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Friday, November 26, 2010

My World Travels on Thanksgiving Day

Some years back, David and I decided not to travel for holidays in November and December. The weather is too dicey, for one thing, and besides, there are too many people on the roads, all hurrying to their destinations. Better, we agreed, to visit our families at other times of year and stay in our own home for winter holidays. But my trusty armchair has wings! Under a warm comforter, I am a world traveler!

When a bookseller deals in used books as well as new, the surprises from day to day are endless, and so I found myself on yesterday’s cozy holiday at home reading Kim Sunée’s Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home. The trail took me first from Seoul, Korea, to New Orleans, U.S.A. Then, after Kim left her adopted parents’ Louisiana home, I traveled with her to Florida and Sweden, Italy and North Africa. But we spent most of our time in France, in Paris and in Provence. Can you believe that she had, for a while, a little bookstore on the Île St. Louis that sold nothing but poetry? No, it did not make a profit. I knew you would ask!

Part of the reason I often find it difficult to recommend books to other people is that tastes and interests are so diverse. I have no problem telling someone what books I love and why. Whether that other person will love a particular book, however, is something I cannot predict with certainty, and I bring this up because the copy of Trail of Crumbs that I have been devouring so avidly came into my hands with a note in the back from a previous reader. That note read, “An okay memoir—not sure I would have finished it if I had not heard Kim speak at TC library—felt ending was abrupt—Recipes are full of fats and small servings.” Would not have read the whole book if she hadn’t heard the author speak? Really??? There, you see, is the danger of recommending a book to someone else, because if that someone else hadn’t heard the author speak and had the same reaction to the book as the writer of this note--! Well, you see the difficulty. I, however, had none.

Any book that begins in France grabs my attention, but when the author flashed back to her childhood abandonment at three years old, in an outdoor food market in Korea, I accompanied her not only willingly but eagerly. When a young American couple adopted Kim and another Korean orphan girl and took them back to New Orleans, that part of the story mesmerized me, also. Childhood is never as simple from the inside as adults looking at it from the outside want to believe. Two little girls who didn’t look like anyone else in their school, taunted by other children, suffered painful confusion, although in Kim’s case the suffering was at least partially counterbalanced by her relationship with “Poppy,” her adopted mother’s father, who welcomed her into his kitchen and taught her to love cooking. In fact, on almost every page of this book, long before the Paris chapters, I was ever so slightly distracted by wondering who among my friends and family members would most enjoy this story.

Well, yes, some of the recipes are full of fats. The cream of chestnut soup, for example, contains a quarter-cup of heavy cream and only serves four (“Small servings”), but that’s only two tablespoons of cream per person, and is that so bad? (My Thanksgiving contribution to a large dinner party last year, cream of chestnut soup was not on our table this year, but maybe it will be for Christmas.) I have a few short chapters to go in this book so cannot yet say anything about the ending and whether or not it strikes me as “abrupt.” I’ll report on that another time.

Did you know that this year was the 100th anniversary of birth of gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt? That this year is the 70th anniversary of the release of “The Wizard of Oz,” featuring one of the most beautifully poignant popular songs ever written, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”? We enjoyed these programs and more on NPR. Public radio, as I first remember noticing in 1991, seems to offer exceptionally good programming on holidays. Thanks to NPR, we traveled to the Land of Oz! Then came bedtime and the moment to turn to Mark Twain, reading aloud and sharing several exciting chapters of Life on the Mississippi, which took me once again to New Orleans, where I’d been earlier in the day.

David worked outdoors during the day on storm windows and barn door props while I mixed up cookie dough in my cozy kitchen. Later Sarah and I braved grey skies and drizzle for a walk and romp involving (on her part) lots of running and stick retrieval. No car motors were started, no planes or trains boarded by our pack on Thanksgiving Day, and we were indoors more than out most of the day, but don’t be misled by “facts.” We got in plenty of holiday travel, in our own way.

Now there is a tree to decorate at Dog Ears Books in Northport, and tonight there will be cookies to bake for tomorrow’s Open House. Story Hour will be from 2:30-3:30. Will I be the reader or someone else? What will be read? I’ll just say now, Don’t arrive late and miss the beginning of the story or the chance to sample a cookie before settling in for the reading! Do you enjoy being read to? All ages are welcome--and who knows where we might go together?


ali g said...

Hi Pamela
Enjoy reading your blogs from 'down under'
Thanks also for your recent help via email

P. J. Grath said...

Hi, Grahame! How exciting to have a regular reader way down in New South Wales! Tell Kathy I hope she is able to reconnect with Mike and that her e-mail has brought forth many memories for David of college days with Mike et al.

dmarks said...

"Then came bedtime and the moment to turn to Mark Twain, reading aloud and sharing several exciting chapters of Life on the Mississippi, which took me once again to New Orleans, where I’d been earlier in the day."

I once analyzed sections of that book enough to find out what he got wrong.

P. J. Grath said...

You are such a tease, dmarks. You make that statement and then don't give us a single example, inducing a killing curiosity!

Kathy said...

Our book club has learned the hard way that it's almost impossible to determine who will and won't like a book. Most of them have decided that the books I like are too "deep" for the majority of them. Sigh... The book you are reading sounds good to me. Except for the fats. Lol. My gall bladder would need immediate surgery.

P. J. Grath said...

I'll have to think a bit on which books met with unanimous approval. Two that come to mind right away are THE TREES (which you bought at my bookstore!) and SEASON OF WATER AND ICE, but I know there were a couple of others.

I enjoyed TRAIL OF CRUMBS a lot. I don't think anyone would call it too deep, but there's some "meat" to it, in the way of things to think about. And by the way, I did NOT think the ending was "abrupt," as a previous reader of my copy found it. In fact, if it had ended even a full chapter sooner, I wouldn't have found that abrupt, either. I like that the story basically (though not first and last pages) begins and ends in a market, which makes perfect sense given this writer's life.

Now tonight (Saturday), back to Mark Twain....

Kathy said...

I will especially look for the Season of Water and Ice. Thank you! So far you have 100% positive recommendation rating--in my book. :)

dmarks said...

Actually, it was section in which he passed between La Crosse and Hastings. It also happened to be written in a sort of chamber of commerce local booster style, also.

Dawn said...

A perfect way to spend a holiday weekend, exploring the world from the warmth and comfort of your own reading chair. I often felt that travel at the holidays was just to exhausting. I stayed home this year and it was so much more relaxing.

Kathy said...

Just requested the Season of Water and Ice for Christmas. Something more to look forward to in the holiday season... Thank you.

P. J. Grath said...

Kathy, Donald Lystra is the author of SEASON OF WATER AND ICE, Michigan Notable Book from 2009. He and his wife have an old farm near Omena here in Leelanau County and divide their time between that and Ann Arbor. Thanks for the 100% recommendation!

I’ll keep in mind your assessment of that section of LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI, dmarks. Wonder what could have influenced Twain to abandon his usual acerbic style, assuming that you’re right? Don’t hold your breath for my verdict, however (as if you would), because when we read a book aloud to each other it can take a long time to get through. We don’t exactly keep to a schedule.

Dawn, it sounds like a lot of people had quiet holidays at home this year. Not bad at all, is it? Better than being body-scanned or groped in an airport, in my opinion, or white-knuckled on the road. Relaxing is good--something more for which to be thankful.

Gerry said...

I want to sit in that chair with that throw and that cup of tea and read a good book all afternoon. Miss Sadie is snoozing in my reading chair, and I have some serious Cowboy grooming to do. How do you feel about audio books?

P. J. Grath said...

Trust you to ask a dangerous question, Gerry. How do I FEEL about audio books? First I'll say what I THINK, which is that they are intermediate to reading print on a page and watching the movie version. So much depends on the actor/reader, and that person is doing the work of interpretation that would otherwise have to be done by the reader holding a book in his or her hands.

As for how I feel.... When I had the flu last year, I listened to an old favorite on audio, but I'd read it many times before, the old-fashioned way. We've tried audio books in the car two or three times but always return to one of us reading aloud from a traditional book while the other drives. It's so much easier that way for one or the other of us to interrupt the reading to make a comment, point out something outside the car, or for us to have a discussion about something in the story.

If I couldn't hold a book or see pages, I'd rather listen than be deprived altogether, but in general it just isn't my way of getting into books. I feel (yes, this is a feeling!) that whoever is reading to me has too much control over how I hear the author's words, and I don't want a middleman there, thank you very much.

But I realize we are all different! And that lots of people spend hours a day alone in their cars, which might drive (!) even me to audio books!