Sunday, June 10, 2018

Books from My Childhood

This is my second of a two-part posting about books I’ve read throughout my life. When I was little, Mom read to my brother and me each evening, but we did not own any of those books. They came from the library. Then, when I learned to read, my Aunt Glad and Uncle Al and their son, Tom, began to give me a book each Christmas until I was probably twelve. Those books are still part of my own personal library. They are shelved in a bookcase here in my office.

Among those books are Peter Pan, The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, and several fairy tale selections. My favorite book as a child was Little Men by Louise May Alcott. As a tomboy, I much preferred it to Little Women. (The recent PBS presentation of Little Women was so enjoyable I’ve decided to reread Little Men and Jo’s Boys.)

In grade school, Sister Miriam read Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan to my eight-grade class. By 1949, when she read it to us, it had already become a classic. I’ve reread it several times as an adult, and I’ll be giving it as a Christmas gift to a ten-year-old friend this year. For those of you who haven’t read it, the book is about a group of children who, using their sleds, helped smuggle gold bullion out of Norway in 1940 after the Nazis parachuted into their country. It’s an exciting adventure!

As an adult, I’ve read a number of books written for children. I’ve read for two reasons: because a friend recommended a book for 10 to 14-year-olds or because I wanted to buy a Christmas gift for a young relative. I am always interested in learning about new books because I give a book each Christmas to each great-grand-nephew or niece—I have ten.

Thus, the books I’ve read as an adult are those by Gary Paulsen, whose five-part” Hatchet Adventure Series” is widely appreciated by young people. I’ve read the first of the series—Hatchet—several times. It’s a survival story of a young boy—Brian—lost in the northern Canadian woods.

Just this past year, on the recommendation of a friend, I read Redwall, by Brian Jacques. I now plan to give it to my great-grand-nephew Beau (who’s 10) for Christmas. It’s the story of a group of peace-loving mice who are threatened by Cluny and his gang of bloodthirsty rats. This book reminded me of the adult book Watership Down, which is a favorite of mine.

Another book I recently read on a friend’s recommendation is a World War II story for young readers, just as Snow Treasure is. The book—The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley—is the story of a ten-year-old child kept almost secret by her mother in one room in London. It is the sending of children to the countryside that saves Ada. Both this book and its sequel—The War I Finally Won—are immensely enjoyable.

Of course, I read all of Harry Potter as a sixty- and seventy-year-old reader. Except for the Narnia series, they were the first fantasy adventures I ever read and they totally enthralled me. I have all seven books as well as the audio cassettes and the DVDs. Under the influence of J. K. Rowling, I became a Potter junkie!

What books do you remember from childhood?

Or what books written for young people have you’ve enjoyed as an adult? Please share!


Illustration from Wikipedia

Sunday, June 3, 2018

A Lifetime of Reading

In high school and college, I read historical novels in my spare time. I remember Dear and Glorious Physician about St. Luke and Look to the Mountain, which takes place during the American Revolution. It’s one of the finest historical novels I’ve ever read. Taylor Caldwell wrote of Luke; LeGrand Cannon, Jr., of the Revolution.

Of course, in the convent, I read only theologians. Afterward, however, I returned to historical novels. In the late sixties and early seventies, I read the three authors that some literary critics consider the finest historical novelists of the 20th century: Robert Graves (Ancient Rome), Mary Renault (Ancient and Classical Greece), and Michael Shaara (the Civil War)

In college and later in graduate school, I read the classic novels by English and American authors such as Melville, Steinbeck, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, George Eliot, Evelyn Waugh. However, by the time I left the University of Minnesota with a graduate degree in American Studies plus a strong minor in Black History, I was weary of “great” literature—of deep and abiding themes that run like dark and golden threads through the tapestry of time. I wanted to read books I didn’t need to ponder for symbolism and character and plot development. I wanted simpler things to read.

Since then, I’ve discovered several women writers who explore the dynamics of families: Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver, Toni Morrison, Anne Quindlen, Elizabeth Strout, Alice Walker. I’ve also come to enjoy memoirs such as those by Frank McCourt, Rick Bragg, and James McBride.

In the 1990s, I discovered that some of the best novels being written were by mystery writers. In the past twenty-five years, I’ve begun to read mainly mysteries by such well-known authors as Louise Penny, Chris Nickson, Julia Spenser-Fleming, Deborah Crombie, Anne Perry, Charles Todd, Margaret Coel, William Kent Krueger, Laurie R. King, Martin Walker, Alan Bradley, P. J. Tracy, Daniel Silva, Donna Leon, Alex Grecian, Tony and Anne Hillerman, Paul Doiron, Jane Cleland.

I enjoy the puzzles that mysteries offer and delight in solving them before the last chapter.  In addition, some of these authors write historical mysteries. So that’s a Win-Win for me!

Through the years, when health issues have dragged down my spirits, I’ve tended to look for writers who offer a world that is not as complex as the one in which we all now live. Not as complex or frightening or dark. Back in the 1970s, I found that James Herriot’s books about a group of Yorkshire veterinarians lightened my spirits.  

His books spoke to me of simplicity, goodness, the power of laughter. Some would call them “feel-good” books. That is, they don’t deal with the major issues of our time like racism, injustice, sexism, inequality, terrorism, abortion, war. They end happily. That’s what I sometimes crave—a happy ending.

Three writers who fit the bill for me now are Patrick Taylor (the Irish Country Doctor series), Jan Karon (the Mitford series), and Effie Leland Wilder (a retirement village series introduced to me by blogger Arkansas Patti).

In one of Karon’s books, her main character, an Episcopal priest, looked at the countryside and thought, “nothing terribly dramatic ever seemed to happen. Life appeared to flow sweetly, without many surprises or obstacles to overcome.” That appeals to me when life becomes overwhelming.

The truth is that besides my writing, I mostly laze through the days and evenings, reading for pure enjoyment. When I want to challenge my brain, I read non-fiction about history or politics. Both give me grist for the mill of my mind.

What about you? Any authors to recommend?


Sunday, May 27, 2018

My Own Memorial Day Eulogies

On Memorial Day, we here in the United States remember all the deceased men and women who have served as members of our military forces. However, I want to remember today nine deceased friends and family members who touched my life with goodness. 

Because of my age, many of my friends have already died. To celebrate all their lives today would make this posting too long, so I’ve chosen these nine from a larger number. All of them were once a blessing in my life and they continue to be so.

I believe in the Holy Oneness of All Creation. That is, I believe we are all One—all of us living today, all who lived in the past, all who will come in the future. For me, Holy Oneness sums up my belief in the Love that bonds us all—past, present, future—together. 

Each of the nine people whom I’ll celebrate today continues to touch the lives of others through me and through all those whose lives they touched in the past.

Mom—Hellen O’Mara Ready—died in May 1968; she was 58. She was totally nonjudgmental toward everyone she met. If I am open to what life offers, it is because of her.

Dad—John Ready—died in 1975; he was 69. Lacking confidence and unsure of his parents’ love, he began to drink. Yet after Mom’s death, he endured. He even flourished. He taught me to look forward to possibilities and to work with probabilities.

My aunt—Gladys Ready Thomas—died in 1998; she was 84. Despite life’s difficulties, she was joyous throughout her entire life. Her belief in me gave me the confidence to write.

Annette Chastain and I entered the convent together. She died in 1997; she was 58. Deeply philosophical, she frequently helped me—in the years after we left the convent—to put things into perspective and to find humor in the vagaries of life.

Mary Alice Guilfoil and I were nuns together. She died in 1997; she was 61. She had a rare gift for making friends. Her example helped me become less self-conscious and more aware of others and their needs.

Miriam Frost, whom I met when I moved to Minnesota, died in 2009; she was 67. A critical thinker, she was an iconoclast. She taught me to question what I heard and saw and encouraged me to touch life lightly.

Jim Bitney died in 2013; he was around 60. A gentle man, his mind roamed far and wee, always open to new possibilities, always seeking a way to build community. His refusal to be rushed to a decision tempered my own impulsiveness.

John Welshons died in 2013; he was 76. Astoundingly intuitive, he was able to bring out a person’s best talents and gifts. His belief in my abilities led me into a career beyond teaching.

Florence Flaugaur died in 2016: she was 92. A beautiful simplicity, which she maintained throughout life, led her to get to the pith of every issue. She taught me how to develop curriculum and thus gave me a freelance career.

These nine and others blessed my life with their graciousness.



If you have the time and inclination, please click here to read the guest posting I did on Rick Watson’s blog. He asked five questions that really got me thinking! His great talent is to ask questions of those he meets in Alabama and to write their unique stories.

Photo from Wikipedia.