Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Covid-19 Life: Autumn Doldrums

It is mid-September and in Michigan that means I brought out a warmer quilt. In the early fall I use this Sunflower quilt, a pattern from Mountain Mist, because it is heavier than it looks. It was my first applique quilt. It is heavily hand quilted and the backing fabric is heavier than typical quilter's cotton. Perfect for later summer/early fall.

Grandpuppy Sunny is going to school--for obedience training! Just a year old, Sunny is all joy and exuberance and running and jumping. Her mom has taught her all kinds of tricks, but now she must learn to sit and stay on command without treats being involved.

Sunny shared her birthday cake with Ellie.

But sadly, grandkitty Hazel underwent an operation to remove a tumor that was found to be cancer. This beautiful and loving kitty is twelve years old. The kids have a hard decision to make.
Hazel and Ellie were good friends.

My brother recently took this photo at Cass Lake, MI.

We are going through books and deciding what we need to keep. Looking at old cookbooks we found some old recipes that once were very popular, like Russian Tea.

Our little city is divided politically. We picked up signs from the Indivisible group. Two doors down are signs for the other party's candidates. They have been very friendly over the years...Will this election make bad neighbors? I have never before put signs up in my yard.
Talking of signs, the city post office has one, too.

My only new TBR book from NetGalley is The Decameron Project: 29 Stories from the Pandemic from the New York Times.

I am excited that in November the library book club will read The Bear and will Zoom with author Andrew Krivak! And, we rescheduled Miracle Creek for February and will Zoom with author Angie Kim! We were to Skype with her last March.

I am still working on the Water Lily quilt borders. 

Summer is gone. With a pandemic taking 200,000 lives, who knows which of us will see another? I always loved fall's colors and cool weather, but as I age, I know autumn means winter and snow and ice and days stuck indoors. Will we be spending Thanksgiving and Christmas alone? What risks will we take if we join with family?

The stress has affected me. Oh, it was fine in March and April, I was busy with reading and reviewing and quilting. But as the months drag on, it  becomes harder. I am too aware of mortality, already living 11 years longer than mom and being the age my grandfather was when he passed. I was never afraid of death...until it became more probable. So there is fear and there is the longing to hug my family and there is remembering to find the beauty here and now.

But it is more than my own paltry existence that I grieve for. It is the wildfires and the floods and the hurricanes and the droughts, the rising sea waters and the warming of the planet. It is the endless injustice and racism that America can't seem to escape. It is the victims of disease and violence. It is the daily reality show of Trump's White House, politics that has lost all moral centeredness, wealth that purchases privilege and power.

We watched The Pickwick Papers, an old British miniseries. It was such absurd fun, until it wasn't funny. Pickwick goes to Fleet Prison and it opens his eyes to his privilege. He sees poverty and suffering and starvation and illness. He changes his life and helps those less fortunate.

Like Dicken's A Christmas Carol, the story tells of a transformation. Pickwick was an innocent abroad. He sought experiences and pleasure. He saw how others lived and then acted to help ease the life of the less fortunate.

 We need a moral transformation in America today. A rebirth. 

Choose hope, not hate.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Good Blood by Julian Guthrie

When I married in the early 1970s I remember my fiance and I needed blood tests to check if we were Rh compatible. I knew it affected our ability to have children.

That is about all I knew about Rh disease. Until reading Good Blood, I had no idea how many people were affected by the disease, how many babies were lost, the depth of grief and despair suffered.

Or of the obsessed doctors who sought a cure over many years, or the 'man with the golden arm" who donated blood 1,173 times, saving 2.4 million babies.

Guthrie's moving history is filled with memorable and remarkable people.

I received an ebook from Publisher's Weekly.

Good Blood: A Doctor, a Donor, and the Incredible Breakthrough that Saved Millions of Babies
by Julian Guthrie
Abrams Press
Pub Date September 8, 2020 
ISBN: 9781419743313
hardcover $26.00 (USD)

from the publisher
A remarkable, uplifting story about one of the greatest medical breakthroughs of the 20th century
In 1951 in Sydney, Australia, a fourteen-year-old boy named James Harrison was near death when he received a transfusion of blood that saved his life. A few years later, and half a world away, a shy young doctor at Columbia University realized he was more comfortable in the lab than in the examination room. Neither could have imagined how their paths would cross, or how they would change the world.
In Good Blood, bestselling writer Julian Guthrie tells the gripping tale of the race to cure a horrible blood disease known as Rh disease that stalked families and caused a mother’s immune system to attack her own unborn child. The story is anchored by two very diļ¬€erent men on two continents: Dr. John Gorman in New York, who would land on a brilliant yet contrarian idea, and an unassuming Australian whose almost magical blood—and his unyielding devotion to donating it—would save millions of lives.
Good Blood takes us from Australia to America, from research laboratories to hospitals, and even into Sing Sing prison, where experimental blood trials were held. It is a tale of discovery and invention, the progress and pitfalls of medicine, and the everyday heroics that fundamentally changed the health of women and babies.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Homeland Elegies: A Novel by Ayad Akhtar

Homeland Elegies was a revelation, a chance to see American culture and history and politics from the viewpoint of an 'outsider,' even if that outsider was American born.

Ayad Akhtar  has written a novel with a strong narrative voice that reads like memoir. It's compelling storyline and conflicted characters engage the reader. It is also a novel of ideas, a dissection of social and political culture.

How Christian is America? Consider the commercialization of Christian holy days, the Christian based place names of cities, the King James Bible language and words that are woven in our writing and speech, how we do personal hygiene, dogs in every home. 

The accumulation of wealth, buying sprees dependent on credit cards and interest, and the importance of corporate wealth and the power it wields is another theme. It's a Wonderful Life, that beloved Christmas movie, the narrator realizes, was really about money and power.

Central to the novel is the experience of living in a racist culture, especially after 9-11. When the narrator's car breaks down in rural Pennsylvania, the narrator finds himself vulnerable.

The narrator travels to Pakistan to visit family. Is returning to one's family homeland the answer? The anger that fuels people here is also found abroad. 

"America is my home," the narrator affirms. 

Homeland Elegies, this poem that mourns the country of our hopes and dreams, reveals our character like a mirror. It isn't pretty. 

I was given access to a free galley by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Homeland Elegies: A Novel
by Ayad Akhtar
Little, Brown and Company
Pub Date: September 15, 2020   
ISBN: 9780316496438
hardcover $14.99 (USD)

from the publisher

A deeply personal work about identity and belonging in a nation coming apart at the seams, Homeland Elegies blends fact and fiction to tell an epic story of longing and dispossession in the world that 9/11 made. Part family drama, part social essay, part picaresque novel, at its heart it is the story of a father, a son, and the country they both call home.

Ayad Akhtar forges a new narrative voice to capture a country in which debt has ruined countless lives and the gods of finance rule, where immigrants live in fear, and where the nation's unhealed wounds wreak havoc around the world. Akhtar attempts to make sense of it all through the lens of a story about one family, from a heartland town in America to palatial suites in Central Europe to guerrilla lookouts in the mountains of Afghanistan, and spares no one -- least of all himself -- in the process.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Book Club Reads: French Exit by Patrick deWitt and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller


Patrick DeWitt's novel French Exit was the Clawson public library book club selection. I listened to the audiobook. The narrator was fantastic, giving the characters distinctive voices. 

Stick to the story--the characters are not very likeable when you first met them. Frances seems to be a vacuous and unfeeling socialite and her son Malcolm a pampered and unemotional slug. When I learned their backstories, I was moved. I realized that in the beginning, we saw them as the world perceived them. Learning how damaged they were by their deceased husband and father, I had sympathy. There is a bit of magic, a heavy dose of comedy of manners, droll humor, and a nice twist of sentimentalism.

My book clubbers were not excited by this novel. It was described as 'fluffy', easy to read, and they did not like the characters. They did not like the ending.

French Exit
Harper Audio
by Patrick deWitt, Lorna Raver (Narrator)
ISBN0062871927 (ISBN 13: 9780062871923)

from the publisher

Brimming with pathos, French Exit is a one-of-a-kind 'tragedy of manners,' a send-up of high society, as well as a moving mother/son caper which only Patrick deWitt could conceive and execute.

 Frances Price – tart widow, possessive mother, and Upper East Side force of nature – is in dire straits, beset by scandal and impending bankruptcy. Her adult son Malcolm is no help, mired in a permanent state of arrested development. And then there’s the Price’s aging cat, Small Frank, who Frances believes houses the spirit of her late husband, an infamously immoral litigator and world-class cad whose gruesome tabloid death rendered Frances and Malcolm social outcasts.

Putting penury and pariahdom behind them, the family decides to cut their losses and head for the exit. One ocean voyage later, the curious trio land in their beloved Paris, the City of Light serving as a backdrop not for love or romance, but self destruction and economical ruin – to riotous effect. A number of singular characters serve to round out the cast: a bashful private investigator, an aimless psychic proposing a seance, and a doctor who makes house calls with his wine merchant in tow, to name a few.

Brimming with pathos, French Exit is a one-of-a-kind 'tragedy of manners,' a send-up of high society, as well as a moving mother/son caper which only Patrick deWitt could conceive and execute.


The book club at the Royal Oak Public library read Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles this month. I had purchased it on Kindle well before I read Miller's novel Circe, which I loved. I was eager to read Achilles.

Miller chooses to view the story of the Trojan War through the Greek character of Patroclus, bosom friend of the warrior Achilles. We see them as boys growing up together and watch their friendship blossom into romantic love. The emphasis on their deep love made me categorize the novel a love story. 

Achilles is fated to be a great warrior so when he is called to be a leader in the Trojan War he accepts, pacifist Patroclus tagging along. There are some gruesome scenes during the war. This part felt felt more like the original Iliad.

I found myself comparing this to Country by Michael Hughes, which I read earlier in the year. I felt the drive and violence and passion in Hughes novel.

Overall, I did not care for this as much as I did Circe, but the book clubbers who had never read Home or Greek literature found it a revelation. And for that I am very glad! I was the only one who had read Homer and Greek literature and Greek myths. They found it easy to read and enjoyed Miller's updating of the story and found themes that were relevant to today. 

The Song of Achilles
by Madeline Miller
ISBN-10 : 0062060619
ISBN-13 : 978-0062060617

from the publisher

Greece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is nobody, just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.

Achilles, “best of all the Greeks,” is everything Patroclus is not—strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess—and by all rights their paths should never cross. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing and soon their tentative connection gives way to a steadfast friendship. As they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper—despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

Fate is never far from the heels of Achilles. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate.

Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

OurStory Quilts: Human Rights Stories in Fabric

I opened the book to flip through the pages for a first look. When I came to the image for Jesus Wept, I stopped. And I just cried. 

The quilt made by Michelle Flamer of Philadelphia, PA, reproduces the 16th Street Baptist Church stained glass window after it was bombed in 1963, killing four little girls. The window was intact, save for the face of Jesus.

Quilts can tell a story with power and impact. It's not the first time a quilt brought me to tears. 

Quilts also inform and inspire.

I am currently reading a new biography of Eleanor Roosevelt. This uninformed, damaged woman who accepted the status quo understanding of people of color self-invented herself and became a champion for peace, civil rights, and forgotten men and women. 

Gabriele Di Tota of Melbourne, FL, used Eleanor Roosevelt's Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the background to her portrait. The former First Lady chaired the United Nations commission that created this document.

Quilts create empathy.

Ryleigh was designated male but identified as a girl. Birgit E. Ruotsala of Green Bay, WS, portrays a joyful Ryleigh embracing her identity. 6% of the population identify as transgender, but they struggle to be "free to be me." 

Quilts celebrate iconic leaders. Meryl Ann Butler of Norfolk, VA chose to portray the 14th Dalai Lama, champion for peace and human rights.  Butler used an amazing fabric pointillism technique.

OurStory Quilts: Human Rights Stories in Fabric by Susanne Miller Jones is filled with beautiful and impressive art quilts that champion the struggle for inclusiveness, equality, and fairness. Today hard-won gains are being threatened at home and across the world. The fight to protect and expand human rights is an ongoing process. 

The book is divided into sections. 

The first addresses the basic needs, common to all people. 

The second spotlights basic rights. 

The third considers the disenfranchised whose rights have been denied. 

The fourth honors iconic leaders in the human rights movements. 

The fifth celebrates Human Rights Events that spurred action. 

The Sixth tells the personal tales of the artists and the seventh celebrates diversity and similarities.

I was thrilled to see so many of my personal heroes appear among the juried quilts. Each quilt is presented on a full page with a full page essay about its subject. I am always interested in learning more about the artists techniques in creating the quilts.

Like her previous book, HerStory Quilts, OurStory raises awareness of the struggle for inclusive rights and celebrates achievements through thoughtful and inspiring art quilts. 

I was given a free book in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

OURstory Quilts: Human Rights Stories in Fabric
by Susanne Miller Jones
Schiffer Publications
115 color photos
hardcover $34.99
ISBN 13: 9780764357978 

from the publsher

Today’s renewed interest in our basic rights has become part of popular culture and breaking news. From the Mexican border to the #MeToo movement, these images made in fabric are amazing, colorful, and thought provoking. The images offer a new perspective and answer the new demand for attention. These 65 quilts focus on the history of the battles for human, civil, and political rights, and the continuing developments today. They also celebrate the heroes. The heroes who fought for rights, as well as the events that have drawn the attention of news media and the public. Personal stories offer moving reminders and encouragement for future rights successes. The quilts are created by 47 artists from six countries.
About the author
Susanne Miller Jones has been creating art all her life. Fiber art opened many doors and introduced her to fiber artists around the world who have become friends through the magic of social media. Her work is in private collections, has been exhibited in national shows, and has been featured in several books. She is the author of Fly Me to the Moon: An Art Quilt Journey and HERstory Quilts: A Celebration of Strong Women. Jones is a member of Studio Art Quilt Associates and of the Quilt Alliance and serves on the Sacred Threads committee.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Writer's Library: The Authors You Love on the Books that Changed their Lives by Nancy Pearl & Jeff Schwager

Nancy Pearl and Jeff Schwager's book The Writer's Library lets readers in on their favorite authors' reading history, what they keep on their bookshelf, and how those books impacted their lives and their craft.

Pearl writes, "Our consciousness is a soaring shelf of thoughts and recollections, facts and fantasies, and of course, the scores of books we've read that have become an almost cellular part of who we are." I found myself thinking about the books that were on my shelves across my lifetime.

I was happy to see books I have read mentioned but there were also many books new to me that I will add to my TBR list.

Certain books were mentioned by more than one writer.

Jonathan Lethem talked of "the poetic, dreamy, surreal stuff like Bradbury" and his favorite TV show The Twilight Zone. He said that Butcher's Crossing by John Williams is better than Stoner, so I have to move it up higher on my TBR shelf.

Susan Choi also mentions Bradbury, as well as F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and J. D. Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish."

Michael Chabon also lists Bradbury, and my childhood favorites Homer Price by Robert McCloskey and Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. He calls The World According to Garp by John Irving a bombshell; I do remember reading it when it came out. He is another fan of Watership Down. Also on his list are Saul Bellow's Herzog.

One more Bradbury fan, Dave Eggers was in the Great Books program in school, just like me. He also loves Herzog. As does Richard Ford.

Amor Towles begins with Bradbury and adds poetry including Prufrock, Whitman and Dickinson, and a long list of classics.

Another Dickinson fan, Louise Erdrich also loves Sylvia Plath and Tommy Orange's There There.

Jennifer Egen loved Salinger's Nine Stories. As a teen loved Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and The Magus by John Fowles. "Then Richard Adams' Watership Down took over me life," and she got a rabbit. Oh, my! My husband and I also loved that book when it came out and WE got a pet rabbit--house trained to a liter box. I share a love for many of her mentions including Anthony Trollope.

Andrew Sean Greer included Rebecca and also loves Muriel Spark.

Madeline Miller also notes Watership Down as one of the "great favorites of my entire life." She is a fan of King Lear, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot, and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. 

Laila Lalami mentioned Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee as a favorite.

I would not have guessed that Luis Alberto Urrea had fallen hard for Becky Thatcher (from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) or that he fell in love with Stephen Crane's poetry.

At college I read The Sot Weed Factor by John Barth; it is  one of T.C. Boyle's favorite historical novels. He calls Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro "one of the greatest books ever." And he brings up John Gardner, whose novels I read as they came out.

Charles Johnson also studied under John Gardner whose book On Moral Fiction appears on his shelf along with Ivan Doig.

Viet Thanh Nguyen was blown away by sci-fi writers like Isaac Asimov and fantasy writers like J. R. R. Tolkien. He liked Michael Ondaatje's Warlight.

Jane Hirshfield was "undone" by Charlotte's Web by E. B. White and loved Water de la Mare's poem "The Listeners" and reads poetry including Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, W. H. Auden, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Philip Levine is a poet on my TBR shelf that she mentions.

Siri Hustvedt read Dickinson and the canonical English poetry early. Flannery O'Connor shows up on her shelf, also found on shelves of T. C. Boyle, Erdrich, Ford, and Tartt.

Vendela Vida is "indebted to Forster," including A Passage to India. Also on her shelf is Coetzee's Disgrace.

Donna Tartt read Bedknobs and Broomsticks by Mary Norton, James Barrie's Peter Pan, and other classic children's literature. Oliver Twist particularly moved her and it also appears on Urrea's shelf.

Russell Banks loved Toby Tyler by James Otis and loves to read the classics.

Laurie Frankl's books are not ones I have read. Along with all the other books on these author's shelves, I can extend my reading list past my natural lifespan!

Readers will enjoy these interviews, comparing book shelves, and learning the books that influenced these writers.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Writer's Library: The Authors You Love on the Books That Changed Their Lives
by Nancy Pearl and Jeff Schwager
HarperCollins Publishers/HarperOne
Pub Date September 8, 2020
ISBN: 9780062968500
hardcover $27.99 (USD)

from the publisher:
With a Foreword by Susan Orlean, twenty-three of today's living literary legends, including Donna Tartt, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Andrew Sean Greer, Laila Lalami, and Michael Chabon, reveal the books that made them think, brought them joy, and changed their lives in this intimate, moving, and insightful collection from "American's Librarian" Nancy Pearl and noted playwright Jeff Schwager that celebrates the power of literature and reading to connect us all.
Before Jennifer Egan, Louise Erdrich, Luis Alberto Urrea, and Jonathan Lethem became revered authors, they were readers. In this ebullient book, America’s favorite librarian Nancy Pearl and noted-playwright Jeff Schwager interview a diverse range of America's most notable and influential writers about the books that shaped them and inspired them to leave their own literary mark. 
Illustrated with beautiful line drawings, The Writer’s Library is a revelatory exploration of the studies, libraries, and bookstores of today’s favorite authors—the creative artists whose imagination and sublime talent make America's literary scene the wonderful, dynamic world it is. A love letter to books and a celebration of wordsmiths, The Writer’s Library is a treasure for anyone who has been moved by the written word. 
The authors in The Writer’s Library are:
Russell BanksT.C. BoyleMichael ChabonSusan ChoiJennifer EganDave EggersLouise ErdrichRichard FordLaurie FrankelAndrew Sean GreerJane HirshfieldSiri HustvedtCharles JohnsonLaila LalamiJonathan LethemDonna TarttMadeline MillerViet Thanh NguyenLuis Alberto UrreaVendela VidaAyelet WaldmanMaaza MengisteAmor Towles

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Rita Blitt Around and Round

The viewer needs to be as creative in viewing a work of art as the artist was in creating it~Irwin Blitt

I was drawn to this book by the cover art, so joyous and uplifting. I had not encountered Rita Blitt or her art before reading Rita Blitt: Around and Round.
The cover art is a detail of "Celebrating Fall in Aspen", 2003. The landscape is reduced to near abstraction, yet the lines and color combine in a recognizable image of autumnal color against a blue sky.

The accompanying essays gave me insight into Blitt's life, how her art developed over her career, and an understanding of her art.

The book features art donated to the Mulvane Art Museum at Washburn University in Topeka, KS. 

I loved her early work "The Red Barn", the impressionistic style and vivid colors broken by the geometric division of a fence.
The Red Barn, 1958, by Rita Blitt
"Fir Trees in Aspen" recalls a dark forest dappled with sunlight as if highlighting hope in our darkest moment. 
Fir Trees in Aspen
Inspired by music, in the late 1990s Blitt began working with two hands. It allowed Blitt to be more centered. She communicates movement into her work, especially in response to dance and music. 

Hope by Rita Blitt

Celebrating Dorianna, 1996, Rita Blitt

Jamie Metzl writes in the essay Rita's Legacy, "The right way to look at these images is slowly and carefully, taking in the simple complexity of shape and color until you start to feel your heart lightening, an innocent joy bubbling up from inside of you."

As I studied Blitt's art, I knew I had encountered a soul filled with joy, and open to the creative and emotional life. The more I study her art, the more I see.

I was impressed to learn about the Kindness Program, which Blitt organized in 1990. Students write essays to nominate
individuals and groups for the Kindest Kansas Citian Award and Rita Blitt Kindest School Award.
Red, Yellow and Blue sculptures at the Rita Blitt Sculpture Garden, Mulvane Museum, Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas.

I won a free ebook from the publisher through a Publisher's Weekly giveaway. My review is fair and unbiased.

See pages from the book at the publisher's website here and eighteen pages at here. Visit Blitt's Facebook page here.

from the publisher
Rita Blitt: Around and Round is an overview of more than sixty years of work by Rita Blitt (b. 1931), a renowned contemporary American artist. Blitt’s dynamic body of work is distinguished by the sense of joy expressed through her pieces—sculptures, paintings, drawings, video, and more. Her work has been showcased in more than 70 one-person exhibitions and has been acquired by many museums and private collections. Her sculptures, some of them as tall as 60 feet, can be found throughout the U.S. and in Japan, Australia, and Singapore
The book presents a thoughtful selection of Blitt’s artwork, with a particular focus on the paintings and drawings that form the core of her studio practice and that are often studies for her highly acclaimed sculptures. More than 100 color plates and reproductions are included in these pages, along with essays by scholars and colleagues that provide context and interpretations of Blitt’s work and practice
Rita Blitt: Around and Round
Connie Gibbons, Editor
Mulvane Art Museum
$45.00 Trade Edition
Publication Date: September 15, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-7322978-4-5