What I’m Reading

Eenie, meenie, miney, mo; to which book next shall I go?

I never understood when people would tell me they were in the midst of three books. I do now. I’d had a library hold on Martha Beck’s book on  for a while , so when it was my turn I began reading it even though T.J.Thorne’s Behind the Magic Curtain arrived the day I attended the author’s book talk on Zoom.  Full Spectrum’s arrival was a mystery. A plausible one, but a mystery just the same. I have a shelf in my office devoted to books about color. There is Indigo, In Search of the Color That Seduced the World. There is Mauve. There is Colors, What They Mean and How to Make Them and the magical The Secret Lives of Color a scintillating book whose design is as wondrous as its text.  I didn’t order Full Spectrum although I could have.  I didn’t order it. There was no gift note. I even wondered if it was meant for someone else. I double checked;  nope, the package was addressed to me. Whoever sent it, knows me well.

I dipped into Full Spectrum yesterday. Of all my color books, this one promises to be the most science-y.  (Mauve runs a close second.). Author Adam Rogers opens with tectonic plate action from the Devoninan period then segues into a story about rockhound priest William Gregor’s (1761 – 1817) discovery of titanium. Four pages later I’m learning the words ommatidium and rhabdom, parts of what Rogers refers to as “the butterfly’s very weird eyes. They have that multifaceted compound bug thing…” Mine or not, I am going to enjoy this book very much.

Martha Beck’s The Way of Integrity, Finding the Path to Your True Self sounds like big promises for trendy, vague, and ubiquitous personal fulfillment goals. But Beck delivers. Using Dante’s Inferno as a literary Mapquest of sorts, Beck invites readers on a four-part journey toward the gift of personal integrity. Each stage(The Dark Wood of Error, Inferno, Purgatory, Paradise)  presents thought exercises, journalling topics and gentle mirroring of univeral human pitfalls and foibles. One exercise alone helped release me from a lifelong and utterly false subconscious assumption. I’m still mulling this one over, probing my inner terrain for its absence, marveling at the sense of freedom that has taken me quite by surprise.

T. K. Thorne’s Behind the Magic Curtain is the book closest to my heart. Subtitled Secrets, Spies and Unsung White Allies of Birmingham’s Civils Rights Days, it recounts those who sued the Klan and won; wrested rule of the city from its racist leaders; and worked tirelessly, and often under threats of violence, toward justice and racial equality. Thorne includes many stories of my grandfather’s part in the actions of the time.  As I read, I am coming across names I remember hearing him mention at the dinner table and in phone conversations afterward. Reading her book I find myself  feeling my grandfather’s presence so keenly. It is a blessing.

So, that’s what’s on my nightstand these days.  What’s on yours?


PS My wonderful son sent me Full Spectrum. Makes this mystery gift even sweeter.

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Botanicals, Intimate Portraits by Laurie Tennent

Along Birmingham’s Rouge River Trail,  local photographer Laurie Tennent gave our city a marvelous art installation, City Bloom: Birmingham. The nearly three-mile trail features over a dozen of Tennent’s botanical portraits. I joined a tour of her work sponsored by our synagogue. Laurie became a professional photographer by accident. Two of them in fact. She planned to  become a marine biologist and had enough credits to graduate high school a year early.

Then came the accidents: she was thrown from the the back of a pick up truck, breaking her back. While recovering from that she was stung by a  man o’ war. Setting aside early graduation, she spent senior year taking art classes.  She fell in love with photography, applied to Detroit’s Center of Creative Studies, and  the rest is history.

Laurie Tennent’s flower portraits, all done in her studio under very controlled lighting, are magnificent.  Installed along the trail, the photographs, printed on metal and enlarged to 30″ x 40″ or bigger, become part of the landscape. Ferns rise leviathan-like from the forest floor; a curl of veronica takes center stage amidst a stand of woodland maples; astrantia shimmers white in the sunlight.

I had promised myself that I was simplifying this month. NO book purchases. I made it six days into June. This is so much more than a book. It is a journey of wonder, on the trail or off. Check out Laurie’s work at Laurie Tennent Bontanicals.

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The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and the Horse

A friend called and raved about this book. “It’s about a little boy who meets three animals friends. He has many questions about life and they answer them. It’s simple. It’s profound. You’ve heard this wisdom before but…..” She read me some of the text. Yes. The statements were simple, profound and heard-before.

Trusting in my friend’s enthusiasm, I went online to order the book. It was sold out everywhere and I never got around to trying again. Then last week, another friend came by for a walk. She had with her a present for me. I unwrapped the gift and whooped. One friend tipped me off; another friend gave it to me. Something was afoot.

I waited until before bed that evening to enjoy it. The cover text is gold. The drawings of the four friends are spare yet powerful. The illustrations have a misleading sense having been quickly scribbled. They are anything but. The book’s front and back inside covers are printed with a composition — four staffs of music through which the four friends run, glide, and rest. I sat down to play, imagining boy, mole, fox and horse tripping through Mackesy’s ink-rendered world.

The boy’s questions draw LIfe’s truths from his new friends. Many of their answers are familiar, yet no less important for their familiarity. In my younger years I mightn’t have understood, “One of our greatest freedoms is how we react to things.” Toward the end of their journey, having delved into courage vulnerability, love, and kindness, the boy begins to share wisdom of his own.

If you can order this beautiful book, go for it. Or, wait until a dear friend raves to you about it and another gifts you with it.

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The Enchanted Hour by Meghan Cox Gurdon

I can’t really call this a book review, since I’ve just dipped into Meghan Cox Gurdon’s thrilling book about reading aloud. What I love about the book’s subtitle, The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, is the phrase “miraculous power.” Being read to feels like a warm embrace. Whenever I reread parts of Madeleines L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, I hear the voice of my third grade teacher reading the novel to us at the end of each school day. Believe it or not when I read Caps for Sale to my granddaughter, Olivia, it is Captain Kangaroo’s voice scolding the monkeys on behalf of the frustrated cap peddler.

Such is the anecdotal power of reading aloud. Gurdon brings more, much more than anecdote to The Enchanted Hour. From brain development to strengthening the bonds of love to the long-term benefits of building vocabulary through reading, the author shares the latest scientific research on why reading aloud to children is a “fast-working antidote to [today’s] fractured attention spans.”

This book moved from my to-be-read shelf to being actively read. I’m even going to read parts aloud to my husband.

PS. If you’ve never checked out Gurdon’s reviews for the Wall Street Journal, read them! Olivia doesnt’ know it yet, but some of her faves have come at the suggestion of this enthusiastic writer and children’s book editor.

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A Banquet of Consequences — Elizabeth George

Sometimes you just want to read something that you know will captivate you, surprise you, involve you, and end in a most satisfactory way. Elizabeth George’s crime novels never disappoint.                 A Banquet of Consequences did all of the above and more for over 700 throroughly enjoyable pages. I’m usually pretty good at figuring out at least part of the plot and the bad guy or gal. Not this time. Utter surprise. The plot twist turned out to be creepier than I would have ever imagined.

There are the series familiars: Inspector Lynley, Barbara Havers, and Winston Nkata, the three detectives challenged with finding out why              a young man committed suicide. Then you have    a deliciously twisted and interfering mother-in-law; her long-suffering, and tragically clueless second husband; a successful feminist author with her own hidden darkness; her manipultive and mommy-attached elder son and his wife who would love nothing better than to change her relationship status from separated to divorced; and assorted others who distract and delight.

The title got me thinking why we always frame consequences as something negative. Feast on George’s novel. You’ll find the consequences delicious.


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