What I’ve Been Reading Lately: June, July, August

JUNE
The Dry, by Jane Harper
Police investigator Aaron Falk returns home for the funeral of a friend and old wounds resurface in this “page-turner of a mystery set in parched Australia.” I loved everything about the set-up, plus this baby got 4.07 stars on Goodreads (and lots and lots of great press as one of this summer’s Must Reads.) I found it not as compelling. In fact, I sped read (is that a word?) the last half of the novel. But clearly, that’s just me.

My Southern Journey, by Rick Bragg
A collection of essays from the beloved Southern writer (and pulitzer prize winner). Okay, friends, I got this on audiobook and the introduction alone–read by Rick Bragg–is Everything To Me. His voice is thick and rich as maple syrup (the real kind) and his writing? I underlined every sentence in my head, then got a printed version to study. Plus those stories of his Mama and front porches and good heavens all the cats–this one will stay with me a long, long time.

Heat and Light, by Jennifer Haigh
We live in a world of opposing interests, and the struggle between two of them is at the heart of this book about a dying West Virginia coal town and the massive deposit of natural gas that lies beneath it. Jennifer Haigh brings fire and heart to this story through the complicated, very human characters that live it. She’s a master storyteller with an uncompromising voice.

JULY
This Is How It Always Is, by Laurie Frankel
I heard about this novel from a podcast I love, What Should I Read Next. Hostess Anne Bogel (AKA Modern Mrs. Darcy) suggests you not read anything about the plot, including the book jacket, and that you just jump in. I followed her advice and totally agree. And I loved this book. It’s smart, poignant, and beautifully written. Oh, those family secrets.

In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollen
I bought this book because it was a great Kindle deal and I am so glad I did. Practical, insightful advice and a perspective that was actually a bit new to me. Amazon says: Because in the so-called Western diet, food has been replaced by nutrients, and common sense by confusion–most of what we’re consuming today is longer the product of nature but of food science. The result is what Michael Pollan calls the American Paradox: The more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we see to become. Good one.

AUGUST
Trampoline, by Robert Gipe
I had heard many people I respect call this the best Appalachian novel in years and so it was on my radar. Then I met Robert Gipe at the writers’ workshop at Hindman. He is such a nice guy and LORD IS HE A POWERFUL WRITER. So I bought Trampoline on the spot, asked him to sign it, then cracked open that cover. I have never read anything like it and cannot recommend it strongly enough–particularly if you are interested in Appalachian literature or if you just want to be pushed. Intense, heartbreaking, fresh. Here’s the synopsis: Jagged and honest, Trampoline is a portrait of a place struggling with the economic and social forces that threaten and define it. Inspired by oral tradition and punctuated by Gipe’s raw and whimsical drawings, it is above all about its heroine, Dawn, as she decides whether to save a mountain or save herself; be ruled by love or ruled by anger; remain in the land of her birth or run for her life.  I do love me some Robert Gipe.

(Man, August was a good reading month.)

Fallen Land, by Taylor Brown
Gorgeous and oh so heartbreaking. Taylor Brown writes sentences that make you want to crawl up inside them. The synopsis: Fallen Land is Taylor Brown’s debut novel set in the final year of the Civil War, as a young couple on horseback flees a dangerous band of marauders who seek a bounty reward. His descriptions of a decimated South* will leave you breathless. Plus the book jacket (hardback) is just so gorgeous.

 

If you have thoughts or other book recommendations, please share in the comments. I’d love to know how you feel about my selections or any suggestions you have!

XXOO

Amazon has offered The Daily Grace an affiliate partnership and will give a little financial reward for any purchases made from the links provided here. That’s not my motivation in writing this post, but since it doesn’t cost anything extra if you click and decide to purchase one of these books, I thought it might be a good way to help with the hard costs of this labor-of-love blog. I do want to fully disclose, however. I greatly value your trust as a reader.

I also share great book deals on my favorites via Facebook. If you are interested, be sure to like my The Daily Grace Blog Facebook page and select “see first” (under “following”) so it will show in your newsfeed. Oh, those crazy algorithms.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: March, April, May

I launched this What I’ve Been Reading Lately monthly book series on The Daily Grace in January and made it all the way to February. (That’s so me.) Which means the list is now very long. Still we should catch up, right?

Here goes Part 1.

 

MARCH
Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett
An unexpected (and rather undramatic) kiss at a party changes everything not only for the individuals involved, but their families. Patchett shares the next 50 years as their lives weave this way and that.
I liked this book. Didn’t love it. But it was certainly highly acclaimed critically.

Mrs. Kimble, by Jennifer Haigh
Three women marry the same charismatic opportunist: Ken Kimble. 
I had the great honor of studying with Jennifer Haigh at the Appalachian Writers Workshop this summer. This is her debut novel, so needless to say I read it with great interest. Enjoyed it.

Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer
The true story of Chris McCandliss, a young man who graduated from college then abandoned his car, burned his cash and walked into the Alaskan wilderness, alone. His body was found four months later.
There is so much to this story of independence and survival. I found it fascinating. (Great on audiobook.)

APRIL
The Midnight Cool, by Lydia Poole
Set in 1916 in Tennessee, two flawed yet endearing grifters pursue women, wealth, and a surprisingly valuable commodity for the troops in Europe—mules.
I loved this debut novel. Loved it–one of my favorite books of the year.

Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng
It’s 1977, and the body of teen Lydia Lee is found in a local lake. Her Chinese-American family tumbles into chaos.
Heralded as a literary thriller and one of the best debut novels of the year. I thought it was…okay.

MAY
Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry
Publisher’s description: “Ignorant boys, killing each other,” is just about all Nathan Coulter would tell his wife, friends, and family about the Battle of Okinawa in the spring of 1945. Life carried on for the community of Port William, Kentucky, as some boys returned from the war and the lives of others were mourned. In her seventies, Nathan’s wife, Hannah, has time now to tell of the years since the war. In Wendell Berry’s unforgettable prose, we learn of the Coulter’s children, of the Feltners and Branches, and how survivors “live right on.”
This book served as my introduction to Wendell Berry, who is without a doubt one of the finest writers living today. Quiet, beautiful, and so powerful, Hannah Coulter will live in my heart forever.  READ THIS BOOK.

Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes
Over Thanksgiving dinner, her sister muttered something that was both a wake up and a call to arms: You never say yes to anything. Shonda knew she had to embrace the challenge: for one year, she would say YES to everything that scared her.
Oh, I want every young woman every woman of every age I know to read this book. Loved, loved, loved. (Fantastic on audiobook, read by Shonda.) In fact, I wrote an entire post about it: Introverts Unite, which you can read here.

Hallelujah Anyway, by Anne Lamott
A powerful little spiritual guidebook for helping you rediscover mercy in this messy, difficult life.
I love everything Anne Lamott has ever written, and this little book is no exception. Plus I got to hear her speak in Charlotte, a night that brought so many insights and heart whispers I still think about it. I wrote a little bit about that here: The Gift of Mercy from Anne Lamott

UP NEXT: June, July and August

If you have thoughts or other book recommendations, please share in the comments. I’d love to know how you feel about my selections or any suggestions you have!

XXOO

Amazon has offered The Daily Grace an affiliate partnership and will give a little financial reward for any purchases made from the links provided here. That’s not my motivation in writing this post, but since it doesn’t cost anything extra if you click and decide to purchase one of these books, I thought it might be a good way to help with the hard costs of this labor-of-love blog. I do want to fully disclose, however. I greatly value your trust as a reader.

I also share great book deals on my favorites via Facebook. If you are interested, be sure to like my The Daily Grace Blog Facebook page and select “see first” (under “following”) so it will show in your newsfeed. Oh, those crazy algorithms.

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Totality

Total Eclipse Day, in Total Eclipse Zone: Columbia, South Carolina

August 21, 2017 arrived as a perfect day, something difficult to pull off when there’s so much expectation, so much build-up, when there’s been so much prelude.

I mean there was a countdown graphic during the news, for heaven’s sake.

No wonder Tim and I could hardly believe our good fortune. We hadn’t needed to travel at all to experience the depths of mystery, and the heights of splendor as lovely Annie Dillard wrote in her classic essay, Total Eclipse. It was sunny and gorgeous and we were on the lake and our dear, dear friends were there, three boats-full. We were swimming, and laughing, and eating pimento cheese, and buoying it all was this magical (if unavowed) sublayer of thrill rising.

 

Then just like that it started, the carving out of the sun. Smaller than I expected. Slower, and less dramatic. And yet it was also more wondrous, more fascinating than I had ever considered.

Look at that, Mike, I said after a while. The shape is like the regular quarter moon but not. Because the dimensions are wrong. 

Even if I understood this, it actually took a minute for my brain to comprehend the fact the bright shining crescent I was seeing was the sun.

What time is it? someone hollered.

2:10

2:23

2:37

Then:

That temperature is dropping.

It’s getting darker.

Look at the light.

And finally

Two minutes to totality! 

 

That’s when the clouds came.

No, no, no, no, no, we all said, our breath getting shallow even if our hearts were joined in unbelief. (There was no way that could happen, right?)

Please, please, please, please, please, we thought, our hands moving unconsciously to our chests.

Not in prayer, exactly.

But not not in prayer either.

We looked to the sky. We looked to each other.

We looked all around.

2:41

It was happening. The sun and the moon and the earth were in perfect alignment. There would be 2 minutes 30 seconds of the nothing-like-it, once-in-a-lifetime magic of a total solar eclipse.

And all we were seeing was the big fat cloud covering it.

 

2:40 pm

 

It’s hard to describe the feeling of that moment, disbelief eclipsed by disappointment eclipsed by pollyanna who jumped in quick with a multitude of reasons this was not nearly as heartbreaking as it seemed.* I mean we’d seen most of it. 128 minutes worth. And I was on the lake, with friends, with a fantastic eclipse playlist. We were grilling hamburgers later. There was a red and white checkered tablecloth. Cindy made moon pies!

And then the thought came to me: God must want you to see something else, girl. Look around.

And so I did.

 

 

It was indescribable, the twilight, the colors of that lake and the horizon and the low clouds, experiencing sunset not from the west but sitting smack dab in the middle of it, 360 degrees, dusk in every direction. My friends were laughing, still having fun, each and every one looking in awe even if it was a bit more tempered.

 

 

(Plus you could look up at the sky without safety glasses. There was that.)

Then a hurray as the clouds began to part.

 

2:45 pm

 

The eclipse slowly reappeared, this time in reverse order. But totality was totally over.

It felt sad, too bad, like missing a field goal and wishing by golly you had one more shot at it, one more chance to get that ball through the uprights. We moaned a hot minute then carried on with our fun, getting another beer, another handful of pistachios, jumping back into the water one more time.

~~~~

When you get home later your precious daughter is there, telling you she saw it all, she’ll never be the same, the moment of totality left her weak-kneed and awe-stuck and changed. (I really am thrilled for her.) And you click on Instagram and see the corona and Bailey’s Beads and the diamond ring and the crescent shadows all over Columbia and the depth of your sadness begins to grow.

Seriously, God? is what you think.

It grows and grows.

It becomes a late game field goal in a tie in the Super Bowl.

It has no limits, your disappointment, now that you understand, now that you know.

It was right there, the glory and majesty and wonder of a Total Solar Eclipse.

Right there.

 

I cannot believe we did not get to see it.

 

XXOO

*Forgive me the indulgence of this sentence; I feel like I earned it.

 

 

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for Mamas and Daddies taking a child to college

I feel it new every August, the heart-sinking dread of Mamas and Daddies facing a college freshman year. Oh, there’s a bit of excitement in the preparation, from college acceptance joy to the realization (during a push-the-boundaries summer) that good lord it is time for this child to move on.

And yet the moment comes.

The dorm room is fixed. The bed is made, and the clothes are put away. You hug hard. You take her face in your hands and say, one more time, I am so excited for you. And you get in the car, and smile and wave, and you drive away leaving your baby standing on a college campus, alone.

Ten miles later the tears begin to fall. And no matter how much you tell yourself to stop, this is silly, you are grateful she has this wonderful opportunity, you still can’t make them stop.

You put your phone in your purse. In the back seat. In the very very back so you cannot reach it to text her. And you begin to practice the one thing you know you must do for the next four years, for the next 10 years, for the rest of your life:

You let her work it out herself.

 

(I wrote about this at the time, and about the great blessings that came to balance my angst. God was insistent in this even when I had trouble believing.)

And so I want to say to you, now, whether you know it or not, whether you can believe it or not, this time of change is as much about you as it is about your deeply beloved child.

We send you love and strength and perseverance, those of us who have been there. And we hope this time of growth–for both of you–ultimately makes your world bigger, more colorful, and more filled with all the things that bring you joy.

Godspeed.

 

XXOO

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Okay then.

Y’all.

You know how I love the animals around Bickley’s Pond.

All the animals.

But I do not love it when the squirrels get to the bird feeders. Tim has made an art of bird feeder placement, determining just the right position with just the right hood to stop the nonsense.

Then just last night I looked out the big window of my studio to see a squirrel plastered to the lower feeder.

How on earth???? I wondered.

Then I found out.

 

 

I watched him do it five or six times. Then I decided any creature with that much ingenuity, that much gumption, that much fearlessness deserves all the birdseed he can eat.

Carry on, my brother.

 

XXOO

 

neighbors

There are so many things I love about the new friends we’ve made since buying a mountain place high in the Blue Ridge. First, and it is so true, we lucked up with the most interesting, intelligent and generous neighbors a couple new to the area–and the lifestyle–could imagine.

To which I would also like to add: It is genuinely a surprise because the location is remote, the houses are few, and the land between each equals acres and acres.

Still there is something about the place that attracts folk whose values resemble a new-to-me hero, Wendell Berry.

I had the immense fortune of hearing Berry speak in July when I attended the Appalachian Writers Workshop in Hindman, Kentucky. I’d never read Berry until learning he was offering the keynote; may I just say Hannah Coulter, my introduction to Berry’s fiction, has taken residence in my heart in a sweet and lovely way.

That story of farming and neighbors and community, with its quiet, gentle voice, shifted something in me.

It also made me keenly aware of the value of neighbors who not only live close but who take care, who watch over and help out.

I have been fortunate at every phase of my life to have this type of neighbor. God realizes I am a needy human and has provided support beyond belief, from sweet Ree who practically raised my child (and made her eat vegetables) when I was a crazy Single Working Mom to the Copes who give and give and never ask anything in return.

But the point is on this remote mountain, where life centers around the land and our caretaking of it, the gift of neighbors who love and guide and support and teach and share…well, it is a gift beyond measure.

 

 

Two weeks ago I had a conversation with resident flora and fauna expert Leon during which I mentioned my intention to learn about the wildflowers growing on the mountain. There is a new crop every time we’re there–I am not exaggerating–and it is one of the great joys (and challenges) of this property for me to not only learn their names but their folklore.

Leon knows about such things. So he rattled off a comprehensive list of the native flowers and bushes and shrubs I most need in our meadow. And then–because it wasn’t enough to simply suggest–he and Gus and Greg spent a good bit of time stomping through the woods digging up varieties for Tim and me to carry over the ridge and put in the ground at our place.

 

 

Then yesterday I got this text from Jessie (of the Ramp Hunt and garlic harvest, among so many other gracious things):

There is an area of wildflowers in our meadow where all the butterflies come together. As hard as I try I can’t get a good shot of it. Come over sometime if you are up for the challenge!

I’m glad I went.

 

 

There are a thousand examples, from the time our sweet little dog escaped from the driveway and Sue stomped through scary Narnia in search of; to Tsa dropping off Burnsville Literary Festival info because she thought I might be interested; to Vicky’s gift of a book on the history of the Black Mountains; to Linda graciously serving up Happy Hour (time after time) with absolutely no notice.

~~~

Wendell Berry said this.

A viable neighborhood is a community, and a viable community is made up of neighbors who cherish and protect what they have in common.

 

Yes, I have learned. Oh yes.

 

 

XXOO

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the sweetest gift(s)

We were talking about birds fledging and my hope to someday catch the action as one or two or five jump from the nest the first time. What it must be like to be that young and tender, to summon that courage, then to (quite literally) launch your own body out into the big world.

He mentioned Phoebes had nested near their place, and he’d captured the babies in a photo just after they’d made that scary first flight. They’d scattered a bit. But the parents called them in and in very short order had them all lined up–OneTwoThreeFourFive–for feeding.

 

photo by Russ Oates

 

It’s such a miracle how nature works, how babies fly, how parents know just what to do.

It’s such a gift that as humans, we can bear witness simply by stepping outside to watch.

 

XXOO

Thanks to my new friend, Russ Oates, for the use of his fantastic photo. His work with Audubon North Carolina is fascinating; you can read about their work to protect the Golden-winged Warbler here.

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Third time’s a charmer

Mama Blue

 

My beloved bluebirds nested three times this season, a record here on Bickley’s Pond. Still that is not the most surprising thing that happened around here this summer. This is.

 

 

One precious teenager, whom we assume was born of the early brood, started hanging around during the last hot days of the third nesting. It was mid-July and Mama and Daddy were very busy trying to satiate 2017 babies numbers eleven, twelve, thirteen and fourteen.

(These loving parents were also, I am quite certain, exhausted.)

Junior waited. And watched.

 

 

Then he started hopping about the yard digging for worms and spiders and creepy crawlies. But rather than eating them himself, the youngster flew to the nest time and time again feeding the bounty to his little brothers and sisters.

 

Look, Mom!

 

 

Everybody good in there?

 

On Day 17 the brave little babies climbed to the opening, flapped their wings and jumped from the nest for the very first time. I wasn’t there to witness their fledging (I’m sad to say) but I am quite certain their big brother was very close by, cheering them on.

 

 

It was a sweet way to spend July, watching this little group, a reminder of the strength of love, the power of encouragement, and the bonds of family, united.

XXOO

 

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the good, good, good fight

My sweet Daddy is 86 years old, and these days his mind is often jumbled due to some functional changing of the brain. With the help of caregivers in the assisted living facility where he lives, he still dresses every day, joins friends for lunch in the upstairs dining room, and sits in his big easy chair by the window waiting for visitors or family–most often Will and Kathy, my super-hero brother and sister-in-law–to stop by or to take him on an outing.

He is not going willingly into this darkness. Dad’s frustration shows. Yet his indomitable spirit pushes on in spite of the great challenges he faces, each day bringing something new. It is a remarkable thing to see the ways he adapts, the adjustments he somehow knows how to make so each tiny moment is the absolute best it can be. Spend 10 minutes with Dad and you’ll see despite the gradual fading of his memory, he is a man who simply refuses to let the thing get the best of him.

***

Just this week he got the chance to meet his great-grandson for the very first time.

 

One look at the interaction between these two and you know Dad and Irby are both right there, great-granddaddy and great-grandson fully experiencing a precious, once-in-a-lifetime, holy exchange.

How thankful we all are for this time. How joyous!

And how fervently I pray the goodness of this golden moment will rest with Dad a while. May it nourish his soul. May it remind him day after day the fight is worth it, every frustrating, exhausting, damnable bit.

 

XXOO

A big thanks to Catherine Stewart, Irby’s mom and my precious niece, for the use of her how-did-she-capture-that-moment photo.

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Relief.

photo: David LaFuria

 

Full-on summer is here with the South Carolina temperature soaring to nearly 100 degrees most every afternoon. It’s the kind of heat you can literally see in the air: your eyes hurt, your lungs burn, your spirit feels the proverbial finish line is way over there on the other side of a giant vat of syrup.

No wonder I keep thinking about this photograph. Dear friends had come to spend the July 4th weekend with us high in the (much cooler) North Carolina mountains and Sunday morning headed to the North Toe River for sweet bit of fly fishing. David snapped this shot on their outing and was gracious enough to share it with me.

Relief. Oh, yes.

Here’s hoping the folks who landed there found just that. (Although it does feel like a long shot from the look of things.) And here’s hoping you find some, whatever it is you feel bearing down on you in this oppressive summer heat!

XXOO

 

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