Archive for the ‘Book Talk’ Category

Emily of New Moon opened with its heroine having her life pulled up by the roots – and Emily Starr is a particularly rooted character, one who forms deep attachments to both the people she lives with or near, but also to the places she lives.  When the trilogy begins, young Emily loses her beloved Father, and then her beloved home, in the span of just a few weeks.  Suddenly orphaned, she is sent to live with her Aunt Elizabeth, Aunt Laura, and Cousin Jimmy at New Moon Farm – a place she’s never heard of, let alone seen.

Eventually Emily’s grief at her father’s death loses some of its sharp edge, life holds some interest again (or tang, as Emily might say) and she begins to fall in love with New Moon.  She makes friends – wild Ilse Burnley, sweet Teddy Kent, and ambitious Perry Miller (oh, and that old creeper Dean Priest).  She finds true sympathy in Cousin Jimmy and steadfast love in all the older residents of New Moon, and she begins to make the region of Blair Water her new home, granting picturesque names – just as her literary sister Anne would – to the landmarks around the farm.

Emily Climbs sees Emily on the move again, this time to attend Shrewsbury High School and board with her horrid (well, maybe…) Aunt Ruth.  Unlike her first move, this time, Emily does truly want to go.  She desperately craves an education, which she hopes will equip her for her life’s goal of climbing “the Alpine Path” and writing at its summit “a woman’s humble name.”  And her friends are going – Ilse, Teddy and Perry have all found their ways of getting to Shrewsbury High School.  Aunt Elizabeth, who initially refuses Emily’s plea, eventually relents (after extracting a promise from Emily that she will not write any fiction during her three years in Shrewsbury) and Emily is off.  But Emily discovers that even a move you wanted can mean homesickness.

“This room is unfriendly–it doesn’t want me–I can never feel at home here,” said Emily.

She was horribly homesick.  She wanted the New Moon candle-lights shining out on the birch trees–the scent of hop-vines in the dew–her purring pussy cats–her own dear room, full of dreams–the silences and shadows of the old garden–the grand anthems of wind and billow in the gulf–the sonorous old music she missed so much in this inland silence.  She missed even the little graveyard where slept the New Moon dead.

“I’m not going to cry.”  Emily clenched her hands.  “Aunt Ruth will laugh at me.  There’s nothing in this room I can ever love.  Is there anything out of it?”

She pushed up the window.  It looked south into the fir grove and its balsam blew into her like a caress.  To the left there was an opening in the trees like a green, arched window, and one saw an enchanting little moonlit landscape through it.  And it would let in the splendour of sunset.  To the right was a view of the hillside along which West Shrewsbury struggled: the hill was dotted with lights in the autumn dusk, and had a fairy-like loveliness.  Somewhere near by there was a drowsy twittering, as of little, sleepy birds swinging on a shadowy bough.

“Oh, this is beautiful,” breathed Emily, bending out to drink in the balsam-scented air.  “Father told me once that one could find something beautiful to love everywhere.  I’ll love this.”

I’ll love this.  Emily forms one of her deep connections to the fir grove, which she names the “Land of Uprightness,” and where she goes to walk, study, dream and write for the next three years.  (Aunt Ruth cannot understand this at all, and is convinced that Emily must be up to something devious.)

I’ll love this.  Like Emily, I have moved a fair amount.  Some of the moves – like my most recent move home to northern Virginia – have been joyously welcomed.  Others, like our purchase of a house in Elma, New York, back in 2014, brought a sense of relief and hopefulness.  Still others, like the original move to Buffalo – I was dragged kicking and screaming, more or less.  But everywhere I’ve lived, starting from when I first read Emily Climbs and took Douglas Starr’s advice into my heart just as his daughter did – my first order of business has been to find something to love, and then to exhale and say, just as Emily did, I’ll love this.

I have loved outdoor places – like the windswept vista, above, that was the view from my living room in Elma.  Or the little, fussy, landscaped garden behind my rental house in Buffalo.  I’d have preferred a small yard – there was no green space appropriate for Peanut to play in, so we had to walk to a nearby park to get her antsies out – but I spent many an evening sitting on the back porch, sipping tea and watching the shadows play in the corners of that pocket-sized garden.

I have loved indoor places – the white built-in bookshelves in Buffalo, which I filled with all my friends… the dreamy kitchens in Mount Vernon and in Elma, where I cooked and baked to my heart’s content… the nursery corners in multiple houses in multiple states, where I rocked my babies to sleep more times than I can count.

Only once did I never find anything to love – unless you count the aforementioned rocking chair corner.  From January to July of 2016, we lived in a non-descript townhouse in an apartment complex in Williamsville, while we worked out the details, planned and carried out our move back to northern Virginia.  I couldn’t love anything there – not the miniscule kitchen, not the strange floor plan, not the way our furniture jutted out at odd angles all over the apartment, not the early-90s fixtures, not the bland view from the back deck.  It was the first place I’d ever lived where I was unable to find anything about which to say I’ll love this.  Still I had dreams of making the place a home, filling it with laughter and memories during the short time we lived there – but in the end, it was just a waypoint.  Even with the great relief that I felt to leave the place for the last time, I turned on my way out the door and said a silent thank you to the apartment for sheltering my family and keeping the rain off our heads while we figured out what our future held.

Now I’m in another rental, but one that couldn’t be more different.  This place, too, is just a waypoint – although we will stop here longer, a few years at least – before we move (what I hope will be) one final time, to our forever house.  But there is so much I can love here.  I love the little white flowers that I saw peeking up at me from the slope of our tiny front lawn just this week…  I love the breezy white kitchen, where I pack lunches, scramble eggs, make tea, jump out of the path of a careening giraffe scooter… I love the little corner in the living room, where I have set up my console table and arranged my favorite family photos in a grid on the wall above… I love our alley, and I love wondering about the lives being lived behind each of the friendly lighted windows… I love the twinkling lights in the trees, which I can just see over the top of a row of houses.  I’m not sure that Emily would feel quite at home in my urban environment, but I do know that she would find things to love about this house.

I’ll love this.  There are many scenes in the Emily trilogy, which made great impressions on me as a child – but none quite as much as Emily’s first disappointed look around her room in Shrewsbury, her squaring her shoulders, turning to the window and saying those three words in Emily Climbs.  If you were to ask me, as a young reader, to describe one scene from the Emily books – the one scene that was most memorable, most important – I’d have described that, and I’d have quoted you Emily’s decision that “I’ll love this.”  I had no idea how important those three small words would be over the years – how important they still are – but even as a young reader who had never moved (when I first read Emily Climbs, I was still living in the charming little house my parents owned when I was born) something in my heart extended to Emily in that scene, more than any other, and said, “Oh, yes, I recognize you.  I also need something to love.”

This post is my contribution to Naomi‘s #ReadingEmily readalong.  For more thoughts on Emily Climbs, check out the #ReadingEmily hashtag on Twitter.

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Last Friday, I re-posted an old post, from 2014, with some musings on comfort reading.  In that post, I told you that there were three main categories of comfort reading for me – gentle reads (which includes childhood favorites, all of which were pretty gentle in my case); funny books; and cozy mysteries (knowing that everything will come out right in the end is key).  Since 2014, I’ve definitely needed to dip into comfort reading occasionally – I’ve battled homesickness that increased daily until I actually moved home, dealt with a lot of stress at work, lost family members, sold a home and spent six months living in a really blah apartment.  Life has been far from a parade of horribles, but there’ve been ups and downs in my last few years, as is true for anyone.  I’ve definitely dipped into all three categories, and I have some recommendations.

Gentle Reading

Mid-century British middlebrow; beloved old classics; childhood favorites.  It’s rare that a month goes by in which I don’t read one of these.  Some new favorites from the past two years:

  • The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge – on my list for ages, and a delight from the first sentence to the last.
  • The Making of a Marchioness, by Frances Hodgson Burnett – who knew that FHB wrote adult novels?
  • Visits to Barsetshire – both Anthony Trollope’s version and Angela Thirkell’s version.  (I jumped out of my seat when Guy and Phoebe drove to Plumstead Episcopi in Pomfret Towers.)
  • Speaking of visits, visits to the Fairyland of Catherynne M. Valente’s imagination.
  • E.M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady – I still haven’t read the sequels, but have no doubt I will soon; the Provincial Lady is a hoot.
  • A month spent in Italy with the ladies of The Enchanted April.
  • Jane Austen’s Love and Freindship – read it and weep (with laughter) at her poor spelling and the fact that most of her characters are drunk most of the time.
  • Henrietta’s War and Henrietta Sees it Through, two epistolary novels that I absolutely adored and keep recommending to people, because more people need to be acquainted with the charming Henrietta and her delightful friends.

Funny Books

  • Celebrity funnylady memoirs – my mom gives me one every Christmas.  She’s gifted me with – and I’ve enjoyed the heck out of – Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me? and Amy Poehler’s Yes Please.
  • All-ages comics that are packed with smart jokes – like Lumberjanes – and one-volume graphic novels like The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage (the madcap George Eliot chapter is not to be missed).
  • William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – how can you possibly go wrong with a series that mashes up Star Wars with Shakespeare?  I’ve only read Volume IV, “Verily, a New Hope,” but more are on my list.

Cozy Mysteries

I’ve kept up with my favorite sleuths – Maisie Dobbs, Precious Ramotswe, etc. – as new adventures come out, but I’ve also met some wonderful new-to-me characters in the past few years.  In no particular order:

  • Maggie Hope, who I just met in January and already adore.  I have Princess Elizabeth’s Spy on my library stack and will be getting back to Maggie and her friends soon.
  • Lady Georgianna Rannoch!  I had just met her, and left her out of my list, when I originally published “Comfort Reading.”  We’re great friends now.
  • Amelia Peabody, Egyptologist and all-around badass Victorian lady.  I wrote about falling in love with Amelia and then discovering that my grandmama was a fan here.


Looking at my list above, it seems I have more to suggest in the “gentle reading” category than elsewhere – which makes sense, because that’s where I usually go first when I need a pick-me-up.  There simply isn’t anything like curling up with a cup of tea, a soft blanket, and a book that makes you feel wrapped in peace.  While laughing until your sides hurt certainly has a place, and there’s much to be said for hanging on every page of a mystery in the secure knowledge that – unlike real life – things are guaranteed to come out right and be neatly wrapped up in the end, for me at least, those calming gentle reads are the best medicine.  Expect to see plenty more of them around these parts in the next few years – I have a feeling that I’ll be plunging into Barsetshire quite a lot.

What’s your comfort reading?

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Heavy sigh.  Hi, guys.  How was everyone’s weekend?  Ours was… grueling.  We had a family wedding to attend in New England, so we spent most of the weekend in the car – and I do mean most of the weekend.  Eight hours up to my parents’ house on Friday to drop off the kids, who were not invited to the wedding.  Six and a half hours in the car on Saturday (three hours to the wedding, and three-and-a-half back to my parents, thanks to a scary thunderstorm we hit).  And then another six hours home from Albany on Sunday.  So that’s a total of 26.5 hours in the car over the past three days, and we’re all feeling it.  My neck and back are screaming at me, and the kids are nuts.  I felt horrible for them – two extremely long car rides in the span of three days was way too much to ask of them, especially considering they weren’t invited to the wedding.  Peanut was a champ, but Nugget was a basket case in the car, and I couldn’t blame the poor guy.  Still, after hours of listening to him bawling in the back seat, we are all a bit frazzled and on edge.  I’m relieved to have that long trip behind me and glad to be home.

1984 how-to-be-a-victorian

Reading.  With all that trucking to and fro, I didn’t get much reading done over the weekend.  Nor during the week, either – it was another crazy-busy one on the work front.  I’m looking forward to my schedule evening out.  It would be nice to be busier than I was in January, but not quite as busy as I have been in February.  Anyway, I finished 1984 last Monday, and it was eerie and chilling and felt very prescient.  Then I started How to Be a Victorian, which I am really enjoying but which has been slow going.  That’s not the fault of the book, which is fabulous, but just my crazy work schedule last week and then the travel over the weekend.  I’m looking forward to having a bit more downtime in which to finish it up this week – I hope.

Watching.  Two things come to mind from this week – in addition to Rock the Park, of course (we’ve just started season 3, so we’re nearly caught up).  On Sunday night I watched the Oscars, which I really enjoy, but can never make it through.  I got to supporting actress, decided it was time for bed, and then got an email and ended up working into the night – sometimes that’s how it goes.  The other thing I’ve been watching a lot this week is Finding Dory – the kids are obsessed.  I’m not quite to the point of being sick of it yet – the Sigourney Weaver jokes are hilarious – but I’m getting close.

Listening.  Would you all run away and never visit me again if I said I listened to Nugget screaming for hours in his car seat over the weekend?  You would?  Okay, well then I’ll tell you the other things we listened to – Hamilton, disc one, on repeat, because that’s what it took to keep him even remotely happy – especially “Frow My Shot” and “Dayada” (You’ll Be Back).  And we started listening to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on audio during the car ride to and from the wedding, but didn’t get far into it.

Making.  Nothing.  Should I drop this category?  I have been thinking I need to pick up my knitting again.  I’ve been really keyed up over a couple of stressful things, and it would be nice to make some stitches.

Blogging.  I have a bookish week coming up for you –  my February reading round-up on Wednesday, and that list of new favorite comfort reads I promised last week.  Get yourselves some big cups of tea!

Loving.  It was so chill of my parents to watch the babies while we trucked to a wedding.  Thanks, you guys!  Peanut and Nugget loved their “sleepover with Nana and Grandad.”  I’d say let’s do it again soon, but as I’m never getting in the car ever again, that doesn’t seem likely to come to pass.  But seriously, thanks.

Asking.  What are you reading/watching/making/loving this week?

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Repost: Comfort Reading

With all that’s been going on in the world lately, I’ve been turning to comfort books more and more as a way to check out of reality – if even for a little while – and into a world where everything is guaranteed to come out right in the end.  Almost three years ago, on March 14, 2014, I published the following post about comfort reading, and it occurred to me that it might be a timely topic once again.  So I’m dusting it off, and presenting it here in case you missed it the first time:

Any voracious reader could probably name multiple reasons why they love to sink into a book.  There are many things I love about reading, and I’ve pondered why I read in the past.  In that post, one of the reasons I named was “escapism.”  When I hit a rough patch, as we all do from time to time, books invariably make up an important part of the process of getting through the hard times.  Just the act of reading itself is comforting.  It’s a familiar ritual for me: choose a book, curl up under a blanket, sip tea and get lost in a story.  Of course, I don’t do all of my reading on the couch at home.  I carried a book with me to the NICU every day – to read in the car, the pump room, or during downtime while Peanut snoozed in her isolette.  It wouldn’t be the first time I’d treated a book like a security blanket.  I had many rough days during which I found comfort in reaching into my tote bag, grasping the book du jour and thinking about how I’d have some time to lose myself in the pages later.

Since then, through long newborn days, planning and carrying out a move across several states, and job-hunting, I have thought a lot about comfort reading, both in terms of the practice of reading itself and in terms of the type of books I select during the dark times.  Not only is the act of reading comforting to me, in and of itself, but the choice of book can bring some added comfort, too.  I noticed that “comfort books” fell into three categories for me:

Gentle Reads

These are soft, quiet books in which it may seem as though nothing much is happening, but the beauty of the words themselves and the characters’ steady progress through the story is comforting.  In September of 2012, I slipped back into the gentle world of Fairacre, reading Storm in the Village during my pumping sessions in the NICU.  It’s not as though there was no conflict – indeed, the entire premise of the book is that an atomic energy company wants to mar the beauty of the natural landscape around Fairacre by erecting a housing estate, a terrible concept!  But Fairacre is a quiet place with familiar, well-loved characters and it made me feel better to spend some time there.

I also revisited an old favorite from my childhood.  In order to bring Peanut comfort while she was trapped in an isolette, I spent hours reading to her out loud from Emily of New Moon, by L.M. Montgomery, which was my favorite book as a young reader.  (You may notice the title and wonder if Peanut’s name is a coincidence.  It’s not.)  Of course, Peanut doesn’t understand the language or concepts in Emily of New Moon, so for her the comfort lay more in hearing my voice.  But I won’t lie and pretend that reading a childhood favorite wasn’t good for me, too.

I visited Fairacre many times during the months we were debating pulling up stakes and moving to Buffalo.  And some of the final books in the Fairacre series happened to also be my final books borrowed from my favorite library.  That’s not a coincidence: although I knew that moving to Buffalo was going to be a good thing for our family, it wasn’t easy to uproot our entire life in Virginia.  Miss Read, Miss Clare and the rest of the Fairacre village folk (yes, even the caustic Mrs. Pringle!) made the transition somewhat smoother for me.


In addition to the gentle reads, I also need a laugh when I’m feeling down.  I found that in Freddy and Fredericka, a sweet but funny and slightly inappropriate tale about a hapless Prince and Princess of Wales who are dropped from a plane over New Jersey with a mission to prove their fitness to rule by re-conquering the United States.  Much of the humor lies in word-play and silly images, both of which resonate with me as a reader.  I spent hours laughing over Freddy and Fredericka in the mothers’ lounge and on the car rides to and from the hospital when Peanut was in the NICU, and it did make me feel significantly better.

Even before the NICU days, I’ve turned to humor to get me through rough patches.  Specifically, P.G. Wodehouse’s bumbling aristocrat, Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, and his brilliant valet Jeeves, have given me plenty of laughs when I was stressed out over work or travel.  Watching hapless Bertie get engaged to a string of terrifying women, only to be rescued over and over by Jeeves, is a sure cure for any anxiety.  (And you’ll certainly ponder whether you’re really under stress when you contemplate the horrors of an engagement to Lady Florence Craye.)

Cozy Mysteries

I’ve been a fan of mystery novels since I picked up my first Agatha Christie, back in middle school.  And I think they’re perfect comfort reading when you’re feeling a little bit buffeted by the world.  Sure, the premises of these books can be a bit gruesome – you’re bound to encounter a dead body, sometimes more than one, along the way – but the thing about cozy mysteries is that they’re pretty much guaranteed to end well.  You can rest assured that the sleuth – be it Miss Marple, Flavia de Luce, Maisy Dobbs, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, Precious Ramotswe or one of countless others – will solve the mystery in the end.

And there are often other storylines, especially in the more recently written mysteries (Dame Agatha wasn’t big on this, but her successors often are) that focus more on the sleuths and their supporting castmates – their relationships, dreams, goals, what-have-you – than on whodunit.  Will Mma Ramotswe get together with the kindly garage owner, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni?  Will Maisy find happiness with James?  (Still waiting for the final word on this one.  C’mon Maisy, don’t be stupid!  James loves you!)  Will Flavia ever make peace with her ghastly older sisters?  You’ll have to come back for the sequels to find out, but the beauty of these series is that these stories often work out just as neatly as the mysteries our heroes and heroines solve.  Sometimes it takes awhile, but that just makes the conclusion more satisfying when it inevitably comes.  But even when the personal results aren’t quite as neat and tidy, you can at least count on a wrap-up where everything makes sense, the bad guys are caught and the good guys debrief over a cup of tea (or something stronger).  It’s nice to be able to count on that.

When you’re feeling down, do you turn to books for comfort?  Which ones?

P.S. 2017 Jac here again – check back next week for some new comfort reading recommendations – books and authors that have come onto my shelves in the last few years, or that weren’t mentioned in this post.  If you’re looking for books to block out the noise of the world, I’ve got you covered!

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There are books that you can read once and be done with – glad to see their covers winking at you from your Goodreads “read” shelf, but with no desire to revisit them.  There are books that you’ll come back to – once or twice, perhaps, or again and again – because they still have something to give you.  And then there are books that are so intrinsically a part of you, books that you have lived in, that you will return to their pages for the rest of your life and even when you’re not in the midst of a re-read, you are carrying their subtle influence with you.  Often, that’s a childhood book – one that was a formative influence on you when you were growing up.

Emily of New Moon is that book for me.

As I mentioned on Wednesday, my first encounter with one of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s heroines was with the delightful, effervescent Anne Shirley.  I would curl up in my grandmother’s armchair, open her blue and white hardcover edition, and dive into the world of Avonlea, not to return for hours.  I’d thrill to Anne’s first sight of the Lake of Shining Waters – dash with pounding heart and pounding feet through the Haunted Wood – rage at Gilbert Blythe (“Carrots! Carrots!”) – mourn the temporary loss of Diana’s friendship after the disastrous episode of the currant wine.  The day I discovered that there were seven more books set in Anne’s world (plus the Chronicles of Avonlea short stories, but they didn’t feature Anne so they were second-tier choices) was one of the happiest days of my life.  Anne has been a good friend to me since I was very young – but eventually, knowing her story inside and out, I wanted something new and a little different.

Enter Emily.

I read Emily of New Moon, and its two sequels, Emily Climbs and Emily’s Quest, anywhere and everywhere.  I still have – somewhere – my original paperback copies, tattered from dozens of reads.  Although I know that I must have read – did read – Emily in my own room, on my parents’ couch, at my grandmother’s kitchen table, and on the school bus, I recall reading Emily most intensely and contentedly while perched on a bolder on the bank of the Sacandaga Lake, where my parents have a camp.  Emily was best read there, with a fall breeze coming off the lake, ruffling the pages until dying twilight puts a stop to reading time.


Emily Is Not Anne

While Anne and Emily have some similarities, Emily is a very different heroine.  (For a thorough Anne-to-Emily comparison, check out this post by Naomi, to whom I’m very grateful for hosting the #ReadingEmily readalong.)  One of the very few things that bothers me about the Anne books is how charmed Anne seems to be – once she arrives in Avonlea, that is – at getting people to fall in love with her.  From Gilbert Blythe to half a town full of jealous ill-wishers who fall under Anne’s spell within the first half of Anne of Windy Poplars, Anne never seems to have much difficulty in winning people over and turning enemies into friends.  Even Josie Pye, as obnoxious as she may be, winds up a part of Anne’s “set” – albeit, on the periphery.  Even as a child, I think that Anne’s ease in winning friends and admirers struck me as unrealistic and rubbed me the wrong way, rather.

Emily, although her name is Starr, does not live under the same lucky constellation that Anne enjoys.  Growing up poor but happy, raised by the loving hand of her father for the first ten years of her life, Emily thrives on very little human interaction.  She has Father – and the cats Mike and Saucy Sal – and her imaginary friends the Wind Woman and Emily-in-the-Glass – and she’s perfectly content with that lot.  (The housekeeper, Ellen, is not a sympathetic soul.  If this was an Anne book, Ellen would start out gruff but would be doling out milk and tea cakes by Chapter 4.  That’s only a slight exaggeration.)  When Douglas Starr dies of consumption, Emily has her first encounter with the cruel outside world, in the personages of the Murrays – her late mother’s much-older half-brothers and sisters.  The Murrays belittle and criticize Emily at her father’s funeral, and ultimately force her to draw lots to determine who will take her home with them, as no one wants her.  Emily, heartsick at being unwanted, is relieved to draw the name “Elizabeth Murray,” because that means she will be living at New Moon Farm with kind Aunt Laura and friendly Cousin Jimmy – oh, and stern, unlovable Aunt Elizabeth.  But Aunt Laura!  And Cousin Jimmy!

Emily doesn’t have an easier time making friends outside the world of New Moon than she did with her harsh relations.  Within the first half of the book, she is cruelly ridiculed by her teacher for writing poetry in class and feels the sting of betrayal by a false friend.  While Anne has her moments at school, she never has to contend with a Miss Brownwell or a Rhoda Stuart.  Some part of me liked – still likes – the fact that Emily was secure enough in her own self that she did not need to be loved by everyone, which I always felt Anne did.

#ReadingEmily As An Adult

I’ve re-read the Emily books several times since becoming “all grown up.”  But I haven’t picked them up in a few years.  The most recent re-read was not a complete re-read, but it was a special one – my much-loved childhood paperback in hand, perched on a hospital stool, quietly reading my favorite scenes to my preemie daughter (who is named after our dear Miss Starr – oh, and her great-grandmother, but mostly Miss Starr) in her isolette.  But that was more than four years ago now, and I was undeniably distracted and shuffling through the book for the scenes I wanted my tiny three-pound daughter to hear.  More Wind Woman, less Father dying, please.

So this month, thanks again to Naomi, was the first I’ve sat down with Emily and Ilse and Teddy and Perry and the cats and Aunts Elizabeth and Laura and Cousin Jimmy and Great-Aunt Nancy and that old witch Caroline Priest, in more than four years.  As I knew I would be, I was immediately plunged back into the world of New Moon, Blair Water and Priest Pond.  Most of the reading experience was very similar to my childhood reading of the Emily books – immersive, intense, and altogether delightful.  But there were definitely nuances that I picked up on as an adult that completely escaped me as a child (much like when I re-read Anne’s House of Dreams and sobbed through the “wee white lady” chapter that I’d breezed through as a child).

  • Dean Priest, get a hold of yourself.  I was thoroughly, thoroughly creeped out by Dean “Jarback” Priest and his references to waiting for Emily.  I think I threw up a little when Emily offered to kiss him goodbye as she was departing Great-Aunt Nancy’s house, and Dean said he wanted their first kiss to be different.  Groooooooooooooss.  Dean, you are THIRTY-FIVE YEARS OLD.  Emily is TWELVE, and she is YOUR BEST FRIEND’S CHILD.  Find a woman your own age and don’t be weird.  Do better.
  • I might be getting crotchety.  Is it a rite of passage into adulthood to start seeing the perspective of the villains in your childhood favorites?  The summer I first planted a garden, I began to sympathize with Mr. MacGregor and to be a bit reluctant to agree with my daughter when she would declare that Mr. MacGregor was “naughty.”  I mean, those rabbits were eating up his garden!  What’s he supposed to do?  Do they even know how much time and effort a garden is?  I felt the same about Lofty John in what I think of as “the affair of the poisoned apple that wasn’t actually poisoned.”  Long story short: Emily befriends an older man who happens to be the sworn enemy of the New Moon Murrays, but it’s all good!  She and her friends raid his apple orchard constantly and he lets them.  But one day she spots an apple laying around while she’s loitering in his house while he isn’t home, and swipes it.  Lofty John comes home, realizes Emily’s eaten the apple, and – to teach her a lesson – tells her the apple was laced with rat poison.  Emily flies home, white as a sheet, convinced she is going to die, and spends the next few hours writing letters to all her earthly acquaintances, telling them she’s off.  Eventually it comes out that Lofty John was just having a little fun with the traumatized Emily, and while telling a kid they’ve just eaten poison isn’t my idea of fun, I sort of sympathize with him wanting to teach her a bit of a lesson.  I mean, he’d have certainly let her take the apple – he’d been quite liberal with access to his orchard – but Emily didn’t even ask.  (Of course, his reaction to getting told off by Aunt Elizabeth after the episode was petty – but it led to Emily’s meeting Father Cassidy, who I wish was a much bigger character, so it’s all good.)
  • Someone, please, take Mrs. Kent to Charlottetown and get her drunk and find her a man.  While we’re on the subject of creepy adults, Mrs. Kent is frankly terrifying.  Jealous of anyone and anything that her son Teddy likes, she kills his pets, steals his art supplies, and only allows Emily and Ilse on the premises because Ilse’s father, Dr. Burnley, says that playing with them is good for Teddy’s health.  Mrs. Kent’s obsession with her son, and jealousy of anyone and anything that takes him from her even for a second, is profoundly unhealthy.  I can’t believe that I never noticed that as a child – I simply blew past Mrs. Kent with a “Teddy’s mom is a drag but the Tansy Patch is such a charming name for a house!”
  • Those first few chapters.  Last but certainly not least – I always cried throughout the first few chapters, as Emily adjusts to, witnesses, and mourns her father’s death.  But as an adult – they’re far more powerful than I ever realized.  For the first time, I placed myself in Douglas Starr’s shoes (who was probably about my age when he died, based on his college friendship with the 35-year-old Dean Priest).  Reading Emily as a child, I was terribly sad for her but didn’t give her father much thought in his own right.  Reading Emily as an adult, I can imagine what he must have felt, knowing that he would have to leave his beloved daughter to fend for herself in the world, that his moments with her were dwindling and that he would not see her grow up and achieve her dreams and fall in love.  (I’m getting weepy again.)  Much like when Anne loses her first baby in Anne’s House of Dreams, I was knocked flat by a tragedy that I was well aware was coming, but that I had no idea would be as moving as it ended up being.

Thank you, again, Naomi, for hosting #ReadingEmily.  What a wonderful excuse to revisit my childhood favorite!

Have you read the Emily books?  Do you identify more with Emily, or with Anne?

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This Monday came around way too fast.  I’m exhausted and I could really use another day – not to get anything done, but just to chill.  Alas, not only is a chill day not in the cards for me, but I have a super-busy week ahead at work.  Possibly the busiest since I started this job?  It certainly feels that way.  But once I get through it, I’ve got a three-day weekend to enjoy – although I’ll probably do at least a little work on the holiday Monday next week.  Well, that can all wait until then, because I still have five days to get through first.  We didn’t actually get much done this weekend.  We did the basics, but didn’t actually move the needle on any of our house projects.  Saturday morning found us back in the salon chair with a different kid – Peanut, this time, who was getting her first haircut after a small adventure with safety scissors at school.  (She needed a trim anyway.)  Then Nana and Grandad stopped by for a last bit of playtime before heading back to the frozen north (I don’t envy them their snow!).  We spent the rest of the weekend – Saturday afternoon, and all day Sunday – just hanging around the house, “doing nothing in particular, and thinking nothing in particular,” as A.A. Milne would say.  Nugget and I did venture out for a walk to the library on Sunday afternoon, but other than that, we were incredibly lazy.  I read and napped during naptimes, we grazed for meals, and we spent the times that the kids were awake just hanging out and playing together.  It felt good, but I did feel a bit guilty about not being productive during naps.

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Reading.  So, I didn’t get much reading in this week – not that I’m complaining, because it was for good reason that I set books aside.  My mom was here all week and we were spending the time I would normally spend reading, on chatting and watching TV instead, and it was delightful.  I did still read during my commutes, but not in the evenings.  So – a light reading week, but that was really refreshing.  I finished We Love You, Charlie Freeman mid-week.  It was fine, but didn’t knock my socks off.  Next I read You Can’t Touch My Hair, by stand-up comedienne Phoebe Robinson, which was great.  Funny and irreverent, but also really thought-provoking and at times uncomfortable.  I’ve been intentionally seeking out books that describe or portray life experiences which are different from mine – I want to understand perspectives outside of my own, and reading is the only way to bring that about – and You Can’t Touch My Hair was a really outstanding one.  Finally, since I had a teetering stack of eleven library books to get through, I did the only logical thing and decided to re-read Emily of New Moon – my childhood favorite book – for the #ReadingEmily readalong challenge.  Because otherwise, the library stack would have been too easy!

Watching.  While my mom was in town, we spent every evening watching The Crown again on Netflix.  Mom doesn’t have Netflix, and she had seen the first two episodes of The Crown on her last visit and was instantly hooked (as I knew she would be), so we made it our mission to get through the entire season.  Once again I found myself blown away by the acting, the cinematography, the sets – everything.  After Mom headed home, we went back to our current normal routine of one short episode of Rock the Park and then books each night.  Last night, Jack and Colton were in Acadia National Park in one of the best episodes yet – making me really regret not making it to Acadia when were in Maine briefly for my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding.

Listening.  I finished up the “Money Management Skills” course I was listening to from The Great Courses, via Audible.  As I said last week, it was a good listen – some parts were more useful than others, but overall it was definitely worthwhile – but I was supremely sick of it by the end.  After finishing that, I was in the mood for something a bit more bite-sized, so I went back to the podcatcher and listened to a few episodes of The Book Riot Podcast that had accumulated while I was getting my learn on.  Not sure if I’ll continue cleaning up the podcatcher or go back to Middlemarch, but my Audible library is starting to get crowded.

Making.  Nothing at all, unless you count dinners, and a fridge full of hard-boiled eggs and sliced vegetables.  I’m starting to get sick of the Whole 30.  Nine more days…

Blogging.  I’ve got a fun post coming to you on Wednesday – all about the childhood classics I somehow missed out on as a child – and I’ll have some #ReadingEmily reflections on Friday.  Check back!

Loving.  The #riotgrams challenge on Instagram.  I’ve been participating (although I’ve gotten behind a few times) and it’s such fun to see others’ posts each day.  Yesterday the prompt was “outside,” and I posted a shot of my donations pile perched on top of the stroller as Nugget and I rolled up to the library.  Which reminds me – something else I’m loving is living in a walkable neighborhood again!  We don’t know if we’re going to stay in our current neighborhood forever – we’re renting right now and we have a multi-year lease, so no plans to move as of yet but it’s on the distant horizon – but for now, I sure am enjoying being able to strap one or both kiddos into the stroller and head out for a walk to bring home library books and dinner salads.

Asking.  What are you reading/watching/making/loving this week?

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Last year, in 2016, I was on a quest to seek out and read as many diverse books – works by people of color, religious minorities, and LGBTQ+ authors – as I could find.  It was a tall order, since publishing has a way to go to catch up to many readers’ demands for more diverse material and voices, and I had my work cut out for me to find as many works as I could to reach my goal of 33% representation by “underrepresented” groups on my reading list.  Comics helped, and so did regular listening to The Book Riot Podcast and All the Books!, two podcasts produced by Book Riot, which makes a point of regularly discussing diversity in publishing and reading.  (I got a lot of recommendations from them last year, so I hope they keep them coming in 2017.)

Part of my effort included an attempt to read all books by African-American writers in February, which is Black History Month here in the United States.  I didn’t quite make that goal last year, because one of the books I read – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – was actually written by a white author, even though it was a sensitive and thoughtful discussion of an offense against the body of an African-American woman (the harvesting of cells from cancer patient Henrietta Lacks, without her knowledge or permission) and the results through history.  (Go read it, if you haven’t already.  It was an incredible and important book.)  The rest of my books last February were works by African-American authors, and I ended the month knowing that while I had (still have) much to learn about the African-American experience, I had plenty of new thoughts and ideas thanks to their words.

This February, I’m not going to be able to do all works by African-American authors for Black History Month – much as I’d like to.  The reality of library deadlines (story of my life!) won’t allow it.  But I do plan to actively seek out and read African-American works, particularly classics, this month – and continuing the rest of the year – even if it’s not 100% of my February reading.  The books on my list, to get to this month or soon, include:

  • Native Son, by Richard Wright
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou (a re-read)
  • Mom & Me & Mom, by Maya Angelou
  • Sag Harbor, by Colson Whitehead
  • The Living is Easy, by Dorothy West
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Houston
  • Beloved, by Toni Morrison
  • Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler

And more!  That’s just a start, but it does represent some of the books that I’m most looking forward to tracking down and reading this year.  I’m thinking of reading the entire stack of Maya Angelou’s memoirs, re-reading some of her poetry, re-reading some poetry by Langston Hughes…  And of course, if you have any suggestions for me, please let me know.  I’m always on the lookout for more good reads.


Of course, I’m always willing to reciprocate with recommendations of my own!  I spent the last year trying hard to seek out and read books by people of color and other underrepresented voices.  Most of the books I read were big and hyped – I felt as though I was barely scratching the surface of books about the African-American experience – so perhaps none of these recommendations are news at all.  But they were all excellent, so if you are looking for good Black History Month reads and haven’t checked out one or more of the following, do take a look.  (Books are in no particular order.)

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  • The Fire This Time, edited by Jesmyn Ward – wide range of essays discussing contemporary African-American experience.
  • We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – short but stunning essay on intersectional feminism.
  • Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi – multi-generational, multi-continent family saga.
  • March, Books 1, 2 & 3, by Representative John Lewis – graphic memoir by Civil Rights Movement icon.


  • Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates – if you haven’t heard of this, you’re living under a rock!
  • The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead – magical realism slave narrative, worth the hype.
  • Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – the experience of an African immigrant in contemporary America.
  • Stella by Starlight, by Sharon M. Draper – beautifully written historical YA.

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  • Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson – stunning memoir in verse.
  • Kindred, by Octavia Butler – time travel slave narrative by icon of sci-fi.
  • The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin – richly symbolic fantasy.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot – science, ethics and race.

Happy [Black History Month] Reading!

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