Tag Archives: Books

Ruminations on fairies I have known

TL;DR: I love fairies and I thoroughly enjoyed the book The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor. Possible spoilers in the review which is much farther down the page. Sorry — I have a backstory…

When I was young — maybe 10 — I had an invisible friend. My invisible friend was not your average invisible friend; she was a fairy. I was not very original because I called her Tinkerbell, apparently she was descended from the original Tinkerbell. I am not talking about Disney’s Tinkerbell here, but the actual Tinkerbell from the Peter Pan story. My favorite character was Tinkerbell and at some point I decided that Tinkerbell’s granddaughter or great-granddaughter decided to live in my house and be my best friend. She eventually brought a friend for my brother. He named her Daisy. He’s holding her in his left hand in the picture to the right.

In grade school I wrote a very bad story about Fairyland.

However, as much as I loved fairies (and as much time I spent in West Riding Yorkshire) I didn’t hear about the Cottingley Fairies until the late 1980s. A few years later I bought and read Photographing Fairies when I saw a review about it in the Washington Post. I also saw the film version of the book. A few years after that I took the kids to see A Fairy Tale: The True Story.

In 2002 we visited England and stopped to spend some time with my old pal Jeremy and his family who remarked that the village of Cottingley was not far from one of the stops on a day-trip we were planning, so we spent a couple hours in the village, looking for fairies. I’d not put two and two together to realize that Cottingley was very close to the town of Horsforth where I’d spent several weeks over a few summers as a teen and young adult. It annoys me that I didn’t know about the Cottingley fairies at the time because I know that Jeremy’s dad would have taken me there — I think it was even closer to where some of Jeremy’s relatives lived, folks we visited at least once.

Clare and I have made two fairy gardens and I’ve got a pair of fairies among the ivy on an old maple tree in the back yard. In 2008 we visited a real fairyland in Ireland. I won’t even begin talking about the gnomes.

Anyway — that’s the background. Here’s the rest of the story (or not, at least up to now):

On Facebook one day, I saw an advertisement for a book by an author I’d never heard of. I normally ignore advertisements, but this one was for a book called The Cottingley Secret. Of course I clicked on the advertisement and of course I immediately purchased and downloaded the book.

I was still reading The Keeper of Lost Things so it was a few days before I got to The Cottingley Secret. I liked the book a lot — at first I was disappointed that it was not 100% about the cousins in Cottingley, but then I really got to like the present-time story. That one of the “characters” in the book was a bookstore made it even better!

Books that unfold slowly, showing connections between people from different places or times intrigue me. The Cottingley Secret is one of those books and Ms Gaynor does it well. She also developed her main characters, present and past, well — except for her grandmother, but perhaps that was intentional since the grandmother was stricken with Alzheimer’s*.

The book enchanted me and firmly held my attention from the first page to the last, and ended up reading far into the wee hours of the morning to finish. I feel that this book has added to my love of the Cottingley fairy story — given it depth. Someone in the book said something about people that heard the story and wanted to believe it, shaped it the way they wanted it (or something like that). For me, everything I have read about it, including Arthur Conan Doyle’s account, is slightly different, yet all familiar. So the story I carry in my heart about the Cottingley fairies is different from the one someone else might carry because of what I have read and my personal history with fairies.

I have to wonder though, why Mrs. Hogan, who believed her daughter was carried off by fairies, was not more worried about Frances spending so much time at a known fairy hangout.


Spoiler (and the only criticism) below

*The account of Olivia’s grandmother’s death was not realistic to me. Having gone through my mother’s death of Alzheimer’s just last year, the memory is still very vivid. In the book the grandmother was well enough to talk coherently just before Olivia’s trip, but suddenly got worse when Olivia was on her trip and died shortly after Olivia rushed back to Ireland. In my mother’s case the time from being able to talk and make sense to death took months. I realize that the disease does not always follow the same path and for the story the longer path would have not made sense.

 

 

Declutter 2017: Aunt Ginny’s Book About Hunting Racoons

Today Dean forced asked me to go through the books that belong on the basement bookshelves. I did and found three book boxes full of books I was willing to donate. I found hundreds I am not ready to part with and I found about 40 that I want to examine more closely before making the ultimate decision toss or keep. (joy or no joy)

cooning with the cooners

One of these is a book by a D. Kuechler called Cooning With Cooners. At first I thought it said Crooning with Crooners and thought it might be about Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and company. But no. It was actually Cooning with Cooners and is about shooting raccoons. I assume that is what it is about because the cover drawing depicts a man with a gun pointing at a raccoon in a tree that a dog has spied and possibly chased up the tree. I have not read any of the book, nor do I plan on reading it.

Aunt Ginny's name and address

I wondered how I came to have a book (from 1924) about hunting raccoons, but then saw that it belonged to my Aunt Ginny. I still wonder how I ended up with it and why on Earth she was interested in hunting raccoons, but it will remain a mystery, I guess, unless she wanted to be a Lady Coon Hunter as described in a chapter written by Mrs. R. J. Merrick.

Lady Coon Hunters

I’ll likely send this to Uncle Jack along with two books I found that belonged to him as a child. He can decide what to do with Cooning with the Cooners.

A list of books

I posted this on Facebook after being “tagged” by at least 3 people to post a list of ten books that somehow influenced me. Mali suggested I post this on my blog. As I said on Facebook, I think the main connecting theme of my list is that I have vivid memories of reading each of them — and images in my mind of the characters, settings and plots. I can even feel the emotion I felt when reading each of the books.

1. Five Smooth Stones by Ann Fairbairn — this book opened my eyes to the civil rights movement. Many of the characters still live with me to this day.

2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote — I read this in middle school. The images it evoked are still etched in my mind.

3. Dracula by Bram Stoker — the first non-young adult novel I ever read (in 7th grade). I adored stories about vampires and this was a classic.

4. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (she also wrote 101 Dalmatians) — “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink” is one of my favorite opening lines.

5. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis (Yes I know this is 7 books, but I consider it one large book) — I loved these books which I read in my teens, although my teacher read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to us in 6th grade. I’ve re-read several of the books since my first reading and shared them with my students and children.

6. Billy Brown the Babysitter by Tamara Kitt — the first book I ever read on my own. I remember suddenly being able to read and just read it.

7. My Bookhouse Books edited by Olive Beaupre Miller — another set of books, but each one was extremely important to me. These books made me a reader. I learned so much about literature from this set. The very best gift my parents ever gave me was this anthology set of 12 books (which seems to be available for purchase again! I wonder if it has been updated for political correctness.)

8. The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu — I received this book to review for a website before it was published. I didn’t have high hopes since it was written by a — then — unknown author, but absolutely loved it. I rarely re-read books, but have read this one a few times. I wrote the first Amazon review about this book. The next day I got to meet Mr. Mengestu. When I told him my name so he could sign my copy he recognized it and thanked me for the review.

9. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters — a well-written ghost story in which a house is a main character.

10. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson — I’d never read anything by Shirley Jackson except The Lottery but I liked the Gothic-like look of the cover of this book so bought it and read it. It is another book in which a house is a main character. Very well written and another book I re-read.

Time Travel Anyone?

Recently on Facebook someone in a group about my hometown (Elgin, Illinois)  posted a video I’d uploaded to YouTube that my grandfather filmed when Jack Kennedy stopped in Elgin on his campaign tour. The Facebook user credited me with the video and requested my friendship on Facebook. I checked out his FB page before accepting the friendship and saw that his name was Dennis Higgins, he lived in Elgin and he wrote a few books. When I asked him about the books he said that two take place in Elgin and one in Chicago. Oh, and the books are all about time travel.

Something you may or may not know about me is that I am a sucker for time travel stories. I am not sure when it began, but I know I liked anything about time travel as far back as when I could only check out books from the children’s part of the library. One of the first time travel stories I remember reading was The Time Garden by Edward Eager. I may or may not have read the other books in his time-travel series, but I think I read at least a few of them. I also remember reading The Children at Green Knowe and other books in that series around that time, which has elements of parallel time in it. While the Chronicles of Narnia are not time-travel stories exactly — I thought of them as such when I devoured them in my teens. When I was teaching I discovered the young adult’s author, Avi, and read his very scary, but delicious Something Upstairs. More recently I have read and loved The Time Traveler’s Wife and 11-22-63.

It doesn’t stop with books — I also love time travel films. Although I don’t remember when I first saw Somewhere in Time, it is a movie I watch whenever it comes on television and is among my top five favorite films. I have not yet read the book by Richard Matheson on which it was based , although I did begin reading it and have it on my Nook. About the same time I first saw Somewhere in Time, I also saw The Two Worlds of Jenny Logan which was another romantic time-travel story, but not nearly as compelling as Somewhere in Time.

I even tried to write a time travel story once for NaNoWriMo. I’d been toying with an idea for a story about a bored 10 year old boy or girl somehow time-traveling to the early 1800’s and meeting young Robert E. Lee while his parents attended a wedding reception at the home ever since we attended a wedding at Robert E. Lee’s boyhood home in Alexandria, VA. While I didn’t finish the story (I got bored with it and lost it in a computer hard drive crash) I did end up learning a lot about Lee and his family. I think if I were to ever write anything about his family I’d write about his mother. Not a lot has been written about her and she was a long-suffering woman with an interesting life.

parallel roads by dennis higginsBack to Mr. Higigns and his time travel books. I borrowed his first book, Parallel Roads (Lost on Route 66) on my Kindle and began reading it in bed Wednesday night at about 10:00. I read about 25% and decided I’d better get to sleep because I had a ton of work to do the next day. I couldn’t sleep so I read some more. Finally at 2 am I put the book down and eventually fell asleep, having read half the book. I didn’t read much yesterday because I was so busy, but did finish the book this morning.

I really enjoyed it. This one does not take place in Elgin, but there is an Elgin pocket watch in it. It is about a 30-something’s search for information about the disappearance of his paternal grandmother shortly after she gave birth to his father. It is also a bit of a travelogue about Route 66, then and now. I always find it interesting that so many authors have been able to make so many different ways to time travel, and this one is unique. I’m not doing a very good job “reviewing” this book. If you want to read a really well-done review about it, check out Ingrid Hall’s review.

You know how sometimes you read a book and it is completely foreign to you? You learn a lot of new things from that kind of book, but it never really feels familiar? Those can be good reads, but I also like the kinds of books that make me feel like I am in my own living room — books that make me nod and think, yeah, that’s right. Books that might make me  think of a parallel experience I have had. That’s what Parallel Roads was for me, in a way. No, I’ve never traveled in time, but I have tracked down some missing family history through my recent forays into genealogy. I also recently took a cross-country trip with an emotional woman. In fact, the road trip (the 1946 one) in the book really did remind me of my recent trip with Clare in quite a number of ways but if I tell you how it might ruin the ending of the book for you.

I am really glad I uploaded that video that my grandfather took and grateful to Dennis for requesting my friendship because of it. I look forward to reading his other books. Time Travel! Elgin! What’s not to love?

The Scent of a Book

Library Scene Time MachineBefore last May, more than one person was surprised to hear that I didn’t own a Kindle or any other kind of e-reader. They knew about my love of gadgets and couldn’t imagine why I’d not bought an e-reader yet. My response was the same to all — as much as I loved technology, I liked the smell of a book better.

Everyone who owned an e-reader tried to get me on-board by telling me how light they were. How I’d be able to hold hundreds of books on it. How easy on the eye they were. I heard so many good things about e-readers that I finally researched them and ended up asking for, and receiving, a Nook Color for Mother’s Day last year. I chose the Nook Color because I’d heard it could be turned into a cheap Android tablet — in case I didn’t like the e-book aspect.

Now, a few months shy of a year later, I give you my opinion: I like the smell of a book.

I also like the feel of a book in my hands and I like the sound of the pages being turned. The other day I considered cataloging all of the books in my house with an app I downloaded on my phone. I was excited at the prospect to touch (and smell) each of my books again and either remember the time spent reading them or relish the anticipation I felt about reading them someday. Then I thought about the books I downloaded on my Nook (and the audio books on my mp3 player). I would never hold those books or smell them or hear their pages turning. Did I really read them? Do I really own them? Can I catalog them?

I recalled the library scene from the 1960’s version of The Time Machine. The Time Traveler pulls a book off a shelf only to have it crumble to dust in his hand. Later he is shown the Talking Rings. Are my e- and audio- books like the talking rings or are they nothing but binary dust motes?

Autograph of Roger Tory PetersonI have read a few books on my Nook Color. My favorite was Stephen King’s 11/22/63, but because I loved it so, I ended up with eye-strain headaches from reading it deep into the night. It was convenient to buy the book the day it came out — but it was a whim buy. I probably would have waited and asked for it for Christmas if I didn’t have the Nook.

Right now I am reading The Big Year on the Nook. (actually I am reading it on my Android phone because my husband is reading the Stephen King book on the Nook). Yesterday in The Big Year I read about Roger Tory Peterson’s account of his Big Year: Wild America and remembered finding a copy of that book in an antique store about 20 years ago. I was a novice birder but recognized one of the authors. Opening the book to check the price ($2.50) I also glanced at the title page and was astounded to see that Peterson had inscribed it with best wishes to a Lloyd Foster. Of course I bought the book. It smells delightful.

This creates another issue — how do authors autograph e-books?

In Which Dona Admits to Loving Dozens of Men

In 1979 I spent a semester in London attending Southlands College and student teaching at a local primary school. The teacher with whom I did my teaching practice had a set of books in her classroom that I fell in love with and when I finished my student teaching, she gave me several titles in the collection. I’m pretty sure that I was the first person in Elgin to have copies of these books because they didn’t hit the States until a few years later. I remember being delighted yet dismayed to see the books being sold in a bookstore in Pittsburgh. Delighted because I could now easily purchase more of the books and dismayed because I was not unique in that respect any longer.

I used these books for lessons when I was a teacher because I loved the simple drawings, the life-lessons and the high vocabulary they offered. The books may have been small picture books, but when I did a readability evaluation on a few passages in several books found they were at the 5th grade reading level.

When my own children were old enough to care about books, I brought the books home and read to them from the books. We had fun laughing over the silly characters and the situations in which they found themselves.

The books are still in the house somewhere and while I’ve not seen them recently, thought about them the other day and made a mental note to blog about the set of books sometime soon.

Today when I saw the series of Google Doodles I knew that today was the day to write about Mr Men.

My favorite was Mr Chatterbox and I never really liked the Little Miss books. They seemed more like an afterthought to me and not nearly as funny as the originals.

Dona and the Three Books

When last you heard from me I was lamenting my inability to finish a book. Good news! I finished 3 books since last Saturday. I finished 3 books in less than a week. I don’t remember the last time I did something like that — perhaps elementary school.

Please note, I did not begin and finish the three books in less than a week. I just finished them although I did start and finish one within 36 or so hours.

[openbook booknumber=”9781400052189″ templatenumber=”2″]The book that pulled me out of my slump was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. I wasn’t excited about reading it — it was for my women-only book group. Someone suggested it a few months ago and the next month the host chose it for book group however it hadn’t been published in paperback at that time so we held off reading it until it was in paperback. I saw it at Costco and reluctantly picked it up.

The first couple of dozen pages did not leave me wanting more, but I persevered and after a while really began enjoying the book which goes back and forth between an in-depth discussion of cellular biology and a story about the family of the woman whose cells, taken and used for research without her informed consent, have led to many medical breakthroughs including the polio vaccine and the discovery that some strains of HPV is directly responsible for cervical cancer.

I preferred the science part of the book, which is unusual for me because I normally don’t like non-fiction. I had a difficult time relating to the family in the book. The author was brutally honest in her depiction of them — something she’d promised the daughter of Henrietta Lacks. I became weary of the daughter and her histrionics wore me out just reading about it.

I learned a lot about patient rights from this book — some things I’d never even thought about. I’m looking forward to our book group discussion of this one.

Directly after finishing Henrietta Lacks, I began reading Room by Emma Donoghue which arrived on my doorstep Saturday afternoon. Room was another book I was not looking forward to reading — I don’t like books written in a child’s voice. I didn’t want to read about a child and mother locked away in a room for years and years. I didn’t want to buy a hard cover book. I bit the bullet, however, and ordered it from Amazon (along with a cookbook I didn’t need). Truth be told — I did vote for Room when asked to choose my top three books out of a list of books I’d either read before and didn’t want to re-read or books I had no desire to read in the first place.

It took me from Saturday afternoon through Sunday night to finish Room and not because I loved it. It was compelling — I’ll say that about it. And I liked it more than I thought I would. I’ll not say any more about it in case you’re planning on reading it. I never got used to the child’s strange speech pattern and I felt it was unbelievable in parts.

After finishing Room I felt free to go back to Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson, which I did love. It is a sweet quirky romantic book with a couple of great characters. The fact that the author’s kids go to my son’s school is only a small reason I chose to read the book in the first place — I’d seen it on my “recommendations” page on Amazon and sitting in a friend’s living room. I suggested it for book group and no one was in the least interested. Ah well, I suppose it is a light read — not a lot of controversy really. It will make a pleasant movie — I’m hoping that the author gets her wish and Major Pettigrew is played by John Cleese.

So now I’m bookless — Fingersmith may be my next book, but I am listening to another Sarah Waters book at the moment and don’t want to confuse myself. I think I’ll read Susan Coll’s* Beach Week — to prepare myself for what to expect when my son leaves for his trip when school is out for Seniors.

*another (former) Whitman parent/author

I’m delighted that I am out of my reading slump. I feel back to myself again.

So many books…

I feel like I’ve written this post before. I have a lot of books — books cause only mild guilt when I purchase them. When I can purchase them for a discount, for instance at Costco, all the better. Add that to being in two book groups and the long wait-time for popular books at the local library. Nearly every room in this house has a book or two (or a dozen) waiting to be read.

Besides the bookshelf filled with double-shelved books in my bedroom, most of which I want to read, I’ve got Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand sitting on my (bookshelf) headboard, face-down, open to the page I stopped reading a couple of nights ago. On my dresser is Let the Great World Spin, the book both book groups read and discussed that I got halfway through and found too boring to finish. (I don’t like books that are made up of short stories, even if they are connected by something). On Dean’s side of the headboard of the bed is The Siege of Krishnapur, another bookgroup read that I got partway through. I do plan to read all of these books.

In the living room I have more bookshelves filled with mostly read, but some unread books. On the table next to the couch are two more books. One is a bookgroup book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and a book I bought to read for fun, Fingersmith. I’m on page 23 of Henrietta Lacks and find it, okay but not exciting. I really want to read Fingersmith. but don’t feel right starting it with so many other books partway read.

The family room holds more bookshelves with double-shelved books as does Clare’s room. My office has work-related books I should read, especially since I’m planning on going back to work full-time in the fall.

It is not that I don’t have time to read — I have oodles of free-time, but I spend it on the Internet or watching television. Is it possible that I don’t like to read anymore? Has the Internet or aging changed my love of the written word?

I blame part of it on belonging to book groups — I don’t read non-book group books when I have a book group book to read out of guilt but don’t like the assigned books so don’t read at all.

I’d quit one or both book groups but they are pretty much the extent of my non-family related social life. Without them I’d be even more of a hermit.

This is an ongoing question, and a real problem for me — not the number of books in the house, but the number of books I want/need to read. Something needs to change and I don’t know what it will be.

Update: I read more of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks last night (about 1/3 of it) and am out of my reading slump. I’m really enjoying it now. Let’s hope it lasts!

Will they or won’t they?

Book group is tonight and we’re discussing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I didn’t expect to love this book — but I did. And I’m worried I might be the only one.

I heard about this book a while back, probably online somewhere. Then when we went to dinner with Clare and her then boyfriend for her birthday her boyfriend mentioned that his mom read it so he picked it up and read it.

Then Mali mentioned it in a blog post, although I had to look up Millennium Trilogy to know that was what she was talking about.

I suggested this book to my book group and one or two people thought there would not be enough to discuss, being a mystery and all. I’m glad the woman who is hosting thought it would be a good read, because I might not have read it otherwise.

The last book group book I loved was disliked by most of the group. I think I wrote about it before. I actually felt betrayed — and stupid. So when I like something no one else does — I’m stupid. When I don’t like something everyone else does — I’m stupid. Maybe I should just quit book groups…

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is good in a Da Vinci Code kind of way, but I think it is smarter — and takes place in Sweden. What’s not to like? And I do think we can find things to discuss about it — like was it a woman’s book or a man’s? And why does the male main character get all the women?

Ok, my ride’s here — wish me luck.