Friday, 31 October 2014

The Orchard by Theresa Weir

The Orchard by Theresa Weir
   In preparation for our book club discussion of "The Orchard", I have been thinking about the different covers.  I love this cover, because it centres on the love story that is at the 'core' of the novel.  The orchard surrounds the couple and there is a swirling design around the page.  Does that represent the pesticides?  There seem to be nozzles at the top and bottom.  If so, it may to be showing the illusion of the perfect orchard.  The reality is that the pesticides are killing not only fish and plants, but people also.  But this novel has a fairy tale quality with the aspect of magic and enchantment.  As you read this book, you hope for the happy ending, but know that it cannot happen.
  The author admits to have written the book in order to illuminate environmental concerns. But this is actually her biography.  She did live on an orchard and speaks of the farming practices in 1996.

   This second cover presents only the story of the apple, but you can see that the apple is not going to be eatable.  Perhaps this cover is more simple and profound.  However, it is the personal story that I was drawn to and this cover doesn't nearly represent the book as I experienced it.
  Concerns about chemicals are not new. In 1962, Rachel Carson's book "Silent Spring" really caused a 'stir'.  She wrote in a very different fashion.  From her experience as a marine biologist, she wrote facts and really attacked the use of DDT.  The chemical industry spent 1/4 million dollars to discredit her and her research.  However, the then-president of the U.S.- John F. Kennedy paid attention and ordered investigations, which led to the banning of DDT.  This was called 'the book that changed the world'. Part of this article is shown here.  Unfortunately, the middle of the story is missing.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Living with Joy

  "Until I Say Good-Bye:
My Year of Living With Joy"
  by Susan Spencer-Wendel
   This book, recommended by a friend, was a great discovery!  Particularly at this time of year.  This is an autobiography of Susan, who died of ALS at 47.  That is the age our son was when he died last year.  So, on the anniversary, it is very helpful to read about Susan's uplifting thoughts, beginning with this great poem:

        Happy the Man
Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
Be fair or foul or rain or shine
The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.
Not Heaven itself upon the past has power,
But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.
                     John Dryden

   Susan was a journalist with three children when she was diagnosed with ALS.  She realized that she may only have a year of reasonable health, so she decided to live it with joy.  She organized trips to the Yukon, Hungary, the Bahamas, and Cyprus with the people who were important in her life.  And, like a good journalist, she wrote about her experiences.
   Her book is enormously inspirational- from reminders to look up and appreciate the sky, to quotes such as this one from Dr. Seuss: "Don't cry because it's over.  Smile because it happened."
   The first chapter is about swimming with the dolphins with her nine-year-old son and the last chapter is about a trip to Sanibel Island, Florida, with her 11-year-old son.  The trips were not ideal- many things went wrong.  But Joy's attitude surmounted every disaster.  She knew that events rarely happen as anticipated, but they are perfect moments nevertheless.  She accepted life the way it happened.  Her advice: "Don't force the world to be the one you dream.  The reality is better".
   As her health deteriorated, she was writing with one thumb on her iPhone.  She did finish the book and lived to see it published.

"Every day is better when it is lived with joy".

Friday, 24 October 2014

Food for Thought

Thought for Today:

Readers may be divided into four classes:
1. Sponges, who absorb all that they read and return it in nearly the same state, only a little dirtied. 
2. Sand-glasses, who retain nothing and are content to get through a book for the sake of getting through the time. 
3. Strain-bags, who retain merely the dregs of what they read. 
4. Mogul diamonds, equally rare and valuable, who profit by what they read, and enable others to profit by it also. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, poet, critic (1772-1834) 

Next week I will be leading the discussion in two book clubs so I am working on the challenges of number four, mulling over the best way to profit from a book.

Monday, 20 October 2014

North Dakota, 1951

   I read about this book on a blog that I follow.  It seemed like a great change for me.  North Dakota.  I loved driving through that state.  It seemed to be a journey book and I was hoping to recapture the feel of North Dakota.  I was unfamiliar with the author.
   Well,  it certainly did make me feel that I was traveling in North Dakota.  The writing was so descriptive! This author can certainly write!
   There were not many characters in the novel, but there were some to love and some to hate.  Love that!  And the writing enabled me to really get to know all of them.  Margaret and George Blackledge are the main characters- grandparents to a little boy.  After their son died, their daughter-in-law lived with them for awhile until she was swept off her feet by Donnie Weboy, who took the boy and his mother to live with his 'clan' in Montana.  Well, Grandma is worried about the grandson and sets off to bring him home.
   Margaret, the grandmother, was described this way: "A woman willing to plunge into any water, no matter how icy or swift, if she has a reason to get to the other side."  But can she take on 'the Weboy tribe'?
  I found myself completely drawn into this story.  Beautiful language!  But..but..but.  What has happened to quotation marks?????

Friday, 17 October 2014


   Some people collect cookbooks.  I have never done that.  I am not great in the kitchen and the only cookbooks that I recall buying were "Magnificent Cookies Cookbook" and "Simply Souper".  I used to bake a lot of cookies and I loved making soup.
   But this is a cookbook that I wish I had bought.
"Fresh From the Farm: a year of recipes and stories".

   We visited the author, Susie Middleton, on her farm when we were on Martha's Vineyard.  She is a fascinating woman who has a great story to tell.  And she tells about it in this cookbook.  Susie had a corporate job, but finds much greater satisfaction from life on the farm.  She grows fruit and vegetables and writes great recipes for preparing them.  She has added chickens and cannot keep up the demand for fresh eggs.

  This little store on her property gives local people a chance to buy her produce.  It is run on the honour system.  Help yourself.

   Some of our group bought her book "Fresh From the Farm" and report that the book explains techniques for cooking vegetables that you can use often.  The gingery brussel sprouts and roasted broccoli florets tasted great and the recipes were easy to follow.  
  I have just discovered that this book is in the library so I will check it out and try some of the recipes and also read about Susie's mid-life change in career.
   Then I may decide to buy it.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Martha's Vineyard- afterthoughts

                    Here are my fellow 'Bookwomen' in Edgartown Inn in Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard.

 While on my "Bookwomen" experience in Martha's Vineyard, our group met 6 authors, a publisher, 2 book store owners, a curator at the museum, and a spokeswoman for the Wampanoag people.  All these women added to our understanding of the island and its history.

Laura Wainwright
view from Laura's house

Laura Wainwright invited us to her home for freshly-made pie.  She has written a delightful book of essays on daily life on Martha's Vineyard- "Home Bird".  The recipe for the cranberry pie came from her book and was delicious!
She chatted with us by a fire.  So cozy!  Just like her book!

We met June Manning at the Aquinnah Cliffs where there were some shops run by the Wampanoag people. She spoke eloquently about the Wampanoag people who lived on Martha's Vineyard when the Pilgrims arrived in 1620.
We had discussed "Caleb's Crossing" by Geraldine Brooks, where the Wampanoag people were important to the story.  So, it was interesting to hear from this very involved Wampanoag woman about the life of her people on Martha's Vineyard today.

Cynthia Riggs is a fascinating woman who writes a murder mystery series with a 92-year-old sleuth.  Cynthia is working on the twelfth book in the series. She talked about writing, not from a summary or plot but just as the story comes into her mind.  Her characters are based on real people and she is often seen wearing a shirt that says: "Careful or you'll end up in my novel".  Loved her!

This beautiful room was the setting for a talk by Shirley Mayhew, a photographer/writer, and Susanna Sturgis, whose novel "Mud of the Place" was one of our discussion books.

The 'Bookwomen' greatly enjoyed the 5-day event on Martha's Vineyard with so many rich experiences!
Our thanks to 'Bookwomen' organizer, Molly Hoban.
Molly is the co-founder of Minnesota Women's Press in St. Paul, Minnesota.  She creates these 'Bookwomen' opportunities for women to meet, read, learn, write , talk and explore.
Thanks, Molly!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Martha's Vineyard : Book 5

"Caleb's Crossing" by Geraldine Brooks takes place on Martha's Vineyard in 1660.  It follows a group of Puritans that broke away from the larger Massachusetts settlement.
It is a fictional account of Caleb, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College.
The story is told by Bethia, the daughter of the preacher, who believes herself to be very sinful because she loves nature and has a great thirst for knowledge.  She also has great ability in language and learns to communicate with the Wampanoag.

Geraldine Brooks
Geraldine Brooks was born in Australia
and now lives on Martha's Vineyard.
She has written 6 books, winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for "March".

I had previously read "Caleb's Crossing" and was happy to re-read it for this event.
I had also read these books by Geraldine Brooks:

"March" by Geraldine Brooks
Louisa May Alcott fictionalized her life in her novel "Little Women" written in 1868.  Geraldine Brooks took the story of Alcott's father, Bronson Alcott, and fictionalized that.
Actually, Bronson Alcott never did go to war, but it made an interesting narrative to put this man with abolitionist and transcendental convictions into the role of a union chaplain.  He ended up in spiritual torment, but wrote beautiful letters home to his family.
I read this book in 2012 for a book club.
It is a fascinating novel.  The story is not linear and is a little confusing but I appreciated the way Brooks put words together.

"Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women"
I read this when it came out in 1995.   It was fascinating and disturbing.
The title comes from Muhammad's son-in-law who said, "Almighty God created sexual desire in ten parts; then he gave nine parts to women and one to man".
This is completely non-fiction, with a great deal of research, giving great insight into the women in the Middle East.
It explains honor killings, death for homosexuals, and clitoridectomy- all horrific subjects.
Very well- written.

I programmed these blogs to be posted while I was away. 
I will return from Martha's Vineyard by the next posting.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Martha's Vineyard : Book 4

author Dorothy West
"The Wedding"
Dorothy West
(1907 - 1998)
Dorothy was the last living member of the Harlem Renaissance.
She wrote her first story at 7 and continued writing short stories and publishing magazines. Her work is ground-breaking in her portrayal of African Americans.  She was one of the first black women to have her works published.
At 85, she finished her second novel "The Wedding".  It was made into a 2-part miniseries by Oprah Winfrey.
Dorothy dedicated her book to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, her editor, who died before the book was published.

This is a small but powerful book.  The story takes place in two days, but there are many back-stories of ancestors.
"The Wedding" is about to take place on Martha's Vineyard in the 1950's, where there really was a community of wealthy blacks in an area called "The Oval". The theme is very obviously bigotry- colour and social standing. "The right colour was preferable, but not as mandatory as the right class." But the book begins with a quote about love:
I Corinthians 13: 4-7. "Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.... It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things".
The marriages in the story are never based on love, but on what is 'needed' in a partner.
The writing is amazing!  Some sentences are so full of metaphors that it takes a few minutes to figure out what is being said.
The characters are compelling and strongly developed.  The message is strong!
About Shelby's marriage:  "That union in the time of generation, would return to its origination, the colored blood drained out, degree by degree, until none was left, either known or remembered."
About the future generation:
"I wanted to fight the whole white race for her but she must do it herself.  It's a private and internal struggle.  And to win she will have to fight back without bitterness, not replacing her hurt with hate but letting hurt enrich her experience."
Powerful novel!

Friday, 3 October 2014

Martha's Vineyard : Book 3

"The Mud of the Place" by Susanna F. Sturgis
The title comes from this quote by Grace Paley:
"If your feet aren't in the mud of a place, you'd better watch where your mouth is".

Susanna is a writer who lives on Martha's Vineyard.  She has written essays, reviews and poems for gay publications.
There are two gay relationships in this novel.

In the novel, one of the characters is commenting on a new book that has been published, describing it thus: "Nick's book has a moody monochromatic cover".
How's this for a moody, monochromatic cover?

  For the first half of this book, I felt that I was struggling through mud!  There is an overabundance of characters, an overabundance of plot lines, and an overabundance of description.
   I can't begin to describe the plot.  I will just say that it shows how difficult it was for gays and lesbians to keep a job in 1997, especially if that job involved children.
  All through the novel, you are expecting a 'big reveal'.  When it turns out that the protagonist is gay, it seems anticlimatic.  What's the big deal?  I guess that says a lot about how attitudes have changed.
  All in all, it was a sinister look at Martha's Vineyard.
"Most of us crawl around under our own little carapaces, and no one ever bothers to knock on the top.  No one cares what's going on inside.  Go through the motions, meet your obligations; that's all that really matters".
  In the acknowledgements, the author says that Martha's Vineyard is not an easy place to live.  How different from the last book -"Home Bird".