Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Still Life

by Louise Penny

I do not reread books as a general rule.  There are only 4 books that I can think of that I have reread:  Jane Eyre, The Book of Mormon, Still Life, and A Fatal Grace.  Five books if you'll let me count the New Testament.  (I read the Old Testament once and I think that will do it for this lifetime.)  You may have noticed that 2 of those books are by Louise Penny and can I just say, "The are even better the 2nd time around!"

My review of the first reading of Still Life can be found here (Feb 2009).  I remember liking the book and being impressed with Penny's style of writing and I enjoyed the characters, hoping we would meet them again in future books.  And we did get to chum with them in the sequels.  Penny unwraps parts of each character and lets us slowly get acquainted with them as we might a new friend.  In this reread I was reminded of earlier descriptions of the characters and to see them in light of what I knew about them from later writings.  My word, they are such multi-faceted, complex, flawed, and yet lovable people.  The following quote illustrates how well Penny brings her characters to life, as well as her understanding of human nature and her gift for expressing it in writing.
“Clara shrugged and immediately knew her betrayal of Peter. In one easy movement she'd distanced herself from his bad behavior, even thought she herself was responsible for it. Just before everyone had arrived, she'd told Peter about her adventure with Gamache. Animated and excited she'd gabbled on about her box and the woods and the exhilarating climb up the ladder to the blind. But her wall of words hid from her a growing quietude. She failed to notice his silence, his distance, until it was too late and he'd retreated all the way to his icy island. She hated that place. From it he stood and stared, judged, and lobbed shards of sarcasm.

'You and your hero solve Jane's death?'

'I thought you'd be pleased,' she half lied. She actually hadn't thought at all, and if she had, she probably could have predicted his reaction. But since he was comfortably on his Inuk island, she'd retreat to hers, equipped with righteous indignation and warmed by moral certitude. She threw great logs of 'I'm right, you're an unfeeling bastard' onto the fire and felt secure and comforted.”
One thing I didn't fully appreciate the first time was the beauty of Penny's writing.  She is a literary genius without seeming to be.  Patrick Anderson of the Washington Post said, "Penny is a writer blessed with considerable sophistication and literary skill."  He described her 6th book as a fascinating hybrid: a cozy that at best reads like good literary fiction. I totally agree.   I especially like how she examines meaning of an object or a simple term like 'still life.'  In the book there is a piece of art that is a 'still life'.  Myrna, the bookstore owner and former psychiatrist, described a personality trait - the people who lead "still" lives.  The ones who aren't growing or evolving, who are standing still.  Penny presents the title, in this case an object in another book, and throws light on different meanings or connotations of the term or object or situation.

My husband is currently rereading Still Life.  When I picked it up from where he keeps it, I was surprised at the wear evident from its being a well-loved and well-read copy.  Beside he and I reading it twice, my mother, sister, and daughter have all read this copy.  It has sticky notes left by DH and Bookdarts left by me. What a treat it's been to look through these marked spots and linger on them. 

Friday, November 25, 2011


by Paul Woodruff

I learned about Paul Woodruff several months ago while watching one of the last episodes of Bill Moyers.  I had never seen the show but have admired Moyers and was saddened to hear the show was ending.  I wanted to TiVo all the episodes but I was too late on the scene.

I ordered Woodruff's book thinking my husband would enjoy it but, as things turn out, I read it instead.  At times the philosophy end of things was a little much for me but the major concepts were relished.  I used lots of Bookdarts and have already enjoyed rereading passages.

Woodruff defines reverence as "the capacity to have the feelings of awe, respect, and shame when these are the right feelings to have."  He presents his reasons for writing a book on reverence, among others because "reverence lies behind civility and all of the graces that make life in society bearable and pleasant" and "reverence fosters leadership and education.  Reverence kindles warmth in friendship and family life."  "Unlike rules, virtues (like reverence) give us strength to live well and to avoid bad choices.  Reverence gives us the ability to shudder at going wrong."  We live in a world where rules are passed that govern every minute detail of our life - how much better off we would be if we all cultivated reverence.

"Reverence stands in awe of something--something that dwarfs the self, that allows human beings to sense the full extent of our limits--so that we can begin to see one another more reverently as well.  An irreverent soul who is unable to feel awe in the presence of things higher than the self is also unable to feel respect in the presence of things it sees as lower than the self."   I think that something Woodruff speaks of is nature, God, truth, people's talents, the workings of our bodies, love, integrity, sacrifice - well, the list can go on and on and it should.

Being a teacher, a post shared by each of us, I especially liked the chapter dealing with education.  "Reverent teachers believe that students can match them in hunger after knowledge, that they can learn what they wish to, and that they need to make learning their own."  And, "At every level in the ladder of learning there are human beings perched with astonishing--but limited--powers of understanding and creativity.  Obviously they are unequal in attainments; that is why they need to be reminded of the equality they have in reverence for the the truth."

I'm glad I happened upon that Bill Moyers show and was introduced to Woodruff and his insightful book on reverence.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Girl on the Cliff

by Lucinda Riley

This is the second novel by Riley.  Her first, Hothouse Flower, was a hugely successful debut.  I didn't read that one but because of its good reviews I was willing to accept Girl on the Cliff as an ARC.  

The story is about a young woman, deeply in love but wounded, who returns to her Irish home to stay a short time with her parents.  While there she meets an ethereal-like child who captures Grania's heart.  As her caring for Aurora deepens, Grania finds herself drawn to her mysterious father.  Grania's mother warns her to stay clear of the family but, of course, Grania doesn't listen and finds herself in a web of mystery that she can't unravel.

I really enjoyed this lengthy tale.  I like when books go back and forth in time and circumstances and keep the reader slightly mixed up about what is really going on. 

The Irish scenes are described well and I wanted to fly there and sit on that cliff and feel the breeze through my hair.  A rock, a book, the surf, and the breeze would be soaked into every pore.  Delightful.  And, yes, I would love a tour of Aurora & her father's house.  Maybe even fix up a light luncheon and eat it in that marvelous kitchen and be dined by candlelight by my husband.  Wow!  I really lost myself inside the settings, didn't I?

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Young Adult Book Giveaway

My daughter, Katie, attended the Las Vegas Book Festival this last weekend and had a ball.  She interviewed all 18 of the young adult authors.  She asked them what their favorite rereads are and "They're coming to get you.  Which would you rather fight off:  a hundred chihuahuas, a hundred cheerleaders or a hundred 2-year-olds?"

And she's hosting a giveaway for 3 young adult books along with lots of extra items signed by the authors.  So watch the video and enter the giveaway.  Katie's a whiz kid at putting together her videos, so even if you don't want to win a book I think you'll enjoy the video and the authors' answers to the interview questions.