Tag Archives: Reading



Each of us is compelled to read and write for a variety of reasons. This was a general theme at this year’s Festival of Faith and Writing conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s a unique experience to be on a campus full of readers and writers, to be in a place where reading and writing are at the heart of the experience. So readers and writers out there in blogland––that’s each of you in your own way–– here are some highlights. More information on each of these writers will be posted on upcoming pages of this blog.


I sat in the front row at an interview with Marilyn Nelson. Her poetry has sustained me as an educator, a person and a writer for a lot of years. She brings so much history and emotion to any reader, young, old, and in between. She talked of her experiences writing three of her books, she talked about the sonnet form and more.

See more about Marilyn Nelson on the Reading Page. Use the menu at the top of the page.


What could be more exciting than listening to the writer and co-producer of The Good Wife, one of the most popular shows on television? Luke Schelhaas is an Iowa native and a small college graduate. He talked of life in Hollywood and what he actually does all day as a writer on a top TV show. The process of writing for a TV show has its own cachet and its own nitty-gritty.

More about Luke Schelhaas on the Writing Page. Click on Writing in the menu at the top of the page.


The conference always holds at least one surprise. This time it was the outstanding talk by Pam Munoz Ryan. She writes for children and young adult readers. If only she could talk to readers and writers in every school in America. She has so much to say, and she says it in a gentle and entertaining way. Her books are well known to many of you, but somehow, I had not had the pleasure. Listening to her, I learned something about becoming and belonging. I expect to learn more as I read her work.

Our shared passion for encounters with language continues. We read and write to learn, and to find out what we need and want to learn. We take time to think about words and the power to use them to create something new. Hold onto your hats, the joyride is a whirl of questions, creations, laughter, and meditation. It ends in the fascination of finding a terrific new story, or rediscovering one you want to visit again.

Oh, and among others, I bought a beautiful paperback Penguin Classics edition of Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, something I’ve been promising to do for a long time. It’s a book that won the Nobel Prize and has never been out of print since its birth in the 1920’s. How I first found this book, and how much I love it is a story for another time.




I have discovered a most captivating place: Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café. It’s located at 55 Haywood Street in Asheville, NC. It’s large, locally owned and one of the finest such establishments I’ve ever encountered. This is the kind of bookstore where I could easily spend all day.


Inside the store, everywhere my feet and eyes travel, I meet a new section. Books are organized in groups. Easy-to-read signs give the information I need. There’s Staff Favorites, Banned Books, Award Winners, Regional books, Book Club Books, Notebooks and such materials for readers and writers, Staff Favorites, Self-sufficiency and Farming, as well as such usual sections as History, Fiction, Memoir, Biography and on and on. The Cooking shelves and the Children’s corner easily capture my attention. These pictures show how easy it is to be distracted by a new and even more interesting group of books. At first I dash from one spot to another.



Alsace and other staff are friendly and helpful. They search for books of interest to me, and they find them. My husband enjoys a delicious Danish Pastry and some good conversation at the café.


I heard about this place from Michigan friends. One couple told me I must see it and took me there when a group of us were in Asheville last year for a wedding. I couldn’t wait to get back. Other friends had made a special trip to Asheville to hear the author Mohsin Hamid (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) speak. Both the place and the speaker provided them with a most memorable experience. After their encouragement, I made time for a visit while traveling last week.


Did I buy books? Yes, I did! The Good Lord Bird by James McBride, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, The Orphan Train by Christine Baker Kline, A Reader’s Book of Days by Tom Nissey, and a writer’s notebook. And I wanted to buy more.


Do make a stop in Asheville whenever you are able. If you can’t get there soon, you are in luck. Their website is helpful and interesting. www.malaprops.com

One can search and shop books and peruse upcoming events of surprising variety. They feature local and nationally known authors. Learn about an interesting variety of book clubs. Don’t miss their recommended reading, newsletter and other information.

You’ll love having this amazing bookstore on your radar.




Author: Ann Mah
Publisher: Pamela Doman Books, 2013
Genre: Non-fiction food and travel
288 Pages

Guest Blogger: Susan Carter

Ann Mah is a journalist and lifelong foodie; a Francophile who was raised in Southern California, graduated from UCLA & married a member of the US diplomatic corp. When he receives an assignment in Paris, she feels like her dreams have come true and plans the wonderful time they will spend eating and delighting in all that the City of Light has to offer. Shortly after their arrival in Paris, her husband is called away to Iraq for a year and she finds herself alone in a new city.

Loneliness begins to overcome her so she develops a new plan, which centers around her love of food. She decides to delve into the signature dishes of the various regions of France, traveling, interviewing and discovering the history behind some of the country’s best- loved dishes.

Lucky for us, she put her year into a book so we get to travel with her, meet a variety of French women & men and (almost) taste the dishes she researches. She includes an authentic recipe for each of the dishes and has made the instructions easy enough for a novice cook.

Ann’s style of writing is that of sitting at a table talking with a friend and it’s hard to think of her as anything else by the time you finish. She learns and shares a lot about herself, life, the French and food during her year on her own. Her food descriptions will make you hungry (except, possibly for the andouillette) and anxious to travel to France to experience the food first hand and relive some of the history.

The book is very easy reading and highly recommended for any foodie or Francophile as it’s truly a delicious French adventure.

From Paulette: Thanks to Guest Blogger Susan Carter for sharing this interesting and informative review of a book I’d like to read. Wouldn’t you?



The sun comes up earlier each day. Some winter weeks in Florida will be coming up soon for me. That will mean more hours of daylight. Naturally, my mind turns to Florida books. Here are some titles for traveling to Florida.

Burn Offerings by Michael Lister. This is crime fiction set in North Florida. Michael Connelly recommends this author. Amazon posted good reviews. Another recent title by this author is Blood Sacrifice.

Continental by Russell Banks. This classic American novel explores late twentieth century Florida land development. It raises the moral and cultural questions that never seem to go away when this topic is put before us. It has been described as a dark lament and a powerful book. Russell Banks always show readers the hearts of his characters. I would expect him to do the same in this novel. I missed it when it was originally published and when it was reissued in this decade. This might be the time for me to read it.

Florida Off the Beaten Path, 12th: A Guide to Unique Places. Early blog readers know I am a fan of this travel series. (See: “Off The Beaten Path. Travel Books” on the Reading Page about third post from the beginning/bottom.) A new edition of this book is available. This book is a must for anyone spending time in Florida.

Remembering Blue by Connie Mae Fowler. I count this one of her best books. Her heroine will likely break your heart. She gives a close look at the Gulf Coast of North Florida and the shrimp business before the oil spill. Many of her books are set in Florida. The Problem With Murmur Lee is a novel where action takes place at Matanzas Inlet and on the intercoastal waterway of the Atlantic Coast.

Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen. In 2008 Matthiessen won the National Book Award for this new version of his Killing Mr. Watson Trilogy. He is one of the best writers today and writes both fiction and non-fiction. This novel is set at the turn of the twentieth century near the Everglades. I read the three novels in their original form and have not forgotten their excellence.

These titles all give a reader the experience of a part of Florida or a time in Florida that may be unknown, or less well known. I believe any one of them is worth your while whether you are looking for enjoyment, inspiration, information or relaxation.



Here are five books published this past year, books not written about at length on this blog. I recommend any and all of them. Three are novels, one a collection of short stories, and one a book of poetry.


Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. This is the follow-up to her tremendously successful Wolf Hall. Henry the VIII and Thomas Cromwell live on these pages, more real than in real life. Perhaps politics in another age is more fascinating than it seems in our own time. The women can be as ferocious as the men.
“His children are falling from the sky.”


Canada by Richard Ford. This story took my breath away. A teen-age boy must fend for himself after his family comes undone. I can’t say why but it held my interest more completely than any other book I read this year.
“First I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed.”


Dear Life by Alice Munro. This volume of short stories won the Nobel Prize in Literature. It is now #1 on the Trade Paperback bestseller list. Alice Munro at her best is not-to-be-missed.
“I lived when I was young at the end of a long road, or a road that seemed long to me.”


The Round House by Louise Erdrich. This is probably my favorite book of 2013. There is suspense and urgency to the tale. The story tells of a teen-age boy who tries to help his mother after she is attacked. It addresses a serious subject, justice on a North Dakota Reservation. I am a great admirer of this author’s writing abilities.
“Small trees had attacked my parents’ house at the foundation.”


A Thousand Mornings: Poems by Mary Oliver. This volume includes a more beautiful poem about a mockingbird than can be imagined. Mary Oliver’s poems heighten experience in the natural world. She is able to capture nature so the world shines. The reader enters that light.
“for he is the thief of other sounds”

Every year there are some books that interest me that I don’t find the time to read. Some, I never even hear about. I love it when a book I missed jumps into my path and brings me a great reading experience. I hope one of these will be that book for you.



By Jill LePore
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf 2013
Genre: Biography, History
267 pages plus appendices and extensive historical notes
Source: Library copy

This is an extraordinary book about an extraordinary woman. Nothing I say can adequately praise it. Still, I will reach for superlatives and expect to support them.

The rhythm of the author’s lines is a kind of perfection not often encountered. “Benjamin Franklin was his father’s youngest son, but he wasn’t his youngest child. Josiah Franklin’s youngest child––the youngest child of the youngest child of the youngest child of the youngest child, for five generations––was a girl.” Often I yearned to read her sentences aloud, not to enable understanding, but to enjoy words and rhythms. I turned the pages with enthusiasm, dived into each new chapter. I couldn’t know enough about Jane.

We are able to know Jane Franklin, Benjamin’s youngest sister, in large part through correspondence. In that time the letter was a favor, an act of goodwill and kindness. We may wonder about the popularity of social media today. Remember this. In Revolutionary times, Jane and her brother wrote frequent letters throughout their long lives, even though the possibility of delivery often seemed unlikely. Many letters were lost and undelivered. The call to talk to each other lived with a strength that is almost unbelievable.

One of the strengths of this book, and one of the reasons I love it so much is the window it opens for us to understand ordinary life in the eighteenth century in early America. Benjamin Franklin left the family home when he was seventeen and his sister was eleven. Though he helped her financially in later years, for much of her life, she lived with hardships of many kinds, including poverty. She cared for children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, made soap, sewed, and took in boarders.

Jill Lepore teaches that history is to a large extent what is kept. What is not kept is lost. From a few letters and scant historical information she brings to life a woman who completely holds our attention and admiration. The author is masterful with details, details that matter.

She gives a sense of what life was like in a cold, crowded, dark, stuffy house at that time. The trades those in this family engaged in contributed to the unhealthy environment. They made soap, sewed, made candles, worked leather, and learned to set type and run a printing press. Often these trades were conducted in the home.

Death carried children and adults away with alarming frequency. Children were born and they died. Those that survived to adulthood in these crowded, less than healthy conditions, died while still young. Some of her children were a great sorrow to Jane, ill of mind and body, lost in time of war. One son remained so mad he needed constant care throughout his long life. Her husband was mostly a worry, ill or in debtor’s prison. Jane Franklin Mecom’s life was often dark in nearly every way.

But for one very important thing. She could read. She practiced reading. She practiced writing. She wrote in her Book of Ages. And in these endeavors, her brother gave her aid. She had time for reading and writing in her later years, but she had always made time for such. Her brother sent her books. She struggled to obtain books for herself. She kept a library in her home.

Book of Ages has received a number of awards and positive reviews. It is one of the most interesting and enjoyable pieces of history I have ever read. I was truly astonished by how this author brought Jane Franklin and her time to life.




“Every story would be another story and unrecognizable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else.” Eudora Welty.

Sometimes the sense of place in a novel is so powerful, the reader is happily planted in the midst of sights, smells, sounds, and does not want to leave anytime soon. The language and skill of the writer in creating time and place makes the reader believe the story. The right details make a successful setting.

In the novels named here setting is an extraordinary component of the tale. Brief quotes give you a taste of how the writer creates a world for the reader to enter. Some of these novels are not best known for their settings. But I promise you, that each will convince you that you are in a place you never before knew or appreciated, and yet you will feel like you know that place, like you have actually been there, even if it no longer exists except upon a page.

1. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (1971)

“At the turn a battered live oak leaned on limbs that touched the ground on three sides.” From New Almaden

Each section of the story is a different location in the American West seen through the eyes of a young woman from the East. Grass Valley, New Almaden, Santa Cruz, and Leadville to start, places in California, Colorado and Idaho.

2. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier (1997)

“All the elements that composed it suggested the legendary freedom of the open road: the dawn of day, sunlight golden and at a low angle; a cart path bordered on one side by red maples, on the other by a split-rail fence; a tall man in a slouch hat, a knapsack on his back, walking west.”

Sometimes, I think, there is no place I’d rather be than the Smoky Mountains and the American South during the Civil War. That’s a reader’s luxury. In real life it was mostly a devastated and cruel place. How the characters were able to deal with that devastation and cruelty in such a beautiful place is a wonderful gift to the reader.

3. English Creek by Ivan Doig (1984)

“That month of June swam into Two Medicine country.”

Here the reader visits Northern Montana sheep country before the Second World War. This reader went back to the same place for three books and I would like to go again.

4. The Girl With The Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevelier (2001)

“I came to love grinding the things he brought from the apothecary–bones, white lead, madder, massicot–to see how bright and pure I could get the colors. I learned that the finer the materials were ground, the deeper the color. From rough, dull grains madder became a fine bright red powder and, mixed with linseed oil, a sparkling paint. Making it and the other colors was magical.”

This author creates a central character with keen powers of observation who serves as a guide to life in the seventeenth century Dutch household of a painter.

5. Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving (2009)

“For a frozen moment, his feet had stopped moving on the floating logs in the basin above the river bend; he’d slipped entirely underwater before anyone could grab his outstretched hand.”

In the lumber camps of New Hampshire in the 1950’s, I felt the icy wind and water and the dense growth of the forest so keenly that I appreciated the cookhouse scenes to warm me up. But given that, the land of Twisted River and other locations in this book are places I could visit again and again. Whether in a lumber camp or a Boston restaurant kitchen, the reader is completely in that place.

6. Martha Quest by Doris Lessing (reissued 2001), the first of the Children of Violence series.

I remember being transported and set down in a farm in Rhodesia, a place I knew little about and had never even seen pictures of, at the time I read this. Doris Lessing has recently died and you can honor a brilliant and memorable novelist by reading one of her books.

7. The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin (2012)

“They climbed through cold-embittered forest and sought respite in bright meadows thick with wildflowers and insect thrumming.”

The reader finds respite from the rigors of this tale in this valley in the Oregon Territory at the turn of the twentieth century. It is, in part, the contrast of violent acts with the comforting surroundings of an apple orchard that make this book great.

8. Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen (2008) originally published as a three volume trilogy in the 1990’s, now revised and combined in one volume.

“ In his old cabin lighter up Caxambas Creek, Lucious Watson sat straight up in the shard of moonlight, ransacking torn dreams for the hard noise that had awakened him––that rattling bang of an old car or truck striking a pothole in the sandy track through the slash pine wood north of the salt creek.”

The Florida Everglades at the turn of the twentieth century are angry and raw. In this novel there are many moving passages about the land that strike love and fear for the reader. The tale rises out of the land like humid air and animal noise. Sometimes the reader feels as if another breath will not come, and yet this is a book I hope to read in its new form.

9. The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar (2007)

“When they gazed at the sea, people held their heads up and their faces became anxious and open, as if they were searching for something that linked them to the sun and the stars, looking for that something they knew would linger long after the wind has erased their footprints in the dust”

The reader is thrust into the everyday life of modern-day Bombay India. I almost believed I had seen the city with my own eyes.

10. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. (2010)

“At New Year’s he had given Anne a present of silver forks with handles of rock crystal. He hopes she will use them to eat with, not to stick in people.”

The reader walks beside Thomas Cromwell through the courts of Henry VIII and in the countryside of England in 1520.

Isn’t that what readers love, to walk beside a character, to view the story close-up?

I chose these books because in each case, though only one was read in the last six months, I remembered the settings and their importance to the story. I hope you will choose to read at least one of these books. Excellent depiction of setting makes a reader truly love a book because he/she travels there in the imagination of the mind.



The Light In the Ruins
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Publisher: Doubleday (July, 2013)
320 pages

This novel is a good read! I thought it even better than his recent Sandcastle Girls. I especially liked the twist and turns in the plot and the multiple voices. It is well structured with plenty of suspense. The characters in this story are interesting. They resist the ordinary.

I’ve enjoyed several of his books. I’m a fan. Skeletons at the Feast and Midwives are two favorites. His next book is expected out in summer of 2014: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands.

The January issue of Writer’s Digest includes an interview with Mr. Bohjalian. He has some writing tips that, as a struggling writer, I find helpful. He also has something to say to us as readers.

Writing and Reading Tips from Chris Bohjalian:

• In order to write a novel you must be passionately interested in the topic.
• He calls Light In the Ruins his Romeo and Juliet. If you read it with that in mind, does it change your expectations?
• He begins a novel with a promise of what the book will be about and lets his characters and research show the way. Some novelists think it’s a bad way to work, but since I often work this way, I’m happy to hear him talk about it.
• The processes of research and writing overlap.
• He encourages all writers, even those who are unpublished, to approach strangers with questions to aid their research. Mr. Bohjalian says “in my experience we’re all a little narcissistic about our professions and love sharing information.” (p.45) I agree and offer the proliferation of blogs as evidence.

Bonus outtakes from the interview are available at www.writersdigest.com/jan-14. Some of what he says may surprise you.

His general advice to writers is to write books you love to read. I would add similar advice to readers. Read books you wish you had written. I suggest that Light In the Ruins is a book you will love to read and a book you may well wish you had written.


Wide River 1

Thank you so much to every reader of this blog. I send you good wishes as wide as this view of the Mississippi. Your interest and encouragement are vital to our conversations and my posts. This blog doesn’t exist without you.

A blog is a website in which an individual records opinions. Often a blog or journal entry links to other sites. New material is added on a regular basis.

The focus of www.readeatlive.com is to promote reading and writing. It is a bookish blog with food on the side. Recently food themes have elbowed their way to a larger place at the table. My readers don’t like to go too long without a food fix, and neither do I. A recent road trip also meant food got more space.

My focus will remain the joys of reading and writing. We eat to live so food places, recipes and themes will continue to have a spot on my bookish blog. I will continue to weave various threads into the reading and writing themes. Check out the home page and the reading page if you are interested in books and other kinds of reading or reading issues. Some of my own writing, and occasionally, my ideas about writing, appear on the writing page.

I keep in mind how I can improve this blog. You need to tell me how I am doing. For example, I want to make posts more interesting and less preachy. Sometimes I pile on the info and get really boring. Please help me not to do this. I also want to be more creative with my titles, so that you are pulled into the content when you read the title.

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