Category: Book Recommendations

Five Reasons to Read During Severe Weather


Reading During Storms


In my world, this is the season for watching the sky and our favorite weather broadcasters.  A couple of weeks ago, we used our tornado shelter for the first time since last year.   The severe weather was of short duration, about 30 minutes in the shelter and several hours of tracking the storms as they passed through. It was relatively painless – the most difficult part was exiting up the narrow metal steps of the shelter and keeping my dignity as I pulled myself out, rear-end first, in view of our neighbors across the street. Tonight, another round of storms is in the making. Such is life in Central Oklahoma.

I am not complaining.  Friends, neighbors, acquaintances, co-workers, those who alert and protect us and those who pray for us – we are all in this together as we cope with the reality of the weather here. Most of us have family and friends in other states who frequently deal with tornadoes – I track the severe weather from Texas to Arkansas and Missouri, to Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia all the way to the coast, willing the tornadoes that threaten my loved ones to lift and disappear. (I confess that I sometimes hope for a change in direction if a twister is bearing down on one of the communities where my family or friends reside, conveniently forgetting that it will put others in the storm’s path.)

The “weather” days follow certain patterns.  We are usually alerted several days ahead that storms are on the way and that the system could last for one to three days. We look at our calendars and see how it will affect our plans. Tom checks the shelter for any unwanted insect visitors and checks to see that our water and toilet paper supplies are adequate. (I won’t describe our toilet accommodations.) We go over our mental checklist of things we’ll take to the shelter with us, if the occasion should arise.  We tell Malone (our Shih Tzu) that everything will be all right. He doesn’t argue with us.

On the day before our severe weather forecast, we check the conditions in the Ft. Worth area, where Tom’s parents and my brother live. Whatever is coming our way often hammers them first, and we are watchful on their behalf.

The first day of our forecast, we keep the television on and check our phones frequently to observe the fronts, how far away from us they are and how quickly they are moving. We watch the Oklahoma City area closely because we have family there. I am mentally calculating where family members are (at work, home, or traveling) throughout the day. We might see that they are in the path of circulation and try notifying them (knowing that they are most likely watching the same thing we are). We know that they will do the same for us.

We also finish our prep for going down to the cellar.  I put all of my portable technology (iPad, Kindle, external hard drive, chargers, etc.) in a bag next to the back door. Tom gets the flashlights, stuff for Malone, and other supplies.  We tell Malone that everything will be all right.  He still doesn’t argue but his trembling tells us he’s not certain we know what we’re doing.

If and when we hear a siren, see an alert on television, or get a text from a family member, we go down into the cellar. And sit. And wait.

When we get the all-clear, we exit (refer to the exercise in embarrassment from the first paragraph). We say a prayer of thanks and “spread out”, literally and figuratively. Round two can arrive here at home (another front or tornadoes popping up to the west) or we might spend a day or two tracking the storms east, where other friends and family live.

These are probably the most anxious times of the year for me. I am an anxious person by nature and have found it a necessity to fall into a calming routine, as much as possible, during the one, two, or three days of severe weather outbreaks.  I put a hold on other activities and allow myself plenty of reading time while tracking, preparing for, and hunkering down during the storms. It works for me (as much as anything can) and releases me from some of the dread and fear the season brings. Here’s why:

  •          Reading is a natural sedative for me at any time. I look forward to “book breaks” during non-weather days and I find that those sweet times with books calm me and give me the fortitude to continue with any task I meet, distasteful or not. I have always taken a book with me to the doctor’s office and can also use them to “take me away” when the storms are coming.
  •          I can match my selection to my level of anxiety. I don’t actually have a shelf filled with “books to read while waiting for the tornado”, but since I’m usually reading several books at a time, I can give myself permission to choose the one that I’m finding most absorbing.
  •          A book is forgiving of interruption. In our town, we may quickly go from  “just something to be aware of” to dangerous storm. Or we may be all clear and notice that other family members are in danger. I can easily put my book down and go back to it when everything is calm. It’s not so easy to stop watching television – especially when we’re at a cliff-hanging moment in the program.  It’s too easy to keep watching, thinking we have plenty of time. (We’ve learned here that the concept of “plenty of time” is relative and dangerous.)
  •          We don’t actually expect to watch normal network television at all during severe weather.  Our local weather takes precedence over other regular programming, for hours on end.  I can keep our favorite channel on, muted or with the volume down and still read while tracking the weather.
  •          I can continue reading even while in the storm shelter. We might be there for 30 minutes to an hour and it’s nice to distract myself by reading my Kindle or by flashlight.  I can also listen during cellar time to audiobooks that I’ve downloaded.

Okay, it’s true that tornado season isn’t a vacation and we can’t underestimate the importance of planning, preparing and taking the necessary steps when we are under a warning. But these times become a little less a nightmare when I have books and reading to occupy my mind when anxiety peaks.

Here are a few recommendations for reading during tornado weather:

  The Charm Bracelet by Viola Shipman – I will confess that I haven’t finished reading this one, but it is an enchanting story of three women – a mother, daughter, and granddaughter – who reconnect and come to greater understanding and appreciation of each other through the charms that are symbolic to their lives. I am happy to know that the author has written several other novels, which I look forward to reading.

Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire by Julia Baird – If you are a fan of the PBS series about Queen Victoria, you will probably enjoy this biography. The narrative follows the series closely and the author writes about Victoria’s life with the authority that reflects extensive research. (This is one that might take you completely through the storm season.)

No Time to Spare: Thinking about What Matters by Ursula K. Le Guin – The beloved and acclaimed author of many award-winning books passed away recently and I was happy that she left us one last book, a collection of essays on aging and living life completely and honestly. I especially enjoy passages about her cat’s behavior and an essay comparing the merits of The Immortal Life of Henryetta Lacks and The Help and then making the point that she appreciated them both as a reader, as I did.

   Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Engels Wilder by Caroline Fraser – An opportunity to learn more about the life of the author of the beloved Little House on the Prairie books.  The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography reveals the backstory of Wilder and her life beginning 150 years ago in the middle of a country still experiencing growing pains.  It is unvarnished and includes descriptions of the troubled relationship between the author and her daughter, journalist Rose Wilder Lane. The narrative of Wilder’s childhood is familiar territory for most of us, but we realize as we read this comprehensive biography, that there is much more to her story.

 Barbara Bush: A Memoir – I am listening to this audiobook and have found it delightful and reassuring that there are still people in the world like Barbara Bush. It is read by the author and is a further comfort to hear her voice – so unassuming, tender and humorous – as she tells the story of her life and family (including their pets) and an honest assessment of the events and relationships of powerful people she encountered. I would recommend this one especially for taking into a storm shelter – it wouldn’t mean adding anything to your bug-out bag, since you could listen on your smart phone, and it’s somewhat like hearing the voice of a beloved friend or family member.


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“Best Books” or Personal Favorites?


_Best Book_ of 2017 or Personal Favorite_ (2)

I have, for many years, been interested in critical reviews when deciding which books to add to my “to read” list. These examinations of theme, character, tone, plot, and the author’s mastery of the written language have been my guideposts, as have the nominees and winners of the various literary prizes and the ever-growing lists of “best books” by publications that feature reviews.  One of my favorite magazines, Bookmarks, helps by publishing summaries of reviews from such authorities as The New York Times Book Review, The Guardian, The Chicago Tribune, NPR, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Washington Post, and averaging their ratings.

There is another factor that comes into my personal selection which is equally important (to me) and compels me to change my end-of-the-year list from “Best Books” to “Personal Favorites”. Books on my  Favorites list are chosen according to the qualities and characteristics of the books which have spoken to me – one reader – and my tastes and preferences.

I will always pay homage to those who read deeply and critically, and have often set my sights on emulating them.  The challenge is that I often find myself so involved in the story that I forget that I am trying to read critically and get carried away. One of my own mantras as an aspiring writer is “It’s always about the story” and the very best stories make me forget anything else.

I have to consciously focus my thinking on the elements of good storytelling if I wish to read critically.  This is probably because I haven’t practiced deep reading enough, something I wish to do to develop my writing skills.

I have decided to leave the critical reviews to the professionals and share my favorites with you. This is not to say that the titles on my list are not praise-worthy, but to provide a measuring device to help guide you to (away from) a book I have enjoyed.

I am a member of Goodreads and would encourage you to join and become my reading friend there. Members rate the books they read from one to five stars and often write reviews (short and long, sometimes critical and sometimes “I loved this book”). You can see how popular a book is by looking at the average rating and the number of readers who have rated it.

I limit my own ratings to four or five stars, with an occasional three-stars for books I feel compelled to finish. I don’t complete books that would please me less than that – there are other readers who will rate them with one or two stars and I choose to spend my time other ways.

For those who are interested in what books might end up on my favorites list, I offer this:

  • I enjoy books about relationships, especially about families, friendships, and marriages.
  • I enjoy books where the protagonist or main character is close to my own age (although I don’t limit myself to stories about older people).
  • I enjoy books set in the south (especially the mid-south, where I grew up), in Oklahoma and the mid-west.
  • I enjoy rural and small-town settings.
  • I enjoy historical fiction and nonfiction about different eras and events.
  • I like to read biographies, autobiographies and memoirs about people who inspire me.
  • I enjoy books and stories that let me see myself and the world more completely.
  • I read books about storytelling and writing to build own my understanding and skills.
  • I read for entertainment and pleasure when I need a break, when I’m on vacation, or doing a task that doesn’t demand my full attention. (Audiobooks are a part of my reading diet.)
  • Finally, I am always thrilled to be surprised by a new author, a great book that doesn’t fit into any of these categories, or a good book that I missed earlier.

The following are the books that I enjoyed most during 2017.  I hope that you can find one or two (or several) that appeal to you. I will be interested in your own lists of favorites and recommendations as we move through 2018.


Fiction Favorites

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – This was one of the first novels I read during the year and has remained a favorite.  It is a story about a “blended” family, which fits into one of the catgeories to which I am drawn. Storytelling is another nonfictional category I read – what makes stories compelling and how our brains are wired to use story to help us function in the world. Commonwealth is about the stories the members of one family tell themselves, each other, and the world about the events in their lives, specifically the breakup of their parents’ marriages and how it affects them personally. This book began a year of exploration for me – reading memoirs and books about writing memoirs – in preparation for writing my own personal and family stories.

The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott – This is another story about family – those we are born to and those who nourish us and bring us to our best selves. It begins with a young father’s suicide in a New York tenement and leads us through the multiple generations that experience the love and sacrifice of the Catholic nuns who extend their caregiving to those left behind. A beautiful story, simple yet complex in its understanding of the human condition, The Ninth Hour won my heart and gratitude that there is such goodness in the world.

Nonfiction Favorites

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee – My choice of American Wolf as one of my two favorite nonfiction books was a matter of serendipity, since it would probably not been a typical title I would read.  I chose to listen to the audiobook version after I heard it described as a staff favorite by a representative of Penguin Random House at a “Book Buzz” at one of my favorite libraries. I learned that the wolf is considered the closest species to man in terms of their behavior and was enthralled to hear the story of O’Six, the celebrated alpha female wolf of Yellowstone National Park. Her story, like our own, is one that encompasses generations and reflects the need for control and protection of the places we call home.

Most American: Notes from a Wounded Place by Rilla Askew – I have been an avid reader of the novels by this celebrated Oklahoma author.  They all speak to our state’s history and the challenges that have faced its citizens since its inception as Indian Territory.  Most American is a collection of essays that lends personal credence to the fiction she writes, in the form of her observation of and participation in the Oklahoma narrative. She writes with authority about the scars left by the Trail of Tears, the Osage Murders, the Tulsa Race Riots, the Oklahoma City Bombing and her own personal experiences as one who is an Oklahoman, a former resident of New York, and a citizen of the United States.


Five-Star Fiction

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Camino Island by John Grisham

Flight Patterns by Karen White

I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

Sing, Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward

The Feathered Bone by Julie Cantrell

The Ninth Hour by Alice McDermott

The Risen by Ron Rash

The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner

The Storied Life of A.J. Filkry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish


Five-Star Nonfiction

A Lowcountry Heart: Reflections on a Writing Life by Pat Conroy

American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee

Books for Living by Will Schwalbe

Dimestore: A Writer’s Life by Lee Smith

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott

In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas by Daniel Schaeffer

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

KNOWN: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age by Mark Schaefer

Most American: Notes from a Wounded Place by Rilla Askew

Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work That Lasts by Ryan Holiday

Red Dirt Women: At Home on the Oklahoma Plains by Susan Kates

The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr

The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall

Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future by Jonah Sachs

Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron


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Ten Reasons I Love Book Talking (And Maybe You Will, Too!)


First, let me clarify. I love book discussion in all its varieties – one-on-one, online, group discussion about one title, panel discussion – you name it.  If it’s about books, I’m there!

My favorite format is book talking. I learned the term when I was a new librarian attending my first Oklahoma Library Association conference.  There was a session going on that seemed to be attracting a large audience.

I scanned the room and found an empty seat; it might have been the last one. I sat and waited for the speaker. When the session began and the introductions were done, I could see that there would be more than a dozen speakers.  I wondered how they would all fit themselves in during the one allotted hour.

Then it started.  Each speaker went to the center of the stage with one book (in this case, the books showcased were Oklahoma’s Sequoyah Award Nominees) and spoke about it. No, that is not quite accurate.  They sold it.

The audience around me was busy writing notes and I decided it was time to do the same. Each presenter spoke for a couple of minutes  –something about their passion for the book, for what made interesting, and just enough to draw us in and want to read it ourselves and recommend it to others. It drew us in and kept us there.

One after another, without a break in between, we heard from readers who loved books, but more importantly, loved the book he/she was holding.

I was almost out of breath when I left the session, after learning something else about what librarians do – what I would be doing for the next 25 years. I would be talking about books and telling our customers why they might like them – why the book I was holding might be their “next best book” or their favorite book of all time.

I still love to do that (even though I am retired) and I still love to listen to book talks. I especially look forward to the “Book Buzz” presentations done at the Pioneer Library System branches by the Penguin Random House representatives, when they book talk the latest and upcoming books for the season. (It doesn’t hurt that they give away advanced readers copies and book bags, or that the librarians and the Friends of the Library prepare delicious food for us.)


What I love best, though, is “Ravenous Readers”, a group of about 20 members who meet each month at the McLoud Library to talk about the books we’ve read. It’s always fast and furious around the table because several of us bring more than one to share.

The book talks are as individual as the members who present them and each member has his/her own style of presentation. Some read passages, some talk about the author, and some tell us about their own emotional response to the book.

Someday, someone will probably put their book talk to music, as I did once during my librarian days. We also share or lend our own personal books and share items such as bookmarks and pens provided by indie book stores we visit. Again, the wonderful pot luck dinner we enjoy is “icing on the cake” (pun intended).


What I am suggesting is that you consider the “book talk” format if you’re planning to join or begin a book group.  Here are some reasons you might enjoy book talking as much as I do:

  1. Book talk groups put very little pressure on the members. Each can choose his/her own title(s) to read and share.
  2. It isn’t necessary to gather multiple copies of one single title for discussion. (Pioneer Library System makes book discussion kits with multiple copies of the same title available to book groups, but not every library can provide this service.)
  3. Book talking doesn’t require a moderator or that discussion questions be prepared.
  4. Each meeting provides several recommended titles for each member’s “to read” list.
  5. Members can often trade books on the spot if a title sounds interesting to another member.
  6. There is a lot of flexibility for groups as far as desired number of members, locations (homes, restaurants, the library, community meeting rooms), etc.
  7. Refreshments can range from pot luck or restaurant fare, from desserts and coffee to wine and cheese, but food and drink enhances the experience!
  8. Book talking can be integrated into an existing group’s discussion format. A twice-a-year book talk session can result in multiple titles to consider for traditional book discussion sessions.
  9. Members can focus on subject areas for specific meetings. For example, Women’s History Month in March, or Christmas titles in December.
  10. Enthusiasm for book talk groups doesn’t seem to waver. Just ask the members of the Ravenous Readers – 20 years and going strong!

I hope to see you one day at a book talk group, or better yet, hear that you have begun one!

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