Sporting a tude


I’ve written about my fascination with be- prefix words. I keep an annual list of words I come across (in the wild, so to speak) beginning with be-. Meghan Markle wore a bespoke party dress to her wedding reception. Some of 2018’s finds: dazed and bedazzled; betokening a boorish inability; bestrode the cannon singing; besmeared with the blood of human sacrifice; bestirred civic pride; his beleaguered camp. And on and on.

I find the suffix tude enchanting. It means the state or condition of an abstract noun. Quietude and plenitude — the dressed up versions of quiet and plenty. I love reading the word pulchritude, but don’t use it much because many don’t know that pulchr- means beautiful.

Attitude may be the most common of these word cousins.  I love this definition: state of readiness to respond in a characteristic way. Gratitude and solitude are jewels.

I was surprised and delighted to read the word desuetude this week. It has ‘suet’ smack in the middle, which makes me think of elk butchering, but isn’t related. It means a state of disuse. I wonder if desuetude is in desuetude.

Then I came upon this sentence in a biography of Josephine, wife of Napoleon. “I make this confession to you in all sincerity, that I may allay your inquietudes.” And, while my tude radar was up, “solicitude in reference to the accommodation of her attendants” winked.






Patterns in 2014 Reading

Serre_cactees_JdPSo much about the reading life delights me, but the interconnectedness, the synchronicity, of reading bedazzles me. Much could be written (perhaps later) about the thrill of recognition.

It happens when we watch movies and see an actor we know from a previous movie. As I ended the year listening to All the Light We Cannot See, a private knowledge bubbled inside me. The story begins at Le Jardin des Plantes—a botanical garden— in Paris. I practically own Le Jardin! No, but I know it, a primary location in my 2010 read, Zarafa: A Giraffe’s True Story, from Deep in Africa to the Heart of Paris. The thrill of recognition, indeed!

I love knowing what feeds folks’ reading lists. Sometimes a book is a random choice: a compelling cover, a familiar author, a recommendation. I love the patterns. Because every compelling book I read ends up adding more books to my TBR list. So here are some groupings of books read in 2014

Southern Literature  Always a meaning-to category, I finally made some progress.

Music  Romance on 3 Legs put me into a month-long Glenn Gould fixation

Adams, Eisenhowers, Nixons  two groups I put together

Poetry some gems in this pattern

World War II  the stories keep coming

Books that Stuck with Me Long After I Finished (not listed elsewhere)
• The Approaching Storm, by Nora Waln (Amazon has no image)

Science  My weakest area. I now know the term neuroplasticity! YES!

I am an Amazon Associate: buying a book through these links won’t cost you any extra money, but will add a few pennies to my Amazon account. Thanks!

Books and Food

If you know me, you know that I love books. If you’ve ever met me, you don’t need Aristotelian logic to deduce I love food.

I’ve been modifying my diets, both books and food.  And thinking how the two correlate.  With food and with books, we ingest, digest, and eliminate waste. In some magical way, the stuff we take in becomes part of who we are. Those good bits feed our cells and nourish us. Become part of our DNA. It’s a mystery that last night it was salad, and today it is Carol. And Hey, Boo!, some of the most magnificent words in To Kill a Mockingbird, is also part of who I am.

Hands down, my current favorite food is grapefruit. When I figured out the the best way to eat a grapefruit is to peel it like an orange and eat it section by section, breakfast has become a sensual delight. I like taking my time, peeling back the membrane, removing the seeds, examining the intricate design of one section, soaking in the deep pinkish red, smelling the sweet-sharp citrus, pulling apart a segment, plopping it in my mouth, letting it sit on my tongue, and savoring the flavor before I chew and swallow. There’s the teensiest amount of effort that I willingly expend for the joy of eating the grapefruit. I’m reading less like a fast food meal scarfed in the car and more like a grapefruit, section by beautiful section. Most nourishing reading takes some work, but it rewards the reader with delightful morsels to taste, enjoy, digest.

Since I’ve been ruminating on this topic, one question I ask myself when I pick up a books is, “If this book were a food, which would it be?” This week I finished Barbara Tuchman’s book of essays, Practicing History.  A lot of fiber in that book, a lot to chew. Definitely meat, perhaps a pot roast.  Now I’m smack in the middle of Anthony Trollope’s novel He Knew He Was RightSomething with vinegar, that’s easy to swallow. A kosher dill pickle!  The book about hormones was easy: multivitamin. This morning I sobbed for a half hour while I listened to the final chapter of Eric Metaxus’ Bonhoeffer.  This book is worthy of a yearly re-read. The sweetness of Bonhoeffer’s sacrificial love played with the bitter taste of the Third Reich. It would be impossible to assign one food to this book. It was Babette’s Feast.

I’m reading more slowly, chewing more carefully, gulping less air. La vita è bella

Reading through an Author’s Canon



Do you set goals to read the complete oeuvre of an author? Do you get a little buzz inside your cheek when you read “she’s read all of [fill in author’s name]?

I do.

And I tell myself little fictions about what I’m going to do.

I’m thinking aloud, trying to articulate a reading plan for the year to come. The last plan I made, for 2010, was to read around the world. I read 18 of the 71 titles listed. And reviewing the list makes me want to renew that quest. But when I listed the books read in 2011, I was disappointed in the absence of authors dear to my heart. So, without a formal reading challenge I’m planning to be more intentional with my reading.

In my last post I asked why do you read?  Thank you for your answers, which evoked many happy sighs. Thank you!

My next question is how do you decide what to read next? In my case, it often depends on which bookshelf I browse. The entry-way shelf has an eclectic collection of books just received. Since they are new to me they are the equivalent of shiny objects. The hall shelf holds favorite authors, the Penguin collection, and books which look pretty on the shelf. The guest room shelf is an unorganized hodge-podge of books that no longer fit on the entry-way shelf. The living room bookshelf has the heavy hitters: history, biography, poetry.

I love all the reading challenges that blow by me this time of the year: Ireland, L.M. Montgomery, WWI, North Africa. Part of me wants to join a half a dozen. But I hold back.

I’d love to hear how you decide which book you’ll pick up to read.

And one more question: who are the authors whose entire works you would like to read?

Key phrase: would like to. If you had time to read, if you had access to every book, if, if, if…who would it be?

I made the Wordle above just playing with this idea. I look at it five minutes later and realize that the one author I’ve been thinking about the most in this context—David McCullough—is absent. There is a category of authors—Mark Helprin comes to mind—that I’m not convinced that I will want to read everything. And the thought of actually reading through and finishing Tolkien’s Silmarillion makes me want to shout “I take it back!”

I’ve been reading Barbara Tuchman’s book of essays, Practicing History; she also needs to be added to the list. Reading her is the equivalent of holding Coldstone ice cream on your tongue until it melts. Or perhaps a better analogy would be homemade bread hot from the oven: there is some effort involved, but the end result is nourishing. A sample quote:

When it comes to language, nothing is more satisfying than to write a good sentence. It is no fun to write lumpishly, dully, in prose the reader must plod through like wet sand. But it is a pleasure to achieve, if one can, a clear running prose that is simple yet full of surprises.

My simple plan is this: Read one book from my list of high priority authors a month, before other reading. Then fill in with other books. Though I don’t write much about Bible reading, that tops my list. I’ve bounced between fast and slow Bible reading. I consider reading through the Bible in a year fast reading. But sometimes I catch myself zipping through just to put a checkmark in that box. Then I slow down.

So if on December 31, 2012, when I review my reading, I hope I will see a Chesterton, a Spurgeon, a L.M. Montgomery, a Tuchman, a McCullough, a Dickens and a Trollope on the list.  Yes, that would be lovely.

Who is on your list: Jan Karon? P.D. James? Amy Carmichael? John Milton? J.K. Rowling? N.D. Wilson? Elisabeth Elliot? Agatha Christie? Anna Quindlen? Sigrid Undset?


Why Do You Read?



I’m a schizophrenic.

And so am I.

No, really, I am.

When it comes to reading, different people inside me emerge. The stronger personalities throw an elbow at the weaker until there is a resurgence and the weaker fights back.

I am a reader.

I can’t “not read.” If there is nothing handy to read—a pathetic situation I strive constantly to avoid—I will sound out the ingredients of cereal: barley malt extract, trisodium phosphate, riboflavin, calcium carbonate…

The intersection of schizophrenia and reading is illustrated in the answer to the question “Why do you read?”

I read because I like to read.

I read to learn facts. What does the third verse of In the Garden mean?

I read to be entertained. Tell me a story!

I read as a way to love others. Nothing like a kid on a lap with a book

I read to show love to others. You like Dick Francis? Then I will read him, too.

I read to fulfill obligations. Carol, please read this and let me know what you think.

I read some titles because one is supposed to read them.

I read some titles to say I have read them. Shameless of me to admit it, but true.

I read so I won’t be left behind. The buzz about Unbroken is one instance.

I read to nourish my soul.

I read because I’m bored.

I read because I’m tired.

I read some books to get them off my shelf. I could just remove them, but I want to read them!

I read because someone I admire recommended the book.

I read because someone I’ve never heard of recommended the book.

I read to escape unlovely tasks. A habit begun long ago when I had homework.

I read difficult books because they often reward the effort.  Vigorous reading gives me endorphins.

I read to quench my curiosity.

I read to kindle curiosity.


So, gentle reader, why do you read?


Five Five-Star Books

I feel badly for the next book I pick up to read.  I’ve so thoroughly enjoyed the last five books…the next one’s bound to be a disappointment, don’t you think?  I think six great books in a row is pushing the odds. 

There it was, there it is, the place where during the best time of our lives friendship had its home and happiness its headquartersCrossing to Safety, the story of a life-long friendship between two couples, is full of phrases which reverberated in my bones.  It’s almost a Wendell Berry story in an academic setting.  It’s about four people who read and write and think and debate and spur each other on to excellence.  All her life she had been demanding people’s attention to things she admires and values.  She has both prompted and shushed, and pretty imperiously too.  [Thank you, Alfonso, for the reminder to read this book.]

  I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong HillsOut of Africa is a slow book, one that makes you pause, reflect, think.  Isak Dineson (Karen Blixen) writes with grace, clarity and beauty. Stories are told with the skill of a medieval minstrel.  Her descriptions of people, places, animals, events, weather, conflicts, heartaches…are superb.  It [rain] was like the coming back to the Sea, when you have been a long time away from it, like a lover’s embrace. // [In a drought] Everything became drier and harder, and it was as if force and gracefulness had withdrawn from the world.

One can’t imagine them reading poetry together, she thought, this being her main idea of a happy marriage.  Barbara Pym writes with the insight of Austen, the clerical flavor of Trollope, and the wit of McCall Smith. If you are looking for a light-hearted chuckle and a few horse laughs, Crampton Hodnet is for you. There is a marriage proposal as funny as any I’ve  read.  Oh, Miss Morrow–Janie, he burst out suddenly.  My name isn’t Janie.  Well, it’s something beginning with a J. he said impatiently.  Pure comfort reading.  Miss Morrow went into her bedroom.  She felt that she wanted a laugh, a good long laugh because life was so funny, so much funnier than any book. But as sane people don’t laugh out loud when they are alone in their bedrooms, she had to content herself with going about smiling as she changed her clothes and tidied her hair.  [Thanks, Laura, for the recommendation.]

Did you never hear how the life of man is divided?  Twenty years a-growing, twenty years in blossom, twenty years a-stooping, and twenty years declining. Life on Great Blasket Island, off the west coast of Ireland, was narrow, fierce and primitive.  Yet, life without distractions incubated gifted writers. Oxford University Press has published seven books by Blasket natives. (I’ve read two so far.) Maurice O’Sullivan’s memoir, Twenty Years A-Growing, offers a boys romp herding sheep, fishing the ocean, scrambling on cliffs, and salvaging shipwrecks.  The book is a taste of authentic Ireland, a sliver of joy to read.    Talk is true, but God is strong.  //  It is true, but wisdom comes after action.  //   As the old saying goes, ‘Bitter are the tears that fall but more bitter the tears that fall not.’

I had come to the conclusion that I must really be French, only no one had ever informed me of this fact. I loved the people, the food, the lay of the land, the civilized atmosphere, and the generous pace of life.  Julia Child’s My Life in France is full of zest and zing.  It is as satisfying as a seven-layer salad.  Foodies will frolic through the recipes.  Julia’s marriage to Paul Child is a refreshing splash of camaraderie.  Cross-cultural aficionados will delight in the Childs’ choice to make friends with the French instead of holding hands with the Americans in Paris.  Lifetime learners will lick their fingers at Julia’s example. Late bloomers will take courage from young Julia’s ignorance of cooking  This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook- try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!