Monthly Archives: April 2016




This week’s picture records the only sign of spring on another cool, gray, rainy day.

What flowers would compliment these pansies? I need some suggestions for additional flowers to purchase and pot.

Finally the daffodils and others are starting to grow along the house where Jerry planted many bulbs. I’m grateful but no flowers yet.

Michigan weather report: colder than normal through the weekend. Children and grandchildren will bring sunshine, no matter the weather. Visitors from Oklahoma arrive tomorrow. Planning family fun.



“In the Light of What We Know”
Author: Zia Haider Rahman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014
Genre: Novel
Hardcover Edition: 497 pages
Source: Library copy

This book is the long account of the life of two friends. Zafar appears on the doorstep of the unnamed narrator after a long absence and together they build an account of his life. They discuss many big ideas: science, mathematics, war, the financial world, the events of their lives, ambition and more at great length. The characters have broad and deep interests. Still, even given all this discussion of knowledge, both characters mightily wish to belong among the people around them. What are the consequences for those who do not belong? We travel with these characters from South Asia to London to New York, across cultures and class. And along the way they are part of some of the large issues of our time.

But if this story has heart as well as knowledge to impart, it is to describe the experience of always feeling the outsider because one’s current home (or lack of) is so very different from the place where one began life, where one has roots, where one’s family originated. One critic used the term displacement to discuss fiction that deals with this idea of homelessness – not belonging. Zafar, the novel’s protagonist, is a heart-breaking character, though at first glance he is an intellectual virtuoso who has known certain advantages.

“In Light of What We Know” has received wide critical acclaim. The author was born in rural Bangladesh and educated at Oxford and at Cambridge. He has worked in investment banking and as a human rights lawyer. He speaks with a strong English accent and I believe was raised in Britain and holds a British passport. Class consciousness and discrimination because of skin color are everywhere in this story and in life. In this story Britain’s class consciousness is chilly indeed.

Zia Haidor Rahman and another writer, Randy Boyagoda, discussed fiction at the recent Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids. Their fiction addresses the question: How can we welcome others who are different from ourselves? Fiction offers openness. It explores truth, if the author is honest. Through fiction we learn about why humans do what they do. Isn’t a writer’s job to help readers to notice what is happening in the world? By such a standard, this novel is surely a success. The reader will always be thinking. It is not an easy read.

Any warmth in the story seems hard to find. Even the female love interest was not loving, hardly capable of any feeling. Is there respect for the characters on the part of the author? Is there respect for others in the actions of the characters? Are there any characters in the story capable of love? These questions are no doubt tied to the story’s central theme of the longing to belong, to be accepted. But they weighed heavily on this reader.

“Watching a door close that can never be opened again is, I am sure, enough to break a heart.” This quote from early in the book describes the story. When you are on the outside, wishing to find entry and acceptance, life can be a sad and cold place to be, no matter where in the world you find yourself.



Time for the Poetry Month Giveaway.

Five of these seven books of poems will be given away this month. Enter to win by commenting on this post about poetry or simply write the title that you would be happy to win from those listed below.

Entries will close at midnight on Sunday April 24. Expect to announce winners on Monday, April 25, 2016.

You take your chances on a book when you enter the fiction give-away. But to encourage comments/entries in the poetry win-a-book-contest, here are the seven titles and a bit of information about each one. Winners will receive one of these books.

Living On The Flood Plain by James A. Zoller
This is a paperback edition published by Word Farm in 2008. Zoller’s poems have appeared in many literary journals. A colleague Mark Defoe writes,”These poems do what all good poems should do––take us to a place on earth and make it live, make it matter.”

A Map of the Night by David Wagoner
This paperback edition was published by University of Illinois Press, 2008. This poet has published 18 collections of poetry as well as ten novels. Among his awards count the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.

Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith
This volume is a National Book Award Finalist and was published in 2008 by Coffee House Press in paperback. The poems deal with Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans.

Evidence by Mary Oliver
This hard-cover edition was published in 2009 by Beacon Press. Mary Oliver is the winner of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. She has 18 previous books and lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts. She is the most well-known poet in this group.

Recluse Freedom by John Leax
Published by Word Farm in 2012, this is a paperback edition. Many of the poems have appeared in literary journals. This is his fifth collection of poetry. Here is what Jeanne Murray Walker wrote about this book for the back cover, in part. “This book steps out of our culture of hectic voices and extravagant, self-aggrandizing gestures with a quietness that seems almost impossible. As Leax meditates on natural creatures, the land, memory, Chinese poetry, and the Psalms, he transforms himself into a trust-worthy tour guide through a territory of profound solitude and stillness.”

Local Knowledge by B. H. Fairchild.
This author is the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry. This volume was published by W.W. Norton and Company in paperback in 2005. But it first appeared in hard cover 10 years earlier. These are plain poems in the style of James Wright, Phillip Levine, Walt Whitman. Some of the poems deal with the Midwest, but others roam farther afield.

Things That No Longer Delight Me by Leslie C. Chang.
Published in paperback by Fordham University Press 2010, the poems in this slim volume address the stories of family history. They are written in a variety of forms and have appeared in such well-known journals as “Crab Orchard Review” and “American Poetry Review”.

Good Luck! Poetry is expensive to buy, no matter the slimness of the book or how well-known the poet. So this is chance to own a book of poems at no cost…..expect, all of these books contain my notations, which some readers may find distracting. Most comments if not all are in pencil; they can be erased, and your book will look almost like new.


photo 1

Well, maybe 300 anyway. It’s from my file. Spring is here or very near. That means fresh asparagus, grown locally, will soon be available if it isn’t already. You’ll have choices in the market other than the jet-lagged variety from Peru or Mexico.

This morning I had a creamy, slightly crunchy one-egg omelet with asparagus, spinach and three blend shredded cheese. Oh my. It was GOOD!

If this picture energizes you, go to the food page of this blog and find more spring asparagus recipes. Or….

At the very least think asparagus-filled spring.



“Ecology of A Cracker Childhood”
Author: Janisse Ray
Publisher: Milkweed Editions 1999
Genre: Memoir/Forest Ecology
Paperback Edition: 273 pages plus Appendixes
Source: Library Copy
Continues in print and found in most libraries.

In this book, Janisse Ray found her voice as a writer and an imaginative champion of our environment. She calls us to care about the natural world, and since this book she has written others: “Seed Underground”, “Drifting Into Darien”, and “House of Branches” to name three that have a home on my bookshelves. So on Thursday when I sat in the front row of a crowded room at the Festival of Faith and Writing and heard her speak, it was long awaited. I finished this book the next day.

She began her talk by reading one of her poems “Kingfisher.” “Kingfishers: I know their chants/by heart. I’ve watched/hundreds dive,/rise,/fly off.” She continues to call us to pay attention to the natural world. With mounting fervor she urges us to believe we can learn the courage we need to make a difference as we consider the stewardship of our natural resources. We can find courage to stop the loss of our mountains, our flora and fauna, all the creatures who live in a longleaf pine forest or along the banks of rivers and in other natural places they call home.

When Ray writes of the longleaf clan, I see them in my mind’s eye: the red-cockaded woodpecker, the diamondback rattlesnake, the great horned owls, the gopher tortoise, the flatwoods salamander and so many more. When you read her work, you will see them too.

In “Ecology of A Cracker Childhood”, she sets the scenes of her childhood and those of the people she loves. And she writes the scenes of life in southern Georgia near the small town of Baxter along Highway 1 in the land of the Altamaha River. This is the place of pine forest beauty and the junkyard that provided the family’s livelihood. She and her siblings had some fun times. The book causes the reader to remember simple things, and to remember that simple things can be quite complicated. Though danger lurked along the edges for the family and for the land, it was a place of deep love.

This is not a sentimental book, but it is love-filled. If you’ve ever lived among southern pines, you may understand the importance of the pines and the beauty they provide. Those of you who have driven through the Ocala National Forest, The Apalachicola National Forest and other such places can feel in your heart the towering power of the pines.



Ray’s writing is just as powerful. And her power began with this early book. Whether your interest lies in well-written memoir or the best of ecology writing, you will love this book. Never a wasted nor unnecessary word. Yet, the reader is always transported to the place, as well as challenged to pay attention to our landscapes, our native ecosystems and all their inhabitants. And readers will feel the deep emotions of family and homeplace.

You may be interested in Janisse Ray’s latest piece of writing. Check out an on-line magazine “The Bitter Southerner” at She authored the lead article. Ecology writing and activism is her calling. Still, I’m hoping she will write more poems. Her website is and you can follow her on Facebook.


Pictures to accompany this book comment were taken by Jerry Lein in the Florida Panhandle on St. George Island and on the mainland near Apalachicola, Florida.



Located in Grand Rapids, MI, this lovely place promotes gardens, sculpture, the natural environment and the arts.


This year I promised blog readers visits to some of the outstanding museum-type experiences available in MI. Last month my son and I visited Frankenmuth. For April, I offer some of the sights from Meijer Gardens. My time at the gardens was limited due to the conference I am attending, but here’s a tiny taste of spring beauty with gardens of flowers between and betwixt the sculptures.


Near the entrance, after a long walk from a far parking lot, this marching band by Stuart Padnos crafted of painted metals stopped me in my tracks.


In the bulb garden daffodils and tulips soothed my soul. I was so pleased seeing the spring flowers I found it hard to wrench my eyes upward and take in the art of sculpture. It reigns there as it does everywhere at this place.




Hoping the butterfly court would empty somewhat and lines would shorten, I walked a bit of the way outside. The morning was warm with sunshine. Here I saw some of the large pieces. The circle of children and the large horse are my favorites, at least in his part of the park.







The color of this cactus surprised me – so red. I didn’t know it was a stoplight warning me I would not see butterflies today.

Soon, I had a greater surprise than the color of the cactus. Crowds of small children with caretakers overfilled the butterfly pavilion spaces, and long lines to enter and see the colorful butterflies easily convinced me I would not breathe their brilliance today.


It will not surprise you that since I missed the butterflies, I bought a book. “The Story of Chester” by Susie Vanderlip makes me smile. I imagine showing it to my granddaughters. One already likes butterflies and soon I expect the little one will like them too.

There is much more to see at this place than I have mentioned. I missed not only the butterflies, there are special exhibits, a 1930s-era farm garden, and acres of sculpture and horticulture.

Find more information at

I’ll be back in a few months, and next year I’ll try again to see the butterflies.




This week I plan to attend the writer’s conference: Festival of Faith and Writing held in Grand Rapids. For blog readers here is a peek at the some of the books I’m reading in preparation for the events of the conference.

As usual, wish I had done more prep reading …… but…..

Part of the fun of the conference is discovering and exploring new authors and their works. I confess among the authors included in this post, only Rahman is new to me. Earlier this year I read Salley Vickers novel “The Cleaner of Chartres” which I enjoyed. At the time I expected her to be at the conference. Now I do not see her listed on the schedule. I’m disappointed. That novel was my introduction to her writing. There will be new writers to discover, but as my mind runs over the schedule, I know I am also drawn to authors I have read or met before.

“More: Poems” by Barbara Crooker.
I met Barbara at the first conference I attended and somewhere along the way I purchased her poems. It’s likely I will have the opportunity to hear her again.

“Poets on the Psalms” Edited by Lynn Domina. Essays
Lynn Domina will appear in a session alongside Barbara. Attending their session may keep me in Grand Rapids an extra day.

“My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer” by Christian Wiman.
I’ll find a quiet place in the empty chapel or the library to read his work with concentration. I love the chapel at Calvin. It’s a beautiful room. I need both quiet time and concentration to process his writing.

“In the Light of What We Know: a novel by Zia Haider Rahman
I’m completely taken with this novel. It’s not an easy read, but I turn to it at every opportunity. So far (I’m not quite halfway through the story.) I see its interest as built on different views of the people with experiences in far-flung areas on our globe who participate in events that influence the lives of many people. It seems to address immigration to Europe and America from South Asia, the world financial markets, and class differences among its varied themes. Hearing this man speak is at the top of my agenda for the conference.

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray. Memoir
This book is one of the best memoirs I’ve read. Her tales of growing up in South Georgia are filled with tenderness and humor. She also writes of the long leaf pine forests, capturing the beauty and the heart of those tall trees. In short, I love reading this book. Her writing is not new to me. I’m a fan. But I had never read this one. Feeling blessed that I soon hope to hear her speak.



Do any of these call to you? I’d like to read them all: watercolors, prayer, biography, memoir, cookbook, father-son love and behind-the-scenes at Broadway’s hottest show!


“Baby Birds” by Julie Zickefoose.
Hundreds of watercolors grace the pages of this observational study of 17 species as they nest and hatch.


“The Book of Common Prayer” by Brian Doyle
In the words of reviewer Marilyn McCentre, “Laughter is one of God’s more remarkable gifts.” There is joy just reading the titles of some of the prayers contained in this book. They also lead to reflection and compassion.


“Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939” by Adam Hochschild
This is collective biography of Americans who fought for and wrote about Republican Spain.


“Love, Loss and What We Ate: a Memoir” by Padma Lakshmi.
The host of TV’s “Top Chef “shares her life journey which began in South India.


“Love That Boy” by Ron Fournier
Published this week, the author chronicles road trips with his son, who as a 12 year old was diagnosed with Asperger’s.


“Home Cooked” by Anya Fernald with Jessica Battilana
It is claimed, and I believe it is truth that everyone loves Italian food. Entertainment Magazine tells us this cookbook, inspired by Italian farm cooking, is one that delivers inexpensive, utterly unfussy meals.


“Hamilton: The Revolution” by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter.
A behind the scenes look at the show from its creator with cast photos, annotated lyrics and more, published this month. This may be as close as you can come to a front row seat.




Janisse Ray

I’m so excited. Janisse will be at the Festival of Faith and Writing in Grand Rapids next week. Most likely I will be able to hear her speak. I can’t wait. I look forward to picking up a copy of her memoir, “Ecology of A Cracker Childhood.”

Yes, I’ve written about this author before. I’m a big fan. I read her poems in “A House of Branches.” Her lyric poetry is beautiful and reading her poems always brightens my day.

I’ll share a line from her poem “Waiting In the Dark” because Jerry would have loved this. “Some nights when news is bad in the world/ we go out and look at the sky, which is dark even before the work day ends/save for pinpoints of stars and sometimes/ an ivory disk sailing across it/over the shoulder of *Wantastiquet.

Much of Ms. Ray’s more recent writing has been non-fiction: “The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food.”, “Drifting into Darian: A Personal and Natural History of the Altamaha River” (in Georgia), and a memoir, “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood”. All of her writing is poetic. Her voice, the ebb and flow of her sentences, all is music to the ear.

If anyone would like to borrow “The Seed Underground” or “Drifting into Darian”, I would be happy to send to you. I want everyone who is interested to know her writing. I first became interested in her writing when I read some of her essays about life and natural history in North Florida.

Perhaps you’ll hear more about her after I attend the conference.

*Wantastiquet= a mountain in New Hampshire or Vermont


Mary Oliver

I find Mary Oliver’s books the easiest poetry to buy and to read. In the last poetry book giveaway, someone won one. I still have three left, but do not yet own her newest volume, which I believe is titled “Felicity”, released last year.

She’s a special poet. She keeps writing. We keep buying.

I purchased her slim volume “A Thousand Mornings” in 2013 at Prairie Lights in Iowa City. And I wrote a notation on the front flyleaf: I want to read more poems. Flipping through the pages, I definitely want/need to read more.

In 2010 I purchased “Evidence.” Mary Oliver lives in Provincetown, MA and many of the poems in this volume seem to tell of the natural gifts she experiences in that area. This summer I hope to travel there and see some of the things Mary Oliver sees.

If I could only pay attention in the profound manner in which she engages! She observes quietly and with great appreciation, so great it allows the reader to see as she does. She writes, “Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous to be understood.”

And the book with the warm red jacket, “The Truro Bear and Other Adventures.” I do not know how these writings came to be collected in this volume, which includes new and classic poems and several essays. I have read little here though I could not wait to purchase it. I’m moving it to the top of the stack and after I have read some of these sustaining works, I will strive to learn how they came to be collected in one place.


Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry writes fiction, poetry and essays. I believe his latest book of poetry is “This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems.” Any and all of his writings offer something of interest.

I have an old volume of his collected Poems 1957 to 1982. Here I often find sustaining comfort. I enjoy reading his early poems as much as later ones.

His Sabbath poems are not about the Sabbath, but written as he looks out a window on quiet Sunday mornings and contemplates the view and what comes to mind. I think I gave my copy of Sabbath Poems to a blog reader in a previous poetry giveaway.

I close out this post with a quote from one of my favorite of his poems from the book “Leavings.” So often he writes of gratitude, how strongly we feel it, sometimes how we forget. “We forget the land we stand on and live from.”

But then, shifting through the pages, I see a poem I love even more. Just a few lines from this untitled poem: “Mowing the hillside pasture–where the flowers of Queen Anne’s lace /float above the grass, the milkweeds/flare and bee balm, cut, spices/the air…..”