Tag Archives: Books



Conducted November, 2014

Welcome to another installment in the popular series: Reader Interview. Thanks to thoughtful and enthusiastic reader Liz Hurbis for sharing her reading knowledge with us. You readers out there in blogland will find some worthwhile book recommendations here, thanks to Liz.

Tell us what you are reading?
I am currently finishing and have enjoyed, Sue Monk Kidd’s, “Invention of Wings,” in the historical fiction department, and am still working on a political nonfiction book by Ben Carson, called “One Nation.”

Recently I finished Nancy Horan’s “Under the Wide and Starry Sky,” historical fiction. Horan researches her subjects well and writes an incredibly factual story about the life of Robert Lewis Stevenson. I was especially intrigued by his unusual writing process. Her first book, “Loving Frank,” (Frank Lloyd Wright), was another compelling read, even if you didn’t like the man very much, it was worthwhile. “Wild,” by Cheryl Strayed, another recent book, tells an incredible story of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone, after her divorce and the death of her mother. I enjoyed the writing of both of these authors.

What books are in your waiting-to-be-read stack?
Waiting in the wings is “Ordinary Grace,” by William Kent Krueger and “Round House,” by Louise Erdrich. Sitting on the table patiently is “Stonewalled”, by Sharyl Attkisson, my next nonfiction, followed by “Patriots and Rebels,” by John Bush, “The Good Funeral,” by Thomas Lynch and “A Separate Peace,” by John Knowles. So many books, so little time.

Do you have a favorite author or two, or more?
This year I discovered Ann Mah and her entertaining second book, “Mastering the Art of French Eating,” and that lead me to read her first book, “Kitchen Chinese,” both non fiction. I love her insights on other countries, the people, culture and food. She tells her stories with humor. Among others, I loved “Yes, Chef” by Marcus Samuelsson. He is a well-known chef in NYC born in Ethiopia, orphaned, and adopted by Swedish parents, then raised in Sweden, it’s a wonderful story. In his restaurants he integrates his African/Swedish background to create a unique cuisine. I hope to dine at his restaurant The Red Rooster in Harlem one day. I really enjoy “foodie” books.

I’ve also read a few of Geraldine Brook’s books, “March” and “A Year of Wonders” among them. I would like to read more by this author. I enjoy her characters when they have unimaginable circumstances to endure coupled with their great spirit.

Do you have a favorite genre or topic that especially interests you?
Food seems to be a theme with me; paradoxically, I also enjoy reading about nutrition. “How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,” by Caldwell Esselstyn and “The China Study,” by Colin Campbell immediately come to my mind. These authors are spirited doctors from fine hospitals trying to spread the word of the importance of good nutrition, and how it can affect every aspect of your life and prevent so many diseases and much suffering. Esselstyn, his son Rip and wife Jane will be speaking at Seaholm High School in Birmingham, MI in January.

What authors would you like to invite to lunch?
What a spirited conversation we could have with the aforementioned doctors and food editors, like Ruth Reichl, former editor of Gourmet Magazine and author of “Comfort Me with Apples,” and Chef Marcus. But what ever would I serve them?!

How did you become a reader?
For the most part my family loved reading. My mother was in a great books club in the 60’s, before book clubs were so common. I loved going to the library at an early age, something I still enjoy. My sister is a voracious reader and she has kept me informed and interested.

Are there books you truly treasure? Tell us about them and why they are important to you.
I think the books that have been truly important to me would include Marcus Zusak’s “Book Thief,” and Eric Larson’s “In the Garden on Beasts,” both about the horrors of Nazi Germany; “Sandcastle Girls” about the Armenian genocide, somehow lost in history. “Unbroken,” by Laura Hillenbrand, a must read. I would be remiss not to mention “To Kill A Mocking Bird,” by Harper Lee, a favorite of many and made into a wonderful movie.

I like a book that teaches me about history and important events, the human condition, how others think and solve problems, or one that gives me new ideas and teaches me about myself. Sometimes a book can give several enlightenments at the same time…that’s usually a good book.

How do you decide what to read?
I make my book choices by listening to what friends are reading, or their book clubs are reading, and book reviews. My sister, again, is a good source. No matter how much I try to investigate a book before I read it, I always have a few disappointments each year.

Note from Paulette: Readers can see why I go to Liz for recommendations. She always has a good book to suggest, one I have not read. Thanks for that, Liz, and thanks for doing this interview.


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Facebook has Throwback Thursday and often Facebook Friends post items with the question: Who remembers this? Books from an earlier time in our reading lives may take us down memory lane. Sometimes rereading is even in order.

Here’s some oldies I found at my house. They reminded me of all sorts of things, mostly hours of pleasure. There’s a joy to being in another world.


The Man Without A Country by Edward Everett Hale.
This allegorical story delivers lessons on the value of patriotism. It first appeared in the Atlantic Monthly in December 1863, but the story takes place some fifty years earlier. My father considered it required reading. Pictured is a 1910 edition handed down in our family.

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Drums Along the Mohawk by Walter D. Edmonds
The pioneers of the Mohawk Valley during the Revolutionary War struggled with nearly unendurable hardships. I believe this novel was first published in 1936 before most of us were born. My copy was picked up a number of years ago at an antique show on the west side of Michigan. It’s a splendid historical novel, one of my all time favorites. Is there a better frontier story? Name me one.

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Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates by Mary Mapes Dodge
I knew joy and excitement when I read this book. It always seemed so interesting. My copy, an inexpensive one handed down in our family, is nearly unreadable. A better edition is available at any library. Will I read it again?

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Green Grass of Wyoming by Mary O’Hara
This third book of her trilogy that began with My Friend Flicka, was an all time favorite for me as a young teen. I have always thought of Wyoming as a romantic place. Horses and young love are an unforgettable combination. My copy was bought at a Marshalltown antiques auction, owned first by someone named Alvena Woehlk , whom I did not know, from Garwin Iowa. It has seen better days, but I hate to part with it.

Teenie Weenie Days Written and Illustrated by William Donahey

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This one might have been my first book love. I think there were several books, a series. I read each one many times. I loved the world of the Teenie Weenies and the community they created. Today in fiction and poetry I write about a community of Scotch immigrants in Iowa one hundred and fifty years ago and I spend time thinking about community, what constitutes community and how might a writer best convey the aspects of community to readers.


Let us know what titles from earlier times tug at the corners of your memory. Please comment and share some of your early book loves.



Jerry and I drove into the beauty of the lake front area that is home to Soldier’s Field, Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum and more on a sunny morning last week. Not finding the street that led to close parking for the Field, we pulled up to some workmen to ask questions. They were smiling and helpful. But one said to us, “Oh, you mean the old museum?” I’m sorry to say this turned out to be a prophetic statement. And not just because this grand museum celebrated opening day in May, 1921.



We made our way to the parking and soon we were climbing the stairs to the front entrance of the Field. Both of us had been there as children. I was especially interested in the exhibit of The Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair. Though neither my Dad nor my maternal grandmother actually visited the fair, both had talked about it often, telling me how fabulous it had been. They had seen buildings and parks left in the city after the fair.

That World’s Fair introduced the world to the Ferris Wheel. The Fair, called the Columbia Exhibition, was so popular that the Midwest author Hamlin Garland said, “sell the cook stove if necessary, but come to the Fair.”


Last fall, excited about this exhibit at the Field, I wrote a post “ Five Ways to Travel to the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893.” (Scroll through the November, 2013 archives to find the story.) Someone views it every day on this blog giving it most-popular status, no contest. Finally, a week before this exhibit closed, we were about to see it. I had so looked forward to this visit.


The lobby of the museum was filled with the large replicas of African Elephants I remembered from a previous visit. We found ourselves under the banner “Wonders of the 1893 World’s Fair.”


But as we entered that area, the museum seemed dark, and while some signs and placards explained things, others were brief, hard-to-read, and in light colors hard to see and find. The majority of the exhibit consisted of artifacts exhibited in 1893 such as minerals, gems, plumes, and other items from cultures in faraway lands. Very large grainy photos of some type gave a sense of the grand buildings, the exhibits, and the crowds that filled the Fair in 1893. Those photos made me believe the Fair had existed in a way that glass cases filled objects could not.

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From a personal standpoint, I enjoyed the plumes. My grandmother was a milliner who for several years at the beginning of the 20th century owned and operated a hat shop at the corner of Wabash and 28th street in Chicago. Later she trimmed hats all over the west, including in San Francisco. Here were examples of some of the plumes she had talked about, and shown to me over the years. These plumes from birds such as the snowy egret were used as ornaments in hats of the era.


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The actual Fair was located in Jackson Park––seven miles south of the Field––and this world-famed exhibition marked Chicago’s recovery from the Great Fire and offered visitors information of Western Civilization at that time. The many beautiful white buildings were known as “the white city.”


I had hoped to buy a book about the fair that would include pictures and supplement my knowledge of the event. Alas, the gift shop saleswoman told me they had all been sold and not reordered. These five titles, carried earlier in the gift shop, are available from Amazon. I sadly suggest one of these books is most likely a better investment than the Field Exhibit.


Titles are:
The World’s Columbian Exposition, Spectacle in the White City,
Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair,
America at the Fair,
Chicago World’s Fair of 1893
There is also a DVD from a 2 hour PBS Special titled Expo: Magic of the White City.

A 3D film about Ancient Egypt and mummification gave scant information. And so we went to the top of the museum hoping to see some of the reconstructed dinosaur skeletons we remembered from earlier visits. The stegosaurus pictured and others filled the third floor, and the spectacular views out toward Lake Michigan and into the city from the windows at the top of the building made our ride to the third floor well worth it.


We enjoyed our visit in spite of the disappointments. Maybe the intense anticipation robbed me of some of the joy. Most likely, I simply like turning the pages of a book better than looking in glass cases and reading placards. A good photo can be better than the real thing?




This man’s writing leads a reader to discover the past in a way that makes it real, exciting and new, even though it’s an old story, one the reader supposedly knew. This week I read an interview with Philbrick by Jacqulene Brzozowski in the Spring, 2014 issue of the online journal Mount Hope Magazine. That led to another interview I accessed online by Ben Shattuck for Paris Review, July 24, 2013. Philbrick discusses his writing, both subject matter and process.


You are perhaps familiar with some of his best known books.
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (2001). National Book Award Winner
The Mayflower: The Story of Courage, Community, and War (2007) Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution. (2013)



These are the ones I’ve read and so are most familiar to me. There are others. I highly recommend any and all. His latest book is Why Read Moby-Dick. It is a departure from his usual fare, a slender volume giving many reasons to read or reread Moby Dick. I understand movies are in the works based on In the Heart of the Sea (Ron Howard) and Bunker Hill (Ben Affleck).

When Philbrick talks about writing history, he emphasizes the importance of character to move a story forward. He goes on to say that historical detail brings the past to life. He researches archives and goes to the places he writes about to see and discover. He researches to discover the character and the character’s world.


He writes narrative non-fiction. He recreates circumstances and places in vivid detail enabling the characters to live and breathe, rather than creating dialogue. When talking of his writing process he says “the note-taking is everything for me.” He describes his notebooks and his extensive note-taking, and tells how he moves from note-taking to creating a book. The amount of learning, what he gets into his head, seems amazing.

In the interview for the Paris Review he says, “For me, it’s the act of discovery gives the prose life.” Reading his interviews one feels he deeply enjoys the connection and evolutions of a society. So history is made.

So we discover it, thanks to Mr. Philbrick. I never expected to read a book about whaling. I did and it was and is unforgettable. Please share your comments about Mr. Philbrick, any of his books or tell us which one is on your reading list. And, we are always looking for movie news. Keep us posted!


Everywhere the media is full of vampires, witches, horror, comics, erotica, apocalyptic and dystopian tales. Book columns, must-see TV and even the movies seem drawn to these genres. Mostly they leave me just-not-interested. I’ll keep my toe in the futuristic waters by watching for the opening of the movie Mockingjay from the Hunger Games Series. But there is so much more out there, it seems there is something for everybody.

What books are calling you? Check out these recent titles receiving media attention. Which ones might interest you? There is more available than blood and futuristic sagas.


“Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands” by Chris Bojalian (Doubleday, July, 2014) : This new novel from the best selling author of “Light In the Ruins” will be released in early July and is receiving high praise. It is the story of a teen, a nuclear accident and her subsequent adventures as she searches for a new life.


“Redeployment” by Phil Klay (Penguin Press, 2014): A debut short story collection described as painting a picture of war in Iraq and the psychological effects of veterans returning home. A best book of the month for Amazon.


“In Paradise: A Novel” by Peter Matthiessen (Riverhead, 2014): Also an Amazon book of the month this novel is set in a 1990’s spiritual retreat at Auschwitz. Matthiessen is a three time National Book Award Winner. This is his final book as he died in April at age 86.


“Written In My Own Heart’s Blood: A Novel (Outlander)” by Diana Gabaldon (Delacorte Press, June, 2014): Jamie and Claire are reunited in Revolutionary Times. Tangled relationships and adventures await Gabaldon’s many readers.


“The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicolas and Alexandra” by Helen Rappenport (St. Martin’s Press, June, 2014): This is an absorbing history of a time and people holding fascination for many. The book has received mixed reviews, but the relationship of Alexandra and her daughters is an interesting one; and the book cover, an arresting photograph.



Reader Interview with Judith Vitali, Old Lyme, Connecticut
Conducted June, 2014

Another reader interview in the Readeatlive Interview Series. Good friend Judith Vitali always has interesting things to say about reading.

Why do you read?
I basically was an only child (one half sister wasn’t born until I was sixteen and I really didn’t meet the other until a few years later) … books were my friends, my escape, and my ticket to other worlds. Our librarian (in Stonington, CT) would allow me to take a bag of books home rather than the limit of two, and I would devour them eagerly. (Yes, I was one who read with a flashlight under the covers.) Although I have many human friends, books continue to be constant companions.

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
You will find children’s books on my shelves. My favorite from childhood is The Secret Garden, which I still read every few years. I also have kept books that my fifth graders and I enjoyed so much … The Cay, The Giver, My Side of the Mountain, The Homecoming, and Pink and Say to name a few. Can’t wait to share them with my grandsons.

Do you have a favorite book of the last year?
I was enchanted by The Storied Life of AJ Fikry … for all the reasons you mentioned in your blog, Paulette … it was charming and quirky. I also liked Necessary Lies … it introduced me to a part of our history of which I had little knowledge.

What authors would you like to invite to tea or lunch? And why?
There are ever so many authors who would provide scintillating conversations; but when I was a young mother of three boys, I so enjoyed Judith Viorst’s column in LHJ. She later wrote the delightful Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day. She also had three sons and her sense of humor really appealed to me. I would like to invite her to tea and some one-on-one time. I’m certain we’d have a lot of laughs sharing our ‘boy’ stories.

What book was a disappointment to you and why?
I am so unhappy when a book starts with great promise, and then the ending is disappointing … I despised the ending of Gone Girl and couldn’t understand why it was on the bestseller list for so long. Then again, I am a sucker for a happy ending.

Where do you read?
I read absolutely everywhere … as a passenger in a car, at the doctor’s office, in bed, at the beach, etc etc … I guess my favorite reading environment is a snowy day sitting by the fire.

How do you decide what to read?
I have many sources for reading recommendations … newspapers and friends, of course … some great blogs, the RJ Julia bookstore in Madison, CT, and I actually select a lot based on Amazon reviews.

Tell us about what you are reading.
I am rereading a ‘serendipity’ book I picked up at the airport many years ago … Guilt by Association by Susan R. Sloan (not Marcia Clark) … I think it appeals to me because it takes place in the sixties and on … if anyone decides to read it, do not read the book jacket first … it contains a terrible ‘spoiler’.

What books are you hoping to read soon?
I am on the library wait list for Shotgun Lovesongs, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl, and The Housemaid’s Daughter.

Do you have a favorite author or two or more?
I love the writing of Cynthia Voigt (a YA author) and anxiously am awaiting the next book from Markus Zusak … his The Book Thief is one of my all-time favorites.

Do you have a favorite genre?
I absolutely do not have a favorite genre … enjoy them all … well, not sci-fi or horror.

And, please tell us more about your reading habits.
I read strictly for pleasure these days … unfortunately, the next day I may not be able to tell you the plot of the book I just read … I remember only those that have a great impact. I also find as I age that I do not have the endurance for lengthy novels any more. I once was a fan of Russian literature, but the thought of reading something like War and Peace truly overwhelms me.

Judith, thanks so much for sharing your ideas and reading habits. I know readers will be inspired and connected.



Lev Grossman calls this a memorable year for books, and he selects the best of the year…so far. I applaud the diversity of his list. Will be interesting to see how the list may change as the year progresses. Which books will find a wide audience? What books will be published later this year?

One of the books he names has been featured on the pages of this blog. Sous Chef by Micheal Gibney, reviewed on the Food page a few weeks ago. It is a real page-turner. Click on Food on the menu above and when the food page comes up, scroll down several stories for that review.

Here’s a brief sketch of several of his top 15 that you may find of interest.

Lawrence Goldstone. Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss and the Battle to Control the Skies. This historian writes a narrative of the rivalries in the early days of American Aviation.

E. Lockhart. We Were Liars. Also Amazon’s pick for Young Adult Book of May. A novel of twists and turns, called an unforgettable summer read. The story is set on Cape Cod.

Olivia Laing. The Trip To Echo Spring:On Writers and Drinking. The author focuses on a group of American male writers, and in doing so, she examines the links between alcohol and creativity. She also considers their literary work. At least one reviewer has called it a powerful and rewarding book.

Roz Chast. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant: A Memoir. This is described as witty look at life with and without ageing parents. Reviewers and readers are raving about it.

Kai Bird. The Good Spy. This one is a biography of a CIA operative who died in the Beirut Embassy bombing.

It’s largely a non-fiction list. Let’s see what comes in the second half of the year. Since this blog might be justly accused of focusing too much on fiction, this list names some promising books in non-fiction catagories. (Non-fiction lovers don’t give up on this blog.)

Here’s the link to Time’s complete list: http://time.com/281595/best-books-of-2014-so-far/

Or just google Time’s Best Books of 2014.

Have fun thinking about what you might read. As always, comments are welcomed.




1. Great quotes. “Sometimes books don’t find us until the right time.”

2. Quirky in-a-good-way characters.

3. Literary references. “The Luck of Roaring Camp” by Bret Harte/1868. This is a story I have enjoyed and will enjoy again even if the A.J. Fikry of the title calls it “overly sentimental.”

4. The story takes place in a bookstore. Reading this book is a good way to spend more time in a bookstore.

5. You heart will ache for every character. The question is: Which one will you love the most?

There’s so much to love about this book. I’d like to run a contest to find out which character is your favorite or to list the greatest number of things you loved about it, and offer prizes. If you read this book tell us which character you loved the most. All comments are welcome.



The Kentucky Derby is upon us. I write this on Derby Day. I’m thinking of jockey Rosie Napravnik, the weather, and the controversies surrounding the sport of horse racing. Images from my visits to Saratoga Race Track fill my head.

Horse racing is beautiful. I love to see these gorgeous animals as they run. They deserve the best treatment. I fear a significant some are not treated as they should be. People ask me if I ever write about sports. In spite of the fact that one of my best-loved books is Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand, I have to say, “not often.”

Today, in honor of Derby Day, here are five books for readers to consider reading or rereading.

1. Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand. (2002)

2. Secretariat by William Nack (2010)

3. Horse Heaven (novel), by Jane Smiley (2001)

4. The Horses of Oak Valley Ranch Series, (novels for fifth graders and older) by Jane Smiley

5. 150 Years of Racing In Saratoga: Little-Known Stories and Facts from America’s Most Historic Racing City. By Allen Carter and Mike Kane (2013)

To my surprise, I was unable to find books about the current state of the horse racing industry, not did I find any in-depth magazine pieces. Either they must be there and I didn’t look hard enough, or sports writers need to seriously consider the subject. What books are published suggest readers are more interested in betting and winning than in the treatment of horses. Scandal and undercover investigations by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) are ongoing. There’s plenty of information and controversy out there.

I admit images of these marvelously beautiful animals in pre-race parade and pounding down the track are tarnished, even blackened, by those who believe multiple painful drugs are necessary to win races.

When will we see real drug reform in horse racing?

At present, I don’t find an answer to this question.

I flip the coin to the hopeful side. I hope your favorite Derby contender has a good run. I hope sports-writers will continue to keep the important issues of the sport before the public. I hope more horse owners and trainers will put animal well-being before winning. I, for one, would be more likely to wager or attend races if I believed my favorite jockey was on a well-cared-for horse rather than one who might been mistreated.

If you have ever visited a race track, watched a horse race on television or read Seabiscuit, please comment. And if you shun this sport, tell us why.




Thank you readers for your fantastic response to the post : Do You Remember the First Book You Truly Loved? Here’s what you had to say.

Boxcar Children received the most mentions by a clear margin.
Charlotte’s Web and Winnie-The-Pooh tied for second place among responders.
Willie Mouse
The Secret Garden
Gone With the Wind
Big Red: The Story of a Champion Irish Setter
Katy Did
Anne of Green Gables
Misty of Chincoteaque
Stuart Little
The Little Colonel Series
When You and I Were Young

Click on replies at the top of the page and you can see readers’ comments. There were also many interesting and fun Facebook comments. Some of us dreamed of living in another world, as most readers do. One reader named a child after the favorite book, albeit with a different spelling. Some readers named multiple books, thinking of first one and then another. One reader referred to her “horse-crazy stage.” Many of us shared that time whether we admit it or not. Another reader spoke of reading “over and over and over again!” Another posted a long quote from Winnie the Pooh. I loved them all! This post was a lot of fun. Thanks so much.

It’s not too late to add your favorite via comments or Facebook. I’ll keep a running tab.