Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Real P. L. Travers

I once read that children's authors write great books because they write in order to sort out painful memories or a grim reality.  That can certainly be said of P. L. Travers, whose real name was Helen Goff.  The movie "Saving Mr. Banks" is a wonderful movie and shows a new side to the author of the delightful Mary Poppins books.

A biography originally published in 1999 (Australia, Travers' native couuntry) was re-released this December.  Mary Poppins, She Wrote: The Life of P. L. Travers by Valerie Lawson should be an interesting and intriguing read. 

There are actually several books in the Mary Poppins series.  For more detals, visit Wikipedia:

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Poem by Mary Oliver

Wild Geese 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
    love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

"Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver from New and Selected Poems (Harcourt Brace).

Sunday, December 22, 2013

What to Read Next Year?

One of the nice things about reading preview copies (ARC) in exchange for comments/ reviews from NetGalley and Edelweiss is that while searching for one title or another, a few others pop up that look interesting, too.

Here are a few 2014 titles on my to be read list:

Cathedral of the Wild: An African Journey Home by Boyd Varty  (March 11, 2014)

Just finished this very unique spiritual memoir about growing up in South Africa.  What struck me most about this book is that while some folks search around the world for answers and frequently find them abroad, Boyd Varty searches knowing the answers are at home, in the Londolozi game reserve he and his family call home.  I've learned that sometimes the answers to your questions are right in front of you and you are already where you belong at that moment.  It was nice to see someone share this in a matter-of-fact way since most of us can't travel to Italy to find peace.

The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills (July 15, 2014)

Currently reading.  The ever-elusive Harper Lee opens up to Chicago Tribune columnist Marja Mills in the early 2000's.  Why?  I'm only a few pages into the book, but it looks like the threat of "unauthorized" biographies of her and Truman Capote in 2005 compelled Miss Lee and her sister Alice to tell bits and pieces from their point of view.  This looks to be a charming chronicle of Mills' friendship with the Lee sisters.

Making Marks by Elaine Clayton (May 6, 2014)

Intuitive drawing.  The lines we doodle or craft reflect our inner lives.  Art as a healer.

The Late Starters Orchestra by Ari Goldman (June 10, 2014)

Goldman plays the cello and joins an orchestra for "older" string players.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

12 Books of Christmas

At the public library where I work, patrons always ask me what I’m reading. Here are six of my favorites from the year, why I enjoyed them so much and six titles I plan to read next year.

  Six of the Best Books I Read in 2013

  • The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak.  OMG.  A new perspective on the Holocaust, told from Death’s point-of-view.  It eloquently describes the horrors of small-town German life during the War.  Breathtaking.  Haunting.  Chilling. Brilliant.  Everyone should read this book.
  • The Crocodile by the Door:  The Story of a House, A Farm and a Family by Selina Guinness.  I couldn’t decide between listing this first or The Book Thief first, but how can you put the Holocaust second?  What I loved about CbtD is that it’s a poignant and elegant memoir and the author, her family and the villagers stayed with me long after I finished the book.  Selina Guinness inherits an old family estate just outside of Dublin and works to restore and renovate it with as much integrity as possible.  Restoration work is tough – physical and spiritual, but this is a redemptive story and the house and its family are doing very well now.
  • Imperfect Harmony:  Finding Joy Singing With Others by Stacy Horn.  I learned so much about music from this book!  I’ve been a musician my entire life, playing guitar and ukulele, but I’ve never been much of a singer.  I can play happily for long periods and never open my mouth.  That said, I love choral music and vocalists like Sinatra, Fitzgerald, etc., so I appreciate and respect how the voice is an instrument.  But I never had any idea how much work goes into choral and group singing!  The intricate grouping and pairing of the vocals mesmerized me and helps me hear music in a whole new way.  The dynamics that take place in a chorus, the family that choruses become … it was all so wonderful to learn.
  • Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod.  Letters. Paris. This won’t be published until February, 2014 and I am not at liberty to write any comments at this time.  More later.  I previewed it through  You can, too.
  • The Wee Mad Road: A Midlife Escape into the Scottish Highlands by Jack and Barbara Maloney.  Who wouldn’t want to have a mid-life crisis and run off to northern Scotland?  This memoir eloquently details village life, the hardships of sheep farming and fishing life.  Too bad they returned to the states after an all too brief stay.  The villagers became friends and I felt like I knew and loved them, too.
  • Paradise Lot: Two Plant Geeks, One-Tenth of an Acre and the Making of an Edible Garden Oasis in the City by Eric Toensmeier and Jonathan Bates.  A love letter to urban gardening.  I learned more about permaculture and tiered plantings than I ever thought I’d want to know.  How quickly we contaminate the soil and how very few of us bother to rectify those mistakes was shocking to learn.  I wish I could have shared this book with my late father – he would have loved it.  This book actually helped me to see why my father planted boxwoods and holly bushes in the manner in which he planted them. 
Books I Want to Read in 2014
  • Thinking Together and All that Jazz:  An Email Exchange and All that Jazz by Howard S. Becker, Robert R. Faulkner and Dianne Hagaman.  Two jazz musicians/sociologists share their long distance creative collaborations via email.  I’ve been lucky enough in my career to have worked with two others at different times when we clicked creatively and it’s an incredible experience to behold.  The output of work you produce and the high quality of such work is a spiritual thrill.  
  • Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch
    This popped up as a recommendation on and I'm glad it did!  I'm so excited to read this book.   Wendy Welch and her husband started a bookstore and created a community in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.  Great reviews.  She also writes a blog about the bookstore and life in VA. 
  • The Humans by Matt Haig.   I follow Matt on Twitter and really enjoy his comments.  This is his latest book and it’s received great reviews.  I can’t wait to read it.
  • Castles in the Air: The Restoration Adventures of Two Young Optimists and a Crumbling Old Mansion by Judy Corbett.  Corbett and her husband renovate an old mansion in Wales. This is my secret desire.  Wales, Scotland, England, Ireland, Indiana — any place will do.
  • To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing by Simon Garfield.  I’ve always been a letter writer and I’m hoping one of my nieces or perhaps my nephew will become a letter writer, too.  The joy of sharing your thoughts on paper with someone who will relish reading them creates a special bond.
  • Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan.  One of my nieces is reading this for a common reading program in college.  Human trafficking is a seldom discussed, but major problem in the U.S. and abroad.