Books of 2019 – Numbers 33 and 34 – Journey Inward by Jean Craighead George and Mostly True: A Memoir of Family, Food and Baseball by Molly O’Neill

Last weekend, the New York Times Book Review published an article noting the fifty best memoirs published over the last fifty years (that would be since 1969!). I am a lover of the memoir, so I was a little chagrined that of the chosen books, I have only read nine of the selected books. The last two books I read fall into the memoir genre, but neither made the NYT list. I, nonetheless, found them both to be captivating accounts of women who lived lives which were, in turn, charming, thrilling, melancholy, and, above all, memoir-worthy.

The book, My Side of the Mountain made me want to run away from home and live in a tree. Jean Craighead George wrote a novel for kids that kindled the flame of adventure and independence that I loved. My Side of the Mountain is the story is of a boy named Sam who runs away from home. He is unhappy in his city life and he seeks the nature and peace of the mountains. He is on his own for a year. The book describes his day to day existence and his reliance on a peregrine falcon for both friendship and survival. My Side of the Mountain was one of the first kid’s books that Jean Craighead George wrote, but it was not her first book. During her marriage, she and her husband co-authored several nature books and articles while gaining firsthand experience. Through their early years of marriage, they lived in tents in the middle of wilderness. As a young wife in the 1960s, Craighead George felt the need to boost her husband’s career, and in doing so, she abdicated much of her own credit. When family financial stress pushed her, she found her own voice and began to write the classic books that would ultimately win her the Newbery Award for her book, Julie of the Wolves. Journey Inward is Jean Craighead George’s story of becoming a writer and becoming a whole person. She is honest about the struggles of marriage to a dreamer who won’t live up to his potential or understand what it means to have a family for which he is responsible. She is honest about raising kids in the 1960s when society seemed to be changing by the minute. She is honest about the fear and loneliness and doubt that came with divorce. Through all of it, however, she writes of her connection with nature and her bringing her children up and into adulthood with hearts that always were open to creatures in need. It was a terrific book and made me order a new copy of My Side of the Mountain. I now need to read it again and I can’t seem to find my old copy!

The food writer and cookbook author, Molly O’Neill recently died. Several years ago, Molly needed a liver transplant. The liver that was removed was found to be cancerous, and that cancer had spread.  Her final book that she was working on at the time of her death was to be titled, Liver: A Love Story. I am not sure what is to become of that one, but the love story that she wrote her family, Mostly True: A Memoir of Family, Food and Baseball, is wonderful. Molly was the oldest child of six. She was the only girl in a family where baseball was drilled into the family DNA by a dad who didn’t get his opportunity to play in the majors. Her descriptions of her tale-telling Dad, her opinionated mom, and her gregarious brothers are delightful. You get the feel of the energy and tension that continuously surrounded that family. You watch Molly serve as a surrogate mom to her herd of brothers and yearn to be her own person. Molly finds her way out through art, literature and food. Cooking for her family gave her a path that led to jobs on the East Coast cooking for a who’s who of personalities. In her memoir, she weaves her rise in the culinary and literary world with what is going on with her family. On occasion, some of her brothers find comfort and new skills by moving near her. Always, her parents struggle financially. Finally, a brother does what was meant to be and becomes a major league baseball player. Her dad dies and leaves a complicated relationship. The family bond remains strong.

Being a woman; being a wife; being a daughter – these are complicated roles no matter what timeframe you are talking about them. Both of these books are telling stories when women were less. Reading them today, the world that these books paint is bracing. The women that come out of them, however, are wonders.

 

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Books of 2019 – Numbers 19, 20 and 21 – Hold Still by Sally Mann, Graphic Medicine Manifesto, and Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

After this group, I think I am due to take on something a little lighter for my next read. I do have volume 2 of Barnaby waiting for me…

My latest reads were all quite good. I have had the Sally Mann autobiography, Hold Still for a while now and had even started to read it once. I have no idea why I didn’t finish it since she is not only a beautiful writer, but the book is interspersed with photos and bits and pieces of her life as a person of the South and as a photographer. That kind of book format is hard for me to not love. If you know Sally Mann and her work, probably one thing that you will remember about her is the controversy about photographs that she took and published of her children – without clothes or partially clothed. She discusses that period quite a bit and she recounts how the photos and the reaction to them impacted her family. She also tells compelling stories of both hers and her husband’s families that make for page turning reading. 

Graphic Medicine Manifesto is a compilation by several writers (many healthcare professionals) who have been integral in the initiation of the graphic medicine movement. The focus of this effort is to bring graphic story telling into medicine to both help the professionals relate more to the personal narrative of those they care for, but also as an outlet for difficult conversations, events, and feelings. The book is a combination of academic discussion of the rationale and examples of the compelling works that are now being used in medical schools.

Say Nothing – A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe tells the story of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Keefe writes a history of the re-initiation of the IRA in the 1960s and 1970s. He introduces the reader to a group of young people initially wanting to follow the peaceful message of Martin Luther King to protest the conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in British-ruled Northern Ireland. When attacked and seeing no other way, this peaceful movement morphed into a paramilitary organization that was ruthless in its mission to change history. The violence from all sides was horrifying and ever-present during the decades of the conflict. Keefe centers the book around the disappearing of a widowed mother of ten children who is taken from the family apartment and not seen alive again. Beginning in the 1960s and reporting up to a revelation made while writing the book, the story is compelling and chilling.

Books of 2019 – Number 11 and 12 – Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow and Havel: A Life by Michael Zantovsky

Books #11 and #12 were quite the projects, and the fact that I read them simultaneously made their stories even more amazing to me. I actually started reading Washington, A Life by Ron Chernow when we were traveling to and in Prague, Amsterdam, and Brussels last year. I would read it on my iPad and on my phone, so when I did not finish it on my trip, it became my insomnia book at home – the thing I would read on my phone when I couldn’t sleep. I chose Havel, A Life by Michael Zantovsky to read because of those travels last year. Since visiting Prague, I have been fascinated by the history of Eastern Europe and particularly Prague. A few months ago, I read Madeleine Albright’s autobiography, Prague Winter and it just made me want to read more.

Both of these books tell remarkable stories that left me baffled that the end result was what it was. George Washington was a flawed man. He was always in debt, he doubted himself, he was proud to a fault, he made some bad choices. On the other hand, he was a leader that commanded universal respect and trust. He led an army of soldiers that seemed to be always starving, freezing, sick, and otherwise suffering in some way, shape or form. His army fought the most powerful country in the world. Somehow, with some key victories and some lucky breaks, they won. But that was not the end of the battle. Next, there was a government to form and people to convince. George Washington wanted to go back home to Virginia and rebuild his home and life. Instead of doing that, he agreed to be President of a country whose people were not all on board with this form of democracy that was being attempted. He held the experiment together with the same gravity of leadership that he had on the battlefield. In doing so, he relied on key allies like Alexander Hamilton to craft the strategy. He was the figurehead. It worked. When he refused a third term as President, his health was failing. He went home to Mount Vernon without the promise of many happy years ahead of him. He did give his life to his country.

More than 200 years later, Vaclav Havel, a playwright, led a peaceful revolution that upended Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. Again, this story is so unlikely. When the Communists took over Czechoslovakia in 1948, the country became a land of repression. The rich cultural history of Eastern Europe was smothered under Soviet Rule. The pockets of protest, however, never went away. Most often, these pockets included the artists and intellectuals of the land. Havel was a part of this for years. He spent years in prison for his beliefs. He and his compatriots were fearless in their struggle. When in 1989, hundreds of thousands of Czech people flowed into Wenceslas Square, shaking their keys and demanding their home back, Havel was chosen as the President to figure out what to do with this land that was free for the first time in fifty years. Like Washington, he was not a politician, but he was a leader. Like Washington, he was flawed, but the passion of freedom drove him.

Having a playwright as a country’s president provides rich opportunity for quotable quotes. One that stood out for me was, “Hope is not a conviction that something will turn out well, but a certainly that something has a meaning regardless of how it turns out.”

These are books 11 and 12 of my goal to read 52 books this year.

Books of 2019 – Number 10 – Eating Eternity: Food, Art and Literature in France by John Baxter

It has been a couple years since we went to Paris, but I still have a little moment when I unlock my phone and pay attention to the photo that lingers behind my screens of apps. It is the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. I took the picture while I stood under it and looked up. J’aime! Our last night in Paris, I made us go back to see it one more time.

Paris is magical like that. I chose my book #10, John Baxter’s Eating Eternity – Food, Art and Literature in France, because of my affection for Paris. John Baxter is an Australian writer and filmmaker who has lived in Paris for decades. He has written other books about France, but this is his only one devoted to food.

This was a very fun book to read. There are twenty-nine short sections – all with either reproductions of artwork or period photographs. Baxter writes about the café life in France and what food in the home (or castle) would look like. His writing about the Occupation of Paris during World War II brought to life the efforts of the chic restaurants to still delight when the food of the city was scarce. Chefs filled in the gaps by offering up zoo animals which were being sold off and city rodents. Yuck!

There are vignettes of artists Renoir, Monet, Cezanne, Dali and Matisse and their relationships to food in their life and in their art. He writes of wine, champagne, chocolate, fruit, vegetables and the many ways ingredients are combined for pleasure and sustenance. I learned and I enjoyed.

The book made me want to pop into a boulangerie for a pain au chocolat, and then take a stroll to the Eiffel Tower.

Books of 2019 – Numbers 7,8,9 – MetaMaus, Maus I and Maus II by Art Spiegelman

I’ve been down with a bad cold for the last few days, so reading time has been abundant. The last few days, I have been feeding my cold and starving my fever by plunging into the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of Art Spiegelman.

When we were in Colorado last summer, we took a daytrip into Aspen and, while there, we stopped in at the Explore Booksellers. We had been in this shop a few years ago, and I remembered the many small rooms filled with beautiful books. It had not changed. As I was browsing the shelves, my eye was drawn to my future purchase. MetaMaus is a beautiful book with a red fabric spine, and a unique cut-out on the cover represents a glass eye, but also the hole of the accompanying CD. The CD is filled with reference materials and the complete Maus I and Maus II by Art Spiegelman. The book is filled with sketches for Maus, other Spiegelman drawings, photos, inspirations, and an exposition of how Maus came to be. I took this beauty home with me, and I read it this week. When I was done, I found my copies of Maus I and Maus II and read those too (I would have read them on the CD, but my computer doesn’t have one of those old-fashioned appendages J).

The Maus books were groundbreaking when Art Spiegelman published them beginning in 1991. In graphic form, Spiegelman tells the story of his parents’ experience as Polish Jews during World War II. There are many amazing things about what he does with this story telling, but probably the piece that got the most attention, was that the Jews of the book are depicted as mice, and the Germans as cats.

I read the Maus books soon after they were published. I loved them. In panels of black and white, he told a tragic true story with no less ethos than if it was a biography of his parents containing many more words. His drawing style (reminding me of woodcuts), his lettering, his narrative – blew me away.  From there a graphic novel fan was born (although, at the time, that term was not really a thing. Maus made it a thing).

Spending a day sick in bed getting deep into Art Spiegelman’s head when he was creating Maus may not seem like the elixir some would choose. It didn’t cure what was ailing me, but I loved it.

Books of 2019 – Number 6 – Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean

For a few months now, I have been reading Ron Chernow’s biograpy of George Washington. It is my Kindle read, so I really only read it when I am travelling or when I wake up at night and can’t sleep. Because of that, the 818 pages of the book are taking some time to get through. I just, however, read about Washington’s inauguration, his reluctance to assume the role of President, and his continual efforts to ensure the people that their government would not turn into something outside of the democracy that so many had suffered to create.

This book is quite the juxtaposition to my sixth book of the year, Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains – The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.  We are reading this one for our book club and I expect some good dialogue. Dr. MacLean is a professor of history at Duke, and her book begins in Jim Crow South. Early on it reviews the Brown vs Board of Education ruling and the measures that some communities went through to avoid the law taking effect. In parts of Virginia, it meant the shuttering of publicly funded schools from 1959 – 1964.

The book introduced me to James McGill Buchanan, a political economist who won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on public choice economics. Buchanan’s career becomes the lens through which we see the intersection between economic theory and the billionaire capitalists who see their own success as a guarantor of the success of the country. Buchanan and his close group end up supported by the ultra-wealthy Koch family, and the mutual relationship leads to much of the neo-conservative movement that began with the Reagan Administration and continues today.

There are readers of this book who laud its content and wake-up call, and there are those who question its research and motive. What it made me recognize is that our democracy is never a guarantee. We need to pay attention. George Washington was not wrong to be nervous.

 

Books of 2019 – Number 4 – War Hospital – A True Story of Surgery and Survival by Sheri Fink, MD

 

 

War Hospital – A True Story of Surgery and Survival by Sheri Fink, MD

Publisher: Public Affairs in 2003

429 Pages

I just finished my fourth book for the year in my quest to read 52 books this year. I am enjoying the extra time that I am putting into making myself step away from other distractions and giving my attention to words.

Sheri Fink’s non-fiction work, published in 2003, is an incredible telling of what happened in the city of Srebrenica during the Bosnian War – a horror that raged from 1992–1995. Fink’s work focuses on a warzone hospital and the individuals who worked there. She writes of the paths that led the heroes of this story to the hospital. She describes how they learned the practice of war medicine in real time. Reading about the hospital’s day-to-day, you see the doctors and nurses suffer horrible losses, and work through grisly conditions. The physical, mental, and emotional toll is brutal. At the book’s end, only during the horrific massacre that took place in their village and threatened everyone, do the doctors, nurses, and others leave.

At its conclusion, Fink poses questions about the presence of humanitarian workers in such situations. Do such services provoke a false sense of normalcy and security? What is the responsibility of the medical professional when there is clear violation of anything resembling humanitarianism? Are expectations of neutrality for medical professionals the right stance?

I remember watching the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics. It was a beautiful venue amidst picturesque mountains. People sat at sidewalk cafes drinking coffee and wine. Ten years later, those mountains sheltered snipers, foragers for food, and refugees trying to find a safe place. The Olympic stadiums were in ruins and marked by warfare. It is hard to believe it can happen. This book made me understand what happens when it do

Last Week’s Good Things

notebookThis is my thirty-first good things post during 2014. With these posts, I try to take time to reflect on the things that have crossed my life during the past days that have made me stop and notice how those things made me feel good or happy or better. The list has not been as consistent as I wanted, but it has always been on my mind as I go through each week.

Over the last weeks, here are a few of my good things:

IMG_2329Family time – Ali, Jose and Banjo arrived in Kansas City last week. Their presence in the house has been delightful. With both kids living miles away, any time that we get to spend with them is such a treat. We have eaten well, played some games, visited with loved ones, had a doggie heater in bed with us each night. It will be hard to have them drive away tomorrow, but so grateful that we got this week! 

IMG_2262Gifts for friends – It is kind of weird to choose gifts that I gave as a good thing, but this was just so much fun to do. When I was thinking of what to give some workmates for the holidays, I had a thought. Why not see if I could find old postcards of downtown KC where our hospital now sits? It was so fun to rummage through boxes of old cards in antique shops and peruse eBay for matches to my search. Having multiple pictures of our town from many decades was so interesting to look through. Some of the cards had messages between family and friends during their travels through our city. These items of correspondence were precious enough to have been kept year after year until its owner let it go in some way or another – but not in the trash.

Holiday deliveries – They get a bad rap from some, but last week, brown trucks, white trucks and delivery vans pulled up to our house multiple times to deliver holiday gifts or cards to the house. Oftentimes, they made the extra effort to put packages safely on our back porch. I also stood in line to mail a package and, though the line was long, I was greeted warmly and assured that my delivery would be on time. To me, these services are fantastic, and those holiday cancellations were pretty awesomely cute!

midwifeCall the Midwife – It has been awhile since I have gotten pulled in to a television series. We seem to be watching fewer programs lately, and tend to turn the set on for random cooking shows or sports. Recently, however, we had more time and because of a remembered recommendation, we watched the first episode of Call the Midwife. This is a BBC series about a group of young midwives practicing in London in the late 1950s. It is wonderful! The characters are interestingly layered, the story lines are poignant and compelling, and it is pretty to look at. We are through Season 1 and into number 2 thanks to Netflix. Really good television!

IMG_2430Wedding Preparations – Over the last weeks we have talked with Sam about plans for his and Jean’s wedding coming together. I also got to sit with Ali last week and address and stamp invitations.

As 2014 winds down and we all tend to reflect back and hope forward, I continue to want to make catching good things a part of each day. Happy new year to anyone reading, and may your year ahead be great!

Last Week’s Good Things

weekoOver the last couple weeks, I have glimpsed the reality that my life is going to be returning to its old normal where my work schedule is a little less high intensity. Looking back at last week’s noted good things, I appreciate that change and what it has brought back!

A day with no meetings and head for home at 5:00 – Last Monday, for the first time in months, I had no scheduled meetings on my calendar. I spent the day in my office, working on a multitude of things that continued to fill up my to do list while I wasn’t looking. During the day, I talked to people as they stopped by my office with questions or just to chat. I had lunch at lunch time. I left my office and got home before 6:00! There was something about that day that felt like a new beginning. The things that have been going on at work since early spring have been exciting and stressful and educational and fulfilling. However, to be finished with the bulk of those and be able to end the year catching up and preparing for 2015 seems lovely!

Great meal at Story – We celebrated a friend’s birthday last Sunday with a meal out at the wonderful Story in Prairie Village. I like good food and I like a good experience. The food part that night was top notch. They really seem to continue to get better and better. For me, the other, as important element of a good experience is when I feel that the server is taking time with the table that isn’t just because they have to. They seem to enjoy getting to know and make the table experience a good one. Our server, Kevin did just that. From the moment I sat down and he made his first appearance, I could tell this was going to be good. He was self-deprecating, knowledgeable, interested and interesting. He made what was an amazingly good food experience, an amazingly good dining experience. The thing is, this was a fancy restaurant where we spent a lot of money. I have had the same thing happen at much different venues. It doesn’t matter where it is. Showing me that enthusiasm makes its mark!

Hearing Rebecca Skloot Speak – When The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks came out a few years ago, I purchased it immediately. Rebecca Skloot had written a story of a woman who died of cancer, but who lives eternally because her cancer cells had a unique quality of being able to be grown in the laboratory – over and over again. This is a great story and by the number of books sold, it obviously is a story that other people want to read. Beyond being a good read, what this book was for me was validation that a medical story that weaves several different threads, can be fascinating. As I worked on my own weaving project, that was inspiring. Last week, I went to hear Rebecca give a talk at a local university. She was better than I even thought she would be. Coming out to begin her talk, she expressed her thanks for people being there and their support. Throughout her talk, she made a point to address the students in the audience. Her grace was present throughout a wonderful event.

Frank Bruni column “Gray hair and silver linings”Frank Bruni is one of my newspaper loves. Frank is a columnist for the New York Times and his columns are so often personal experiences that resonate with some larger issue. Last week he had a column titled Gray Hair and Silver Linings. The column starts out with him sitting in a waiting room and observing a woman and man getting to know each other over their battle scars of areas of skin cancer. He then goes on to discuss what it is to grow older – to enter a new phase of your life when experiences are not all new. It is an adjustment and it does not come without its regret. He brings it back to where I feel that I am now as a 54 year old woman. He writes: as you age “you finally appreciate the wisdom of  doing so and you come to recognize that among multiple vantage points and arrays of responses to a situation, you really can elect the more positive one.” That is a silver lining.

Saturday non-snow day – We had nothing to do on Saturday, and the weather forecast indicated that we might have some rough patches of weather. That gave us an excuse to stay in. Our staying in, however, did not mean we created our weekend Wunderlist of things to do. This was our serendipity free day. We didn’t tackle projects. I pretty much spent the whole day reading, taking a nap or two, and reading some more.

We are already half-way through a new week! Wow! I hope that there are many things already on your own good things list!

September’s Good Things

coloMy blog might suggest that, thus far, September has been devoid of good things. Untrue! The first week of the month was spent in Estes Park, Colorado where the sound of the Big Thompson River greeted us each morning and put us to sleep at night. While there, we had visits with friends, did some hiking, read some books, marveled at nature, discovered some new breweries, played some games, and kicked back. Back home, however, things immediately moved into overdrive. What September lacked was that balance between vacation and not vacation. With the end of the last week of the month nigh, I will attempt to summarize September and head into October with at least a hope to get things back on track.

Colorado in September – The first week of September is a wonderful time to visit Colorado. Pictures will do better than any words I can come up with.IMG_1670

IMG_1616IMG_1657IMG_1638

This last page of the September issue of Esquire Magazine – I count myself a fan of Esquire magazine. As a print magazine, they always do interesting things with the layout, and their reporting pieces are killer. The writing is always strong. It was, however, the last page of the magazine that really captured me in the last issue that I read. I giggle over it still. even though I tore it out and sent it to Ali. I can’t find a copy of it on line, so you will have to get an idea of what I am talking about by looking at the picture I took of it.

esquire

Visit from the Tooles – We unexpectedly got to host Carly and Thad as they drove across country to set Carly up in her first gig as a physical therapist in Leadville, Colorado. Carly is Ali’s best friend, college roommate, maid of honor. Thad is in the running for brother-of-the-year. We had a great time sharing some KC hospitality – including teaching them how to play Catchphrase and filling their bellies with waffles for their final leg of their journey.
tooles

I won a fantasy football game – the fact that I put this on my list gives you an idea of what a rarity this is. The poor dude that I beat must be feeling pretty badly.

Steroids – I came down with this very weird mouth ailment that became more and more irritating and painful as the month went on. After several false starts, I started on a taper of steroids that kicked out whatever it was that was going on. I am not a medicine fan, but that action was pretty impressive.

The Royals – I watched the Royals win the World Series that first year I was in Kansas City. Sam was a newborn and Dan was a Cardinals fan who could not believe  what happened. Sam just turned 29 and Dan remains a Cardinals fan – but we all feel good about the Royals finally seeing a playoff game.

royal

The Ken Burns’ Roosevelt series on PBS – The storytelling in that multipart series was riveting! My favorite was Teddy Roosevelt being shot while delivering a campaign speech and proceeding to talk for another hour before agreeing to go to the hospital to see about the bullet in his chest.

Making Cookies – For one reason or another, I made three batches of cookies during the month. The first was Amish Sugar Cookies which I became familiar with when I was growing up and I went to my friend Sue’s house. They are soft and sugar goodness. For fajita night book club, I made peanut butter cookies that I amped up by putting in some cayenne and sea salt. For dinner with friends, I made the killer rosemary shortbread cookies in the Flour cookbook. I kind of think that cookies are the perfect dessert.

Cards from future in-laws – As wedding planning continues, we are excited to get to know both Jose and Jean’s families. This month we received notes from both – sharing their happiness that our children have found happiness.

pen

My new fountain pen – I hoarded gift cards for a couple years and finally spent them at the awesome Pen Place in Crown Center. Yes! A store of pens! My pen is beautiful and writes beautifully. It is also filled with some equally awesome orange ink. I love it.

I have left off some other pretty big things that may get some extra coverage some other time. Kind of a silly list, but all things that made me happy during an uneven month.