Tag Archive - Words

Reading Allowed

A little Sabbath gift to you. From one of my favorite contemporary poets, Taylor Mali. Go ahead and blush in the beginning if you need to, but keep listening. Beautiful words about magic and joy, of receiving them and passing them on…

Wild Geese…

By the time this posts, I will be on the trail. If all is well. For a good bit of the day I will chase slanting rays of sunlight through the trees. I will share the company of chipmunks, owls, snakes, squirrels, deer, and several hundred birds. Though I might not see all of them. I will breathe air scented by blossoms and old leaves and raw wood. And there is a fairly good chance that there will be rain. And I will be glad. And listen as it trickles down through the canopy, over branches and leaves. And feel the cool of it against hot, salty skin.

And I will be healed by the miles of dust and hills. And washed. And I will know my place…

Thank you, Mary Oliver, for these words…

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

~Mary Oliver

Booklist: On Writing

Sometimes writing is like magic. Ideas, words, come from some place outside of me and flow through my hands onto a page. I look at them in astonishment. As though someone else had written them. But most of the time, writing is work. Hard work. And talent and instinct only carry one so far.

There is a craft to writing. And if I want to tell stories that impact others, I must learn this craft. I have had the great good fortune to know some gifted writers personally. Their advice has been invaluable to me. But, I have also benefited from the teaching of authors who have generously put their thoughts about writing on paper for all of us. Here are some of my favorites.

On Writing by Stephen King I have this book in hard copy and on audio. I am listening to it right now for the 3rd or 4th time. In the first part of the book, King tells his story. In the second, he builds a “tool chest” for writers. Both parts are indispensable. Whenever I get whiny about not being able to find time or space to write, I remember King, after a long day of teaching, sitting in the utility room with his typewriter on his lap.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott Irreverent and funny, Anne Lamott is a pleasure to read. From the “shitty first draft” to publication, she is with you all the way. And every now and then she drops a passage like this:

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve thought there was something noble and mysterious about writing, about the people who could do it well, who could create a world as if they were gods or sorcerers. All my life I’ve felt that there was something magical about people who could get into other people’s minds and skin, who could take people like me out of ourselves and then take us back to ourselves.

Me too.

A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver Do not be deceived. Poets are not the only writers who will benefit from the wisdom of this Pulitzer winning author. She has much to say about nourishing our creative sensibilities and will inspire and provoke you with her words. So many quotable phrases, but this is one of the best:

For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes indeed.

The War of Art and Do The Work by Stephen Pressfield Each of these books provides an unapologetic kick in the pants and urges us to stop being willing victims of resistance, and get out there and create. The principles are applicable to artists of all types, as well as entrepreneurs, CEO’s, missionaries, anyone who has a call to do something in this world.

If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me…Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.

Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White “Omit needless words.” It is one of the principles of composition in this much revered standard of grammar and good taste. It is also the practice of its authors. Succinct and elegant. Indispensable.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron Subtitled “Creativity as a Spiritual Practice”, Cameron’s book guides us on a path of recovering our creative voice. Through “morning pages” and a number of other creative practices to help us know our true hearts, she helps unleash that which is buried within.

Steering the Craft and The Wave in the Mind by Ursula LeGuinn The first is a practical guide to various elements of writing like point of view or sound (“the slither and crunch of onomatopoeia” for instance :)). The second is a collection of essays and speeches on “the writer, the reader, and the imagination”.

To me a novel can be as beautiful as any symphony, as beautiful as the sea. As complete, true, real, large, complicated, confusing, deep, troubling, soul enlarging as the sea with its waves that break and tumble, its tides that rise and ebb.

Mystery and Manners by Flannery O’Connor A marvelous look inside the mind of one of the most perceptive and eloquent writers ever to tell the peculiar stories of the south. It is philosophy as much as anything. Like her stories. Good, wise, true.

Our age not only does not have a very sharp eye for the almost imperceptible intrusions of grace, it no longer has much feeling for the nature of the violences which precede and follow them.

Letters To A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke Candid and intimate advice from one of my very favorite poets. On art, and beauty, and finding the poetry inside oneself.

So That You Will Hear Me

I give her Neruda with her milk. I read him aloud for both of us. Sometimes she stops sucking and listens. And I wonder what she hears. She is three months old. I know she does not understand all the words. But there is something. Something in the way they shape my voice. Stories under the words. My stories. The way he calls them forth with his incantations. Already she knows.

And I realize that much of what she will hear me say over our lives will not be words. It will be the story inside. The way it quickens my breath. Or clouds my eyes. That barely perceptible change in cadence. And she will hear something I did not mean to say. Some part of me that I would have hidden, laid bare. And perhaps it is better.

So That You Will Hear Me

So that you will hear me
my words
sometimes grow thin
as the tracks of the gulls on the beaches.

Necklace, drunken bell
for your hands smooth as grapes.

And I watch my words from a long way off.
They are more yours than mine.
They climb on my old suffering like ivy.

It climbs the same way on damp walls.
You are to blame for this cruel sport.
They are fleeing from my dark lair.
You fill everything, you fill everything.

Before you they peopled the solitude that you occupy,
and they are more used to my sadness than you are.

Now I want them to say what I want to say to you
to make you hear as I want you to hear me.

The wind of anguish still hauls on them as usual.
Sometimes hurricanes of dreams still knock them over.
You listen to other voices in my painful voice.

Lament of old mouths, blood of old supplications.
Love me, companion. Don’t forsake me. Follow me.
Follow me, companion, on this wave of anguish.

But my words become stained with your love.
You occupy everything, you occupy everything.

I am making them into an endless necklace
for your white hands, smooth as grapes.

~Pablo Neruda

Booklist: The Boy Books

Reluctant readers.
Sometimes.
Boys.

Unless….

…unless you introduce them to books like these. Read them aloud. On the porch. In a treehouse. In a tent. With a flashlight. Snuggled together in bed. Make gifts of them to your boys; beautiful hardcover editions that they will treasure. Here are some family favs. I can hardly wait to hear yours.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George Young Sam Gribley runs away from home and lives for a year in the Catskill Mountains. He makes his home in a hollowed out tree, trains a falcon to hunt for him, sews a suit of deerskin clothes, and wrests a living from the land. What little boy does not want to live this life? We also loved the sequels, On the Far Side of the Mountain and Frightful’s Mountain. Incidentally, George wrote a great many engaging books from a naturalist perspective, including the Newberry winner, Julie of the Wolves. We have read most of them. Marvelous all.

Rascal by Sterling North I watched Joshua’s eyes grow wide as we read about young Sterling’s collection of wild animals, at the center of which was a baby raccoon. For a few days, he was Sterling. Rascal was his very own. And when there were tough decisions to be made, those were his too. Incidentally, we bought Jake a stuffed raccoon because he loved this book so much.

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman Poems about insects. Fascinating and fun. And all told in two voices. So you and your son can read in tandem. Voices weaving over and under, into and out of one another. It is an intimate and delightful experience to breathe a poem together. Try it!!

The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques This was the first group of books Jake asked for as a gift. He devoured them. When I began reading them aloud again with Joshua, Jake sat in. Because he loved them so. Set in a middle ages landscape, peopled by animals, this is a delight for boys becoming men.

King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green Knights and armor, dragons, swords and daring deeds. So much that little boys love. And honor. You will have the opportunity to negotiate that with them. To imagine themselves in the place of these men. What would they do?  *I favor the Green edition because it is clean and uncluttered. We have read Mallory as well; beautiful but cumbersome.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” Mole, Toad, Badger…boats, carriages, and motorcars. And questions about how we choose to live life. About fear and fury.

Black Ships Before Troy and The Wanderings of Odysseus by Rosemary Sutcliff (Homer)  Gods, heroes, monsters…all the fodder of little boy dreams. Epic stories…The Iliad and The Odyssey…made approachable by the art of Rosemary Sutcliff. Seek out the gorgeous hardcovers with illustrations by Alan Lee.  Marvelous! Sutcliff wrote wonderful historical fiction of her own, most of which is boy friendly.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard Atwater Joshua’s favorite book ever. Quirky and thoroughly delightful. Do NOT judge it by the new film. Two very different things. Mr. Popper dreams of adventure. But he is a man with responsibilities. No worries. Adventure is coming to him. Humorous and heart warming. A precious book.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien Joshua’s other favorite book ever. 🙂 “There is more to you than you know, Bilbo Baggins.” It is a message we all need to hear. We all need desperately to believe. That when push comes to shove and we are tested, there will be glory in us.

The Magician’s Nephew, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis We read and loved all the Chronicles of Narnia. But Joshua was very particular that these were the ones I should include. He would also have you know that seeing the movie does not equal reading the book. That liberties were taken, especially in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, that were not to his liking. Magic, quiet heroism, and characters who bury themselves deeply in your heart.

Homer Price by Robert McClosky A world of simple pleasures, innocent boyhood fun. Rural, small town America of almost a hundred years ago now. Misadventures. Accidental heroics. And great good humor.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls A little boy works, and saves, and schemes to buy two coon hound pups. He faithfully trains them and gives them his whole heart. And they give their hearts to him. Love. Costly love. This is a difficult book with hard things. Read it aloud with your boy. Give him a chance to talk from the heart to you. Walk into the door this book will open. It’s alright to stop reading to cry. Ask me how I know….

My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett Unlikely heroes. Whimsy and absurdity. And dragons. A great first chapter book.

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare 13 year old Matt helps his father build their homestead, then must stay and protect the claim….alone….while his father goes to fetch his mother and sisters. There will be unexpected complications and what is asked of him becomes more arduous than any of them could have imagined. He will build meaningful friendships with a native tribe, and they will exchange understanding and good will. He will also have to make hard decisions about keeping impossible promises.

Also consider Speare’s The Bronze Bow, a compelling story of anger, and grace, and Jesus.

Detectives in Togas by Henry Winterfield A mystery. A comedy. And a memorable romp through Ancient Rome.

 

Your turn! Tell me about the books your boys love. Please!

Booklist: The LOST Books

So, here is the plan. For the next few Wednesdays…til such time as I run completely out of ideas….Wednesday will be booklist day here on the old blog. Posts about books are always among my most popular, and are sources of great reads for me personally. If you are a bibliophile, or a wanna-be bibliophile, or even if you don’t know how to spell bibliophile :), check back each week. You never know what you might find. And I NEED your input!

This weeks premise: You just bought a ticket on Oceanic flight 815. (For those of you who did not watch the television show LOST, your flight is going down. Sorry.) Let us assume that you know you will end up on a deserted island. (THEY asked you to believe things much more far-fetched than this.) You have room to pack ten books. Turns out you are the only reader on the plane. So these are the books you will read and re-read over and over for the next few years. What will they be?

This is not a list of your “favorite” books, necessarily. Some books are great for a single read, but do not bear repetition. Which books can you give yourself to again and again? I chose to include no more than one book by any particular author, but this is not necessary. Here’s my packing list (as always, in no particular order):

On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius Truth be told, if this were the only book I had, I would have plenty to contemplate. The introduction by C.S. Lewis could occupy the first year. Then perhaps, I would be ready for Athanasius. So much that is essential to all you and I believe about God, and most particularly about His Son, are articulated here….compellingly, artistically, completely. Profound and rich.

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton There have only been two or three books I have ever read that I immediately read again. This was one of those. So much to digest here. Truth conveyed in a compelling voice. One that gets inside and rattles around and won’t be quieted. One that will expand your mind and create new receptors of truth. So that you might see more completely. More deeply.

Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God I can’t imagine a life without poetry. My original list had several poets. It broke my heart to remove some of them. I kind of wanted to cry. (And, hypothetically, if I were to include another it would be Thirst by Mary Oliver. :)) But Rilke is the voice that has most clearly spoken my heart’s cry. In words that I could not find, but so desperately needed. I have screamed his words. I have whispered them. I have prayed them. It is this collection in which I found him first. And it is this dog-eared, tear-stained volume that I return to again and again.

A Book of Hours: Thomas Merton compiled by Kathleen Deignan and John Giuliani I have read many volumes of Merton. He is kindred spirit. A fellow yearner after God. But one so far ahead of me on the path. I tentatively put my feet into his footprints…and hope that some day I will sprawl at the feet of God with such reckless abandon as did he. I select this particular volume because it is a potent distillation of his words. Any single paragraph gives me food for a day. I have copied prayers from here to my phone so that they are with me always.

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle I mourned her death as though we had known one another. Because in my heart there was a dream….that someday she and I would linger over tea and talk. About life. About art. About God. So approachable she seemed.  So honest. So real. It was folly, I know. But read the book and see if you don’t feel the same. Such lovely nourishment herein. Deep breaths of beauty. To fan the flame of creativity within me. To help me ardently pursue the sometimes elusive beauty around me. Madeleine L’Engle is a worthy guide.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky Thus far I have only read it twice. But I hope that, before the end of my life, I will have read it many times. Such deeply layered characters. No villain is beyond redemption. No hero is without weakness. And the stories that weave them all together, ahhhhh. So much to explore. Each time nuances emerge. So obvious one wonders how it was hidden before. As we bring to it our hurts, our longings, our loves, it gives to us something we were not ready for on the last reading.

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis Limiting myself to only one by Lewis was quite difficult. But in the end, I had only to consider how many times I had re-read each, and this was the obvious choice. Around half a dozen times thus far. And not nearly done. Some of the characters live SO close to my heart that I can not read without being drawn completely into the story. Pages blur and I am there. Answering the questions. Feeling the fear. The wonder. The…joy.

I will not lie to you. This book has caused me considerable pain. But pain of the best sort. The kind that wounds to heal. Destroys to bring life. Kills to resurrect. (If you should elect to give it a go, I encourage you to push past the first few chapters which might seem slow. Do not give up early. You can’t imagine what awaits you! Press on!!!!)

Beauty The Invisible Embrace by John O’Donohue It is my husband who has a confirmed Irish bloodline. Hello! MULLICAN!! But, when I read John O’Donohue, I feel I am reading a kindred soul. I have done three complete readings thus far, but have gone back and perused underlines and notes far more often than that. The way that he interlaces beauty, and nature, and spirit, and God together throbs deeply within me. His words are like a washing of sweet spring rain. Like the scent of lavender and roses. I read it as gift to myself. As a cleansing of the soul.

Candide by Voltaire Yes, he was ingenius. Yes, he was the poster-child of the Enlightenment. But, he was also one of the most brilliant satirists to ever live. I laugh myself silly all the way through the book. Sometimes I agree with what he is spouting, sometimes not. But always I am in awe of his artistry…his ability to tell an evocative and entertaining story in which is enmeshed all that he believes about the world. I would read it for fun. You don’t believe me? I double-dog dare you to try it.

Lilith by George MacDonald It would be fair to say that I read it the first time kicking and screaming. It had been recommended by my counselor. How’s that for vulnerability? Because I needed to learn how to die. And he knew Lilith could show me how. I knew lots of facts about my situation. But it was a story that would take me where I could not go by myself. I have read it since. And seen layers I did not see on my first visit. Like a complex and beautiful landscape through which I hurtled the first time in search of that death scene that would be life to me. I know there is more still to be found. I would bring Lilith. She has been been a true friend.

The Bible Not because it’s the Sunday School answer. Not because it’s the “right” answer. But because it’s the right answer. Comfort for those who mourn. Provocation for those who are self-satisfied. Correction for those who would do well, but are misguided. And I have been all. Stories without end. And poems. And prayers. The story of God. Of His Son. Of His people. Of the lost, the weary, the desperate, the courageous, the audacious, the confused, the rebellious, the restored, the healed, the ones who persist in hope. You. Me.

P.S. Yes, I realize most of my books have a faith connection. Coincidentally, so do I. Though I read books from many faith, or non-faith, perspectives, the ones I choose to live with, to roll around in, to let crawl all up inside me, tend to be those written by a questing heart, imperfect to be sure, but relentless in pursuing the things of God. No apologies.

Your turn. The LOST books. Go!!

Sacred Honor…

It’s only a few words, really. It can be read in five minutes time. Oh, but the power they carry! The inevitable tide on which they ride. The lives given freely in a war that has raged for a year already. For a cause. A cause of shifting shape….

In the beginning, we simply implore that we, the colonies, be given fair representation…consent of the governed…a right guaranteed by the Magna Charta. But when King George arrogantly refuses our entreaties, separation becomes the only viable option. However…

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

And so they write. Words that elevate and ennoble. Words that challenge and provoke. Words that convict…for we do not always live up to them. Words that speak of hope and of glory. Of right and responsibility.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

These words will not come cheap. Each signature on this document is a death warrant. Treason. Treachery. Betrayal. What did these men see that gave them the courage to do what they did? What was the dream that was worth more than their own lives? Could I do this?

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

It is a story that is still being written. By men and women who offer their lives for the cause of freedom, here and around the world. By individuals audacious enough to believe that one person can make a difference, and that each of us has indispensable gifts to bring to the world. Today we honor their forebears. Courageous men who showed us the way.

*To read the Declaration of Independence in its entirety, click here. Painting by Brent Godfrey.

More Gold Than Gold…

I know that it was myth that converted C.S. Lewis. I know that he was reluctant. Resistant in the extreme. He speaks to it in Surprised by Joy. But not like this.

I know that George MacDonald was a hero to him. So much so that he cast him as a dispenser of wisdom in The Great Divorce. In fact he said of him,

I have never concealed the fact that I regarded George MacDonald as my master; indeed, I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.

I was not surprised that he had written the introduction to Phantastes. I was surprised that I was so distracted by it. That I couldn’t stop reading it. Over and over.

He treats of myth and its power of enchantment. Its ability to seep into the deepest, most essential parts of us. Truth, marvelously cloaked in phantasy.

For your edification, for your education, for your provocation,  I offer an appetizer…an enticement…a seduction.

Of myth in general…

It produces works which give us (at the first meeting) as much delight and (on prolonged acquaintance) as much wisdom and strength as the works of the greatest poets. It is in some ways more akin to music than to poetry or at least to most poetry. It goes beyond the expression of things we have already felt. It arouses in us sensations we have never had before, never anticipated having, as though we had broken out of our normal mode of consciousness and possessed joys not promised to our birth….

Of his first encounter with Phantastes

It must be 30 years ago that I bought, almost unwillingly…the Everyman edition of Phantastes. A few hours later I knew that I had crossed a great frontier….aware that if this new world was strange, it was also homely and humble; that if this was a dream, it was a dream in which one at least felt strangely vigilant; that the whole book had about it a sort of cool morning innocence, and also, quite unmistakably, a certain quality of Death, good Death. What it actually did to me was to convert, even to baptise (that was where the Death came in) my imagination. It did nothing to my intellect nor (at that time) to my conscience. Their turn came far later….

The quality that had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live….I see there was no deception. The deception is all the other way round–in that prosaic moralism which confines goodness to the region of Law and Duty, which never lets us feel in our face the sweet air blowing from ‘the land of righteousness’, never reveals that elusive Form which if once seen must inevitably be desired with all but sensuous desire–the thing (in Sappho’s phrase) ‘more gold than gold.’

*P.S. I have read already two of MacDonald’s works. Lilith is one of the most pivotal books of my life. I have read it multiple times. Her story is my story in more ways than I can explain. She helped me to go places I couldn’t get to by myself. The Wise Woman is troubling and provocative and redemptive. And I can tell you that, 4 chapters in, Phantastes is truly captivating.

**All bolds in the post mine.

Midnight in Paris

The film opens with a glorious montage of Paris scenes, 1920’s era Jazz playing underneath, and I know that I am being transported…lifted out of my common existence for a bit and carried far away. I just have no idea how far……

On this night I will party with Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald while Cole Porter belts out tunes on the parlor piano. I will listen with mouth agape to the profound ramblings of one Ernest Hemingway. I will arrive at the salon of Gertrude Stein just in time to hear her critique the work of a passionate young Spanish painter. Pablo Picasso. At every turn they are there waiting for me; the luminaries of 1920s Paris. It is a most marvelous adventure as I stumble upon Salvadore Dali….he is quite a character…T.S. Eliot…the exquisite Josephine Baker. I must be dreaming…

Gil is a writer. He came to Paris once when he was a young man. He can’t remember why he left. He is enchanted by the city. It nourishes something deep inside him. His fiance and her family, on the other hand, seem determined to be uncharmed by the city. Cynical and without imagination, they exploit  but refuse to understand. One quickly gets the sense that this is their approach to Gil as well.

One evening he takes a stroll to clear his head. As an ancient clock clangs the hour of midnight, a car pulls alongside him and whisks him away into the world he feels he was born for, Paris in the 1920s. The “perfect era”. It is his dream I have been walking in, not my own. Though for all the delight it brings me, it might as well have been.

He meets a girl, Adriana. She was mistress once to Modigliani, then Braque, and now Picasso. A haunting beauty (played mesmerizingly by Marion Cotillard), she captivates Gil. And she finds in him a safe place to confide that she too longs to have lived in a different time. La Belle Epoque of Paris; the 1890s. We will pay a little visit to this world as well, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Paul Gauguin, Edgar Degas, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec at the Moulin Rouge. She will decide to stay here. Gil will not.

In between the gorgeous cinematography and the continual delight of bumping into these remarkable personages, there are questions to ponder. Questions about fear. About dreams. About settling, taking the path of least resistance. About escape. And about, as Hemingway says, what is true.

Midnight in Paris is one of the most enjoyable films I have ever seen. My fellow theater goers and I laughed out loud in places. Gasped and sighed. Owen Wilson gives a most nuanced and winsome performance. And though I will not spoil the film by revealing how it all turns out in the end, I will tell you that there is a very satisfying last scene…on a bridge…with a girl…in the rain…

To ponder: If you could visit any past era, any location, where would you go? I would love to know.

Before They Leave…

My baby is going to school next year. My fourteen year old. We have come to the end of home-schooling. Which means, I am mostly done choosing the books he reads.

I’m panicking a little.

Because he shared much of his childhood with teenaged siblings, he and I had fewer long lazy days on the porch pouring through wonderful literature. I realize there are still a few books that we have not read that he simply must know…for the wisdom within, for the whimsy, the magic…for the common language it gives us as a family. So I am playing catch up. He has been a good sport as I drag books along on road trips. As we snatch lazy summer afternoons for a little explore. It has been sweet to see him fall in love with the same characters his brother and sister loved so well. And it has been sweet to hear the excitement in the brother’s voice when he gets to hear the story again.

Certainly we have read books over the years that were specific to a given child and his/her interests. But there are a few books I would have all of them experience before they leave home. I thought I would share some of those with you. I implore you to share yours with me. For the grandbabies, you know. 🙂

In no particular order:

The Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter Each child had favorites, but we read them all. Over and over. For simple eloquence, for the delicious watercolors, for sprinkling every wild rabbit, squirrel, and duck with tiny grains of magic, this one is a must.

The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie the Pooh “Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best — ” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.

And there you have it. A cuddly contemplative with the most delightful turns of phrase, friendly adventures, and loyal pals.

The Chronicles of Narnia Magic, Honor, Courage, Grace, Loyalty, Love…all wrapped up in the most marvelous stories. If there had been fifty, we would have joyfully read them all.

The Phantom Tollbooth We just re-read this one on the way to the beach, all of us laughing out loud. Terribly clever, hysterical at times, yet subtly profound.

A Wrinkle in Time I should admit that I have an inordinate fascination with Madeleine L’Engle, her fiction and non-fiction, but truthfully this is one of my son’s favorite books ever. If your brain has gotten dusty; if you live within rigid confines of thinking; this book will blow the dust off and expand your view. And take you on the adventure of a lifetime.

My Side of the Mountain I read this story of a little boy who lives in the Adirondack Mountains for a year, by himself, providing his own shelter, food, and clothing by his cunning and hard work, and I watch my children’s eyes. I know they want to run away and do the same thing. I might want it a bit myself. I commend to you the entire trilogy.

Julie of the Wolves Another book (and series) by the same author, Jean Craighead George. Survival, again. Choices. And an intimate acquaintance with the natural world and with a way of life that is too quickly vanishing from our earth. Fascinating.

Rascal Small town America. A little boy collects a whole menagerie of animals, including one clever, mischievous and much beloved raccoon. A story about love…and about letting go.

Homer Price An automatic doughnut making machine run amok. Pet skunks who foil bank robberies.  A gigantic ball of string that leads to a marriage. Just a sampling of the good clean fun in this charmingly quirky book. (by Robert McCloskey, author of two more of our favorites, Blueberries for Sal and Make Way for Ducklings)

D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths Brilliantly illustrated by Caldecott winners, Edgar and Ingri D’Aulaire, this gorgeous book provides a remarkably thorough introduction to the great legends of Ancient Greece.

The Wheel on the School A Dutch fishing village. School children who dare to dream audacious dreams. Learning that sometimes the way to find something is to look everywhere it could not possibly be. A crusade that galvanizes a community. And storks.

The House of Sixty Fathers Set in China during World War II, this is a world of Sampans, rice paddies, houseboats, hunger, fear, and kindness without bounds. (Meindert Dejong, author of this and  The Wheel on the School, is one of those authors we love so, we have checked out everything he wrote from the library. They are all wonderful.)

Black Ships Before Troy and The Wanderings of Odysseus Rosemary Sutcliff’s enchanting re-tellings of The Iliad and The Odyssey. I bought the gorgeous hardcovers with Alan Lee’s stunning illustrations for each of my children so that they can share them with their own children some day.

Where the Sidewalk Ends
If you are a dreamer, come in.
If you are a dreamer,
A wisher, a liar,
A hoper, a prayer,
A magic bean buyer.
If You’re a pretender,
Come sit by my fire,
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in! Come in!

No child should grow up without the whimsical wordplay of Shel Silverstein.

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiller Art, a mystery, Michelangelo, and two brave kids running away from home to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What could be better?

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Fanciful and fun, to be sure. But also deep and difficult. A book to wrestle with. Together.

This is, of course, only a smattering of the books we have read over the years. If you would like to see a few more favorites, click the Bookshelf tab above. Not all the books in any category show up at any one time, but if you click the category title, it will take you to my LibraryThing page where you can see the rest if you like.

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