Monthly Archives: February 2015



Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured
Author: Kathryn Harrison
Publisher: Doubleday, 2014
Genre: Biography
Hardcover Edition: 320 pages
Source: Personal copy

The reader travels with Joan of Arc as she journeys to Orleans and a military victory, is later wounded, captured, imprisoned, suffers examination and trial and is ultimately burned at the stake. This heart-breaking story amazes in its account of a young woman so courageous, so determined and so stubborn that she is a heroine for all time. Psychological and religious mysteries abound. In following Joan of Arc’s story, one understands that the mind and its beliefs can lead to actions that are incomprehensible. Humans and their acts sometimes carry amazing contradictions. One person’s solemn beliefs are for another person a crime punishable by death, true in the fifteenth century and in the twenty-first century.

The beauty of this story is undeniable. It gives meaning to the word awe. Kathryn Harrison’s telling of Joan’s life transports a reader to another time and place to such a degree that, some experiences in the present time and place seemed to echo Joan’s life. Recently, I had the opportunity to sing a fifteenth century devotional text set to a fifteenth century tune. I felt I was with Joan praying after her victory at Orleans. This particular text was written to celebrate the victory of an English king, rather than the victory of a French girl accompanied by angels. Still, the tempo, the mood of the music and the words made me feel I existed in Joan’s time. The fifth verse reads as follows: “And faithful hearts are raised on high/by this great vision’s mystery/ for which in joyful strains we raise/the voice of prayer, the hymn of praise.” Those words sounded like a prayer Joan might have offered.

With the aid of her attentive angels, Joan stands up to the powerful male establishment of the era. She puts on men’s clothing (an act considered evil by church and court leaders) and wins a following through the force of her leadership abilities, intellect, and her unusual talents as a warrior. She rides into battle demonstrating the talent of a seasoned knight with lance, and horse. The mental and physical stamina she enjoys is certainly superhuman. How could this slight young girl do this with a heavy headpiece of chainmail and full armor that bruised her body when she slept in it on the battlefield. She jousted verbally with the bishops even when confined in a small cell, shackled so tightly she could barely take a tiny step, deprived of any comfort. Mary Oliver’s poem “Angels” in her recent volume Blue Horses begins with this line: “You might see an angel anytime and anywhere.” Joan saw angels and heard their voices. She repeatedly told her examiners the voices directed her actions. How could that be? A peasant girl, not yet twenty years of age? The king’s men and bishops would not believe God would speak to the likes of her.

This author makes her heroine clear and shares her research and sources in a manner restoring belief in the extraordinary as possible. Often, the author quotes eye-witness accounts. She is also interested in the art Joan inspired. She uses it to deepen her portrait of this amazing young girl who has possessed her public for many centuries. The historical Joan, the pious Joan, the courageous Joan most aroused the interest and imagination of this reader. She is fearless, before powerful men, before her own army, in the presence of would-be rapists, when shackled and starved.

You might tell Joan of Arc’s story differently than Kathryn Harrison has told it. But any student of history, any reader is indebted to Harrison for the depth and breadth of her research and the story she tells. A reader can only enjoy the beauty of her writing and the powerful nature of this story. Often her prose stands as its own art. Of the horror of Joan at the stake she writes simply and clearly: “The hem of her robe catches fire, and in a second the crude dress has burned away, a flag of fire twirling skyward.” The reader is left with another of the many powerful images of Joan this book conveys.

Reading this life of Joan of Arc, finally made a saint in 1920, is a compelling even transcendent experience. She and her angels speak in a powerful voice for women, equality and justice, one of many reasons to celebrate Joan of Arc’s story. As with any good piece of history, this story out of the distant past enables readers to see human life in our time more clearly.

More information about this author and her beautiful story of this amazing young woman of the fifteenth century can be found at or




At Sugarmill Restaurant and Bakery located beside the spring-fed waters at the park visitors grill their own pancakes at the table.


Before eating, a walk through the Cypress swamp seems like a haunted trail. There’s a boardwalk for part of the trail near the Information Center and the swimming and boating area.


See the Cypress knees. These structures grow near the roots of the tree. Their exact function is not known. They may help oxygenate or anchor the trees.


Visit a tree known as Old Methusalah. Over 500 years old it survived the time in the early 1900’s when most Cypress trees were cut for lumber.


Azaleas at the end of the hike were the most beautiful sight of the day.

Now to the pancakes.


The griddle heats.


The pancakes sprinkled with blueberries cook on the hot griddle.


Jerry turns the cakes. He loves pancakes!


Eating blueberry pancakes hot off the griddle and drenched in maple syrup with bacon.

As is expected at Florida tourist spots, there is stuff for sale.



After pancakes we hiked at nearby Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge expecting to see and photograph birds. We saw coots and turtles. Perhaps morning and evening are better for birding than early afternoon. Maybe next time we will be luckier.

DeLeon Springs State Park is located at 601 Ponce de Leon boulevard, De Leon Springs, Florida in the central part of the state. Because of the long St. John’s River, extensive aquifers, underground caves, and springs in Florida as well as early settlement by native peoples and Europeans, it is one of many with waterways and historic sights.

Learn more about this park at

Enjoy those pancakes. (We had a long wait on a sunny Sunday)




Photos by Jerry Lein

A few years ago, we explored some of the natural sights at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park in West Central Florida. It is an area visited by the artist and naturalist William Bartram in 1774 when he traveled parts of Florida along the St. John’s River. We experienced some of the flora and fauna that Bartram wrote about in the diary he kept of his travels.


When you visit this place you will see it not much changed from hundreds of years ago. One’s imagination builds on past times, roams this savanna and hears stories told by the creatures living on the plain.



In praise of a grassy plain in Alachua County Florida
By Paulette Mitchell Lein

The Alachua drumbeat drives a winding dream
enfolding the euphoria of naturalist William Bartram,
who camped in 1764 where this great savanna spreads its wings,
where once, black wolves gathered under a thicket of bent trees,
where a bald eagle acted as overseer to the waiting vultures,
where Spanish moss––long, curling locks–– hung among the oaks;
and dead branches climbed the cedars, rising like monuments
to all who used this place in times gone by,
those who smelled the odors of venison stewing in bear oil.

Now, a lone egret watches the dark waters of the channel,
layered like shale between the sedge,
lazing toward the calm of the sinkhole,
where new green bursts bright alongside decay’s drab brown,
where seventeen black-headed coots huddle in the water,
where small birds poke beaks into the muck, digging dinner,
and the great blue heron preens and poses.
Abundant alligators and turtles laze across the water.
Some distance away, buffalo and wild pigs graze the leaking meadow,
and cattle egret feed at a watery trough.
Languid movement nearly stops time.
Sound is almost silent; only the ticking of insects
breaks against the space. Then, a gurgle rises on an updraft.
Is it the confluence of waters or the alligators scattering such babble?


Daydreams overtake me.
I slip beneath the water hyacinths, a wavering lid to the sinkhole,
and swim the secret subterranean waters,
tasting fragrant orange in my mouth.
Schools of fish disperse and chase a trail ahead.
The bones of ancient people rise to meet me.
On and on I go. What memories paint these walls?
Caves open their jaws and swallow history.
Snaking my way back, drawn to the surface of the sink,
I bathe in its delights. Behold,
the Alachua savanna awaits, spacious and shimmering.
Will it always be where I can find my way?


Books About William Bartram

Travels of William Bartram by William Bartram, a 1955 edition of Bartram’s writings and available in paperback.

Bartram’s Living Legacy: The Travels and the Nature of the South by William Bartram and Dorinda G. Dallmeyer, 2010

William Bartram, The Search for Nature’s Design: Selected Art, Letters, and Unpublished Writings by William Bartram and Thomas Hallock, 2010

Hiking in North Florida with William Bartram: 25 Hikes by G. Kent and Todd Carstenn, 2014.

And there are more. Much is written about William Bartram. I’ll be searching for this last title, hoping to expand my knowledge and experience with his travels in Florida. I own the first one on the list, admittedly I have read only the parts that pertain to his travels in the general vicinity of Paynes Prairie. I love to read about Florida’s past and to try to better understand the plants and animals, quite different from my native Midwest.

We so enjoyed our trip to Paynes Prairie. Thanks to the couple who recommended the place to us. We urge others to visit there if you have the opportunity.




This week I watched Boyhood, the movie that chronicles a boy’s growing up. It is an extraordinary movie, and it set me to thinking about the upcoming Academy Awards, not only who will take home Oscars, but the interest and art of movies. Enjoying a movie is similar to enjoying a book in that it is a personal thing. What story is any person ready for, interested in, appreciative of ? What about the look of a movie? It is a visual medium.

I offer the following categories for your consideration:


Creative Outside-the-Box Movies.
In these movies, the filmmakers created something different than the usual.
The Grand Budapest Hotel

Films Not Nominated for Best Picture Worth Watching (for a wide variety of reasons)
Unbroken (nominated for achievement in cinematography)

Best Picture Nominees You May Not Want to Miss
American Sniper
The Imitation Game


Outstanding Performances by an Actor or Actress
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)
Bradley Cooper (American Sniper)
Robert DuVall (The Judge)
Keira Knightley (The Imitation Game)
Hilary Swank (The Homesman)

Paulette’s Favorites

Skip These

Movies With Terrific Good Looks
Is this cinematography, production design, art direction, costume design or all of the above?
Grand Budapest Hotel


Movies Yet To See
A Most Violent Year
Into the Woods
Still Alice
Gone Girl
St. Vincent

The Best Movie Seen This Past Year
Readers/Viewers Need to Comment for this category. I don’t think I was over the moon for any movie this year. I’m still waiting to be wowed!

There were many good movies released during 2014 I did not see and included them only in Movies Yet To See. So— bring on the comments! What did you like? Who are you rooting for on Oscar Night? Did you think 2014 was a good movie year?


American Ghost: A Novel
Author: Janis Owens
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Scribner
Paperback Edition: 278 pages
Source: Personal Copy


Ms. Owens authentic tale plunges the reader into mystery, romance, local violence and cultural lessons in a fictional Florida community. The author’s Florida roots show. Blessed with an ear for dialect and dialogue, she is a born story-teller.

Her compelling story tells of a young woman in love with her home territory and at war with it, hoping to escape it, and not sure that is possible. When Jolie Hoyt falls for a visiting anthropology student Sam Lense, who is digging into a long ago murder and hanging as well as ethnic and tribal connections, factions of this isolated community in the interior of the West Panhandle near the Apalachicola River erupt in surprising violence.

Over time fantastic events unfold in an exciting and believable sequence. Ms. Owens knows her territory. She is a small-town West Florida local. She juggles the intricate connections of small town life with the outside world like a pro. Plot, language, characterizations and southern history come together and create an excellent and exciting read.

Jolie Hoyt is a loveable and gutsy heroine. If you like stories about family and community with the added excitement of love and mystery, this is a must read. I haven’t enjoyed a book this much in quite a while. I, too, was raised in a small town.

And, as Ms. Owens’ fellow author Bernie Schein said recently when he and Ms. Owens appeared alongside Pat Conroy at the Florida Heritage Book Festival in St. Augustine: “there are no secrets in small towns and then again there are. Everyone knows everything and there are some things only a few really know.” (something to that effect, anyway.) Few communities these days are as isolated as the one in Ms. Owens story, but they do exist and are part of the fabric of the South as well as other areas of the country.

If the background of this story grabs you as it did me, there are interesting extras in the paperback edition. These include: A Reading Group Guide, An Author’s Note about the story behind American Ghost, and southern recipes from the author’s cookbook, The Cracker Kitchen. Visit the author’s website at I love her blog. I hope to meet her in person at the Flagler Reads Together Kick-off on March 7 at the Flagler Library in Palm Coast.

I call the book an amazing read: mystery, history, romance and a bit of sociology thrown in to spice it up. But not for a moment, does this story ever slow down. Even after the reader has finished the last page, these characters and their home places continue to run through the readers consciousness.

Apalachicola Forest

Apalachicola Forest


Steps away from the Atlantic Ocean, sparkling in the sunshine, tucked into a corner on a brick-paved sidewalk beneath the palm trees, I found the inviting independent bookstore with its title BookMark on the marquee. The friendly women inside welcomed me to their cozy beach house of books.


Children’s author Annette Simon, who works at the store, answered all my questions, showed me around the store, and recommended books of every strip. Seemed she knew the whole inventory by heart. She showed me her latest book, Robert Burphead Smarty Pants! The green and purple robots were also featured in her first book Robot Zombie Frankenstein. Love the colors and sounds!


Owner Rona Brinlee left her desk to talk with me about owning a bookstore and introduced me to a visiting book rep. I felt as if I had landed in the pages of the current bestseller and book club favorite, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. Rona says the best thing about owning a bookstore is “Meeting people who love to read.”


Another best must be to spend your days in such a magical place. Her graciousness was much appreciated. She bought the store in 1995. I applaud and admire her obvious skills with people, books and business, which enable her to manage so successful and beautiful a place as BookMark. She is a serious woman with a brilliant smile. I wish my photo of her had showed her smile. As she talked with me and others in the store, it seemed obvious she loves the book business.

Come on in and see the many kinds of books available.






Peruse inviting and informative displays.





BookMark is located at 220 First Street in Neptune Beach, Florida near Jacksonville. “Your Independent Bookstore by the Sea.” Learn more about the store at their wonderful website


The list of upcoming events at BookMark is long and interesting. I must tell you about one. BookMark and Jacksonville Area Now will celebrate Women’s History Month in March with “Rona Recommends”. She will present books by and about women at 6:30 p.m. at the store along with wine, light hors d’oeuvres, and discussion. Call 1 800 246-8019 for more information.

Yes, I bought books and there were others I wanted to buy and will most likely not be able to resist on my next visit. I only barely resisted a beautiful book about Florida Birds, Girl In the Train, which I understand is selling well, and Gateway to Freedom, a non-fiction book I’d like to take home, a well as many others.

I urge you to visit this welcoming book sanctuary. I’d be very surprised if they do not have a book you are looking to find and read.


With sincere thanks to Rona Brinlee and Anita Simon for making my visit so pleasant.

If you like reading about bookstores, check the archives of this blog. We’ve visited Malaprops in Ashville, Parnassus Books, in Nashville, Prairie Lights in Iowa City, Northshire Books in Saratoga, McLean and Eakin in Petoskey and others. Do comment to alert readers/viewers to your favorite Independent Bookstore. What kind of books are you most likely to buy? What makes a bookstore a favorite? Join the conversation.


Yes, I know. They are talking about more than five. These look like they have staying power. We shall see. Do let us know what you think!


Funny Girl by Nick Hornby
Screen writer and novelist, Hornby is riding the crest. People are talking about this author. His adapted script of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir for the movie Wild has been nominated for an Oscar. This newest book by the author of About A Boy, is a highly anticipated novel about the adventures of one Sophia Straw on her way to becoming a television starlet. Goodreads promises insights and humor. Read more about Hornby at


The Girl on A Train by Paula Hawkins
The ads and the articles are everywhere, it seems. The lips of readers who watch for new books of interest open to ask about this book. Are book clubs considering this one? Classified as a thriller, the narrator is Rachel Watson who spends a lot of time on the commuter train as her own life darkens and she watches others from the train. The book has been optioned by DreamWorks. No doubt you will continue to hear more about this one. It rides the coattails of Gone Girl. Book Page reviewer Amy Scribner uses the word slippery to describe this read. To read or not to read, that is the question?


Leaving Before the Rains Come by Alexandra Fuller
When I read her first memoir Don’t Let’s Go To The Dogs Tonight a couple of years ago, I could not put it down. Other books I was reading at the time lay unopened on bedside table, desk, floor, wherever and I read her memoir until I was done. A crazy title I couldn’t believe I had picked up, and then I could not put it down. I told everyone about it whether they wanted to listen or not. Now she has published a new memoir.

She has left Africa, her childhood home; her new home is Wyoming. She deals with the loss of Africa and a disintegrating marriage. It doesn’t sound that enticing, but I know there is a reason to read this book. Catherine Hollis in Book Page says it best: “Fuller’s blend of wry honesty and heartfelt environmental consciousness will resonate with both new readers and longtime admirers of her distinctive style.”

Her last book completely captured my attention. I don’t want to miss this read.


Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott
Small Victories came out last fall. It is a collection of essays and sits at number 15 on the New York Times Best Seller List. It is not fading into the woodwork. Lamott’s writing can be very powerful. She writes about faith, family and community. I know this and no doubt her other readers will agree: Would that I could improve my ability to listen for and recognize moments of hope and grace that shine a light on life and sweep out the dark corners. I’m hoping to read this one.


The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Kristin Hannah’s fans are legion. Perhaps you are one of them. Do you have a favorite Kristin Hannah novel? This one is set in France during World War II and focuses on two sisters. If All the Light We Cannot See captured your attention, perhaps you are ready to visit that time and place again. Get a taste of this book at

Check out these book covers. Publishers love teal this season. I agree, it’s a lovely color.
Do tell which book you will read. Or, which book you think is creating the loudest noise and brightest colors.




conducted January/February, 2015

Do you have reading habits you are willing to reveal?

My bad habits are legion and pervasive. In no order except as they occur to me: One, I will interrupt a Good or Grown-up book at the drop of a hat with a bit of trash or a juvenile book. Two, I count an audio book as read even if it’s been playing only while I’m in earshot but not actively listening. Three, I am not good at closing a book I hate if by accident I haven’t put it aside by page 20 or so. If I soldier on because I Ought to or think I owe it a solid effort, I’ll wind up wasting 680 pages of my life on Prince of Tides. Four, I danced with glee when I saw that the estate of V.C. Andrews recently cranked out yet another Flowers in the Attic sequel. Five, if you interrupt me when I’m reading I want to punch you in the throat. There will still be books when I am decrepit but I won’t have friends because all of their windpipes will have been shattered and then something like the Twilight Zone “Time Enough At Last” will happen and let me tell you how much less sympathetic I am than Burgess Meredith.

When I visit my father, I pack crossword puzzles. His non-reading companion figures anyone who is reading must be bored and in need of a chat. Last time, I gave her Ladies of Missalonghi from the nearby used book shop and that shut her up for a while but crossword puzzles can be interrupted without violence. Or so I tell myself.

What were your favorite books as a child?

If I had to pick one or eat lima beans, I’d say Norton Juster’s Phantom Tollbooth: the power of imagination, playing with language, a dog. Happily, you allowed me a plural answer.

If a kid relies on herself and lives in a fort, then I loved it. Julie of the Wolves and Island of the Blue Dolphins (despite the deaths of dogs), Iceberg Hermit, My Side of the Mountain, Secret Garden, Mandy, Pippi Longstocking, Bridge to Terabithia, Egypt Game, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.

I was delighted when just a few years ago the author of a little known touchstone, Tread Softly, wrote to me. I had forgotten the book for years until I happened to reread the titular Yeats poem, whereupon it flooded back. I hunted down a copy and reread it, surprised as ever to see what I remembered and what I had forgotten.

Ghosts in old English houses are always fun, especially Joan Aiken’s Shadow Guests and Jane Louise Curry’s Bassumtyte Treasure. The latter also features Mary Queen of Scots, so maybe I should credit it with sparking my obsession with C16 England.

The Incredible Journey is one of the few animal books I could bear since none of them die. The Yearling is one of the few books I read where the animal does die. The illustration in King of the Wind of dear Sham being beaten gave me nightmares. Anthropomorphic animals are not as problematic. I love Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH and Watership Down. I adore both Cricket in Times Square and Tucker’s Countryside. Once when tooling around in Westport, Connecticut, I happened to spot a little park signposted Hedley’s or Hadley’s Meadow and my head exploded. I still have a story I wrote––or more accurately, stole from George Selden––starring my stuffed animals.

And oh, Dr. Dolittle. Animals! Sea voyages! A bridge made of monkeys and a floating island pushed by whales and dogs solving crimes! Hugh Lofting happens to be buried quite close to where I grew up, but by the time the Internet could tell me that I had moved away.

I loved the Little House books, the Great Brain and All-of-a-Kind Family series, Danny Champion of the World, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, and The Westing Game. Daniel Pinkwater’s Alan Mendelssohn, the Boy from Mars is tragically overlooked. Jean Little’s Look Through My Window means a lot to me and her From Anna was helpful when I got glasses in elementary school.

Madeleine L’Engle and C.S. Lewis were my fantasy go-tos. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t read Lloyd Alexander or Ursula Le Guin until much later. I read Wrinkle in Time and Swiftly Tilting Planet to tatters (but not Wind in the Door) and stole again from Planet for another of story. It was in pursuit of more L’Engle that I learned to use interlibrary loan. My two favorite Narnia books are Horse and His Boy and Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I buck the norm by preferring Susan Cooper’s Over Sea, Under Stone even to Grey King, because Merlin is in it.

And my most important time travel book! In fifth grade (taught by our mutual friend Judith), my friends and I discovered Tonke Dragt’s Towers of February. We lived on the beach and were clever and devoted, so we were sure that we could figure out the magic word by Leap Day 1980 and slip into an alternate world.

Being an adult is no reason not to read children’s books. Walk Two Moons, Holes, Graveyard Book, Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, and His Dark Materials are wonderful.

What type of book do you see yourself spending more time with in this new year?

I don’t think I read by type. I like narrative nonfiction and cultural or micro-histories by the likes of Simon Winchester and Steven Johnson, and novels with substance and bite. This might be the year for Gravity’s Rainbow. I want to read more Mary Renault.

How do you decide what to read?

I belong to two book clubs. Last year book club introduced me to Aminatta Forna’s amazing Hired Man, and how else would I have stumbled across that? Recent titles I would not have come across without a friend’s recommendation include Life Among Giants and Rules of Civility. The latter is especially good.

In 2000, various organizations developed lists of the century’s best books, and I have been plugging away at those sporadically. Without the lists I might not have discovered Graham Greene, whom I adore, or Tobacco Road, which slew me, or instant loves All the King’s Men and Angle of Repose. Without the lists I also wouldn’t have inflicted Tin Drum or Tropic of Cancer on myself, so they’ve been a mixed bag. I’ll never complete them because of Finnegans Wake, but they’re a good starting point.

At the library or bookstore, I’m a sucker for cover design and good titles. Sometimes that foible pays off: I plucked Little Bee off the shelf for the former and Shadow of the Wind and The Meaning of Night for the latter.

Many of my favorite authors are still writing. Not yet mentioned are Peter Ackroyd, who shows the underside of the knitting; Alice Hoffman, who seems to have but one string to her bow but which string I like very much – New England, water, and a bit of magic; and Margaret Atwood and Toni Morrison. I hope not to outlive Michael Chabon, whose Kavalier & Clay I mentioned above but whose genius merits repetition. Jane Smiley is always a pleasure.

I’m not immune to hype (Gone Girl; Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, whose hype I wish I had resisted; and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which is a wish-fulfillment fantasy for Luddites and technogeeks both).

I make use of services that suggest your next book based on previous successes. Goodreads and are two I like.

If contemporary books stop working for me, I have Anthony Trollope in reserve. And everything to reread, like Robertson Davies.

Please tell us anything else you wish to about books and reading.

Read more.

Note: Thanks Lisa for telling us about many good reads, so helpful in choosing what to read next. This interview makes my List of Books I Want To Read much longer. I join you in looking forward to Wolf Hall on television next April. Thanks too, for alerting readers to that opportunity. We all like finding kindred spirits among our fellow readers. Yes, cover design and titles are sometimes a joy, even without the story inside. And stories written for young readers are a delight at any age. Lisa reminds us of some of our favorites!



Interview conducted January/February, 2015

Part I

Special Thanks to Lisa for this recreation of her reading life. Her passionate devotion to books stokes my reading fire, and I think it will do the same for you.

Tell us about what you are reading.

I usually have several books going at once, in different media. On paper for daytime at home; on a device for out of the house or reading in bed; and in audio for driving, housework, and if I can’t sleep. Last night I finished Daniel James Brown’s Boys in the Boat about the eight-oar crew who won gold in the 1936 Olympics. Crew is one of the few team sports in which I can muster an interest, so the book overcame my reluctance. The boat was from the University of Washington and the men had overcome diverse hardships, the Depression, and the prejudice of the East against the West and of the Ivies against a hardscrabble state school to get to Berlin. I would have enjoyed more about the technical aspects of building a wooden boat and how a coxswain learns strategy and how these particular nine young men bonded into a single unit and less detail about each and every stroke of a competition, but overall the book was a good read.

Also last night I finished In the Garden of Beasts by Eric Larson. I’m sorry to say that this book, about FDR’s first ambassador to Germany, didn’t grab me. I loved Devil in the White City, in which Larson set side by side the development of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and a series of grisly murders committed during that period, and Thunderstruck, in which he told of the development of radio (wireless telegraph) and how this newfangled technology caught the attention of the public. In 1910, a murderer fled Europe on one ship and a detective caught the next. People followed the westward journey in the newspapers as avidly as the detective pursued his suspect. Unfortunately, in Garden, Larson did not achieve the same effect of illuminating a larger story by focusing on a small one, or telling much of a story at all. I prefer Edwardian England to 1930s Berlin, but if I can read about sports in the 1930s I should be able to read about anything in the 1930s.

On paper I’m rereading Wolf Hall. I read it when it came out and was astounded: Cromwell as the sympathetic character, not More? I’ve loved Thomas More since I read “A Man for All Seasons” in ninth grade history, and then I loved Paul Scofield in a cinematization with a mean Rumpole as Cromwell. Hilary Mantel is a genius for her characterization and prose. In this book, the men behave exactly as they do in every other source, except somehow Cromwell is motivated by love and decency and More is a dour hypocrite. I’m also listening to an astonishingly good audio version. I credit both Mantel’s evocative prose and the narrator. I’m indulging in the re-read in delighted anticipation of the BBC adaptation that PBS will broadcast in April.

Digitally, I just began James Michener’s Centennial because I live in Colorado. Its framing story is painfully mid-70s (the male protagonist tries to be sensitive to “Women’s Lib,” and of three new acquaintances he “enjoys” the Mexican cook and African-American barber but he can *befriend* the one whose ethnicity and economic class match his own). I grit my teeth through that and now I’m in the geological origin of my adopted state.

My bedtime book, on my phone so I can hold it eight inches from my face and not worry about following the story when I read only a few lines before falling asleep, is Little Dorrit. Being able to fall asleep and not wake when a book smacks me in the face or crashes to the floor or because the light is still on is why digital books exist.

Do you have a favorite literary genre? Any guilty pleasures?

I don’t have a favorite genre but many favorite novels have elements in common. They have a touch of the unreal or occur in a world not quite our own (Up Jumps the Devil; Little, Big; Ground Beneath Her Feet; Blindness; Infinite Jest; One Hundred Years of Solitude; Unconsoled) or are historically immersive (Wolf Hall, Underworld, Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Let the Great World Spin, Atonement) or have strong young female protagonists (Cold Comfort Farm, Pride and Prejudice, I Capture the Castle, To Kill a Mockingbird, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Poisonwood Bible, Girl with a Pearl Earring, History of Love) or are set between 1880 and 1910 (Winter’s Tale, Day in the Sun, Little Book, Children’s Book, Golem and the Jinni). A good pastiche is a fine thing (Quincunx, Possession, Gilligan’s Wake). Gorgeous prose can make the unbearable beautiful (Lolita, The Road) and occasionally a relationship story shines forth (Nobody’s Fool, Prayer for Owen Meany).

My guilty pleasure is fake Jane Austen. I can resist the modern retellings and Austen or the Darcys as detectives, but any sequel, prequel, or parallel is heroin. When real authors make an attempt and fail, that irks me, but with the truly dreadful or self-published, I am not annoyed but tickled when Darcy says “okay” or Mrs. Weston’s first name is not Anna. P.D. James’s recent Death Come to Pemberley did not suit me, but an early instance, D.A. Bonavia-Hunt Pemberley Shades from 1949, is as close to Austen in plot and style as I’ve found. Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey is a lovely Austen-esque treat (not a sequel) with a slosh of fantasy.

What book made you laugh out loud?

On purpose, and not because of a naughty dangling participle?

I loved Douglas Coupland’s J. Crew-does-Campbell’s-soup flavors thing in Microserfs but my go-to example of surprising me into barking with laughter is his All Families Are Psychotic. For instance, a father kvetches to his adult son about how troublesome a teenager he was, what with the neighbor coming to the door with half a cat in each hand. I love that Coupland doesn’t expand on that. It’s almost as complete a story as Humbert Humbert’s about his mother’s death (“Picnic, lightning.”) or Hemingway’s “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” In a similar vein is Mark Haddon’s Spot of Bother.

Richard Russo’s Straight Man is terrific fun, particularly when the protagonist protests funding cuts by threatening the campus ducks. Another book with good academic satire is Adam Johnson’s Parasites Like Us (whose humor makes his gut-wrenching Orphan Master’s Son even more impressive).

Again, Mantel is a genius because occasionally Cromwell drops a bon mot, perfect and caustic and unexpected, that makes my tail wag.

In Bunnicula, dog Harold relates the incident of Chester, a cat who doesn’t understand homophones, trying to pound a steak through the heart of the eponymous vampire rabbit. If that scene doesn’t make you smile, you are dead inside.

What was the last great book you read? What made it stand out?

In January 2014 I read Helen Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni. I figured that was that for the year, and indeed it was. As I said above, being set in 1899 is an immediate draw. Wecker told the American immigrant story not with natives and established immigrants looking down on the next wave of incomers but with characters who really are not human but who can, with care, pass. The prose, the setting, the characters all were immensely appealing. The only novel that’s come close since is Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch. I didn’t know whether I would love it (her Secret History) or not (her Little Friend).

My latest great nonfiction book is Steven Pinker’s Sense of Style. Anyone can gripe about dangling participles but he is a linguist and explores how sentences and thoughts are put together: meaning, not mechanics.

Is there a book or an author you wish more people would read?

Strunk and White, The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White.

Alan Weisman’s World Without Us, about what will happen to the planet after humans, was heartening to me (who can’t think of many problems that a lower human population wouldn’t address). Elizabeth’s Kolbert’s Sixth Extinction was more sobering and less optimistic. I keep hoping for the next Silent Spring to rouse us from apathy and ease, but not yet.

What book was a disappointment to you and why?

Most recently, Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides. Almost twenty years ago, the reader’s adviser at the library that was then my sanctuary recommended it to me. When I curled my lip, she was quick to defend it as being better than the movie (which I hadn’t and haven’t seen). Since her job seemed ideal to me, and she was so sweet and earnest; and I shouldn’t curl my lip through life the book went on my list, and I read it this fall. My lip stayed curled throughout those 680 pages of my reading life that I’ll never get back. Lesson: someone resembling my beloved second grade teacher and someone having my dream job does not mean her recommendations are pertinent.

What books are in your waiting-to-be-read stack?

All of them.

The paper books awaiting me that I own are all intimidatingly long (Suitable Boy, Gravity’s Rainbow, 2666, Naked and the Dead) and correspondingly difficult to transport. I read heavy, hard books only while sitting in a chair for a good chunk of time.
Currently from the library I have Leslye Walton’s Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender and Ann Patchett’s This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It drives me nuts when I don’t remember why I request a book, but did I note why the Walton? I did not. I borrowed the Patchett because I loved Bel Canto, Truth & Beauty, and State of Wonder. I don’t know anything about it except its author; the title suits a Good Housekeeping article.

Note from Paulette: This interview makes my List of Books I Want To Read much longer. I join Lisa in looking forward to Wolf Hall on television next April.



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Enjoy these ten openings from both fiction and non-fiction books. Then, see if you can match them to the book. The list of titles follows the quotes. It’s easy. You will see why, and so we learn about book beginnings.

(Careful:The picture doesn’t match the list. Sorry about that.)

1. “There was a time in Africa when people could fly.”

2. “ ‘Welcome to Matura,’ the night-darkened sign had said, ‘Home of the Leatherback Turtles.’’

3. “In the town of Martinsburg on the lower tip of the Valley, a seventeen-year-old rebel named Belle Boyd sat by the windows of her wood-frame home, waiting for the war to come to her.”

4. “Despite its abrupt arrival, my accident felt anticipated after the fact, like a long-delayed package arriving as a thump on the doorstep.”

5. For Thomas J. Jackson the war started precisely at 12:30 p.m. on the afternoon of April 21, 1861 in the small Shenandoah Valley town of Lexington, Virginia.”

6. “I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital,
Columbus, Ohio,
a country caught

between Black and White.”

7. “By the time Joan of Arc proclaimed herself La Pucelle, the virgin sent by God to deliver France from its enemies, the English, she had been obeying the counsel of angels for five years.”

8. “On the ferry from Hyannis to Alice Island, Amelia Loman paints her nails yellow and, while waiting for them to dry, skims her predecessor’s notes.”

9. “Walter Langdon hadn’t walked out to check the fence along the creek for a couple of months––now that the cows were up by the barn for easier milking in the winter, he’d been putting off fence-mending––so he hadn’t seen the pair of owls nesting in the big elm.

10. “Through her bedroom wall Molly can hear her foster parents talking about her in the living room, just beyond her door.”

The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Voyage of the Turtle: In Pursuit of the Earth’s Last Dinosaur by Carl Safina

Any Bitter Thing by Monica Wood

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured by Kathryn Harrison

Liar Temptress Soldier Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott

Some Luck by Jane Smiley

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S. C. Gwynne

Do these opening lines encourage you to pick any of these books for your next read? Share your favorite opening lines with us. Thanks for joining the fun.