Dory L.'s blog

Birds, Art, Life: a Year of Observation

If you love the natural world, this little book about birding will entice you.  It’s also about much more: how to be in the world, parenting, partnering, creativity, and friendship. She also explores the first books people fell in love with, celebrity eyebrows, art, and especially how to make peace with the roaring, anxious self inside you.

Maclear, a Canadian author of children’s books, decides after a heavy stint caring for her aged father after suffering two strokes that she needed to take up a hobby for herself. She is also a mom raising two young boys, the younger of which, has the weird propensity for falling, resulting in emergency room visits.

First, she plans to take up drawing again. But the renowned teacher she interviews about lessons seemed too structured for her. As you can see in the beautiful line drawings, she also spent a year with pen and ink.

One night her husband suggests that she look at some bird photographs taken by the musician who scored his latest film.  These bird pictures wowed Kyo. So much so, that within a few days, she’d contacted the musician and asked if he would be her guide to the world of birding for an entire year. What she liked about her guru, who she simply calls “The Musician” throughout the book was that he was “fervent about birds without being reverential.”

Another Brooklyn

The helplessness and friendships of childhood are topics that many writers have tackled. Fewer have written about African-American girlhood, as Woodson does here. The book centers on August, the intelligent young girl who leaves the lush south for the vibrant and dangerous streets of Bushwick, Brooklyn.

“For a long time my mother wasn’t dead yet.” This sentence opens the novel, which doesn’t proceed chronologically, but follows an inner lyric pulse. Throughout, the whereabouts of August’s missing mother haunt the story.

August’s family lived in Tennessee on a farm called SweetGrove land.  It was inherited from her grandparents. After their uncle, Clyde, a Vietnam soldier dies, her mother begins to unravel. Soon, her father rushes north with August and her little brother to Brooklyn, his home town.

It’s summer--so for safety, August’s father locks her and her little brother, who is only five, inside their third-story apartment. They spend long summer days watching children play on the street: double-Dutch, stick ball games and splashing under open fire hydrants.  A colorful parade of adults wearing dashikis and other colorful outfits weave past.

The Hidden Life of Trees: what they feel, how they communicate: discoveries from a secret world

I have always felt a strong connection to trees; I love them in all seasons and am fascinated by their intricacies, their shapes, varieties of bark, leaves and shapes, the patterns they make interplaying with light.

This biography of a forest, so to speak, fills you in on a forester’s own passion for trees. He uses the language of a nature lover and also that of a scientist to describe the myriad connections trees have to each other in a healthy forest.

A connection that made him refuse to bring huge modern machinery into a forest and only use horses and saws when a tree needed cutting, an amazing evolution for a trained forester.

Britt-Marie Was Here

Confession: I’m not much of an audio book junkie. In fact, I seldom listen to one unless it is the only copy of a book available, but Joan Walker’s funny and poignant rendition of this Scandinavian novel entranced me.

I couldn’t wait to get back to the poor, out of the way Swedish town of Borg--football crazy and poor--where most of the inhabitants were racing to sell their homes and leave after the 2008 financial crises.

How did a middle-aged wife who had not worked outside the home or travelled anywhere end up in Borg?

Well, first her husband of four decades began an affair with a much younger woman. So Britt-Marie decided to leave him. When she went to the employment agency, there were no jobs, so she returned the next day and cooked for the young lady who worked there a lovely salmon dinner. Britt was nothing if not persistent.

The Six: the Lives of the Mitford Sisters

Having grown up in a family of six sisters (and two brothers), I understand the influences, cooperation and competition that six sisters often have for each other. The similar interests, wildly divergent ones, pet names shared, and shifting alliances.

The Mitford sisters:  Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah were born between 1904 and 1920, so their youth encompassed the roaring and irreverent 1920s as well as the anxious, and violent pre-war period before WW II. The last of the Mitford sisters, Deborah, died only two years ago.

They had an idyllic childhood on a country estate, and were left mainly to themselves, a nanny and a tutor. They were almost totally home-schooled. They read deeply books from their parent’s library and were fascinated by the world of ideas. All except Pamela, who loved farming and developed close connections with animals and the land. Just before dying she sighed and said she wished only for one more hunt.

Commonwealth

Fifty per cent of all North American children experience the divorce of their parents. Talented author Ann Patchett explores her own family’s divorce in this novel, altered, of course, as all fiction is.

A chance meeting at a 1960s christening causes two families to divide and then merge in new ways.  The novel jumps around in the lives of the Cousinses and Keatings. Fix Keating is a Los Angeles cop, and Bert Cousins, an attorney who moves to Virginia. When Cousins falls hard for Keating’s wife, Beverly, at the christening, two families are forever tied though they end up living across the continent from each other.

The novel proceeds from the perfectly realized christening—where many of the guests are cops and the families of cops, and many of the partiers get drunk including some of the children, to one lakeside vacation where the blended children of the two families seek their own adventures while their parent and step-parent laze away in bed until mid-afternoon.

Trying to Float: Coming of Age in the Chelsea Hotel

Can’t say when the last time I read a book written by a seventeen-year old, but this memoir by a high school student was touching and well-written despite Nicolaia Rips' youth. Growing up in New York’s famed Chelsea Hotel gives one a head start, at least when it comes to knowing interesting characters.

The Chelsea’s fame reached its ascendency in the 60s and 70s with noteworthy residents:  Leonard Cohen, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Patsy Smith, who wrote her own memoir about it, Just Kids.

First Nicolaia describes how she came into being. Her mom was a globe-trotting artist, and her dad had zero interest in raising a child, but somehow the artist got pregnant, and the couple began a new way of life. Though not immediately.

While pregnant, her Mom traveled through Europe and along the Silk Road in Asia. Her dad, a non-practicing lawyer and writer, stayed in New York and added a psychiatrist’s office to his daily rounds of coffee shops. He also denied that he was the father, accusing a gay friend for parenting the child. However, once Nicolaia was born, he came around and warmly embraced being a dad, but still the family remained footloose, decamping for several years in Italy, and then roaming North Africa and India, before returning to NYC and the Chelsea Hotel.

All at Sea

This beautiful memoir had me weeping several times. The opening chapter describes in vivid detail the death of the author’s partner by drowning on a winter vacation to Jamaica. He died in the usual tranquil bay outside their cottage after he entered the wild surf to rescue their small son, Jake.

Decca, a Guardian journalist and author, noticed both her partner Tony and son flailing in the water. She ran to the beach, dove in and swam out to them, whereupon her partner passed their son to her and she swam back pulling her son by the chin. She assumed all was well, and that the morning would just provide an embarrassing story that they would later share about this vacation.

But when she turned to look over the bay, she noticed that Tony was much further out then he had been, and he was fighting both the waves and the current. She almost swam out to him, but a friend stopped her and pointed to three men who were already assisting Tony.

Decca felt reassured, but Tony kept flailing. The men pulled him in, and on the beach, white foam poured from his mouth. A local doctor bent over him, and felt his pulse, but Tony had died. It seemed unbelievable to Decca because most of the time he had not been underwater. This made her recall a conversation that they had shared at a party about how you could drown in a teaspoon full of water.

The Past

This novel is a dense, rich celebration of an English family, first in the present time, then in the past--the late 60s and early 70s.

In the first half, four siblings: Harriet, Alice, Roland, and Jane meet at the old family homestead near the sea for a family reunion.  The house is being sold, and it will be their last time together at their childhood home.

Accompanying them, are children (Jane’s), a new South American wife (Roland’s--his third), a young friend, and son of a former lover (Alice’s), and all alone, (Harriet).

In the siblings’ idiosyncratic fashion, Harriet arrives first; she leaves the house locked and goes wandering in the forest.  Alice arrives with Kasim, and then realizes, what she has done, brought an eighteen-year old to a place with nothing going on. Roland calls and says there will be delay, and that he and Pilar will arrive on Sunday.

Alice runs through the house, throwing open windows, picking and placing beautiful bouquets in each of the adults’ room, while Jane, the mom, practically begins cooking the evening meal as her two children, Ivy and Arthur explore.

Privately, Jane and Harriet discuss whether Kazim is more than a friend to wild, actress Alice. Kazim reads on the porch terribly bored. But on Sunday when Roland, Pilar and Molly, Roland’s sixteen year old daughter, arrive. Kazim immediately perks up at Molly’s appearance.

How the World Breaks: Life in Catastrophe's Path from the Caribbean to Siberia

Anyone following the news these days sees far too many disasters:  from wildfires to typhoons, mega-rain storms to landslides, tornados to earthquakes. This book examines how humans react to disasters, what is causing them, and what the future may bring.

Written by the father/son team of Stan and Paul Cox, this book looks at twelve major disasters in depth including some still in progress. The chapter “Atlantis of the Americas” covers the flooding of Miami, Fl. that happens now even on clear days, and is expected to eventually make the city uninhabitable.

In “Gray Goo: East Java, Indonesia,” the Coxes examines an event that caused massive amounts of mud to erupt over what was once a crowded middle class area.  The authors believe that a mining operation triggered this extremely destructive mud volcano. As in many disasters, the authors show how the government got stuck with a huge bill while powerful companies got off the hook.

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