Archive | Books RSS feed for this section

Comfort Books

11 Sep

I don’t have comfort food. I have comfort books. There are certain books which, if I’m feeling ill or weary, I’ll go to on the shelves. The Chronicles of Narnia, Anne of Green Gables, Harry Potter. (Obviously there’s a theme to my comfort books!) Just the title, “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” makes me feel happy. That book, plus a cup of coffee with just a tad bit of cream…well, what more could a girl ask for?

I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. I had shelves along three walls of my bedroom growing up – not the entire walls, and there were just three shelves, but there were so many books that I sort of grew up in a library. If I sneezed, I knew the Kleenexes were located between C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. It was a handy thing to know.

The living room in the house I grew up in had (surprise!) four walls: one wall had the fireplace, one was a huge sliding glass door out to the deck, one was floor to ceiling windows (and it was a cathedral ceiling, so yeah, a lot of glass) and the last wall was floor to ceiling book shelves.

In other words, my parents had a lot of books.

When it came time for us to move out of that house, the ratio of boxes of books to boxes of everything else was pretty humorous. I’d wager that the ratio was about equal, actually, though I might be wrong. There might have been more boxes of books.

Over the years I have come to follow in my parent’s footsteps. Though, I admit, this hasn’t always been a good thing. Especially when, combined with my husband’s appreciation of the written word, it means that the bookshelves in the playroom (yes, books belong in the playroom) are three-deep, resulting in our Ikea shelving giving way over the summer and revealing a terrible truth: we needed to thin out our library.

And so began a process which is almost done – I say almost because really, it must continue if I’m ever going to buy more books…which of course I am. We started sorting and the piles grew higher and higher: piles for give-away. Piles for the library book sale. Piles for nieces and nephews. As the process went on, it became easier and easier to ditch certain books. You know: the ones that weren’t mine.

But when it came to my books…oy, that wasn’t so easy. I mean, maybe I don’t want to read it ever again, but maybe my kids will someday? And hey, this is a classic, we can’t get rid of this. And my old college anthologies will come in useful someday. You know…when our kids go off to college and maybe find themselves doing research into late 1980’s textbooks…

Okay, okay. I know. I still have some work to do. But for now, the shelves are fixed. The books are neat. Everything fits. And who knows? Maybe when I bring the biggest box of all to the Bookshop in Sioux Falls to sell, they’ll give me so much money for them that I can shop to my heart’s content and get a whole lot of new books? Won’t that be fun?

Trouble is, my husband says that we need to have a new goal of getting rid of one book for every new one we buy.

(Why do you think I kept all those anthologies?)

Okay. Gotta go. I’ve got some book readin’ to do.

The Telling Stone

12 May

Hey! It’s me again. I’ve been writing for a newspaper, creating a radio show, finishing up writing my second book (though the first one still is sitting on the shelf for a few months waiting for me to edit it down yet again) and doing all of the usual things a mom of a 15, 13, and 8 year old does all day. I’m hoping to begin shopping around for a publisher for this second book by autumn.

Obviously, all of my writing and running around hasn’t included much blogging. But here I am for today, at least!

A few years ago I reviewed a book written by my friend, Maureen McQuerry. (You can read that review here.) Today I get to review a second book by Maureen! I know that book reviews by friends are perhaps subject to suspicion. I mean, she’s my friend for a reason and I’d probably like anything she likes, right?

Not necessarily. I have a lot of friends who, if they wrote books, I’d never be able to honestly write my opinion of them because while they may be my friends…they don’t necessarily read and/or write stuff that I’d agree with or enjoy.

But, thankfully, I like Maureen’s book. A lot.

I have always like fantasy books. C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien were some of my favorites. Still are. I also like a lesser-known children’s writer, also British, named Susan Cooper. In fact, for years I regretted the fact that I had not kept my series of Susan Cooper books, The Dark is Rising. Well, turns out, my mom had given them to my sister and she had given them to her daughters and finally, a few years back, I got them back.

Horray!

These books are fantasy, yes, but they’re more myth-based, and less magic-centered. Yes, there’s magic, but it’s not Harry Potter flashy magic, it’s more subtle, more realistic, if that’s possible to say!

Enter Maureen’s Time Out of Time series. Book one, Beyond the Door, came out last year. I enjoyed it as a well-written, entertaining, appropriate-for-kids book. I didn’t LOVE it, but I liked it. It reminded me of the Cooper books, and that felt good.

Then along came it’s sequel, available as of today, The Telling Stone.

This time I loved the book. I tend to like children’s books anyway (the kind kids call “chapter books”), but so often these days there is something in them to hold back my full love. They’re inappropriate in spots, or they’re badly written. This book is neither of those things. (Not that any of Maureen’s books are!)

Here’s my official review. (Yes, I’ve learned to be more succinct since the first review I wrote of her book, The Peculiars as linked above!)

The Telling Stone, while a sequel to Beyond the Door, stands perfectly well on its own. Full of adventure from the start, the story keeps its readers hooked though intrigue, suspense, and compelling characters. I felt like a kid again, sitting in my playhouse reading Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, books which I have gone back to as an adult. The Telling Stone too, will bring me back in the future because it is told by a writer who correctly handles her research. She includes interesting details that don’t overwhelm, has realistic characters and exciting plot twists, all of which prove McQuerry’s powers as an exceptional storyteller. We need more books like this in today’s world!

So there you go. Buy it for yourself. Buy it for your kids or grandkids or neighbor’s kids. Or at least ask your local library to acquire it. Thanks!

And I’ll be back again…hopefully more reliably soon…

Here’s the Amazon link…http://www.amazon.com/Time-out-Book-Telling-Stone/dp/1419714945/ref=pd_sim_14_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=0NJQCF6HPC3GN7PW45J2

“Hang it All!”

14 Jan

I recently finished reading a book. It was a good book, well-written, kept me interested all the way through. But then I got to the last page. Only I didn’t realize it was the last page. I was reading on my Kindle and so there was no thickness of the remaining pages to clue me in. I knew from the “% read” at the bottom of the screen that I was nearly done. Knew too, that there was no Glossary or Tolkien-esque appendix that took up half of the book, but I assumed, as I pressed the “Next Page” button, that there would be an epilogue if not a short final chapter.

I read to the end of the page. I turned to the next. And the book was done. And I did what I have never done before. I shouted,

“You jerk!”

as if the author could hear me.

I am a person who likes her loose ends tied up. As a writer I keep a list of loose ends that I must not forget about. As a reader I do this too, only they’re mental lists and not separate files on my computer.

Loose ends Drive Me Bananas. And the loose ends in this book I read were HUGE.

I suppose you’re all dying to know what the book was. I debated telling you or not, but I guess I will because I’m not saying she is a bad writer, or that I disliked the book…I just HATED being left hanging!

I know, I know: it’s a writer’s prerogative. She or he can do whatever they like and if they like leaving their readers unfulfilled, well, fine. They have a right. For whatever reason, she wanted to leave the reader wondering, pondering, considering her book as we drive down the road to pick our children up from school. She wanted us to think. She wanted us to have lively discussions at book club – which I know we will! She wanted us to blog about it.

And so I say to Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder, yes, you’ve made me think. You’ve made me consider Easter’s fate and the narrator’s future and the crotchety doctor’s wishes as I wash the dishes and fold the clothes and do other things that I’m too proper to write about.

And you’re driving me nuts.

So my question for you all is this: do you like loose ends that make you think? Or do you wish that all authors would tie their loose ends up in pretty bows that don’t stress you out and cause you to call them names when you reach the last page and discover THE END written in nasty, bold letters?

As my children like to ask, “Which would you rather?”

Dear Mr. Sedaris,

24 Sep

Ok, so I’m still writing newspaper articles and ignoring my blog. That is why I’m giving you this, a letter I wrote several months ago, addressing David Sedaris, author of Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls. I have never actually sent a letter to an author before because I never cared enough. I shy away from controversy. I shy away from talking about my faith. But there are times when I get hot under the collar and reading this book was one of those times. So I’m posting my letter. I’m doubting that he’ll ever see it, but who knows? Maybe I’ll actually send it to him one day. But, for now, here it is for you…should you care to read on!

Dear Mr. Sedaris,

I bought Me Talk Pretty Someday several years ago, thinking at the time that it was some sort of tie-in to Roger’s and Hammerstein’s South Pacific – a sort of newly-popular version, perhaps, that I kept hearing about – a “Happy Talk” book that sounded to me, an optimist, like a good read.

I was not disappointed when I discovered that it had nothing to do with beaches, the Second World War, or sailors seducing young natives…or was it the other way around? I was a little bit disappointed that it had nothing to do with getting rid of gray hair, as that has been a recent torment in my life. I enjoyed the book and I laughed often as I read it – even reading bits out loud to my husband who, perhaps, did not laugh quite as hard as I did as I read them, but who, nevertheless, deigned to smile.

After reading that book I moved on to other books, not really even realizing that you had others published. I saw your sister Amy on television a few times and finally connected the dots that she is, in fact, your sister. She’s hilarious, by the way. She about gave me a side ache from laughing when she was on Martha Stewart.

Then, this spring, I saw that you had a new book coming out – and I loved the title from the moment I saw it. So, eagerly awaiting the day when my Amazon Wish List could take residence in my Amazon shopping cart, I bought Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls a month or so ago and began reading it last week, after finally finishing up the Percy Jackson books my son implored me to read.

I dug into your book, admiring anew your writing style and remembering how much I enjoy short, easy-to-read-between-making soup, doing laundry, filtering cold-pressed coffee, and-actually-drinking-it activities that consume my day. (That sentence may not have made a lot of sense, grammatically, but I hope you got the gist of it. Or is it gyst? I like that better, actually, but my computer says no.)

Anyway, I began reading it and was liking it until I got to the chapter, “If I Ruled the World”. Okay, okay, yes, you can write what you like and no one is forcing me to read and/or buy it. But I just was so sad and surprised by it because I didn’t see it coming. I mean, you crack me up – and so little literature does that well these days – and then you kinda punched me.

It’s like this: I love Jesus. I truly do. And I believe, fervently, that He is hugely misrepresented in our world today. He doesn’t make or want people to do so many of the things that they do in His name. People are running around saying and doing all sorts of stupid and hate-filled things in the name of Christ, and I imagine that it hurts Him deeply to see that happening in this world He created.

One of those irksome things – albeit a small one – is that people want me to “like” Jesus on Facebook! Come on! I like Jesus – but that doesn’t mean I have to lower Him to a Facebook button. Eww.

Jesus doesn’t need me to be His fan or even to defend Him. He can defend Himself. I’m not writing to you to convert you or to be weird or to fill your inbox with defensive dogma. I just want to tell you that I was so very disappointed by that chapter. I was not expecting to be insulted when I read your book…and yet that’s how I felt. I understand that it was done under the guise of humor…but it was so not funny. I guess I just think that if you knew Jesus the way I do, you might actually be surprised, ‘cause the guy I know is so much better than the image the world has forced upon Him. That guy loves you. Beyond imagination. I so wish you could see Him without the filter of the world’s garbage…

Oh, and yes, I noticed that you even capitalized your pronouns when referring to Him. Somehow that just made it worse.

What is your real view of Jesus, Mr. Sedaris? (I’d call you David, but that seems presumptuous.) How do you really see Him? Do you know that He loves you, no matter what?

Oh, I feel like there is so much I could say, but I won’t. It’s hard to talk about Jesus – hard to know the right words. It’s like trying to describe your imaginary friend whom you’ve known since childhood – BUT HE’S NOT IMAGINARY…just kinda invisible. And yet not. And He’s powerful. And beyond comprehension. How does one describe THAT? How does one describe what one truly believes, based on experience, one enormous book, and a lifetime of faith?

Faith is hard to clothe.

Anyway, I guess I’ve said what I wanted to say and probably – as is usual for me – in far too many words. It’s 10:34 at night and I probably won’t ever send this, but, then again, maybe I will just to let you know that you make me smile so very often…which is why I wish so hard that you hadn’t punched me.

Sincerely,
Gretchen O’Donnell

PS – I wish I’d known your sister “Gretchen” when I was growing up – I needed all the Gretchens I could find just to not feel like it was a freakish name!

PPS – I could totally relate to your colonoscopy experience as I myself find all the irritating preparations worth the ten minutes of blissful drug-induced waking up afterwards. Does this mean I have an addictive personality? Or does that mean that people are addicted to my personality? I’ve never been sure of that, but the fact that not everyone who meets me fall madly in love with me, perhaps proves the first thing true and not the second.

PPPS (Sorry, this is getting ridiculous) – I have to admit that I skipped your poem at the end of the book. Just couldn’t take anymore. I apologize. Then again, I don’t apologize at all. I’m a bit of a prude, I suppose, but I’m okay with that.

The Mystery is Solved

23 Jul

I probably will never be able to pinpoint the exact moment in time that I knew I wanted to become a writer. Nor, for that matter, will I be able to pinpoint the precise reason. All I know is that when I was a kid I loved to read and I want to write books for other kids of that age to help them love reading as well as I did.

There were many places – both real and unreal – that fed my love of reading. Narnia, Middle Earth, Walnut Grove, Prince Edward Island. And there were authors: Susan Cooper, Madeline L’Engle, Enid Blyton, Author Ransome, Elizabeth Goudge. There were characters I fell in love with, and pets, there were styles of writing that I adored, and others that I found irritating or dull. There were turns of phrase, and words too, that changed my vocabulary, causing one friend in college to remark, “Gretchen, you have an entirely different vocabulary than I do.” Which, while untrue in many ways, was, perhaps, tinged with truth. I like to think that I never used those words to sound pretentious (the word I had used in that conversation was “vernacular” – not such a bizarre word, I didn’t think) but, perhaps, without meaning to, I sometimes did…

I recently returned from a wonderful vacation out on Orcas Island, Washington. I’ll post more about that in days to come. But for now, I’ll set the beaches and mountains and reunions aside to tell you about one small incident that occurred on the vacation that made my day…or, rather, my decade. At least in a literary sense.

For about ten years I have been searching for one of my favorite childhood books. Every so often I’d think of it and go to the internet to have a search. Only trouble was, I couldn’t remember the title, let alone the author. I thought the title was “The Mystery of the Hidden Staircase.” But every time I searched for that – or any variety thereof (The Mystery of the Lost Staircase, The Hidden Stairs, The Mysterious Staircase) – my search would come up with Nancy Drew books.

Not what I was looking for.

I even went so far as to inquire from a bookseller once if the book he was selling was set in Quebec and contained chapter titles about staircases. He never responded.

For, you see, those were the two of the four things I remembered about the book. I remembered the setting, I remembered the stairs, I remembered that somehow whistling came into play, and I remembered that the protagonist was a little girl and she solved the mystery of the stairs.

Beyond that I was stumped.

I did hold out one glimmer of hope over the years. My niece. She told me that she had a box of children’s books in storage and that when she could, she’d pull it out for me to look through. Finally the stars aligned and I was in Washington when the book box was available and so was I. Turns out there were actually two boxes. My hopes grew…yet I dared not hold out too much hope…it just seemed too much of a reach to think that they would have held on to that book for so many years.

I opened the first box. Lots of great books!! But not THE book.

Then I opened the second box.

I lifted out a book. Nope. Then set aside a few more, knowing they weren’t IT. Then I took out a gray, thin, hardback book.

The Mystery of Lonsome Manor, by Harriet Evatt.

DSC_0887

My heart began to race. Could it be?

I turned to the Table of Contents. Quickly scanned, my hopes grew.

Then I turned to page one, chapter one. The words, “French Canada” jumped out at me. I flipped a few more pages. An Indian – yes, that sounds familiar, albeit politically incorrect – a sledge, a girl, the old manor house. Suddenly I knew and I shouted out in the middle of my niece’s living room, “This is IT!!!!!”

I didn’t cry. I didn’t hug it to my chest. What I did was stand up from my place on the floor, walk to my purse, put the book in my purse and zip it shut. It rode home with me in my carry-on, not in the large Huggies Diaper box full of books that we checked as luggage.

Filled with books - from the sublime to the absurd.  But all worth the search.

Filled with books – from the sublime to the absurd. But all worth the search.

You may be thinking that I read it as soon as I possibly could.

Nope.

I savored it first. Reveled in the anticipation. I even finished the book I was currently reading first (I was almost done with it) simply because I loved the feeling of KNOWING I had it. I even let my daughter start reading it on the plane.

And then, the afternoon of our first day home, I began to read. I finished it before bed.

And no, I was not disappointed.

Oh, it’s a little politically incorrect, as I mentioned, and it’s a wee bit old-fashioned (it’s copywrite is 1962) and it’s very abrupt in its mystery-solving (no prolonged searches or plot twists), but it was simple and sweet and a wee bit exciting and definitely a little mysterious.

I love it.

And that’s why I write. So that someone, someday, when he or she is 43 and wracking their minds for a good book for their daughter to read, or desperately searching for that book they loved as kids, will think of my book.

And be glad.

%d bloggers like this: