GROWN-UP READS: Spring 2023

Here is a list of ten titles, various genres, recently read by Dr. Larry


AT THE HEIGHT OF THE MOON: A book of bedtime poetry and art by editors Alison Baverstock, Matt Cunningham, Annette Roeder  (poetry)

This is an exquisite collection of poetry and paintings. It’s a curiosity too for it is labeled a book of bedtime poetry and art. Whose bedtime I ask? This book, first published in Germany, is intended, I believe for adult to read to child before bedtime. Great that poetry gets into the ears of children and reading two or three poems before bedtime provide comfort, curiosity and perhaps send young people off to dreamland. But these poems, for the most part, do not seem to be intended for children, even though they are intended as read-alouds and the listener will ‘get out of the poems, whatever, they get out of the  Who am I to say what young readers will ‘get from the words of Ted Hughes, Robert Browning, Lord Alfred Tennyson, William Wordsworth and Walt Whitman about 1/4 of the book feature the names of familiar names for those who are poetry afficianodos. eThe book is organized into six sections each with a title (e.g., Twilight, Dreamland, Moonlight Menagerie, Creepy Crawlie and Things That Go Bump Into the Night.The words, poem images and themes are quite sophisticated and do not seem accessible. I would say there would be few children who would respond to these poems without conversation and ‘analysis’. And who wants analysis before bedtime? The editors, however, have done a WOW! job of choosing art works to match the verbal text (sometimes literal matches, sometimes not).  Taking the children to an art gallery is a fantastic thing, and the art in this book (e.g., Henry Rousseau, Paul Klee, Georgia O’Keefe, Vincent Van Gogh, are some of the more familiary names),  beautifully reproduced, is certainly, page by page, a wonderful journey into landscapes, portraits, still life etc. Together, poems and arts, make for a staggering, rich collection of words and images.  For me, this was a wonderful bedtime book… but I’m over 70 years old. Am exquisite publication.  

BIRDS by John Moir (paintings)

A gallery of 100 British bird paintings (1/ page) accompanied by latin names and succinct bits of fascinating information.  I was familiar with some of the names (Barn Owl; Buzzard; Cukoo; Greenfinch, Puffin, Raven), but was glad to meet some new feathered friends (Crested Tit; Hawfinch, Lapwing, Redshank, Wheatear).  Exquisite!!!

Kestrel: Falco tinnunculus: a kestrel’s eyes can see ultra-violent light. This enables them to pick out the shining yellow urine trails left by mice and voles, so they can track and kill them more effectively. 


DEMON COPPERHEAD by Barbara Kingsolver (fiction)

Set in the mountains of southern Appalachia, this is the story of an orphaned boy who has met his shares of troubled times but  seems to carry on being  after passed from home to home, being forced into child labour and struggling at school.  Like, Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, Copperhead is a survivor of poverty. I was on vacation and started reading  this Oprah’s Book Club Selection (2022) and was rather enjoying the book.  I like books with young characters and what a character Demon Copperhead is.  However, after 300 pages I was in a slump and lost interest. I put the book aside and though I don’t often do this, I returned to finish the novel that I once put down.  I’m not good with 500+ page books but I really admired Kingsolver’s style and ended up finishing the book.  The last part of the book deals with heavy addiction and disastrous love and I found myself cheering Demon on to a better life. 


THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE by Willian Strunk Jr. and E.B. White (nonfiction)

“If those who have studied the art of writing are in accord on any one point, it is this: Teh surc, est way to arouse and hold the readers attention is by being specific, definite, and concrete.” (p. 28)

I was reading an article the other day and mention was made of this seminal book, first published in 1935, that has been read by multitudes of English majors and journalists. ‘Why hadn’t I read it before?’ I asked myself and decided to get myself a copy consider how I might write better. .  There are 5 chapters, each providing information and a guide to being a better writer: Elementary Rules of Usage; Elementary Principles of Composition; A Few Matters of Form; Words and Expressions Commonly Misused; and An Approach to Style with a List of Reminders. There are  things I think I do right but this book has advised me that  there are things I needed to pay better attention to. (Damn those commas!).  The test of this book depends on how I apply Strunk’s Elements of Style to whatever writing I embark upon in the future.The book is offers great advice, and is a great guide worthy of its popularity for decades and decades.  I’m glad I finally got around to reading this treasure. (I’m sure I’ve made a dozen boo-boo’s in this paragraph alone.)


I’M TOO YOUNG TO BE 70 (and other delusions) by Judith Viorst (poems)

Judith Viorst’s claim to fame (one of them) is the picture book Alexander and the Terrific Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. She has written a series of slim, illustrated poetry volumes for adults celebrating life each decade (e.g. It’s Hard to be Hip Over 30; How Did I Get to be 40?) and most recently (Nearing 90). I’m too young to be 70 are humorous and sometimes tocuhing poems exploring this stage of life. The book is divided into sections that include such headings as: Still Married, The Children and Grandchildren, The Rest of It. Some poem titles include ‘As Time Goes By’,,’Body Heat, ‘They May be Middle Aged, But They’re Still My Children’, and ‘Still Dieting After All These Years’ and Too Young to be Seventy’. Judith Viorst  was born on February 2, 1931 (92 years old). 

In the life that I’m living I’m / Too young to be seventy. The woman I see in the mirror is not the real me./ When I elevate my chin, When I stick my stomach in, When I throw my shoulders back,/ When I tighten all that’s slack,/ I can’t be any more than/ Sixty-one. And a half?


KIMBERLY AKIMBO by David Lindsay-Abaire (script)

Kimberly has a lot to contend with: an alcoholic father who stinks at fulfilling fatherly duties, a pregnant mother who is a hypochondriac and a crazy aunt who’s a scam artist with a new plan that involves a stolen mailbox and forging cheques. Most of all, Kimberly has a rare genetic condition that causes her body to age faster than it should thus giving her the appearance of an elderly woman. This play was first in 2001 and then opened in New York in 2003.  Kimberly Akimbo has now evolved into a terrific musical which moved from Off-Broadway to Broadway in 2022. The comedy of the original script remains now woven into a great score. A staggering performance by Victoria Clark as the ‘teenage’ Kimberly  makes this a production worth seeing. 


LETTERS FROM MAX: A poet, a teacher, a friendship by Sarah Ruhl & Max Ritvom (epistolary nonfiction)

Playwright, Sarah Ruhl and Max Ritvo first met when he became a student in her playwriting course at Yale University. Over the course of four years, student and teacher exchanged letters and poems. Ritvo, a brilliant poet, and Ruhl a brilliant playwright support and mentor each other as they discuss their work and their outlook on life.  Max Ritvo bravely battles cancer and the written exchanges are honest and direct as the two ‘teachers’  write about life, love and the writer’s craft.  The conversational letters take us into a triumphant journey that intertwines heart and mind, art and mentorship. It matters not that the meanings of Ruhl’s and Ritvo’s  overwhelmed (confused) me. Letters from Max is moving account of a poet, a teacher, a friendship.


MOUTH TO MOUTH by Antoine Wilson (fiction)

Jeff Cook meets up with an old acquaintance and they chat together in an airport lounge while waiting for a delayed flight. . Actually, Jeff does all the talking as he describes a harrowing event where he once saved the life of a swimmer. Jeff has kept his heroism a secret -up until now. Jeff recounts his experiences of living in LA, of pursuing the man who’s life resuscitated, of joining a renowned art gallery owned by Francis Arsenault (the man who  almost drowned) and of his growing relationship with Chloe, who turns about to be the daughter of said Francis. Much of the book takes us into the life of an art gallery operations and shenanigans.  I should have liked this book more than I did because I like short books (178 pages) with short chapters and apparently it was one of Barack Obama’s favourite books of 2022. An intriguing, sort-of-athriller read, but not a favourite of mine. 


OLD BABES IN THE WOODS by Margaret Atwood (short stories)
I haven’t read Atwood titles in a long while and was intrigued to read her new collection of short stories. I usually tend to read short stories in chronological order and as always, some are better than others. This happened while I read through these 15 titles. Lengths of stories varied from 8 to 20 pages.. And one or two didn’t reallhold my interest. I gave up halfway through ‘Metempsychosis’ (something about a snail and the journey of the soul . The book is divided into three parts. Part One introduces a seniors couple named Tig and Nell and Part Three ends with 4 stories under the heading Nell and Tig. The stories I liked best were Tig and Nell selections when characters looked back on life and contemplate the future. (‘Wooden Box’; ‘Old Babes in the Wood)’.’ First Aid’ was rather funny and quite educational (about first aid techniques). “My Evil Mother’ tells the story of a relationship between daughter and a witch (not a typo) of a mother. And oh-so-clever Atwell presents an interview with George Orwell (‘The Dead Interview’). Did I like this collection of short stories?…not always. but wow! can that woman write!


THIS OTHER EDEN by Paul Harding (fiction)

My friend and I were browsing in a bookstore and the sales clerk suggested that I read this book which he considered ‘the best book of the year’. The intriguing title, the beautiful cover and the fact that the author, Paul Harding is the winner of a Pulitzer Prize (Tinkers) – plus the fact that it was only 220 pages – intrigued me. My friend bought me a copy. Based on true events, the story takes place at the beginning of the twentieth century. The settling is Apple Island a small fishing enclave off the coast of Maine where a small group of black, white and mulatto citizens meagerly survive from day to day. At one point in the story, officials come to ‘cleanse’ the island by evicting the residents from their homes, sending a group to the school for the feeble-minded. Harding’s writing about generations, about daily chores, about art, about religion, and about racism, justice and  humanity is rather exquisite.  Well, not the best book of the year of me, but it’s wonderful to read wonderful writing. “The smells of his paints and the spirits on his hands and in the rough clothes and the sweat on his skin swirled in her nose and behind her eyes and through the tight space inside her head between her brain and skull, but she was not afraid.” (p.137)