For the Love Books and Writing

I don’t remember ever being read to as a child. I don’t remember any children’s books around our house. Ask me my favorite book as a child, I don’t know. I do remember a few books stacked on tables for decoration and Mama sometimes reading a mass paperback book.

The first experience I remember with a book was in 3rd grade. Our teacher, Miss Aden, read aloud each day from the Secret Garden. I was transported into the mysterious world of the sick child, the discovery of the neglected garden and the miracle of transformation.

During high school, my older sisters read Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower, The Wolf and the Dove and passed them down to me. They called them crotch burners, as when the character, Heather Simmons, seeks refuge in the arms of a virile and dangerous stranger.

It took me leaving my Southern home and culture to discover my love of books. My first couple of years at the University of Mississippi had been a social endeavor. I was to join a sorority and assure I would have a husband. I don’t remember my parents discussing what I’d like to major in, but I do remember that my mama didn’t speak to me for weeks when I dropped out of sorority rush.

My brother, eleven years older, became a professor at the University of Montana. After a visit, and falling in love with the rivers he took me on and the mountains we hiked, I decided to finish at U of M in 1981. I studied, became interested in books and learning. I discovered writers such as Tom McGuane, Richard Hugo, Ivan Doig and started reading Southern writers, Eudora Welty and Faulkner. I couldn’t get enough of this newly discovered pleasure.

No wonder when reading Welty’s One Writer’s Beginning, I wished I had grown up in her house:
“I learned from age two or three that any room in the house, at any time of day, was there to read in or to be read to. My mother read to me. She’d read to me in the big bedroom in the mornings, when we were in her rocker together, which ticked in rhythm as we rocked, as though we had a cricket accompanying the story. She’d read to me in the dining room on winter afternoons in front of the coal fire, with our cuckoo clock ending the story with “Cuckoo,” and at night when I’d go in my own bed.” Eudora Welty

Welty lived in the same town I grew up in, Jackson, MS. My parents never spoke of her. They were more concerned with our appearances and place in society. Once I had discovered Eudora Welty I remember though getting chills of excitement when Ms Welty and I were both buying underwear at McRaes department store.

In the 90’s, I moved back to Mississippi after a divorce, to be close to family. As fate would have it, Tom McGuane came to Lemuria Bookstore for a reading of Keep the Change. A little piece of Montana in Mississippi. After the signing, I said my hello’s to John, the bookstore owner. We knew each other from earlier years. Our reconnection landed me a job at his beautiful bookstore. John had recently moved his tiny bookstore into a brand new space with room for each genre, a children’s section that felt like its own store and a first editions room where John kept his office. He ran a smooth operation for author signings, promoting them, assuring we had plenty of their books and a special booth for them to sit, converse with readers and sign their books.

I was in heaven, surrounded by books, talking to customers about books, buying and reading so many books. (For the first time, I had to get prescription eye glasses) Meeting the personalities behind the writing was also a treat. I was struck by the kindness of writers I met such as Kaye Gibbons, Lori Moore, John Grisham, Mark Childress, Ellen Gilchrist, Rick Bass, Tim O’Brien, Jim Harrison, Jimmy Buffett and Willie Morris (I loved Willie, what a character) to name a few. If I were working there today, I’d be meeting Jesymn Ward, Kiese Laymon, Angie Thomas, Natasha Trethewey and Ralph Eubanks.

Books are what I spend my “extra” money on. Often buying more than I have time to read. I’m not a fast reader nor do I devour several books every few weeks, but I read consistently. I find delight in the craft of writing and the talent, along with hard work of writers.

I don’t know about God, but what about the miracle of making strokes on paper that become letters, then words, then paragraphs, an entire page, then a book, a story.

A writer has crafted the words and sentences in a way that makes a reader cry, laugh, empathize, feel connected and understood. Or one is taken on a journey, can feel the air, smell the scents, see the sky and all the surroundings described. They are educated about things they would have never know of before reading the book. Their eyes are opened. They see things differently now.

It is nothing short of a miracle.

As always, thanks for reading.

In the footsteps of Norman Maclean

Sunday afternoon, I sat alone in a theater, surrounded by people and cried. There is a lot of sadness in the world. I was listening to writers speak of this sadness, expressing it so eloquently. The power of words and people who craft them perfectly is enough to bring me to tears.

The In the Footsteps of Norman Maclean festival, free to the public, brought Timothy Egan, Shane Morigeau, Debra Magpie Earling, Terry Tempest Williams, Rick Bass, Doug Peacock and more to the stage.
Rick Bass, who I adore, introduced Terry Tempest Williams with humor and tenderness. They are long time friends.

Terry in turn, told a story of how Rick had been there for her when her brother committed suicide a couple of years ago. He rang, she said and started telling me a story. He didn’t say, “I’m sorry for your loss” nor try to say the right thing. He just told story until they hung up.

In keeping with the theme, public lands and sacred ground, Terry shared a story of Willie Grayeyes, a Navajo Utah commissioner candidate who went to court to prove his residency. You can read more of his case in the Salt Lake Tribune. He did win. Terry asked Willie, “what do we do with our anger?”
“Terry, it can no longer be about anger. It has to be about healing.” Willie Grayeyes


I missed the speakers on Saturday. Heard it was excellent, with a tribute to the late William Kittredge. Terry shared a passage from Bill’s book, Hole in the Sky,
“We tell stories to talk out the troubles in our lives, trouble otherwise so often unspeakable. It is one of our main ways of making our lives sensible. Trying to live without stories can make us crazy. They help us to recognize what we believe to be the most valuable in the world, and help us identify what we hold demonic.” William Kittredge

Doug Peacock shared stories and read from his books. I confess I have not read them yet. Listening to him, I’m inclined to read them. Rick mentioned he requires his students to read, The Grizzly Years. That’s now on my “must read” list.

Another take away was a reminder of the work that needs to be done to save Yaak Valley Forest.
“In addition to being the stronghold of the last 25 grizzlies in the Yaak Valley, the northwest corner of Montana holds one of the great stalwarts for any successful plan for the western United States to successfully weather the rising tide of global warming.” Rick Bass, Black Ram Project.

As a high school friend of Rick’s ex-wife, I had the good fortune to visit and stay with them in the Yaak on several occasions. We’ve floated the river, passing moose, walked in the forest, watched the northern lights from a fire tower and sat atop a mountain ridge with the taste of Rick’s freshly baked pie in our mouths as shooting stars were the free of charge showing for the night.
It is, as many places are, a place worth saving.

“The cruel things I did I took to the river.
I begged the current: make me better.” Richard Hugo “The Towns We Know and Leave Behind, The Rivers We Carry With Us”

As always, thanks for reading.

Rememberings

Well two covid tests came back negative. However, I’m not convinced. Someone I know felt terrible, tested three times. It didn’t show up positive until the 3rd test. I’d be curious to have my antibodies checked.
I’m back at the hotel for a couple of weeks. Feels good to be home. Back to helping Robert, who needs eye drops four times a day to clear an eye infection. Once it’s cleared they will schedule his cataract surgery.
Next Wednesday, I’ll have outpatient meniscus surgery. Supposedly, not too big a deal. You walk out of surgery, then need to keep knee elevated and iced for 2-3 days. I’ll hunker down with some books and writing.
At the library, I picked up Rememberings, Sinead O’Connor’s memoir, which was on my wish list. Five chapters in, I’m loving it. Another testimony to human resilience.
From her forward: “You’ll see in this book a girl who does find herself, not by success in the music industry but by taking the opportunity to sensibly and truly lose her marbles. The thing being that after losing them, one finds them and plays the game better.”
In speaking of her Aunt Frances, ten years older with Down syndrome, “She is like a big walking heart; she loves everything and everyone.” I love the analogy of someone being a big walking heart!
This morning I googled Sinead and learned that her seventeen year old son, Shane O’Connor committed suicide in early January. News I missed and so sad, damn it.
I think I’ll stop there.
Until next time. Thanks for reading. Go gently and seriously be kind.

Nothing Compares 2U

Books to Mark The Past and New Year

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions nor do I enjoy a big celebration. Tonight, you will find me settled in with the two sweet chocolate labs I am pet sitting; the wood stove roaring, reading one of the two books I have going, actually three if you count the one I’m listening to on audible. Listening to books is my best company on trips and driving to pet sitting jobs that are miles away from town. Yesterday, I spent the afternoon cooking (the kitchen is a great cooking kitchen, where I am pet sitting) with my audible book going, a soul enriching experience.
I’ll mark the end of the year with a list of books I have read and a list of books on my “to read” list for the new year.

For Christmas I bought myself at the local bookstore, Fact and Fiction, Heart Radical: A Search for Language, Love and Belonging by Anne Liu Kellor. I took a writing class from Anne, enjoyed her, enjoyed the class and her memoir is taking me on a journey that I am eager to continue on.
From the library, I am reading: Good Morning, Monster: Five Heroic Journeys to Recovery by Catherine Gildiner. Stories of five memorable patients and their journey of recovery. I’d consider myself lucky to have a therapist such as Catherine, as she guides people through and out the other side of trauma. Forgiveness is key to healing.
On Audible, I’m listening to Dear William: A Father’s Memoir of Addiction, Recovery and Loss by David Magee. David lost his son to an overdose. David, a Mississippi boy, struggled with his own addictions. Already, I’m only on chapter two, I can relate to how David grew up in a home that looks happy on the outside but not so much on the inside. His drinking journey is familiar as he starts to drink in high school, finding some relief from his sad home and before you know it, has a drinking problem. He is now a change maker at the University of Mississippi on the education of drug and alcohol use.

Throughout the year I have mainly read memoirs, they are great teachers when writing your own:
Mary Karr’s, The Liar’s Club, Cherry, as well as The Art of Memoir.
Kiese Layman’s Heavy, this was a re-read. Kiese grew up in my hometown of Jackson, MS. I’ll read anything of his!
Rick Bragg’s It’s All Over But the Shoutin’, story of growing up dirt poor in Alabama. Just started this one.
Maya Shanbhag Lang’s What We Carry: A Memoir Maya writes with efficiency about her experience caring for her mother who develops dementia. I loved this quick read.
Tena Clark’s Southern Discomfort: A Memoir, set in rural Mississippi during the Civil Rights era about a white girl coming of age in a repressive society and the woman who gave her the strength to forge her own path—the black nanny who cared for her. You bet I could relate to this one!
Ingrid Rick’s Hippy Boy: A Girl’s Story, about growing up in a dysfunctional Mormon family. (Ingrid has helped me map out my memoir, which she is very skilled at.)
Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped, In five years, Jesmyn lost five men in her life, she revisits their lives and the agonizing loss. Again, I’d read anything of Jesmyn’s.
Kate Moore’s The Woman They Could Not Silence: One Woman, Her Incredible Fight for Freedom and The Men Who Tried to Make Her Disappear, set in 1806, true story of Elizabeth Packard whose husband was threatened by her independence and intellect, had her committed to an insane asylum. When one is conveniently labeled as “crazy” one loses their power and their voices are ignored. (one reason I want to write my own memoir) Elizabeth was later released and went on to free millions and changed the system. A great history lesson and very empowering to read this. I highly recommend.
Ashley Ford’s Somebody’s Daughter, of growing up a poor Black girl in Indiana with a family fragmented by incarceration, exploring how isolating and complex such a childhood can be. Loved and highly recommend.
Matthew McConaughey’s Greenlights, uplifting and entertaining. I listened to this on audible which is fun to “hear” him tell his stories. Don’t think it would be as fun to read it.
Chanel Miller’s Know My Name, whew that was a tough one. Her memoir about her famous rape case on Standford’s campus. I listened to this on audible during a trip.
I’ve read some tough, sad stories, but I think it’s important to learn about other’s trauma in hopes that we can be educated and empathetic.
I needed something a little lighter after Chanel’s story. I chose,
Tiffany Haddish’s The Last Black Unicorn, a sidesplitting, hysterical, edgy, and unflinching collection of (extremely) personal essays, as fearless as the author herself.

I started a couple of novels, but haven’t finished them. I will.
Kiese Laymon’s Long Division
Caroline Patterson’s The Stone Sister

I may have left out some books, but I’m not with my bookshelves at the moment. Coming soon, books I look forward to reading in 2022.
Thanks for reading, and may the New Year bring you happiness and something you’ve been wishing for.