The Pleasure of Reading (Part II)

OK, so we’ve licked the honey off the page to guarantee a sweet association with reading.  But now, at 11 or 12 or 13, you’re way past needing artificial sweeteners and by now have discovered that the real sweetness is in the act of reading itself.

The Black Stallion (all of them!);
The Black Tanker and other books by Howard Pease;
Treasure Island;
Hardy Boys (all of them!);
David Starr, Space Ranger and other books by Isaac Asamov

And so many other wonderful books that drew me in and transported me to other worlds.  Mostly I read to myself, by myself.  But there were times, especially with my older, girl cousin, when we would read “together.”  We’d lie on the floor and she’d read her book and I’d read mine.  I don’t remember that we talked much about what we were reading, but there was something quite magical in being in the same place at the same time and just reading.Black Tanker

Do you have memories of reading with a friend or relative and when that was enough?

The Pleasure of Reading (Part I)

When I was a toddler, my mother put a drop of honey on a page of one of my cloth books and told me to lick it off, hoping that I would make the association between reading and sweetness. It’s been a long time since I’ve licked my books, but the pleasure of reading remains. I have photos of my mother reading to me as a youngster, but I don’t need them to remember the books:

The Goops and How to Be Them

The Story About Ping

The Little House

Paddle to the Sea

And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street

Grimm’s Fairy Tales

Babar the Elephant

and of course, the Little Golden Books like this one . . . 


And so many more!

Just before my mom remarried, the first thing my soon-to-be new dad brought me as a gift was a book about cars. I was 7 and I’ve never forgotten.

What are some of the books you remember with pleasure from your childhood?
(To be continued)



What I’m Reading Now (Continued)

It was a warm, early spring day at the farm and perfect to sit outside and read.

Russian River-Coastal-20130210-00072I don’t often have unbroken stretches when we’re in Sebastopol and, in part, that’s what I enjoy about town living where everything is at hand and it’s easy to distract myself with errands, meetings or outings.   But at the farm, nothing is at hand.  The closest supermarket is a 45-minute drive and there’s no need to jump up every few minutes to silence the dachshunds that break into ear-splitting barking duets whenever a pupil arrives for a guitar lesson at the home of our nearest neighbor.  When we first moved to Sebastopol, we had gotten out of the habit of silencing these sweet but raucous brothers, but a few visits from our guitar-teaching neighbor and one from the Sebastopol police were all we needed.  Now, at their first outdoor bark, I’m up and out the back door calling Oni and Taro back into the house.


But I wasn’t in town.  I was at the farm, happily reading Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor’s wonderful book, My Beloved World.  I was completely absorbed in her memoir.




My Beloved World

Justice Sotomayor’s story is compelling, lively and straight-forward.  She pulls back the curtain on her life and reveals herself as a flawed, driven, but compassionate woman.  Whether writing about her childhood, her diabetes, her education, her marriage/divorce, or her legal career, Sotomayor’s prose is clear and lively and she destroys any lingering stereotype of the stuffy, closeted jurist. My Beloved World is packed with insight into New York’s Puerto Rican community, the American legal system, prejudice and injustice, and what it means to be a bright and determined Latina in what has long been a white-man’s world. Regardless of what draws you to it, her Beloved World is worth knowing.



What I’m Reading Now

We spent this past weekend at the small farm we share with my brother (Peter) and sister-in-law (Sieglinde).  It’s 40 acres of olive orchards, meadows, fruit trees, redwoods, pines, bays, and madrones on a rural subdivision called Gualala Ranch.  The Gualala Ranch is comprised of 3,000 acres that was divided into 40-acre parcels along with swaths of common land back in the early 1970’s.  We lived there full-time from 2005 to 2010 but with Luisa’s increasingly-impaired mobility — thank you, spinal stenosis — we decided to live in Sebastopol and spend weekends and vacations on the farm.  Peter and Sieglinde raise olive trees and make wonderful, extra-virgin organic olive oil under the Olive Branch Farm label. They also sell fresh, free-range, organic eggs.  We’ve shared the farm with them since the four of us bought it in 1992.

On Saturday morning we met up with our twelve-year-old granddaughter, Marley, and then headed to Olive Branch Farm.  It’s a 90-minute drive from Sebastopol.  We like to take Highway 116 from Sebastopol to Guerneville, then along the Russian River and all the way to Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean.  We make these trips in daylight relishing the miles of forest and of gorgeous views of rocky coast before we turn inland and start to climb at Myer’s Grade Road.

How a helping dog helps!

How a helping dog helps!

This was the first time for us to take our new dog, Misha.  Misha is a 10-month-old female, Newfoundland mix.  Our plan is to train her to help Luisa.  “Misha, bring me the phone.  Misha, pull the wheel chair . . . Misha, bring me a beer . . . peel me a grape . . . ”  You get the idea.

At the moment, what Misha does best is redesign the landscaping in my Sebastopol back yard and initiate rough and tumble games with our two, 10-year old Dachshund brothers and our 6-year old Corgi.  The Corgi will, on occasion, reluctantly agree.  The Dachshunds?  Never!  With them it’s curled lips, teeth and snarl.

Frankly, I was worried about the trip.  When our kids were little, fights between siblings could be controlled by, “I’m pulling over at the next turnout.  Then watch out!”  or “if I hear one more person yell about being hit, we’re going home.”  Unfortunately, such threats don’t work with roughhousing dogs.  But, the trip was fine.  All critters were on good behavior.

The weather at the farm was perfect for sitting in the sun and reading, which is what I did most of Saturday and what brings me, finally, to what I’m reading now. (To be continued in my next post.)

What I’m reading

I’m a fan of mystery writer, Elizabeth George and recently finished her 2003 book, A Place of Hiding. I loved it.  George weaves intricate, suspenseful plots that are populated with compelling and complex characters.  She brings the settings of her novels to life with a wealth of detail.  I’m consistently impressed with the diversity of her characters and her ability to give each a voice that is both distinctive and pitch perfect. settings-deliverance-churchinkedaleWith seemingly equal ease, she writes about Jamaican immigrants in London; British nobility down on their luck; police inspectors and California surf bums. When I first started to read her, I assumed that George was British since her novels were largely based there and she was on such intimate terms with its landscape, culture and customs. As it turns out, George was born in Ohio, but for most of her life has lived and worked (as a high school English teacher) in California. england_0685As impressive as her writing so is her productivity.  For the most part, these are substantial volumes and yet she has managed to publish one or two almost every year since the late 80’s. If you haven’t read Elizabeth George, you’re missing out.

If you decide to read one of her books, let me know what you think!

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How We Read (part 2)

We got our first set in the early 1950’s when I was eleven years old. Until then we played outside, read books and comics, played board games or cards, went to the movies and listened to the radio. When my dad brought home our first black and white TV, he deposited it with great ceremony in the living room of our home in Mar Vista (West Los Angeles) and our lives changed forever.

A writer's first tv.My cousin, Jack, had a TV in his apartment for a year or so before we got ours. I’d visit Jack and we’d stay up late watching professional wrestling. We especially liked “Gorgeous George”, one of the eccentric characters who wrestled on the tiny screen.

The image on Jack’s TV was so small that my uncle installed a magnifying glass over it. It did make the picture seem larger, but it was also distorted. We didn’t care.

The other place I’d watch TV was at the home of a neighbor. On Saturday nights, Mary Jane, a girl in my class at Mar Vista Elementary, would invite my brother, Peter, and me over to watch with her family. Folding chairs were placed in rows in the living room and Mary Jane’s large, extended clan solemnly filed in to take their seats. We kids would sit on the rug in front of the seated adults. Mostly we’d watch The Spade Cooley Show and Frosty Frolics.

The Adventures of Superman TV SeriesBefore long, my folks moved the television from the living room to the “family room.” My mom bought a TV cart and now, instead of going to Mary Jane’s on Saturdays, Mother would wheel our dinner into the family room and we would watch more “sophisticated” fare such as Your Show of Shows or the Texaco Star Theater. Some shows my brother and I were not allowed to watch . . . shows like The Adventures of Superman (glorification of the ubermensch) or Our Gang (might lead us down unsavory paths).

Fortunately, I still loved to read. Sometimes, after a little TV and “lights out,” I’d take my flashlight and my book and dive under the covers of my bed in the room I shared with my brother. The flashlight under the blankets worked fine. Mother and Dad would stay up watching TV, the sound filtering through the two doors that separated our bedroom from the family room. It was a cozy, warm and secret way to read. I’d fall asleep quickly and would often wake in the middle of the night to find my flashlight pressing painfully into my hip or back.

Fast forward 60 years. I still enjoy TV and I still love to read. And now, equipped with my Kindle Paperwhite with its own backlit screen, I can turn off the lights and read until my hands grow numb and a delicious, warm drowsiness takes over.

By the way, sleeping on a Kindle beats sleeping on a flashlight hands down!

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How We Read (part 1)

Reading New BooksFor the holidays, Luisa and I gave each other Kindle Paperwhites from Amazon. We’d been reading on original Kindles for the past three years. It started when it became difficult for Luisa to comfortably manage heavy books and I bought her one. At the time, we lived full-time on our remote farm in the Coastal Hills of Western Sonoma County and the attraction of hearing a book reviewed on Fresh Air that you couldn’t wait to read and then being able to download that same book in minutes was too much to resist. The inability to delay gratification is not the sole province of the young!

I was glad she enjoyed it so much, but I wasn’t sure that I was ready to relinquish the tactile pleasures that have been part of my reading experience since childhood. I don’t suppose it’s still done, but when I was very young, before I could read, my mother put a drop of honey on a page of one of my earliest books and I was allowed to lick it off. The association between books and sweetness lasted ever since. Come to think of it, Mother did a good job of offering up sweet rewards. Sometimes she put M & M’s at the bottom of our milk cups.

My grandfather, “Grandpa Jack”, collected old books on a small scale. Some were first editions of classics and I remember his admonishments about the care I should employ when touching them; turning pages. To hold one of Grandpa Jack’s gilt-edged treasures was like holding a humming bird. I wasn’t allowed to read the books he showed me, but I could inspect them and appreciate their physical beauty.

Electronic Book EnjoymentSeeing how much Luisa enjoyed her Kindle, I gave in and accepted her gift of one. Immediately, I fell in love. I could change the size of the fonts so I could read with or without glasses. I could look up unfamiliar words without finding a dictionary. Sure, these are trivial concerns but since I was giving up one set of pleasures, I was happy to replace them with ones I’d never considered such as changing the style or size of a book’s type or having the book read to me aloud at night or having a dictionary built into the book. I traveled frequently by air the year I started to read on Kindle and imagined that it afforded me much the same kind of enjoyment that train passengers in the late 1800’s must have felt when paperback books first came on the market.

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