Grandpa Blakeslee marries a younger woman three weeks (!) after his wife’s death. This charming story is told from his grandson Will Tweedy’s perspective. In the same tone as To Kill a Mockingbird, this modern day classic offers sweet warmth without a trace of saccharine, laugh out loud lines followed by poignant pauses, and glimpses of early twentieth century Georgia. Burns writes with wit, honesty and compassion. I highly recommend Cold Sassy Tree.
When you’ve turned the final page of Cold Sassy Tree, you will want more of this quaint and quirky family. Leaving Cold Sassy, the unfinished sequel, draws Will’s adult years with darker shades. If Will Tweedy’s story is your motivation, prepare for disappointment. If Olive Anne Burns’ personal story intrigues you–a late bloomer whose one published book was a sensation, a writer who worked in between cancer treatments– the reminiscence of her life is reason enough to read this book.
The Illumined Heart got on my nightstand because several friends have converted to Eastern Orthodoxy and Frederica Mathewes-Green is perhaps the most accessible writer on things Orthodox. She uses Anna and Theodore, fictional sixth century Christians, to contrast the ancient and modern mindsets in worship and faith. Mathewes-Green sticks with the basics: repentance, the Jesus Prayer, fasting. Many concepts are foreign to Western thought, but this book is a good beginning for understanding the Orthodox faith.
I loved the DVD Sweet Land so much I had to read A Gravestone Made of Wheat , the short story behind the film. All the stories are midwestern stories highlighting small towns, agrarian life, cows, doctors and cars. Will Weaver is part Garrison Keillor, part Wendell Berry and part Leif Enger. But what’s missing in most stories is redemption; there is the pain and agony of a farm auction, the ribald story of a bread-truck driver (a modern jolly tinker), the conflict between a trapper and an animal lover, the tug-of-war between a mom who takes her son to church camp and the unbelieving father who cautions his son to keep his feet on the ground.
Susan Vreeland’s novel based on a painting was a sensation in the blog world two summers back. While I enjoyed parts of Luncheon of the Boating Party , overall I was disappointed. The art history was engaging and obviously well-researched. Those bits kept me slogging through the romantic drama between the women vying for Auguste’s (Renoir) attention. This book is among several I’ve read in the last year that bring the 1880s into clear view. I’m willing to give Vreeland another go.
Pat Conroy lands a teaching job on Yamacraw Island, across from South Carolina. The Water Is Wide is a study of island culture, race relations during the Civil Rights movement, and the troubles and triumphs of a first-year teacher in a unique educational setting. His year culminates with a field trip to Washington D.C. and the introduction of the wide world across the waters.
Head Over Heels in the Dales, the third in a series of books by the James Herriot of education is easily my favorite. The narrative begins and ends with unsettling questions by curious children: “Could you tell me how to spell “sex” please?” (she’s trying to spell insects) and “Do you know how to mek babies, then?” (knock the ‘y’ off and add ‘ies’). Phinn, a school inspector in Yorkshire, England, describes the worst and the best teachers.