Monthly Archives: February 2014

A Love of Letters

A friend recently sent me back some letters that I’d written to her 20-plus years ago, just after we’d gone our separate ways following college graduation. I couldn’t believe she’d kept those tattered pages, and I was grateful that she’d shared with me this priceless look back at my 22-year-old self. The book mentioned in this post sounds like a nice way to remind us of the joy of old-fashioned letter writing in this age of email, tweets, etc.

Eleventh Stack

Some of you may be aware that today is Valentine’s Day. Personally, my immediate family and I are not practitioners in the arts of giving greeting cards, flowers, stuffed animals, chocolates and whatever else might come on this particular day. In fact, when I first found out I was scheduled for today’s post, I felt that I had drawn the short straw (have I mentioned I’m not a fan of this “holiday”?), but a recent read and the fact that this month notes the 23rd anniversary of the blind date with the man who eventually became my husband, has given me some fodder for today’s post.

Our partnership which began all those years ago, was way before the age of Skype, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, and thus our long distance (he in Pittsburgh, me in Cleveland) relationship’s success relied on land lines, the Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes (before EZPASS!)…

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Little Coincidences

image001I always get a little chuckle out of those times when I find crossover between my reading life and my actual life. I thought I’d share one of those moments.

Over Thanksgiving this past November, our family hosted a German exchange student named Martje for the week. When my mother met her, she remarked: “You’re German but you have a Dutch name. You have the same name as the character from that book, oh, you know the one, she was wife of that Dutch farmer in the Midwest…” That vague description did not ring a bell with any of us, so I figured my mom’s faint recollection would remain buried within her own consciousness indefinitely.

About a month later, I was trolling around for books to read during the holiday break. My book group was on hiatus and I didn’t have anything pressing on my personal reading list, so I dove into that old trusty treasure trove—Pulitzer Prize winners that I had not yet had the pleasure of reading. Two esteemed female authors, Eudora Welty and Edna Ferber, jumped out at me as must-reads.

First, I read Welty’s 1972 Pulitzer Prize Winner The Optimist’s Daughter. It’s a relatively concise description of what happens when Laurel Hand, a middle-aged widow and successful businesswoman, is summoned home from Chicago to Mississippi to accompany her father through an operation on his eyes. I thoroughly enjoyed this slice-of-life view of clashing cultures, families, life experiences and timing.

Next, within the pages of Ferber’s 1925 Pulitzer Prize Winning novel So Big, I located the Dutch farmer’s wife my mom had remembered, Maartje Poole. This book was an incredibly gratifying experience. Not only did I appreciate the description of Selina Peake De Jong’s adventures as a school teacher turned farmer in the Midwest, I was able to identify the Poole family’s young matriarch as the Maartje who had remained at the fringes of my mother’s memory several decades after reading the novel. In reality, however, Maartje Poole bore absolutely zero resemblance to our young German exchange student. Even the spelling was different!

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Book review: Thank You For Your Service

This sounds interesting.

Book of words

”   … except for one thing that he has told no one, a dream he has been having ever since:
Harrelson, on fire, asking him, “Why didn’t you save me?”
The dream comes every few nights. He never dreams about the soldiers he did save, only about Harrelson, and only in that way. For a while he could handle it, and then one day, he couldn’t.”

“Thank You For Your Service” is an incredible book by journalist David Finkel that pays homage to veterans who are neither decorated nor fallen, but rather an invisible group of men who have sacrificed for the nation and fallen through the cracks, such as Tausolo Aieti who is quoted above.

The main focus of Finkel’s documentation is about soldiers suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) and other psychological problems, which are the results of America’s participation in their two most…

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Beef & Books

Boys often make friends at school and on the sports fields. But as a female, I see through my husband’s eyes that finding and enjoying male friendships can get a little tricky to navigate in adulthood.

Along those lines, a guy named Phil Busse—who is the executive director of the Media Institute for Social Change and managing editor of an alternative weekly in Portland, Ore.—had the sense that male friendship should involve something beyond “just going out to bars or watching football and drinking beer.”

Phil decided about eight years ago to invite five of his friends to form a book group focused on reading books that would help them “become better men.” Each of the original guys invited one friend and the Beef & Books concept was born.

From the time they read their first book The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux, Busse says he knew that this group would evolve into a profound shared experience: “Right off the bat, one of the guys asked how many of us in the room still had their fathers, and this turned into an incredible discussion. It was serious, mature and meaningful.”

Once a month, the group convenes over a dinner that is usually orchestrated to coincide with some theme involving the book. For example, the guys met at an Indian restaurant during the month when they read White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

Busse says one of their most memorable experiences came when they read The Brothers K by David James Duncan. This lengthy novel is set in Oregon in the 1950s, so the Beef & Books men set off in canoes last summer on a camping adventure to see some of the sites described in the story.

Last year, after reading The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking by Brendan Koerner, the group sponsored a reading by the author. Because they opened they event to the public, spouses were permitted to attend in a rare relaxation of the rules.

In the years since they have been meeting, the group has read more than 150 books together. Some members have married and several become parents. “Even though reading is such a solitary activity, there is this nice connection when you know that these other guys are sharing the experience with you,” Busse says.

Other Beef & Books selections have included JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, which they enjoyed revisiting as adults, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell and The Circle by Dave Eggers.

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