In keeping with my read-a-book a week plan, I finished In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death & The World It Made by Norman F. Cantor. I started this last week and finished last night. A historical look at how the bubonic plague, or black death, affected and changed the medieval world, paving the way for the Renaissance, this book answers some of the lesser known plague questions and brings forth different theories on the biological origins of diseases.

The low, middle and high ages of Medieval period is thoroughly presented in this readable history.Tracing the dissemination and path of the plague and anthrax, its possible relative disease, as of the worst outbreaks of illness occurring in the middle ages, statistics come alive by relating the disease progression to real persons of the time, including the Plantagenet family, Princess Joan, King Edwards II and III, King Alfonso of Castile, and others, as well as the lives of peasants and serfs, and people in the religious orders and within the abbeys.  With the focus on the late 1340’s, the author traces the decades and centuries before and after this time period so readers will gain a better understanding of life before the plague and the affects after the plague.

Recommended for history and plague devotees; complete with index, bibliography, and illustrations.

If you’re interested in the bubonic plague, you might enjoy modern fiction such as The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis and Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks.

This week, I’m looking forward to reading Sightings: Extraordinary Encounters with Ordinary Birds by Sam Keen and Mary Woodin.  If that goes well, I will finish reading A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold.

One recommendation for the read-a-book a week plan, turn off the TV and read a few pages from a book instead. You’ll feel better, your mind will thank you, and you will cherish the quiet around you. I’m going on something like year 7 or 8 without a TV and I haven’t missed it at all. The opportunity of time to read, write, listen to and play music, and create arts and crafts are all gained by not watching TV.

Happy Reading!

Book Suggestions….

I love receiving book suggestions from friends, family, and even perfect strangers. There’s great serendipity in discussing books and reading material, because you never know what suggestions you’ll here. Of course, there’s always a lot of marketing buzz with new releases and popular authors, but it’s great to revisit the classics and forgotten gems.

Here’s a list of reading suggestions from friends:

  • Midwives by Christopher Bohjalian
  • Diana Gabaldon series…latest book is “Echo in the Bones
  • The Karen Harper Elizabeth I series
  • Jasper Fforde– the Thursday Next series and  Nursery Crimes is also good.
    If you haven’t read The Eyre Affair, stop what you are doing right now and get it!
  • House and Philosophy– Various Ed by William Irwin
  • Another good one is  The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold
  • When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka
  • Sandra Dallas Books including Tall Grass and Prayers for Sale
  • C.J. Box Joe Pickett series

Help me populate this list and send me your suggestions! I’m on the ReBooWee (Read a Book a Week) plan and I need your help to get my weekly quota of a book a week. I am considering doing this all year from December 1, 2009 to January 1, 2010. Help me out folks…. post your comments or send an email to greycatblog[at]gmail.com. Thanks!

I woke up this morning asking, “Why read?” and “Why do I like to read?” I started ticking of the reasons in my head and wanted to share them here. While there is much written about the merits of reading and importance of literacy on the academic and scholarly sides, I have my own personal reasons for why reading is so important.

So, Why Read? Here are my top 10 reasons:

1. Reading lets the imagination soar and creativity flourish. Stories come alive inside your head after reading a book, whether fiction or nonfiction.

2. Reading lets one escape the everyday problems and dramas. Reading can be a form of relaxation and escapism.

3. Reading isn’t always relaxing though. Some books will make the heart beat faster (passion, romance, fear, war, traumas, etc). But, reading is entertaining and has the ability to evoke all kinds of emotions.

4. Reading can be meditative and be beneficial for self-help and healing purposes.

5. Reading can be like therapy. There’s a whole field in bibliotherapy, the use of books and reading for personal growth, work and healing. For me, reading is therapy. When I have sadness or loneliness, I can always pick up a book and be relieved of mental anguish.

6. Reading allows the mind to flourish, brain cells to multiply, and the learning centers to strengthen. My brain just feels good after reading, especially after reading something that is educational or helps to increase my own personal knowledge. Isn’t it amazing to feel the brain stretch after reading and contemplating something outside of your normal span?

7. Reading is portable and flexible. You can take reading material wherever you go, no matter what form, newspaper, magazine, book, e-reader like the Kindle, audiobooks, and more.

8. Reading opens the doors to writing and the world of language. Words are a beautiful thing, can be so powerful, and can also be used for good or harm. Reading is historic and an historic act. From stone tablets to papyrus, to books to digital formats, reading has been with humanity for centuries.

9. Reading can be accomplished at any age, from the very young to the very old. For that reason, reading is like a best friend for life. Reading is with you anytime, all the time. There is nothing more touching that the act of sharing a book and reading a story to loved ones. Seeing children read with parents, grandparents, relatives or caretakers always warms my heart. To share a story with another person is sharing a gift. To see a child’s eyes widen in delight with a fantastic story or to watch a child learn for form letters and begin to read is like seeing humanity’s progress through the ages. For this reason, we must keep literacy, reading, and writing alive in our schools and within our families.

10. Reading is a gift, a renewable gift that can keep on giving. Reading brings people together. Reading enable learning and knowledge. Reading is a window into the vast world of information. Reading brings the past alive and colors the future ahead. Reading expands the horizons and allows for self-exploration and growth. Reading lets one travel the world in an armchair. Reading takes one places both imaginable and unimaginable. Reading is a door to understanding people and the world. Reading crosses geographical and social boundaries. Reading helps foster empathy, compassion and understanding. Reading can be a way towards peace and better communication. Reading is a multifaceted gift.

What are your top reasons for why reading matters? Post your thoughts on this blog or send me an email at greycatblog[at]gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Other essays and articles to ponder on why reading matters:

Join in on the ReBooWee movment and read a book a week! As ever, Happy Reading!

Read a Book a Week

I subscribe to The Writing Bug updates by Kerrie Flanagan of the Northern Colorado Writer’s Association and she has come up with a great idea: ReBooWee or Read A Book A Week for the months of December and January. I will be a proud participant of this movement and think I’ve been reading 1-2 books a week for at least the last 5 years. This week, I’m reading In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World it Made by Norman Cantor. When I finish this, I plan to finish reading The Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold and also start The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle.  Last week, I read Sunk Without a Sound by Brad Dimock and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Every week, I read through my birding and nature books. Since I’m currently on a short birding trip in South TX, I’m reading my birding books every day. I’m still compiling books on history for the coming winter months too as there’s nothing better than studying up on history during the long dark months of winter. Making book lists is a lot like making your Christmas list for Santa, only better, because a book list and reading accomplishments can be checked off all year long. Happy Reading!Read a Book a Week

ps. Have you read a great book recently? Tell me about it – Submit your comments on this blog or send me an email at greycatblog[at]gmail.com

I have always been a history buff and enjoyed reading history books, taking history classes, and watching historical movies and documentaries. My interest in history has been renewed even more of late, for a couple of reasons:

1. Knowing our history helps the present and future to make wise decisions.

2. Everything is connected. Knowing the forces at work in the past help to make the connections and close the missing gaps in time.

3. Inquisitive minds want to know…. I want to know what my ancestors did before me and how they did it. When you stop and think how relatively recent the Industrial Revolution began, it’s shocking to see how far we’ve come and to realize there’s so much more ahead.

4. I also am fascinated by early pioneers and homesteaders and am particularly interested in ranch history and history of the west. The will power, stamina, survival, strength and courage of early ancestors is particularly appealing, as life then was different and their hardships were of a different breed.

5. Along with that, I am interested in food history, including knowing how the people of the past gathered, harvested and cultivated all their food sources.

6. I just finished reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy and that has compelled me to think and philosophize more about the history as we continue on into the future. The Road brought about many challenging emotions for me and I am still dealing with the elements of desolation, fear, and gleams of hope that this book contained. Extremely well written, it felt like the story was in my head, running through my thoughts, and in my dreams. Were their dreams my dreams? Anyway, this book compelled me to know the world’s history and the lives of people – both famous and ordinary – just a little better.

I am planning to compile a list of books for world history, Medieval history, Renaissance history, US history, history of the west, and food and herbal histories.  This list will make up the bulk of my winter reading this year. Feel free to post title suggestions on this blog and help me and others learn. Thanks!

Recent Read:
Sunk Without a Sound: The Tragic Honeymoon of Glen and Bessie Hyde
by Brad Dimock (Fretwater Press, 2001); Winner of National Outdoor Book Award (2001)

Several weeks ago, I was in Bryce Canyon National Park and visited the historic Ruby’s Inn just outside of the Park boundary. Ruby’s Inn has it all – quite a spread – of cabins, hotels, motels, shops, auto garage, camping, trails, and all kinds of amenities. Even a bookshop! (No library as far as I could tell though!) The gift shop there has a nice selection of books and of course, I had to peer at all the titles. One in particular caught my eye, Sunk Without a Sound: The Tragic Honeymoon of Glen and Bessie Hyde by Brad Dimock (Fretwater Press, 2001). This is the fascinating story of Glen and Bessie Hyde who, on their honeymoon, decided to embark on an adventure on the Colorado River in a sweepboat aka scow. The year was 1928, before the River was dammed at Lake Mead (construction began on Hoover Dam in 1931) and at Lake Powell (construction began on Glen Canyon Dam in 1956)  and they put in at Green River, UT to float through Cataract Canyon and then into the Grand Canyon, only be lost forever lost to the world after a month into their trip. At the time of their trip, the Colorado River and its canyon walls were beginning to be explored more, with adventurers relying on information gathered through Major John Wesley Powell’s trip on the Colorado River in 1869.

The book is very well written by expert boatman Brad Dimock, who with his wife, recounted their own trip in a scow boat down the Colorado River, tracing the path and steps of Glen and Bessie Hyde. In this biographical adventure book, that is well-researched, and filled with historic photographs of the couple, also including the couple’s family histories and genealogy, and the Colorado River as well as other historic river runners. Perhaps most interesting were the notes from Bessie’s own river journal, which was recovered from their belongings left in the boat along the River. The book also includes her poignantly melancholy poetry throughout. The fate of Glen and Bessie Hyde may never be known, their lives and deaths swallowed by the great river, but author Brad Dimock examined the history, the stories and claims of others to be Bessie and Glen, and the scow boat intricacies, the river, the geography and canyon walls itself, to form a hypothesis about the couple’s ultimate end. There are several theories out there, some may be perpetuated as urban legends. Bessie seems to hold particular fascination with the stories and there are variations on a theme with her demise.

This fascinating book also walks through some of the early history of the Grand Canyon National Park, the early boatmen and traces the water levels and changes and how that is reflected on the river journeys. I had a sense of Glen and Bessie’s epic, thrilling, adventurous, and adrenaline-driven trip. I had a sense of the fall temperatures, moving into the cold winter weather of November and December, the snow that fell and the ice that formed. I had a picture of Bessie’s petite strength, her bravery and courage to face that gigantic river, as one of the first woman to float the River, and the only woman at that time to float the great River in a scow boat.

If this book is of interest, you may also enjoy Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon by Michael Patrick Ghiglieri; Down the Great Unknown: John Wesley Powell’s 1869 Journey of Discovery and Tragedy through the Grand Canyon by Edward Dolnick; Everett Ruess: A Vagabond for Beauty by W. L. Rusho, Vicky Burgess, and John Nichols; Vanished!: Explorers Forever Lost by Evan L. Balkan; and The Last Season by Eric Blehm. See more titles for reading ideas at Fretwater Press.

Last Sunday, I enjoyed visiting the CSU Libraries and wandering the stacks for a few titles that I was seeking for a writing project. I also love browsing the stacks and found myself in the Current Aware section on the 3rd floor. I was looking for travel books, particularly on Iceland (a future post coming; please send me any book titles on Iceland trekking and travel) and then scooted over to the fiction and literature area and just browsed. I was about to give up, not finding a title that interested me, when I saw the spine for The Glass Harmonica by Louise Marley. I read the synopsis, a dual story set in the past and the future, with the central theme as the music of the glass harmonica, and a subplot of medicine and music therapy. I was hooked, checked out the book and started reading it Sunday night. I just finished the book and have chills!  This was a fascinating and lovely book! I also just bought an MP3 album of the Music for Glass Harmonica.

The Glass Harmonica was a perfect follow-up to the last book I read, Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry, which had similar themes: lead characters were twins, love story, the arts, set in dual locations with London as a shared location; and both books were historical and educational novels.

Not knowing much about the glass harmonica, I am now completely fascinated, both by the history of the instrument, the sounds it is capable of, and the possibilities of new music with the preservation of old music for this instrument. The book explored the old music for the Glass Harmonica, particularly Celtic music of the 1600’s-1700’s and also moved into the Baroque period with Bach, Haydn and Handel. The book held the themes of music history, music education, music neurology and medical applications, and music therapy, all wrapped around a novel with an ending that made my heart smile. For a visual and auditory tour of the glass harmonica visit The Glass Armonica page and be sure to see the videos.

The author has several other books and also a nice question & answer section on her website. She is a musician and writer and her genre is science fiction. I’m planning to read more by Louise Marley as her formula of music and science fiction is one of my ideal genres.  It feels like opening a present when you find an author that speaks to your soul! Happy Reading!

If you read my last post, you know that I’m pondering what to read next…. I just read a great quote that has inspired me to read Wendell Berry’s books. Here’s the quote:

“A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness
of the lives and the world from which the food comes.”
~Wendell Berry

The quote was included as a food-for-thought in a newsletter from the CSA I’m a member of (Grant Family Farms in Northern CO). I’ve been wanting to read Wendell Berry’s books for quite a while now.  Here are a couple of the titles I’m planning to read in the coming months:

  • Bringing It to the Table: On Farming and Food by Wendell Berry and Michael Pollan (Paperback – Aug 18, 2009)    [Side Note: Wow, A book written by both Wendell Berry AND Michael Pollan, one of my other favorite authors?! I’m excited… this should be a very good read.)

This list should keep me going for a little while, don’t you think? Happy Reading and Be Bold – Support your local economies and your local farmers. Seek out the winter farmer’s markets and start counting the days until spring planting. I can’t wait to get my garden going next year!

Every time I read fiction lately, I very quickly consume the book and read like there’s no tomorrow! Just like The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger’s recent release Her Fearful Symmetry is a book that is hard to put down. You have to finish it to know how she ended the story, and the ending is not what I expected or anticipated and potentially leaves room for a future sequel…

This is a ghost story set in modern day, between Chicago and London, with the plots of two sets of twins, dying and death, love stories (think along the lines of the Princess Bride and ‘twue yuv’), and somewhat abstract relationships, all blended with erudites, scholars, history, cemetery lore, and is essentially a literary tour with the beauty of different languages and communication thrown in for good measure. All in all, this novel was a highly entertaining read with the benefit of becoming educated about Highgate Cemetery (a Victorian cemetery of importance), and some of London’s rich history.

The author’s characters are truly fascinating and the imagination behind the story and each character is beyond creative… it is almost like a break in the psyche and a glimpse into other possible worlds. That’s also what I enjoyed so much in the author’s first major novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife, which has also now been made into a movie. The reader can lose themselves in the authors characters. That’s partly why it’s so easy to be consumed by her stories; the vicariousness of the characters lives almost has that ability to allow the reader to become part of the story; or perhaps that is just up to the reader of how much they allow themselves to get involved emotionally in the story with the attachments and detachments, the sadness and angst, the ethereal hopefulness and ultimately, the  melancholy happiness of one of the characters. In fact, I had a strong emotional reaction after reading just the first few pages and I knew I was hooked into the book. Kudos to the author for developing a more-than-compelling start of the story which kept me reading ahead to find out what would happen next. The author gave little clues and insights along the way too and it was enjoyable to imagine where the author was taking the story next. This is exactly the kind of novel I would like to write, if I ever write a novel. In fact, when I was a little less than halfway through, I thought (in an admiring way) that the book was a little like a grown-ups version of a Nancy Drew story, with a nice mystery and some of the supernatural thrown in. (I was totally addicted to Nancy Drew from ages 10-13 and during every break from school, I would inhale dozens of Nancy Drew books. The best Christmas present ever was when I received a whole set of Nancy Drew mysteries. I sat in my little bean bag chair drinking cocoa and eating Christmas candies, reading for hours upon hours of uninterrupted bliss. Good times!)

The author has an interesting bio on her website and is also a visual artist, trained at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, one of my all-time favorite museums, full of inspirations and trepidations alike, another opportunity to lose oneself through admiring works of others.

I’m trying to decide what to read next… I should either read about food and cooking, sustainability, a memoir or biography, or about Iceland. Any recommendations? Feel free to post your book ideas! I’m also going to try out one of the online paperback exchange centers, like PaperBackSwap. Off to read, write, and research while my brain musters some creative and artistic ideas. Happy Reading out there!

Keeping with my wildlife and animal theme of reading lately, I just finished Life List: A Woman’s Quest for the World’s Most Amazing Birds by Olivia Gentile (Bloomsbury, 2009). This is a fantastic book that examines the life of Phoebe Snetsinger, a competitive top-listing birder who tragically passed away in 1999 at the age of 68, after enduring cancer years before.

Olivia gives a thorough picture of Phoebe’s life in birding. I actually found myself living-through-reading the more traumatic and thrilling moments of Phoebe’s experiences, thanks to Olivia’s keen details. Olivia’s journalistic style also presents the facts as she discovered and learned them, but Olivia also gives her readers a sense of the emotions and psychology behind the decisions of Phoebe and in her world birding trips. Phoebe had to enjoy the thrill from the travel she did to remote places and must have had a great sense of accomplishment with just the physical efforts she went through to see fantastic birds in the rough and rugged areas she went.

A couple of notes:

First, you have to visit Olivia Gentile’s website for a visual treat!

Second, you need to at least look through this book for its beautiful illustrations throughout, by Rebecca Layton.

Third, Phoebe Snetsinger wrote her autobiography, Birding on Borrowed Time, published by the American Birding Association in 2003.

Fourth, I found a new book I will be studying, Brushed by Feathers: A Year of Birdwatching in the West by Frances L. Wood (Fulcrum Publishing, 2004), given that I spend so much time in the west, in the outdoors, and have been informally birding for several years now.

Fifth, I don’t have my own life list yet, but will be working on that.

Sixth, this book made me feel okay about OCD tendencies and I plan to keep several types of life lists (birds as mentioned above, hikes & trails, peaks, books, maybe others).

Seventh, because I hear birds better than I see them, I need to learn bird calls. and plan to do so thanks to the All About Birds site from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Eighth, birds are fascinating and I want to know more. I heard a bird today that I have never heard before. It’s a major thrill to finally learn to know what you’re hearing and/or seeing.  Birding is a bit like genealogy – you have a generally point of reference and then you sometimes have to work backwards or forwards to find the accurate answer. It’s great for researchers who delight in this form of private investigation.

Ninth, reading Life List has been beneficial to read to better understand more about the past, present and future generations, and even comparing Phoebe’s life path to her children’s and their opportunities. This made me think also about the opportunities in education that I’ve had compared to what my grandparents had. Phoebe was a brilliant woman whose mind was somewhat suppressed and it was a like a dam bursting forth when she had the opportunity to seize birding and her passion for the rest of her life. She was a passionate woman and just needed to find the right passion.

Tenth, seize the moment, learn something new everyday, and live within balance of your pursuits and passions.

Happy Reading, Birding, and Nature Watching!