Unlocking the World

I ran across the featured picture while I was looking for something else. The quilt in the photo was one of my very first attempts at applique and patchwork years ago. I don’t name all my quilts, but I named this one “Reading Unlocks the World”.

How true that is. I grew up an ordinary kid in an ordinary suburb of Boise, Idaho. When my family traveled, we went one place–to Sacramento to visit relatives. My world was quite small.

Reading indeed unlocked the world for me and allowed me to travel far and wide.

As a youngster I traveled to the Land of Oz, visited a little girl and her grandfather in a small cabin in the Swiss Alps, and trekked along the Oregon Trail.

I met movie stars, Presidents, sports heroes, and Helen Keller. I also met ordinary kids like myself, who taught me how to navigate my growing world.

The adventures have continued throughout my reading life. I cannot imagine a life without reading.

This snowy spring day, I have begun a new journey into the life of Albert Schweitzer via his autobiography, Out of My Life and Thought. I have read many biographies over the years. Somehow I missed this one  until now.

Enjoy your Free-Reading Friday!

In Search of Fern

The other day I woke up crabby. It happens. Once dressed, I headed to the kitchen for some breakfast. The kitchen was not a sight for crabby eyes. A soup pan was soaking in the sink. A dish of old meat sat on the counter, having been taken out of the refrigerator to make room for last night’s soup. The counter had not been wiped down. You get the picture. Shoot. I would have to clean up before getting breakfast.

“Feerrrrrnnnn!” My mind screamed at the most logical culprit.

It’s funny. I had not thought of Fern in years. She has no last name, no face; I don’t know where she came from. She’s been in the family for generations. Fern is the imaginary maid who has served (or not) in the households of my mother and her sisters. I have inherited her.

Of course, Fern doesn’t actually do any house work; but she’s the closest thing to a maid I’ll ever have.

After breakfast, I took up the mop and a bucket of water to face the kitchen floor. “Where the heck is Fern?” I wondered. “She must be hiding somewhere, eating chocolate and reading the latest romance novel.”

I sigh and think fondly of Fern. I dip the mop into the water and begin my task.

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Gaining New Perspective

Happy Free-Reading Friday! I hope you are enjoying new worlds through your reading. Today I’ve been visiting 1939 Warsaw via The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman.

This morning as I looked at my wall of books, wondering what to share with you, I thought about books that have changed my perspective on parts of the world I had not previously considered. There are many such titles, but these three stood out. They share a common theme: oppression. Each book opened my eyes to a bigger world than my own.

A Mountain of Crumbs by Elena Gorokhova gave a human perspective to life in the former Soviet Union. Growing up during the Cold War, I thought of the USSR only as a dark, military force to fear, which it was. The author grew up in the Soviet  Union during that time. Through her memoir I met real people who lived under a government so oppressive that people had to pretend everything was O.K. and normal. They did not dare to speak the truth.

Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi tells of the underground book club the author, a teacher in Tehran, hosted with several of her students, all women. They  met secretly in her home, and read and discussed forbidden Western classics. It was a dangerous time to do so, as Islamic fundamentalists ruled Iran at the time. I gained new perspective on life in Iran for women, as well as for intellectuals.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See is a novel about two girls who grow up as laotangs, or “old sames” in nineteenth-century China.  (The practice in China at the time was to match girls via a sort of matchmaker; they would be friends for life.) Because the girls live some distance apart, they communicate via letters written on a silk fan in a secret language women created to keep their writings secret from men. The novel enlightened me to the cruel, excruciating practice of foot binding. The author’s description of the practice was vivid and detailed. The narrator/protagonist saw it as something she must endure. “But we learned the most important lesson for all women: that we must obey for our own good.”

I hope you enjoy one or more of these books!

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Praying for the World

Donald Trump has the nuclear codes. Kim Jong Un has been launching test missiles. Neither man seems even remotely mentally stable.

I am old enough to remember the shadow of the Cold War. I was very young, so I did not understand; yet vivid memories of that time remain.

When a plane flew by overhead, I ducked.

I played school with the older girl next door. She pulled out a map of the world. The “lesson” was about Russia’s threat to bomb Moscow, Idaho, because Moscow stole the name of their city.

Such is the way children play out what they overhear adults say in hushed conversations, thinking the children won’t hear.

Now that I am old enough to understand, it’s much scarier this time.

I cannot begin to envision the annihilation of a nuclear war. One need only look back a few decades, though, to see the aftermath of only two bombs–the ones dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

So I am saying extra prayers these days for the world–for its safety, for its preservation, for the sanity of its leaders, for peace.

Lord, help us.

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Photo: public domain

…about Time

It’s been a difficult winter. Snow kept us housebound for a few weeks. A few other things happened that I won’t complain about here; it’s been one thing after another. Needless to say, I have spent the past two and a half months spinning my wheels and not accomplishing much. As the weather warms and spring nears, I am finally beginning to get busy and do some spring cleaning and work on other projects. I need to make up for lost time. Daylight Savings Time just robbed me of one more hour.

Since the switch to Daylight Savings Time on Sunday, I have spent the week convincing myself that it’s “really only ___ o’clock” even though the clock shows one hour later. I’ll adjust in a couple of weeks. This fall when we switch back to Standard Time, I’ll follow the opposite line of thinking.

Daylight Savings Time is something of an odd concept. I understand the desire to shift  daylight from the beginning of the day to the end; but why keep going back and forth? It doesn’t make much sense to me that we willingly throw everyone and everything off schedule twice a year, risking higher numbers of heart attacks and traffic accidents, just to have our daylight in the right place. Why don’t we just decide once and for all, and leave the time alone?

We live in a world in which people disagree on so much. We disagree on religion, how to govern, how to distribute wealth, how to insure the populace, how to educate our children, climate change and other science. Heck, we can’t even agree on who should use which bathroom.

Common wisdom tells us to look for what unifies us instead of dwelling on what divides us.

Time just may be the one thing we all agree on. After allowing for geography and time zones, nearly every member of the human race knows what time it is.

It’s five o’clock somewhere.

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Photo: http://www.bbc.co.uk/staticarchive/87b328f434a981fd34e6466c6054604327d740c0.jpg

The Pecan Man

Every now and then, a reader meets a book that bears rereading. I have found such a book in The Pecan Man by Cassie Dandridge Selleck.

The story is set in a small Florida town in the late 1970s. The “Pecan Man” is Eddie Mims, a homeless black man who is feared by everyone in the neighborhood. His life becomes intertwined with those of Ora Lee Beckwith, a middle-aged white woman, and her black maid Blanche, when a tragic crime happens to someone in Blanche’s family.

Ora Lee wants to go to the police, but Blanche will not hear of it. She believes her family will be at greater risk if the police hear of the matter. Ora Lee and Blanche agree to cover up the incident, a decision which leads to more tragedy and a great injustice.

Through the events that follow, Ora Lee, the narrator, learns lesson after lesson about the advantages and attitudes her white privilege has afforded her.

The Pecan Man is a quick and entertaining read. I found myself torn between reading to see what happened and stopping to think about a passage here and there. Reading straight through won this time, but I will read the book again. The Pecan Man would be a good discussion book.

Note to my English teacher friends: If you’re looking for new titles for the classroom, The Pecan Man is a good candidate.

Happy Free-Reading Friday!

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Photo credit: Public domain

 

Conflicted

Today is Read Across American Day in honor of the birthday of Dr. Seuss. Children in schools across America celebrate the day. Lunch rooms serve green eggs and ham, teachers wear crazy hats, and libraries hold special reading events.

This would have been Dr. Seuss’ 113th birthday. Children love his zany, colorful, rhyming stories. Not only are his books fun, they also contain many words of wisdom. There is no denying Dr. Seuss did much to promote reading among young children.

But during the 1940s, Theodore Geisel, a political cartoonist, drew and published some very offensive cartoons depicting the Japanese in a derogatory light. He also spoke of his support of Japanese-American Internment camps.

Learning that was like learning the Atticus Finch of Go Set a Watchman was not the Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird. I was crushed.

I was also angry. The internment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans, including my husband’s family, during World War II was one of the darkest episodes in the history of the United States. Theodore Geisel fanned the flames of racism.

So today, when we honor the man who gave children so much joy and did so much to promote reading, I am conflicted about honoring him.

The Dr. Seuss who helped children love reading does not seem to be the Theodore Geisel who drew racist cartoons. In fact, Horton Hears a Who was apparently written as an apology of sorts for his past views after he visited Japan and witnessed the devastating aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima.*

Over time, many of us evolve in our view of the world. I know I have evolved in many ways. Perhaps that is what happened with Theodore Geisel. I will work on forgiving him for his earlier views.

Although I remain conflicted, I honor the literary legacy of Dr. Seuss. To balance the message, I also pay tribute to the Japanese-Americans who were held prisoner by their government.

*http://www.openculture.com/2014/08/dr-seuss-draws-racist-anti-japanese-cartoons-during-ww-ii.html

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A few good children’s and young adult books.