Friday, September 30, 2011

Friday Poetry Slam: Some October Magic

Currently Reading: The Burning of Bridget Cleary by Angela Bourke; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

For this week's Friday Poetry Slam, we are going to celebrate the start of my favorite month: October, courtesy of John Updike. October brings so many wonderful things with it: apple pie, chilly evenings, golden crunchy leaves, apple cider, round happy pumpkins, Halloween, remembrance, long walks in cemeteries, and the celebration of life. In my opinion, there is no better time of the year. Enjoy!
October by John Updike
The month is amber,
Gold, and brown.
Blue ghosts of smoke
Float through the town,

Great V's of geese
Honk overhead,
And maples turn
A fiery red.

Frost bites the lawn.
The stars are slits
In a black cat's eye
Before she spits.

At last, small witches,
Goblins, hags
And pirates armed
With paper bags,

Their costumes hinged
On safety pins,
Go haunt a night
Of pumpkin grins. 
What are your favorite things about fall? Check back this weekend for my "Best Books to Read in October" reading list. Have a great Friday!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

An Ode to the Banned Book

Currently Reading: The Burning of Bridget Cleary by Angela Bourke; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (which is a BANNED book! Muahahahaha!)

Happy Banned Books Week! In case you didn't know, this week is National Banned Books Week, which obviously warrants a blog post, since this is something I feel strongly about. My position on this issue can be summed up in one very succinct sentence: "Books should never, never, never be banned!" I will elaborate.

While the idea of banning books at times can be a bit humorous (especially when one glances at some of the books on the banned list), it is actually a matter that I take seriously. I am a book lover. I love the idea of books and the act of reading. Of course there are many books that I do not like. Yet I feel all books have some merit to them and must be given a chance; I may not like a certain book, but perhaps it is important to someone and has touched their life. To me, that book then has merit. Which is why the idea of banning or censoring a book seems to me to be both ludicrous and tragic.

The first time the topic of banned books really incensed me was during high school Humanities class, after watching a documentary on the issue of banning The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It is banned for the repeated usage of one word: the N-word. Parents in the documentary were outraged over the usage of this highly controversial word, although it was being used entirely in historical context. They fought to have the book removed from their children's high school English curriculum; some succeeded. In recent news, an edition of Huckleberry Finn actually came out in January that replaces the N-word with "slave." Don't even get me started on how I feel about editors mutilating one of the finest pieces of American literature because we may be here all night. Other books on the banned book list, for one reason or another:
        - 1984 by George Orwell
        - The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
        - The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
        - A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
        - A Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
        - I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
        - A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
        - Goosebumps by R.L. Stine
        - James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
        - The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
        - To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Some of these books are banned for their ideas, while others are challenged for specific passages about death, racism, or word usage. For instance, one of the main characters dies tragically in A Bridge to Terabithia, a scene that made me sob as a young girl but helped me learn to start coping with the idea of death. While I agree that a parent has a prerogative to monitor what their child reads, listens to, or watches on television, parents cannot shelter their children from everything life will throw at them. Banning books stifles a child's imagination, emotions, capability of handling difficulties in life, and in the case of Huckleberry Finn, an understanding and appreciation for the good and bad aspects of America's past. When schools begin to ignore crucial historical facts and pretend they never happened, children lose the opportunity to explore these issues and appreciate the changes that have been made since then. Our children will face racism, hatred, death, violence, despair, and anger in this world with or without books. But I believe that books help us come to terms with what we don't understand or cannot accept, and teaches us how to cope with what life hands us. We want a better world for our children, do we not? That goal will never be achieved if they are raised in ignorance. By limiting what a child can read, one ends up limiting their ability to think and reason for themselves.

Yet I must say that I love how "book society" responds to the concept of banned books: celebrating Banned Books Week by calling attention to them, pulling them out, and placing them within reach of young, growing, intelligent minds, which is what our library has been doing this week. Instead of shunning the books deemed unacceptable, we celebrate these books by dedicating an entire week to their existence and importance. That is cause for rejoicing.

Have a great Wednesday! Go check out a banned book! :)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

When You Are Old

Currently reading: The Burning of Bridget Cleary by Angela Bourke

I can't believe I messed up my first Friday Poetry Slam! What a busy weekend this is turning out to be. Well, it may be Saturday but that does not mean we cannot enjoy some poetry now. This poem is a beautiful one from the glorious William Butler Yeats.

Grab a cup of tea, curl up under a blanket, and enjoy.....

    When you are old and gray and full of sleep,
    And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
    And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
    Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
    How many loved your moments of glad grace,
    And loved your beauty with love false or true,
    But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
    And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
    And bending down beside the glowing bars,
    Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
    And paced upon the mountains overhead
    And hid his face among a crowd of stars. 

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Potential Is a Glorious Thing

 Currently Reading: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

Whew... long week, happy night. Autumn is almost upon us, friends. A season that, like spring, is full of anticipation and a celebration of change. One of my favorite words is "potential", which I think is a word that epitomizes fall. I love the implications of that word... that no matter who you are or at what stage of life you're in, you always have the potential to be who you want to be or do what you long to do. It may take a whole lifetime or it may never happen at all, but the potential is always there. It's inspiring, isn't it? It gives us something to work toward, something to dream about, something to motivate us and push us on. I have the potential to be a world-famous writer, a gourmet chef, an astronaut. It's all about the choice I make... do I want to realize this potential or not? Do I want to work toward this goal or should I choose a different potential? We are not automatons; God created us with the ability to have desires and to make choices. Every fall, I reflect on these things. The year is winding down, the land is ready to be harvested, and I can look at what I have accomplished, what I am still working on, and what "potential" lies ahead. The potential to make someone laugh.... the potential to make homemade apple pie.... the potential to inspire... the potential to be inspired. This life is a glorious thing.
See? There will be days when I just have to carve this blank space with the thoughts in my head, even if they're not specifically about books. However, isn't that ultimately why we read books? To foster our imagination, think for ourselves, and recognize the intricate layers of life and living?
Back to Part Two of the top ten book list:

1) Shannon by Frank Delaney
            I love Frank Delaney. He seems like the kind of man who would give the best bear hugs, and if I ever meet that man, I hope I get one. What a talented writer and what an expressive voice. I often listen to audiobooks in the car as I drive and I actually first read Shannon as an audiobook. Frank Delaney narrates his own books, which is just marvelous. (Think about it... what is better than listening to an author read their entire book? Answer: Not much.) He has a voice that is completely mesmerizing. Sometimes I'd have to rewind just because I got lost in his nuances and accent, and forgot what in the world just happened. Listening to this book was a wonderful experience, and because I listened to it in the fall, every time I read it I picture orange leaves falling and the crisp fall air through the car window, or being parked in the cemetery, listening to the last chapter as the sun falls through the bright leaves and illuminates my car. A holy experience, that was. This book is about Ireland, a man struggling with the effects of war, and how Ireland heals him. And it is glorious. Read it... or listen to it. :)

2) Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly
             Another book about Ireland (who is catching on to a theme here?) that takes place during the Great Potato Famine of the 1840s. It is absolutely heartwrenching... even more so because it is based on a true story. In a delightful "family history/genealogy" story that give genealogy nerds like me a thrill, the main character is actually the author's real great-great-grandmother, trying to raise a family and survive during one of the worst tragedies that ever hit Irish soil. Keep the Kleenex's handy, but also prepare yourself for a lot of smiles and inspiration and cheering. This book helped me remember, when I was going through a difficult time, the blessings that I do have. To make this book even better, I have recently learned that the author is working on a sequel! (Also, check out Kelly's website after you finish reading the book. You won't be disappointed.)

3) The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
                How could I not include this series on my favorites list? Little House is so famous, I don't need to give you a synopsis. Instead, I will give you an idea of how much these books are a part of my life. Little House in the Big Woods was the first "big kid" book I read when I was in first grade. The rest is history. My family and I once went on a Little House tour, stopping in Pepin, Walnut Grove, and DeSmet, visiting the sites and even staying in a cabin beside one of the lakes Laura and Almanzo used to drive by when they were courting. Growing up, my sister had a book of crafts and games that were mentioned in the Little House books. When we stayed at my Dad's farm for weekends, we would make corncob dolls, make "thimble pictures" on the windows, and molasses candy on pans of snow (with my parent's help, of course). As such a big part of our childhood, I believe the books helped foster mine and my sister's love for history as well as literature. To this day, every Christmas Eve, my sister and I (Nathan has been added to this tradition now) sit in the darkened kitchen; my sister makes cookies while I read all of the Christmas stories from each of the Little House books aloud. That half-hour is one of the most sacred parts of Christmas for me, a beautiful memory between two sisters that will be passed on to our own families someday.

4) The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
           Oh, goodness. This book. I love this book for many reasons: the relationship between Clare and Henry, the way it makes me continually stop and contemplate time and fate and inevitability and loss, the marvelous way in which Audrey Niffenegger constructed and wrote the book. But mostly I love it because it is a love story without the obvious ending, the dramatics, the ostentatious displays of affection, or Fabio on the cover. Two people who love each other... it could be a story about anybody.

5) The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
           I will most likely do a post within the next week about this series, since Nathan and I are in the midst of re-reading it. For now, I will state that this series is another that was a huge part of my childhood and has never really lost its charm. As I get older, I read the books for the characters and the fascinating character developments, as well the broader moral and ethical questions that are raised as the series continues. There are those who would denounce these books as "evil" or "anti-Christian" but they've obviously never read them. I cannot think of a series that better examines the struggle between right and wrong, and what a fine line that can be. The books examine the power of our choices (there's that "potential" thing cropping up again) and what it means to truly live for a cause. It explores just what our souls are capable of: both the good and the bad. Not only that, but they're a heck of a lot of fun to read out loud. (Especially for someone like me, who's been reading out loud and making up voices since before I actually knew how to read.) For those who are wary, it is worth a shot. It will definitely surprise you.

Whew! I promise future blogs won't be so gosh darn long. Have a great Friday! Go find your "potentials." You never know what you are capable of. :)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Poetry Slam!

Get excited! While the sequel to my previous post will hopefully be forthcoming tonight, I wanted to introduce a new aspect of the blog: Friday Night Poetry Slam. Each Friday I will be posting a new poem for you to read, so make sure to check the blog each and every Friday. This week we will most likely start with the genius of William Butler Yeats. And since there are so many wonderful poems out there, if you have one you would like to see on here, let me know. I love being introduced to new poetry!
Till next time.....

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Top Ten- Part 1

Currently Reading: Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
There are probably many other things I could be doing right now: I still have about 40 thank-you notes to go, my genealogy is begging me to update it, and there's a graduate school application essay calling my name. But.... once the urge to revisit favorite books comes a'knocking, there is nothing that will stand in its way.

Tonight's post will be the merest of outlines of five of my ten favorite books, although I'm sure there will be whole posts devoted to many of these in the weeks, months, years to come. Get excited! Some of these may be familiar, others obscure. Some you may not agree with; maybe you'll even get inspired to pick some of them up yourself. They're favorites for a variety of complex and undefinable reasons (see previous post) but I will attempt to give some explanation of their importance in my life. I have many thoughts, emotions, and opinions about each book, but I will go into those in depth someday. In creating a "top ten" list, I have obviously had to exclude books that I do truly love; in picking these, for this blog's purposes, I chose the ones for which I would use my one and only call on a desert pay phone to Fed-Ex, to have them shipped to my desert island where I would be waiting impatiently for their arrival.

Clarification: The books are listed in no particular order, except for Number One, which is truly Number One in my book.

Jane and I on my wedding day, getting my hair done. I wasn't kidding.
Second clarification: This list does not include the Bible, for although that is my "top book", I do not define the Bible as a "book" in the same way I define books as "books." The Bible is a guide to life and to one's spiritual journey, and therefore is very different in my mind from books. There are books. There is the Bible. To me, they are very different.

1) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
            I have no words to describe my relationship with this book. I first read Jane Eyre at the age of eleven, when I went through my middle school "classics binge." From the beginning, I was smitten. Since then, I have grown to love and appreciate this book all the more. I find something new within its pages every time I read it (which at this point, not counting reading snippets here and there, has been about 15 times). With each reread, I feel rejuvenated and refreshed, ready to face life with a new sense of calm. It is amazing the spell that book has over me.

2) People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
              A book about a book... how does it get any better than that? This book is absolutely phenomenal, mostly because it's historical, well written, and covers many different stories in one- which is something I love in books. People of the Book explores the long, tragic, and bloody history of a Jewish religious book as it is passed down through the centuries, saved from those who would destroy it. It provides a fascinating history of the Jewish people in Eastern Europe, as well as gives a "book-lover" and researcher like me a thrill as the main character, a present-day book conservator, restores this deliciously old book.

3) Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery
              Anne is one of those literary heroines that I wish existed in the real world; her sunny disposition and lively imagination has been an inspiration to me since I was a girl. I have never met a single person who has not loved these books. (And yes, I count a series as "one" book...see how sneaky I am?) In my opinion, the best time to read these books is the summer, because there is something about Montgomery's lush descriptions of Prince Edward Island that make me want to read my book lying in the grass or sitting under a tree or while walking through a field of daisies.

4) The Sevenwaters trilogy by Juliet Marillier
             Looking back, I can say that the Sevenwaters trilogy truly changed my life. They are not perhaps on the same realm of Shakespeare or Dickens, but they are life-changing all the same. I first read these books, which could best be defined as historical fantasy set in medieval Ireland, when I was a sophomore in high school. From there, I became obsessed with learning more about Irish history and Celtic mythology. I couldn't get enough. I started yearning to visit Ireland and I began reading anything about Ireland that I could get my hands on. I continued my personal Irish studies throughout college, taking an Independent Study course on Celtic religion; my senior thesis focused on the Irish Literary Revival of the 1890s, which included poets and playwrights W.B. Yeats and J.M. Synge. Now, eight years after reading those books for the first time, Nathan and I are planning our first trip to Ireland this spring. Talk about life-changing.  

5) The Confession of St. Patrick by St. Patrick
             One of the works from Irish history that I enjoy returning to is called The Confession of St. Patrick. And yes, this is THE St. Patrick. Many people think they know St. Patrick's story and of course, America loves to wear green and drink its way through March 17th, but this is actually St. Patrick's story from St. Patrick himself! It's amazing that we even have these documents, which were written sometime during the 5th century AD. In this short tract (which also includes a letter he wrote to a Roman general), St. Patrick gives us the story of his life and his work for God. Talk about inspirational. Reading this gave me a completely different view of this remarkable man- and what it means to truly live a life devoted to God's work. He wasn't perfect- he committed a terrible sin (most likely murder) when he was younger and he could be quick to anger, but he truly loved the Irish people, which explains why his mission was successful. Forget green plastic necklaces and green beer- reading this every St. Patrick's Day is how I celebrate. :)

Have a happy Wednesday! Go say hi to one of your favorite books!

Monday, September 19, 2011


Currently Reading: Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff and Mary Jane magazine

Good morning, fellow bookworms! It is a rainy Monday- the perfect time to curl up under a blanket with a good book. As you can see, I am still working on Cleopatra, although I am almost finished. Because October is coming up quickly (hence, I will read my "Halloween-themed" books... I promise to give you my best Halloween book list on October 1st), I don't want to start on anything too long. Methinks a People of the Book reread might be in order.

Unfortunately, this post will have to be in two parts today. I must start getting ready for work in a bit, so tonight I will give you my list and descriptions of my top ten favorite books... although whittling my books down to only ten might be a little too difficult. We'll see how that goes. For now, I want to muse on what exactly makes a book a "favorite book." When asked why a particular book (usually Jane Eyre) is my favorite, I tend to launch into a rambling discussion of the main heroine and the amazingly complex plot and the growth in the characters that makes me love them all the more. Yet I never feel as if my words accurately portray what exactly makes me collect copies obsessively and read segments of it as I get my hair done for my wedding. (And yes, this is all obvious is it at this point that Jane Eyre is my favorite?) When we try defining why a book is our "favorite", launching into character descriptions and book summaries does not really do it justice. I believe it's difficult to describe how a book affects us, precisely because there are no words that suffice. How can I adequately describe (without sounding insane) the multiplicity of good feelings I get when I hold the book in my hand? How to relate the anticipation I get when cracking it open for its millionth read? How do I convey the satisfaction and release I get as I sink into its familiar pages? How can I make someone understand that no matter how many times I read it, there is always something new to discover?  Perhaps there is no reason to define it. It is simply enough to say, "It is my favorite" and trust that the person to whom we are talking will understand the complexity and passion behind that statement.

I love to hear about others' favorite books. It makes me happy- in an "I love opportunities" kind of way- that so many amazing books exist in this world for us as readers to love, to hate, to be indifferent to. I love that although we are bound together by a love of books and reading, we are also very different in our tastes, evident as I gaze around a library or bookstore, witnessing how unique we are all created to be. No one's "top ten" is ever exactly the same. Nobody's bookshelf holds exactly the same volumes. Our book collections are like our fingerprints- unique to us alone, making us stand apart from the crowd. And I LOVE that.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Currently reading: Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

What a perfect fall evening... the kind I dream about during the hottest days of summer. My favorite apple cider candle is pouring delicious aromas throughout our apartment, I have donned PJ pants for the first time this fall, Nathan is happily engrossed with a John Muir book, and there is a hot mug of Swiss Miss Mocha Cappuccino sitting next to me, swirling steam and chocolatey smells into my nostrils as I type this. To make things even better, I am enjoying the prospect of writing about books, one of my greatest passions, for the next half hour or so.
Oh, apple cider candle, how I love thee.
I must say, I am very excited about this blogging idea. Lately, I have been craving the chance to let off a little creative steam, but didn't even know it until this project popped into my head.
Disclaimer: I love books. A bit of an understatement but there you have it. I love books. I love reading books. The whole act of reading is, to me, a holy art. The ideas of Kindles and Nooks make me shudder not because I'm terribly worried about the future of the printed page (I'm not) but because by holding a square, shiny object with a computer chip to read a Shakespeare sonnet or the latest heart-pounding thriller is to lose the entire beauty and experience of reading. To me, reading is the smell of a new (or old) book, the scribbles in the margins of a well-loved novel, the signature of a previous reader scrawled inside the front cover, the crack of a new book's cover as you open it, the gentle and satisfying "fwip" of a page turn, the crinkle of pages as you readjust on the bed sixty times, so engrossed in this enlightening experience that you don't notice how awkward your position is or that your back is by now begging you to go to the chiropractor. I do not denounce those who have forgone the "old" way of reading for the new, but I do know that I will still be reading books the original, soul-satisfying way until they put me into my grave with a copy of Jane Eyre. To sum up, I am passionate about reading. It is my favorite thing to do and I have a tendency of blocking out most anything to make sure I can focus on reading alone. (Ask Nathan, my family, or my former roommate). If I have time in the morning, I grab my book off of my end table. I bring a book with me everywhere I go throughout the day, just in case. I will stay up late, even when I am bone tired, just to squeeze in five minutes of pleasurable reading time. I think it's pretty obvious that I have a love affair with books. (Don't tell Nate). :) It is definitely a sickness, one that I have named "Biblio-itis."And there is no cure, baby!


One of our bookshelves-  note the Crusader's helmet (and the decorative pumpkins!)

I believe that the type of books one reads perfectly reflects one's personality. You can tell a lot about a person by their reading list or bookshelf. At first glance, our bookshelves are fantastic symbols of our new life together. My books are nestled next to his, while others fight for shelf space. :) But mostly, it's a perfect balance of him and I, happily hanging out together. We have three bookshelves in our tiny apartment, which says a lot about both of us, I believe. Nate is one of the biggest readers I've ever met; I knew I was meant to marry him when our first date was... brace yourselves.... a trip to the library. I am not kidding. I swooned over him and the Ireland section of the local Winona library simultaneously.

We have a lot of books. Three bookshelves are not really enough, but it's all we can cram in our apartment at the moment. There are boxes back at both of our parents' houses. (Maybe this is where a Kindle would come in handy. Kidding.) We have many of the same book tastes (which makes sense) and we have both, over the course of our years together, introduced each other to new books and new genres. Nathan got me hooked on John Muir, just as I brought Irish history books into his life. Our bookshelves are arranged by subject, and then further organized alphabetically by author. (Can you tell I was born to work in a library?) We have a vast assortment of history books (mostly Middle Ages [Nate] and Irish history [me]), poetry, nature books (Thoreau and John Muir and such), theological books, classics, and novels. While Nathan mostly reads non-fiction, I dabble in both fiction and non. I read a variety of books, but have certain "types" that I am mostly drawn to.

I plan on doing a post of my top favorite books in a future post, but for now, I will merely sketch out the types of books I read. As a history nut, I love to read anything about a historic time period or historical persona that interests me. Mostly, my historical reading interests lean toward Irish and Celtic history, the Salem Witch Trials, and genealogy. Yet, as evidenced by one of my current books above, I will read anything that is well recommended and engrossing. I also like to read poetry, especially on cozy thunderstorm days when I have nothing to do but read and dream and bask in the luxuriant rhythm of word-music. (W.B. Yeats is my absolute favorite.) In the world of fiction, I enjoy the classics, such as Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, L.M. Montgomery, Shakespeare, Kate Chopin, and more. (However, I refuse to "love" a classic just because it is considered a classic. More discussion on that in a later post, but I believe the merit of a book is a personal opinion and should not be based solely on what "they" say. End of tangent.) I also read many novels that take place in the past [The Red Tent, Galway Bay, People of the Book] and some types of fantasy and science fiction. Mostly, I enjoy novels of any genre that explore the human experience. I want my books to challenge my perspectives, inspire me, introduce me to interesting characters, and provide an exciting story. After all, isn't that ultimately why we all read?

Your turn: tell me why you read and what exactly it is about books that makes your heart skip a beat. Have a great day tomorrow!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Current book: Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
Today will only serve to be an introduction, since I am new to the blogging world and I am a bit short of time! To me, this blog will serve as an outlet for my desires to write and make sense of life; while I do keep my own private journal, I also love the idea of sharing our lives with each other through blogs. I was inspired to do this after reading the blog Enjoying the Small Things because while I am not a photographer, I can see how blogging will inspire me to pick up my pen (figuratively) a little more frequently, celebrating the simple but amazing life I lead.

While I may never have any readers or feedback, my other goal for this blog is to discuss books. I am a library clerk and genealogist at a local library and I am inspired when talking to patrons young and old about their favorite or least favorite books. It makes me marvel how everyone's tastes differs when it comes to literature, as well as how the same books or passages can strike different chords in people. In addition, I love discussing what I am passionate about and what (or who) inspires me... so you may find blogs about Jo March, my genealogy research, hot cocoa, or daisies in here too. To me, this blog will function as a worldwide book club: a place for me to swoon and gush and groan over the various books that come my way and listen to your own insights about books and the wider world. I look forward to any comments or suggestions... I also love getting new ideas for what to add to my book list!
Next chapter: A Discourse Upon My Bookshelves a.k.a. the type of books I read.

Keep On Reading...

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