Monthly Choice: The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert
We must dive into this book! This is Elizabeth Gilbert’s new work, a novel. She had us at hello with Eat, Pray, Love, didn’t she? – what was it about that book? Was it that we wanted to be on that adventure of food, spirituality and love without the heartbreak that precipitated it? Or was it that we’d shared that kind of heartbreak and wished we’d handled it the way the author did?
From the back dustcover of The Signature of All Things, about the main character Alma, “from the moment the girl learned to speak, she could not put an argument to rest. She wanted to understand the world, and she made a habit of chasing down information to its last hiding place, as though the fate of nations were at stake in every instance.” Sounds like a Sapphire Girl to me!
Bonus Book (Category: Classic/Re-Read/Learn From):
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, An Inquiry into Values, Robert M. Pirsig.
A 1974 classic that many have read and savored but our younger sisters may not be familiar with. Enjoy the varied layers of learning here, of relationships (father/son), travel, the search for quality, value and meaning. “We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world” – one of dozens of timeless quotes from the book. I’m on my fifth re-read.
Monthly Choice: The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, Isabel Greenberg.
Unusual choice in its “comic book” format but the combo of a story line of “soul mates, that can’t touch” and very good reviews for color and style made it a compelling possibility. Let’s see how we feel about this strange, fun pick. The second month of 2014 seems a good time to try something completely different!
Bonus Book (Category – Not Well Known): The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, Jan-Philipp Sendker.
A moving love story set in Burma, the words flow with raw tenderness. Published in 2002, it was translated from the original German in 2006 – but I just heard of it late last year. Read it when you have time to savor the words and the feelings they evoke. Can you take the time to hear the heartbeats around you?
Monthly Choice: a Hundred Pieces of Me, Lucy Dillon.
I don’t know this writer and hope she brings the goods. The concept is the reason for the choice for this month. If you had to pick just 100 things from your present life as you begin a new one – what would they be and why? **may not be available just yet… more to come.
Bonus Book (Category – Not Well Known): Sky Burial, Xinran.
Once read, this story of one woman’s odyssey to find answers about her lost love will never be forgotten. Tibet’s vast spaces and mystical, mysterious landscape will envelope you. This epic journey is profoundly moving. Published in 2004, it was translated from the Chinese in 2005. Have you read or heard about this story? I think you will love it.
Monthly Choice: A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered That Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air and Other Secrets of Plants, Ruth Kassinger.
A little history of botany, some modern research, an informal and eclectic musing, and a lot of learning about the life and beauty of plants. Just released in March this seems a perfect read for our new Spring!
Bonus Book (Category – Books to Learn From): Animal Dialogues, Craig Childs.
Chapter by chapter the author brings you into intimacy with the wild ones. He knows them well. The subtitle is “uncommon encounters in the wild” and if you didn’t love them before you can’t help but love them after reading Child’s beautiful evocative words. From bears, mountain lions and jaguars to bald eagles and ravens to squid (and many more) after this read you’ll feel like you’ve talked to the animals.
Monthly Choice: In Paradise: A Novel, Peter Matthiessen.
One hundred women and men gather for a week of retreat for the purpose of honor and witness of human suffering. The location is a former concentration camp and the evolution of emotions and tensions as the week progresses creates the storyline. Matthiessen has written epic and respected manuscripts including two of my favorites, The Snow Leopard and In The Spirit of Crazy Horse. I love his research and writing. Released April, 2014.
Bonus Book (Category – Books to Learn From): Moonwalking with Einstein, Joshua Foer.
I would expend major energy into improving my memory if I knew it would work. This book proves that it is possible and also that the learning can be a fun and interesting enterprise. Build your palaces to place your remembering and enjoy the ramble through contests, techniques, and unique real life characters. The author, in the course of his research, used the techniques and became a finalist in the world memory championship (within one year!).
June Monthly Choice: behind the beautiful forevers, Katherine Boo.
This book has won many prestigious awards including The National Book Award, The PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award, The Los Angeles Times Book Prize and The American Academy of Arts and Letters Award. The author has also won a Pulitzer Prize, and is a staff writer for The New Yorker. We have to notice and absorb some grand prize winners along the reading journey right? After just a few pages I can see what all the fuss is about… raw humanity and distribution of riches, just two of the deep facets explored and written about so beautifully here. This review really says it all, “There are books that change the way you feel and see; this is one of them.” (Adrian Nicole Leblanc). Published in 2012, the paperback edition has just been released.
Bonus Book (Classic): Their Eyes Were Watching God, Nora Neale Hurston .
Now that June is here and summer, let’s reread a classic or two… One of my all time favorites, this is a quick read that is profoundly moving. I don’t see it on many “must read” lists, but it’s definitely on mine.
Monthly Choice: Still Life with Breadcrumbs, Anna Quildlan.
A 60 year old photographer moves to a cabin in the woods… well, hello!, for me this is a must read! Published in January, 2014, haven’t seen a lot of pub on this book, let’s see if we think we should start some!
Bonus Book (Something to Learn From): Q&A, The Buddha…off the record, Joan Duncan Oliver.
More summer reading fun. This is a question and answer session with the Buddha – a fictionalized Buddha and an interviewer cover thirteen themes including suffering and morality. Can be read in short spurts, taken up and put back down to absorb. (Foreward by Annie Lennox). Published in 2010.
Monthly Choice: Tipping Sacred Cows, Betsy Chasse.
The author is the award-winning producer of What the Bleep Do We Know!?, so I’m compelled by her perspective and question asking. Her fearlessness. After exploring the questions in What the Bleep Do We Know, Chasse realized she didn’t have as many answers as she once had such confidence in. Seeking to delve deeper into those arenas that she wasn’t aware she had held “sacred” and unquestioned, she started tipping sacred cows one by one. Are we ready to bravely create new stories? Published, January, 2014.
Bonus Book (Something to Learn From/Reread): The Art of Doing Nothing, Veronique Vienne with photographs by Erica Lennard.
With chapters like “the art of bathing” and the “the art of breathing”, this little book from 1998 has been by my bed, by my bath, in the reading nook, for many years. I pick it up often. Just today I read, “some of the best thinking we do happens when the conscious mind is on a sabbatical.” Think I’ll check out “recipe for a gourmet nap” this month for sure! “Exploring ways to make time for yourself” seems a most perfect theme for long August days.
Monthly Choice: Life By the Cup, Zhena Muzyka.
Seeking to provide a nurturing life for she and her son, a young single Mother creates a business selling tea. She evolves with the enterprise to a deep compassion for the tea growers and the next steps are the “ingredients for a purpose filled life of bottomless happiness and limitless success” (the subtitle of the book). Gloria Steinem writes “your hopes are a form of planning” on the back cover, along with Barnet Bain’s quote “the satisfactions of a handcrafted life come steeped in service to others”. Both quotes compelled this choice, along with the learning I hope to gain along the reading journey. Published, June 2014.
Bonus Book (Something to Learn From/Reread): The Age of Missing Information, Bill McKibben. Recommended by a friend, this book from 1992 completely missed my radar, but I’m glad to have discovered it now. The premise? With the endless information available to us now in an instant, are we more knowledgeable than when we spent more time absorbed in learning a craft and existing more closely in nature? The author sought to answer this question by comparing two 24 hour periods. In one, he watched every single minute of the offerings during a 24 hour period of all the stations available (93 channels!). Then, he spent 24 hours alone in nature. As the Houston Chronicle wrote in their review, “Do yourself a favor: Put down the remote and pick up this book,” to experience what he found. Media is everywhere and constant – it is a wonderful counterpoint to consider what may be missing from our wisdom base from this absorption. For a book that is twenty-two years old (it has been updated to include the impact of the internet), it remains remarkably relevant, maybe even more relevant to our current times.
Monthly Choice: Euphoria , Lily King.
Winner of the New England Book Award, another new book published this year, Euphoria tells the tale of 1930’s New Guinea and three anthropologists studying there. The entanglements, immersion in a culture so different from one’s own, the questions of perspective and truth are all compelling components of this book. It is a work of fiction but breathes the life of Margaret Meade. So looking forward to getting immersed myself!
Bonus Book (Something to Learn From): Good Book, David Plotz.
What if you grew up holding a book as sacred and the basis of your faith and way in the world, but you’d never actually read it (parts of it of course, but every single word?). Yeah, me too. The author is Jewish and like most Christians and Jews knew many of the well told and honored Biblical stories. After reading Genesis 34, he wanted to know more about the whole of the stories contained in the Bible, and read every single word. This book is about his journey as a non-scholar, non-theologian, without expectation or preordained thought, lay person, reading and evaluating from his perspective. I’m looking forward to experiencing his perspective and expanding my own. Published in 2009.
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin.
Bookstore on an island accessible by ferry. Yes, had me at hello! Much like the 60ish photographer in the cabin in the woods, this is a must read! A recent widower’s life (bookstore owner) expands exponentially in ways he could never have expected. But still the simple life and the love of books is the main theme in this story. I love the chapter intros using book reviews and the writing immediately puts you there on this island and in this bookstore. The characters are so very real and flawed….
Bonus Book (Something to Learn From/Not Well Known):
The Big Burn, Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America,
The story of how a huge fire in the western Rockies fueled the conservation of national forests for perpetuity. Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot are main characters in their key roles as champions of preservation. Ranchers and big company interests, much like today, fight hard with large parcels of money and political intrigue to keep all land ownership private. This book is so well written that it’s a pleasure to read while deepening appreciation for Roosevelt and Pinchot’s tireless efforts to ensure places like Glacier National Park, Yosemite National Park and Yellowstone National Park are here for our enjoyment as well as for our children’s children. A friend sent this book to me recently knowing how much I’d like it and I highly recommend it. Published in 2009, reprint edition in 2014.
Bonus Book (Something to Learn From/Not Well Known):
A Sudden Light, Garth Stein.
The Art of Racing in the Rain’s author has a new book released on September 30th. The reviews promise “unforgettable moments of emotional truth”. Bring it! I loved The Art of Racing in the Rain, with its evocative moments and look forward to Stein’s new offering. He gives us his impression of what it is to be human.
Bonus Book (Not Well Known):
The Mockingbird Next Door, Life with Harper Lee, Marja Mills
Ever wonder what happened to one of your favorite book authors, Harper Lee? I sure did. She penned the tremendous and well loved To Kill A Mockingbird, then seemed to disappear – no more novels, no interviews, no sightings. In 2004 though, she allowed Chicago Tribune writer, Marja Mills, to move in next door to she and her sister and for eighteen months she formed a friendship with the two and was allowed to write about them. We will learn why Nelle Harper Lee never wrote another novel….
This book was published in 2014.
Monthly Choice: Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed .
To find ourselves is the greatest journey. The movie featuring Reese Witherspoon is getting rave reviews and the book exploring the deepening of a young woman as she delves into the adventure of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, while at the same time discovering truths about herself, seems a great read to start the New Year. Here’s to all of the discoveries in our inner and outer worlds this year. Let’s get this party started!
Bonus Book (Something to Learn From): The Witness Wore Red, Rebecca Musser.
As we continue the theme of finding yourself, this book screams to be heard. As one of the wives of the Mormon prophet, Rulon Jeffs, the author knew no other life than that of repression, subservience and acquiescence to the men around her. At age 18 she was Jeffs’ 19th wife. He went on to add more that 40 more (he was in his mid 80’s at the time). A tale from our ancient past? No, this story is a contemporary one taking place in just the last few years. The fringe cult of Mormons degenerated into the marriage of girls as young as fourteen, where consummations took place in the temple – with witnesses. Musser got out and found a hard won life outside everything she had ever known. Then this brave woman helped bring the men involved in the rape of young women to justice. It’s hard reading, and harder still to accept that these behaviors are going on in the United States in present time. This book was recommended by my Mom, Joyce Eileen Smith Walkup.
Both of the January selections were published in 2013.
Monthly Choice: The Nightengale, Kristin Hannah
As we did in 2014, the book club will explore a host of brand new books as the monthly choice, novels, biographies, and stories of all kinds chosen in 2015. The second monthly choices will continue to be from the broad categories of things to learn from, classics, great re-reads and not well know books. February’s choice just came out Feb. 5th. The story is of women, war, and perseverance. We’re all about the women and their experiences so far this year! This is the quote that got me, “In love we find out who we want to be. In war we find out who we are.” Set in France in 1939, we’ll get our Franco-file fix, and embrace the power and strength of women.
Bonus Book (Classic): Winter (notes from Montana), Rick Bass
Rick Bass has written a library of eloquent stories from the wild through the years. I love his writing. Winter was written in 1991 when Bass was fresh out of college. Wanting an adventure in a remote place where his girlfriend, Elizabeth, could do her art, and he could write, the couple found a cabin in the Yaak Valley in northwest Montana. This book is the prose poetry of his winter there. With drawings by Elizabeth, it is a perfect read while snuggled up in nook with a roaring fire. If you don’t love winter already as I do, this may help you find its beauty.
Monthly Choice: It’s What I Do, A Photographer’s Life of Love and War,
Those that know me well will appreciate that I don’t pick a war book of any kind lightly. The ISIS horrors are certainly weighing into this choice, and of course the life of the photographer gripes my emotions too. In the final analysis, the fact that the title says, Life of Love & War, with Love prevailing, made the choice a comfortable one. Knowing everyone isn’t a photography junkie like I am, I’m still hoping we all learn something of importance from the experience of this book in images and words, guiding us always toward love. Just released in Feb., 2015.
Bonus Book (Something to Learn From): The Hidden Life of Wolves,
Jim and Jamie Dutcher
In northwest Montana we have wolves – some are nearby – a Whitefish pack. They can be polarizing. In actuality there are few interactions with people and seldom ones with livestock. Because our ecosystem is relatively healthy and diverse, there is room for predators, people and livestock here. This incredible study in photos and writing, allows us an intimate portrait of the wolf; their family structure, loyalty, hierarchy, intelligence, hunting skills, individual personalities, and even drawings of individuals pack members are all here. Husband and wife team, Jim and Jamie Dutcher, explore the Sawtooth Pack’s intricacies, dispelling myths and deepening understanding. Yes, another photography book – with something to learn from.
Monthly Choice: The Animals,
Newly released in late March, 2015, The Animals, compelled me by the promise of good writing and the story of an animal sanctuary where bears and wolves are part of the story. It gets more complicated – there’s a haunting past. Hoping the story deepens and moves us. Debut by the author.
Bonus Book (Not Well Known): S., J.J. Abrams
Stumbled across this book while looking on line for an intriguing bonus book for April. It’s from 2013 and the concept is intriguing as fellow readers come together through liner notes. And the reviews! “The best-looking book I’ve ever seen. . . . The book is so perfectly realized that it’s easy to fall under its spell. . . . If you want to write a romantic mystery meta-novel in which two bibliophiles investigate the conspiracy around an enigmatic Eastern European author, you couldn’t choose a better team.” –Joshua Rothan, New Yorker “Impressively smart, engaging . . . Filled with secrets and stories that are endlessly beguiling and inviting . . . Reading S., and trying to decode everything [was] an incredibly enjoyable, fun experience, as well as a particularly immersive one. . . . For all its mysteries and intrigues, this is a book about the value of books, and what they can offer us that other storytelling mediums cannot.” —Wired “S. is gorgeous, a masterpiece of verisimilitude. . . . The book’s spiritual cousin is A.S. Byatt’s Possession. . . . The brilliance of S. is less in its showy exterior than the intimate and ingeniously visual way it shows how others’ words become pathways to our lives and relationships.” —Washington Post.
Certainly more allocates than are normally posted on our book page, but they were all so darn good and intriguing I had to include them all. What a find!
Monthly Choice: A Curious Mind, The Secret to a Bigger Life, Brian Grazer
Hollywood producer Grazer has created an impressive list of movies: A Beautiful Mind, Splash, Apollo 13, Friday Night Lights. His curious mind has been the foundation to his success as a producer and as a student of life. His list of interviewees to feed his curiosity is equally impressive: Princess Diana, Sam Walton, Michael Jackson, Edward Teller, Andy Warhol, Daryl Gates and Barack Obama (there are hundreds more). Grazer believes that the ability to stay curious about our world and the people in it are fundamental to staying involved and happy in our lives. He is tenacious in his pursuit of an interview, never taking no for an answer and is rewarded with a tremendous amount of learning in this pursuit. The book is a very easy read, not especially well written, but the story of the immense variety of people he has interacted with and learned from is worth the read. This book was published in April, 2015.
Bonus Book (Classic): Bless Me, Ultima, Rudolfo Anaya
Time for a classic. One of the lovely things about The Sapphire Girls Book Club is going through my library to search out a book that has made a lingering and deep impression. Bless Me, Ultima most definitely fits that category. So looking forward to a renewed reading of the story of a young boy and the curandera, the healer, that teaches and guides him. Published in 1994.
Monthly Choice: The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen
Another debut novel! This debut author thing could have been a theme this year with all these critically reviewed debuts by young authors. It wasn’t a theme, but just so exciting to see all of these new voices. This is a Vietnamese look at the war that received a good review from the Vietnam Veterans of America. and this review from the LA Times: “part literary historical fiction, part espionage thriller and part satire. With just this information I feel sure we’ll learn a lot, gain perspective, and be entertained along the journey. A good combination. Published April, 2015.
Bonus Book (Missed from Last Year): Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
I kept picking up this book in bookstores, and seeing it online… but not until this early summer did it get the read it deserved. There is such depth of revelation in this first time author’s story. Who do we really know? Are the small pieces that close family are privileged to witness in intimate and daily interactions any semblance of who that family member really is? In this case, Lydia is known in different pieces and parts by her younger sister, older brother, parents and one friend. No one knew all of her, but they loved the pieces that they knew. This book was a NY Times bestseller, a New York Times Editor’s Choice, the winner of the Alex Award, and the winner of the APALA Award for fiction. Now I know why. I can’t wait to read more from this author. Published, 2014, republished Penguin Press, May, 2015. Another debut!
Monthly Choice: Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee
Despite the controversy, it’s impossible not to read a “new” novel by Harper Lee. Locked in a vault and recently “discovered”, this book was written prior to To Kill a Mockingbird, but rejected by Lee’s publisher. The two main characters are familiar, Scout and Atticus, and they are comfortably back in Maycomb, Alabama, but twenty years after the story line in To Kill a Mockingbird. Have things changed or stayed the same? Small town politics, racism, family, and acceptable behavior play major roles in this story, but ultimately it’s about the coming of age of the young adult, Scout. I don’t know that Harper Lee wanted this book published, and that’s a hard truth to absorb, but once that choice was made, I did have to read it. Will you? Published July, 2015.
Bonus Book (Classic): To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
One of my all time favorite classic books. The characters jump off the page, the small southern town comes to life, the realities of living in the rural south is illuminated. This is excellent writing that is never forgotten. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, the aftermath of which sent its author into semi-seclusion. She vowed to never write another book, which makes the publication of the recently “found”, Go Set a Watchman very suspect. This we know, Harper Lee is a force of a writer that all readers would have loved to have heard more from.
Monthly Choice: The Book of Speculation, Erika Swyler
A summer read encompassing a wide range of fascinations – mermaids, carnivals, the ocean, books, and tarot cards. This is a debut novel, so not familiar with the author, but the book’s compelling components made it a natural choice. There are illustrations by the author as well adding to the overall immersion possible in the story. Let summer reading continue! Published June, 2015
Bonus Book (Not Well Known): Wildwood: The Wildwood Chronicles, Book 1, Colin Meloy
Sultry long days allow for leisurely pleasure reading, thus this August choice as bonus book! Although written for young adults, all ages will come to love Prue and Curtis as the humans and the host of animal characters who share the story and the wild woods. There are mystics and owl princes, and tall trees and ivy intertwined in the intrigue. It’s a super fun beach or camping read. Wildwood is the first book of a trilogy, so if you’re smitten you can continue to delve into the wildness. The illustrations by Carson Ellis are wonderful. Published in 2012, Wildwood was a New York Times best seller, but I missed it, so categorizing it as “not well known”, even if it was only me that didn’t know it!
Monthly Choice: One Spirit Medicine, Ancient Ways to Ultimate Wellness, Alberto Villoldo, PhD
September seems like a good time to reset, to review, to plan, to learn new things, and to take stock of health. This book contains a wealth of information on resetting the body to heal itself. From gut to brain health, and all the interconnections between them, the exploration is deep and detailed. The journey leads the reader to a vision quest as one of the ultimate goals to wellness, but along the way the author shares very specific foods, supplements, and processes to undertake to shed the old and the ill and replace it with a re-birthed body and soul. It gets technical, but it’s worth it. Published April 2015.
Bonus Book (Something to Learn From): The Island of Knowledge, The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning, Marcelo Gleiser
Marcelo Gleiser, the author, is a physicist. The theory explored in the book is despite our sophisticated instruments and testing, there is more that is unknown that known in our universe. Gleiser explores the limits to our understanding, and illuminates our lack of real answers to the most basic questions of our existence. There is still much mystery here in our universe. This physicist author is not afraid to call it what it is – unknowable. This book was published in 2014.
Monthly Choice: Purity, Jonathan Frazen
This book is “Poly-Fi” – I’ve missed that term – meaning political fiction (where have I been?) Intriguing set of circumstances set the stage for the fictional tale of Pip (Purity), who loaded with student debt and strange new circumstances, sets out to find a father she knows little about. The reviews got me here, “an elegant writer, capable of magnificent prose”, the book promises to be clever, intelligent, humorous and full of satire. Frazen is the author of The Corrections and Freedom. This newest offering was published September, 2015.
Bonus Book (Not Well Known/Classic): Beyond the Bedroom Wall, Larry Woiwode
I read about this book for the first time as one that a publisher considers one of the best in his library. Now I’ve lost who that publisher was, but the extraordinary reviews of this book that I found later compelled this choice. Things like “why teach The Great Gatsby as required reading for high school literature when Beyond the Bedroom Wall is available”. The author writes in every genre: poetry, novels, biography, reviews, essays, short stories, and commentary – that fact in itself is praise worthy to me. Woiwode has been the poet laureate of North Dakota since 1976 and this novel was first published in 1976.
Monthly Choice: The Invention of Nature, Andrea Wulf.
The story of Alexander von Humboldt’s adventures and scientific endeavors newly published in September. Again the reviews got my attention and definitely left me anxious to delve into these adventures and scientific adventures. Sounds like I should know of Humboldt but I don’t. Looking forward to learning a lot and enjoying the journey.
Bonus Book (Something to Learn From): healing spaces, The Science of Place and Well-Being, Esther M. Sternberg, M.D.
Science meets sense of place, with the possibility of understanding just why nature, land, earth, sky are so vital to the health of humans. New brain science allows researchers to see the brain’s response to seeing a nature view – and that response is like a shot of endorphin’s – literally. No wonder we crave immersion in natural environments so deeply.
Monthly Choice: The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty, Vendela Vida
A new book by Vendela Vida published 2015, whose title, as words from Rumi, got my attention right away. It is a mystery, and an exploration of loss of identity in a foreign place. Who would you allow yourself to become? Vida is a new author for me. She has four other books that I am now interested in exploring. I like her easy style, humor, questions that she explores, and the way this book quickly became a page turner. Will definitely read more.
The Diver’s Clothes Lying Empty by Rumi
You’re sitting here with us, but you’re also out walking
in a field at dawn. You are yourself
the animal we hunt when you come with us on the hunt.
You’re in your body like a plant is solid in the ground,
yet you’re wind. You’re the diver’s clothes
lying empty on the beach. You’re the fish.
In the ocean are many bright strands
and many dark strands like veins that are seen
when a wing is lifted up.
Your hidden self is blood in those, those veins
that are lute strings that make ocean music,
not the sad edge of the surf, but the sound of no shore.
Bonus Book (Something to Learn From): Talking on the Water, Conversations About Nature and Creativity, Jonathan White
This book was purchased on Orcas Island and is even signed by the author – I’ve had it in my library for a long time. It was in a recent rereading though, as I was doing research for a college class, that the wisdom in its pages really resonated. The compilation of nature’s wisdom keepers was full of freshness even though this work was published in 1994. Featuring writers and researchers such as Matthew Fox, Gary Snyder, James Hillman, Ursula Le Guin, Peter Matthissen and Gretel Ehrlich, the book is a series of talks between Jonathan White and each of these luminaries as they chatted on a boat in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. The boat is the Crusader, and was designed for just this purpose, for learning, for sharing, for expanding nature knowledge. It worked!
Monthly Choice: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, Frans De Waal
To start the year, we are reading about compassion and understanding. In this new book published 2016, the author explores the different forms that cognition takes, illuminating the various brilliance of many species. The prologue begins with this quote from Charles Darwin, “The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind.” The stories that follow create a deepening understanding of these varying degrees, and promotes respect for these creatures that we share the planet with.
Bonus Book (Something to Learn From): Tattoos on the Heart, The Power of Boundless Compassion, Gregory Boyle
Father Boyle teaches by example, and exemplifies rare and absolute compassion and love. His work with gang members in Los Angeles, and his founding of Homeboy Industries to employ them, exhibits over and over again how every life matters, deserves to shine, and how it is always necessary and possible to give second (and third and fourth!) chances. Gregory Boyle is a humorous saint with raw and real stories to tell. I fell in love with many of these gang members, and there were lessons here I’ll never forget. This book was a gift to me (thanks Elle!), and I am grateful.
Monthly Choice: Mothering Sunday, Graham Swift
We haven’t included nearly enough romance in our selections, so here’s one for February, the month of Love, the month of celebrating Valentine’s Day. The author has 30 books to his credit, but this month’s choice, published 2016, is the first for me. Tender and evocative, the scenes are word paintings that place you in the midst of selected moments in time. Characters are flawed and layered and you get to know them intimately and quickly. Swift’s novel, Last Orders, won the Booker prize, and Waterland, was awarded the Guardian Fiction Award and I’m thinking one of these two will be my next book by this author. Definitely want more….
Bonus Book (Something to Learn From): Angels by the River, James Gustave Speth
This is a memoir of Gus Speth’s lifetime of work as a conservationist and environmentalist. We have the opportunity to see how his passionately held beliefs evolved over time, from his deeply embedded southerness, to his cultured education, to becoming the Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, to founding the World Resources Institute. His present life in Vermont, and this writing, that chapter by chapter builds an impressive resume of accomplishments, displays a lifetime spent learning and helping change environmental policy and thinking. Well worth the read. Published 2014.
Monthly Choice: The Wander Society, Keri Smith
A book on a “society” encompassing everything that I love. Wandering (“with complete openness to the unknown”), mysteries, nature and her gifts, books, signs, reading, walking. … with the manifesto “Solvitur Ambulando”, meaning, “it is solved by walking”. If this calls you, there is a Facebook page, and if you share your address you’ll get a packet of wanderers information. I felt like a kid when I opened mine! The Wanderers are everywhere and there are posts from around the world. A grand new involvement and fun immersion all prompted by this little book. Published 2016.
Bonus Book (Classic): Leaves of Grass,
Walt Whitman is the visionary writer that the Wander Society (explored in our March book pick above), follows with awe. His classic work , Leaves of Grass, published in 1855, was controversial, and these compelling words continue to deeply effect his followers 161 years later., “Your very flesh shall be a great poem”; “you must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every moment of your life.” Ah yes, Walt Whitman!
Once or twice a year, we’ll include a self improvement book of sorts, and this is one of 2016’s offerings. “What if you gave yourself permission to question everything you know and threw out all the pieces that hold you back?” the book’s jacket asks, and I do want to throw out all the pieces that hold me back! There are new words to explore, an online experience, a social learning platform, and interviews with successful code breakers like Richard Branson and Elon Musk. I too think it’s possible for ordinary people to choose to be extraordinary (original quote paraphrased from Elon Musk). Cheers to getting into this “re-coding” process, and breaking some “brules”.
Bonus Book (Something to Learn From): Elephant Company, Vicki Constantine Croke
Burma, colonization, war, elephants and the elephant whisperer, James Howard Williams are the rich components of this true story. The story is of the life of the adventurer Williams, living out of the norms of his English upbringing, and his commitment, understanding, and passion for the elephants. He came to know these mystical creatures intimately as he worked for a logging company in Burma, and then as part of the war effort, and his relationship with them makes for an interesting and informative read. The physical and cognitive abilities of these very special animals, are amazing and lovely to contemplate, and their individual personalities shine through the pages on this book. Published 2014, paperback, 2015.
Monthly Choice: Meet Me in Atlantis,
Atlantis! I’ve always been intrigued by the story of this illusive sunken place, and the possibilities that are inherent in the stories of the people and civilization of this mystical island. Travel writer, Mark Adams, knew he’d have an audience, and when I bought the book at my local bookseller, the owner said she’s sold a lot of this title. Looking forward to the adventure! Published 2016.
Bonus Book (You May Have Missed): The Prisoner of Heaven, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Ruiz Zafon’s characters and writing are true favorites of mine, and somehow I missed that this third installment book had been published in 2012. I found it as a staff pick in a bookseller’s shop in Mill Valley, Ca – another favorite, that bookshop. Having read Shadow of the Wind or The Angel’s Game is not necessary to fully appreciate The Prisoner of Heaven, as each of the three books are complete within themselves, but I’d highly recommend all three! I tested this theory out on my husband who has been lost to Shadow of the Wind for two days now. This is writing that will immerse you completely, with characters that are so real you’ll feel like they must have to exist. I truly do desperately want the Cemetery of Forgotten Books to really exist…
Monthly Choice: the Soul of an Octopus,
This is a story of touching the “other”, a being so alien that all sorts of questions are raised about the kind of interaction the handlers are having, and why it is so moving to those who are having them. I learned so much about this surprising and intelligent creature. Their problem solving, creativity, and yes, even soul, was inspiring, and getting to know the unique personalities of the individual octopuses profiled were lovely to contemplate. The compassionate animal lovers who care for the octopuses are lovely to get to know too. Soul to soul they witness deep encounters with a being so different from themselves that it brings a new depth to their understanding of their being in the world and of their very consciousness.
Bonus Book (Not Well Known): Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
This book may be well know by Margaret Atwood fans. I’ve always wanted to read more from her after the never forgotten story, indelibly imprinted, of The Handmaid’s Tale. Atwood’s writing is humorous and frightening as she explores futuristic species and life on our planet that is terrifying in how easy it is to imagine; a planet and quality of life that we’re destined for if many paths aren’t changed? Definitely going to put more Atwood reading in my life. Her writing is unique, well constructed, imaginative, entertaining, captivating and frightening. This book was published in 2004.
Monthly Choice: The Ancient Minstrel,
Jim Harrison died just recently. He was a beloved Montanan, a prolific writer, an eccentric, an explorer, a foodie, and all around fascinating man. I had read some of his poetry but no short stories or novels, which just isn’t quite right, especially in light of the existence of books like Legends of the Fall and Dalva in his repertoire. In keeping with our book of the month choices that are fairly recent publications, this book was just published in 2016, just prior to his death. I so look forward to a few quality days with Jim Harrison’s characters and story telling. I read that he died with a pen in his hand… still writing.
Bonus Book (Classic): Dalva,
Many eloquent writers wrote in memory of Jim Harrison in the most recent addition of our local Whitefish Review. Dalva was listed by one of the writers as being one of his favorite books of all time. After reading the first few chapters I’m so immersed in the story and characters, I can see why. Real and immediate, this is writing that I can lose myself in. More Harrison on the horizon for sure. (There is also a new book of short stories coming out later in 2016, Dead Man’s Float.)
Monthly Choice: the view from the cheap seats, selected nonfiction, Neil Gaiman
Another staff pick from my local bookseller (Bookworks, Whitefish, Montana), this book’s cover holds this recommendation, “Full of devotion and erudition, this is also a glorious love letter to reading, to writing, to dreaming, to an entire genre.” (Junot Diaz). This is another writer that I do not know, but is a New York Times best selling author for his fiction. This book though, is a collection of more than sixty articles, speeches, essays and introductions that according to the book jacket “offers a unique glimpse into the mind of one of the most beloved and influential writers of our time.” Published 2016. Looking forward to this collection!
Bonus Book (Not Well Known): Plenty-Coups, Chief of the Crows, new edition, Frank B. Linderman
With the neighbors of the Crow, the Dakota Sioux, in a stand off in North Dakota over pipe line access which threatens the mighty Missouri’s water, a full immersion in the wisdom and eloquence of a elder of our first nations people seemed in order. In considering which of the many wisdom filled elders to study, I opened this book, published in 1930, and turned randomly to this passage (page 124): “By the time I was forty, I could see that our country was changing fast,and that these changes were causing us to live very differently. Anybody could now see that soon there would be no buffalo on the plains, and everybody was wondering how we could live after they were gone. There were few war-parties and almost no raids against our enemies, so that we were beginning to grow careless of our minds and bodies. White men with their spotted buffalo (cows) were on the plains with us. Their homes were near the water-holes, and their villages on the rivers. We made up our minds to be friendly with them, in spite of all of the changes they were bringing. But we found this difficult, because the white men too often promised to do one thing and then, when they acted at all, did another. They spoke very loudly when they said their laws were made for everybody; but we soon learned that although they expected us to keep them, they thought nothing of breaking them themselves. They told us not to drink whiskey, yet they made it themselves and traded it to us for furs and robes until both were nearly gone. Their Wise Ones said we might have their religion, but when we tried to understand it we found that there were too many kinds of religion among white men for us to understand, and that scarcely any two white men agreed which was the right one to learn. This bothered us a great deal until we saw that the white man did not take his religion any more seriously than he did his laws, and that he kept both of them just behind him, like Helpers, to use when they might do him good in his dealings with strangers. These were not our ways. We kept the laws we made and lived our religion.” Yes, this is a good book to add to the collection and to read right now. I stand in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation.
Monthly Choice: Life Reimagined,
Our second book of the year that could be considered in the “self-help” genre (and two seem enough this year!). This book is intriguing in that the author is the creator of an energy psychology process called “IN-Vizion” that purports to unveil your authentic self. Once you are in tune you can listen deeply and redirect your life from that authentic self place. And as the subtitle suggests the book explores the “science, art and opportunity of midlife”. Well, Yes! Looking forward to the exploration. Published September, 2016, a perfect time as we move into Autumn more deeply, and have more time for introspection.
Bonus Book (Classic): Night, Elie Wiesel
We lost Elie Wiesel this year at age 87, after a life that touched us all. He taught us that to be human transcends the horrors that can be perpetrated by one group of people on another. Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize and produced what the New York Times said of this book, “A slim volume of terrifying power.” This Holocaust survivor has also produced dozens of works of fiction and non-fiction as well, and was awarded many honors in his lifetime in addition to the Nobel Peace Prize, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States of America Congressional Gold Medal, and the French Legion of Honor. If you haven’t read Night, you must. This was Wiesel’s first book, his most important, and he writes that if he were to have written only one book, it would have been this one. In remembrance and honor… Original copyright 1958, this new edition has an updated forward by the author from 2006.
Monthly Choice: Upstream, Mary Oliver
There are few poets that I know well or understand well, but Mary Oliver is a writer/poet that is both well known to me and whose words are absorbed regularly. This book is not of poems for which she is more well known, but of essays, and is due to be published this month. I’m hungry for its contents. Oliver is able to “lose herself within the beauty and mysteries of both the natural world and the world of literature” according to the Amazon snippet on the order page. I’m already in love…
Bonus Book (Something to Learn From): Empire of the Summer Moon, S. C. Gwynne
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and New York Times bestseller, this well researched tale of the settling of the American interior, and the consequent encroachment by settlers into indigenous tribes territories, is raw, intelligent, sometimes shocking, and always informative. The book is full of information about the powerful Comanche tribes and how they commanded control of the plains for centuries with their superb and unmatched horsemanship and daring. The shocking parts are in the brutal violence perpetrated by both sides in the conflict. It is also the story of a particular Comanche leader, Quanah Parker, a half breed of the Quahadi branch of the Comanche, who was instrumental as Texas moves into statehood and the United States continues it’s expansion. Great history on the Texas Rangers too! So this is our history book for the year and it’s a good one. Published 2010, this was a staff pick at my local bookseller.
Monthly Choice: Small Great Things
November brings, finally, our Presidential election… This monthly selection explores many of the themes that are simmering in our country, sometimes boiling over creating divisiveness. Racism at it’s worst, and too, all of the subtle yet explosive ways race and religion effects the lives of African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews and European-Americans. The story is told from the perspective of a black nurse wrongly indicted, a white supremacist, and a white court appointed attorney. There are some hard truths here and a good time to read and consider them. Published 2016.
Bonus Book (Something to Learn From): THUG Kitchen, eat like you give a f&*#,
Way not? – a cookbook choice for the month of Thanksgiving? Well here we have a non-traditional choice in every sense! Extraordinary irreverent, full of coarse curse words, it is also full of excellent, good for you recipes in all categories, breakfast, salads, mini meals, soups and stews, entrees, sweets and snacks. This book got me inspired to start making my own dressings and salsas, guacamole, and fudge pops! Here’s to a Happy, Healthy-eating Thanksgiving with mountains of gratitude to all!! Published 2014. *If you have any aversion to curse words this book is NOT recommended.
Monthly Choice: Atlas Obscura, an Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders,
Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, Ella Morton
Ah… December, time for fires in the hearth, the first accumulating snow, and reading big books! Loving this choice as our inside time outweighs our outdoor time, and we can spend sweet hours armchair exploring the world! And adding to our bucket lists! This book promises lots of intriguing photos, mystery, and not well known spots to explore both here in the book and in person possibly later. Where would you like to explore next? Published, September 2016.
Bonus Book (Something to Learn From): A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Rebecca Solnit
Because to be lost is to find yourself, the lostness allowing your truest deepest self to be seen and known. I loved this book’s exploration of lost and found, metaphorically and physically. It’s chapters are full of quotes that take you on the journey of deepening, like this one, “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?” (Meno). The author has some substantial quotes of her own, “to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery.” This book truly is a field guide and I enjoyed the exploration. Published 2005.