Favorite Bedtime Stories: Part Two

As summer is slowly finding it's way to our front porches and pool decks and beaches and the smell of barbeque and Coppertone wafts through the air, I thought I would share again this year a few of my favorite books, past and present. Grab a cocktail and find a comfortable spot and enjoy a short list long that is long on inspiration!

I am going to start with this one, "The Giving Tree". I am sure this one has been read by just about everyone but in case you have never read it or have long since forgotten about it is worth another read. As I reread it recently though I will tell you I had a very different take on it. As a young person reading the book I thought it was all about giving. I loved the tree, didn't really get the boy but mostly I just thought the tree was the most amazing creature. What I read now is a story that shows us how humans take unconditionally and nature gives unconditionally and how the two shall never quite meet. In the beginning of the poem the boy meets the tree and is happy to swing from its branches and just "be" with the tree but as the boy grows older he starts to just take from the tree and he leaves the tree lonely. ( Pun intended). It isn't until the boy is an old man and the tree has nothing left but a stump that they come together again and again the boy takes what the tree has left to give. It seems to be an even more powerful and relevant story for me now. We must learn to give more than we take from Mother Nature or she won't have anything left for us but a stump to rest our weary selves.

Oh Ramona! This one gets on the list because it was my first ever Beverly Cleary book and as far as I am concerned all of her books can make the my list! Ramona has a special place in my heart. She was forever getting herself into trouble, constantly misunderstood and I really felt like I could relate, plus I loved the cover because FINALLY someone had crazier hair than I did! Ramona was a hard sell to my daughter since there are no dragons, mermaids, or human loving vampires but once we read this one she got it. I love the simplicity in Cleary's stories but also how intricately she depicts, in ways children can understand , the complex relationships we all have and how we learn to navigate them. Don't let the lack of suspense and fantasy creatures scare your daughter away, grab a Ramona book, step back in time and enjoy some simple and fabulous story telling!

"Brown Girl Dreaming" is a beautiful book, written in verse. It gives us a glimpse into the childhood of its author Jacqueline Woodson. Growing up in South Carolina and New York in the 1960s and 1970s she gives us a view of her world as it aligns with our history from the end of Jim Crow to the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. The first poem begins:

"I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital

Columbus,Ohio,

USA-

a country caught

between Black and White"

Her writing is lyrical and sparse but she manages to draw the images so clearly that you cannot help but feel as though you are in the kitchen of her grandparents home in South Carolina, listening to the radio as people march and sit in and fight for their rights. Woodson is honest and sometimes it is difficult to read as a middle class white woman who has had a pretty easy life but it has become one of my favorite books because it sheds light on a personal narrative that has a deeper dwelling in our nation's past. We all need to understand where we have been to know where we are headed. And Woodson's perfect prose can help point us in the right direction.

Anne Lamott makes my list again this year. She probably will every year because I have read and LOVED almost every book she has written. Her wit and anxiety and love for God combine into a beautiful melting pot of emotional angst and rebirth. This book helps shed some light on finding hope even when we feel like hope has up and left for another galaxy. In the chapter entitled "Don't Let Them Get You to Hate Them" she says ,"Ah prayer. In all the excitement, I'd sort of forgotten to pray. Make me a channel of Thy peace, that where there is hatred, let me sow love, or at least not fertilize the hate with my dainty bullshit." My mom wouldn't like her because Ms. Lamott does use a fair amount of four letter words but I can't help but love her down to earth style and how relatable she makes God, not as a white man sitting on a cloud directing traffic but as someone who is"both here and on another ,gentler plane, and does not have my sensitive digestive system." Anne Lamott is on my list of who I would love to share a meal with if ever the chance came about. If you ever feel a little hopeless she can make you smile and make you feel like maybe, just maybe we will all come out of this with only a few scars but with a whole lot of love and hope.

I am sad to say I had never heard of Maya Angelou prior to her beautiful poem "On the Pulse of Morning". I listened to her read her poem and could only think "Where has this amazing poet been all my life?" Several years later as a birthday gift my parents bought me a ticket to hear her speak at the Bushnell Theater in Hartford. I had a front row seat. I can still see her moving gracefully onto the stage in a long black sequined gown, holding a single lit candle and singing "This little light of mine". She held us all in rapture for nearly two hours. This book of hers I had read after hearing her poem and that was when I truly fell in love. She led an extraordinary life. In this book she tells her story of living in Ghana,West Africa. If you have never read one of her books and have a love of language you are robbing yourself of some of the most exquisitely written words to have ever graced a page. The first sentence on the first page reads:

" The breezes of the West African night were intimate and shy, licking the hair, sweeping through cotton dresses with unseemly intimacy, then disappearing into the utter blackness."

And it only gets better from there. She wrote as she spoke, with a smoothness and calm that envelops you like a soft, downy quilt. Her stories are real and heartbreaking and triumphant. She also makes my list of who I would have had dinner with if I could. If we could all emulate Dr. Angelou, I am convinced the world would be a better place.

I read this book only a couple years ago. A friend had suggested it to me about 20 years ago but it seemed at the time like something I would not have enjoyed and maybe two decades ago I would not have but it makes my list now. It is the story of Santiago , a Shepard who goes searching outside of himself for worldly treasure, only to find he was searching in all the wrong places. It is a magnificent adventure filled with well drawn characters who keep pointing him in the right direction for what he ultimately must find on his own. It is a powerful story and one we should all read for what it tells us is truly important in our lives and how much our journey here can teach us if only we are open and willing.

I read this book many moons ago and have a copy on my shelf because it is a re-read for me. Anita Diamant takes the biblical story of Dinah ,which is only a short 31 verses long, and gives us a dramatic and spellbinding tale of what life was like for women like Dinah and her mother and her aunts. Dinah is the daughter of Jacob and Leah, the only daughter in a sea of brothers. Diamant takes her short and tragic story and gives us historical insight to the role of women within the society of men. Each character comes alive and their dreams and passions are keenly felt. Dinah begins her story as a young girl and we watch as she grows and learns and delves into the psyche of her mother and aunts and finds her own way in a foreign land. It shows us that even centuries later women still have the same dreams and passions, we still are the anchor in the home, the place where love begins. And that strength is not just about a physical state of being but more about knowing who we are, what we stand for and the sacrifices we sometimes have to make.

This book needs to have five stars next to it! I just read this book this winter and I wish she had written it 16 years ago and that someone had given me a copy. Dr. Tsabary dispels myths of parenting, gives insight into how parents need to parent themselves in order to be able to better parent their children and basically calls us out for helicoptering and trying to turn our children into mini me's. She tells us that our children are not our easels on which to draw what we didn't have as children or put our own lost hopes and dreams on them but that they are already born who they are meant to be and it is our job to help them figure that out and find their own path. It has changed the way I parent. It has changed the way I see myself as a parent and they way I see my children. She says on how to handle our children's pain, "In the case of emotional pain, we want to rescue them, which is partly driven by our own helplessness at not being able to assuage their pain. We call the principal, yell at the teacher, complain to the parent of the child who dared to hurt them, not realizing that this solidifies their pain. It also fosters an inability to tolerate pain, both their own and that of others." Yes she calls us all out at one time or another. If I could buy a 1000 copies and hand them out at baby showers I would. This book is highlighted and dog-eared so don't ask to borrow my copy but my hope is more parents will read her book and awaken to a better way to parent so our children will grow up knowing what makes them tick and knowing how to be happy wherever they are in life.

For those who might be saying, "does this woman ever read anything funny?" I am going to throw you a bone with the next two. David Sedaris gets a nod on this years list because I laughed out loud on a flight home from vacation, disturbing the man next to me but I couldn't help myself. This book of essays written on his move to Paris tells of his hilarious attempts at learning the French language and delves into his family for humor that will make your abs ache. His slightly starchy, razor sharp wit and more than occasional naughty prose will give you a reason to chuckle under your beach umbrella, just don't spit your Margarita out of your nose because that hurts and it is also kind of gross to watch.

I met Nora Ephron, briefly, at a book signing for this book. She was warm and intelligent and charismatic. She spoke about her early life as a journalist and writing the screenplays for "When Harry Met Sally" and "Sleepless in Seattle." She had also recently been on the Oprah Winfrey show to promote this book so when my turn came up to greet her and get my book signed I said ," I saw you on Oprah, you were pretty great." She smiled and replied "I was pretty fabulous, wasn't I?" And she winked and gave me a few more moments of her time even though the line behind me seemed to stretch into the warm summer street outside. This book is still on my shelf and when I need a little laugh I grab it and read an essay or two and now that I am approaching mid-life her stories are even more relevant and amusing, if not too entirely true.

I could go on but there is laundry to do and many more books to read. There is a growing pile for summer reading so stay tuned because there may be an even longer list yet to come!

Happy reading!

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