Posts Tagged ‘Susan Wittig Albert’

There will be a book with gardening lore after two books about life on the internet!

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Last week and this week, I read two books by Siva Vaidhyanathan.

The first, about Google, was written almost a decade ago and still pertinent.

I had no idea that Google owns Blogger (home of blogspot.com blogs).

I find the author’s politics most agreeable:

Fascinating technology:

I followed the book about Google with one about Facebook.

Anti-Social Media is only a couple of years old and thoroughly gripping.

Mr. Vaidyanathan writes at the end that he has no intention of leaving Facebook—or Instagram, where he has an account for his dog (which I long to find but have failed to do so thus far).

One of my favourite non fiction authors has this blurb on the back cover.

During an airplane flight:

I can’t judge anyone for a Facebook addiction, because my own addiction to it runs deep.

I finished Anti-Social Media on the evening of November 16th.  It delves deep into the influence Facebook has on news, journalism, and politics.  I recommend it.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Today we had reading weather all day long.  What bliss!

from the kitchen window

from the front porch

paperwhites on the kitchen window sill

I sped through the brief (disappointingly brief) newest book by a favourite author.

The repartee between a couple who have entered marriage counseling is miles wittier than any I have ever had in any relationship.

Here comes the book with gardening lore. One of the joys of Facebook is that I have gotten to be Facebook friends with a couple of my favourite mystery writers, Susan Conant (The Dog Lovers’ Mysteries) and


Somehow I had fallen behind on the latest two books of the China Bayles series, one of my favourite cozy mysteries.

Every chapter starts with some horticultural lore:

Because I am a stick in the mud, I always like to have all the action in the China Bayles series take place in the fictional Texas town of Pecan Springs.  Each book re-introduces us to China’s herbal shop.

That is where I want to stay.  But the author takes us away to a different location every few books, thus avoiding falling into the Inspector Morse/Midsomer Murders trap of having far too many crimes take place in a small area.

So we left Pecan Springs.  I had never been at all interested in Texas till reading (especially in her memoirs) Susan Wittig Albert’s descriptions of the hill country.

Mama is the big van that China and her friend Ruby use for their business.  As they drove to give a seminar at an olive ranch, I learned that our raccoons, deer, and bears crossing the road are not bad in comparison to…

Pretty much every locaton that Wittig Albert creates makes me wish I could visit.  I don’t mean the hogs, I mean the café at the olive ranch.

Their host at the olive ranch…

If you like a good cozy that is not too safe and confined and that has herbal lore (and some recipes at the end), I’d advise reading the China Bayles series, in order and from the beginning.

Frosty loves reading weather.

After my mystery, I started a young adult novel that I had come upon while ordering Rachel Maddow’s latest book.

I do love a good YA novel as I find they often go deep into issues that people my age could barely touch on when we were in high school. When in my 20s, I noticed this phenomenon, and a lovely librarian at my local branch would find me the best YA novels to read.

The author really does know her Rachel.

By bedtime, I was so involved with the story that I stayed up till three AM to finish it.  (The joys of reading weather!)

Monday, 18 November 2019

With torrential rain (1.15 inch in all) for the entire day, I read another high school book.  It was coincidence that they were back to back.  I’d read a good review of High School by Sara and Tegan Quinn.  I must confess I had never heard of the sisterly musical duo Tegan and Sara. Nowadays I like listening to silence best of all so am out of touch with popular music. Even though once upon a time I would have said my life was saved by rock and roll.

Both the high school books, first the novel and now this memoir, had so much drug use (which most of the characters real and imagined eventually moved past).  I was such a goodie goodie in high school.  A reclusive goodie goodie, much less social than Brynn, Tegan, or Sara.  Sometimes when I think of reincarnation, I realize that even for another chance at life, I would not want to go through high school again.


I remembered at age 25, I wanted to go to my first punk rock show.  But I was so worried because I had heard that the audience jumped up and down and hit each other on the head.

I went to many many shows after my first one and never once did anyone hit me on the head, not even in the mosh pit.

on the cusp of punkdom

I remember seeing the Ramones in LA when I was 26. (Montana Mary drove us there; she had other sights to see there than the Ramones.)  I had my fingers hooked over the plywood barrier right in the front of the standing audience.  When the band came on stage I put my arms up (I loved Joey ever so much) and the surge of the audience behind me slammed the plywood into the metal frame behind it.  I sometimes remember that moment and think that in an alternate timeline I could have lost my fingers.  The crowd was so tight that I could not get my arms down for the rest of the show and by the end, my clothes were drenched to the skin.  I was so thirsty that I walked straight back to our motel (at night, in LA, in the Hollywood district) and got a can of pop from the machine and drank it straight down. What a remarkable event it was.

I enjoyed every bit of Tegan and Sara’s journey to their adult musical career…

…and I have gotten around to listening to three songs of theirs, all of which impressed me.  I intend to listen to them all.

Finally, I closed my three day reading session with two books by David Sedaris.  I feel almost sure that I have read both before and forgotten to note them down.

I loathed the truly mean stories in Barrel Fever and read less than half of the stories.  It is his first (?) book.  If it were the first I had ever read, I’d have skipped all of his subsequent memoirs.  (The essays at the end were better.)

I did enjoy a passage in the Santa Land essay about how people say the same thing and think they are witty and original.

In my world, the most common saying is “You can come to my garden next!”

Fortunately for my reading day, Dress Your Family … is one of his almost completely delightful memoirs.

My favourite line, about his mother at the beach:

I had been aching and longing for reading weather.  Two days had been satiating enough that I felt fine about getting back to work.







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I recently received,  through interlibrary loantwo more non fiction books by Susan Wittig Albert (author of the excellent China Bayles mystery series).  Work did not allow the concentrated reading that I enjoy on staycation, so it took me a couple of weeks to read them.  Here are my takeaways (and I apologize to faithful reader MaryBeth for the text being curvy; both books were large and printed on light weight paper that was impossible to hold flat while reading ;-):

Work of Her Own came to me from a library in Boise.


It was published in 1992; there is a newer edition with a new intro that may discuss how it translates to the modern day.

It was published in 1992; there is a newer edition with a new intro that may discuss how it translates to the modern day.

It’s rather bad of me to not know who wrote the foreward.  I did not make a note, and the book has already gone back to the library.


from the introduction

a very good question from the foreward

a very good question from the foreward

I have read Albert’s two excellent memoirs but it had not quite sunk in what a powerful career she had before she became a self employed writer:


I enjoyed learning that this favourite memoirist of mine is on her third marriage (like me!), and that she feels that “home is a warm, sustaining place to be.”  (I already knew the latter from her memoirs about the joys of her life in the Texas hill country.)


From her other memoirs (Together, Alone and An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days) I had learned to my delight that her lifestyle includes, like ours, the economy of living in a “double wide”.  I also appreciate and share the concept of “right livelihood” even though I know that not everyone has the privilege to achieve that idealistic state of being.



I am one of the lucky ones who has the joy of right livelihood.  In 2007, I had the big revelation about doing work that brings joy, and in fact this past month we officially quit one job that did not fit that qualification.  (There had been some lingering vague impression that we still had said job even though we felt it had ended last autumn.)   It is a continuing challenge to winnow the jobs to the ones that do bring joy (even if not all the time, because the work is sometimes extra hard).  One of Albert’s interviewees says “I get paid a living wage, but I don’t work for money.  I work for joy.  All my work is my true work.”  (Working for joy, not money, means making a lot of choices about things one will not be able to afford to do, at least in my case.  Choosing, as Albert did, to live in a humble and paid off abode makes it possible to enjoy some luxuries.) 

 Digression:  The book I am currently reading, Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, tells the truth about living in real poverty and would make a good companion piece to Work of Her Own, as not everyone has the option of working for joy.  Author Linda Tirado writes:  “If we could just agree that poor people are doing the necessary grunt work and that there is dignity in that too, we’d be able to make it less onerous.  Put another way:  I’m not saying that someone doesn’t have to scrub the toilets around here.  All I’m saying is that instead of being grossed out by the very idea of toilets, you could thank the people doing the cleaning, because if not for them, you’d have to do it your own damn self.”  (She also makes clear that dignity requires a living wage.)  Since I cleaned houses for 18 years in Seattle (more lucrative than gardening but not as much joy) and often had people respond to my answer “What do YOU do?” with variants of “Ewwww”. I fervently agree with Tirado. (End of digression.)

Work of Her Own addresses the issue of women in big important careers feeling the pressure of setting an example.


I was pleased to discover that Albert is a strong feminist (as I have been since, oh, age 13).  I wonder if in the corporate and university world, could there ever be a power structure that was “power with, rather than power over”.  It’s a world beyond me, as I have never had what my mother called “a real job”.


When Albert writes that some women in the career world, in order to survive, have to develop a “strongly male-oriented bias and a tend to uphold and defend the masculine culture of ideas and ideals” I had a flash of enlightenment that the two women in my life with whom I had the most trouble were my mother, who worked in an office and who often told me she “hated” women and found them “boring”, and another former friend from a high powered career who said she preferred working with men and who strongly hinted that she also preferred the social company of men to that of women.

Below:  Here is what I have never had to do and probably could not do, and it is what a dear friend who works in an office has to do every day:

quotation from one of Albert's interviewees

quotation from one of Albert’s interviewees

dilemma  On an uplifting note, here’s some praise for my several librarian friends and for mothers who encourage reading:  “I vividly remember my first visit to the library.  My mom took me, just the two of us, as soon as I was old enough to have my own library card.  I walked into the womb of the world that day.”  Whatever problems my mother and I had with each other, I am always grateful that she created exactly that same event in my own life.

I’m particularly fond of this passage by an interviewee who says that she


You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens, as not every story has a rosy ending.  Some career-leavers had a difficult time and some could not continue on with “work of their own”.

Writing from Life: Telling Your Soul’s Story


Susan Wittig Albert surprised me in Writing from Life by being more spiritual than I expected, in the women’s spirit way of Starhawk and Z Budapest, both of whom are quoted in the margins.  Like An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days pertinent quotations are arranged in sidebars beside the main text.  Organized into chapters exploring different journal topics, the books is full of excerpts from women’s memoirs and from participants in Wittig’s Story Circle classes. Those were the parts I loved.  I have to admit I skimmed the meditations at the end of each chapter because I am so resistant to that sort of thing.

Authors whose memoirs I have read and adored are quoted in three books about aging: May Sarton’s At Seventy and Doris Grumbach’s Coming Into the End Zone, and Nancy Mairs, and I now intend to read Flora Scott-Maxwell’s The Measure of My Days, “a classic on the experience of aging”.  About An Unknown Woman by Alice Koller (also now on my must read list):


 I appreciated this paragraph about women’s obsession with weight:


And I now use this as an opportunity to recommend the excellent book The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos.

One of my favourite chapters in Albert’s writing book was:


Having been severely judged by a then-friend and found wanting when I went through a period of depression in early 2014 (better now!), I am grateful for these passages.  When I shared them on Facebook yesterday, two friends remarked that severe depression does not inspire creativity.  I feel that Albert addresses this clearly with the words “disabling depression”, and after these passages she cites Sylvia Plath as an example.  I take issue with the “happiologists” who reject all “negativity” and judge people for not being happy and perky all the time.  (I feel negative about always-perky people.)




feelings   I have friends who would be mired in depression without anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication, so we shouldn’t judge either choice.


I’m including the following “clipping” because I have heard so many women express the fear of becoming “bag ladies”.  I don’t think this has as much to do with seeing the homeless as “other” as it has to do with how many of us feel it could happen in our lives.


Of course, as a homebody I liked the chapter exploring thoughts about home:




(I may live in chaos but I still appreciate May Sarton’s point of view.)

In an exploration of friendship, I found this familiar but forgotten quotation and felt grateful that I do have friends like these:


Toward the end of the book, we are encouraged to do good in the world.


I particularly liked the following idea.  Someone more outgoing that me might already be doing this at Golden Sands Assisted Living:


Writing from Life made me think about how, while this started as just a gardening (and boating and Peninsula life) blog, I sometimes hint at more.  And I have so often in the past year written something revealing and then deleted it or, in one case, saved it in a still unpublished draft.  When does a blog dare become about more than just gardening?  Bob Nold’s The Miserable Gardener (one of my two favourite blogs) transformed into more than “just” a gardening blog and he said that when a reader questioned whether he thought it should have stayed just about gardening, he thought about it and said “no”.  I love the personal revelations in Kate Llewellyn’s books about her garden.  Something very personal had crept in to the gardening post that I published earlier today and then I deleted it, as usual. One wants to strike a balance between interesting revelations and self-absorbed navel-gazing.



Nancy Mairs is another favourite memoirists of mine; I recommend all her books.


mairs  Thanks to Susan Wittig Albert for two more “deep reads” and for inspiring the sharing of ourselves.  If any of you want to delve into the story circle sharing idea, I’d recommend this book and also Albert’s Story Circle website.  While her focus is on telling women’s stories, journaling is a catharsism open to all.  (A series of all of the memoirs by Simon Gray became one of my best reading experiences in 2011.)

A rainy day gave me time to write this; now a watery sun is emerging and it is time to go outside and pull some more touch-me-not seedlings.  But no….it is still quite chilly out, so instead I turn to finishing Hand to Mouth.


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January 2015 reading, part two

Inspired by enjoying several of the latest China Bayles mysteries in November and December, I decided to delve into mystery writer Susan Wittig Albert’s memoirs.  They are a bit hard to come by via the library.  Fortunately, Timberland Regional Library has an excellent interlibrary loan system that came through for me quickly.

Like all my book posts, what I keep from the books makes this post semi-autobiographical.  MaryBeth, sorry for the wobbly pages; I blame the mulitple Cats on Lap.

The copy I got of Together Alone had a plain black cover, so I found a prettier one online.

The copy I got of Together Alone had a plain black cover, so I found a prettier one online.

I soon realized that I’d have many takeaways from these books.

Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place

 map by Molly O’Halloran

map by Molly O’Halloran

I so appreciated the map of Susan’s Texas Hill Country home, Meadow Knoll, and referred to it often.  You can see some photos to accompany the book right here.  (When she writes that while she was away from home, Bill dined at “Mary’s Beef and Buns”, I immediately had to Google it.  It’s still there.)

Susan (I think of her as Susan after reading two such personal books) delved into a topic that is often on my mind:


I knew I was in for a good insightful read that would speak right into my heart.

“Right Livelihood” is a topic dear to me.  She devotes a chapter to it (and, like me, she loves to collect quotations).


The process of finding right livelihood can take repeated attempts, as she says here:


I learned a great deal about mystery writing in her descriptions of her writing career.  She and her husband Bill co-wrote for both the Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and the Sweet Valley Twins series.  I had no idea there was a decent living to be done in writing for series like that.  This was in 1988; I wonder if it’s still true.

She shares the progress of starting to think about writing her own series. In 1991, the first three China Bayles herbal garden mysteries were picked up for publication.  They are set in the fictionalized town of Pecan Springs, Texas, based on San Marcos. It was of great interest to me (for the sake of friends who would like to write mysteries) to read that publishers often do a contract for mysteries three at a time, in advance.

1992 saw the publication of her writing memoir Work of Her Own (which I wish I had read in time for this post…It will require another interlibrary loan….and I just paused to make one.)

In 1993, she and her husband, Bill, under the name Robin Paige, got the first of their Victorian mystery series off for publication.

In 1997, Writing from Life, another sort of memoir (or book about how to write them) was published.  (I just ordered it!)

In 2002, with the China Bayles series going strong (by now it is up to over 20 excellent books), she began her Beatrix Potter mystery series.

Together, Alone tells the story of how, working and living together in small space, she and Bill balance solitude and togetherness.  The subject is of much interest to me since Allan and I work and live together and I, at least, am a great craver of solitude.




How well I relate to everything about this.  Thank you, Susan, for putting it into words so eloquently.

Solitude doesn’t always come easy or without guilt.


In the second half of the book, she describes spending time at a quiet retreat in south Texas, a non-verbal community in the country, where she experiences the bliss of silence, and of real night with no security lights glaring around.

She writes of the spiritual nature of the community:


I appreciate how the community there accepted her and provided the peace that she needed.

In Together, Alone, I was thrilled to come across a passage about Henry Bemis.


I had thought often of that Twilight Zone episode and was so pleased a few years ago when I realized that Time Enough Books at the Port of Ilwaco is named after it.

Time Enough Books

Time Enough Books

On the sign, the broken reading glasses of Henry Bemis

On the sign, the broken reading glasses of Henry Bemis

It’s a delight to find that a mystery writer whose series I’ve enjoyed for years has written memoirs that speak so strongly to me.  I wish she could give a reading at Time Enough…but it’s pretty far from Meadow Knoll and I am sure she’d rather be at home.

An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days


The first thing that struck me when I began to read Extraordinary Year was the layout of the book.  I found it disconcerting that quotations ran down the sides of the pages.

like this

like this

How would I go back and forth?  It turned out to be easy.  I soon fell into a natural rhythm of finding a paragraph break and then reading the sidebar. Each quotation tied in with the main page’s theme.  And I do love a good quotation, as you know.  It also made me think maybe Susan wouldn’t mind that I was quoting some passages from her book in this here blog entry.

And oh, did I ever find lots of wonderful quotations.

I was pleased to find more than one quotation by Pacific County's Robert Pyle.

I was pleased to find more than one quotation by Pacific County’s Robert Pyle.



A useful quotation about success: “To establish oneself in the world, one does all one can to seem established there already.” Francois, duc of La Rochefoucauld

Continuing the theme of Together, Alone, Susan writes about how two people who appreciate some solitude can live together:


I absolutely adore that they bought a double wide (since it’s what we live in here).  Also, note the page layout with the month highlighted:  elegant.  (I do think I need to buy myself my own copy of this book………A few minutes later:  It is on its way.)

The satisfaction of owning one’s own humble abode:


On living in a small house:


smallOn the subject of home, she has collected many quotations that I saved.



And quotations about gardening:

I value my garden for being more full of blackbirds than of cherries, and very frankly I give them fruit for their song.  Joseph Addison

My whole life has been spent waiting for an epiphany, a manifestation of God’s presence, the kind of trandscendent, magical experience that let’s you see your place in the big picture.  And that is what I had with my first compost heap.”  Bette Midler

I was excited to find a quotation from one of my favourite books (one that I wish I owned as I’d like to reread it):



And I learned that Bowers has a second book!

full life

Because Susan and Bill live in Texas, her liberal vote is always useless in a national election because of the Electoral College.


She writes, “I feel more empowered when I vote in the primary, where my vote actually counts for something.  In the general election, my vote for the Democrat counts for nothing.  The Electoral College swallows it.”

About the media:


Another memoirist beloved to me who seamlessly mixed politics with tales of her home and garden was Gladys Taber during the time of the Vietnam war, to which she was deeply opposed.

Susan spends the year educating herself by reading about the climate change and peak oil, sharing her findings with the reader.  She and I are sympatico on these issues.


For a novel about these topics, she recommends A World Made by Hand by James Howard Kunstler, “a novel about a post-oil, post-apocalyptic world.”
(I thought I might read it till I read several bad reviews on Goodreads.)

She also shares her joy in seeing President Obama elected, even though she is not starry-eyed in a belief that everything will now change.

She takes refuge from politics in nature:


Here is a passage that reminds me of our small town parades.  She writes about the Labor Day Oatmeal Festival.  “The parade takes place on Bertram’s main streat because Oatmeal (too small to show up on the map) doesn’t have a main street, or any street at all.  Several years ago, my ninety-year-old mother got to ride on the Bertram Nursing Home float.  She’d never been in a parade before.  I asked her how she felt about this.  She said she felt like a queen.”

Here on the Long Beach Peninsula, the Golden Sands Assisted Living bus goes in the local parades.


I hope they also feel like queens.

I hope they also feel like royalty.

Here is a recommendation for a movie on that subject dear to me, the ephemeral nature of life:


When one of their dogs, Lady, dies:  I once read that we rehearse our own death in every other death we meet, In Lady’s, I see an image of my own, and hope it will be as peaceful.

Something else that deeply moved me:  Susan writes of her father:  ….”He passed the love of books and libraries on to me.  I worked as hard as I could in school to make him proud of me and learned to love the learning itself. There were no rewards of pride or affection from him.  ….Even now, twenty years after his death, I still can’t say I love him.  …the world is too pretty to harbor grudges.  I’m sorry, Dad, that you were so unhappy.  That’s the best I can do.”  My takeway from that for parents is to think carefully about how you will, or will not, be missed, because like Susan, I still can’t say I loved my dad, and I never missed him.  I can wish that he had lived longer (because he did enjoy his life) for his own sake.  I am sorry that Susan had that experience even though it is a comfort to me to read it.

On  libraries:  Barbara Kingsolver once wrote that she wanted to embrace “every living librarian who crosses my path, on behalf of the souls they never knew they saved.”  True for me, too.  My soul has been saved, over and over, through books, beginning when I was young and in dire need of salvation.  The only books available to me where in libraries, and librarians held the key, literally.

Takeaways from An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days:

a list of books to read

Circling My Mother, Shadow Man, and Seeing Through Places by Mary Gordon

anything by Terry Tempest Williams

Writing from the Center by Scott Russell Sanders

The Mountains Next Door and a re-read of A Full Life in a Small Place by Janice Emily Bowers

And the biggest takeaway for right now is this quotation, which explains to me why we should continue to work instead of retiring into genteel poverty (with more time to read and go boating):


The Long Beach, Ilwaco, and resort gardens where we work are our fields of care, and I think we need to emerge from staycation soon to fulfill our commitment to this place.

Don’t worry if the blog is quiet for a few days, though; I have a big stack of books to read during some predicted stormy weather.  I think there might be too many even for a five day storm:



am halfway through this one...

am halfway through this one…

I’ll be back when I have at least a few of those read…

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In sharing the favourite bits from what I read during staycation, I also share a form of autobiography because what we take for keeps from a book has everything to do with who we are.  Apologies in advance for the text being wonky in some of the photos.  It’s hard to get a flat page with one to three cats on one’s lap.

1-3 January 2015


On the recommendation of Kathleen Shaw.

I thought I was pretty well read on the topic of racism, but I learned so much more about the migration from the south.


The book is long, and I can but advise that especially if you live in the USA, you would benefit from reading it.  It is dense with information imparted in a readable way with lots of personal stories.

4 January, 2015


Short stories, going back to the beginning of the career of one of my favourite authors.

 I was moved this passage in “The Mightiest Mornings” about a man who moved to small town.  He has fallen under suspicion because of taking walks with Freya, a young girl from the wrong side of town (walks that seemed innocent to me, the reader).  Early in the story, he had rhapsodized about his happiness in his daily routine of feeling welcome at his boarding house and the small town shops and Mac’s café.  Now he has come to know the perils of small town gossip and how being shunned can alter a person’s self image.  He had given up and is moving away:

His thoughts foundered in an emotion he could not at once identify.  It felt like guilt,  But what was he guilty of?  Why had he not been good enough? Why was so wrong with him that  his best efforts had not made him fit in the town?  His mysterious fault seemed to date further back even than New York, and to be something over which he had no control, and could never grasp and cast out of himself.  Then, in an instant, his half  vision was cut off, and he felt the guilt and its cause both sealed in him once more.

He faced about and began walking with fast weak steps.  He went back to the quiet dirt road that led almost to the factory before it turned and went northward beside the river, away from Clement.

What hurt was the sense that it had been almost avoidable, the sense of the destruction in the very act of his leaving.  The town was crumbling at every step, the facade of Trevelyan Boulevard, the Dandy Diner, all the fine trees that grew among the houses, Mrs. Hopley’s [boarding] house and his room, all the fine things he had somehow ruined.  ….The river, the railroad, the men climbing in slow steps up the slope from the factory, the noonday whistle, the good meals served by Mac’s hands, the mornings in his big room and with them the joy in his existence and the sense of the eternal potential.

He walked until he had lost the river, until the sun changed its position, not knowing where he walked except that the town was at his back.  His feet swished dismally through high grass.  Then he tripped and was too tired to catch himself.  The stillness was delicious.  The river, the railroad, the facade of Trevelyan Boulevard passed in pictures before his eyes.  The grizzled old men, the church and the hymnals. the railroad, Freya, the knife factory, the bud on the rosebush, the mornings of the eternal potential and the eternal nothing. 

There was a time last summer and fall when I would have walked away from Ilwaco were it not for my garden, and the city and port and post office gardens, which keep us here.

5 January 2015


Kate Llewellyn’s Playing with Water had been recommended to me by blog reader Rebecca of Scene in Our Garden.  Unable to find that one, Allan had got me The Waterlily for Christmas.  I was completely smitten with Kate Llewellyn upon reading it and began tracking down all of her books and ordering them from Australia.  She will get her own blog post after I have read all her memoirs.  (As I write this, I have read seven of them and have two to go.)  Here’s a sneak peek, the moment when I fell madly in love with this author:


6 January 2015


I had fallen behind on the books of another favourite author.  This was a quick read with a theme of one of the topics I think about sometimes, especially during attacks of hypochondria: death and the possibility of an afterlife, and what happens when a loved one dies.  When the main character observes his  Tom Petty and U2 vinyl recordings in his childhood room, I realized I was old.  Stories did not used to use the music of my 20s as childhood memories for characters.  The fact that I seek out large print books from the library when I used to eschew them is another sign.

7 January 2015

A Christmas present from Kathleen

A Christmas present from Kathleen

There is something disconcerting in how this novel contrasts the peace of a Japanese garden and seaside landscape with just hints of the atrocities that the Japanese army was inflicting on China at the same time (1937). I stopped in the middle of the book and read some horrifying articles about the war. It made the peacefulness of the village seem more like a dream. Perhaps the idea is that the average citizens of a country are not the ones who hate each other, as the young Chinese man staying in a Japanese village is for the most part treated with great kindness.  And the garden and nature descriptions are beautiful:


8 January 2015

A Christmas present from Montana Mary (the book, that is)

A Christmas present from Montana Mary (the book, that is)

inscribed by the author

inscribed by the author

The book was good. Very good indeed, suspenseful and witty. It is self published which surprised me because it is much better than some commercially published books I have read. I also love the inscription.  I’ve only read two other self published books. One was dreck, one was….adequate. Both were one offs, the only ones said authors published. I’ve read some cosy-type commercially published mysteries that I could not even plow through.  I think this man could get a book deal.  He is clearly able to edit himself well, a trait other self published authors seem to not have.

9-12 January, 2015

It took me several days to get through my next book.


The good weather allowed for some gardening…and the book was over 600 pages long and small print.

She is a favourite of mine, as a section of my bookshelf shows:



Highsmith was difficult and intense.  I wonder if she would have written such dark material had she lived now when she could have been more out as a lesbian.  She was brave and did not hide much of her life but was definitely a recluse in some ways.  For awhile, she lived “in a village so small that a visit to the post office lumbered her with unwanted attention.”


Even I am not that reclusive.

“She drew, she sketched, she made sculpture.  She handcrafted furniture and carved out little statues.  Her notebooks and diaries are punctuated with charts, symbols, line drawings and thumbnail sketches.  She pasted up her own Christmas and birthday cards and decorated the covers of all fourteen of her fat press books with cutouts and letterings of her own devising.  At the end of her life, she tried oil-painting lessons, but quarreled with her teacher.  The teacher said Pat had her own way of doing things.

‘I dabble in all the arts’, Pat wrote in a 1961 quatrain, ‘And make a mess of each./I’m a person of main parts,/With a goal beyond my reach.'”

And I couldn’t even make myself take a watercolour class.

An insightful review by “Jessica” on Goodreads pointed out something about the book that I had not quite been able to put my finger on, even though it bothered me:  “Hence, something as simple as the fact that Highsmith loved to iron her clothes, that some of her story ideas came to her while she was ironing, is met with lots of speculation about Highsmith’s penchant for creased, sharp clothing, and yet (I paraphrase) “Highsmith’s villians were never murdered with an iron as a weapon…”
Schenkar seems oblivious to the fact that many writers get their best ideas while engaged in some mundane chore, be it dishwashing, driving, showering, lawn mowing, as the body is engaged but the mind is not… Any writer could have told her this.
Highsmith, of course, is not just any writer, but Schenkar too often looks for murderous impulses, treating her as if she is evil, practically homicidal.”  True, the book tends to treat everything Patricia does with a dark suspicious eye, probably the same way that Patricia turned a suspicious eye on the motives of her characters.  That’s really why the book was 600 pages long.

I was glad to finish it as I had an enticing selection of books to read next.

Three more Llewellyns had arrived in the mail!

Four memoirs: Three more Llewellyns had arrived in the mail all the way from Australia, and I had purchased a book by Nick Jaina (a Sou’wester performer) and had another memoir through interlibrary loan.   Dear You might claim to be a novel but I do believe it is a memoir based on knowledge I gained later in my Llewellyn saga.

17 January 2015

After reading four Kate Llewellyn books in a row, I had two easy reads in one day.

a quick read, but poignant, of a mother who has dementia

a quick read, but poignant, of a mother who has dementia

All Gone has many memories of a childhood rich with delicious food.  Recipes included.

a cute garden humour book, even though I did not like the scarecrow on the cover.

a cute garden humour book, even though I did not like the scarecrow on the cover.  Too clownlike. Probably on purpose.

The funniest garden humour books I’ve read are Crazy About Gardening by Des Kennedy, Mrs Greenthumbs by the late lamented Cassandra Danz, anything by Dulcy Mahar, The Opinionated Gardener by Geoffrey Charlesworth, and The Gardener’s Year by Karel Kapek. Oh, and Elizabeth and her German Garden.  Even though Garden Lunacy is not as sharp edged as my other favourites.  I think any gardener would enjoy it.  Examples:



Art Wolk opens the world of garden show madness with suspenseful chapters about competitions for best plant.

19-21 January, 2015

On the 19th, I read another memoir: Together, Alone by mystery writer Susan Wittig Albert, acquired through an interlibrary loan. I immediately realized that it would need its own admiring blog entry along with her next memoir (also an interlibrary loan), An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days, which I read on the 21st..

The copy I got of Together Alone had a plain black cover, so I found a prettier one online.

The copy I got of Together Alone had a plain black cover, so I found a prettier one online.

On January 20th, I had finally acquired Playing with Water (from Australia!), the book that had first been recommended me to by my favourite author of this winter, Kate, who will also get her own blog post.  I spent the day in Kate’s world.


On the 21st, I began the excellent Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days.  Then good weather forced me out into the garden for several days and in the evenings, reading took a back seat to starting up the blog again.  (And we were working our way through some boxed DVD sets of Ruth Rendell Mysteries.)

When I'm not in my reading chair, they are.

When I’m not in my reading chair, they are.

23 January 2015


I was thrilled to get, from the library, the latest Simon Serrailler mystery.  It was a dark one.  They all are.  I read them for the continuing drama of the repeating characters as much as for the mystery.

24-26 January 2015


This had been recommended in a pamphlet about books from the bookstore and library.  I was bored by the fantasy subplot.   I enjoyed the “real” parts of the story and until I realized the plot bogged down in fantasy, I thought it was going to turn out to be a favourite novel of mine.  It took me three days to get through the book (during a time of nice weather for gardening) and I almost gave up but had already put 400 pages (out of 600!) into it. Unable to slog through the “Horologist’s Labyrinth” chapters,  I found a synopsis of the fantasy plot line. I skipped ahead to the last dystopian section (“Sheep’s Head”) and enjoyed the end of the book very much.

27 January 2014


For my last book of January, I delved into a highly entertaining pop psychology book.  In the introduction, the authors wrote “…[in positive psychology], both of us were increasingly put off by the gung ho happiology we often witnessed.  Over the past fifteen years, positive psychology has been transformed from a reminder that “positive experiences are important” to a kind of smiling fascism.”


As someone who sleeps ascetically on a hard foam pad (and who has even worse insomnia in a comfy hotel bed), I was amused by this:


The philosophy of “gung ho happiogy”:


The effects of the struggle to be happy.


This was the passage I found most meaningful:


I was enlightened by the difference between the wanting/liking bias.  Here’s just the beginning of that passage in the book:


I also appreciate their paragraph about not feeling superior about what does make you happy…


…which is why I have recently tried very hard to avoid making snarky remarks about my dislike of football.  The authors are endearingly geeky about what they like, with references to Star Trek, Aquaman, and the number 42.

They would probably like this poster over my desk.

They would probably like this poster over my desk.

Perhaps the most useful takeaway that I got from the book was the concept of turning anxiety into excitement:



That could come in very handy.  The second best takeaway I got, other than validation for how I feel about “happiology”, is using the word “takeaway” to describe my favourite bits from a book, as at the end of each chapter the author summaries the “takeaways” about that topic.

In a fascinating chapter called “Recognizing Your Positivity Bias” the authors point out the American habit of smiling.


(Since then, I’ve read two travel books by Kate Llewellyn.  In her memoir about New Zealand travels in 1992, she wrote about American tourists, “The American I hear have usually an immensely polite way of speaking.  In conversation, they are, or appear to be, deeply interested, even concerned, and flattering, while not being actually ingratiating (though I have known that type too) and profoundly hospitable….in the sharing of news, information, and the giving of the heart. I often feel anxious for them.  They seem so open, so unwordly.  I fear they’ll be taken down.”)

I’ve only touched on what The Upside of Your Dark Side has to offer, so have a go at it if you like that sort of book. It would make a good companion piece to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided .

I’d call that a worthwhile month of reading.

Next up: Enjoying two memoirs by Susan Wittig Albert

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December 2014

The high points of my December staycation reading was The Seaside Knitters series, which got its own blog entry.

Here are my other favourite bits from the rest of my December staycation reading.  If you scroll down to the last book, and your name is Mr Tootlepedal, you might like the descriptions of mosses.

Dec 2:  The Perks of Being a Wallflower.  I liked the film much, much better than the book (which is unusual.)  This paragraph about lost friendship spoke to me:    “I wish I could report that it’s getting better, but unfortunately it isn’t.  It’s hard, too, because we’ve started school again, and I can’t go to the places where I used to go.

December 11:  I was catching up with the last few books of Susan Wittig Albert’s Pecan Springs mystery series.


It is a charming cozy mystery series.  It doesn’t grip me like the Seaside Knitters for two reasons:  I have no desire to live in Texas or anywhere away from the sea, and sometimes I think it gets a bit silly with its mystical side (inspired by one of the characters having a new-agey tarot reading magical sort of gift shop).  I like the herbal lore (because the main character, China Bayles, has an herb shop) and the small town setting.

I also appreciate the variety of physical types among the characters.




On December 15th, after a number of distracting busy holiday events, I settled down to reading again with a true story of miscarriage of justice, Damien Echols’ Life After Death. I followed that with the excitement of a new book in the Tales if the City series.  I re-read the second to last one in preparation.


The following passage took me right back to sitting on a silky brown easy chair in my grandmother’s living room perusing Christmas Ideals:  “She remembered a magazine called Christmas Ideals that her grandmother had sent her every year when she was a little girl back in Cleveland.  It was sturdier than most magazines, and glossy, and inside there were poems printed on scenes from nature.  If she were to see one today, she would probably find it corny, but back then her easy childish heart had soared at the sight of those snow-laden pines and starlit valleys.

Ideals had been the ideal name, she realized, since what the magazine had offered was the sweet reassurance that life could not be improved upon.  A pristine landscape was perfection itself; it was only when you added people that everything changed.



Next came the very last book in the series (although I have heard that before).


To think that back when I began this series in the early 80s, gay marriage was just a dream that I never thought I would live to see.  I am so delighted that I lived to see the day.

Heartrendingly, Anna Madrigal is elderly now, and her caregiver gives her some artificial candles because of the fear that Anna might fall asleep and let her home be set on fire by the real thing.  Anna accepts that with a grace that brought tears to my eyes.



Another longtime character, Michael, is finding his gardening business more difficult in late middle age.  “Gardeners aged better than athletes, but their bodies betrayed them just the same.” Oh, how I identify with that!

December 19th: After another round of holiday fun, I got back to reading a non fiction book.  A lot of my reading choices come from a book review pamphlet that I pick up at Time Enough Books.


The author writes for the New Yorker and had that droll New Yorker style that I enjoy:


Her book was engrossing and made me extra glad that I had attended a home-made garden wedding last summer.

After a couple more days of light reading interspersed with blogging, I was able to return to some days of pure reading.

December 22: Back to Pecan Springs.  I had caught up by reading Wormwood, Holly Blues,  Cat’s Claw, Widow’s Tears, Mourning Gloria, Nightshade, and…


I always appreciate the herbal lore in the China Bayles series.


about a particularly annoying weed

about a particularly annoying weed

Later that evening, I turned to a serious topic in a book to which I gave the top rating (five stars) on Goodreads:



How strongly the book reminded me of the fourteen year relationship that I had with someone who often drank to excess,



The book has a lot of train travel, so well described that I could hear the wheels on the tracks, and a bit of birdwatching.



Some more rather randomly collected favourite pieces from the book.

on insomnia (a chronic problem that I share):



on kindness:




I had no idea that Raymond Carver had lived in the Pacific Northwest or that he was born in Klatskanie, Oregon, not far upriver from where I live.  Here are some randomly collected snippets about that:





I think her stunning descriptions of the Port Angeles setting will inspire other Northwesterners to want to read her book.


She describes how, if you find his headstone, you will find a box where people leave messages.


Inspiring: “At some point, you have to set down your past.  At some point, you have to accept that everyone was doing their best.  At some point, you have to gather yourself up and go onward into your life.”

More holiday festivities happily interrupted my reading concentration.  I found that if I knew I had to leave the house for any reason, it became difficult to sit and read, so I devoted most of those days to blogging. On December 26th, I slogged through and deeply disliked Jimi Hendrix Turned Eighty. I kept hoping that the tale of rebellious old folks in a nursing home would get better.  For me, it didn’t.

On December 27th I read this, which I recommend even though I didn’t save any passages from it:


On December 29th, I was able to have some uninterrupted reading time.


From a character just about my age: “This aging thing had taken her by surprise.  She’s heard tell, of course. She knew it would happen, not just yet, and not all at once.  Of course she’s known in the abstract, she just didn’t know.  She hadn’t understood how bad it would get, didn’t expect these ongoing losses, this sense of parts falling off the wagon as it rolled downhill.  When she was younger, she hadn’t fully comprehended that she was part of this cycle, too, that she too would grow older, then old, and only then if she was lucky.”

“Somehow, all evidence to the contrary, it had seemed for awhile, in her thirties, even in her forties, that everything would stay the way it was forever or at least until some distant time in the future when she’d just cease to exist.  She hadn’t expected this, this process of public dismantlement, this precipitous downward slide, or for it to begin so soon.”

I wrote awhile back on Gardening and Aging, so the problem has been on my mind for awhile.

Another sign of aging:


Ramones = my favourite band back in the day.  (Now I'd say The Smiths.)

Ramones = my favourite band back in the day. (Now I’d say The Smiths.)

On fear:


Someone I met recently said to me, when I mentioned my phobia about the Astoria bridge, “I don’t do fear.”  How very nice for him.

on regrets:


Too late for me.  I can think of all sorts of ways I could have had a better relationship with my mother, now that it is too late.

A trivial point:  I was gratified to find that a character dislikes orange streetlights just as much as I dislike the one outside our front window: “The sky was that awful orange streetlight color the city had adopted in the seventies. It looked like poison gas now, caught in the mist.”

A very favourite passage (not the end) from the book:


I went straight on to the latest book by Anne Lamott.

You can see that I took down the Christmas tree early this year.  I was just done with it and wanted to move on.

You can see that I took down the Christmas tree early this year. I was just done with it and wanted to move on.

I had hoped it would be a completely brand new book.  It turned out to be a collection of essays, some of which I had read before.  I found plenty of comfort and inspiration thoug;, even though I have been unable to share her deep religious faith, her humanism also has much to offer.


How very much I love that she refers to “The Margarets”, as in discussions about authors I have often referred to “The Margarets”.  For me, there are four great writers named Margaret:  Atwood, Drabble, Millar, and Laurence.

I admired this about a church member who would not move on from her grief when advised to:


On December 30th, I moved on to a book that had been highly recommended to me by a couple of friends.  In both cases, they were halfway through with it when they praised it so highly.  I wonder if they felt the same when they finished it?  I would have given it five stars till I got toward the end, with a certain scene in a mossy cave that revealed that the protagonist’s life goal was a pretty trivial one.  At that point, the book dropped in my estimation.


Still, it had a lot to offer before I got to That Scene in a very long book.  (For those who have read it, and while trying to avoid spoilers, I’m not objecting to the plot because of prudery; I just wish her life goal had been loftier.)

Things I liked:

The well-described sad realization about one’s appearance:


I especially enjoyed her study of mosses, as those passages reminded me of the Tootlepedal blog and its many close up photos of mosses and lichens and fungi:





The descriptions of moss are some of the most gorgeous of any writings I’ve found about the natural world.


Later, here is something enlightening about botany:

“In the world of botany, such confusing language would have been called nomina dubia or nomina ambigua–which is to say, misleading or obscure names of plants that render the specimens impossible to classify.”

I liked the staunchness of a character who completely lives her political beliefs:


A remedy for sorrow?  “You must endure it—and you won’t be the first.    …This world is not a paradise but a vale of tears.  Look around you, what do you see?  All is anguish.  Everywhere you turn there is sorrow.  If you do not see sorrow at first glance, look more carefully.  You will soon enough see it.”

And a more uplifting note to end my quotations from Signature:


I entered January 2015 with one main plan: to read more.  Only Allan’s birthday on January 2nd and the beach clean up day on January 24th would interrupt the time of complete leisure, I hoped.  (And I should get the garden clipped back before we re-enter the work season sometime in February.)  I planned to begin with two lengthy tomes of non fiction:  The Warmth of Other Suns and The Talented Miss Highsmith:  The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith.









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