What Do You Consider a Good Book?

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BOOKS! Books! books! So many books… offering promises of new vistas to imagine and new paths to walk. What grabs your attention in a book? What is it about a story that leaves you with lingering memory traces, to feel and review once again, long after the book is finished?

I APPRECIATE DEPTH in any book, fiction or non-fiction. In fiction, I am partial to stories with lots of dialogue (as in Hemingway), but yet, I can be mesmerized by a book with little verbal interaction among characters, such as An Unnecessary Woman, I am reading currently.

I DON’T ENJOY fiction with stereotyped jargon, two-dimensional characters that are not very interesting, a story line too predictable or simplistic, a boring theme or plot, or no plot. I welcome a good story in a locale that is new and unfamiliar to me.

MY INTERESTS extend well beyond fiction, however, and I tend to choose books from a wide variety of topics and genres. I find it most satisfying when I learn something new from reading, or the author stimulates my thinking about a dilemma or circumstance in a different way.

A HOUSE WITH BOOKS seems a little warmer and inviting somehow.

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MY KINDLE rests on my bedside table so I can read a few paragraphs or chapter of an e-book before sleep. I love the bright red cover. I tied a red ribbon around it. When I untie the ribbon to read, I feel as if I have opened a gift… which of course I have. In addition to the ongoing gift of adventure, my son Jon gave me the Kindle.

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MY DAUGHTER SUZANNE crocheted a cover for the Kindle and the charge cord, so I can use it as a travel case. So pretty and practical too! I take it with me when I have appointments that I know will keep me waiting (such as medical clinics and airports).

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I KEEP ONE OR TWO books (with actual pages to turn) in the living room near my favorite chair, so they are available when I have time to sit with a cup of coffee or tea.

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I TYPICALLY READ 60 to 100 books a year. I have listed below a sampling of ten books I read recently that captured my attention for one reason or another.

THE COLE TRILOGY: THE PHYSICIAN, SHAMAN, and MATTERS OF CHOICE, (3 books) by Noah Gordon, Barcelona Books. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the stories of physicians with healing hands in one family tree, from medieval to modern times. The first book, The Physician, was the best, taking place in ancient Persia, England and Scotland. Historical elements interwoven: medicine, medical training, care of bubonic plague victims, practice of Islam, Christianity and Jewish religions in ancient times. Second book was delightful as well, taking place in 1800’s in Scotland and American with Indian culture and American civil war. The third book was OK, just not as dramatic as the first two.

CHASING CHINA: ONE WOMAN’S SEARCH FOR TRUTHby Kay Bratt (2010). A fictional story of a young woman of 18 who travels to China to find the story of her birth. The author lived in China for 4 years and every place and incident involving children were observed by her and incorporated into the story. A beautiful and troubling picture of China today.

THE KITCHEN HOUSE by Kathleen Grissom, Simon & Shuster (2010). A believable story with a big cast of characters you can care about and root for… and several nasty villians. Set in Pennsylvania plantation for most of the story (partly in city of Philadelphia). Features the lives of negro slaves and an indentured Irish girl and the white family in the big house and how entangled their lives become. Story told from view of a slave and the indentured servant. Brings alive a dark period of our history.

SERENA by Ron Rash (2008). Harper-Collins e-books. Powerful story by Western NC author. Serena is the most black-hearted woman villain literature has seen for many years. Story takes place years ago in North Carolina and Tennessee when mountains were being clear cut by lumbar barons, leaving waste lands in their wake. Depicted hard life in the lumbar camps. There was no action Serena would avoid to get her way. A movie is in the works.

THE WRITING LIFE by Annie Dillard, Harper Collins e-books. Just what the title says, snippets about her writing life demonstrating it is a plodding, frustrating and yet meaningful endeavor.

THE ROSIE PROJECT: A NOVEL by Graeme Simsion, Simon & Shuster. A funny, touching story about a man with Asperger’s Syndrome who sets out to find a wife. (Asperger’s is a high functioning form of autism which can lead to difficulty in social interactions.) Easy to cheer for the main character and his Rosie.

A GENTLE RAIN by Deborah Smith (2007). BelleBooks. A warm, fuzzy love story of the rural area in North Central Florida, an area tourists flocking to Florida resort areas do not really know. Eccentric characters include lovable and talented mentally challenged and other unique characters. Rich girl joins rural farm seeking her birth parents. Story is full of coincidences, and rich girl has more talents than supergirl, but still the characters shined through this story. This story reminds us to value and acknowledge the talents of each of us.

UNBROKEN: A WORLD WAS II STORY OF SURVIVAL, RESILIENCE AND REDEMPTION BY Laura Hillenbrand. In recent years, my husband and I have occasionally enjoyed a book together by reading to each other in the evening. This was a book we read a couple of years ago. USA Today newspaper reported today that Angelina Jolie was planning to direct a movie based on Unbroken. The is a true story about an American hero, Olympian track star in 1932 Olympics in Berlin, pilot, and former Japanese prisoner of war during WWII. Louis has lead an amazing life! The historical research Laura Hillenbrand did for this book is as impressive as her book on Seabiscuit. Louis is 97 years old now. Apparently, he is a neighbor of Jolie too. If you read this book, I predict you are not likely to forget it anytime soon.

It’s Time to Downsize and I’m Not Ready!

I HAVE BEEN ON HIATUS from the internet for several weeks, fully engaged in navigating a life transition that I thought I was ready for… but found more difficult than I anticipated.
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WE WERE TWO EMPTY NESTERS in a three story house that continued to grow larger by the month. My husband and I agreed it made sense to simplify our life by selling our “family home”. We came to that conclusion one day when we realized we were using cell phones to find one another…it’s not easy to “shout out” when we are two floors away from one another…and we didn’t need 4.5 bathrooms.

For several years, we have enjoyed spending time in our small vacation house in the NC mountains. When I am there, I realize that we don’t need all the “things” we have in our home in Charlotte. Daily choices are fewer: two sets of sheets only for each bed (when clean set goes on, the other set goes into the washer), two tablecloths for each season, three flower vases, fewer dishes and small kitchen appliances. The closets are smaller there, with less clothes, so there are fewer choices of what to wear. An added bonus is the ease in keeping a smaller space clean and tidy…less floor to sweep and mop. Life seems easier somehow. So, we reasoned, although we really loved our family home in Charlotte, we decided we were ready to sell it and move to a smaller house. After all, we didn’t need all that space, did we?

You would think we had come to grips with selling our home, before we put up a “For Sale” sign…and I guess the answer is “yes” and “no”. Yet, we were surprised in December to receive an offer on the house. The buyers wanted possession right away by December 23, but we had the good sense to say no… taking down the Christmas tree two days before Christmas… No Way!
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I WANTED TO HAVE OUR LAST CHRISTMAS with our children in our home of many years. And, we needed at least 60 days to make the move. After all, we weren’t expecting to sell that soon, and we didn’t have a place to move to. We also had over 4,000 square feet of house spread out on three floors, with furniture, accessories and odds and ends accumulated over many years of marriage. A few pieces of furniture were my parents and some were from my husband’s side of the family.

WE CELEBRATED THE CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS as usual, knowing it was the last holiday in this house. The month of January was an extended time of letting go, as we gave away so many things to friends, family, neighbors, and others who had need of specific items.

There was a flurry of activity for weeks with folks coming and going as items were carted away. We watched the treadmill loaded up and taken away (we will just find a place to walk outside), the barbeque grill, outdoor patio furniture (we don’t need it all), sectional sofa in the family room, tables, bookcases and lamps. The pool table stood as a lonely sentinel in the family room waiting for new owners.
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We donated bags of clothes, books and accessories to Goodwill and Veterans groups. I felt an unexpected loss as I watched my white dresser, with nine drawers, moving out of the house. My sister passed it on to me years ago and I had painted it a shabby chic white. It was my dresser for a few years until it was moved to our guest room. I don’t know why it bothered me so to see it go. I distributed a number of house plants, large and small, to delighted friends.

I WATCHED OUR 12 FOOT CHRISTMAS TREE out of sight as it was carried across the street to the neighbors’ garage. That tree presided over so many happy times in our home. I was comforted by the thought that our tree would reappear in its Christmas finery next December, but this time keeping watch over our house from the window across the street.

AFTER THE INITIAL GIVING AWAY, it occurred to me that there was a life cycle of “things” assigned. My dresser went to a young couple in a new home who didn’t have a dresser… the treadmill to a midlife man who wanted to lose some weight and get healthy…grandpa’s mandolin to our daughter who is the musician in the family and would appreciate it most…dishes to our daughter who is a great cook,…some of my husband’s tools to our son…bookcases to new neighbors who moved in boxes of professional books…our freezer and second refrigerator to a young chef who is developing a catering business… a doll to a 5 year old girl who loved it…and so on. There is a cosmic rightness about it all… passing on… recycling treasured items… and seeing them appreciated all over again.
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A COUPLE WITH A YOUNG FAMILY bought our house. It’s comforting to think that another family will be making new memories there. As we left closing, my husband told the young couple who bought our home, “I hope you’ll love living there as much as we did”. I said, “Take care of our house.”

IN JANUARY, we experienced record breaking cold, snow and ice in North Carolina, as we packed and moved in stages. It was a challenge! (But that is another story.)
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AS A FORMER FAMILY THERAPIST, I know it often helps with closing one chapter of life, to take time to say goodbye to spaces and places (as well as people) that have had meaning. In our final visit, my husband and I walked throughout the house and shared some of the memories we had of each room; happy times with our parents when they were still with us, summer cookouts by our Asian rock garden, dinner parties with friends and holiday gatherings with family. Our steps echoed in the empty rooms now filled with the ghosts of remembering…

I WAS REMINDED of the exciting day we bought the house…and I felt a sense of appreciation for this place and pride that we had, in fact, created a home that we loved and that welcomed others. Although we had some sad times over the years, this home had been a happy place…. And then, we walked away.
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WE ARE IN A RENTED 3-BEDROOM TOWNHOME for 6-8 months, to give us time to decide where we want to create a new home. My dining room furniture is incarcerated in storage temporarily. But, we are unpacked and organized here and are developing a routine in a new place.
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WE SPEND OUR LIVES collecting things…ultimately we enter a time of life when acquiring things is no longer a priority. Sorting out treasured items among a myriad of “things” that have become attached to our lives is difficult under the best circumstances… Maybe it ushers in a sense of freedom as well… especially when collections are dispersed with purpose. I will reserve judgment on that until time brings more perspective.

NOW, IN THE MIDST OF our transition in downsizing, we are following new rules of the house:

1. Don’t bring in anything new, unless we get rid of something else.

2. We can do just as well with fewer options (e.g., I don’t really need 25 different flower vases or kitchen gadgets I never use).

3. Unless we need it, really love it, AND have a place for it, don’t bring it home.

I’LL SHARE MY ADVENTURE from time to time, of finding a place to make a new home… and invite your comments about letting go and moving on….

Sue Marquis Bishop 2014