The Widdershins


Posted on: July 20, 2009

The Book ClubI am a bookworm. I make no bones about it, I read a lot. I have spoken before of my love for the written word and am hard pressed to pinpoint a time in my life when I did not have a book in my hands which led to some pretty bad dinners set before my family when I found myself buried within the pages of a book while the dinner was left to overcook itself.

Books have been my salvation in a sense. They took me away to safe places as the world in which I resided was shook by uncertainties and chaos over which I had little control. Finding refuge in the pages, I was able to shut out my surroundings for a time, carried away to other worlds that served as a balm to a troubled spirit.

Although I have read many books, there are a few that had a profound impact on me as I permitted the author to take up residence in my mind. Upon reading Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” I felt the dust in my mouth as he narrated the story of the Joad family, inching their way across the nation seeking the land of plenty as had been promised awaited them in California during the Depression years of the 30’s. His ability to chronicle the devastation of that time along with the displacement of whole families who had tended the land for centuries, was a mixture of despair and hope. He was able to capture the indestructibility of the human spirit coupled with the exposure of a corrupt system of governance that led to so much of the suffering. The impact was stunning.

“The Diary of Anne Frank” brought me into her world through the amazing talent of a 14 year old to see life through the eyes of a young girl living in cramped quarters and terror filled days as the Nazi’s held a death grip over Europe. Some of her writing is typical reportage from teen ager on the brink of womanhood, but her prose was indicative of a powerful insight and the talent that was never fully allowed to materialize. She embodied a belief that things would be better one day when the madness was erased and that within each of us was to be found something good. That belief was never realized but her spirit resonates in the message she left behind. One cannot read her words and not be affected.

I was reading “Sophie’s Choice” one hot day in August, counting the days when school would reopen, as the kids cavorted in the pool while I assumed my role as lifeguard, referee, and timekeeper. I had arrived at the passage where Sophie stood on the train platform and was told by the Nazi officer to make a choice: which one of her two children would live. It was the first time that Styron had indicated that Sophie had more than one child as up until then we had been informed only of her sense of loss for her son in the death camps. I remember feeling absolutely blindsided by this revelation. How could any mother be forced to make that decision? I felt numb at the prospect at facing such an obscene choice.

I put the book aside, struck by the power of the image created by the author. Looking over at my own 4, screaming, whining, laughing, splashing, as they enjoyed themselves on an otherwise typical hot summer afternoon, I had to put the book aside. The terror had entered my brain and I though I had joined Sophie on that platform, I could not continue the journey. It was too overwhelmingly impossible to bear. The author had made his reader a witness to events that no one should have ever had to endure. It took me days before I had the courage to take up the book once again but the effect remains to this day as I can conjure up that feeling quite easily.

“My Jim” by Nancy Rawles is this month’s selection for our upcoming Tuesday July Book Club meeting. It is a slim book, no more than 161 pages in length, with the story told as a narrative by a former slave named Sadie who was married to Jim, the character who traveled with Huckleberry Finn down the Mississippi River. The story is fiction, the events all too real. As the author noted in her “ back of the book interview”, she had immersed herself in numerous accounts of slavery written over the years, along with speaking to many who had stories passed down to them from ancestors who had lived under its yoke. One passage took my breath away as Sadie recounts how she was beaten so badly by the “Massa” that it cost her the loss of an eye. The brutality in that one paragraph caused me to put the book aside once again as the power of the author’s handiwork emanated and another visual was born.

The image and the transference leapt off the page and planted itself firmly once again in my brain. In that moment I became Sadie, watching my child sold out to slavery and never to be seen again. Indescribable emotional torment.

Non fiction chronicles our history and attempts to explain the people and decision making that goes into the process. Fiction attempts to find the empathy and shared experiences that forms our humanness. Both have equal power on our lives. When the author locates the chord that binds us together through the profundity of their words, their gift is unwrapped. They have found a way to tap into the resources we all hold within ourselves. We need them on our varied roads of discovery.

The power of the written word cannot be relegated to the ashes of history.  Long live the authors and their ability to translate into writing who we are.


34 Responses to "Morning Widdershins: THE PLEASURE OF THEIR COMPANY"

Beautiful! I too can name summers past by the great books I read..The most recent memorable summer like these was the one I read Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.
Here’s a less memorable but somewhat entertaining read from Politico

I also love reading! As a kid I couldn’t wait to start a new book – even though I was still reading the previous one. So frequently I’d be reading two or three books at the same time, which for some reason angered my parents. They started insisting I finish one book first. As a 7 year old I was simultaneously reading “The Count of Monte Cristo,” “The Mysterious Island,” and “The Three Musketeers.” By 9 I’d read the entire Musketeers saga (“20 Years Later” and the complete “Le Vicomte de Bragellone” trilogy.) Interestingly fiction has always been my preference. I prefer the escapism of it all. I almost never read non-fiction. Among my favorite authors I include Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, E.M. Forster, Alexander Dumas, Jules Verne, Cormack McCarthy, Anne Rice – before she went all born-again on us. Of the modern literature the most amazing books I’ve read in the last decade or so are “All The Pretty Horses,” “The Remains of the Day,” “The English Patient,” and yes, the Harry Potter saga. It may be cool to rag on Rowling, but I think the universes she conjures are so vivid and thrilling!

Reading has helped me through a lot in life. It made me understand more and be more aware of the differences in the world. It has made me laugh out loud The MASH series, it has made me cry The Diary of Anne Frank.
I thank God every day that I have the ability to read and the availability of books.
Now I am off to see the wizard and see if I get picked for jury duty.



See, my problem is, people who say they love to read as much as I do always name classics. I like trash. Give me Janet Evanovich, Christopher Moore, James Patterson, John Grisham, Lisa Scottoline, etc., and I’m a happy camper. I don’t want to examine man’s existential nature or the meaning of life, that’s what internet news roundups are for. I wanna have fun.

cinie: I love Sue Grafton! She can’t turn them out fast enough for me.


Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plumb series crackes me up, so funny! I do like trash reading myself. I enjoy reading just for the fun of it. To your list I will add Carolyn Haines series Sarah Booth Delaney mysteries, anything by Robert B. Parker, James Patterson’s Alex Cross series and John Sandford’s Prey series.

Pat, Good post! I love to read.

Hello Widdershins! I just got home from spending a week at the Joisey Shoah (translation: Jersey Shore) where much time was spent reading and relaxing. I’ve recently discovered P.D. James and am in the process of reading all of her Adam Dalgliesh mysteries. I highly recommend this author. Her books are classic, curl-up-in-front-of-the-fire, mysteries, and beautifully written. P.D. James is an artist with her use of the language.

I also recommend books by Rita Mae Brown. I had the honor of meeting her and chatting with her a few months ago. She is even more brilliant in person than her amazing books reflect. She autographed my copy of Rubyfruit Jungle, a hillarious yet poignant coming-of-age story of a young girl growing up and discovering that she is gay. It’s a must read as far as I am concerned.

Love the post, Pat J. To my mind, summer is about turning off the TV, eating lots of fruits and veggies, enjoying the outdoors, and reading, reading, reading!

By the way, Cinnie, I really don’t consider Grisham to be trash. His book, The Appeal, tells how easily an election can be bought, and I think should also be required reading for anyone who doubts that Goldman Sachs bought and paid for this presidency.

janicen: I also join you in your selections. And “The Appeal” was one I could not put down. Fantastic!

CNAK, there’s a whole genre of culinary mystery authors like, Joanne Fluke and GA McKevett that I enjoy. Their novels often come with recipes included.
But, for sheer outrageous lunacy, I suggest that anybody with a sense of humor about religion read ‘Lamb: The Gospel According To Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal,” by Christopher Moore.

Pat, I was just recalling the passage (which may have been overly inflated by my then teen age mind) when Pa Joad drives the ramshackle truck across the dusty deserts on his way to an uneasy salvation in California. Steinbeck’s description of his ear to every possibly disastrous crunch, pop, or whirr that may bode the demise of the family’s attempts. Remembering many times when I was listening to those sounds, hoping it wouldn’t be the end; remembering many cross-country jaunts when my father was searching for work, later when my own family made less dramatic, yet poignant treks. I guess it was a testament to a tom boy’s love of cars that that passage was a highlight.

lililam: And a tribute to the author in his ability to recreate the sound and emotion of that chapter. They had to get through, no other choice. Very moving.

Janicen, when I say “trash,” I’m not talking about the quality of writing, or the entertainment value, but the level of pretense associated with the particular genre.
And, I agree wholeheartedly about The Appeal and last year’s election, I even wrote a post about it a while back.

This is such a wonderful post. I was the kind of kid who thought the library was the most incredible place in the world. FREE BOOKS! Could anything be more exciting?

I preferred the jingling of the Bookmobile to the jangling of the ice cream truck.

To this day, I live for books. I read mostly fiction, but I am pretty indiscriminate. Classics and mysteries – I can’t get enough! I read at least three-four books a week.

I am so glad to know that many of my fellow bloggy travelers enjoy reading as much as I do.

I will be taking all the suggestions in this thread and giving them a try! I would like to add David Baldacci to my suggestions. I often learn something even when reading the fluff books I like.

Pat, I have not read The Grapes of Wrath or Sophie’s Choice yet so I am going to pick them up and do so pronto.

I haven’t read quite a few of the classics so I’ll take suggestions from all of you. It is hard to know what’s a good read without suggestions. I can’t tell you all how much money I’ve wasted on books I don’t like in my quest for a good read.

carolinenotakennedy: Both these books start out slowly so please be patient and give it a little time to get into them. But well worth it.

madamab: Like you, I head for the book dept of most any store I find myself in before I actually begin to “shop”. That compulsion has never left me.

Yes! CNAK! Baldacci, and Steve Berry, Linda Fairstein, Robert Tannenbaum, and even Dan Brown are authors I love. I can’t even think of all the novelists I enjoy reading off the top of my head. I love ‘net surfing and researching stuff that interests me, but, when it comes to books, I read strictly for entertainment instead of enlightenment. With the good novels, though, I get both.

Pat, I won’t give up, promise. I’ll let you know how I like them as I finish each one.

Cinie, I’v not read any Steve Berry, Linda Fairstein, Robert Tannenbaum. Thanks for the suggestions, I’ll get to them eventually. Thanks!

Wow Madamab! Three to Four a week! I thought I was bad with one to two a week! lol

CNAK: You see why my library card is the most important card in my wallet. LOL

More fiction recommendations for very well-written mysteries:

Tess Gerritsen
Kathy Reichs
Laura Lippman
Minette Walters (British)
Elizabeth George (British)
James Lee Burke
Lee Child
John T. Lescroart
Harlan Coben
Lawrence Block

Funny (madcap) mysteries:

Tim Dorsey (the Serge series)
Donald Westlake (Dortmunder)

Enjoy, enjoy!

I would add:

Anita Brookner
William Trevor
Elizabeth Berg
Ann Taylor
Dennis Lehane
Richard Yates

Dennis Lehane! Forgot him.

I don’t think I’ve read any of the others. Am taking notes!

O/T. I posted here the other day what was on the front page of as to the political positions they endorse. They were listed as:

“If you LOVE Sarah Palin or wish to see more conservative values of Reagan in D.C and less outrageous spending, debt, and far left socialism of FDR or Carter join Team Sarah, join the conservative movement and help ensure real change in 2010 and 2012!!!”

It has been changed now to: “Team Sarah is a diverse coalition of Americans dedicated to advancing the values that Sarah Palin represents in the political process.”

Maybe it is still somewhere on the site, but it is no longer on the front page.

I have to agree, it is wonderful to know all of you Widdershins and that you all enjoy reading as much as I. I remember a few years ago hearing that a measure of intelligence was if one read five books a year. Five books a year, are you kidding?! My husband and daughter and I tried to list the books we had read in the past year and couldn’t even count them. We thought, surely everyone reads at least five books a year. That is, until I started mentioning it among people with whom I had occasion to socialize. I actually knew two women who were in their late thirties at the time who confessed that they had never read an entire book. Not one book. I asked one if she read to her kids, and she said that she tried, but could never finish a book because it was too boring. How sad for those women, and even sadder for the rest of us, because these women voted! I bet you can guess how they voted.

I also forgot Ruth Rendell.

And yes, janicen, the art of reading is slowly on the wane. This is one of the main reasons for the “dumbing down of America” in my opinion

Wow, Janicen. That is really, really sad.

La-t-da – Marketing is a beautiful thing, now, isn’t it? The Republicans are soooooooo good at it.

New post up!

La-t-da, let’s see how long it takes them to change this one, which is listed on You Tube as Team Sarah, with the original “if you’re tired…’ blah-blah:

la-t-da, Just what we need more conservative values of Reagan. UGH!!!!

I would add these mystery writers: Elizabeth George and Anne Perry.

I picked up Grapes of Wrath after reading Pat’s comments about it at The Confluence. But I was very busy then and couldn’t get it finished by the due date (times two). So I decided to get my own copy as it is really luscious writing. You really can taste and feel the dust, it’s like another character in the beginning of the book. I’m hoping my book club will select some Steinbeck, but we mostly read women authors.

Recently I finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It’s setting and time are the Channel Islands during the war and it is a lovely book filled with wit and ‘real life-ness,’ if you will. I like war stories, but not so much about the wars specifically; I like the stories about what happens around the war, and how regular people dig deep into themselves to cope. In that vein, I recommend The Siege, by Helen Dunmore, and Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier. Cold Mountain, like The Grapes of Wrath, is beautifully written. The Siege is gritty and remarkable, one of the best depictions of what the extremities of war do to regular people, the ones who are never counted as heroes but who act heroically to save themselves or their loved ones.

Team Sarah is following the Obama’s campaign marketing tactics. He opened that door and they are following. Look at the language of the statement they took down.

“If you LOVE Sarah Palin… (very first words) OR wish to see more conservative values of Reagan in D.C (then policy to follow).

They are using the “support” v “defend” argument right off the bat. If you love her you will defend or against sexism OR you could to it because of policy. This is the Obama campaigns tactics. Defend him against “racism” or be a policy based voter. We all know which on got him in office.

Team Sarah learned fast and well. SBA List has studied the marketing of a personality.

You can all come upstairs and talk about Palin if you want. Early indicators show she is one of the two most popular Repubs for 2012; Mitt “Magic Underwear” Romney is the other.

I got in trouble with reading way back in first grade: I ‘passed’ despite not knowing how to read. Eventually I figured out that it was reading aloud (all they did in class) that I failed; I had a fairly severe speech defect, but I got stars for keeping the place in the reader.

At the start of WWII we moved to Tennessee, and I discovered an entire closet filled with books. I read them all: Bobbsey Twins, Little Colonel, Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come, Freckles, The Red Shadow, everything there. I finally found a public library in CA. when my kids were little, and I made a habit of a book a day. I still keep to that.

Mostly my reading is nighttime relaxation–all those mysteries. I have read Steinbeck, Upton Sinclair (loved his Lanny Budd series), James Agee, the USA trilogy, Asimov, Tolstoy and Solzhenitsyn. But I cannot go to sleep till I have had my several-hundred-page-dose of Rita Mae or Carolyn Hart, or Mary Daheim, etc. I also love Miss Read and the other Brits who write tongue-in-cheek. My latest feat—A History of God by Karen Armstrong–heavy stuff.

Wow, Molly! You definitely win the prize for biggest bookworm on TW so far! How wonderful!

I find TV cannot compete with the world of books. If I start out watching a program, I soon find my attention wandering to the nearest book. Without TV to distract, books rule here.

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