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anne's house of dreams book cover sea pei north shore

A few weeks ago, the hubs and I drove up to Prince Edward Island, for a quiet, blissful stretch of days (our third) on the Island’s north shore.

We first visited PEI a few summers ago, but I have known and loved it for a long time: through the beloved books of L.M. Montgomery, who introduced me to such heroines as Jane Stuart, Emily Byrd Starr, Sara Stanley, and – of course – Anne Shirley.

My mom handed me the first three Anne books when I was a child, and I read and reread them until the corners of the paperbacks were worn soft. I later did the same with the remaining five books in the series, and I still have most of my beat-up Bantam copies (though I had to replace the first one after it went missing). I’ve picked up various beautiful editions of several Anne books over the years, and I’d love to buy the entire set in the recent lovely Sourcebooks and Tundra incarnations. But when I want to find a particular passage or dive into a whole book again, I always reach for my childhood copies, their heft comforting in my hands.

I took a stack of books to PEI. This is typical vacation behavior for me, but it’s especially tempting when we drive, because luggage and space limits aren’t a problem. On our first trip to PEI a few years ago, I tucked a couple of Anne books into my suitcase on a whim. I hadn’t reread them in a while, but I thought I might want to flip through them while I was there.

What I hadn’t quite expected: I hardly wanted to read anything else.

Montgomery is a master of the elegant description, and her love for the Island comes through in the voices of her heroines – all of whom are deeply rooted in the Island’s rust-red soil. The green fields with their soft red furrows, the glimpses of blue sea around so many corners, the fields and woods and rolling hills, the rocky and sandy beaches of the north shore, were at once entirely new and utterly familiar to me.

I spent hours on that first trip rereading passages from a couple of Anne books and Jane of Lantern Hill, and I did the same thing when we went back last summer. This time, I dove straight into Anne’s House of Dreams, and I didn’t even regret ignoring the other books sitting in my tote bag. (I suppose I should have known this would happen – but I couldn’t not bring them. Just in case.)

house of dreams page sea pei north shore

For three days, I was right where I wanted to be: on the Island’s north shore in body and spirit. Sinking my toes into the sand, wading in the surf, and also walking and talking with Anne and Gilbert, Leslie Moore and Miss Cornelia and Captain Jim. I pictured Anne and Gilbert’s little white house of dreams, with its glorious garden, more vividly than ever before. And I watched the sky and the waves and the sunsets with as much love as Anne herself, I feel sure.

There’s magic, sometimes, in reading a book in the place where it’s either set or was written. I have read A Moveable Feast in a Paris hotel room, Gaudy Night in Oxford parks and cafes, Daphne Kalotay’s novels while learning the particular Boston streets she describes.

There can also be magic in utter escape from your current reality: I’m too fond of Harry Potter and Jodi Taylor’s time-travel series not to know that. But when you visit a place you’ve loved for so long, and the real, physical truth of it is just as wonderful as you imagined, it can be lovely to luxuriate in being right where you are, on and off the page.

Have you ever visited a place just because you’ve read about it – or purposely matched your reading material to your location? I’d love to hear about it, if you have.

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three lives bookstore interior nook nyc

We are (somehow) halfway through the year already, and I’m doing what I always do: taking stock of the books I’ve read so far, and sharing a handful of my favorites with you.

I’ve read about 75 books thus far in 2017, and here are a few I have particularly loved. (I found a couple of them at the wonderful Three Lives & Co., pictured above.)

Wittiest Love Story: The Romantics by Leah Konen. I read this YA love story – ably narrated by Love herself – on our Florida beach vacation in March, and loved every page. The footnotes are hilarious.

Most Beautiful Memoir: A Country Between by Stephanie Saldaña. An American journalist married to a Frenchman (and former monk) moves with him to Jerusalem, and this luminous, wise, honest book is the story of their navigating so many cultural in-betweens.

Best Novel about Family and Food: The Last Days of Café Leila by Donia Bijan. Mouthwatering descriptions, a really wonderful family saga, and a few lines near the end that kept me going all spring.

Series That Keeps on Getting Better: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s by Jodi Taylor. This series about time-traveling historians with a penchant for disaster – including, but not limited to, copious explosions – is so much fun. Lots of dry British wit and so much tea, but my favorite thing is how fiercely this (truly) motley crew fights for one another, in every era.

Best Story About Friendship: Summerlost by Ally Condie. The story of Leo and Cedar, who become friends while working a summer theatre festival, captured my heart and still won’t let it go.

Poetry That Sings: anything by the wonderful Brian Doyle (whom we lost last month, sadly). I’ve read three collections of his wise, funny, thoughtful, keenly observed “proems” this year: How the Light Gets In, A Shimmer of Something and The Kind of Brave You Wanted to Be. Each of them cracked my heart open in the best way.

Best Book on Writing: Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. I savored this one over many commutes, and it was a treat: incisive, plainspoken, inspiring.

Best Lit Crit I’ve Read in Years: Not Just Jane by Shelley DeWees. A whip-smart tour of seven little-known badass feminist British writers = catnip for my brainy English-major side.

The Wise, Luminous, Lovely Book I Didn’t Know I Needed: Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear. I keep coming back to this slim book, with so many lines about loss, building a creative life, loving your people well and paying attention.

What are the best books you’ve read so far this year? I’d love to hear about them.

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birds art life mug

“I found myself with a broken part,” Kyo Maclear writes in the introduction to her luminous memoir, Birds Art Life: A Year of Observation. During a year of dealing with her father’s illness and other challenges, Maclear found herself unmoored. “I had lost the beat,” she writes. Struggling with her responsibilities to her father, husband and sons, she found herself with no words: a troubling state of affairs for a writer.

Searching for a way to relocate herself in the everyday, Maclear met a musician whose passion was urban birdwatching. Birds Art Life chronicles the year they spent watching birds in and around her home city of Toronto.

I’m back at Great New Books today talking about how much I loved Maclear’s quiet, gorgeous memoir, which I picked up at Idlewild Books in NYC this winter. Please join me over there to read the rest of my review.

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tree buds red brick harvard yard

It’s a grey, gloomy day in early April. I’ve stayed home from work with a bad cold, and all afternoon, I’ve been listening to the slow drip, drip of rain outside. The purple tulips in their vase on my kitchen table are growing leggy; they’re reaching out, bending and stretching crookedly, for the light that is in short supply today.

We are nearing the end–I hope–of a winter that has felt long, even though we haven’t had too much snow by our usual Boston standards. One arctic blast in December and a couple more since the New Year left our teeth chattering in single-digit temps, but those frigid spells haven’t lasted long. And the snowstorms, though fierce, have been few and far between. We even had a couple of 60-degree days in late February.

What I’m missing, in these early spring days, is the light.

I’m over at the Art House America blog today (where I write occasionally), talking about my efforts to watch for the light in this season. Please join me over there to read the rest of my piece.

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charles river cambridge sunset

Hope and Love

All winter
the blue heron
slept among the horses.
I do not know
the custom of herons,
do not know
if the solitary habit
is their way,
or if he listened for
some missing one—
not knowing even
that was what he did—
in the blowing
sounds in the dark.
I know that
hope is the hardest
love we carry.
He slept
with his long neck
folded, like a letter
put away.

April is National Poetry Month, and I will – as is my tradition – be sharing poetry on Fridays here this month.

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charles river cambridge sunset

Making Peace

A voice from the dark called out,
             ‘The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.’
                                   But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.
                                       A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.
                                              A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses . . .
                        A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal.

I came across this poem (as I find so many lovely things) via the good folks at Image Journal. It strikes me, reading these lines, that peace – like magic – is something we must actively make.

Like Natalie Goldberg’s “holy yes,” peace is an act of creativity, grace and courage; it is not something that happens automatically. It is a choice, and a long process, and it can be hard, complicated and tiring. But it is also beautiful and necessary. In a world of loud arguments and urgent headlines, it is perhaps more necessary than ever.

May I – may we all – learn to be peacemakers in these days.

hancock tower protest boston refugees

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midtown nyc skyscrapers blue sky

New York in January is rain-washed sidewalks and humid air, brittle Christmas trees with their sharp pine scent, piled in heaps on the streets for the garbage collectors. It is scraps of blue sky glinting off silver skyscraper windows, traffic lights and street lamps and the glitter of midtown mingling together in a wild, whirling urban glow.

New York in January is women in black coats and ankle boots and red lipstick, hundreds of men in suits striding through midtown with sleek leather portfolios under their arms. It is spindly bare trees still wound with twinkle lights, orange construction cones and planks of plywood and men in hard hats blocking street corners with their work zones. It is darkness falling early as you walk past uniformed doormen, glowing storefronts and unexpected churches amid the high-rise buildings, raising their spires to the sky.

st patricks cathedral spires nyc

New York in January is dogs bundled up in plaid coats for a morning walk, intrepid runners in leggings and knit caps, slippery patches on sidewalks after hours of unexpected snow. It is skies so blue they make your heart ache, a brisk wind whipping off the East River, the relief of coming indoors to a warm bookstore or cafe after walking with your head bent for blocks on end.

New York in January is New York in all seasons: captivating, exhausting, a demanding, bewitching delight.

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