10 Books That Have Stayed With Me


Yesterday I was asked, by a friend on Facebook, to list 10 books that really moved me. My first thought was, ‘Only 10?’ But the idea was not to overthink it, just to come up with a list of books that really made an impact. Don’t think too long about it. So I did. Here is my list:

  • The Yearling, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Jody and Flag – do you remember? It was the first book that made me sob uncontrollably.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. I’ve read it at least a dozen times. Each time it’s better. Harper Lee only wrote this one book, but wow. Just wow.
  • The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I saw the movie before I read the book. The movie, starring Whoopi Goldberg, was mesmerizing. The book, inspirational.
  • The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb. Published in 2009, this is the most recent book of the ten. I read it just last year, and was moved beyond words. Lamb taught me, as a writer, about the delicate balance between hope and despair.
  • The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. Published in 1977, I read this book in 1978, while a student abroad in Switzerland. It’s possible that every one of my classmates read the book as well, since none of us had much money, so books were passed around and shared.
  • A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. A young writer in Paris? Well, of course it resounded with me! Paris in the 20s, beauty and innocence, and Hemingway’s style.
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. If I needed a dose of reality after the previous book, Orwell provided it. I read this one while in Europe, too, and even though I was there decades later, in totally different circumstances, Orwell’s novel of poverty and society stayed with me.
  • A Room with a View by E.M. Forster. Another instance where I saw the movie before reading the book. The movie remains one of my favorites, and the book, in Forster’s gentle writing, is lovely. I wanted to be Lucy Honeychurch!
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Required reading in high school and again in college. Decadence, excess, hypocrisy, all wrapped together in Fitzgerald’s beautiful writing.
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I don’t think I read this book until I was in my 20s. A gripping narrative about a quadruple murder in Kansas in 1959 still sends shivers down my spine.

What about you? What book or books have really stayed with you? Inspired you? Given you nightmares? 😉


New Word Wednesday


It’s the final New Word Wednesday and I’ve chosen to spotlight the word LITTORAL. No, not “literal,” although I like the way it sounds.

The “littoral zone” is the part of a body of water (sea, lake, river) that is close to the shore. The word “littoral” is used both as a noun and an adjective. It’s derived from the Latin noun litus, meaning “shore.” Synonyms include onshore, alongshore, coastal, and shoreside.

Rhode Island is known as The Ocean State, smallest in area and second most densely populated (New Jersey is first). It’s okay, though, there’s room for you to visit!

Rhode Island’s beaches line the 384 miles of tidal shoreline across the Narragansett Bay. We are, indeed, quite littoral.

New Word Wednesday – pangram


It’s new word Wednesday! We’ve had macarism and enallage, both excellent new words (new for me, anyway).

Today the word is pangram. At first glance, I thought I’d seen that word on the menu at my favorite Asian restaurant. But no.

The word “pangram” is derived, once again, from the Greeks (παν γράμμα), and means “every letter.” A pangram uses every letter of a given alphabet at least once.

We had an old IBM Selectric typewriter at home when my sisters and I were teenagers. My dad had brought it home from the office one day, and it was there for us to use when writing term papers and book reports. I can recall sitting in front of that typewriter, typing with my two index fingers (I’m not much better now), and my mom taught me that the sentence “THE QUICK BROWN FOX JUMPS OVER THE LAZY DOG” uses all 26 letters of the alphabet. She didn’t call it a pangram, although it wouldn’t have surprised me if she knew the term (my mom was very smart). So, here are some more pangrams. Use them to dazzle your colleagues and friends at cocktail parties.

Fox nymphs grab quick-jived waltz.

Quick zephyrs blow, vexing daft Jim.

Two driven jocks help fax my big quiz.

And for our French and Spanish-speaking friends:

Portez ce vieux whisky au juge blond qui fume

El veloz murciélago hindú comía feliz cardillo y kiwi. La cigüeña tocaba el saxofón detrás del palenque de paja.

Your Day of Rest


How do you de-stress? Do you de-stress? Or is your life so full, so busy, so frantic, that you never seem to have the time to stop and rest?

Some people view leisure as weakness – the person who deigns to take a day off is flawed, and has no chance of ever getting ahead in life. But with so many of us plugged in 24/7, taking time off is more important than ever. Former Washington Post writer William Powers and his family chose to unplug from devices each weekend to create a kind of Digital Sabbath.

He called what they were experiencing the “screen state of mind,” with a short attention span and a goal-directed, “search and destroy” way of living. Living link to link. They grew accustomed to the instant quality of living that way. And while having this technology may be more efficient, and miraculous, there is an element that is different from being in the real world. You don’t experience the depth you have with human interaction! There is no sense of community. Powers said that flitting from screen to screen can be drug like and addictive. Sometimes, marriages and families suffer because one member can’t pull themselves away from the screen. So Powers and his family started having a Digital Sabbath.

Do you need instant access to knowledge? Instant communication? We pay a high price. Just take a look around next time you’re in a restaurant – I’ve witnessed two parents and two children sitting at a table, all of them staring down at their phones. A couple out on a date, then his phone rings, and she sits there for minutes while he carries on a conversation that most likely wasn’t all that necessary. I mean, we’re not all that important. No really, we’re not!

Whatever your Sabbath is, one day of rest, out of seven, isn’t asking too much. The same way your body craves sleep, taking a day to rest – to meditate, pray, contemplate – is rejuvenating, restorative. I know, try telling that to your teenager. But they need it even more!

Could you unplug for the weekend? For a day? Could you try it just for dinner?

God created humankind to be connected with each other. While you’re focused on your handheld device, you might miss the love shining in your child’s eyes, the warmth reflected in your partner’s smile, the wistful longing as your parent remembers, or the pure joy of being in the company of friends.

New Word Wednesday – enallage


It sounds French, so I like it already. The word “enallage” is derived from the Greek word ἐναλλαγή, meaning “interchange.”

By definition, it is a term used to mean the substitution of one word with another one with the same or similar meaning, but with a different (possibly incorrect) grammatical form. Here’s an example:  Professional prize-fight manager Joe Jacobs’ 1932 cry of We was robbed! after his fighter lost a decision.

Enallage may be used to connect more closely with the listener, or reader.  Look at you! She who is beautiful.

Sometimes enallage is deliberate in your character’s speaking style. If your character is not a native English speaker, you might use enallage to demonstrate that. Just make sure you use this device sensibly.

And my favorite opening line is a great example of enallage: “You better not never tell nobody but God.” Who can name the book?

New Word Wednesday

Throughout June, I’ll be featuring Music Monday (see this past Monday’s post here), New Word Wednesday, and Photo Friday. The new word is new to me; I’m sure many of my intelligent readers will find the word part of their regular vocabulary. Right….

Today’s new word is macarism. Macarism comes from the Greek word makarismos, μακαρισμός, and means taking pleasure in another’s joy, also the practice of making others happy through praise. It makes me think of my dog.

photo by M. Reynolds
photo by M. Reynolds

I praise her and she experiences joy. Maybe she’s more joyous running through the park, unleashed, but you get the idea. Good girl, Bonnie! Result: big-time tail wag.

Parents may most often experience macarism: the happiness at a child’s accomplishments. Taking pleasure in another’s joy also relates to my fellow authors. When I see that one of my writer pals has snagged a publishing deal, or sold another five thousand books, or won an award for their writing, do I take pleasure in their joy? Um, not always. I should, yes, I know. I should. Ah, perhaps that’s why the word “macarism” is not so well known. Is it difficult for you to find joy in another’s happiness, or do you compare yourself with others and think more about what happiness has eluded you?

June Days


For the month of June, I’m going to try something new. Something to keep me focused, as I continue to work on my third novel and market my first two.

On Mondays, I’ll post a clip of music – something that just resonates with me, so I hope you’ll like it, too. Four Mondays in June, four different music clips.

One Wednesdays, I’ll post a new word. New for me, at least, and hopefully new for you, too.  Four Wednesdays, four new words!

On Fridays, I’ll post a photograph – probably one of my own, one with a story attached to it. Four Fridays, four photos.

That’s twelve posts in June, at least, which seems like a good way for me to get some posts done. And in between, extra posts when inspiration strikes. Happy June!

A Few Things I Learned from my Mother

Wedding Day, October 22, 1955

When we first knew about my mother’s illness, I remember sitting in the car with my husband one day.  We were parked in the driveway, and he was about to back up.  I said, “I wish she would just die.”  He stopped backing up and looked at me.  “You don’t really mean it,” he said.  “Yes, I do mean it.  I wish she would die now, rather than have to go through this.”  I hesitated. “I don’t want to go through it either,” I whispered.

My mom was so intelligent.  She was precise.  Very precise.

When I was ten: “If someone asks, ‘Who is it?’ you should answer ‘It is I,’ not ‘It’s me.'”  I thought to myself, that just sounds weird.  But I remembered.

When I was a teenager, she hooked me on crossword puzzles, and I added “epee,” “aerie,” and “alee” to my vocabulary.

When I was a young adult, we’d play marathon Scrabble games, and she decided we should use nine letters instead of seven, because we could make better words with nine letters.

In Switzerland

When I was newly married, I researched her genealogy, tracing her mother’s line back to King Alfred the Great.  This prompted us to start spending Saturdays traipsing around old cemeteries in Kent County, finding Stones and Wightmans and matching them to the names in the family tree.

Joyce, Carter, and John

A few years before dementia invaded her mind and robbed her of reason and memory, she stated, “It’s not correct to say ‘I feel nauseous.’  You should say ‘I feel nauseated.’  Did you know that?”  My husband just shook his head and smiled.  Joyce strikes again.

Years after she lost the ability to speak, or to recognize my sisters and me, my mother died at a quarter to eleven on a Saturday morning.  My wristwatch stopped ticking at the same time.

The day after we laid her to rest, my husband took me to Newport.  We ate lunch at the Red Parrot and sat by the water, watching the endless cycle of waves: rush in, hurry back out.  She’d been lost to us for years; still, the finality of losing both parents was inescapable.

On the drive home, my husband turned on the radio.  We were hoping to catch the news on the hour, but had to listen to a few minutes of a talk show first.  The caller on the air was upset about whatever situation was the topic of the show, I guess.  “You know, Dan, I’m just nauseated over it.”

I turned to my husband, who was grinning, too.  “Joyce!” we cried in unison.  She’d have been pleased to hear he got it right.

Veggies and Hoodies and Smoothies – oh my

There were three men seated at the table next to mine.  They wore fatigues, so I knew they were with the Army National Guard Recruiting Center just up the road from the Whole Foods Market.  Big, burly guys.  Manly men.  Talking about…..smoothies.

My heart sank.  If they’d been getting all soft about their daughters, or their puppies, I’d have understood.  It’s something that makes a man attractive.  But hearing one of them actually say “smoothie,” it just went against everything I hold dear and traditional.

I can’t say when this started, this abbreviating words into baby talk.  “Hooded sweatshirt” has four syllables – you’re only saving two syllables when you say “hoodie.”   Are you really in that much of a rush?  Webster’s Dictionary states the first use of “hoodie” was in 1992, well before texting eclipsed writing words the way they should be written.  And now it’s everywhere.  Sigh.

Veggies.  Did parents start this, trying to coerce their children into eating broccoli and cauliflower?  Does the word “vegetables” have such a sinister meaning that saying “veggies” makes them sound more tasty?  And even if it’s true that parents can’t speak English to their children and must instead speak baby talk, why is it that I’m hearing it in restaurants?  “We have mixed veggies tonight!”  I half-expected to be spoon-fed.  “Here comes the train, loaded up with peas!  Open wide!”  Bigger sigh.

So perhaps I should have put this disclaimer at the top – I’m ranting.  And I do try to keep my blog posts positive, even funny.  It’s just that I love words.  I hate the denigration of words.  Hoodies. Veggies. Smoothies.  Even my dear old father-in-law does it.  He doesn’t have “fog lights” on his car, he has “foggies.”  Can you hear me screaming from here?

I know, it’s not going to change.  I’m old, I belong to a different time.  I’m going to go make a blended shake with fruit and almond milk.