What I’m reading this week: Rediscovering Mitford

This is part of the Sunday Salon – a series of blog posts where regular folks write about what they’re reading.

In the last couple of weeks, I decided to rediscover Mitford, the fictional town created by author Jan Karon, and the characters within it – most notably Father Tim Kavanaugh, the charming Episcopal priest and his wife Cynthia, who he married late in life.

downloadI own hardcover and paperback copies of most of the series but started downloading the new books into my Kindle a couple of years ago. This time around I started my latest visit to Mitford with book 13, “Come Rain, Come Shine,” which I had started last year but never finished. Then this week I started the latest book in the series, book 14 “To Be Where You Are”. I’m afraid to look anywhere online until I finish it because of spoilers, but I did Google Karon when my mom and I were wondering how old she must be now and learned she has recently written the last of the series as a collection of sermons and prayers by Father Tim. This distressed my mom a little because she has read “To Be Where You Are” already and said some of the character’s stories were left hanging

I started reading these books in high school and have loved following the stories of the characters. I’ve laughed with them (because there is a lot of humor) and I’ve cried with them (because there are some definite tear-jerking moments, some heartbreaking and some simply touching). I used to read the books in a couple of days because I simply couldn’t put them down. I still move through them fairly fast, but I’m faced with more interruptions now that I have children so the books are a nice thing to disappear into late at night once they are asleep.karon

For those who haven’t read the books, Father Tim and Cynthia have an adopted son Dooley and a slew of friends and family, whose stories are also part of the books. The story of how Dooley became their son and the fracturing of his family weave in and out of the books, with new characters, such as Dooley’s brothers and estranged mother, being added in each edition. There are other reoccurring characters who are part of almost every book and include the local newspaper’s editor and his reporter wife (something I could definitely relate to), the owners of the local restaurant, the local veterinarian, and church parishioners whose stories often intertwine with the main characters. At times there are a couple of different plots going on throughout the book, but each one seems to come back to Father Tim.

While Karon’s writing isn’t super deep or complex, she is a talented writer who is able to use words to paint a beautiful picture of a scene or an interaction and pull the reader into the moment.

In the first chapter of the fourteenth book in the series, one sentence she wrote made me pause and read it slowly again: “The chlorophylls of summer foliage would have degraded into nonfluorescent chlorophyll catabolites, and hidden pigments would explode in a pyrotechnic extravagance of scarlet, gold, vermilion, and out-loud yellow.

I think one reason I’m in love with the books is that I can relate to the characters, the life in a small town and to life in North Carolina, which is where my mom’s entire family is from and where she grew up.

Opening the books is like visiting with old friends and also makes me think of an old friend who had loved me but needed so much love she drained me and others of almost all their energy in the process.

She once gave me a small, wooden frame with the words: “I’d rather be in Mitford” printed off a computer. I have many regrets in my life and not getting back in touch with her after one too many of her demands weighted me down is one of them. She passed away a couple of years ago and I like to hope heaven is a lot like Mitford for her – with quirky, funny and friendly characters.

As for me, I’ve often looked at that little sign during stressful times in my life and thought the same thing – how much I’d like to be in Mitford instead of dealing with the stress of the moment.

So what are you reading these days? Anything good? Let me know in the comments!

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Wrestlers, degenerate reporters and a president on this week’s reading list

This post is part of the Sunday Salon, which is a group of bloggers who join together one day of the week to share what they’re reading, watching or simply what’s up in their life, although it’s mainly about what they are reading.

I’m finally finishing some books I started months ago and either wandered away from when a new and shiny book caught my attention (squirrel!) or simply filed away in the Kindle because it didn’t hold my interest.

shawnFirst up this week to finish was something I don’t normally read – the autobiography of a professional wrestler. Shawn Michaels, also known as the Heartbreak Kid, or by his real name of Michael Shawn Hickenbottom (no, really, that’s his real, non-showbiz name), wrote this second autobiography, “Wrestling for my Life: the Legend, The Reality, and The Faith of a WWE Superstar” several years after his first (that’s what you write when you’re too lazy to look up the date of his first autobiography)  and after becoming a Christian.

The book goes into some detail about how Michaels got his start as a wrestler, but not as much as a first autobiography would. Instead, this book is more about how his faith changed him and became the focal point of his life, seeping into every pore of his being, including professionally.  He writes about his struggles to learn what it means to be a man of faith, the stumbling steps he took toward kicking an alcohol and pill addiction and becoming a better man for his devoted wife, a former wrestler herself, and his children.  This is definitely “light reading” but as a practicing Christian myself, I see a lot of depth in Michaels’ words about his Christian walk.

lincolnA book I’m still plowing through, but haven’t yet finished is The Last Trial of Lincoln, which is about – ummm – the last, um, trial, of Lincoln. Hence the name.

But seriously, it’s a book about the final trial Abraham Lincoln served on as defense attorney before running for president. The basic plot is that Lincoln is defending a young man accused of murdering another man during a knife attack. The question is if it was premeditated or accidental. Much of the book is seen through the eyes of scribe Robert Hitt, the real-life scribe to the trial, whose handwritten manuscript of the trial was discovered in 1989 and is the basis of the book.

The full name of the book is actually “Lincoln’s Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to The Presidency.” The author is Dan Abrams, chief legal analyst for ABC News and the book is often as wordy as his book titles (according to Amazon his last book was titled, “Man Down: Proof Beyond A Reasonable Doubt That Women Are Better Cops, Drivers, Gamblers, Spies, World Leaders, Beer Tasters, Hedge Fund Managers, and Just About Everything Else.”)

The book is good, but it’s so chocked full of words and legal jargon and flashbacks that help to paint the picture of who Lincoln was as a lawyer, that I’m finding myself needing breaks from it to rest my poor, less-intellectual brain. I don’t want it to sound like the book is so deep it is unreadable, however, because it is actually entertaining. It’s simply that there are so many flashbacks that I am halfway through it and wondering if we will ever get to the end of the trial before the book ends. I’ll let you know if that happens or not.

A book I just started and read when I want something a little lighter, with quick to the point sentences, is the second book in the Fletch series, Carioca Fletch by Gregory McDonald. Technically, according to my husband, who really should be writing blog posts about books, this is not the “second” Fletch book but it is the book that follows the first book chronologically. In this book, Fletch is in Brazil, having escaped from his past adventure with his life and some money (I won’t spoil that book for you) and is confronted by an old woman who believes he is the reincarnation of her late husband, who was murdered. Now Fletch’s new Brazilian friends, if not Fletch himself, want Fletch to solve the murder and release the soul of the already deceased man.

Since I just started the book, I’m really not sure where it’s going to go but I have a feeling, based on the first Fletch book, it’s going to be a twisted tale where Fletch’s lack of empathy and humanity is going to be showing.

The people in it are pretty sad and without feeling so far, but for some reason, I can’t tear myself away, maybe because Fletch is a crooked journalist and I worked with a few of those during my time as a small town newspaper reporter at four newspapers in Pennsylvania and New York.

When I really need light reading, I turn to something very simple and lighthearted that doesn’t require any intellectual capability at all and for the past few months that has been the Paddington Bear series. Thank you, Michael Bond, for transporting me into a second childhood late at night when I’m trying to take my mind off of the screaming outside word. I’m currently on my third Paddington book – Paddington Abroad.

x400Writing this I am now realizing I’m, again, reading about a British bear, though the other book (Enchanted Places, the autobiography of Christopher Milne) wasn’t necessarily about the “bear” but the boy who was a friend of “the bear” (Winnie the Pooh). I guess there is something comforting to me about bears and the British, maybe because I still have the Teddybear I had as a child and … I have no idea about the British thing since I have no British family members.

So how about you? What are you reading this week? What’s inspiring you? What’s comforting you? What’s making you think?