Monday, January 16, 2017

Everything I Never Told You

This is the third book selected by a small book group I recently joined. The group that meets at LaDeDa is still going strong - about 10 years or so.  In fact, on Friday we met for our belated Christmas party and celebrated with pizza, and a white elephant gift exchange.  I was lucky to be re-gifted one of the items I gave last year.  

Let me back-up.  Many years ago, I found  a Marie Osmond doll at St. Vinnie's.  I'm not talking a little Barbie type doll; this treasure is at least three feet tall and came with patterns so I can sew her a collection of totally mod fashions.  Won't happen.  Included in her storage box was a king size pillow case with a screened photo of a pre-pubescent Donny lounging.  The moment Nancy opened her gift last year, a wave of regret flooded through me - not quite to my soul, but still rather deeply.  Nothing could have pleased me more than re-getting this pillow case, unless it was the three nun finger puppets, the post-it note collection, the Penzy spices with a 2015 expiration date, or the bathroom freshener.  All in all, a grand night.

Back to the book now....much of what I am going to say is speculation since I had little time to read last weekend due to a poopsick doggy.  Vet says there is some sort of intestinal upset (no sh*t) and gave her antibiotics.  I suspect she drank a cup of coffee that I had misplaced.

OK.  The book.  The title hints at much, wouldn't you say?  A book of secrets?  Then there are the opening lines, "Lydia is dead.  But they don't know this yet."  I figured the story arc would focus on the how and why of Lydia's death, and to an extent, it does.  The bigger story is the day to day functioning of two generations and the impact the sins of the first have on the next.  In the 1970's, a Caucasian girl marrying a Chinese boy was not acceptable.  Who committed that sin - the young married couple or the mother who refuses to bless the union?  What about parents who readily admit they favor one of their three children over the others?  I can't forget to mention the parent who pushes a daughter to excel in areas she herself was unable to pursue due to her responsibilities as a wife and mother.  

This is the story of the complexities of family life.  So far, it is not a happy story and I fear that will not change.  But the real-ness has drawn me in and I no longer wonder about Lydia's death.  It is the impact of that death that will siphon truths from each character.  Where that will lead, I'm not sure, but I suspect this may be a book with an ambiguous ending.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Mothers

Life has a way of surprising us - rocking our routine, challenging our stability and sending us off on new, sometimes unsettling adventures.  Life also occasionally sucker punches us - rocking our routine, challenging our stabiilty and sending us off on new, sometimes unsettling adventures.  The difference between surprise and sucker punch is what we do when it happens.

Brit Bennett's book places mothers at the eye of the whirlwind that spins and comforts us during various stages in our lives.  My mother was 53 when she died; too young.  Nadia Turner's mother was even younger, and although the circumstances were different, the emotions ring true.  Days, months, years of asking "Why?" and "What if..."  

Attempting to numb the pain of her mother's death, Nadia makes choices that she cannot shake even though she attempts to by leaving home and only returning on rare occasions when she feels obliged.  No spoiler here, but I will say that when Nadia chooses to remain silent about one of her choices, that very silence spreads like a thick, slow moving poison through many, many lives.

Sounds a bit soap opera-ish.  Not at all.  This is a skillful first novel.  Bennett uses the popular technique of alternating chapter narration, but again, it is not sloppy or distracting as with many current novels.  One chapter is narrated in third person by a limited omniscient narrator.  Alternating chapters are voiced by elderly women, the mothers, of the church Nadia attends.  The mothers gather daily to honor prayer requests they receive through various means.  They share the stories of those they pray for, and, from afar, they watch Nadia and reflect on her actions.  In doing so, they share their wisdom with us.  

The book is simple and smooth.  Once opened, I only put it down once.  I believe I would have stay curled up in my chair by the window and read my Sunday afternoon away even if the temperatures were not sub zero.  

Just for kicks I also flew through one of Carolin Carlson's swashbuckling adventures for the 8-12 year old set.  Did you know that pirates have a code of conduct?  Me neither.  Here's what I learned...

A pirate must...
Be twice as bold as he is daring
Be handy with a cannon and handier with a sword
Appreciate the finer things in life: treasure, parrots, grog
Mind his manners only when it suits him
Be very nearly honorable
Enjoy a bit of plundering...

A pirate must not...
Attempt to sing if he cannot carry a tune
Displease his fellow scallywags
Forget to be fearsome

I say pirating for all in 2017.
Thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Merry Christmas

Thanks for stopping by on Mondays and indulging my fantasy that I actually have something of even the slightest import to share (and for generously  excusing my spelling errors and typos).

The best of everything to you this holiday season and all of 2018...and beyond.  Fill your life with smiles.

Holiday Hours

Dec. 22 and 23....10-5:30
Dec. 24...10-2ish
Dec. 25, 26 and 27...closed
Jan. 2...closed

Monday, December 19, 2016

In sunlight or in Shadow

Short stories seemed like a good option for these busy, pre-Christmas days.  What I'm struggling with is the contrast between the holly-jolly music, sights and sounds of the season, and the utterly bleak selections in this book.  

It's not surprising that Hopper inspired stories would be filled with glimpses into lives of the alone, the sad, and those who keep secrets cloaked so tightly they suffocate the keeper.  Let me explain.  Lawrence Block chose a number of Hopper paintings that raise questions.  How did the woman in the picture get to this place?  What are the two people on the porch discussing?  Why is she so sad - what happened, what might happen?  He then invited prominent writers to tell stories that answer those and other questions.

"Girlie show" is a dicey little number that takes us to the dark dressing room of a seedy "gentleman's club."  We also meet a chilly woman with less than a gentlemanly husband.  A few turns lead cleanly to the climax, and a not unexpected ending.

In fact, the second and third stories were predictable as well. but the noir storytelling style drew me in and kept me reading.  I have a sort of "rear window" perspective here.  None of these stories give me enough to like or dislike the character and so I feel like a peeper - looking in on the lives of people I wonder about but do not know.  

Looking forward to the rest of the stories.

Sorry. gotta wrap this up...lots of people doing last minute shopping.

Monday, December 12, 2016


Today, after twenty-four hours of lightly falling snow, shoveling, freezing, shoveling and freezing some more, it is clear that winter is upon us.  I won't mention the deep freeze we are promised for later this week and the predicted weekend snowstorm.

So many writers have celebrated winter, and on the written page - in poetry, essay, short story or novel - the whole concept of snow, hot chocolate and warm fires can't be beat.  For many winters in a row, I dug out my battered copy of LaVyrle Spencer's lusty novel, Bittersweet, just to read the passage about the endless Door County snowstorm.  Berner has chosen winter pieces somewhat more literary beginning with the late days of fall and Halloween to Groundhog and Valentine's Day.  Edgar Allan Poe and Italo Calvino gave us pieces to help fill the hours during these cold, cold months.  

Just paging through made me feel more positive about the months that generally seem so dark and dreary. The author includes information about Diwali, Kwanzaa and Dia de lo Reyes and tosses in some fine recipes so I can ring in Chinese New Year with a full out banquet!

The holidays bring in our once a year shoppers, visits from former students, and friends who have moved away but are back to visit family.  Inevitably, one or more of these drop-bys will ask "How much longer do you plan to do this?"  In fact, a former student who just changed jobs after 30 years (come on, I'm not as old as that makes me sound.  He started at his former place of employment when he was 16) asked me that very question.  (No comments about the disruptive parenthetical, please). 

 Truthfully, I have not set a date, nor have I given the matter serious thought.   When I do think about "retiring" I can only imagine my life as a full time couch potato, and while that might be good for a day or two, I know that I still get antsy when I have more than two days off in a row.  This time of year does stir up some regrets, however.  Watching that nice Pioneer Woman on the Cooking Channel baking cookies for all her friends and neighbors makes me sad that I don't have the time for those little kindnesses.  Instead, I fill my shopping cart wherever I go with hand warmers for the mail carriers, UPS and FedEx drivers. Apparently, this year my lack of cookie baking time guilt has escalated; I have about 100 packs of hand warmers to distribute.  Regret #2 is that, even though I am comfortable, fortunate in many, many ways, and have more than what I need in life, my cash flow isn't as predictable as it was when I was teaching and so I can't always contribute and much, as readily or to as many charities as I would like.  I try to pay to forward often, and share those hand warmers with the bell ringers.  But, in the big picture, those aren't big regrets and for that I am grateful.

I plan to be closed December 25, 26 and 27.  Good cookie baking days, I suppose.  

Thanks for stopping by.  

Monday, December 5, 2016

Book Lists

Two years ago, I thought reading every novel, short story, essay and magazine article that Hemingway wrote would be a good idea.  Two Hemingway's later I was sidetracks by books about Hemingway, and then books about people who knew Hemingway, and then books by anyone who had anything at all to say about Hemingway.  Overall, I'd give myself a D+ for that goal.

2016 seemed like a good year for mystery reading.  I had recently begun reading the Longmire series, in addition to developing an addicting to British crime dramas on PBS.  I did a little better with that - a strong C.

I just don't do well with setting goals and keeping personal promises.  that explains why I remain short and round.  Sure, I could change the short part easily by wearing stilettos with my jeans, but Reeboks are more my style.  I anticipate no changes in either of those dimensions in the coming year.

Last week, my friend Steve asked what my reading project for 2017 will be.  I wonder if it even pays to dream something up.  Lest you think I will list some of the many titles that led me astray from my year of murder and mayhem. Actually, last year we kept a list on display of what everyone who works here read.  If Debbie, Karen and I read the same book, you will see a number after the title showing how many of us read that book.  Jenny didn't get in on the list since she recently joined us again.  Jenny was actually the first person I hired when we opened almost 20 years ago.  The she finished college, bought her parents' farm and left us until recently.  I so happy she's back.'s a partial list of what we all have been reading.....

The Killing in Badger's Drift
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats X3
The Dinner X2
West with the Night X2
Finding Winnie
Deadly Wandering
Missoula (I read it twice)
A Man Called Ove X3
Eating the Cheshire Cat
In a Dark Dark Wood
Shotgun Lovesong X3
Beneath the Bonfire
At the Edge of the Orchard
Orphan Train X3
The Great Gatsby
The Museum of Extraordinary Things X2
Little Women X2
The Girls
Baby Girl X2
Chronicle of a Death Foretold X2
At the Existentialist Cafe
Everything I never Told You
I am Malala
Te Kitchen House
The Distance Between Us
A Walk in the Woods
The Coincidence of Coconut Cake X2
Glory Over Everything
One Child
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry X2
Memory of Running
The Paris Architect
The Hunger Games
Catching fire
A Stolen Life
Silken Prey
Songs of the Humpback Whale
Diamond Willow X2
Casual Vacancy
Freud's Mistress
A Wedding in December
Hand to Mouth

There you have it.

Other than the Hunger Games trilogy, I don't see any young adult or tween books on this list.  Maybe that's where I set my intentions and see how deeply into 2017 I get before the tugging in a different direction becomes impossible to resist.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Don't Sleep there are Snakes/The African Sveldt

"Words. Words. Words...."  I think it was Hamlet who chanted that word endlessly during one of his crazed moments, or one of his pseudo-crazed moments depending on where you fall on that interpretive continuum.  I spent the weekend with words and was finally able to get back to Everett's book.  This anti Noam Chomsky linguist tells a fine story woven with lots of intellectual and sociological goodness.  

Chomsky was the fellow who decided to simplify our understanding of language structure in a system he called "transformational grammar". Let me tell you, this man and his system caused untold sleepless nights for me.  I began teaching the year my district adopted a new text for Freshman which including a switch from traditional to t-grammar. What a nightmare.  It made no sense to me and I was lucky to stay one page ahead of my students.  Halfway through the year, after a momentous struggle with that crap, I discovered that the other 9th grade English teacher had secretly stashed the new text and had reverted to the tried and true system we were all used to.  

Chomsky asserts that all humans share the same underlying linguistic structure no matter what the sociocultural differences.  He rejects B.F. Skinner's notion that we are born with a tabula rasa - a blank canvas - and that language is a learned behavior.  I guess Chomsky would think that with some rudimentary study, it is possible to decode any and all language systems.

Along comes Daniel Everett who blows that theory all to heck.  He spent decades among a Brazilian tribe called the Piraha.  Their language appears to be 100% independent, having no relationship to any other known language.  They have no words for color or for niceties like "please" and "thank you."  They do not say "Good night" at the end of the day, instead warning "Don't sleep, there are snakes."  And there are!  And tarantulas. An vicious jungle animals.  The only number word they is "one".  

Here's a fun counting story.  While attempting to decipher their numbering system, Everett dropped a stick to the ground."  "One stick has fallen" he was taught in the native tongue. Then he dropped two sticks. The statement to define that action was "More than one stick fell to the ground."  

More than a linguistic study, the book chronicles Everett's evolution from missionary to atheist.  

Needing a break from the heavy duty language lesson, I read a few chapters in the book at the right.  The title pretty much sums it up.  I was expecting this to be a book of pictures and related language bloopers, and for sure, there is some of that. But it's mainly a collection of essays showing how complex and inventive English is and how, ironically, it works even when it doesn't.  Menaker manages to make logical sense out of many misspoken phrases including "never seizes to amaze me", "the throws of packing" and "I am sobbing wet".  All good fun.

Friend Steve recently inquired how my year of mystery reading went.  I'm not telling.  Let it be a mystery to you.

Thanks for stopping by.
Posts will be hit or miss in the coming weeks....although I will do my best to read a couple kids' books for you.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Different Class

My weeks are filling quickly with seasonal shopping, plans for the holidays, directing a children's play at UW-Manitowoc and Heart-A-Rama prep. Starting a book that I didn't feel compelled to committing to seemed smart, but that won't be the case. I had a hard time putting it down, and although I am not far, I can already tell's gonna be good.

For starters, I'm drawn to anything set in a school.  A British school makes it even better.  And a private school at that.  We all know those British, private school kids all have a secret life.  Then there's the fact that the book was written by Joanne Harris, author of Chocolate (which was made into a move starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp).  She never fails me.

Here's a concise bit from the back cover....

After thirty years at St. Oswald's Grammar in North Yorkshire, England, Latin master Roy Straitley has seen all kinds of boys come and go.  Each class has its clowns, rebels and underdogs - all who hold a special place in the old teachers. heart.  For the many good children Straitley has come across, he has seen his fair share of damaged ones - after all, St. Oswalds is no stranger to scandal.
      With insolvency and academic failure looming, a new headmaster arrives at the venerable school, bringing with him modern technology, sharp suits and even girls to the dusty corridors.  But while Straitley does his sardonic best to resist these steps toward the future, a shadow from his past begins to stir again.  A boy who still haunts Straitley's dreams twenty years later.  A boy capable of terrible things.  

The book alternates between the boy's diary written twenty years prior, and the present school year.  It is shaping up to be a doozie.

Before beginning a novel, I always red the author's bio.  I love this line about Harris -"She lives in Yorkshire with her family, plays bass in a band first formed when she was sixteen, works in a shed in her garden, likes musical theatre and old sci-fi, drinks rather too much caffeine, spends far too much time online, and occasionally dreams of faking her own death and going to live in Hawaii."

Thanks for stopping by....maybe I'll have some spoilers for you next week,

Monday, November 7, 2016

Little Women

Old fashioned.  Tender.  Sentimental.   Sweet. Yes, Louisa May Alcott's novel is all of these, but it also extols universal truths, both touching and hard edged.  Some people may argue that the four March sisters, having been groomed in skills needed by all good wives of their day, do not set reasonable examples for young girls reading the book and facing challenges of the 21st century.  It's true that with the exception of Beth, the sisters dream about the castles in the clouds, fine dresses and marriage.  But there's more. 

These are two pre-teen and two early teen girls who, along with their mother, keep a household organized and efficient while their father/husband is away at war.  The have little to live on and yet always find enough to share with neighbors who are less fortunate.  Meg works as a governess and Jo is a companion to an elderly aunt.  Each girl is her own person and not a paper doll, pliable to the expectation of society.  I found them to be real people, flawed like all of us.  

Alcott's writing shines in the two chapter devoted to Beth, the sister I would guess most 12 year-old girls are drawn to.  The second sister, Jo, probably challenged Alcott's first readers the most.  She is a tom-boy, quirky, witty, surly at times, and does something I believe to be rare in those day; she has a platonic relationship with a boy!  She also dreams of being a career woman, a writer and she relentlessly hones her craft. 

Meg, the oldest, is the first to marry and have children, twins.  Mothering does not come easily to her, especially with a high spirited son and a husband who is, in my opinion, a pill.  Admitting that motherhood can be draining and even sometimes impossible is a message that until recently was unacceptable.  Amy could be considered the most superficial of the group, yet she matures into a likeable person giving hope to parents and those who have difficult people in their lives.  

This book doesn't drip with saccharine as I thought it would.  Instead, I found it pleasant, sad, thoughtful and more than well worth the time it took to read the 400+ pages in tiny, tiny type.  I wonder if I would have been impressed had I read it when I should have, around age eleven.  I also wonder who tells people to read it now.  This is one of those books I hope will always find a place on bookshelves in many homes.  I hope reading it will be as pleasant a surprise to future readers as it was to me.

Thanks for stopping by.