Cider With Rosie (review)

Cider With Rosie
Laurie Lee
Open Road Media

When I opened the email last month, it was clear I’d missed out. According to Amazon’s Daily Deal blurb Laurie Lee’s Cider With Rosie was “an instant classic when it was first published in 1959 [and] one of the most endearing and evocative portraits of youth in all of literature”.  Now because I worked for several years in a book store, I’m at Cider With Rosieleast familiar with many more titles and authors than I’ve read.  So one would think I’d at least heard of this Laurie Lee who “learned to look at life with a painter’s eye and a poet’s heart—qualities of vision that, decades later, would make him one of England’s most cherished authors”.

Of course, I had to remedy this oversight, so one-click order I did and was soon settled into a memoir of one of England’s beloved sons I hadn’t even known existed. But after the first chapter, I admit I didn’t know if it was love or hate.

Three-year-old Laurie sits on the floor of his new home amidst the chaos of moving a family of seven into a new cottage in the village of Slad.  Little Laurie was surrounded by “glass fishes, china dogs, shepherds and shepherdesses, bronze horsemen, stopped clocks, barometers, and photographs of bearded men”. His sisters and mother bustle in and out of the house; his brothers help unload the handcart. Lee’s prose was over-rich, I thought—awash in adjectives and adverbs; drowning in lists. I almost put the memoir aside.

But after another chapter, Lee grew on me. His rich narrative seemed to mirror the lush countryside and the hub-bub that was his home. I settled into those lists and that descriptive prose. Like this: “That kitchen, worn by our boots and lives, was scruffy, warm, and low, whose fuss of furniture seemed never the same but was shuffled each day” and this: “These were the … rocks of our submarine life, each object worn smooth by our constant nuzzling, or encrusted by lively barnacles, relics of birthdays and dead relations, wrecks of furniture long since foundered …” It’s definitely not my style and not what I’d usually choose, but I’m happy I did.

Cider With Rosie let me peek into a world that no longer exists—grannies who lived as neighbors for decades, yet

Rosebank Cottage, Slad
Rosebank Cottage, Slad

never spoke; sisters who decorated their hats with bits and bobs; a picnic caravanned to a just perfect spot in the woods; a school teacher quick to smack boys upside the head; sleeping five to a room in quilt-deep beds; a bottle of shared cider and a stolen kiss under a field wagon.

Lee went on to write two more memoirs of his life and a few books of poetry. I was able to find a wonderful interview with Lee on the BBC—his recollections follow the book closely—which makes a great companion listen.

Cider With Rosie should probably be read when the time is just right, like a hazy summer afternoon or a blustery winter night … or anytime, really, when the edges of the world outside become blurred and you could oh-so-easily fade into the English countryside.

 

A Million Miles In a Thousand Years (review)

A Million Miles In a Thousand Years
Donald Miller
Nelson Publishing

Most people assume that as a teacher, I’m the one who instructs. And it’s kind of implicit in the teacher-student relationship, I agree. But as I move into my twenty-third year of teaching (good heavens!), I find that dynamic is often flipped, and it’s my students who share their wisdom with me.A million miles in a thousand years

During one of my Advanced Placement students’  Socratic Seminars this year, one of the students, Matt, remarked, “Donald Miller once said your life is a story” (this in a discussion of death and dying) and I was intrigued. I’d never heard of this Donald Miller fellow, and who was he that a sixteen-year-old would quote him?–about ‘story’, no less.

After a quick Google search,  A Million Miles In a Thousand Years  popped up and the subtitle “What I learned while editing my life” spoke to my heart. It didn’t take me past reading the author’s introduction to decide I needed the Kindle edition delivered post haste to my reader

The book goes like this.

Miller gained some fame after his first book Blue Like Jazz, and there was interest in a film based on the memoir, even though since writing Blue, he was stuck and had no motivation for much of anything but watching TV.  As Miller and the film makers began writing the screen play, they broke it to him not-so-gently: his life was too boring to be a film. While Miller himself wanted his life to be an “easy story …  [he knew that] nobody really remembers easy stories. Characters have to face their greatest fears with courage. That’s what makes a story good.”  Artistic license was necessary to make the memoir appeal to filmgoers who would want that good story—in the same way, Miller himself begins to re-write his own reality to follow more closely “the essence of a story”. Try putting these on your Life’s “To Do” list: reunite with a long-lost father, ask the girl out, hike to Machu Picchu, cycle across country. Life got interesting real fast.

This is a journey that, at its heart, is spiritual—but with a small “s”. While Miller is a Christian, there’s nothing holier-than-thou here, which is refreshing. But what an incredible vision of God he has here:If I have a hope, it’s that God sat over the dark nothing and wrote you and me, specifically, into the story, and put us in with the sunset and the rainstorm as though to say, Enjoy your place in my story, and you can create within it even as I have created you.

And this:There is a knowing I feel that guides me toward better stories, toward being a better character. I believe there is a writer outside ourselves, plotting a better story for us, interacting with us, even, and whispering a better story into our consciousness.

While much of the book is focused on the author’s own transformation, he also introduces us to other “characters” he has met who epitomize living a good story. Talk about inspiration, dear reader! My only reservation is that I found myself most moved by the first two or three sections of the book– the ones where Miller confronts that his tendency to let life happen to him; as he checks off his “To Do” list, the narrative becomes a bit less compelling. Overall, I think Miller’s story metaphor will especially resonate with readers, but is a great read for anyone who wants to live more deliberately.

You shared some pretty incredible wisdom, Matt. Thank you.

May gifts and graces

G & T, just like the queMay joy dareen ♥ sweet & tangy ribs ♥ high school musical playbill ♥ sheets on the line ♥ head rubs ♥ rain showers on a tilled garden ♥ “I missed you” ♥ Dreaming Tree ♥ if I had my life to live over again ♥ built on nothing less ♥ black cat “hiding” ♥ lilacs and lilies-of-the-valley ♥ unconditional love ♥ a legacy ♥ pen & paper ♥ Bigby’s, hand-delivered ♥ hands to work; hearts to God ♥ nesting ♥ bare kitchen counters gleaming ♥ never give up ♥ Passion Planner ♥ salsa–hot & spicey ♥ garden reno ♥ the yard, neat & tidy ♥ a tiny rocker ♥ sweet serenity of books ♥ manicotti ♥ last summer’s raspberries ♥ fur babies ♥ tiny dimpled fingers ♥ serving in a sea of red ♥ small food ♥ the courage to change ♥ turn the planner page ♥ sweet sweater ♥ vaulted arches, nighttime sky ♥ orange flash of an oriole ♥ carrot mango ginger juice ♥ afirmations

April gifts and graces

Old English D ♥ loops ♥ tuxedo shirt, crisp and white ♥ home to settle in ♥ a wrinkled $20 ♥ joy dare ♥ two souls, one ♥ family ties ♥ rain puddles ♥ slip sliding tears ♥ hidden heart ♥ rock-a-bye-baby ♥ peepers … finally ♥ purple crocus April gifts and graces♥ bargain spring duds ♥ spring sun and moon ♥ Buddy’s smile ♥ blue sky ♥ How Dante Can Save Your Life ♥ I’m sorry ♥ memories ♥ black and white photos with curled edges ♥ Santa with a glitter hat ♥ vintage Christmas ♥ shelves, neat and tidy ♥ garage swept clean ♥ books to the ceiling ♥ books on the floor ♥ miraculous medal ♥ tender pinks ♥ my reflection ♥ fragile love ♥ Grammy’s baby quilt ♥ grass a growin’ ♥ return of the feathered friends ♥ daffodils ♥ carrot mango ginger juice ♥ paybacks ♥ clean and cozy, hearth and home

I ♥ Poetry: National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month, and seeing how we’ve only three days left, posting about poetry is either now or never! Although I was an English major and always bookish, poetry was quite another thing. In short, I just didn’t like it. A fantastic poetry prof in college helped open my mind a bit, but I just couldn’t get excited over the stuff.

I was always intrigued by Emily Dickinson’s poems, but truthfully, I think the bleak romance of her life story is what drew me initially, not her language. But after faithfully reading the three volume Letter s of Emily Dickinson edited by Thomas Johnson (Harvard Press), I bought her complete works and was hooked. Dickinson’s poems are some of the few I’ve memorized and if I was a few years younger, I’d probably get a tattoo based on this (yes, really):

Hope is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

Fast forward to teaching the Odyssey to high school freshmen—I know, to some a fate worse than death—and I found myself (finally, English teacher that I was) truly appreciative of the imagery, the word play, the cadence, probably because I read so much of it aloud to the kids.

And that’s, I think, the hook to falling for poetry. You must listen to it read by expert readers. Like poets …  My husband and I had the serendipitous opportunity to hear poet laureate Billy Collins and poet Naomi Shihab Nye read at a local college nearly. The notice was in the Sunday paper, it was small, but we thought, “Wow! Poet laureate—let’s go” not even knowing Collins’ work at the time.

Oh. My. Goodness. We were smitten. Reading Collins—and especially listening to him—I discovered poetry could be not only insightful and musical, but witty and droll. The poet laureate was down-to-earth, humble, and oh-so-fun.  Here’s the first poem Collins read that evening:

See what I mean?!

You may be one of the lucky ones who has always had a love for poetry, but I came to my appreciation late. If you’re still reluctant, try a little Dickinson or Collins. Go to Youtube and listen to Sara Kay and Taylor Mali’s spoken word.

Don’t worry about being serious; don’t think you’re not sophisticated enough. Just let yourself be delighted.