Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Story of Arthur Truluv, by Elizabeth Berg ~ my review

The Story of Arthur TruluvSuch a sweet story ~ Arthur Moses, Maddy Harris, and Lucille Howard finding each other, taking care of each other. We all should be so blessed. Author Elizabeth Berg’s novel, The Story of Arthur Truluv, is based in the unpleasant facts that life can be cruel, some people find cruelty entertaining, and loss and longing are profoundly painful. Berg then transforms these lonely sorrows into hope.

Eighty-five-year-old Arthur Moses’ beloved wife Nola dies six months before this novel opens at her grave, with Arthur having his daily lunch with her. Maddy Harris, still painfully alone in the world after her mother’s death and father’s distance, hangs out at the cemetery to avoid her high school classmates’ contempt. Arthur and Maddy strike up a conversation. Meanwhile, Arthur’s next-door neighbor, Lucille, is distraught and depressed at losing her recently reappeared high school beau. Despite their differences, these three people extend simple kindnesses to each other. Friendships are born. Lifesaving friendships. Life-enriching friendships. Second-chance-giving friendships.

I enjoyed reading this uplifting novel. Plus, I always enjoy Elizabeth Berg’s presentation of everyday life. A bonus in The Story of Arthur Truluv happens in the symbolic cemetery. A favorite pastime of Arthur is imagining lives of buried persons from minimal facts on headstones. What he comes up with is classic Berg. For example: “When she read, she liked to be barefoot and she liked to lace her fingers through her toes.” [p. 48] Another excerpt: “Even in old age, he and his wife would load up the car with blankets and lawn chairs and go out to reserve a place in the park while the sky was still a smoky red and the birds had not yet begun to sing.” [p. 49] I very much admire Elizabeth Berg’s creative combination of her powers of observation and imagination.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

My review of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility

No wonder Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility is a classic!

Sense and sensibility, represented respectively in sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, carry them through romantic hopes and dashed hopes in Victorian Devonshire. They both fall in love with men they cannot have and after ups and downs, twists and turns, end up in marriages with reliable men. Their different approaches to romantic disappointment are consistent with their approaches to many other situations among family and friends. Indeed, the foibles of this Jane Austen’s novel’s cast of characters give Elinor and Marianne many opportunities to display their sense (reason) and sensibility (emotionality).

Would that today’s society had the good sense to practice Elinor Dashwood’s Victorian communication habits of courteous truth-telling and thinking the best of others. Sometimes she even has to fight to think fine motivations for foolish behavior. She must feel the fool herself while withholding judgment on such egregious acts of inconsideration. Her reason and good sense also include respecting promises and others’ decisions, even when they hurt her.

Even feelings-led, superficiality-satisfied, romantic-notioned Marianne (representing sensibility) grows to realize that character counts.

Sense and Sensibility is an epiphany enthusiast’s dream novel. Some characters, of course, remain blind, self-centered fools, but others humbly learn valuable lessons from their mistakes. Austen’s dialogue is lively. I would have liked to have known energetic Mrs. Jennings. The warmth of the Dashwood family (at least Mrs. Dashwood and her daughters) inspires. I enjoy Austen’s dry wit in this novel. Often it comes in Fanny’s outrageously convoluted, self-congratulating excuses why she cannot help Elinor and Marianne. Sometimes the humor comes in the differences between sense and sensibility, such as this scene in which Elinor and Marianne reminisce about their former home, Norland:

“Dear, dear Norland,” said Elinor, “probably looks much as it always does at this time of the year. The woods and walks thickly covered with dead leaves.”

“Oh,” cried Marianne, “with what transporting sensation have I formerly seen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them driven in showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season, the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight.”

“It is not every one,” said Elinor, “who has your passion for dead leaves.” [pages 93, 94 in my edition]

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Dunn Museum grand reopening

A recent Saturday was the grand opening of the Lake County Museum, now called the Dunn Museum, in its new location. We heard a fascinating lecture by paleoartist Tyler Keillor on how he crafted the museum’s dryptosaurus dinosaur model. Both his scientific research and artistic methods were interesting. This dino is based on bones found in New Jersey in mid-1800s—only about half a dozen bones though, so the model seems fairly speculative.

Museum exhibits take people from prehistoric times, through Native American settlements, through the 1800s and 1900s into this century, all with a focus on Lake County, Illinois. For example, there’s an 1864 letter from a Civil War soldier to his sister in Lake County.

In the simulated classroom are a local family’s ancestor’s textbooks like Appleton’s School Reader, a primer that competed with the popular McGuffey Reader in the late 1800s. My grandma used McGuffey Readers in Indiana at the turn of the century, and I love knowing she learned to read by reading bible stories and classic literature, including challenging poetry. And Dick, Jane, and Spot primers of the 1950s were thought to be an improvement on McGuffey?

Videos narrated by journalist Bill Kurtis depict famous Lake County events (train robbery) and inventions (35mm movie projector).

I loved working at the Lake County Museum eons ago, and Saturday I tracked down my former boss, who declined to be photographed but wanted a photo of the first person (me) she hired to work on the one-million-plus postcard collection with the last person (Rebecca) she hired to work on the collection. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Easter memories

Wrinkling our noses at the pungent vinegar smell, we four kids dipped white eggs into egg-dye water in Mom’s teacups lining the center of the kitchen table. When we were little, we probably knelt on chairs to reach and fought over whose turn it was to use the copper wire dipper. When we were older, we probably had more of a team spirit, taking turns with dipper, wax decorating pencil, and chick and bunny stickers. But at all ages, we were excited to prepare for the egg hunt Easter morning.

Meanwhile, Mom sewed new Easter dresses for us girls. She took us shopping for pretty hats. We sang along with her, “In My Easter Bonnet” around the house. On Easter Sunday, Dad lined us up in front of the house in our new finery for the obligatory Easter photo. As pretty as those flowery hats were, when I was a teen, I scowled to have to wear them. And white gloves.

I loved Easter egg hunts. The pastel woven baskets were so pretty, and one was just for me. We knew all Mom’s favorite hiding places—on windowsills, behind pillows, above picture frames. Before returning my found eggs to be refrigerated, while they were in my basket, I loved to look at them in all their purple- and pink-spattered beauty. Mom always put chocolate eggs and rabbits in each basket, too. Oh, chocolate eggs! Then came jelly bean trades among us kids—I would trade any of my flavors for their licorice jelly beans. Some years, after all the eggs had been found and counted, we’d cover our eyes while a designated “Easter Bunny” re-hid all the eggs so we could have the fun of the hunt again.

I do not recall much connection between colorful eggs and chocolate candy and Resurrection Sunday back then. My family church’s deep purple draping on the cross was exchanged for brilliant white. The church itself did not smell any more or less like incense and melted candle wax, save fragrant pots of tall white lilies at the altar’s base. That Jesus had risen from the dead I believed to be miraculous, but not personal. Easter’s true celebration was almost incidental to the fun of Easter baskets and Easter egg hunts.

Decades later, when I realized I had spilled way more than egg dye on my life, and those spills could not be wiped clean with a dishcloth—they needed forgiveness by a divine Savior—I came to see the incomprehensibly humbling glory of Jesus’ death and resurrection … for me. Now I’ve flipped Easter priorities—celebrating and loving Jesus back come first, colorful eggs second.

Shhh … don’t tell anyone, but early tomorrow, after I sing Easter thanks and praises to my Jesus, I may casually peek behind the curtains just in case my husband has hidden any of the eggs we dyed today.  

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13

Friday, March 30, 2018

Quite a Year for Plums ~ my review

Quite a Year for Plums Oh, the wit and wisdom of Hilma, Eula, and Meade in Quite a Year for Plums! Though called a novel, Quite a Year for Plums is more a series of vignettes from the lives of the aforementioned ladies. Author Bailey White has created a thoroughly enjoyable cast of characters from the southern Georgia town where Hilma, Eula, and Meade observe, support, snipe, reminisce, and engage with their families, neighbors, and agrarian culture.

The book contains a little romance, mostly failed or unfulfilled, poignant moments, and a LOT of humor. I laughed often at little absurdities and endearing oddities, not the least of which was the characters’ absorption with technical names of birds and plants. I found one chapter completely hilarious and many others pretty funny, too.

After finishing Quite a Year for Plums, I’m heading to my library to look for more of what Bailey White has written. How often do you get to smile all the way through a novel? When do you get to marvel at an author’s finely honed—I mean spare, no word wasted—dialogue? When do you want to sign up for a writer’s very next writing class on the concept of “show, don’t tell”? Heck, if Bailey White were teaching a class on creating strong characters, I’d sign up for that one, too.