Tag Archives: Books

Empty Mansions

A couple of years ago, while visiting a small book store in Newport Rhode Island, I came across an interesting book titled, Empty Mansions. I didn’t buy it then but strangely enough, my brother gave it to me as a gift several months later. I always meant to read it but for some reason it sat on my reading shelf for over a year.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago and one of the blogs I really enjoy following is Book Club Mom. If you’ve never visited, I highly recommend giving her a look. Barbara does a terrific job reviewing all kinds of books and opening up interest where none existed before.
Coincidently, she reviewed Empty Mansions just as I was beginning to think it might be a good time to read it.

I have included the link to Barbara’s review of the book below since I could never do it as well as she did. In short, it is a story of Huguette Clark, an incredibly wealthy woman, who owned and maintained palatial homes in California, New York and Connecticut, though some remained empty and not visited for over fifty years. It’s the story of a woman who, in spite of her wealth, lived the last twenty years of her life in a simple hospital room, despite being in excellent health. She was 104 when she died, choosing to live in the strangest form of seclusion.

But there is much more which you will find here….


One of the things which touched me the most and, in some ways, helped me to understand Huguette, was an old French fable titled, The Cricket.  Sometimes it is called, True Happiness and is included at the end of the book. It was written in the late 1700’s by Jean-Pierre Claris de Florian.

The Cricket

A poor little cricket
Hidden in the flowery grass,
Observes a butterfly
Fluttering in the meadow.
The winged insect shines with the liveliest colors;
Azure, purple and gold glitter on his wings;
Young , handsome, foppish, he hastens from flower to flower,
Taking from the best ones.
Ah! says the cricket, how his lot and mine
Are dissimilar! Lady Nature
For him did everything, and for me nothing.
I have no talent, even less beauty;
No one takes notice of me, they know me not here below;
Might as well not exist.
As he was speaking, in the meadow
arrives a troop of children,
Immediately they are running
after this butterfly, for which they all have a longing.
Hats, handkerchiefs, caps serve to catch him.
The insect in vain tries to escape.
He becomes soon their conquest.
One seizes him by the wing, another by the body;
A third arrives and takes him by the head.
It should not be so much effort
To tear to pieces the poor creature.
Oh! Oh! says he cricket, I am no more sorry;
It costs too dear to shine in this world.
How much I am going to love my deep retreat!
To live happily, live hidden.

The fable, which was a favorite of Huguette, has a powerful lesson.

The book is both fascinating, and sad.

Three Quotes And A Photo

We took a two-week road trip recently through Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, (another blog), and I came across three quotes or phrases that I thought were fun, along with one very interesting photo.

The phrases first…

What is a bookshelf other than a treasure chest for a curious mind.
(I like this for all the obvious reasons)

Say what you will about the south but no one retires and moves north.
(I never thought about this before but there is some truth to the words)

Intoxicated people, children and leggings, never lie.
(Well now, we can go on forever about this line)

As for the photo, I was stopped at a light in Lexington, Kentucky and saw this window advertisement for the attached business.

Now, I’m not really sure what kind of establishment this is. Is it a bait and tackle shop? A bar and grill? I was thinking maybe both but the fine print right next to her lips and below the anchor says…you’re sure to catch something.

That altered my mindset just a bit. While I was tempted to investigate, I thought better of it and left when the light turned green. Not that I wasn’t curious but you know what they say about curiosity.

Besides, I just wasn’t in the mood to catch anything from a place called Ole Hookers.

A New Kind Of Romance

There is a fine line between Saturday night and Sunday morning.
Jimmy Buffet, Fruitcakes

This is one of my favorite Jimmy Buffett lines and I was reminded of it today during school. I have been working in the school library the last few weeks and almost everyday, these two ten-year old girls come in to read or look for books they can read together. They’re inseparable.
They’re both chatty and like to engage in conversation, which is okay with me as long as they whisper. No easy task for ten-year old girls.

So today they were talking with me about the books they’re reading and after a few minutes the conversation went like this..

Ten year old: My mom is strict with the books that I read, she only reads Christian books and wants me to do the same.

Me: Well, I’m sure there are a lot of good books in here that she wouldn’t have a problem with you reading.

Ten year old: I know but she only really likes Christian books and romance stuff like Fifty Shades of Grey.

Me: (after what seemed like a five-minute pause which allowed me to digest what I just heard) So she reads Christian books and romance novels like Fifty Shades of Grey?

Ten year old: (as she’s thumbing through her book) Yeah, that’s all she really seems interested in reading.

Me: Well, whatever makes her happy.

Ten year old: (nodding) Yeah, that’s what I say.

I guess I can elaborate a bit here and discuss the obvious but I think the obvious pretty much speaks for itself. So for all you folks out there who read the romance novel, Fifty Shades, those Christian books are just a little further down on the shelf, when you’re done. Then you can put on Jimmy Buffett and Fruitcakes. Somehow it will all come together.


A Man Called Ove

“People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had.”
Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove

I’m not a book reviewer and I rarely suggest one because everyone has different tastes when it comes to what they enjoy reading. But I’ll make an exception for A Man Called Ove.

This is a word of mouth book written by Swedish author, Fredrik Backman that has become an international best seller. It is a story of loss and love, how first impressions are not always reliable and why people should first be understood before we pass judgment.   It will make you laugh out loud and bring tears to your eyes in a matter of pages.


A brief synopsis from the back cover…

At first sight, Ove is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet, a curmudgeon with staunch principles, strict routines and a short fuse. People think him bitter and he thinks himself surrounded by idiots.
Ove’s well-ordered solitary world gets a shakeup one November morning with the appearance of new neighbors, a chatty young couple and their two boisterous daughters, who announce their arrival by accidentally flattening Ove’s mailbox with their U-haul. What follows is a heartwarming tale of unkept cats, unlikely friendships and a community’s unexpected reassessment of the one person they thought they had all figured out.

If you’re looking for a gift this holiday season or just want an easy read to curl up with during the holidays, I have a feeling Ove will reward the time you spend with him.

One last passage from the book…

“To love someone is like moving into a house,” Sonja used to say. “At first you fall in love with everything new, you wonder every morning that this is one’s own, as if they are afraid that someone will suddenly come tumbling through the door and say that there has been a serious mistake and that it simply was not meant that you would live so fine. But as the years go by, the facade worn, the wood cracks here and there, you start to love this house not so much for all the ways it is perfect but for all the ways it is not. You become familiar with all its nooks and crannies. How to avoid that the key gets stuck in the lock if it is cold outside. Which floorboards have some give when you step on them, and exactly how to open the doors for them not to creak. That’s it, all the little secrets that make it your home. “
– Fredrik Backman , A Man Called Ove”


A Room Of One’s Own

Several years ago I went back to school to take some writing courses and ended up completing my English degree with a minor in creative writing. One of the courses I took during that time was Women’s Prose and I became hooked on reading Virginia Woolf. I loved her voice and stream of consciousness writing but what really hooked me was her strength and how she used the art of writing as her basis of expression and freedom.

Virginia Woolf was one of the foremost modernists writers of the twentieth century, writing at a time when women were typically ignored or dismissed. In one of my favorite books of hers, A Room Of One’s Own, she writes,

All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point—a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.

When Virginia Woolf wrote, simply finding a place to write was difficult; to be taken seriously as a writer was near impossible. Some discriminatory attitudes, as they relate to women, have changed in todays society while some have just become more subtle in the manner in which they are presented.

One of the lines from this book which always stayed with me related to Virginia not being able to visit the library simply because she was a woman. When she was locked out, Woolf wrote, “I thought of the organ booming in the chapel and of the shut doors of the library; and I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse perhaps to be locked in.”

To be locked in. The idea and image is suffocating. If you’re locked out you may have the opportunity to turn away and begin again. You can choose another path or find an avenue that may be less constricting or impenetrable but the opportunity to breath remains an available choice. Being locked in removes choices from your life. You become dependent on someone else for the breath of your life; that freedom of expression that helps you find your own room. 

Being locked in continues to be a disturbing way of life for many people. The prison that is created by these thoughts or actions are easy to build and difficult to escape unless you have the strength to survive and the belief of a dream.

So much has changed in the hundred or so years since Virginia Woolf wrote these words.

Unfortunately, too much has remained the same.


Fleeting Thought

Everything is a smart device these days so I wasn’t surprised to hear that someone created a smart bra for women. Makes sense, right?

Of course, after hearing that I wondered how long it would be before someone developed smart boxers or briefs for men.

Then I realized that technology doesn’t deal in oxymorons.

So I went back to reading my book.



The Best Beach Reads

IMG_1480                                                                  Sunset at Belmar, NJ

I always bring one or two books to the beach even though I rarely read more than one or two pages. It’s crazy, I know. For someone who enjoys reading, the beach is the perfect place to relax and get into a book. Except it’s not. Why? Because it’s also one of the more interesting people watching places you’ll ever find and I find my attention to human interaction is much more entertaining than the pages in front of me.

As an example, we got to the beach last Tuesday at roughly 10:00. It’s a good time; not many people there yet and you have the opportunity to pick your spot. So I sit and enjoy the ocean for a bit, take a walk down to check out the water, realize it’s still only the end of June and head back to my chair. Fifty-eight degree temps just don’t interest me anymore. So I pull out a book and begin to read, just as the show begins.

Now, before you get the wrong impression, this isn’t a post about bathing suits. That would take too much time and my eyes still haven’t recovered from the abuse they took that particular day. No, this is more about people. In no particular order, this is what kept me entertained most of the day…

I enjoy watching families, especially the Mom who walks around like she’s on a mission to find the perfect spot, holding her sunglasses and towel while her children and husband trudge along twenty yards behind, lugging half the contents of their home, only to realize there’s not enough room to spread out and create their own beach zip code. I especially like when she seems to decide on a spot and just as everyone puts everything down and drops to the sand exhausted, she decides on another location. Yeah, those little interactions and comments are fun to watch and hear.

Then there was the guy who sat behind and off to the side of us with his girlfriend who forgot where he was and thought it was his day to conduct a seminar on healthy living, diet and exercise. He thought he had an audience of one, his significant other, but didn’t realize that he forgot to tone down the volume on his voice and that anyone within a twenty yard radius had to listen to him preach to the young lady he was with about how she should be going to the gym at least six days a week, the system cleansing formula he uses and what she should and should not be eating. This went on, no lie, for almost a half hour, non stop. The young lady didn’t say a word or ask a question. She just silently got up after he took a pause and went into the water. I was tempted to follow her because I was afraid she would decide that the option of continuing to swim out as far as she could was better than going to back to more of that monotone, nails on a chalkboard torture.

In front of us was a group of six teens, four girls and two boys. Three of the girls sat together and one of the boys sat next to them. The other boy interacted with those four and the last girl but this last girl sat with her back to the other three girls, and the water. She sat with her legs pulled up to her chest and a sketch book on her lap. She never moved from that position until she left three hours later without saying goodbye to the other four teens. She spoke to one of the boys, who I guessed was her boyfriend, but to no one else, even though all of their towels touched.

To my right was a group of four college age girls who brought their hula hoops with them. Between laying on a blanket and swimming, they would practice their hoop routines. My guess is they are part of some competition team based on some of their moves but you don’t usually do something like that with so many people around you, especially when the stray hoop lands on someone’s head, which it did, and was bound to happen. On the other hand, if you’re looking for attention…

Of course, there is always the group who decides to plop down three feet in front of you, opening their chairs and umbrellas and blocking your view of the ocean, even though there are plenty of other spaces. These people are always in the water and almost never in their chairs but remain clueless about beach etiquette.

And yes, there is such a thing as beach etiquette.

There are other things I enjoy. I love watching the gulls tear into bags of chips and food left open and unattended and the bewildered look on the faces of the owners when they arrive back to find lunch has already been served. Or watching people fight with umbrellas that get turned inside out on windy days or even those who think they can purchase four, soft serve ice cream cones on a sunny,  90 degree day and walk a hundred yards back to their chairs without it turning into a puddle of mess.

Maybe one day I’ll bring a book and actually get though a paragraph or two while sitting on the beach. Maybe. But I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it.

The stories around me always seem to be much more interesting.