Friday, January 19, 2024

Book Stack ~ December 2023 ~ And an Announcement

First, the announcement:

After 16+ years of posting here, I've decided to retire this blog. Part of me wants to write a long post about what I've learned and what it's meant to me and why I've decided to move on, but instead I think I'll just make a clean break of it and leave it at thank you for coming here for as many of those 16 years as you have, to read what I have to say. You can visit me at, where I'll post regular updates about publication news and upcoming events. You can also subscribe to my newsletter, which goes out once a month and includes a short essay and news, and which from now on will include a regular "now reading" section to take the place of these Book Stack posts. Now, without further ado, here's December's reading list.

Now, the book stack:

A monthly post about what I've been reading.

January 2023
February 2023
March 2023

December's fiction reads had were vintage and seasonally appropriate mysteries. I was in the mood for comforting, classical mysteries and found Monk's Hood, a Brother Cadfael mystery by Ellis Peters, and Strong Poison, the first Harriet Vane mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers during a recent used bookstore visit. Coincidentally they both take place during the Christmas season, although neither has a strong holiday theme to them. They both delivered in the classic, entertaining whodunnit and cozy escapism departments. At another used bookstore, I picked up In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer Fleming. This one was on a seasonal display and therefore a more seasonally intentional choice. I don't always love police procedurals, but I enjoyed this one and will probably be on the lookout for more in the series.

I picked up a copy of Elizabeth Tova Bailey's The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating for a friend who was going to be going through a medical treatment that would leave her convalescing for a long while. I thought she would find comfort in Bailey's quiet contemplation of a pet snail that found its way accidentally into her home and heart while she was undergoing a long period of illness caused by a virus (similar to some people's experiences of long covid). I'd read the book some years ago and decided to read it again before I passed it on to my friend. I love all the snail literature and lore she includes and the surprising companionship the minute creature brings to Bailey.

I also read Susan Hand Shetterly's latest collection of nature essays, Notes on the Landscape of Home. It's a lovely little book--I always enjoy Shetterly's quiet and wise way of contemplating the world, our place in it, and the changes that it's undergoing due to climate change, development, etc. 

Finally, I finished these two monsters: A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year and Nature Writing for Every Day of the Year, edited by Jane MacMorland Hunter. I read the day's entry from each book almost every morning before I got started on the day. I'd started reading them in January of 2022, but gave up after missing too many days and not being able to catch up. This time, if I missed a day, I sometimes read it the next day and sometimes let it go. So there are a few entries from both books I didn't read--including most of July--but in the interest of avoiding an all-or-nothing attitude, I'm calling them read (and may catch up on July next year). Because they come from a British editor and publisher, they lean heavily toward British writers, with a focus on the 19th and 20th centuries, although there are some that go back as far as Pliny the Elder and a few contemporary writers thrown in. Like most collections of nature writing, both books lean heavily white male, although the ratio of women writers is higher than in many such collections. I also appreciate that the Nature Writing book includes a fair amount of fiction, some of it from surprising places (what you might not, on first glance, consider nature writing). So overall I enjoyed both books, was introduced to some new writers and reminded of some old favorites, and I enjoyed having the ritual of reading a poem and a short excerpt each morning. I need to find something to replace them with. (I also have a book from the series called a Nature Poem for Every Night of the Year, but I haven't yet gotten into the habit of reading from it before I go to bed.)

Scrolling back through all of my Book Stack posts, I estimate that I read 83 books during 2023. I didn't make much of a dent in the book stack, though, since many (most) were new acquisitions. (I'm going to keep working at whittling down that stack--which is now housed on book shelves and therefore less ominous looking--in 2024.) I was going to say which were my favorites, but looking back over the stacks, I see so many that I loved for different reasons, or, even if I didn't love them, I appreciated something about them. I suppose the Demon Copperhead-David Copperfield pairing was pretty close to the top of the list.

Be well, friends. Hope to see you in other spaces (website, newsletter, instagram, real life). And reading in 2024!

Friday, December 29, 2023

I Did It! 2023 Edition

It's time again for the annual pat-myself-on-the-back post. Past years can be viewed here: 2022, 2021 (Apocalypse Year 2) 2020 (Apocalypse Year 1), 2019 (including decade-in-review), 201820172016201520142013. Let's jump right into 2022's I Did Its! Shall we?

Andy Goldsworthy landscape installation at Alnoba in New Hampshire, here for no reason
other than it's a place I visited this year and never got around to writing about it. Also it's cool!

Writing I Did Its!
Travel & Adventure I Did Its!
  • We went to Europe!!! Can't really top that.

  • Went on some local adventures to museums and other sites of interest around Maine, and one in New Hampshire, with family, friends, and on my own.
  • Did *some* kayaking, but much less than in recent years.
Arts & Crafts I Did Its!
  • Knit *one* pair of mittens!
  • Took up mosaic-making (mosaicing?), and made three projects, including these two:

Other I Did Its!
  • Got my older kid graduated from college and the younger two from high school. (Is this really my accomplishment? I don't care--I'm taking credit for it!)
  • Got the younger two kids off to college.
  • Hosted my parents for a couple of weeks in the spring (around those grads) and my sister for a few days in the fall.
  • Created a true space of my own in the vacated bedroom.
  • Maintained pretty regular yoga and walking routines (not-quite-daily).
  • Kept a daily journal and a fairly regular morning pages routine.
I have some ideas about what I want to accomplish in 2024, writing-wise, and otherwise. But for now I'll just bask in the glow of self-congratulation for having written a novel and traveled to Europe and learned a new craft.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Book Stack ~ November 2023

A monthly post about what I've been reading.

January 2023
February 2023
March 2023

My reading this month was a little all over the place--representing my literary split personality. Starting from the bottom of the stack:

If you swim at all in the sea of memoir writing, one of the books that gets referenced most frequently is Andre Dubus III's memoir Townie. I finally picked it up and gave it a read last month (and, if I'm being honest, which is what memoir requires, bleeding a little into this month). Man, it's a brutal book. So hard to read. I don't, of course, mean the writing, but the experiences of violence and neglect Dubus went through as a child and the violence he participated in as he got older and took on an almost pathological role of defending himself and the people he cared about. I was so mad at his parents, who didn't abuse or hurt their children, but who just did not do what they needed to to make sure they were safe and taken care of--his mom mostly because she was exhausted from working all the time to keep them housed and semi-fed, and his dad because he put his needs--writing, running, and dating college students--ahead of his family. I was also so mad at our society for creating the conditions where so many families fall into circumstances where they can barely survive. It is, ultimately, a triumphant story about overcoming adversity and one's own worst instincts, but it truly takes an extraordinary individual (like Dubus and his siblings) to survive let alone thrive after such an upbringing (many of the other characters in the book, raised in the same chaotic milieu as Dubus do not survive).

On a totally different note, I read Read Books All Day and Get Paid for It by Jennie Nash, which is all about running a book coaching business, something I've been pursuing incrementally over the last couple of years.

My sister sent me The Hike by Lucy Clarke, a thriller about four women on a four-day hike through the wilds of Norway that goes horribly wrong. Our day-after-Thanksgiving plans fell through, and so I spent a lot of that day reading, nearly finishing the book in one day. It was a fun read, with a good plot twist, and some interesting characters, each struggling with her own circumstances and her relationship to her friends.

And, of course, I read some Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels. First, I found Legend in Green Velvet, the last book I needed for my collection, at a used bookstore I popped into on a trip to Portland. It's a totally fun and slightly ridiculous caper through the Scottish countryside (similar in vibe to The Camelot Caper/Her Cousin John). Then, because I was working with a friend on the beginnings of a novel she's writing that revolves around antiquarian bookselling, I pulled Houses of Stone off the shelf, because it has an antiquarian books element, and I was curious to see how the great Barbara Michaels made the subject into a thriller. The book doesn't disappoint, with all kinds of gothic elements and quirky characters and a really long chapter that takes place at an estate auction. Finally, I reread Search the Shadows, mainly, I think, because I needed a soothing antidote to Townie. This was the first Michaels/Peters book I read, way back in high school, and it's one of my faves--again, gothic elements, plus Egyptology. Love it!

Friday, November 17, 2023

Book Stack ~ October 2023

 A monthly post about what I've been reading.

January 2023

February 2023

March 2023

My books-per-month rate went way down between September and October, in part because I didn't have another week away at a residency and in (larger) part because I spent a lot of time binge-watching Ugly Betty. But somehow I managed to read three new releases, a possibly unprecedented occurrence. 

At the beginning of October, I participated in a book fair, and the author whose booth was next to mine was Rebecca Turkewitz, with her debut short story collection, Here in the Night, a delightful melange of spooky tales, which in an uncharacteristic move, I actually read soon after coming home with it. If you love short stories, you'll love this book. If short stories leave you vaguely unsatisfied, pick up this book--every single one hits that elusive short story sweet spot. 

I also read one more Mary Stewart, Rose Cottage, which was a nice, pleasant read but not very suspenseful--there's a sense of something amiss when the main character returns home to clean out her grandmother's cottage, but it ends up going in a very different direction than Stewart's suspense stories. 

I had the good fortune of attending a reading by my friend Melanie Brooks of her new memoir A Hard Silence in early October (and, again, read the book right away--perhaps I'm turning over a new leaf and no longer hoarding books before I get around to reading them!). It's about the corrosive nature of secrets--specifically the secret her family harbored for years about her father's HIV diagnosis, because of their (very rational) fear of the stigma they would experience. It's a heartfelt, moving, loving, beautifully crafted book.

Finally, I read Soil, by Camille Dungy, a gorgeous book (inside and out--I mean, look at that cover!!!) about turning a suburban lawn into a wildflower paradise, parenting during the pandemic, contending with nearby wildfires and other signs of climate change, grappling with systemic racism and the colonial history of agriculture, nomenclature, and taxonomy, writing about nature from a perspective other than the Lone White Male, and lovingly tending the land. I admire it so much, and it made me want to get my hands dirty, even though I'm the world's laziest garden (I really love that Dungy's primary garden focus is flowers--vegetables are secondary!).

Friday, November 10, 2023

Hearts Walking Around Outside Our Bodies


Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.

― Elizabeth Stone

I was in the shower when news of the Columbine shooting came over the radio. C came into the bathroom of our little apartment in Gardiner and said, "There's been a shooting at a high school in Littleton." My sister went to Littleton High School at the time. I had to rinse the shampoo out of my hair and scramble into a towel before I could come out and hear the details--different high school. Other people's sisters and brothers killed.

I heard about the Sandy Hook shooting on NPR over Saturday morning pancakes--my car at the time didn't have a radio, so I didn't hear the news on the drive home. I spent the weekend weeping and grabbing my kids, who were in second and sixth grade, to hug them at random times. I didn't know I'd been holding my breath until five o'clock Monday morning when a snow day was called and I inhaled deeply for the first time all weekend.

The call about Lewiston came Wednesday night. C's college, across the river from Lewsiton, would be closed the following day due to an "active shooter" event--at least sixteen dead, several more wounded. The next morning, eighteen dead and the shooter at large. Grocery stores and businesses around the state closed. The twins' colleges, more than an hour's drive away from the shootings, suspended classes and organized activities, because no one knew where the murderer was. No one felt safe.

Thursday and Friday passed in a surreal state of dread. There was no reason to suppose the shooter would find his way to our corner of the state--or our children's. Yet low-flying planes and helicopters passed over all day. What could they possibly see from up there? You know the rest of the story--they found his body Friday night. Self-inflicted gunshot wound. For some reason they always kill themselves after inflicting maximum damage on innocent victims, never before.

I breathed a sigh of relief when my kids graduated eighth grade. They made it through elementary school without being shot. And again when they graduated high school. We live in a country where it is an achievement to make it through thirteen years of school without being killed in the classroom or the hallways or on the playground by a man wielding a weapon of war. But getting through school does not guarantee our children safety from being blown apart by bullets fired from high capacity guns. There is still college, the movie theater, church, big box stores, concerts, night clubs, and now bowling alleys and bars.

I do not want to write about this today. I do not want to think about my children walking around as vulnerable as hearts outside of bodies. Of the child killed last week. Of the adults killed who were somebody's children. Of the children being bombed and killed and terrorized in Ukraine and Gaza and Israel. All I know is that until we learn to value life over death, human hearts over weapons of war, none of us will ever be safe. 

A version of this post went out recently to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. Subscribe here and receive a free PDF of my illustrated short essay "Eleven Ways to Raise a Wild Child."

*Header photo is an Andy Goldsworthy-inspired sumac leaf design by C, E, and Z, circa 2016.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Book Stack ~ September 2023

 A monthly post about what I've been reading.

I started the month with a week away at an artist residency, and I read so many books while I was there.


My big goal for the residency was to figure out if I still have the interest and motivation to work on a project that I've been thinking about and nibbling at over the course of nearly two decades, which is to put together a compilation of writing and biographies of women who write/wrote about motherhood and nature. So several of these were books I'd collected over the years in hopes of finding writing that would be applicable to this project and either hadn't read, hadn't finished reading, or had read in a different context. These were:

Linea Nigra by Jazmina Barrera, a diary-style accounting of pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding, with a lot of literature and art intertwined as well as earthquakes.

My Garden Book by Jamaica Kincaid, a collection of essays about gardening, plants, and colonialism.

Parrot's Wood,= by Erma Fisk, an amusing and grueling account of a month in primitive conditions at a bird refuge in Costa Rica by a retired woman who got involved in ornithology and bird conservation after the untimely death of her husband.

The Curve of Time by M Wylie Blanchet, charming and often harrowing tales of navigating the coast of British Columbia in a small boat with five children after the death of the author's husband.

Shaped by Wind and Water by Anne Haymond Zwinger, reflections on a life of nature writing from a week at an artist residency.

The Natural World of Louise Dickinson Rich, a three-part account of the author's life in three zones of New England: the Piedmont of Massachusetts, the North Woods of Maine, and the coast of Maine.

I also had time for fun reading and kept going on my Mary Stewart streak, with My Brother Michael and Nine Coaches Waiting, both fantastic examples of the romantic suspense genre, as well as The Wind Off The Small Isles, which had a great setup and then sort of fizzled for me. I guess it's good to know that even a supremely talented writer sometimes swings and misses.

When I returned home, I read Rooted 2: The Best New Arboreal Nonfiction, an anthology in which my essay "Faith in a Seed" appears, which was edited by Josh MacIvor Anderson and came out from Outpost19 books this summer. 

I admit to not always being a good literary citizen when it comes to reading the words that share pages with mine in an anthology or journal, but I read this book cover-to-cover and it is filled with beautiful and brilliant essays about trees. I would highly recommend it even if I wasn't featured inside.

Finally, in what is becoming a September tradition, I listened to the audiobook of the newest Richard Osman, The Last Devil to Die, and then I re-listened to the earlier volumes and then the new one all over again. I love these books. They're smart and funny and clever. 

But I've had a couple people tell me they couldn't get into them (one as a reader and one as a listener) and that they got confused by the number of different characters and points of view. So, be warned about that. I've also been binge-listening to the Maintenance Phase podcast, which has made me much more aware of and sensitive to anti-fat bias and weight stigma, and so listening this time around, especially to the first book, I felt a little cringey about the way the detective Chris thinks of his own weight and the way his side-kick Donna nudges him toward using the stairs and not eating junk food. So be warned, these books aren't for everyone (then again, what book is?).

Friday, October 13, 2023

A Room of My Own ~ For Reals this Time

Before we built our house, I had a dream of a little room just for me where I could read, write, knit, sew, make art, and do yoga. But we didn't put a room like that into our house, and if we had it would have become a bedroom for one of our kids when we jumped from one two three in one fell swoop.

Over the years, I've tried to carve out a little bit of space for me here and there: a corner of the living room, (which I've frequently reorganized and rededicated to writing and other pursuits, and corners of my bedroom, where I kept my sewing machine and one writing desk or another.

A gallery of these various corners:

Looking at these little writing spaces lined up like this, they seem so sweet and cozy, which they were in their own way (at least when I had them all tidied up and in photo-worthy condition), and they served me well. I wrote my zines and my blog in these spaces, I did my masters degree and my master naturalist program. I wrote my book! (Technically, I wrote my book mostly on the couch, but the desks are necessary for holding all the supplies and materials for the writing.) But there's no denying it was crowded and cluttered, and the more I added to my repertoire--illustrating and researching and juggling multiple projects--the more crowded and cluttered it all got. I never gave up on that dream of a Room of My Own.

So when Z and E went off to college last month, I wasted no time in moving into the room that had been M's when he was small, and then all three boys' room after the twins were born and then just the twins' room after M moved to the basement and then just Z's, after Z moved E to the basement.

There's room for a futon/guest bed, my dollhouse, my sewing machine, a table on which to make art, bookshelves, and, most importantly, a desk at which to write. I can move from one project to another without having to move all my books out of the way to make room for my laptop, or put away the art supplies in order to sew, or set aside the notebook and laptop in order to have room to paint. I can even leave my yoga mat set up, which is a good way to ensure I actually do yoga.

It gets tons of natural daylight, especially in the morning (which makes it a challenge to photograph). It is also very, very purple (the color E, Z, and I compromised on when we repainted the room a few years ago--one of them wanted black and the other hot pink), and I'm not likely to have the energy to repaint it anytime soon. On the bright side, this mosaic shelf I made from pieces of broken Fiesta ware that have amassed over the years looks fab on the purple wall. I'll be adding more orange accents to offset all that purple.

The closet is also a bit of a mess, with all of Z's stuff tucked away inside, as well as a number of children's toys (the wooden barn and blocks and things I can't part with) and books. I'll be sorting through the books this winter moving my fabric and yarn up from the basement and into the dresser. But, I'm in no rush to get to all that. I'm just enjoying having room in which to spread out and work and think. Virginia Woolf was right!
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