Tag Archives: books

Raw and Wriggling

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When I was little I stumbled across a book in our school library called “How to Eat Fried Worms” by Thomas Rockwell. How could I resist a title like that? I took it home and devoured it (metaphorically speaking) in a single afternoon, wincing in delighted disgust at the account of Billy’s bizarre gastronomical odyssey as he ate his way through fifteen worms in fifteen days to meet the terms of a hideous bet.

I hadn’t thought of that book in years, until this weekend.

Katie ate a worm. On purpose. Actually, she ate several, live and wriggling, while I watched with the same revolted fascination I had previously reserved for Billy.

After all, this is the girl who won’t eat a banana if it has even a single speck of brown on the peel, who inspects each and every french fry for irregularities before consuming it, who meticulously picks every last unacceptable green pea out of the stir fry before eating it. Worms? Really?

We were visiting Paul’s Grandpa and Grandma on Saturday, playing in the yard, and I was picking late cherries off of the cherry trees to nosh on while I read my book. They were delicious. I ate a handful before Grandpa appeared to make sure I knew that they were wormy. “Wormy?” I repeated, as the juice dripped down my chin. Grandpa split open a cherry and shoved aside the pit to show me the tiny white worm swimming around in the sticky pulp.

I stopped chewing.

“It’s no big deal,” Grandpa explained, seeing my expression. He flicked the worm away with one practiced fingernail and thumbed the cherry into his mouth. “We don’t spray the trees with pesticides because we don’t want to poison the birds. You just take out the worms and they taste fine.”

I believed him, I really did, but the mental hurdle proved too high for me to overcome. I’d lost my taste for the cherries, probably due to the disturbing knowledge that I’d already eaten six or eight of the little white worms without realizing it.

Katie was listening to all this with undisguised wonder. She popped open a cherry to see the critter for herself.

“Mom, is eating worms bad for you?”

“No.”

“They won’t hurt you?”

“No. They’re just a little extra protein, that’s all.”

And before I knew it, she had picked up one of the crawlies and swallowed it down, a thoughtful look on her face, an astonished one on mine.

“Not bad,” she said.

I gaped.

“Tastes sort of sweet,” she said.

I goggled.

“Is it okay if I eat another one?” she asked.

I nodded weakly.

Frankly, I’m still amazed. And a little repulsed. However, I just realized that The Worm Incident has given me new ammunition in the ongoing battle to get my picky eater to try new foods. After all, once you’ve had worm, what could possibly be left on the yucky list?

A Word on Words

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I’ve always been a reader.

As a child, I used to stay up late at night, long after goodnights had been exchanged, reading books in the dim triangle of light cast from the hallway outside my room. Finally my parents gave in to the inevitable and installed a little reading light on my bed, allowing me to spend many of the hours between dusk and dawn lost in the labyrinthine passages of my favorite fictional worlds.

In school, I read while I walked down the hallway, finding the choppy waters of narrative conflict a lot easier to navigate than the shark-infested seas of junior high. Many days I missed getting off at my bus stop because I had my nose deep in a novel, years and miles and adventurous lifetimes away from the prosaic details of rural transportation in the Georgia school system.

From my lofty perch atop a pile of books, I learned how different two points of view can be. I developed a bittersweet understanding of the refining power of suffering. I traveled–not just to other people’s countries, but in other people’s heads. I stepped into whole other lives, trying them on the way a child tries on costumes.

I have had a library card as long as I can remember, and I’m a regular visitor there even now, when reading for pleasure is a treat that many adults have left behind. Though my “habit” is under control (I haven’t missed a bus stop in years), there are still times when a book sweeps me up in its whirling embrace, a tornado of beautifully turned phrases and arresting plot development, only setting me down when the last page has been turned. Those sorts of books are always over too quickly.

Occasionally, a book comes along that makes me fall in love in the first ten pages. Quite apart from the plot or the characters, it throws its net over me, and I know in an instant that, whatever happens before I reach the end, I’m going to love this book.

It’s about the words. Oh, how I delight in words! And some authors just have a way with them, as if they’re painting a masterpiece, or composing an aria. They swirl them about and fling them into the air for the sheer joy of seeing them fall across the page, a beam of light illuminating a feeling or a thought that the rest of us instantly recognize, though we couldn’t have expressed it just so in a million years of trying. A lot of writers can tell a story, but only a few can sing one like that. It’s like the difference between a plain juice glass and an intricately scrolled wine goblet. They serve the same purpose, and they’re made out of the same thing, but one of them lifts the experience into a whole other realm.

Nicholas Sparks has always struck me like that.  And Robert James Waller.  And recently I discovered Leif Enger within his delicious feast of a novel, Peace Like a River.  Now I’m reading The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield, and only a few pages into it I’m getting that wonderful feeling again.

I know it’s a kind of jealousy, this intense admiration, but it’s not the kind that burns you up inside.  It’s the kind that makes you glad that the bar is set high, that there is such a thing as excellence in the world, because it gives you something to reach for, whether you touch it or not.

Meanwhile, there are the words.  What a gift.  I want to swim in them.

The Care & Keeping of You

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In the wake of our recent frank discussions about puberty and sex, I thought it was a good time to back up Katie’s accumulating store of knowledge with the written word. I found this book some time ago on Amazon and bookmarked it so I would remember it when the time came:


It’s a great book, very matter-of-fact and informative, full of useful information on personal hygiene, physical changes, and body image issues. There’s a great chapter on shopping for your first bra and another on what to do when you get your period. All of it is written in a comfortable, conversational tone designed to demystify the nebulous countryside that lies along the path between girlhood and womanhood.

I gave the book to Katie this afternoon after school, with encouragement to come to me if she had any questions. She disappeared inside it for a couple of hours when her homework was done, and every time I sneaked a peek over at her, she was wearing the same look of rapt concentration. A good sign, I think. No questions yet, but I think I’m ready for them, and I’ve got Google on standby just in case I get stumped.

Thinking back on my own turbulent adolescence, and the scant two years or so I have before Katie meets hormones for real, I only have one question: where’s my book? You know, the one called How To Survive the Preteen and Teenage Years and Still Be On Speaking Terms With Your Kids When They’re Over. I’ve been all over Amazon and I can’t find it anywhere. And I’m getting just a little nervous.

Lost in a Good Book

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“Oh, for a book and a cozy nook! And oh, for a quiet hour!”
–anonymous

Our town just got a brand new public library.

The ribbon cutting ceremony was Sunday, and yesterday I took Katie and Caleb to see it for the first time. It is truly beautiful.

The building’s style is hard to define, a seamless blend of modern and classic elements with a unique Northwest flavor. High ceilings and sleek architectural lines draw the eye to a soaring kinetic sculpture suspended over the spacious lobby. A whimsical set of giant, moose-shaped bookends welcome you through the front doors, and walking down the broad, sweeping staircase to the children’s section on the lower level feels like an event. The entire structure is covered in tall windows, flooding both floors with natural light and affording an amazing view of the lake and the mountains for which North Idaho is famous. Large, tiled fireplaces appear at intervals along the upper level, and here and there overstuffed chairs beckon to readers, inviting them to sink in and spend a few hours between the pages of a book.

I can’t tell you how excited I am to live in a community that believes in the importance of its library. Think of it: each and every citizen of Coeur d’Alene, whatever their age or income or background, can step through those grand doors into a world of words and pictures, of fact and fantasy, of information and imagination. They can look out at the view, use the computer, take in an art exhibit, or check out a book or a movie or a CD.

It’s not just a library; it’s a portal.

One of my earliest childhood memories is of visiting the library in the small Michigan town where we lived until I was six. It was a brick building in the main square that looked like it might have been a church at one time. What I remember most is tiptoeing down the narrow staircase to the children’s section in the basement. Someone had installed a small door at the bottom of the stairs, like a hobbit door, and every time I stepped through it, I felt like I was entering a land made just for me, where children ruled, and everything was my size. The chairs were little, the tables were little, and the shelves were short enough for me to reach every book. Someone had painted a mural across the walls, and big, fluffy rugs and soft cushions were piled up everywhere. I used to lose track of time taking book after book off the shelves and settling down in a pillow nest to read.

Going to the library was a treat then, and it’s a treat now. It was such a joy yesterday to see my children running up and down the aisles, discovering new books and clambering up into my lap to ask me to read to them. And I can’t wait to come back by myself sometime to sit in one of those cozy armchairs by the fire, maybe while the snow falls softly outside, and lose myself once again in a good book.

(*photos not mine. 1st photo is from CDA Library website, 2nd is by Family Phil, and last one is by Rocketsbrain.)

It Had to End Sometime

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Well, I finished it. And I don’t think it will spoil any of the plot if I confess to you that my rapt adoration of Neville Longbottom continues unabated.

In case you haven’t realized it, I am talking (as is almost everyone around me) about the long awaited Book 7 of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Paul and I are big fans.

We bought the book early on Saturday morning at Target (where he had long ago reserved me a copy as a surprise), and we spent the morning reading it aloud to each other, taking turns with the chapters. Lying on the couch with my head back, listening to Paul’s voice weave the words of the story before my mind’s eye, I remembered again the childhood joy of having books read aloud. It was fun, experiencing the twists of the plot together and stopping every now and then to discuss our new theories or to gasp over some shock. After about 130 pages, we put the book aside to take the kids to the mall, and when we returned, I picked it up again and continued reading, solo. I finished at about eleven o’clock last night, totally spent.

Now it is Paul’s turn, and even as I type this, he’s curled up reading in bed. With every swish of a turned page, I wonder what part he is up to now, and mentally I urge him to hurry, keen to have someone with whom to share all the chuckles and exclamations and tears I held back as I was reading, trying not to ruin the ending for him.

Nor will I ruin it for you.

Instead, I’ll tell you about the fun I had Friday night, when I showed up at Hastings’ Harry Potter Launch Party to take in the sights with my friends Marci and Amelia (a.k.a. Luna Lovegood—note The Quibbler tucked under her arm.)

Butterbeer flowed freely, and boxes of Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans lined the store shelves, waiting for the brave-hearted, iron-stomached few. Everywhere you looked, children and adults in black robes and various magical accessories lined the aisles and flew haphazardly around the store, awaiting the chime of midnight and the chance to finally hold the last Harry Potter novel in their anxious hands.

Several celebrities attended. Harry himself was there, of course, although he kept changing sizes and ages and his scar itself seemed now made of silvery eyeshadow and now drawn on with a purple marker. I managed to snap a quick picture of him as he flew past.

Ron was also there, although his rat, Scabbers, had definitely seen better days. Apparently, someone had transfigured it into a rubber replica, and he was swinging it around in a most careless manner.

Characteristically, Hermione alone seemed to stand calmly on the sidelines, and very graciously allowed me to photograph her. I’m not sure why the photograph isn’t moving. Perhaps Canon hasn’t yet mastered the technology required for proper magical photos?

At any rate, the crowd was happily busy discussing their theories and questions as the minutes ticked away to the official release time. Who is R.A.B? Is Harry going to die? Which side is Snape on? And now that J.K. Rowling has enough money to buy her own country, what will she name it?Speaking of questions, my friend Amelia—I mean…uhh…Luna—is very good at Harry Potter trivia, one of the contests being offered to those waiting in line. She won enough temporary tattoos of Harry’s famous lightning bolt scar to start her own Harry Potter impersonator school. I, however, missed four or five questions before Amelia took pity on me and just gave me one of her prizes to stop me trying again.

Though I left before the magic moment (planning to buy my book later, remember), I’m so glad I was there to witness the glorious hubbub. It was entertaining to take part in such a landmark pop culture event, and to pause for a moment to celebrate the skills of an author whose fantasy world drew so many back to the joy of reading for pleasure.

Even if it did turn out that Darth Vader was Harry’s father all along.

The Full Brontë

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Mr. Rochester is a hard role for an actor to play. He must be, in equal parts, fearsome, winsome, tormented, provocative, intimidating and charming. The perfect Byronic hero, riddled with secrets and doubts, a living portrait of frustrated idealism.

If I may say so, Toby Stephens has proven himself up to the task.

This week we watched the most beautiful movie version of Jane Eyre I’ve ever seen. It was a BBC production starring not only Toby Stephens as the enigmatic Mr. Rochester, but Ruth Wilson as a richly nuanced Jane. Her performance really captured Jane’s moral courage, her passionate nature, and her evolution from an intimidated child to a confident and empowered woman.

“They spoke almost as loud as Feeling: and that clamoured wildly. ‘Oh, comply!’ it said. ‘. . . soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for you? or who will be injured by what you do?’

Still indomitable was the reply: ‘I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation . . . They have a worth—so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane—quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs.”

Is it any wonder that I’m feeling so swoon-y lately?