Book reviews

What’s On Your Nightstand?

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.

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The Lost Traveller by Antonia White.

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.

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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:

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What’s on your nightstand this month?

Your Beads

I found your Rosary

in the children’s room

Lying there between

A.A. Milne and Madeline.

Yesterday it got mixed in the laundry

It scraped the washer’s insides

As I slid it up to  kiss and slip it

In my apron’s pocket.

At night you ask

Where’s . . . 

And I reach out my hand to you,

Extending her mantel,

Here.

knit brows smooth a bit

and we begin again,

rose after rose forming a crown

studded with chants:

Salve Regina 

(You know it better than me. )

and then our litany

We finish at the cross.

Tired from contemplation,

you set down the beads.

-Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.

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Mark Helprin’s Swan Lake

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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.

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-Mrs. Aldertree

Gift Ideas for Children: Something to Read Edition.

Is it too early for a Christmas wish list?

Nope!

Here’s ours:

Animalium

Botanicum 

I have been eyeing these two books for months. The illustrations are just stunning! And with all the weed bouquets that grace my vases and captured caterpillars that fill my Mason jars, I like to think that my children our budding naturalists. These are sure to help them along the way.

The Golden Book of Birds

The Golden Book of Birds, 1945, Little Golden Book

I have been thinking of getting this one for my youngest naturalist. Such a dear little golden book!

 

The MouseWife

We are big fans of Rumer Godden in this household. My girls’ favorite so far has been The doll’s house. But Fu-Dog, The Kitchen Madonna, Impunity Jane and The Mouse House are also much loved by them. We have not read The Mousewife yet and it looks like an endearing tale.

The Magic Nesting Doll 

We have the Lion and the Lady which is such a beautiful book.  Jacqueline Ogburn and Laurel Long make an extremely talented team both the storytelling and the artwork are arresting.

What’s on your wish list this year?

Recent Reads

Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin

Nothing like the classic Russian novels but still very Russian, Laurus was full of spiritual anecdote, paradox, lyric moments, quirky reflections on the nature of time, on the nature of healing and medicine. This story of a love that survives both death and (more miraculously) the passage of years surprises by being very very funny, with a dark but gentle humor.

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The Keeper of the Bees by Gene Stratton-Porter

I’d never read any of her books before but now I want to read at least A Girl of the Limberlost. If you love books and honeybees, it’s hard to imagine that you wouldn’t find yourself smiling over these pages. It does not meet the current literary standards for adult fiction but it has moments utterly refreshing in their freedom from today’s hypocritical taboos. Its moralism though was unsatisfying. There is something wrong with any moral vision that puts cleanliness so close to godliness. And I missed any recognition that there can be real forgiveness and redemption for real and serious sins.

Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym

This is only the second Barbara Pym book I’ve read. Bought and read it on a whim and, this time, completely caught onto her zany, delightfully deprecating tone. A human laughs joyously at the ridiculous in being human. It is full of zest and compassion. Also, as a Catholic, I loved the way the female characters daydream and murmur about “going over to Rome.” Both this and Laurus were just *beautifully* funny.

The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart

It reminded me a lot of Mark Helprin, more than Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society books do. Stewart, like Helprin, puts the love between parents and children at, or close to, the heart of his fiction. Here, as in the MBS, we have a story about teamwork, which values personal independence while recognizing its limits. A real close-knit team of little people defeats a powerful, fear-controlled mafia. Read it aloud to my enthusiastic 4th grader over the course of a month.

 

-Mrs. Aldertree

The Bat-Poet

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Since reading Stellaluna a few weeks ago, my girls have been on a bat frenzy. Thankfully, I found The Bat-Poet and it seems to have satisfied their longings for bat stories- They loved it.

The Bat-Poet is a  wonderful little tale about a bat who, inspired by the Mockingbird’s songs, becomes a poet (a rather good one). Randall Jarrell, who was best known for his literary criticism but was also a poet himself, subtly explores the nature of poetry through the bat’s endeavors. It’s a thoughtful story and reads aloud nicely.

Of course, one can’t fail to mention Maurice Sendak’s contributions. His illustrations capture Jarrell’s tone perfectly and bring the story to life in the way only Maurice Sendak can. Their talented alliance created the perfect addition to our fall reading list. 

-Mrs. Cooper