Friday Book Whimsy: Book Challenge, The Last

Today I will conclude the book challenge I have been pondering for the last few weeks. Click here to see Part I and Part II.

A book that reminds you of home: It sort of depends on what I consider home. For this purpose, however, I am calling home the place where I spent my formative years — Nebraska. Therefore, the book that most reminds me of my home is My Antonia, by Willa Cather. I, of course, am nothing like the main character — Antonia Shimerda. Her family are Bohemian immigrants who lived and farmed in southeast Nebraska in the late 1800s. She befriends Jim, who is newly arrived from the east coast. The reason this reminds me of growing up in Nebraska is because the people are down-to-earth, hard-working, honest, and live simple lives. That describes my experience growing up in the Midwest.

Favorite romance book: Can you really get more romantic than Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte? I mean, the wild and enormously troubled Mr. Rochester sees the good in the poor orphan girl who has led a tragic life up until she becomes a governess to Mr. Rochester’s child. the book apparently illustrates classism, sexism, and all sorts of -isms, but I simply adore the love between the two main characters, even after he loses his eyesight. Oh, and the crazy wife in the attic.

Favorite male character: Lots of favorite male characters, but I’m going to go with Father Tim, from Jan Karon’s Mitford series. I wish that Father Tim could be my spiritual advisor and my friend.

Favorite female character: I like many female characters, but one who has stayed in my mind is Eleanor Oliphant, from Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. I loved everything about Eleanor Oliphant. I love her outlook on life, I loved how she rose above her dysfunctional upbringing, and I loved her friendship with Raymond. I reviewed the book here.

Your favorite writer: Man, this is a hard one to pin down, but given my answer to the last question which follows, I think it would have to be the late Kent Haruf. When this Colorado author passed away in 2014, I literally cried, knowing that there would never be another story about fictional Holt, Colorado. I own every one of his books, and since I’m a dedicated library enthusiast, that’s saying a lot.

Your favorite book of all time: That would have to be Plainsong. The story takes place in the fictional small town of Holt, on the eastern plains of Colorado. It introduces a group of people who are only marginally connected, but who come together as though they were a family. The dialogue is as true as in any book I have ever read. The writing is lyrical and spoke to my heart. The characters are realistic and likeable, though some are broken. The McPheron brothers — two old bachlors who are ranchers — are wonderful and true.  Eventide takes over where Plainsong leaves off.

Well, what do you think of all of my choices? What are your choices?

Friday Book Whimsy: Shepherds Abiding.

My favorite Christmas book – one I read every year – is Shepherds Shepherds AbidingAbiding, a Mitford novel by Jan Karon.

The theme is familiar – what is really important about Christmas? Our favorite priest, Father Tim, brings about Christmas joy to all of those he meets throughout the season in the delightful town of Mitford. As for himself, he – who always considers himself a man of thought and not a man who works with his hands, takes on the challenge of bringing back to life a terribly neglected and badly damaged Nativity set to give to his wife for Christmas. There is a delightful “Gift of the Magi” twist to the story that I won’t give away. Shepherds Abiding gives dedicated readers a deeper look at some of the Mitford family. It also gives the reader a sense of what Christmas is like in a small town.

I read this novel every Christmas as part of my effort to remember what the holiday season is really all about.

Blue Mountains

There in the highlands, clear weather held for much of the time. The air lacked its usual haze, and the view stretched on and on across rows of blue mountains, each paler than the last until the final ranks were indistinguishable from the sky. It was as if all the world might be composed of nothing but valley and ridge. ― Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain

I live in the mountains, and have for over 40 years. Well, maybe I don’t exactly live IN the mountains, but all I have to do is look out my window and I see the mountains. Well, I don’t actually SEE the mountains if I look out my window, but I do if I walk down to the end of my street. You get the picture. Denver is at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. What’s more, our Arizona house also has a beautiful view (at least from the front yard of our house) of Superstition Mountain.

All this is to say that I am familiar with mountains, and I can tell you that they are all very different. My grandmother, who grew up in Switzerland, was content with the Rocky Mountains; still, she always said that it was the Grand Teton Mountains in northwestern Wyoming that most reminded her of the Alps. Go figure…..

Grand Teton Mountains

Give a big sigh of relief, because I’m finally getting to my point. While visiting Bill’s brother in Winston-Salem this past week, we drove one day to the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, and they are like no mountains with which I’m familiar. We took a day trip to Blowing Rock, North Carolina, and it made my Mitford-loving heart happy……

For those of you who don’t know, Mitford is the fictitious town about which author Jan Karon writes in her lovely series featuring Father Tim, a retired Episcopalian priest. The books are just about my favorite book series ever, and Mitford is where I want to live. It’s where everyone who reads these books wants to live. And it’s based on Blowing Rock, North Carolina…..

The town of Blowing Rock admittedly didn’t remind me much of Mitford. There is probably no town on earth that would remind me of Mitford, because towns like Mitford only exist in literary fiction. There is no town like Mayberry. There is no Stars Hollow apart from Gilmore Girls. Still, the drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains was amazingly beautiful. Almost heaven. The weather was perfect; the town bustled with activity; lunch was al fresco. What more could a person ask?

I had quietly cogitated about the idea of going to Blowing Rock during our visit, but said nothing. Why would two men who have never read a Mitford novel care one iota about driving an hour-and-a-half to see this town? But the topic of reading came up at a business lunch (yes, Bill and I did have one business-related activity while in NC), and I was asked what I was reading. I told them honestly that I had just started the most recent Mitford novel called To Be Where You Are, and explained that the book took place in a fictitious town based on Blowing Rock.

Squeals from one of the women with whom we were meeting. Well, since it was a business lunch, maybe squeals isn’t entirely accurate. Nevertheless, it seems that she had recently visited the community with her husband, and gave it a thumbs up.

Would you like to go, Bruce asked me. Why, I hadn’t given it a minute of thought, but now that you mention it….., I lied. And so we found ourselves a couple of days later driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains and into Blowing Rock…..

I spent the entire day looking for Jan Karon. I looked in stores. I peered around the restaurant in which we had our lunch. I didn’t see her and didn’t actually expect that I would. I have subsequently found out that she now lives in Virginia. Apparently Father Tim didn’t go along with her.

It was a very fun day, and one I won’t soon forget.