 am walk to the beach is a good way to start the day. The past week hasn’t been “beach weather” so this morning, before the rains begin again, it was prime time to “carpe beach”. A forty-minute constitutional stretches the legs and the mind a bit.



Tomorrow, July 1, is our 41st wedding anniversary. Amazing! Three score and seven years ago we had the tiniest (32 people) wedding and officially started our lives together. It was perfect! I was a sophomore at Boston College, and David just completed his first year of grad school at MIT. We were both students and always stayed that way. There wasn’t a lot of spare cash, but we were never hungry or bored. We took walks around the Chestnut Hill reservoir, listened to lots of music, read all types of books, and made a homey nest for ourselves. We baked bread, cooked at home, and always had lots of conversation. It’s funny, forty-one years later, not much of our daily routine has changed.




Of all the possible reasons to celebrate, I think wedding anniversaries top the list. You don’t only have to live another year longer, you have to live it with someone else. That means putting up, shutting up, and sometimes blowing up over the minutia that makes up our lives. I continue to talk too loud, leave lids ajar and have piles of works in progress all over the house. David is David—my eccentric physicist. I say the glass is more than half full, and he says it’s half empty. We continue to re-learn the art of compromise, diplomacy and appreciating all the good stuff. It’s a dance step that changes over time, and we adapt. We’ve spent 41 years growing up together. It has been very good, and the best is yet to come.


Book Groupie

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Often my reading habits follow criss-crossing lines with unexpected, often interesting, consequences. This is definitely the case these past few weeks.

I’m continuing to read Academically Adrift and appreciating the hardcore research on the academic behaviors of college students. In short, students are under-prepared and universities are failing to meet most needs. This research is validating my observations in the field. I routinely confronted these issues firsthand when teaching in the classroom, and now I’m writing a book that includes my observations and remedies to these problems. That is happening, slowly, but surely.

Next on my nerdy agenda: I joined a new book club because I needed more literary oxygen and book talk. It’s the Non-fiction Book Group at Falmouth Public Library. Wow—what a smart group of well-read, articulate folks. We just finished reading and discussing a book I probably would never have read on my own: The Road to Ubar by Nicholas Clapp. It’s a fascinating account of Clapp’s attempt to discover ancient ruins whose existence waiver between myth and reality. This book shows the power of intellectual curiosity and the rewards of the inquiry method in practice. Clapp, a documentary film producer, has a fire in his belly to learn all he can about this ancient community. It encouraged me to push beyond the text and check out other resources. The book, itself, was an adventure. And best of all, the book group members are a most welcome addition to my literary life.

This begs the question: “So what do I really want out of a book group?” I want to read a text that is challenging and have bright folks engage in a lively, smart discussion ABOUT THE BOOK. I don’t want it to be a food festival of recipes that are vaguely connected to the title and devoured by a book group that never cracked the book. Also, I’m finding that I want our monthly selection to be more than a leisurely beach book; I need it to stretch and expand what I can already do on my own. So, I’ve joined two new book groups—one non-fiction and one fiction—both run by my local libraries. The non-fiction Ubar selection was great—fingers crossed for the fiction choice which is Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. I start that next week.

One literary device I really hate in books is cheap trickery. I found this to be the case in Barbara Shapiro’s, The Art Forger. This “novel” focuses on the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist. It reads as an interesting mystery that I thought was based on actual fact. Here comes the problem: the blurry line between fact and fiction. The author says it’s a novel, but includes so many “factual” details and references to reality that it reads like a true narrative of an actual event. It is about forging art, and the book itself is a forgery—how clever, no, how annoying. The end of the book reveals that most of what the reader thought was true, is not. Even the Boston Globe article that looked so authentic, is faked. Needless to say, I didn’t find it effective or satisfying. The last time I remember getting so irritated at a cheap trick was after I finished reading Memoirs of a Geisha and found out that the “geisha” was really a young man from Brookline, MA, not even a geisha in the family. Ugh!

My irritation about The Art Forger was not in vain. Several months ago, David and I made a day trip to the Outer Cape and back again. We stumbled upon Parnassus Bookstore, and I asked my favorite question: “What should I not leave today without buying? The wise salesclerk put a copy of Mrs. Jack by Louise Hall Tharp in my hands and said “You’ll love it.” Mrs. Jack is a biography–to my surprise–of Isabella Stewart Gardner: a smart, feisty, accomplished Boston woman who created the Gardner Museum. I am more than half way through this book, and it is unadulterated joy. Her life is worth reading about; the author’s voice and style are addictive. I try to read just one chapter a night before I go to sleep, and that is impossible…like chocolates, just one more, just one more. What a refreshing change from The Art Forger. I must revisit Parnassus Bookstore and ask for another recommendation.

Life is short. So many books, so little time. Be picky.

Read More

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IMG_3407So you say you want to read more? How can you make that happen? I’ve got a few ideas, and the timing is perfect—summer is coming.

I’m a firm believer that there are not many “non-readers”; there are just a lot of people who haven’t yet discovered what they like to read. The solution is not to “force feed” what is unpleasant, but rather to arrange a buffet of choices to encourage book tasting. Please note that this strategy works well for children, young adults and the rest of us. I’ve found success using this approach with former students (middle school to university) who vehemently announced they didn’t like reading and wouldn’t read for pleasure. I took several to bookstores myself and let them roam until they found something that might be possibly, vaguely, a bit interesting. It works… many of these students (now adults) still write to me and tell me about what they’re reading and how grateful they are. One book leads to another, and it all starts with looking for the spark.

1.   Think about subjects, issues, categories that you find interesting in real life. Make a list of these items and use it as a beginning point for your book hunt. If you love CSI, then criminology, crime stories, mysteries are worth looking into. Or if you prefer cooking, in addition to cookbooks, there are biographies and memoirs of successful chefs that might whet your appetite. This will get you going in a direction that you already find pleasing, so it’s a smart beginning.

2.   Ask someone you enjoy being with, what they’re reading or what they’d recommend. Write down the titles because you will otherwise forget them quickly. Add them to your list of possibilities.IMG_3399

3.   Go to your local bookstore and talk to the clerk. Tell him/her what your interests are and ask for suggestions.

4.   Sample some books on your list. You can do this many ways: go to the library and browse, visit a bookstore and collect the books and find a comfortable chair, or go on line and preview a chapter or two of your possible suggestions.

5.   THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF THIS PROCESS: You do not have to like the book you’re sampling. You have my permission to put it down and even make a face at it. This is all about YOU having a choice. The Tetreault Golden Rule is as follows: If the book you’re reading doesn’t make your heart go “pitter patter” by page 30, drop it immediately, like a bad boyfriend/girlfriend. This gives you the freedom to pick and choose what YOU enjoy and that’s what encourages more reading.

Let go of value judgements about whether a book is challenging or cool enough – save the hierarchy for later. Your goal is to find a book that captures your interest now.  You don’t get extra points for selecting or not selecting best sellers, award winners, books you didn’t read in high school, classics, graphic novels, books that you’ve already seen the film, or books you’ve already read. The choice is yours, and there are no wrong choices. Please note that it is perfectly acceptable to cycle through several books before you find one that you’d like to read, and you will find one that you want to read if you keep sampling.IMG_3411

6.  Try checking out collections of short stories by different authors, just to get a sense of the author’s style. Non-fiction collections, likewise, offer a sampling that you can later follow. I also really love looking through college writing/literature anthologies. My favorite is The Writer’s Presence because it contains a broad array of excellent pieces of writing—fiction as well as non-fiction.

7.  If you get stuck, just go browsing through book reviews or the stacks in the library or in a bookstore. Ask a librarian or salesperson what they’d recommend… or what is the best selling book of the day… anything to get you jump started. Trust me, it will happen—you’ll make a connection to a book and want to read it.

8.  What do you do once you find that book and read it? Hmmmm, there are lots of possibilities. You could find other books written by the same author or other titles on a similar subject or check out on line bookstores’ recommendations. There’s always some version of “If you like this, you might like that.” I also look at the list of what other people who liked this book also purchased. You can also find out what authors inspired a writer that you like…or what titles s/he enjoys reading, just to give you more avenues to travel.

9.  If you’re hoping to encourage children and young adults to read more, give them the gift of going into a bookstore and getting three books for themselves. The decision regarding specific titles is solely up to them. The power of free choice regarding books is priceless.

On the last day of school, my folks used to let me pick out the number of books that equaled my age plus one. What a fabulous way to begin the summer: we continued the tradition with our kids. It’s an affordable investment in the future.

10.  I always have a small notebook in my bag to jot down book titles, authors’ names, ideas that I want to explore. The older I get, the more useful this little notebook is.

The bottom line is that once you get hooked on books, there’s an unlimited amount of bound volumes and e-books to discover. It no longer becomes an issue of “Will I find something to read?” but more so, “Will I find enough time to read everything on my wish list?”

Happy Reading—go find a book and fall in love.


Nose In A Book

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The past few weeks have been prime reading time for me. I think it might be due to a combination of cold weather, great coffee, and a rich stash of books. I’m also finding that requesting titles from the Falmouth Library means that they do show up unexpectedly and have due dates—so they get bumped to the top of the list.

Good Prose, The Art of Non Fiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd is one of those titles that came recommended somewhere on the internet.This is a rewarding book that keeps delivering treasures in every chapter. The two authors have written stories and advice from a lifetime of writing and editing. It reveals “wordsmithing” as a way of life—and a very enjoyable one. It’s writing well about good writing.

Each author peppers his paragraphs with references to pieces of literature I actually am familiar with, and I am able to make the connections to their arguments. Their text is fully amplified, engaging and rich. My usually complaint about non-fiction is that a typical 300 page book could/should be reduced to a three page magazine article and be done with it. That is not the case with this book. Each chapter explores a topic of interest about writing, and I kept wanting more. Many nights, lights went out on David’s side of the bed and I found myself saying, “just one more chapter and I’ll hit the sack”.  Potato chip reading… ahhhh!

So what makes this book so engaging and delicious? It’s an honest, authentic look at non-fiction writing, and it is full of useful advice. Both Kidder and Todd reveal the truth in the adage, “Writing is Rewriting.” I love the F. Scott Fitzgerald quotation and wish I had it on hand when I was teaching writing: “Rewrite from principle. Don’t just push the same old stuff around. Throw it away and start over.”

It’s also clear that writing is hard work and requires self-editing as well as an editor’s sharp, critical eye. The literary relationship that evolves between Tracy and Todd is a good story in itself…they’re exploring better ways to tell a story. So there are levels and layers of wordy goodness between these covers. If you like to read or like to write, you’ll love this book.

Good Prose also offers a voyeur’s peek into the business of publishing. How shocking to learn that 80% of the books published lose money. Kidder shares that it usually requires ten or more completed drafts and more than a year before one of his publishable books is born.

The reader witnesses the evolution of Kidder as a writer and the role that errors, gross and small play in his work. He pulls back the curtain and let’s us see the story behind the story and how does writing “happen”. Over the years, I have enjoyed Kidder’s other books, and this one helps me figure out why. It also gives me fodder to think about my own writing… and that’s always worthwhile.

There are a few more books that I devoured lately. The first is The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball. It’s a memoir of her experience farming in Essex, NY, the town next to where I spent my summers on Lake Champlain as a kid. This well educated, NYC girl falls in love with her soul mate who happens to be a devoted, persistent, tenacious farmer who lives his beliefs as he works the soil from daybreak to dark. He’s not all talk; he’s all action. The love story here is really about the love of the land and the community that supports this noble effort.

This memoir certainly takes away the shiny façade of “Isn’t farming fun”. The hard work and constant barrage of uncontrollable events often seems like the life of Job. Days are never ending. “To do” lists have to do with survival, not frivolities. The most significant lesson I learned from their experience is that the hardships of rigorous labor, loss, and self-doubt encountered are seen as the counterbalance to the joy, satisfaction, and appreciation of what is simple and good. It’s all part of a cycle.

Last, but not least is The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje. This novel put me on an oceanic liner for a 21 day journey from Ceylon to England along with three young, unsupervised boys. It is Huck Finn with an international, contemporary twist, complete with coming of age revelations that are golden. Ondaatje recreates the perspective seen by children and allows the reader to make connections. I love this book; I thought about the characters after I put the book down each night and wondered what they were doing while I was asleep.

His writing is artful; I re-read many sentences just to hear them again. The author explores the consequences of adults behaving poorly, loneliness, the excitement of risk, love and camaraderie. We feel what it is like to be the outcast as well as in the “in crowd”. He captures it for us and puts it on a page.

I’m in the middle of two other books that could be game changers for me: More or Less by Jeff Shinabarger further pushes the boundaries of living with less and giving more away. It’s straightforward, not preachy and comes complete with “assignments” to put these words into action.

Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman, MD is yet another healthy diet book. It came highly recommended by one of my favorite students, so I dove in. So far it looks like a diet of practically no meat, a ton of vegetables and fruits, a lot of beans and no processed foods.

The author recommends abiding by the rules or six weeks before giving up. Not sure about this one…

Let me know what you’re reading. I love having my nose in a book.




The Burgess Boys- Elizabeth Strout’s New Novel


March, 2013 release, Random House

March, 2013 release, Random House

The Burgess Boys is Elizabeth Strout’s latest book and is to be released in March. I just finished reading an advanced copy and am telling you now—go order it.

Strout is masterful at creating characters that are very real. I read this book in a day because I couldn’t put it down. I needed to see what happened to these prople, and I wanted to keep reading her skillfully crafted sentences. Both the product and the process are successful.

You can tell that Strout likes words—and is particular about the words she uses and how she places them. It’s an art, and I’m drawn to her skill set. The Burgess Boys is one of those books that I re-read single sentences multiple times, just to hear them again in my head and marvel at the “wordsmithing”.

She captures the small details that create monumental tension and dysfunction, especially within families. Family members and loved ones are stung in the banter and deceptions of the day. We feel the thorns and, with time, enjoy the roses. The words convey the conflict as well as the family bonds that keep it all together for better or worse.

We see the admirably strong bonds that exist amongst siblings, even when deception, dysfunction and enabling are strong deterrents to the relationships. This tension throughout the novel is engaging and seductive. Stout revels the cost of errors and bad judgment between couples; infidelity is just one variety of estrangement. Do people enter relationships only to get what they need? And what are the consequences of that motivation?

Many times during the course of this novel, characters have to assess whether the pain caused by “loved ones” is worth tolerating. We get examples of likeable characters who put up with unacceptable toxic behavior for years… and others who cut the cord and seek refuge elsewhere. There’s a lot more tolerating than I’m capable of, but I like how Strout shows the options and the consequences. I do find it ironic that more tolerance and latitude is shown toward blood relatives than any other group, even when it is almost fatal. Outsiders are given no leeway before judgment is called.

The author focuses not only on family, but the family in the larger sense: community. What happens when newcomers are only seen as outsiders? She plays with this theme in a variety of ways. Who gains acceptance and who is un-welcomed in a family or in a town. The immigrants from Somalia provide a means to explore prejudice, discrimination, fear and the consequences of clicking one’s emotional “delete button” before knowing a person. Likewise class-ism rears its head; the affluent characters and less affluent ones are seldom on equal or welcomed footing. There is a lack of connection and understanding that is the root of many problems these players encounter. Stout isn’t preachy, she’s an astute observer of human behavior; the reader gets to draw conclusions. It’s all very real.

There is a rhythm, momentum and chemistry to this novel that is constant and captivating. As a reader, I care about the characters and connect to many while staying equally involved with the plot and totally celebrate the writer’s style. What more could I ask for?