Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#27: Christmas with Holly (Lisa Kleypas)

After reading a ginormous novel like Gone with the Wind, I needed some fluff. I was ready to read something simple and charming with a bit of sappy romance. Nothing explicit….no 50 Shades here….just a simple story of courtship. What I found was Christmas with Holly. It’s not high literature, but I must admit that it was actually a fun read.

Holly is a little girl whose mother was tragically killed in a car accident. She is now cared for by her Uncles Mark and Sam, two bachelors living on the islands outside of Seattle. Since the accident, Holly has not spoken to anyone. Everything changes when Mark takes Holly to a toy store on the island and they meet Maggie, the shop owner. As if by magic, Holly begins to speak and Mark begins to fall in love. Maggie is a bit of a tragic figure herself. She lost her first husband nearly two years ago to cancer and is trying to figure out what the rest of her life will look like without the man she loved.

Set against the charming scenery of Friday Harbor, Washington, Christmas with Holly is filled with wit and humor while warming the heart with its authentic characters and heart-warming story. I was especially pleased that the requisite “love scene” doesn’t occur until the very end of the novel and was handled with dignity and none of the graphic language that could easily slip in. Looking to be transported for a few days in the busy Christmas season and captivated by a neat love story? Consider checking out Christmas with Holly.

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#26: Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell)

Thanksgiving 2012 was a monumental day in my reading life. It took me nearly 4 months to complete its 959 pages, but last night I finally finished reading Gone with the Wind for the first time. I’m proud of the accomplishment and feel as though I have completed something significant. I can’t say that I held the same feelings throughout the experience though.

My journey with GWTW began this summer when a challenge was issued by a blog that I follow to read the novel in honor of Mitchell’s birthday celebration that happened earlier this month. Knowing that I tend to be a slow reader, I decided to start the novel ahead of schedule. I picked up the 75th anniversary edition while on vacation with my parents in Charleston, South Carolina in July. That trip shaped my initial experience with the novel.

While in Charleston, Mom and I visited Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, a beautiful house that served as my mental image of Tara. There was something magical about reading Mitchell’s eloquent depiction of the old South while visiting this grand city. I was mesmerized and enchanted by the characters that sprang to life in the first 200 pages of the novel.

As Mitchell’s war broke out, I found myself in my own personal war zone: the beginning of a new semester of teaching. Schedules became more busy and responsibilities piled up. My time for relaxed reading was a thing of the past. I found myself trudging through the novel and becoming annoyed with Scarlett, Rhett, and Ashley. Were these characters really so naive? Was there truly nothing more important to consider while a war was raging and people were dying?

As the mid-point of the semester rolled around, vacation time was on the horizon and I looked forward to getting to do some more reading. By this point, I was so tired of Scarlett’s whining that I simply couldn’t “listen” to it for another moment. I took a break from the saga and reveled in other books. The distraction was welcome and a healthy choice for me. As I finished these diversionary books, I found myself longing to return to the tale that Mitchell was skillfully crafting.

Thanksgiving week brought just the change of pace that I needed to plow through the novel to the end. I was surprised to find that I couldn’t put the novel down when I reached the last 150 pages or so. Perhaps the reason for my excitement was realizing that the end was in sight, I thought. As I pushed ahead, I realized that the story’s unexpected twists and turns (especially the deaths of Bonnie and Melly) caught my attention and pulled at my heart-strings. I was hooked and anxious to see the effect these tragic events would have upon Scarlett, Rhett, and Ashley. With baited breath, I looked forward to Rhett’s memorable “I don’t give a damn” just before the novel’s conclusion. I especially appreciated that Mitchell didn’t attempt to tie everything up into a neat package and bring the story to a decisive ending.

I think I understand why Gone with the Wind is considered a classic. The opening and closing sections are wonderful examples of quality prose. The 450 pages in the middle simply pull us along. By the time we reach this less-than-perfect portion of the novel, we are so invested in the lives of the characters that we simply must know how the story ends. Despite its faults (including the depictions of slavery and the KKK), the beauty of the work is its powerfully effective treatment of war as both a national and personal tragedy.

I made a visit to my local Barnes & Noble this afternoon to purchase the film version of Gone with the Wind (which I have never seen). I look forward to revisiting Tara and seeing Mitchell’s famous lovers brought to life on the silver screen.

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#25: An Invisible Thread (Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski)

Normally I don’t read very many memoirs. They always leave me with a saccharine sweet aftertaste that I don’t enjoy. If not overly sweet, I am left feeling depressed that I haven’t achieved more in my own life. Since I love kids so much, the caption on the cover of the book had me from the beginning:  “The true story of an 11-year-old panhandler, a busy sales executive, and an unlikely meeting with destiny.”

This New York Times Bestseller is a touching, moving story. As I read, I found myself laughing with Maurice’s naiveté and crying with Maurice and Laurie as they shared their individual stories of abuse.  What I expected to find in the book was a charming story of two unlikely individuals forming a great friendship…..and that was certainly there.  What I also found — much to my delight — was a insightful look into the meanings of home, love, and significance.  This beautiful book will certainly hold a treasured place on my bookshelf for many years to come.

As I reminisced over the book’s many scenes and tried to determine how to best describe it to my dear readers, I found myself returning to Maurice’s letter at the end of the work.  I think there is no better description of the book that this:

I know An Invisible Thread is about an unusual friendship between two different people, but I think it is about much more than that.  It is about a mother longing for a child and a child longing for a mother.  That longing had nothing to do with umbilical cords or DNA.  It had to do with two people who needed each other and who were destined to meet on the corner of 56th Street and Broadway.  Every Monday, that mother got to know her son, and that son learned about his mother.

And on those Mondays their hearts were sewn together with an invisible thread. (p. 231)

I think this would be a wonderful selection for any reading group as well as high school class.  The prose is easily accessible without watering down the complex issues explored in its pages.

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#24: Home (Toni Morrison)

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I have been a fan of Toni Morrison’s work since first reading Beloved in college. I have read almost everything she has written (Song of Solomon is still unread after several attempts) and I always thrill when I see a new work of hers on the shelf. A few weeks ago I was blowing time in the bookstore when I saw Home sitting on the shelf. With a flight coming up in a few days, I knew this novel would be a part of the journey.

Home is the story of a veteran of the Korean War who makes his way home to care for his sister who is being abused in a medical facility. The plot seems simple enough; the novel is thrilling because of the deep characters introduced throughout and Morrison’s ability to effortlessly weave an enthralling story.

Home becomes much more than just a journey to a location. It is a return to family, memories, and roots.  I suppose that is partly why the novel resonated with me. I have returned to the home of my childhood. I despise the town that I live in. I am not fond of my current living situation. Despite it all, I treasure the people and memories that make up my Home. After all, Home is what makes me who I am…..similar to the concept so beautifully described in Morrison’s latest novel.

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