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Like a river

red tulips public garden boston

 

A spring night is a power that sweeps through the crowded sheaves of blooming tulips and pours into your heart like a river.

—Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome

I took a solo walk through the Public Garden the other night, after a long, full day that included a work event and an impromptu dinner afterward with a friend.

We tucked into a corner booth at one of our favorite restaurants, over bowls of creamy, savory soup and glasses of red wine. The evening was blue and gold, with a brisk west wind. I had forgotten my jacket that morning and I was almost cold.

After dinner, I walked through the Garden alone, to see if there were any tulips left. (The photo above is from a couple of weeks ago; the tulip season is vivid and glorious here, but short.) A few bright blooms still lingered on their stalks, and I snapped a photo in the gathering dusk. But what caught my attention was the sunset light, reflected in the water.

sunset sky boston public garden

I thought of the line from Doerr’s memoir, above, written as he tried to savor the gorgeous, fleeting beauty that is spring in Rome. Spring in Boston – capricious, tricksy, full of sudden cool breezes and unexpected bursts of color – is a surprise and an enchantment every year. I’ve lived through five New England winters now and am on my fifth spring, and I am still in love, bewitched, utterly captivated by the new life around every corner.

This is a packed time of year, for me and for nearly everyone I know. Harvard’s Commencement approaches (next week); work deadlines loom. Summer, with all its pleasures and its changes from the usual routine, is on the horizon, but it’s not quite here yet.

tulips-public-garden

I am walking through the middle of all this beauty, thinking about plans and to-do lists and so many meetings. I am busy and tired and a little stressed, but I want to stay awake. I don’t want to miss it. Any of it.

I am determined to keep paying attention, to let the power of these spring nights – and days – sweep through the tulips and blooming trees, and pour into my heart like a river.

parnassus books nashville

It’s no secret that I am a serious bookworm. I have a dedicated table for my to-be-read pile, a library holds list as long as my arm, and at least one stack of review copies waiting to be perused at all times. (Currently it’s two stacks.)

I read widely, and I like to think I read broadly. I love many different kinds of books, including (but not limited to) memoirs, mysteries, young adult and middle-grade novels, adult fiction (both general and literary), poetry, and popular nonfiction. My shelves on Goodreads are almost as full as my real-life bookshelves (which are bulging). I am always reading several books at once.

I have two English lit degrees, a constantly shifting calendar of review deadlines and a pretty good sense (I like to think) of what constitutes “quality” literature. So sometimes I think I “should” be reading only the high-quality stuff: shiny new literary fiction, classics that have stood the test of time, nonfiction books dealing with Important Ideas. And I do read all those things. But in the past couple of years – even before I chose it as my word for 2015 – I’ve noticed that I’ve always got at least one “gentle” book in progress.

What do I mean by “gentle” in this case? Sometimes “gentle reading” means a quiet, bucolic story, like Miss Read’s tales of village life, or the Mitford series by Jan Karon. Sometimes it’s a beloved book from childhood (I reach for The Long Winter every February). Sometimes it’s the next book in a favorite series, comforting because it deals with known characters or familiar territory. And sometimes it’s a totally silly “fluff” book – chick lit or a cozy mystery – that I choose not for its great writing, but for its fun and predictable plot. (I also can’t read anything too creepy before I go to bed – or I won’t be able to fall asleep!)

I still occasionally beat myself up about this tendency. Those reading hours are precious, and I do dedicate many of them to high-quality, often more demanding books. But sometimes I simply need to curl up with a good story whose main value lies in escape and entertainment. This week, for example, you can find me digging into Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple series (light mysteries set in 1920s England), and savoring Elizabeth Bard’s gorgeous second memoir, Picnic in Provence. (That one is gentle, but it’s so well written that it’s hardly a guilty pleasure.)

Do you read several books at once, too? Is there a “gentle” (or “fluffy,” or “guilty pleasure”) category in your rotation?

Spring List Update

tulips-public-garden

Back in early April (which feels like ages ago now), I posted a spring list. I’ve been working on it since then – so here, an update for you.

  • Bake my favorite strawberry-rhubarb crisp. I made it for a Sunday night potluck, and we all but licked the baking dish clean.

strawberry rhubarb crisp

  • Read some poetry. (Spring makes me long for Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson.)
  • Watch the Masters. It was a great tournament, as always. 21-year-old Jordan Spieth blew everyone away.
  • Reread Jane of Lantern Hill, the perfect spring book. Love love love.
  • Knit something pink for my friend Abigail’s baby girl, who will arrive in May. I made her a sweet little dress.

pink sproutlette dress

  • Savor the new season of Call the Midwife. I’ve enjoyed it, though this season is heavy.
  • Go on a getaway with the hubs. We had a fabulous trip to San Diego, about which more soon.

katie jer beach san diego

  • Keep buying flowers from my local florist – tulips and daffodils, delivered with a smile. I’m in there twice a week.

tulips

  • Participate in Susannah Conway’s April Love photo challenge. I posted about a dozen photos. So fun.

Looks like the only thing I need to do is read some poetry. But that’s never a problem.

red journal chai darwins

A good journal entry – like a good song, or sketch, or photograph – ought to break up the habitual and lift away the film that forms over the eye, the finger, the tongue, the heart. A good journal entry ought to be a love letter to the world.

—Anthony Doerr, Four Seasons in Rome

As a longtime journaler (I have boxes of old journals stowed away in a closet, and a stack of more recent ones teetering on a bookshelf), this passage from Doerr’s lovely memoir positively made my heart sing.

Happy Friday, friends. Hope you have a lovely weekend.

may books owl

The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes, Zach Dundas
More than 120 years after his literary debut, Sherlock Holmes remains instantly recognizable and infinitely adaptable. Dundas – a longtime Sherlock nerd – dives into the Holmesian universe, exploring adaptations, fanfiction, and what makes the character so enduring. Witty, well-researched and so much fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 2).

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, Rachel Joyce
This companion novel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (which I loved) tells the life story of Queenie, Harold’s former colleague, and the secrets she has kept for many years. Beautifully written, but deeply, agonizingly sad.

Lowcountry Boneyard, Susan M. Boyer
Private eye Liz Talbot searches for a wealthy young woman who has disappeared from Charleston, S.C., while juggling her complicated personal and professional lives. I like Liz, but the writing and mystery plot just didn’t do it for me. (I received a copy of this book from the publisher.)

Tiny Little Thing, Beatriz Williams
Christina “Tiny” Hardcastle has built a seemingly perfect life for herself as the perfect Boston society wife. But during one fateful summer, her personal life and her husband’s political campaign are rocked by long-hidden secrets. Deliciously scandalous, gorgeously written. To review for Shelf Awareness (out June 23).

The Penderwicks in Spring, Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwick siblings return for a fourth adventure, in which Batty (the fourth sister) discovers she can sing, starts a dog-walking business, and wrestles with a terrible secret. I love this series about a noisy, happy family, and this one was sweet and fun.

A Dangerous Place, Jacqueline Winspear
After several years away from England, Maisie Dobbs is on her way home – but she makes an unscheduled stop in Gibraltar (rocked by the Spanish Civil War) and stumbles onto a mystery. I adore Winspear’s series about her intrepid detective, and loved the way this book explores Maisie’s personal struggles. (Also: such a great new setting.)

All Four Stars, Tara Dairman
Gladys Gatsby, age 11, harbors a secret passion for cooking – but her parents ban her from the kitchen after a small crème brûlée fire. Then an essay contest turns into a freelance restaurant-critic gig – only Gladys can’t tell her fast-food-loving parents. A fun, witty middle-grade novel with delicious food descriptions. Found at Bay Books in San Diego.

Death at Wentwater Court, Carola Dunn
The Honourable Daisy Dalrymple is thrilled to land a plum writing assignment for Town & Country, writing about posh Wentwater Court. But when one of her fellow house-party guests ends up dead, she gets drawn into the investigation. A fun 1920s British cozy mystery with a likable heroine. Found at Bay Books in San Diego.

Circling the Sun, Paula McLain
Raised on a horse farm in Kenya, Beryl Markham was fiercely unconventional – a half-wild girl who grew into a strong woman and a noted horse trainer and aviator. McLain brings Beryl and her world to life in this powerful novel. I loved McLain’s The Paris Wife, and I also read – and loved – Markham’s memoir, West with the Night, years ago. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 28).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

quick curious playful strong card

This card came in the mail a few weeks ago with a pair of flats I ordered.

I returned the flats, but kept the card. I like the idea of being all these things – in addition to brave, which I wear around my neck, and gentle, which I chose as my word for this year.

Good words to keep in mind on a Monday. Or any day, really. (With chai, of course.)

Hope you have a lovely start to your week, friends. xo

…is meeting the friends you make online in real life.

sarah katie brookline booksmithI first met Sarah McCoy when she came to the Concord Bookshop on tour for her second novel, The Baker’s Daughter, back in 2012. We were already Twitter buddies, but we bonded (and squealed) when we finally got to meet in person. We’ve kept up online ever since. And in a stroke of serendipity this spring, my editor for Shelf Awareness asked if I’d be interested in interviewing Sarah about her new book, The Mapmaker’s Children.

Needless to say, I jumped at the chance. We had a delightful (two-hour!) conversation ranging from books to family to music to the expectations placed on women in the modern world. And when Sarah came to Brookline Booksmith this week to do a book event, of course I was there in the front row.

As you can see above, we squealed and hugged and bonded again. We didn’t have a chance for a longer catch-up, sadly – she’s just in town for two days, sleep-deprived and running hither and yon to book events. But being together, even for an hour or so, was the best.

I love the bookish Internet.

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