The snag in being married to a person who knows more or less everything is that one gets hopelessly lazy. … I never look things up in books because all I need to do is ask him, and when he gives me the answers I don’t properly commit them to memory because I know if I forget all I have to do is to ask him again. It is rather like keeping one’s brain in a suitcase.
Alice Thomas Ellis
Tasha Tudor’s Garden written by Tovah Martin, lavishly photographed by Richard W. Brown and featuring Tasha Tudor’s famous watercolors, is one beautiful book. The book is astonishing, you’ll feel transported to Tasha Tudor’s home and her garden.
But what I found most endearing was it’s practical tone, for it’s more than a tour to dazzle the senses and leave you feeling an inadequate gardener indeed, it’s instructive. What’s her secret to those towering foxgloves?
Simple, manure tea.
This intimate and yet practical book will make you feel as if you have discovered the secret garden itself – but is that any surprise?
-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper Jr.
The Thanatos Syndrome is Walker Percy’s Sequel to “Love in The Ruins.” In 1989, Percy stated that, in The Thanatos Syndrome:
“I tried to show how, while truth should prevail, it is a disaster when only one kind of truth prevails at the expense of another. If only one kind of truth prevails — the abstract and technical truth of science — then nothing stands in the way of a demeaning of and a destruction of human life for what appear to be reasonable short-term goals.”
What book do you wish to hear? Sing-song! Sing-song!
What poet do you love best Dear? Rossetti! Rossetti!
Oh, let me read along!
-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.
My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distill as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass. Deuteronomy 32:2
Cool drops felt
I cross myself.
But your tender,
at the small rain.
-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper Jr.
Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser is an amazing read. While I don’t agree with many of his solutions, the terrible and largely unforeseen consequences of Fast Food and Big agriculture are brought to light (and it’s not just about health concerns). Like it or not, the fast food industry has changed the way we farm, eat, advertise and shop. Throughout the book Scholosser seems to be pushing for unions and more government regulations to solve these problems but in the end it’s about getting people to opt out on a large scale. It’s informative, gripping, disturbing and yet he also maintains a sense of humor- Investigative journalism at it’s best.
I’ve read her first book Frost in May last year and found her storytelling simple and completely engrossing. The second book, The Lost Traveller, is just as engaging and accessible as the first, the characters absorbing and writing clear. I am waiting for the heartbreak though. You sense a tragic tone from the onset.
I’m also reading (thoroughly skimming?) Nourishing Traditions, rereading Woods Etc., avoiding journaling and in denial about my lack of interest in Theodore Roethke’s poetry, despite my love for his poem the Root Cellar.
My husband’s nightstand, however, remains focused and avoids such disillusionments:
What’s on your nightstand this month?
You’ve often heard books praised as life-changing. And every book we read must inevitably change our lives, for good or ill. We can’t measure the impact of a book and books that outwardly have no effect may be the ones that cause internal seismic shifts, unfelt.
However there is a handful of books I’ve read in the past few years that had a very definite effect on my daily life.
The Lost Traveller by Antonia White. Reading Antonia White’s Clara quartet was a vindicating experience: just to see emotional and situational territory I’d felt alone in expressed so precisely in printed words. But one passage from The Lost Traveller gave me insight into my daughter, rather than consolation for myself. Clara never tells her mother how much she longed for siblings, especially brothers. I’d never been able to quite kill the hope that I might have another child or more children, a sibling for my daughter. Reading this passage, I was able to fully recognize my own maternal desire, for another child, yes, but also for the blessing a sibling could still be for my firstborn. This passage silenced the inner voice that was always droning “too late.”
The Far Cry by Emma Smith. It was a quote from dialogue on the very last pages of this book that dried up my discouragement toward the beginning of this year. I won’t quote it because it gets its full impact from everything that comes before. But I was able to accept a failure that threatened to cripple me with remorse and instead use that dead body as a stepping stone into a new pattern of life. What was this new pattern? I will say that another book that helped me into it was The Art of the Handwritten Note by Margaret Shepherd.
A truly life-changing read from several years ago was Our Lady of Kibeho by Immaculee Ilibagiza. This book was one of the catalysts of a new founding at a point of profound personal crisis. It helped me make, with painstaking care, a new synthesis of life directed by the Virgin Mary. The Seven Sorrows rosary was key in that reconstruction. And this book made me *want* to pray it.
Mrs. Renner managed the classroom with authority, humor and a pinch of sarcasm. She was probably the best teacher I ever had; for she introduced us to good books. We read: Where the Red Fern Grows, Number The Stars, The Phantom Tollbooth, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Bridge to Terabithia.
I didn’t realize at the time what an impact those books would make on me or how they would help me later in life. When Mrs. Renner read to us, we weren’t listening to improve our language skills, we were encountering life, it’s beauty and it’s pains. These books taught us how to live, how to cope with boredom, loss, how to think.
I don’t remember ever being tested on these readings, they were given without attachment to scores, or outcomes. Mrs. Renner did not come between the student and the book. This made all the difference; these books spoke and she simply let them.
I was not a big reader at the time, but I quickly became entranced by Billy’s love for his two dogs Old Dan and Little Ann, Karana’s shrewdness, her grief at losing her brother, Annemarie’s courage, Milo’s adventures, but Bridge to Terabithia was my favourite.
Initially, I was disappointed that Terabithia was not another Narnia. A new world did not unfold, rather a sad story of friendship. In it I encountered grief in a new way. In Island of the Blue Dolphins the struggles were of a far off land in circumstances beyond my little world but in this one, loss was confronted in everyday life. The book stayed with me as good books do.
Four years later, my younger brother fell from a tree in our backyard woods and died. Those woods were our romping grounds. We were children in those woods, warriors, pioneers, confederate soldiers, doctors, nurses and then we weren’t. Childhood ended with the shock of death, the sharp pain of loss, the dull ache of grief.
As a Catholic, I had hope in eternal life. As a young girl with no actual experience of death until then, books inadvertently became a guide to grief. Thankfully, good ones had been set in my path by a good and loving teacher. And when I had the courage to walk in those woods again, Billy, Karana, Annemarie, Milo, Jess and Leslie all came back to me, their losses, their grief, their grit. I was not alone.
When I was about twelve, my mother checked an interesting book out of the library. She returned it unread but not before I’d opened it and read the magical first paragraphs about a god-like white horse wandering loose through the snowy streets of New York. I did not read the book all the way through until I was a graduate student but in the earliest hours of the morning, through the years, I’d find myself half-dreaming that opening scene. The book was Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin.
Long before I returned to Winter’s Tale however, I came across another Mark Helprin book at a house where I was babysitting. During the kid’s naptime, I lost myself in a lyrical, luminous retelling of Swan Lake illustrated by Chris van Allsburg. On a pad of paper in the kitchen, I copied my favorite passage, about places and how vastly they can differ from each other, about “charged landscapes that can put together broken hearts or at least keep them from shattering to pieces.”
The book was a storybook but it was also wisdom literature, not afraid to digress and effloresce, offering proverbs and asides that resonated among my own inner musings, making music there. To escape the cage without breaking it. Watchers of the sky and riders of horses. Love for all is love for none. Those who are pure. Those who suffer. Those who wait. Hippopotamuses and pins. The pictures were both crisp and misty, magnificent and simplified. Their unexpected perspectives set butterflies of delight dancing in my stomach, like pans in an IMAX theatre.
A sad tale’s best for winter. Helprin’s Swan Lake had a regal dignified sadness that I appreciated as I moved out of childhood. The indestructible love that can exist between parents and child against all odds was theme I was later to find repeated in his fiction for grown-ups. But I read Swan Lake at the perfect time for me to read it. It helped me understand the delicacy of escaping the cage that threatens to close around a child without breaking it. And so helped me to make that same so important escape.
This evening I found myself looking at an old journal and reading the details of my own past life like a novel. I would never have remembered all this if I hadn’t written it down but, unlike with a novel, I didn’t just imagine the events I was reading about, I really did remember them.
On one of the pages, I’d copied out this poem.
I must tell you how it happened,
Believe it or do not –
An episode to end housewarmings
In granaries of song.
I say, the drowsy blossom closing,
A bee was trapped within;
Moonlight passed through clouds and darkness
Till lawns lay diamonded.
Then spirits stalked to beg for baptism
In the open halls of night,
Their silent footfalls never troubled
The clovers’ sleep nor mine.
Astonishing – that one night’s hostel,
The thousand shimmered dreams –
Who knows sleep’s charm inside a blossom,
Except the captive bee?
Leonardas Andriekus was a Lithuanian poet and a Franciscan priest. He died in 2003, not so long ago. I loved this poem all over again when I rediscovered it tonight. The spirits begging for baptism bespeak a uniquely priestly nightmare.
Let’s pray this month for the souls of the dead still longing for heaven, for the souls of the living in desperate need of baptism.