Nor sleet nor snow nor’easter…

…can keep us from having a fantastic time in NYC. Weather or not, we had way big fun in the city this trip.

We were there for not one, but two nor’easters. Flew out just a few hours ahead of the third one. You take your chances in February/March:

But there is undeniable beauty in it, as captured by the CE:


I did actually see a guy in shorts one day. He admitted he was from California. So am I, but I’m sticking with the NYC winter uniform:


We wouldn’t have missed these two weeks, though. A fun meet-up at Peter Luger with son Daniel and son-in-law John, who was in the city on a business trip:


We attended the very first performance of the brilliant revival of Three Tall Women. One of the best things we’ve seen on Broadway. Glenda Jackson is incandescent!


The CE was less (much less) impressed by Carousel, but I’m going out on a limb and saying see it anyway. If you can overlook June is Bustin’ Out All Over you will be rewarded with If I Loved You. Joshua Henry is electric in the challenging role of Billy Bigelow.


Evening hours at the Met are the best! We had the tiny Medusa exhibit all to ourselves and saw this little jewel:



Speaking of jewels, we couldn’t resist strolling into the revamped Bulgari flagship store on Fifth Avenue:


When I win the lottery I’m buying this. Yes, they let me try it on!


We wandered around the galleries in Chelsea one morning and discovered Gallery Henoch where I fell in love with Patricia Traub’s “Waiting for Something to Move”:


The Pace Gallery’s exhibit, “Black and White” is a retrospective of Louise Nevelson’s work and very much worth seeing:


We so enjoyed taking our young friend, Lauren, to her first “La Boheme”, with dessert at The Grand Tier during intermission:


And since we can never get enough opera, we went back to The Met a few nights later to see their sensational production of Semiramide. Fun to see Ryan “Speedo” Green, whose life story I read about in Daniel Bergner’s “Sing for Your Life”, in the role of high priest Oroe.


We were so fortunate to be in the city again this year for the New York Antiquarian Book Fair. Many thanks to Sunday and Josh of B&B Rare Books, Ltd. for hosting us at the opening night reception.


I am still dreaming about the set of Middlemarch I saw at the Peter Harrington booth. I might even choose this over the Bulgari bracelet. No, actually, I want both! Dream big, right?


An incredible highlight of the trip was the Armory Show. Daniel got us tickets for our Christmas present and we all tromped over to Piers 92-94 and had the most amazing afternoon there last weekend.


I want this for my living room:


Or this David Hockney would also do:


Or even this take on Botticelli:


And, of course, it goes without saying that this Milton Avery Still Life with Skull, 1946 should belong to me.


Weatherwise, it might not have been the most auspicious of fortnights, but there is simply no bad time to be in NYC. Can’t wait to go back when there are some leaves on the trees…spring is right around the corner!







Posted in Music/Art/Literature/Culture, New York city, Spoiled Pets, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

At Le Coq Rico: the chicken and the egg.

“We’re going to brunch”, said my husband. Yes, that husband. The one who never willingly goes to brunch.

Okay. Where?

It’s a surprise.

And what a surprise it was! A glorious, whimsical, scrumptious surprise.


Alsatian chef Antoine Westermann bestowed Le Coq Rico upon NYC in 2016, an iteration of his restaurant by the same name (it translates as “the bistro of beautiful birds”) in Paris. And what a gift it is! We still don’t know which came first, but he serves both the chicken and the egg as you have never experienced them before.

The CE had dined there earlier in the week and lamented that the superb Coq au Vin was not on the brunch menu. “It’s the Tuesday special”, explained General Manager Anthony Battaglia, who may actually know more about chickens as I do, and has a beguiling French accent besides.

Battaglia genially explained the relative merits of the Plymouth Rock, Guinea Fowl and Brune Landaise chickens on the menu and was justifiably proud of the fact that the birds served at Le Coq Rico are pastured for 120 days. Not kept in cages. Not “cage free”, which often means birds are crowded on a platform where there might be an occasional sliver of a glimpse of the outdoors, but pastured. This means that these chickens roam and forage freely, and do so for about three times as long as that shrink-wrapped fowl you bring home from the grocery. Pastured birds are, well, as rare as hen’s teeth, so this is a big deal.  Those in the know, which includes the French-speaking patrons at every table around us, come here for their Saturday “Coq Tales” and roast chicken, which many order en famille, served on a heaping platter.

I settled for the poached and roasted quarter chicken, accompanied by salad and jus. It tasted nothing like any chicken I’ve had before and was a plentiful followup to the sensational En Meurette appetizer – poached egg, red wine reduction, smoked pork belly, onion confit and portobello.




In the interest of accurate reportage, we were forced to order dessert, and so are you if you go. Because the Ile Flottante was far and away the best I have ever tasted. Seriously, you must have this. Or perhaps the Vanilla Mille-Feuille with Madagascar vanilla custard cream we saw being shared at the neighboring table. It was all I could do not to dip my spoon in.

The exquisite Ile Flottante:


The restaurant space itself is something to crow about. Acclaimed visual artist Doug Fitch, (who, according to the restaurant web site, once lived with a hen) provided the signature artwork:


And a most egg-cellent view awaits in the alcove outside the washrooms:


As the saying goes, even a blind chicken finds a piece of grain now and then, and we are so grateful to have happened upon this truly outstanding bistro. Consider us birds of a feather – we’ll be back!


If you go: Le Coq Rico is located in the Flatiron district (just a few doors down from Gramercy Tavern) at 30 East 20th Street, New York, NY 10003. 212.267.7426

Hours: Lunch Monday-Friday 12 pm – 3 pm; Dinner everyday 5:30 pm – 11 pm; Brunch Saturday and Sunday 12 pm – 4 pm; Bar everyday 12 pm – 11 pm

Reservations: available on the restaurant’s web site and on OpenTable. Gift cards available on the web site:







Posted in All Things Poultry, Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Chicken Facts, Gastronomy, New York city, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Take a left at Shakespeare’s Garden.

I followed the eccentric Mr. Mould down a rabbit hole last week.

While tapping out my last post I discovered that Belvedere Castle, one of Jacob Wrey Mould’s projects in Central Park, was closing last weekend for a year of restoration.


My first thought upon learning this news was to imagine how lovely it would be if somehow could spend a year being restored to mint condition. My second, and more realistic, thought was that we had exactly twenty-four hours to visit the castle before it turned into a pumpkin. So off we went.

Belvedere Castle is located due east of the American Museum of Natural History. We entered the Park at 80th Street and soon encountered the charming Swedish Cottage, brought to Central Park by (my hero) Frederick Law Olmsted in 1877. It happened to be  shuttered last Saturday, but since 1947 has served full time as a puppet theatre.


Past the cottage lies Shakespeare’s Garden, fallow in February except for the occasional hopeful patch of snowdrops, ever so serenely echoing the master’s quote from Much Ado About Nothing:

“Why, what’s the matter,
That you have such a February face,
So full of frost, of storm and cloudiness?”


We wound along the garden path to the left and going steadily up, up, up. One of the reasons I hadn’t visited the castle before is that certain people who have a constellation of back problems, have no business climbing inclined paths and rough-hewn steps to castles. But this was the last chance for an entire year! So onward I forged, hopeful of a fairy-tale ending, although, in truth, I just ended up being a damsel in distress with an urgent visit to the physical therapist. The good news: one of the aims of the castle restoration is to make it ADA-accessible.


Finally, the castle, which is the highest point in Central Park, came into view:


Credit for the castle’s design is collectively shared by Olmsted, Vaux and Mould, although the wooden loggia, restored in 1995, was done in strict accordance to the designs of Calvert Vaux:


The castle is built largely out of schist excavated from the Park.


Alas, I could not climb the steep stairs to the turrets, but even from where I stood there is a lovely view of the Turtle Pond below:


And finally, I was rewarded with proof of Mr. Mould at work. Described as being “bold as a lion” in his use of color, a signature piece of his work for Belvedere Castle is this cockatrice – not a dragon but “a legendary creature resembling an oversized rooster with a reptilian tail” above the entry door:


The misery of back problems aside, it was a most satisfying visit to the castle, which is slated to awaken from its restorative slumber March 1, 2019. Oh, and I did get my fairy-tale ending after all, because right there at Belvedere Castle I found my Prince Charming:




Posted in New York city, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Saturday. In the Park. With Fred, Calvert & Jacob.

My favorite place in NYC is Central Park. And my favorite place in Central Park is Bethesda Terrace. I silently paid my respects to park creators Frederick Law Olmsted & Calvert Vaux this morning, saluting their signpost as I crossed the way to gaze down at my beloved angel statue. Calvert & Vaux’s visionary genius gave us the most magnificent 843 acres in NYC and I thank them every time I make this little pilgrimage.



And each time I visit, I swoon over the carvings that that give the terrace their stately charm.  Now, thanks to an inspired gift from my friend, Katherine, (who happens to be the queen of inspired gifts) I have a new name to add to my Bethesda Terrace gratitude list.

Katherine sent me a copy of Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted by Justin Martin, which I have summarily devoured, and from which I learned that the carvings – which everyone notices yet no one gives a second notice – were done by one Jacob Wrey Mould. If you’ve stood at Bethesda Terrace, surely you have admired these beauties:




Mould was a Brit who moved to the U.S. in 1851 and worked with Olmsted and Vaux on plans for the park. In addition to the Bethesda Terrace carvings, he designed the Bandstand, Belvedere Castle and many of the bridges in the park. As felicitous as his work may seem, Mould was described as “eccentric and ill-mannered”. Maybe that’s why his name isn’t  listed on the signpost.


Oh well, so he wasn’t Mr. Personality. He’s on my gratitude list, nonetheless. As is my dear friend, Katherine, for introducing me to him.

Saturday, in the Park. How I heart NYC!



Posted in Books and Reading, New York city, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Reading Recap: At Tens and Elevenses

I was going to entitle this the Top Ten, but I must have been at tens and elevenses that day. Because it turns out that it is actually ten plus one that crowd the tippy-top of my list. One so far above the rest that it probably deserves its own post, but I can see you rolling your eyes and saying enough already with last year’s reading.

So here they are, in ascending order, up the staircase to the empyrean:

10. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (496 pages, audiobook, narrated by Barbara Caruso. Published 1920, Harcourt, Brace and Howe.)

I struggled with this book. It does not sing with the poetic cadence of Winesburg, Ohio. It is as dull and plodding as its characters from Gopher Prairie, Minnesota. But long after I finished it, I found myself still contemplating Carol Milford Kenicott of the quince-blossom skin, and the invidious town gossips with their “fangs and sneering eyes” whose life purpose is to keep her and others like her in check. And yet, it is not all as simple as that. Carol, a bit vain and self-absorbed, is not exactly the heroine we might have hoped for. Things happen as we expect and then not as we, or at least I, expected. This is far from my favorite classic but still, it is a worthy classic. An e.e. cummings quote that perfectly fits this book: A world that is “doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else.


9. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (468 pages, audiobook, narrated by Nicholas Guy Smith. Published 2016, Viking)

This was a joyous re-read. Towles’ Count is truly the perfect gentleman, his literary pedigree is impeccable thanks to the surname of Rostov (not to mention the hotel cat’s moniker of Marshal Kutuzov!) and I found myself thinking that a lifetime of house arrest at the Hotel Metropol in Moscow would not be the worst fate imaginable.


Sometimes my thoughts drift to the roof there where he communes with the hotel handyman and the bees whose honey tastes of the apple blossoms from Nizhny Novgorod. The reader is also given some gentle history lessons along the way; he manages to slip in a reminder that Walter Duranty of the New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize in journalism for whitewashing Josef Stalin’s systematic starvation of Ukrainians in the early 1930’s.

8. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (480 pages, audiobook, narrated by Rosamund Pike. Published 1813, T. Egerton, Whitehall)


Another re-read. I have to say that I might not have been quite as enchanted with Elizabeth Bennet this time around and most certainly not with her fatuous mother, Mrs. Bennet. But Mr. Darcy comes off well, if only because I had the image of Colin Firth at hand throughout Rosamund Pike’s fine narration of this classic. On some levels this book can seem simplistic, but it is so finely knit and so tantalizingly paced and so sharply observant of human character that I willingly fell once again under Ms. Austen’s captivating spell.

7.Riverine: A Memoir from Anywhere by Here by Angela Palm (273 pages, audiobook, narrated by Jorjeana Marie. Published 2016, Graywolf Press)


This book. Wow. Let me just say that I agree with this author about almost nothing but I am in awe of her writing. This is a memoir created from a series of essays threaded together to make a book. It works. Angela Palm could write about putting on her socks and it would shine. I was initially drawn to her book because she writes about growing up in nowhere, Indiana, a plight to which I could relate. In spades. And on a river, as did I, although she has makes the homely Kankakee River shimmer as if it is the center of the universe. Her story is immensely personal but she has the gift of standing outside herself to convey it. Can’t wait to see what she writes next.

6.Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (964 pages, audiobook, narrated by Lee Horsley Published 1985, Simon and Schuster)


Not my century. And most certainly not my genre. A 19th century Western? Are you kidding? And yet, listening to this book was one of the happiest months (it’s a long book!!) of my year. I forced it upon the CE and he loved it, too. Just dive in – I promise you will like it! This 1986 Pulitzer prize-winner is fiction, but the character of Captain Woodrow Call is based on real-life Texas Ranger Charles Goodnight and Augustus “Gus” McCrae on Oliver Loving.

Newt and Jake and Pea Eye and Lorena – they will all become the best friends you wish you’d had, and the cattle drive from Texas to Montana is an odyssey that verges on an epic. Adventure, humor and pathos. This is a great, great read.

5.Silence by Shusaku Endo (256 pages, audiobook, narrated by David Holt. Published 1966, Peter Owen Publishers)


There was a bit of fuss over a film adapted from this book a year or so ago. I didn’t see it, but I remembered hearing that director Martin Scorsese had read and re-read the book a dozen or so times over the years and was long dead set on making a film of it. That piqued my curiosity so off I went on the true-life 17th-century misbegotten journey of Brazilian Catholic priest missionaries to Japan. You probably don’t want to know what the Japanese did to these visitors or to their Christian converts. But the conundrum of faith and how it is best expressed and served, is brilliantly explored in this slim volume. I can see why Scorsese has read it again and again, because as often as one revisits the subject as presented by the Japanese Roman Catholic author, the answers continue to elude.

4. Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers ( 179 pages, audiobook, narrated by Susan Sarandon. Published 1946, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)


Long ago I read and was dazzled by McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. But somehow I never got around to this one. I’m glad I waited, because Susan Sarandon’s narration of this classic was truly a gift. Sarandon is McCullers’ partner in brilliance in this sweet coming-of-age tale set in small-town “the noon air was thick and sticky as hot syrup” Alabama. The black cook Berenice is a study in race relations from a simpler time but one filled with great wisdom.  She longs for a world with “no killed Jews and no hurt colored people.” McCullers, a contemporary of Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote, reportedly irritated and alienated others with her sense of self-importance, but there is no denying her gift. This book is a treasure.

3. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (418 pages, audiobook, narrated by Jeremy Irons. Published 1945, Chapman and Hall)


It is difficult to separate the personality of author Evelyn Waugh from his books, but I am going to go out on a limb and claim that Brideshead Revisited stands on its own merit. Yes, I suppose it is in a some ways a memoir masquerading as a novel, but it is also so much more. Waugh’s stand-in character Charles Ryder becomes entwined first with his Oxford classmate Sebastian Flyte and later with Sebastian’s sister, Julia. I wonder if they are two sides of the same character in Waugh’s remembrance. Roman Catholicism and the ravages of World War II figure prominently in this complex and exquisitely constructed novel. Et in Arcadia ego.

2. Suite Françaiseby Irène Némirovsky (448 pages, Kindle. Published 2004, Denoel)


There are scores of novels written about World War II and The Holocaust. I don’t think I have read one more compelling than this. Partly because it is a good story. It is a descriptive tale of the various ways in which Parisians dealt with the 1940 Nazi occupation and its aftermath. But it is when the novel abruptly ends that the real story begins. Author Némirovsky, a well-known novelist of Jewish-Ukranian origin who had converted to Roman Catholicism, was arrested in Vichy France as she was writing this book and sent to Auschwitz where she perished shortly thereafter. Heartbreaking. This is an important book.

1. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles (313 pages, audiobook, narrated by Jennifer Connelly. Published 1949, John Lehmann)


What an extraordinary book this is. And it is another one that is greatly enhanced by an impeccable narrator – Jennifer Connelly’s narrative performance here is superb. In a post WWII funk, Kit and Port Moresby attempt to heal their troubled marriage by traveling to the Algerian desert. So much sand. And heat. And struggle. “Reach out – pierce the fine fabric of the sheltering sky. Take repose.” This book is dreamlike, yet hauntingly real. We join Kit in her uneasy journey toward awareness: “Someone once had said to her, that the sky hides the night behind it, shelters the person beneath from the horror that lies above.” 

And the plus one? The book that towered effortlessly above the other ten? It was no contest. Best book of my reading year, by a long way:

War and Peaceby Leo Tolstoy (1399 pages, Kindle. Serialized, 1865-1867, The Russian Messenger)

I first tried to read this book back in the 1970’s. Set it aside after a few chapters. Picked it up again when son Taylor was assigned it as a summer requirement for AP high school English. (What were they thinking????) He managed to read it, or pretended to. I couldn’t. Too many horses and soldiers and generals. Fun fact: there are 500 characters in this novel!


I don’t know what clicked for me this time around. Sheer determination? Probably not. I am sadly lacking in such qualities. Perhaps enough accumulation of historical knowledge to gain a bit of a grasp of the Napoleonic Wars, which furnish the backdrop for this great novel. But there is so, so much more. I took pages and pages of notes on this book as I plowed through it this time, so let that be a warning to you. Mention War and Peace to me at your peril! Just take my word for it that this novel is one of the greatest literary accomplishments EVER and that every one of its nearly 1400 pages was a gift. So what if it’s a month or (in my case) six weeks out of your life. Time well spent.

Here’s the thing about reading. Whatever odious thing may be lurking about on a given day, a book gives you a trap door, a detour, a free pass out. I may be stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on the freeway but I have a secret exit. I can think back to Lonesome Dove where Peach drawls to Roscoe “You aint got the sense that God gave a turkey” and have a good laugh. Or maybe I’m transported to Carson McCullers’ Alabama where “it was the end of an afternoon in late November and in the east the sky was the color of a winter geranium.” Life seems to throw things at us almost daily that make no sense, but even then there is the comfort of Tolstoy, reminding us sagely that “The only thing we can know is that we don’t know anything.”

In other words, books make life bearable. And as regretful as I am to let go of these eleven, remnants of them will stay with me always. And there are easily eleven more out there awaiting me – and you! – this year and next year and beyond. Happy reading!

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.”  – Ernest Hemingway

Posted in Books and Reading, Music/Art/Literature/Culture | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Reading Recap: My Lucky 13

Oh, I am a jaded reader. Even time-honored classics don’t make my top ten these days. But after the way I savaged some people’s favorite books and then summarily dismissed others, this should surprise no one. I’m a slow reader and time is moving faster, faster, faster. Frank Zappa’s dilemma hangs over me like a constant cloud: “So many books, so little time.” So yes, I get a bit cranky when I commit to a read and it behaves like a bad houseguest, overstaying its welcome or reveling in dullness, vapidity or hubris.


Luckily, such books are in the minority. I read so many good books this year that some of the greats fell shy of my Top Ten list. I don’t want to be the one to tell Ernest Hemingway he was only a runner-up, but that’s just the way the milk spilt this time around. Here are thirteen of my almost-best reads, in no particular order, some “keepers” from 2017:


A Passage to India by E. M. Forster (370 pages, Kindle, Edward Arnold, published 1924) One of my greatest reading fears is that I will come to the end of books to read by E. M. Forster. I guess I can always start re-reading them; they are that good. Even though his characters can be a bit cartoonish, this novel is compelling in its gentle but probing examination of the clash of British and Indian culture and the Christian and Muslim religions.


The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War by Michael Shaara (355 pages, paperback, McKay, published 1974) This was a re-read of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that put Colonel Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine on the map. I have described it as the gateway drug that will take you down the very deep rabbit hole of Civil War study, so you read it at your own risk! It inspired our visit to Gettysburg and an entire shelf of Civil War arcania on the CE’s bookshelf.


A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (352 pages, Kindle, Charles Scribner’s Sons, published 1929) This WWI novel set in northern Italy might be my least favorite Hemingway but of course, at his worst, he is still better than almost anyone else. The submissive one-dimensionality of the Catherine Barkley character and the unwarranted deference of all to Hemingway’s self-referential Frederic Henry give me fits. But the all night rowing trip from Stresa to safety in Switzerland and the ensuing chapters are unforgettable. This book is the source of the great Hemingway quote “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” In this re-read, I happened to count, apropos of nothing, at least sixty-three references to alcohol. That’s a lot of grappa.


Some Luck: A Novel by Jane Smiley (416 pages, Kindle, Anchor Books, published 2014) Midwest Gothic is how I would describe Smiley’s work. It ambles along to the rhythm of corn growing in the fields and then out of nowhere, lightning strikes. Literally, as it happens, in this book. A sweeping multi-generational family saga, this novel reaches across time from the 1920’s to the Dust Bowl to the Cold War years. If you’re only going to read one book by Jane Smiley, it should be A Thousand Acres, but if, like me, you ache now and then for the cornfields, this one works, too.


Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks (323 pages, Kindle, Penguin Books, published 2002) I don’t know why I like this book. Anna is a peculiarly contemporary heroine set in 17th-century plague-ridden England. The story is somewhat unruly and almost literally gallops off at the end like Anteros, the horse on which Anna escapes to – Algeria? Didn’t see that one coming! But for some reason, this book stuck with me. Brooks stirs a very interesting cauldron of puritanical Christianity and of superstition and witchcraft as a village tries to come to terms with the ravages of the plague.


Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (194 pages, Kindle, Ballantine Books, published 1953) When I finished the re-read of this classic, my first thought was that it didn’t hold up. Bradbury didn’t waste a lot of time developing characters or polishing dialogue and the book read for me like flat champagne, yellowed and a bit viscous. But then again, Bradbury was going for something bigger than character and dialogue. His prescient themes have stayed with me, along with his very apt quoting of Hugh Latimer, who was burned at the stake for heresy in 1555. Yesterday’s heresy is today’s political correctness. And since they are still banning books in 2018 maybe we all need to reread Fahrenheit 451 now and then. My favorite quote: “If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one.”


State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (362 pages, Kindle, Harper, published 2011) Thank the Lord, I finally found an Ann Patchett book that I like! I was all meh about Bel Canto and like ummm about Commonwealth but this one, set in the Amazon jungle, pleased me. Patchett keeps the volume up high with the throbbing pulse of the river and the the bugs and the snakes and the fevers, and thus I found her quirky characters much less intrusive than usual. The gist of it is that a hapless research scientist heads into the jungle and sheds a lot of baggage – literally and figuratively – along the way. Bonuses include bullet ants, anacondas and one of the most beautiful dust jackets in recent memory.


Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright (448 pages, Kindle, Knopf, published 2013) Wright can take the most serpentine of subjects and tease out a thread for the reader to follow. He did it with The Looming Tower and he has done it here with this survey of L. Ron Hubbard and the “religion” of Scientology. Don’t let the page count daunt you – this National Book Award finalist reads like a thriller.


Machine Dreams by Jayne Anne Phillips (331 pages, Kindle, E.P. Dutton/Seymour Lawrence, published 1984) This novel is one of the loveliest books I’d never heard of. Came across it by chance; one of the best surprises of my reading year. Set mostly in West Virginia, it is a period piece, exquisitely paced, capturing and encapsulating middle-class American life from post-WWII to the Vietnam War.



News of the World by Paulette Jiles (224 pages, Audiobook, narrated by Grover Gardner; William Morrow, published 2016) This National Book Award finalist reads simply but there is some beautiful turning of phrase as grizzled war veteran and itinerant news reader Captain Jefferson Kidd is beset in the year 1870 with the task of shepherding a ten-year-old girl recently rescued from abduction by Kiowa Indians. Quotes like this one make this book sing: “…overhead, nightjars moved and sang their low and throaty songs. They swept low like owls, and carried the light of the stars on their backs.”


Since We Fell: A Novel by Dennis Lehane (432 pages, Audiobook, narrated by Julia Whelan;  Ecco, published 2017) This is not my genre and these are not my people. But Dennis Lehane is a good storyteller and an excellent craftsman. I choose books to listen to differently than I choose books to “read”, and this book was a good “listen”. I guess you would call it a “crime novel” or a “thriller”. I looked forward to putting in the earbuds every time I set off on a walk and listened to it. A little scary and fun and I imagine the movie will be coming out soon.


Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott (290 pages, Anchor, published 2000) Anne Lamott probably bristles every time she is lumped in as a “Christian writer” because she will be the first to loudly tell you how little she has in common with many Christians. “Most Christians“, she notes, “seemed almost hostile in their belief that they were saved and you weren’t. But while she gives the side eye to Christianity in general, Lamott unabashedly loves Jesus. Here, she shares her journey out of alcoholism and into faith and motherhood. My favorite quote of hers is in this book: “In fact, not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”


An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn (321 pages, Knopf, published 2017) What a sweet and brilliant read this was! A classics professor at Bard College, Mendelsohn interweaves the poignant history of his own relationship with his father against the backdrop of Odysseus and son Telemachus in Homer’s Odyssey. There are entertaining moments when Mendelsohn’s father decides to audit his class course on the Odyssey and then accompany him on a cruise that mimics Odysseus’ voyage. Along the way we gain so many insights into the epic that it gave at least this reader the courage to tackle it anew. But the most precious insights are about family and love and loss. Mendelsohn gives the reader a most generous gift in this book. Highly recommended.

Next week…finally...the Top Ten from my reading year.



Posted in Books and Reading, Music/Art/Literature/Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Reading Recap: Creature Comforts

When all seems lost, pet a dog. Or a cat. Or maybe an octopus. I promise it will make you feel better. And if you don’t happen to have an octopus nearby, you can read about one and that will make you feel better, too.

One of the best books I read about animals last year was The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery (272 pages, audiobook, narrated by the author. Atria Books, published 2015)


A finalist for the 2015 National Book Award for Nonfiction, this book taught me first and foremost that the plural of octopus is not octopi but octopuses; that the octopus has three hearts and more brain neurons than a rat; and that the average octopus lives only two or three years. But the great joy of this book is Montgomery’s ability to convey the almost spiritual connection she experiences with these creatures whose outer skin layer is basically the same as the lining of the human gut. From the New England Aquarium to the shallows of a Moorea lagoon, Montgomery pursues her passion for the reclusive mollusks and shares the tender kinship she comes to feel with them. And yes, she pets them! A quote: “Perhaps this is the pace at which the Creator thinks, in this weighty, graceful, liquid manner, like blood flows, not like synapses fire…” Highly recommended.

Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel by Carl Safina (480 pages, Kindle.  Henry Holt and Co., published 2015)  was a less graceful read, but I came to accept that its discursivity had purpose. Safina could have written three more easily digestible books here rather than one. But he ardently desires his reader to follow the thread he stitches across various species, celebrating their magnificence and despairing in the often horrific fate they experience when their paths cross with those of humans. The thread, roughly, is the complex philosophical concept of theory of mind, but for those of us of less lofty mind let’s just say that Safina makes a compelling case for the intellectual and communication abilities of animals, focusing primarily on elephants, wolves and killer whales.  Safina occasionally waxes fanatic but this is still a worthy read. Safina apparently keeps chickens, so in the end he’s all right by me.

New York Times photo:


Speaking of elephants, one of the great joys of my reading year was Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II by Vicki Croke (368 pages, Kindle. Random House, published 2014) The subject of this New York Times bestseller is World War II legend James Howard “Billy” Williams; the other main characters are the Texas-sized country of Burma and the elephants that Howard harnessed in a harrowing evacuation from Japanese-held territory.

National Geographic  review of the book is accompanied by this photo of a mahout astride an elephant hefting a massive teak log:


Williams entered the jungles of Burma after World War I as a teak logger, where he forged an uncanny connection with the elephants used to transport the mighty teak logs. He was the right man in the right place at the right time, and emerged a hero. Highly recommended. (For another fascinating read on WWII Burma (minus the elephants) please consider Richard Flanagan’s Man Booker prize-winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.)

I am an unrepentant lover of almost all creatures furred and feathered, but I struggle mightily with coyotes. So, just as I did when I faced up to my ambivalence about crows , I decided to seek out a book about the wily “prairie wolf”. Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History by Dan Flores (288 pages, audiobook, narrated by Elijah Alexander. Basic Books, published 2016)


I certainly learned a thing or twelve about coyotes, although my relationship with them remains uneasy at best. Author Flores, on the other hand, is most definitely on team coyote, seeming to hold them in as high esteem as the Native Americans and Aztecs for whom the canid served as a deity. Well researched and written, if a bit starstruck over his subject, Flores’ book is worth reading if you really, really, really want to know about these ubiquitous predators.

A book is at its best when it absolutely transports the reader, which is exactly what The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape (304 pages, paperback, Published by Allen Lane, 2015) did for me. The author is a third-generation sheep farmer in England’s wondrously beautiful Lake District. Rebanks is justifiably proud yet just the slightest bit self-consciously combative about his post-Oxford decision to continue in the tradition of his father and grandfather in raising Herdwick sheep. The book’s title is a riff on the 1910 novel A Shepherd’s Life by William Henry Hudson, presumably in a nod to the timelessness of his career choice.

The Telegraph photo of Rebanks:


Rebanks hails from the same county in Cumbria as Beatrix Potter and like her, he makes one wants to linger there forever among the fells and the fields. He loves the land, he loves his family and he especially loves his border collies. You can follow him on Twitter @herdyshepherd1 and be treated to almost daily photos, along with his unreservedly strong opinions about politics and the ethics of farming.

All these blessed critters illuminated my reading experience. I hope they will likewise illuminate yours.

Love the animals. God has given them

the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled.

Don’t trouble it, don’t harass them,

don’t deprive them of their happiness, 

don’t work against God’s intent.”

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Posted in Animal/Vegetable/Mineral, Music/Art/Literature/Culture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments