In this week’s column in the New Hampshire Sunday News, I review Elle & Coach: Diabetes, the Fight for My Daughter’s Life, and the Dog Who Changed Everything by Stefany Shaheen with Mark Dagostino. It’s an interesting read about an important topic — but I wish Coach had played a greater role in the book, and that the authors had written more about medic alert animals. Here’s the beginning of my review:

Stefany Shaheen’s “Elle & Coach: Diabetes, the Fight for My Daughter’s Life, and the Dog Who Changed Everything,” written with Mark Dagostino, is 226 pages long. Coach, the dog in the title, appears fleetingly in the preface, then not again until page 133. Most of the book is about how Shaheen’s family coped when Elle, just 8 years old, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, which causes a person’s immune system to stop the pancreas from producing insulin. Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed in childhood or young adulthood and is neither preventable nor curable. If it’s not managed carefully, it can be fatal.

Take the link above to see the rest, and thanks for reading!

Vacation reading 2015

We took a shorter summer vacation this year, just a couple of days off work for each of us for a long weekend in the White Mountains, before both of our offspring embark on senior years (Senior the Elder left today to head back to college, Senior the Younger starts her last year of high school tomorrow).

One of the days it rained, which helped me to read three books in three days — The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor LipmanA Dresser of Sycamore Trees by Garrett Keizer, and Wrong About Japan by Peter Carey. I also started How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton.

Carey’s book was the last I finished. It’s a short nonfiction book about his son’s interest in manga and anime and their trip to Japan together. Which Carey notes he took as much to write this book, and therefore be able to have the trip expenses covered as he did to take his son to Japan. Somehow that bothered me as a reader — I felt as if the book wasn’t about a trip a father and son took as much as a trip a father produced around his son’s interest in order to publish a little nonfiction book between novels. Maybe that’s just jealousy? Carey is certainly a good writer and his willingness to admit when he was frustrated, lost, worried, or just wrong in his preconceived ideas is refreshing. Since my own teenager also liked anime and manga at one point — now she is more interested in American comics — I found the narrative interesting and informative. For one thing, it reminded me that in Japan adults read and watch manga and anime, but Senior the Younger associates those interests with her younger self, and sees them as something she’s grown out of. So it was a decent poolside read on the one truly sunny day of the trip, but nothing I’d read again.

A Dresser of Sycamore Trees, on the other hand, I will read again someday, possibly soon. I realized this is the third summer in a row in which I read a book by Garrett Keizer on my time off. The previous two were for the Mindful Reader column — Privacy and Getting SchooledIn the past I’ve referred to Keizer as “whip smart,” “thoughtful, curious, intelligent, and respectful” and “what every child deserves in a teacher.”  He’s also funny too, in my favorite way — gently, kindly. What I didn’t realize is that he’s also what every human being deserves as a preacher. In fact when I finished A Dresser of Sycamore Trees I immediately looked up how long it would take to get from our house in New Hampshire to the church where Keizer was first a lay vicar and later a full Episcopal priest. Sadly, he seems to no longer be serving there (or anywhere that I could find), although writing is a ministry of its own.

A Dresser of Sycamore Trees addresses what it means to have faith, what ministry means, how a person can really live his or her convictions, and how humble, open-hearted, intelligent discourse can lead someone closer to an understanding of what it is to be a good person and also perhaps how to trust in God, or what that trust looks like. Keizer is unapologetically liberal (in the sense of the word that indicates someone who would like to liberate mankind from injustice) but he has equal criticism for lazy thinking, selfishness, and hypocrisy in those on both the left and the right, (If you want to see what I mean, read this article on values, which I found on his website as I was looking for what he’s up to these days).

What I love about Keizer’s writing is how very good it is. He’s an original thinker, and his prose is muscular but clean – every word matters. Here he describes a bishop’s voice: “The best I can do is to say that his voice was that of a male lion, with his great clawed paw resting as delicately as possible on the arm of a couch as he proposed marriage to a dubious lamb.” And this, on listening as a divine gift: “More and more I see God as the Almighty Listener. More and more I see how preoccupied we are with the ‘answers’ to our prayers, never acknowledging the utterly omnipotent and compassionate act of God’s hearing them. . . . Ironically I have sometimes been granted a share of that divine gift through being so mortal. In some conversations on some evenings I am simply too exhausted, flabbergasted, unqualified, or inexperienced to do much besides listen.”

I’ve had a very “not-sure heart,” for some time now, and found this book intriguing. “Sometimes we resolve to do without an evil or harmful thing, and Grace enables us to do without it. But sometimes we also resolve to do without a good thing . . . . and Grace gives it to us anyway.” That will stay with me.

If you’ve been reading bookconscious for a long time you’ll know I also very much admire Elinor Lipman, who is also whip smart and funny. The Inn at Lake Devine is about a young woman, Natalie Marx, only 12 when the book opens, and her fascination with a Vermont inn whose proprietress responds to her mother’s request for information that gentiles are the “guests who feel most comfortable here.” In a clever but not ever pat story, Lipman, like Jane Austen, turns her formidable wit on the society of her novel: the anti-Semitic innkeeper, summer camp, over-bearing parents, adult childhood friends, Catskills resorts, and much else. There is young love, an untimely death, missed connections, strategic alliances, wrongs righted, and loose ends tidied, as in a Shakespearean comedy. The Inn at Lake Devine is both delightfully entertaining and thought provoking. Forget frothy “beach reads” – try Elinor Lipman on your next vacation.

The Mindful Reader ran in today’s New Hampshire Sunday News. This time I review Cold Hard News, a debut mystery by Maureen Milliken, and Lessons from Tara, a memoir about life with lots of large rescue dogs by David Rosenfelt.

Here’s a taste: “Like Milliken, Bernie O’Dea writes and edits a paper in a small Maine town, Redimere. In “Cold Hard News,” Bernie can’t shake a story that troubles her — a body turns up in a melting snowbank, and it turns out to be Vietnam vet and town eccentric Stanley Weston. The more Bernie uncovers, the more questions she has, and even though she bought the Peaks Weekly Watcher from her first boss, she’s “from away,” so answers aren’t always easy to get.”

“n “Lessons from Tara,” Rosenfelt uses self-deprecating humor to recount what he’s learned about life, love, humans and dogs over the years. Remarkably, Rosenfelt and his wife have rescued more than 4,000 dogs, almost all large, many older, some also sick or injured. They have “been living with between 20 and 40 dogs for almost 19 years.”

You can read the whole column here. Thanks for stopping by!

The newspaper is still having trouble getting the column name and photo in the online edition, but The Mindful Reader ran today. I reviewed two New Hampshire books: Brendan DuBois’s latest Lewis Cole mystery, Blood Foam, and Aurore Eaton’s history of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. You can see the column here. If the link doesn’t work, please let me know; for some reason every time they fix the column title the link changes, and I don’t hear about it.

Thanks for reading!


I’ve written here before about not finishing books and how hard I find that. This summer I’ve not only let go and left books unfinished, I’ve allowed myself free-range grazing in books — starting and setting them aside and returning to them. Why the change? I think this reading style fits the chaos of my life life right now.

One adult child is about to be a senior in college (yes, longtime readers, that’s the former Teen the Elder) and is working from home doing an unpaid internship, which as you can imagine isn’t very gratifying — there are a lot of requirements and stipulations from an organization that not only isn’t paying him, but also isn’t always doing what they said they would. He’s sticking it out but isn’t thrilled, and mostly hopes it will look good on his resume to have completed the internship. His younger sister (Teen the Younger) is going to be a senior in high school, another tumultuous time in life, and she doesn’t feel any more satisfied with her summer. I’m still reviewing for The Mindful Reader column and occasionally for Kirkus but both of those have not gone as planned this summer either — par for the course in journalism, but still an additional dash of unpredictability.

There’s a medical issue in the family, plus all the usual daily life stresses of work, errands, remembering to mail things, carrying on with keeping up the house and the laundry and all that jazz. We also decided to have some long-hoped for work done to the house, mostly outside, but disruptive nonetheless for around a month now. And Teen the Younger decided to completely redo her room (inspired in part by The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up), which has been great, but has resulted in much of her old room moving into the garage and needing to be dealt with. Yes, the Computer Scientist helps, but he’s as caught up as I am in the maelstrom of generally unsettled and unsettling emotions and decisions and stuff out of place because of the work, and a million little things to be taken care of.

So, I’ve started and stopped reading. Repeatedly. I’ve returned more library books unread than I care to recall. At the moment I have two books going, both of which I’ve been reading for weeks: Mindfulness in Action: Making Friends With Yourself through Meditation and Everyday Awareness by Chogyam Trungpa and The Stories of Jane Gardam. Both are excellent. Both can withstand the chaos. Mindfulness in Action was compiled and edited by Carolyn Rose Gimian and is one of over two dozen posthumous works by Chogyam Trungpa. It goes beyond describing how to practice mindfulness meditation and gets into the nitty gritty of what mindfulness is and does. It’s wise and kind and gentle, and very insightful.

If you’ve read bookconscious regularly you know that I love Jane Gardam. I’d read her grocery lists. And I’ve reviewed many short story collections before as well — a good short story, like a good essay or poem, makes me happy. There’s something about compact forms, well crafted, that I find really satisfying. I’m around halfway through this collection and I haven’t read a story yet that I didn’t like. Gardam’s subject, as always, is humanity in all its messy, marvelous glory. Maybe the messiness is what is especially appealing to me, given the way things are around here these days.

Oh, and we have a kitten. Gwen, short for Guinevere. She’s compact and perfectly lovely too, but trying to introduce a kitten to our cat is also not conducive to finishing a book.

I review books by two Maine authors in this week’s Mindful Reader column in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Kate Braestrup’s new memoir is Anchor and Flares and Robert Klose’s hilarious send-up of campus politics is Long Live Grover Cleveland.

Here’s the first paragraph for each:

Kate Braestrup is chaplain to the Maine Warden Service. Her new memoir, “Anchor & Flares,” deals with all of the things she’s written about before – family, love, grief, faith – and also service. Ranging across topics as diverse as the condition of a body that has been decomposing under a frozen lake and a study of the qualities shared by Germans who rescued Jews rather than turning a blind eye to the Holocaust, Braestrup talks about hope and despair, joy and devastation. And she writes of these things in the context of her eldest son’s decision to enlist in the Marine Corps.


University of Maine biology professor Robert Klose’s novel “Long Live Grover Cleveland” is a delicious farce. Grover Cleveland is a small college in Maine, founded during the Vietnam war by a distant relative of President Cleveland as a haven for students – and some faculty – who want to avoid the draft. When the college’s founding president dies, he designates his nephew Marcus Cleveland, a used-car salesman in New Jersey, as his successor. Marcus is a good salesman who doesn’t seem entirely in touch with the world.

You can read the entire column here.


Artist Sue Anne Bottomley‘s book Colorful Journey: an Artist’s Adventure: Drawing Every Town in New Hampshire got me out of a reading funk. I’d lately found myself dissatisfied which much of what I tried to read for pleasure — something that seems to happen when work reading overwhelms. Reviewing books pile up, I have limited time to read, and I end up feeling very choosy. I liked the idea of this book — a project, born of an artist’s desire to get reacquainted with her home state after forty years. Following through on a project like this had to be challenging, and I admire Bottomley’s perseverance.

Colorful Journey is part art book, part travel diary, part guide to tidbits of New Hampshire history and culture. It took Bottomley two years to visit and draw all 234 towns and cities in the seven regions of our state, and the book gives a page to each, with the pencil/ink/watercolor pictures taking up most of the space. Her style is fluid and colorful, and in the text she calls attention to the way she composed her drawings, when she took artistic license, and what details drew her eye.

In the process, patterns emerge — there are many interestingly re-purposed meeting houses and railroad stations around the state, many cozy general stores, well laid out town centers, and decoratively designed libraries. A lot of New Hampshire’s steeples are topped with weather vanes. Mills abound as well, and it’s interesting to read about all the ways they are being used today and what they produced in their time.

The accompanying text adds even more local color, as Bottomley recalls what she saw as she sketched, what the weather was like, who she saw or met, and sometimes what she ate. For each town there is also a fact laid out in a different font and another set in larger, bolder font. I am usually not a fan of more than one font on a page, nor of such variety of type size and strength, but it really works in this book, and the design seems to add to the reading — you can just look at the art, catch the highlighted facts, and move on, or you can read more closely.

I love New Hampshire, where the Computer Scientist and I feel most at home of all the many places we’ve lived. I find that despite it’s small size, it’s hugely interesting, and this book reminded me of bits of history, geography and culture that make it that way. I also learned that most towns seem to have changed names as well as borders at one point, and one even declared itself a sovereign nation (The Republic of Indian Stream, now Pittsburg) when its people tired of being taxed by both the U.S. and Canada. And of course I loved that Bottomley visited and drew so many libraries.

Whether you live in New Hampshire, vacation here, or just want to learn about it — we are, after all, soon to be on the national stage again as the “first in the nation” presidential primary state — enjoy this beautiful, informative book.


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