All posts by ninams

The Joys of Picking My Favorite Books

 I am thrilled and honored to be  Westport Library Guest Curator for November. In the list of 100 books I chose as curator, I share those books that changed my life.  Great good comes from reading great books – check out my list of 100 great books online or visit the Westport Library (or any library or bookstore!) to find them for yourself.

The best books are transformative experiences. By reading a great book, we are changed forever: changed in how we think about something or someplace; changed in how we address joy and sorrow in our own lives; changed in how we find purpose in our lives; and changed in how we appreciate the diversity of experience that the world offers.

Nine years ago I began a project of reading a book a day for one year. My purpose was to find a way to live with the unbearable sorrow of losing my oldest sister to cancer. During the experience of reading 365 books, I was transformed. I came out of the darkness of loss into a place of warmth and light and understanding. I will never be the person I was before I lost my sister but because of the year I spent reading, I am a better person than I was. I am more compassionate, more patient, and more resilient.

In this list of 100 books, I want to share the books that I have found to be most transformative for me during my lifetime of reading.  These books changed me for the better and made me appreciate all the beauty in the world. I have greater patience now to get through  the hard times that come up in every life (every day!). I am resolved to face down the worst qualities in humankind, and to celebrate, always, the best.

Praise for The Lowells of Massachusetts

With less than two months until publication, The Lowells of Massachusetts: An American Family is garnering stellar reviews. 

Booklist calls The Lowells of Massachusetts “a fascinating collective biography … paying tribute to both worthy individuals and everyone else in this prominent, complicated family.”

Recommended by Library Journal for readers of biography and American History: “Sankovitch’s use of interpretative passages breathe color into descriptions of home life of various Lowells, adding an artistic dimension to the account. Her ability to switch the focus among the family members while keeping readers fully engaged in the narrative is a significant achievement.”

“A sturdy, busy multibiography of an eminent American family… Exhaustive work by a clear admirer and dogged researcher,” says Kirkus Reviews.

And at latest count, 4.33 star rating on Goodreads.

Follow The Lowells on Facebook and on Instagram.

Returning to Therapy

Book therapy, that is. Eight years ago I began my year of reading a book a day. I was looking for escape, wisdom, comfort, and clarity after losing my oldest sister to cancer.

Reading in my purple chair, with my cat on my lap
Reading in my purple chair

When my year was over, I found myself stronger, calmer, happier. I knew I would always grieve for my sister but I learned through books that I could always carry her with me in my heart. As I wrote in Tolstoy and the Purple Chair about my year of reading, “We all need a space to just let things be, a place to remember who we are and what is important to us, an interval of time that allows the happiness and joy of living back into our consciousness.”

I need that space and the therapy of books — immersion in reading — again. It has been a long, brutal election season and instead of finding relief in the result, I find myself waking in the middle of the night filled with fear. Fear for the future, fear of what America has become, such a divided and angry nation. In researching my book on the Lowell family, I followed them through the years of the Civil War and the aftermath of the divided nation. I found proof in family letters and journals of individuals struggling to bring the country together again with new dignity, new rights, new dreams. I need to find the energy and the hope to work for positive change for all who live here in the United States.

I hope to find that energy and hope in books. I find myself gravitating towards books about women, looking for role models of survival and strength, resilience, and power. Books like Now and Again by Charlotte Rogan, with its heroine who fights for truth at a terrible cost, and The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson, in which women from different times strive to understand the unique power of words, the power to record and reflect and inspire. Nicotine by Nell Zink has a quirky and sometimes even flaky heroine who is ultimately tough enough and resilient enough to get it done — “it” being bringing new life to an abandoned house (and way of life).

I will indulge in the books by Elly Griffiths, in which mysteries are solved by Ruth Galloway, a single woman of large build and big heart and keen intelligence. I gave myself an afternoon of fun in reading Hot Flash Holidays by Nancy Thayer: five women in their fifties and sixties deal with aging parents, faltering bodies, annoying in-laws, and impatient children — and through the ups and downs all five rely on the strength of their shared friendships to keep them going. As Renee notes in The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I am re-reading, “the complicity of indestructible friendship…is what life is all about.”

The Elegance of the Hedgehog was the very first book I read during my year of reading a book a day. Over the past eight years, I have looked back at the notes I kept in the book, and passages I underlined but this is the first time I am re-reading the entire book. What struck me right away is that Renee, one of narrators of the book, is fifty-four, the same age I am now. She also happens to weigh exactly what I weight now. Strangely enough, these similarities are changing the book for me — I feel now as if Renee is my double, and I am cheering her on as she enters new territory with trepidation but with hope as well. Right back at me: enter the future with trepidation (and rightly so) but also with hope.

fullsizerender-7But as you can see from the photo, I am not only reading books about women or by women in my new book therapy. I have a wide range, fiction and non-fiction. With so many books to anticipate, the future looks brighter. I feel sure that I will come out of this round of immersion stronger, and ready to work for what I believe in: a future that brings people together to work for the welfare, security, and dreams of all who live here in America.

The Art – and Artists – of Letter Writing

A gorgeous new book, Pen to Paper: Artists Handwritten Letters, edited by Smithsonian curator of manuscripts Mary Savig, underscores not only the artistry of a well-penned letter but also the lasting impact of words shared via pen and paper. To read through the beautiful-produced book is to enter the worlds of different artists, joining them in those moments of their life captured in their correspondence.

Artists represented (no pun intended) in the book include Mary Cassatt, Frederic Church, Howard Finster, Winslow Homer, Ray Johnson, Rockwell Kent, Georgia O’Keeffe, Claes Oldenburg, Maxfield Parrish, Eero Saarinen, and Saul Sternberg.

One of my favorite letters in the collection is the ecstatic note penned by artist Grant Wood after learning that two of his paintings, including American Gothic, were to be included in a show at Chicago’s Art Institute:

ahwoodweb
Pen to Paper: Artists Handwritten Letters is a book to savor and to share, and reading through it will certainly inspire the writing of letters (perhaps a great gift for college-bound students and/or their left-behind parents?). As I tried to demonstrate in my book, Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Celebrating the Joys of Letter Writing, the art of letter writing is not a lost art, nor is it a field left only to artists. Anyone can write a letter, and everyone should.

The Art of Love in Writing Letters

Barbara Newman’s fascinating book titled Making Love in the Twelfth Century: “Letters of Two Lovers” in Context was written for scholars and academics but will be cherished by anyone who loves a good love letter. The letters referenced in the title constitute the amazing discovery made at the closing of the twentieth century of the longest existing correspondence from the middle ages.15518

Making love in the twelfth century literally meant declaring love through words, and in the letters Newman translates, written between a “Man” and a “Woman”, plenty of love is made.  I went through this book madly underlining all the beautiful phrases and sentiments – “farewell, you who shine more brightly than the moon tonight and please me more than tomorrows sunrise” – and if  ever a case could be made for plagiarism, I would love to steal these declarations of love and send them off to find lodging in hearts open to love and joy, as well as to those needing the comport of company in the attendant emotions of confusion, distress, and longing.

There is much to learn in Newman’s book, not only from her translations of the letters and her accompanying notes but also from her fascinating essay Making Love in the Twelfth Century: An Essay in the History of Emotions (should be mandatory reading for all students of medieval and renaissance and modern social history) and her brilliant discourse on the possibility of renowned lovers Abelard and Heloise having penned not only those letters already attributed to the both of them, but also the “Letters of Two Lovers.”

Newman underscores that important thing is how the 116 surviving letters prove that the two lovers were “extraordinary people engaged in an extraordinary protect” – and we are grateful for Newman’s translations and explications of their extraordinariness.

Adding to HOW to Read ALL DAY

As summer approaches and “summer reading” appears everywhere we readers tend to go – the library, bookstores, book supplements in our local papers, book blogs (like this one!) – I thought an update to my “How to Read All Day” list might be in order. To help me out, I solicited advice from readers on Facebook and got some great new additions. Feel free to share more on Readallday‘s Facebook page….

The days are longer, so there are more hours to read outdoors. Try the beach, the garden, your stoop, a bench in a park, a blanket on the grass in the park. As long as you always carry a book with you, you will always have something to read and when the moment arrives, dig out that book and read.

My summer reading recommendations include:

Rachel Howell Hall’s latest and always fabulous Louise Norton thriller, Trail of Echoes – I love everything Hall writes;

Now and Again by Charlotte Rogan, author of The Lifeboat – this novel is a brilliant exploration of truth and our human impulse to do the right thing – but what is the right thing? Rogan has us thinking about and caring about – and we will never forget about – the characters in this wonderful book;

LaRose by Louise Erdrich, another beautiful book from national treasure Erdrich about loss, faith, redemption;

The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman by Mamen Sanchez, a joyful ride of a read while also being a masterful story about friendships, romance, commitment, and the importance of staying true to oneself and yet open to change and adventure;

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson,  a gorgeous, stirring novel that  reads like a poem, telling the story of four girls in 1970s Brooklyn, and the tragedies and triumphs of adolescence, as seen through the lens of one of the girls, now a grown woman;

A Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North, a thought-provoking and unputdownable novel by an incredibly creative writer-  on my own to-read list for the summer are two more of her books, Touch and The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August;

And of course I will be reading the latest from Elly Griffiths, The Woman in BlueSharon Bolton, Daisy in Chains, and Louise Penny, A Great Reckoning.

 

HOW TO READ ALL DAY

Always have a book with you.
Read while waiting.
Read while eating.
Read while exercising.
Read before bed.
Read before getting out of bed.

Read instead of updating FB.
Read instead of watching TV.
Read instead of vacuuming.
Read while vacuuming.
Read instead of updating blog or website.
Read instead of weeding.

Read what you want.
Read a book a friend wants you to read.
Read a book a bookseller swoons over.
Read a book loved by your local librarian.

Read with a book group.
Read with your kid.
Read with your cat.
Read to your dog.

Read on a schedule. Set the timer for twenty minutes and let everything else go.

Reading in Brazil

A group of students from the Educational Center Analia Franco, in Caceres, Mato Grosso, Brazil, sent me a wonderful message, via these photographs. 13245889_778421288925167_1643435791_nYes, reading is a passion in Brazil!

I love the purple sign that reads: “One of the most beautiful things in the life is lecture,” which means, READING. I agree completely! And I appreciate that the sign is purple.  Purple will forever symbolize the necessary therapy – and joy! – that reading provides for me.

Thank you to the students and to their fabulous teacher, Milena Campello (center, below).

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Hugs and lots of book love to (from left to right below) Ingrid, Raul, Mariana and Giulia. Read on!

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A New Year of Reading

 

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 8.42.25 AMThe Seattle Library recommended everyone start the year 2016 with Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading. Why?  To get the year started off right.  For February, they recommended Aziz Ansari, Chinelo Okparata, and Courtney Milan. Great ideas for starting out on a new year of reading.

Now that we are already in May, I’ve decided to start keeping online lists of what I’m reading this year, in addition to the notes I keep in my handwritten journal. You can find my lists starting with April – and come back soon to see what I’ve read in May.

Craig Ferguson on Historical Fiction

I love Bohemian Gospel by Dana Shamble Carpenter, Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks, Playing St. Barbara by Marian Szczepanski, and the list goes on and on. I like historical fiction because I get to learn something – the history part – while also filling up on what I need so much from fiction, which is that connection, heart and soul, to another person, place, and time.

But I have to admit that Craig Ferguson, Book of the Month Club’s guest judge for March, does a much better job that I do summing up what is so great about Historical Fiction.  I look forward to reading the book he chose for this month, The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami.