Author: Paulette Camnetar Meeks
Publisher: Xulon Press
Genre: Memoirs/ Short Stories/ Christian Living/ Large Print
Length: 496 pages
Paulette Meeks stood at the table of books at the bookstore after her signing, “Pick one you think you’ll like.” She is in her seventies, has several titles out, and has recently become a writing machine though she’ll tell you, “I never thought I’d be a writer, but God gave me these stories.”
I looked over the books. One is fit for a Sunday School class, one looks fun and spunky featuring a nun zooming by on a motorcycle. I picked Been There, Done That, Really! It has an elderly couple, the sort you imagine have grown old together, looking off into the distance over what I presume is a cup of coffee (could be tea, but I’m partial to coffee drinkers). Obviously, this appeals to me.
I always thought there were two kinds of people in the world – those that prefer the very young and those who prefer the very old. I’m of the old variety. I love my child, but I’ve never been a natural nurturer to children. To me they are just little people who haven’t learned how to function well in society. They don’t yet look beyond their own noses, they are selfish and self-serving. Thanks to hormones and motherhood that view has changed a bit – my daughter is indeed a little person, but I can see the wise woman she will one day be. And the cute, snuggly factor helps.
The elderly, though, have always intrigued me. Even as a very small child, I preferred white hair and wrinkles to the company of my peers. I learned to count by playing SkipBo with a woman who was born at the turn of the century – the 1899 to 1900 one, I realize I have to specify these days. In high school when I did community service projects, I always opted for cleaning homes for assisted living homes in low income neighborhoods over playground session with tiny people. I enjoyed the conversations. Then and now, I like hearing the stories.
If you’re one of those people too, the kind who likes to hear about a lifetime of adventures from someone interested in sharing them, Paulette Meeks’ collection of stories are for you. They are sweet, simple tales from people who just want to talk about their lives a little bit. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
My favorite story was Paulette’s own: Never Too Old to Be Smitten. There is a picture at the start of the story of Paulette and her husband Bill on their wedding day June 29th in 2001. I found the idea of finding love in your sixties so wonderfully sweet. Bill was a widower before Paulette, and I hope that if I die first, my husband finds someone to keep him company before he leaves this world. (We wives like to believe our men can’t live without us. ) More than anything, the word ‘smitten’ is a magical word and it is easy to get caught up in the romance of the meaning while you read the story of their first meeting and first date.
Reading through these stories reminded me of another book I’ve reviewed here before, Rich Fabric, a series of stories about quilting. The proceeds of Rich Fabric go to the Twilight Wish Foundation, and if you’ve read it I think Been There, Done That, Really! will appeal to you.
I had great plans for the year 2013. I do every January. I make lists, I plan reading schedules. I try to join way too many book clubs. I set unreachable goals. More specifically, this year I wanted to read through Susan Wise Bauer’s Autobiographies and Memoirs list. It’s about 25 books long, I think, starting with St. Augustine’s Confessions. It is December. I am still reading Confessions.
I’ve read Confessions before in college. It’s not a difficult read, just an important one. It’s the book I save for early mornings as I watch the sunrise with my coffee. Sometimes I read it aloud to my daughter over breakfast, a lot of times I hunker down in the early light and keep it to myself.
I’ve been keeping a lot to myself over the past few years, which goes against the very core of my being… or the very core of who I am told I am. Throughout my life I have been compared to a babbling brook. Information, life experience, anything goes in… and out it babbles in the blink of an eye. I come off extremely extroverted to people who know me least. I find this ironic because I have so much that I don’t share. I am so back and forth with what feels the most natural (hold it in or spill the beans?) that I have a hard time deciding what teachings are right (hush up and keep it to yourself or Confess?).
After reading The Sparrow and re-reading Augustine’s Confessions in the same year – in the same month, really. You’d think I’d have something deep and eloquent to say about Confession. Or, perhaps, you’d think I’d spill out a confession of some kind in this blog post…
All I’ve got for you in the form of a confession is that the first time I read Confessions was during an all-nighter 12 hours before a test for my literature class at a Baptist college. Note the sarcasm when I tell you the experience was so enriching.
Instead of a true confession, I am reminded of a previous post in which I determined I was not very thoughtful. Instead, I sit here lamenting the fact that I have hardly accomplished anything I set out to do in January at all.
I console myself by saying, hey at least I got published this year! (Which seems very anticlimactic when your book is not a Steinbeck level masterpiece.) It might not be the stunning work of art I dreamed about writing since childhood, but people seem to like it and… there’s always next year!
Again, I say that every year. And thus starts the cycle all over again: A January list of books to read and goals to accomplish. Stepping stones that I believe will turn me into a scholar with at least half a brain. I have a feeling I will lie on my death bed at 105 and say to the heavens, “No, not yet! I’ve learned nothing! And I haven’t figured out how to be thoughtful!” We’ll see. Visit me when I’m 105 and I’ll let you know. Even though I’m a woman, I suspect I might have a beard like this guy by then…
Do you participate in 7 In 7? If you don’t know what it is, http://www.create7in7.com/ is actually a pretty awesome concept and wonderful way of bringing artist together from all genres, mediums and walks of life to dedicate seven days to take on this challenge and ultimately further their artistic abilities and it’s done so in a community which is wonderful.
Title: Harbinger of Evil
Author: Meb Bryant
Genre: Crime Fiction/ Mystery
Length: 248 pages
I met Meb Bryant at her book signing at Half Price Books Humble in October. She’s a lovely lady, sweet, professional, wonderful conversationalist. She left with me a signed copy of her book to review for my blog.
I feel terrible that somehow the book ended up in my manager’s stash cube in the warehouse at the store (how completely unprofessional of me). Yes, a little bit terrible because I feel like I should have gotten a review ready for the author sooner – but mostly selfishly terrible because I denied myself this reading experience for two whole months! Words of wisdom, don’t do that… read Meb Bryant’s work NOW.
Between Dutton sending me Elizabeth George’s latest work, a very full Halloween month of book signings, and the general mood of my year – I’ve read a lot of crime fiction this year. A lot more than usual, anyway, I think. Bryant’s crime work is the best of 2013 – no exaggeration – and I’ve read some really good ones. John Oeyler is excellent, Elizabeth George always nails character development, Pamela Triolo has a grip on a genre all her own (healthcare mysteries with a registered nurse solving the mysteries), but Meb Bryant blew me away.
I adore Richard Mobey, aka Mobey Dick, he’s my favorite white whale. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him, watching him build relationships with the other characters in the novel, witnessing his snotty banter, and finally experiencing him unravel the mystery and put all the puzzle pieces together.
I love the back drop of the novel, there’s no exaggeration with the tagline: New York Crime Meets New Orleans Voodoo. In all my reading history, this is my favorite ‘voodoo’ piece. I can’t think of a better novel set in the French Quarter.
If I had my way Detective Richard Mobey would have a series longer than Inspector Lynley’s, but I have a feeling I won’t be getting my way.
A Short Story by A.K. Klemm
The fawn folded its new legs beneath the soft tuft of its under belly, collapsing ever so gently into the pallet of leaves under the shadow of the thicket. It was vulnerable, but strangely content, hidden from the dangers of the world beyond the green. The chin rubbed against one of its three hundred white spots, the eyes drooped closed, and the fawn went to sleep.
The doe left her baby tucked in the thicket, confident it would be safe but leery nonetheless. A mother could never be completely sure their babies were safe, but she’d done this before and this was the routine. She wouldn’t be more than a hundred yards off and the fawn would be asleep while she was away, so it wasn’t likely that it would make any noise that would give away its location.
The mother darted off, never to return, unwillingly surrendering her offspring to the woods.
When the fawn awoke, each sound, each danger, the wind, the rain, and all other possible threats forced the deer’s ears to flicker and head to lie flat against its own back. Eyes peered through the foliage, searching for its mother, longing for some kind of nurturing love, while the world outside continued to call its name. Here, little deer, come, come, now little deer…
Leaves rustled, dark turned to dawn and the sun shining through the thicket lent itself to flickering shadows and tricks of light. The spots were an effective camouflage, something to help keep it hidden from the world, but it didn’t fool the eyes of the seasoned hunter.
He approached the thicket in the early light, hoping a doe would dart out so he could shoot. He needed something to bring home to his family, and he was here hunting with others. They were off in the distance, sticking to the trails and paths to the water, following tracks. He was different, he sought out the ones hiding in safety, tucked away.
Quickly, he realized there was no doe. He saw only a small baby deer, shivering in the fog. The shake of the skin rippled up its back, causing the spots on its back to look like a flicker. These spots may seem to be a blemish to such a smooth finish, a lovely coat, but they generally kept the creature preserved for the future. Out of sight. Safe.
The hunter watched for a moment. He and the baby deer made eye contact, taking each other in. She was frightened, of course, but as he lowered his gun she seemed to relax. Somehow she knew what the hunter knew, no harm would come to her while he was present. The hunter’s brow furrowed as a shot cracked in the distance. The fawn ducked her head low with a squint.
For most, a fawn alone does not mean it has been abandoned; its mother is always within earshot, there to protect and guide. Fawns are supposed to learn from their mothers. Sure, like any mammal, they are born with innate survival skills, but their mother is the one that shows them the way. They rely on them completely. But this fawn’s mother was gone. Both fawn and hunter knew that she was suddenly alone. Very alone.
Tiny and frail and being sought out by predators in the wood, the hunter winced at his own involvement. He wanted to protect this tiny thing and here he was – part of the problem. He moved a branch, tucked a few sticks around the opening, and ensured no one else would see what he had seen. No one else would be led here, no one else could spy on his baby deer. Because she was his now. He became territorial. He loved her.
He went home with his party, hung his gun above the mantle, and sat with his family by the warmth of the fire. He didn’t share his adventures in the woods with them, he didn’t tell them what he saw there. The fawn was his secret. He heard a howl in the night and thought of the wolves in the dark. They were rabid and forbidding, the hunter’s mind raced, they’d be looking for meals for their own young. The hunter looked out the window and saw the telltale signs of ice soon to fall from the sky. He imagined what would happen when his friends went out the next morning… Boots tromping down trails, crunching leaves and snow drift, breaking icicles off limbs, destroying what was essentially the little mammal’s front porch… and he vowed to go check on her. The weather itself was a threat. No one is there to keep the baby warm, it must rely on burying itself in leaves, its nest, its nook.
The Hunter’s lover called from another room and, distracted, he left the window, forgetting the baby deer and his promise to himself to check on her. His mind was on more important matters of the heart and she was forgotten.
Despite all that, despite being unguarded, an easy target, improperly instructed on the ways of life… this fawn did not lack instinct. Instinct that told her to lie low, to blend in, become one with its environment and do her best to not raise a fuss or get noticed. She belonged to the woods, and ultimately, she knew that the woods were her threat and her home, her danger and her safety.
It takes a strong backbone to wait so patiently, and the little fawn indeed had a strong one.
Storms raged all around the wood, but the deer had found shelter. Through rain and wind, through lightning storms, and crashing tree limbs, through fires erupting from natural electricity, she knew when to wait… when to hunker down and muster up calm when terrified. The deer, alternately, also knew when to stick her neck out finally and forage for sustenance; and as a three week old could already out run most the dangers the woods threatened. Once fed, she kept a steady habit of retreating back to her nest to rest and save energy to grow. So that she would continue to survive.
The hunter had a caring heart and between distractions would come back to the deer in the wood. He found her nesting place undiscovered by foes and kept a periodic eye on this seemingly timid creature. Every now and then he thought he should try to save her, momentary lapses in judgment urged him to want to take her home. Feed her warm milk, offer the nurturing she had always lacked. Loving souls long to save and be needed, to protect small animals from the scary evils of their existence. Loving souls long to offer shelter, to provide consistency and warmth.
The deer would appreciate comfort and protection; it missed the nurturing it never received. But both hunter and deer knew removing the deer from the wood would be unwise. Left alone she would still manage to grow into a strong force of the forest.
Over time, she found other deer; a herd, a few who accepted her and looked out for her, some of her own kind who she could also look out for. They helped each other the best they could, as a herd will do, though the moment a sound startled them it was always every one for themselves, rather than one for all and all for one. Instinct required this. Survival of the fittest ensued.
To be rescued would have been lovely. To grow up as a pet near a fireplace, cozy and well taken care of, patted and loved like a hound. But then the deer would have been denied the strength gained from stretching her legs. She would have never found her herd, really grown into the doe of the forest she was meant to be. She would have never worked her muscles and grown keen eyesight from fighting for her life every day.
She thrived in the treachery of the forest. She taught herself what was edible and what was not, she watched and learned from the herd what she could when her own experience was lacking. She found her own streams; she frolicked in her own meadows. She found coziness where there seemingly was none. She dodged the bullets of the other hunters and the sharp teeth of the wolves. Time and time again she escaped the terror, found her way to safety some how.
By the end of summer, the deer stood proud. She had lost her spots and earned the right to stand there so tall. She never became the most beautiful – she did not stand out from the forest or her herd; she did not grow to be the strongest – having missed out on important protein from her mother’s milk. But the deer made it. She learned, she grew, and she can protect herself now. She has strong hooves, powerful kicks and she can keep predators at bay.
One day the hunter spotted her in a clearing. She saw him see her, she knew him by his scent. She found a way to both stiffen and relax, comfortable with his presence, but terrified some day soon he wouldn’t lower his gun the same way. There would be mouths to feed, the lover who distracted him that night in the cabin would take priority, something or another would simply be different. They made eye contact, two souls lost in a moment…
She was never rescued, but after all she didn’t need to be – not really. She belongs to the woods.
Title: The Sparrow
Author: Mary Doria Russell
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Literature/ Philosophical Fiction
Length: 431 pages
In 1996, 2019 must have seemed so far away. Now, in 2013, while reading Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow I am struck with the oddity of dates in science fiction novels and the disadvantage of time. Then again, Russell’s novel isn’t science fiction so much as philosophy and a study of human nature and peoples’ thoughts on God.
It is like 1984 that way, a study of the world as it is and always will be, not just one particular society. And like 1984, The Sparrow is timeless.
More than God and philosophy and all those huge thoughts I’m supposed to have about the book – you know, the ones you discuss in Book Club and during literature courses in college – I was stunned by the humanity of it all.
Quotes about relationships like,
“The antagonism he sensed but could not understand. And finally, ending at the beginning, the almost physical jolt of meeting her. Not just an appreciation of her beauty or a plain glandular reaction but a sense of… knowing her already, somehow.”
Russell’s work is full of those moments. Those gut reactions, nuances, and descriptions of sensations everyone has had at some point in their life – or if they haven’t, they will. Those epic feelings of “knowing,” the ones people adore having in movie-like surrealism, but are completely caught off guard and unprepared when they happen.
Russell has written something uniquely philosophical and thought provoking, but amidst aliens and Christian theology, atheism, Judaism… in space travel and anthropology, I was caught off guard by the sensation of understanding these characters so completely that I felt like they were my own. If not my own, a part of me… or maybe, just me.
I am riveted by the emotional anorexic. I am captivated by the seduction of doing God’s purpose. I am amazed by their choices.
More than that, I wish I could write something like this – something so thoughtful. But I suppose the reality of my life is that I am stubborn and obedient, curious and creative, but not thoughtful. No, I am not that.
I seem to be lacking the thoughtfulness and critical thinking skills, the ability to really pursue enlightenment. Instead, I find myself caught up in the safety and the dogma, and more than anything in the whole book, the innocent friendship between Sofia and DW – that was my favorite part. How simple of me to read something so profound and I just want to bask in a cozy friendship.
1. Writing things by hand. Letters to friends, lists for the store, goals for the week, notes for lovers, thank you cards and memos to coworkers. Digital communication is easy and convenient but ask anybody: there's a huge difference between texting someone to say that you love them and hope they have a great day and writing it on a note and leaving it next to their bed.
I’ve been a slacker these last few weeks. At least it feels that way. I am behind on my reading – but when am I not? My house is not nearly as clean as I would like it to be – since when is this news? And I’ve been doing an awful lot of just ‘hanging out.’
Just thinking about the act of doing nothing makes me cringe sometimes. I’m a doer. Albeit a relaxed doer, but a doer nonetheless.
Then, I realized, it’s family season. I’m supposed to be hanging out. Thanksgiving just passed. It’s almost Christmas.
Plus, sometimes the reading bug is in a coma because it’s still caught up in the last book you read.
You know that one, “the book hangover.” You can’t move on to a new title with the same level of zest because your brain keeps lulling back to old characters. I felt that way pretty heavily after I finished reading The Hunger Games series in a two-to-three day stint. And now, I have half a mind to re-read the book that has induced this coma… Heirloom by S.Smith.
How appropriate that in this season of friends and family, Heirloom has such a gloriously familial title.
There’s just nothing more appropriate in the holiday season than a search for a missing father. Questions that rise up in every little girl’s heart, whether her father is present or missing are subtly addressed in Smith’s book as Lily asks, “Do you think my father will like me?”
Of course, another character responds, you’re his daughter so he loves you.
Little girls just can’t hear that enough.
Then as Lily finally (*spoilers*) makes her way home, I just want to bask in the hominess of it all. I’ve been lurking around in a Seed Savers hominess fog for weeks. In my impatience I want to scream, “When do I get a copy of Keeper!?”
My only response is the last page of Heirloom, “Keeper, Coming in 2014.”
2014 cannot get here fast enough.
If you haven’t purchased your copy of Seed Savers: Heirloom, please do so by clicking the link with the title.
Author: Donald Sturrock
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genre: Biography/ Literature
Length: 656 pages
“…Count to three…
Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.
Take a look and you’ll see into your imagination.
We’ll begin with a spin…
Traveling in a world of my creation.
What we’ll see will defy explanation!”
I don’t know anyone who didn’t grow up enthralled with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the movie). I know many who were equally amazed by the books below, though obviously less because after all there aren’t as many book-nerds as there are movie goers.
I dreamed of writing books like these as a child. As an adult, though I am an aspiring novelist with a novella recently published, however, I find myself longing to be a biographer. That’s where the real talent lies.
Donald Sturrock’s Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl is fascinating. You wouldn’t think reading a biography on a man who hated biographies would be so riveting, but it is. I also never expected the man who had such a vivid imagination to have such an involved life. For some reason I usually expect people who imagine much to live little. I am constantly being proven wrong.
When reading the opening pages, I was at first struck with how much I previously didn’t know about Dahl at all. Little things, like his height. I didn’t know that Dahl was so tall, six foot five! Then describe his personality: a witty bit of a curmudgeon… an entertainer, someone always intrigued by the best of things… in those early pages I thought I might fall in love with him! Too bad he was married, would be far too old if he were living, and by the way is also dead.
Further into the biography, the magic wears off as he becomes more and more a real person. Everyone has flaws. I find his attachment to celebrity and his name-dropping a huge turn off as a human, but I still adore him. However, rather than continue to adore Dahl the way I did from the start of the book, I find myself completely compelled to discover more about this biographer.
The life of researchers ever pique my interest. I am an amateur. I read and read and read, take notes, and then hop and skip over to a new topic. I rarely develop ideas as thoroughly as I should, and though I never become bored with a topic I quite frequently find myself distracted by the shiny newness of others. A biographer – a good biographer – can’t be so willy-nilly. I respect that. I am envious of that.
In regards to Roald Dahl, all I can say is that you should read Sturrock’s biography. I don’t like giving away spoilers, but I think the year 2014 will be full of Dahl titles, both because I am newly inspired to read them and my kiddo is ready to hear me read the children’s titles aloud, I think.
Dahl died November 23, 1990. In honor of his Death-aversary, Good Books in the Woods held a chocolate tasting (compliments of Schaokolad in The Woodlands). One of the patrons had actually met Dahl in person before his death so the discussion, as all discussion at Good Books, was exciting and rather involved.