The transporting wonder

Despite a devastating diganosis and a grim prognosis, some things remained. Jeff and Matt reading, November 2012

Despite a devastating diganosis and a grim prognosis, some things remain untouchable.
Jeff and Matt reading, November 2012

“Those of us who know the transporting wonder of a reading life know that…when we read, we are always inside, sheltered in that interior room, that clean, well-lighted, timeless place that is the written word.”Alice McDermott

All of my life, reading has been a shelter for me, and never more so than in the past three years.  In the roller-coaster sequence of events fraught with emotional highs and lows, I’ve depended on having that cozy, well-lighted, dependable world awaiting me.

Reading calms my soul when I’m too exited or agitated, and it comforts me when I’m lonely or sad.  Through books, letters, and now blogs, I can play host to people long passed from this life, or visit with others whom I’ve never met except through published words.  When a rainy day keeps me indoors and deprives me of the sunshine I crave, what might be a gloomy spell is instantly transformed into cozy contentment with a book and a cup of tea.  When I’m tossing and turning in the frustration of insomnia, a book (especially a scholarly or devotional work such as the Bible) can lull me back to sleep, or at least provide company.

Whether you are battening down the hatches for another winter, or preparing for the heat of summer soon to come, I hope you will stay in touch with fictional friends and narrative neighbors who will be ready for you when you need them most.  And may you draw wisdom, consolation and refreshment from holy scriptures, classic poems and other timeless works that have survived for centuries to remind us we are never alone.

Settle down for a nice chat with C. S. Lewis, or whisk away to enchanted worlds with Harry Potter and his friends. Make a friendly visit to a charming town such as Mitford, or travel backward or forward through time with any number of imaginative guides.   Explore Ireland with Maeve Binchy, or go to India with Jhumpa Lahiri, or savor the warmth of Botswana with Alexander McCall Smith.  The transporting wonder of a reading life is ours to enjoy! And it’s available free, or at very little cost — how fabulous is that?  Where will you spend time today?


  1. bobmielke

    One of the reasons I read so much science fiction is that it is fiction. Reality will sometimes scare you into reaching for a book when the good guys always win and most of the time there’s a happy ending.

    I am one who is hunkering down for Winter. “I have my books and my poetry to protect me,”
    from Simon & Garfunkel’s “I am a rock” proves to be true for me. It’s been many decades since I last faced the cold, ice and snow. Fortunately, I am retired, single and have my Kindle to protect me. 🙂

    • Bob, I have always loved that song by S&G — “I am a rock.” It reminds me most of my dear husband, but long before I met him, it reminded me of me, especially in my junior high school years when friendship was hard to come by, and ridicule was the order of the day. I hope this winter is a delightfully cozy time for you, with the amazing capacity of the Kindle (1000 or more books on one lightweight device! Thomas Jefferson would be envious and ecstatic) to see you through, enabling you to check out and return unlimited titled all from the warmth of your home.

      Re: your opening words — they remind me of another line from a song “Disney girls” by Art Garfunkel (solo) — “Reality, it’s not for me, and it makes me laugh…”

  2. Steve

    Reading has always taken me to a place I could not go and to a real or an imaginary world I might never know. I must confess that a lot of my reading has always been built around great characters of courage and purpose who knew that there were absolutes in their world that offered them a sense of purpose and hope.
    I believe that these characters came to life within my own thinking bringing to me fresh thoughts, ideas, and considerations to mull about and re-purpose in some ways, for myself. Perhaps that is why I’ve always enjoyed reading scripture. The great stories of faith and forgiveness were so easy to transport me back in time to places and events I wished I could have shared yet, bring me forward to today to fully apply in my own life.
    That is why our God given imaginations will always be better than any movie. Yet, to read that my imaginations can never grasp my eternity, now there is a book I cannot wait to live !
    Thank you for sharing the picture above Julia. We can read about courage and devotion all day long but, to see it in action helps the words to have real life. God bless you and your family!

    • Thank you Steve. I agree with you about wise and courageous people coming to life and lighting our way. So many Bible heroes have inspired me. Joseph’s patient endurance of unjust accusations and suffering; Vashti’s refusal to compromise modesty to the demands of the powerful; Deborah’s willingness to stand in the gap left by fearful men; Jael’s remarkable and unmitigated audacity; Daniel’s ability to be nearly perfect yet also humble, endearing and admired; David’s indignation at those who cowered before Goliath; all these and countless others have fired my imagination and given me what little strength I have managed to enact. In the same way, characters in ancient and recent history, as well as in fiction, inspire and comfort me. And yes, the most remarkable stories are yet to be revealed to us! I am grateful you are here with us.

  3. We know not all the influences of her silence, but an author important to both of us, whose initials are CHH, has broken her silence. May great things come of her written work!

    • Yes, CHH has never garnered the respect she deserves, but her life’s work speaks for itself.

      • Anon E. Moose

        So true. And I love the word “garner” (” . . . will your sheaves be many; will you garner any, for the gathering at the harvest ‘ ‘ ‘?”

  4. Good morning, Julia!
    I have “Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett on deck as my next read – but my mother is reading it now, so that I can take it with me when I go.
    On the lighter side, “The WORST-CASE SCENARIO Survival Handbook: Life” offers advice on everything from what to do if you are stuck in your high-school locker, to what to do if your wig falls off. The authors use both reasonable and comical approaches (if you accidentally hit someone with your golf ball, you should offer to autograph it and let them keep it – for when you become a famous golfer later on after your swing improves! 🙂 )

    • Susan, I really enjoyed Bel Canto, as well as Truth and Beauty, Patchett’s mesmerizing account of her friendship with the unfortunate Lucy Grealy. I want to read more of her work. I haven’t read the Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook, but it sounds entertaining and potentially practical! Thanks for the tip.

  5. jholley1954

    Julia, even though I faithfully read your blog, it is not often enough that I stop to tell you just how much I enjoy and look forward to your writings. This particular one is a great reminder of where books can take us and the joy they can bring to our lives. The photograph is very touching and captures such a special moment in time. Thank you for shining your little light into our sometimes dull lives! Love you cousin.

    • Judy, it makes me so happy to have you visit me here. I was deeply touched with joy to see Kay again at Daddy’s burial, and to see you there too, and both of you looking so well. The two of you are extra-special for being our only cousins on Daddy’s side of the family. I still plan to send you photos of the recently-excavated Barbie clothes! Love you.

  6. JillBortell

    Julie, I am currently in the Wild West with Texas Ranger, Chick Bowrie. I received a collection by Louis L’Amour, after my Father-in-law died. Read through them when I first received them…..revisiting them now. Blessings on you, Sweet Lady. Mama Jill

    • Jill, I don’t recall ever reading L’Amour because I don’t read westerns, as a general rule (though I would probably like them; I loved Anything for Billy by McMurtry). But I know he has a lot of fans. I did buy at least one of his books that sounded good; Last of the Breed was the title. But I never got around to reading it, and I’m not even sure if I still have it. Jeff’s late grandfather whom we all loved dearly was quite enthusiastic in his praise of Zane Grey. Have you read any of his novels? Jeff and I bought a 5-volume set of his books but neither of us ever got around to reading those, either. So many books, so little time!

  7. At the moment I’m visiting Vanity Fair in the wicked company of Beck Sharp… but last week I was in Three Pines on a case with Inspector Gamache… isn’t fiction fantastic!!

    • I had to look up Inspector Gamache; believe it or not I had never heard of him nor the author who created him — but the series sounds wonderful. Becky Sharp is a different matter. I have never read the book nor seen any of the movie versions, but (as with Emma Bovary and Anna Karenina), her fame has spread beyond those who have actually read about her. I do think the book would be fun to read, and I hope I’m able to get to it someday. It sounds as if it has a touch of both Austen and Downton Abbey, so I’d probably enjoy it immensely. Thanks for the tips!

  8. I love how a post about reading shares the joy and brings in a load more possibilities for the list Julia. I recently posted about the books piled beside my bed and so enjoyed the comments that followed that it will become a regular subject. Love the photo of two of your fellows reading!

    • Pauline, what a great idea for a post. I will have to be sure to go hunt that one up. If there’s anything that comes close to the unique fun of reading, it’s the fun of sharing books with others. A book that has touched us deeply, made us laugh or opened our minds to new ideas then becomes a link to any other person who also has had that same experience. I feel an instant connection to anyone who has loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or A Christmas Carol or A Tale of Two Cities. I’m so happy your post will become a regular topic! Thanks for being here with us.

  9. Julia, books really are the ultimate escape. I loved reading to the boys when they were young, and I’m touched to see this photo of M and J reading together.

    Though I read to both boys every day, I remember particular summer when C was probably six or seven. When his brother went down for a nap, we would curl up in his room and I read him all my favorite Beverly Cleary books from my own childhood. It was such a treat. We read hundreds of books together, but for some reason those ones stick out of a beautiful, funny and also simpler time. He later read Socks the Cat himself and did a book report for school.

    I read the first three or four Harry Potter books out loud until I got the dreaded “I can’t take it from here, Mom” speech.

    I’ve also read Maeve Binchy, while on a train in Europe and I’ve also read and listened to books by Jhumpa Lahiri and Alexander McCall Smith

    Have you read The Book Thief. A tough read in parts, but still one of my favorite books.

    • Alys, don’t you find Beverly Cleary AMAZING, to have captured childhood so well that her books have been adored by every generation since the 1950’s? While I was working as a youth services librarian I was so happy to see enthusiastic kids still keeping those books about Henry, Beezus and Ramona — not to mention Ralph the Mouse and others — in constant circulation. I only recently started on the Harry Potter series myself (Jeff and Matt read the entire series together years ago) but after the first book I was totally hooked. Rowling is a gifted writer and has created some unforgettable characters. It sounds as if you enjoy many of the same writers I do — and yes, The Book Thief is amazing. I am thinking I showed you my poem “To Death” that was inspired by the elegant narrator of that book; did I show that poem to you while you were visiting? I was afraid to watch the movie version of The Book Thief (as I always am with a phenomenal work that will be difficult to translate to film) but I think they did a good job of it, especially the ending.

      • Julia yes! Beverly Cleary characters always felt like friends, people I could really know. I loved Ralph S. Mouse and Ralph and the Motorcycle and also the book told from Ribsy the dog’s point of view. Wonderful books, one and all.

        Like you, I came to the Harry Potter books later, but once I had read aloud just one chapter, I too was hooked. Mike has read the entire series through twice. She’s an amazing writer.

        If you get a chance, check out her commencement speech to Harvard in 2008. It was published last year. It’s called Very Good Lives. She writes eloquently about her time working for Amnesty International, among other things. She’s quite remarkable.

        You did show me your poem and I remember being moved to tears. You’re an amazing writer. I hope you’ll put that poem out there for others to read one day, unless you feel it is too personal. It’s beautiful.

        • How could I have forgotten sweet Ribsy? He would win the heart of even the grouchiest anti-dog person. It’s so interesting that you mention Very Good Lives, because two days before you wrote that comment, I had checked the book out at the library to read. I read it today and it’s wonderful. I told Jeff that I’ll wait to return it until he has a chance to read it too. I think he would like it as much as I did.

          • I love these happy coincidences! I think he’ll enjoy it as well.

            • I do too. Her rags-to-riches story is inspiring, but it’s clear that she was a remarkable person long before she became famous. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Ashleigh Brilliant: “It usually takes many years to become an overnight success.”

              • So true! That’s a great quote.

                Her story is inspiring. And did you know that she chooses to stay in England and pay high taxes, rather than establish residence elsewhere to pay out less. I admire that too.

                • Yes, and I think taxes are much higher there. I remember reading in Keith Richards’ autobiography about how the Rolling Stones moved to some island or other to escape taxes, which in their case had risen (according to him) to a 99% rate — he said that was tantamount to a deportation order! I thought that was funny.

                  • Here’s a wiki article on the tax rates. Like the US, lots of charts and exceptions. It makes my head hurt:

                    • It reminds me of Dave Barry’s hilarious discussion of how the U. S. Tax Code is kept down in a government basement where it continues to mutate into ever-more gargantuan size. What will happen when it finally CRASHES Turbo Tax? I don’t want to be there when that happens! 😀

                    • LOL I haven’t heard that one before, but that does sound like Dave Barry’s sense of humor. Thanks for the smile, Julia.

                    • 🙂

      • Rene

        McMurtry is a special case, he’s a great writer in general. Back when Lonesome Dove came out, my husband bought & read it (and he hardly reads fiction, having to read so much for his job). He kept after me to read it and I resisted because I’m not really into Westerns. When I finally got around to it, I was sorry I had waited so long. I really liked The Evening Star also.

        • I think I may have read Evening Star; it sounds familiar, but I don’t remember much about it. Doesn’t it take up where the movie Terms of Endearment left off? I might be confused on that one. So many books, so little time!

          • Rene

            Yes, it is about Aurora dealing with her grandkids as adults (& more).

            • I have only vague memories of it. I wish I had time to re-read more books but I can’t even get to the ones I want to read for the first time! 🙂

  10. cherie

    Julia, I love reading and love defeat despair. I pray you and the guys are well. Love and Light. Cherie

    • Thank you Cherie! We are enjoying a restful Saturday evening. We need and appreciate your prayers. Hope you are well too. I’ll try to email you soon.

  11. blseibel

    Thanks got the reminder. I haven’t sat down to read for pleasure in a long time. I have let myself be too busy. I need to slow gown and do some reading this winter.

    • Oh, I hope you will! It’s so easy to put reading at the bottom of our “must-do” lists, and then never get around to it. Do you ever listen to unabridged books on tape? That’s how I do at least half of my “reading” and it really transforms routine tasks; perfect for doing dishes, weeding, walking, cleaning sinks, etc. If I have some unscheduled time and a good suspense novel, I might just get my entire kitchen cleaner than it’s been for months! 😀

  12. Julia…thank you for sharing Jeff and Matt’s cozy photo! Love in action… ❤
    Reading is my favorite pastime. I'm not lonely…I have places to visit and people to meet.
    Books, computers, and my kindle… 😀

    • Merry, I’m so glad you like the photo! It was precious to me from the moment I took it, for obvious reasons. It’s a typical scene in our home each and every night.

      Don’t you just love having such a wealth of ways to connect via words? I often think that authors and correspondents of old (especially those “of [VERY] old”) would be quite envious. Think of how much time it saves not to have to keep dipping that quill into that jar and blotting all those pesky splotches of ink while writing…to say nothing of even more ancient people lugging all those jars of scrolls around. The librarians of Alexandria (the ancient one) would find it mind-blowing that our little lightweight Kindles can hold over 1000 books! But the cavemen would probably say “HA! You think they had it rough? At least there was ink to be bought, and those jars were portable…” Aren’t we lucky to be right here, right now? 😀

  13. Sheila

    Julia, Sunday evening finds us home in Garden City and so thankful for our safe travels to Southern California and back. I have missed you terribly and the photo you chose for this post really gave me such a “close to ya’ll” feeling. I have always thought that Jeff’s reading to Matt has to be a special connection, to be cherished. I thought of Mr. Carlyle as we traveled, various airports and situations that I knew were his life. I wanted to settle into a good read on the long flight home, but couldn’t quite shake the anxiety of the Paris events. I so hope that you are doing well. I took a few special photos for you, my friend. For now, I’ll say, “TTFN”. 💛💤

    • Sheila, I’ve missed you too — but I was so happy to imagine you enjoying one of my favorite parts of the world. Yes, airports will always bring Daddy to mind for me. Especially when I walk from the North Terminal to the main atrium and security checkpoints at ATL, and pass the brass plaque honoring the Eastern Air Lines pilots — I always stop to read Daddy’s name and also my “Uncle” Tuffy.

      The Paris attack is horrifying. It is horrible to contemplate atrocities anywhere, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Paris. It’s such a beautiful city to be engulfed in all that trauma. I’m glad to know you are safely home and resting up! Sending lots of love to you and your guys. (Including the furry and feathered ones.)

  14. At the moment-READING-this wonderful post.
    Thanks for the valuable advice.

    • Alan, it is so nice to have you dropping in to see us tonight! Have a seat and enjoy a few minutes of Jeopardy with Matt. I can hear it playing from where I’m sitting. They just got a Daily Double and the contestant missed the question in a heartbreaker of an error — it was “who was Pope when the Arab Spring began in Tunisia?” and she said Benedict the 26th instead of the 16th. I imagine she was second-guessing herself again and again for days after that taping — “why didn’t I just say Benedict?” I’ll bet you would have known the right answer!

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