Bookmarks: The Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris

Earlier this evening, I was pulled away from listening to the manager of the hotel, Ross, telling us about a recent Orlando vacation, when I heard the bells at Our Lady of Lourdes, just across the river in St. Anthony Main, chiming the hour. I was struck by the calm that comes after such a sound, and I immediately thought back to my very first encounter with Kathleen Norris: The Cloister Walk.

The Cloister Walk was very popular when it first came out, but I had no use for such things until several years later. Now, reading about this woman from Dakota (via Hawaii) spending time experiencing the liturgy of the hours while living with Benedictine monks seems so beautiful and helpful. I’m not sure I have the discipline for such an endeavor, but there’s something in me that wants to try.

In a few minutes the chimes will sound again, and I will find calm after the last echo of the bell, just as I always find calm in the middle of a good book.

Bookmarks: the “Little House” books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

They may have been written with children as the intended audience, but from time to time, I still re-read Little House in the Big Woods and the various sequels, though most times I skip Farmer Boy. For the longest time, those stories were just books, but when I married Fuzzy and moved to South Dakota, they became real to me in a different way.

Charles “Pa” Ingalls always struck me as someone who would wear a t-shirt declaring himself to be one of the Free People, the sort who don’t settle down for long. I certainly understand that feeling, for I, too have itchy feet. I like to have a home to return to, but this time in Texas has been the first time in my life I’ve spent this many years in one location.

Laura, of course, is who I always identified with. Driving to Branson, MO, several years ago, I thought I should write about her journey to South Dakota, and later from it, and juxtapose it with my own trips to and from Dakota, especially my trips up the old highway 14, now known (between Shakopee, MN, and De Smet, SD, as the “Laura Ingalls Wilder historical highway.”)

So far, I’ve written nothing, but even thought we’ve never met, I think somehow my story is intertwines with hers.

Is that presumptuous? Maybe.

Bookmarks: The Elephant Man

I don’t remember who wrote the book The Elephant Man on which the movies were based, but I do remember seeing two distinctly different versions of the movie. One was in black and white, and involved prostheses and costumes, and the other…the other creeped me out more because the actor playing John Merrick was not costumed, but playing the part with his naked face, and using only his body language to convey the extreme disfiguration Merrick had to cope with every day.

The latter movie could have been telling a story about someone with severe cystic acne, instead of the bone/skin condition Merrick had, but despite the lack of makeup, the lack of latex body parts and paint, I had no doubt about what I was seeing. Nor did anyone else.

It was my first conscious experience with the power of imagination, of letting the audience (or the reader) fill in the blanks.

I was hooked.

(Update: Amazon says there’s a play by Bernard Pomerance, and a book by Christine Sparks)

Bookmarks: Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe

I started reading Nero Wolfe mysteries on a bus trip from Ashland, OR, to Fresno, CA when I was in high school. I couldn’t sleep on the bus, and Mr. Wolfe and Archie Goodwin kept me company during the long trek home.

Now, whenever I’m faced with a new or different food, I wonder what Nero Wolfe would think. How would he react to an ingredient like glucosamine sulphate, for example, or what would he think of the new trend toward chemical gastronomy?

Don’t get me wrong, Wolfe was a misogynist, and very much represented the period in which he came into being, but even so, he was a total FOODIE.

Tonight, sitting at the table in the Nicollet Island Inn’s dining room, watching the cold waters of the Mississippi River flowing before me, I ate a Walleye Meuniere with lemon zest foam and ham-hock risotto, and I was blissed out by the food.

But what would Nero Wolf have thought?

Bookmarks: Population 485, by Michael Perry

I read Population 485 fairly recently. In fact, I’d meant to post a real review of this memoir about a man returning to his Wisconsin roots just before we got the call to race to Iowa.

If slimming pills can be found in the form of movies depicting the bloody brutality of mass produced meat, than pills of wisdom can be found in memoirs you don’t think have any direct bearing on the current circumstances of your life.

Translation: I picked up this book several months ago, and forgot I had it, then didn’t read it til I had almost nothing left in my pile. All this week, however, bits of it have been coming back to me – the most simple, and the most poignant. For example, at one point Perry writes about death, saying that it doesn’t really hit you until the last, empty casserole dish has been returned.

The community filled my sister-in-law’s house with food.
I fear what her reaction will be when the last tupperware container has been given back to its rightful owner.

Bookmarks: Dakota: a Spiritual Geography, by Kathleen Norris

I originally read DAKOTA years ago, just after I’d left South Dakota – I think. I remember thinking that it helped me to understand these prairie women, who can talk about jello salads and cattle with equal ease, who can pluck their own geese, and mix up homemade acne remedies without a thought. It helped me to understand my father-in-law, and to see that church communities are so tight night, in South Dakota, at least, in part because when your nearest neighbor is miles away, it’s comforting to know you have a bond with someone, even if that bond isn’t having lunch once a week, but singing hymns together each Sunday.

Norris’s work is non-fiction, and the language isn’t difficult, but the concepts are almost profound.

I think anyone moving to the prairie from a major city should be handed this book when they get their new driver’s license.

Bookmarks: Firstlight, by Sue Monk Kidd

I’m away from home on a trip to a funeral. While we are heading home (finally) in the morning, and I haven’t really had much time to do any reading, there are books that are resonating with me as I take this journey.

One of them is Firstlight by Sue Monk Kidd.

It’s a series of essays on spirituality, and on writing – sort of a daily multivitamin in literary form. Some of it is funny, some poignant, some tender, some just true. I’ve never been the most spiritual person, or at least, not the most religious but this book soothes me.

I’ve got it with me on this trip, but my mind hasn’t had the focus to read.

Purging Books

The sad fact is this: I have too many books and too few bookshelves. The other sad fact – really a true confession – is that I love reading Star Trek books. Yes, they’re tie-ins, but they’re comfort reading, in much the same way that pepperoni pizza is comfort food.

In any case, I’ve treated my library to a quick weight loss treatment. How? By boxing up all the Star Trek paperbacks and bringing them with me to this funeral in Iowa…where I handed them off to Fuzzy’s brother.

You see, like me, he has a thing for for Star Trek books.

Unlike me, he has a burning need to own every single one of them.

Review: The Thirteenth Hour by Richard Doetsch

The 13th Hour
The 13th Hour
by Richard Doetsch
Atria, 352 pages
Get it from Amazon >>

Last summer, I got an ARC of The 13th Hour from Atria Books’ “galley grab,” and lost it in the house. A few weeks ago, the author, Richard Doetsch, started following my Twitter feed, and I realized I NEEDED to read his book, so I ordered a copy from Amazon.

I’m glad I did.

This mystery/thriller gripped me from the beginning, opening with Nick and Julia Quinn having the typical sort of argument that all married couples have, only for her to be brutally murdered just a few scenes later. Nick is brought to the local police station as the main subject (House would remind us that it’s always the husband), only to be shoved aside for a plane crash, and then presented with a gold watch and a letter by a mysterious stranger, and told he can go back in time, an hour at a time, for twelve hours, in order to save his wife.

What follows is a fast-paced, action-packed classic thriller, told in reverse, but with forward continuity, in a way that totally works. Even better is the fact that while the eventual ending made sense, it was not at all predictable or cliche.

In my view, mystery and thriller authors have two jobs: the first is to tell a good story, the second is to create a plausible puzzle for the characters to solve.

Mr. Doetsch did both of those, and more, in The 13th Hour.

Review: The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove by Christopher Moore

The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove
The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove
by Christopher Moore
Harper Paperbacks, 320 pages
Get it from Amazon

When I’m reading a Christopher Moore novel, my tv stands, my computer sits unused, and I end up with a stomach ache from too much laughter. I “heart” Moore’s books, and my most recent read of his, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, is no exception.

I could explain the plot, but the thing about Moore is that his plots are so preposterous, and yet work out so neatly, that even a concise synopsis gives too much away. Let’s just leave it at this: this is a horror comedy that includes small-town life, drug busts, aging action heriones, raunchy sex, the blues, and a sea monster, and, like my other recent read, Commander Pants’ Whom God Would Destroy pokes a lot of provocative fun at the mental health industry, specifically where anti-depressants are concerned.

It’s an enjoyable read if you like to laugh, but it also makes you think, and really, isn’t that what good comedy should do?