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I just finished reading Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. I picked it up for 50 cents this past spring at our local library sale. The movie, touted a “chick flick,” is no comparison to this fascinating book.
Frances Mayes is an extraordinary writer because she writes what she thinks and sees – no filters. You can see, taste, and smell the Italian countryside, and many times cringe, with what it’s like to rescue a 300-year-old piece of abandoned foreign history, and rescue a life. Her love of cooking and great recipes make you want to run to the nearest farmer’s market for fresh peaches, crisp fragrant herbs like basil scattered across mozzarella and drizzled with oil from just pressed olives, and roasted hazelnuts.
While she reveals parts of herself throughout, it’s not until toward the end that her Southern roots start oozing from her pores, setting you up for her openness of growing up in the South, called Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir. Just browsing the pages, it appears a brutally honest, funny and soul-searing experience, next on my reading list.
She writes from Italy:
I love the heat. I see a shriveled, pasty man who clearly is dying. He has been propped up in the doorway with the sun fully on him, his last chance for revival. His wife sits beside him and appears to be waiting. She’s his guard for his trip to the underworld. His life force siphoning off; the great solar energy coming at him, filling him up.
A woman of about sixty with her daughter and the teenage granddaughter pass by us, strolling with their arms linked, sun upon their vibrant faces, so beautiful. They look as though they should be immortalized on a Roman coin. In San Francisco, everyone seems to have cracked the door two inches to see who’s there. I see you through my two inches; you see me through yours. We are monumentally self-reliant.
I’m also re-reading Father Elijah by Michael O’Brien. This is, I think, my third read, but “the times we are a-livin’ in” demand this book be re-read. Penned 22 years ago, I don’t think there’s a more prophetic novel in print to this day.
I love spy books, preferably non-fiction. Any recommendations? A Secret Life by Benjamin Weiser was one of the best books I’ve ever read, about a Polish officer entrenched in the Soviet system, who uncovered a massive plot by Russia to overtake Western Europe in the 1980s. Polish officer Kuklinski spied for the United States for 10 years. It is a riveting, dangerous and humbling example of a human soul who gave all for the cause of freedom – in his case, for Poland, but ultimately, to the world.
My sister told me she spent Memorial Day weekend at her friend’s farm and they stumbled into a local library sale. For a mere five dollars, you got a tote and were encouraged to fill it – with proceeds to build a new library. My sister bought two totes, and when she got to the counter, the woman said,”You could add these into your tote, no extra charge.” My sister said, “Lady, you have no idea, I have books here for ‘a mother-in-law’ that’s not even mine (note: she’s mine) who loves to read, and others. Please take the extra money, build the new library — promote reading!” She picked up a few gems for me … I can’t wait.
I’m anxious to read some of the old mysteries that grace my own bookshelves. I look forward to reading Brett Baier’s new book, Three Days in Moscow. I want to know more about the power that held back evil and allows freedom and democracy to thrive because I believe it is and will always be challenged.
My love of books, old or new, is really a passion. When my sister came to visit last October, she grabbed from my shelves at random, an old, tattered hardback from 1959 called Station Wagon in Spain by Frances Parkinson Keyes. I must like authors named Frances. It sat and I never read it. She took it to the beach – a murder mystery, finishing it in seven days and loved it.
When she left, I read it and found sand between the pages and a bright yellow bookmark, really a fortune from Zoltar, the moving gypsy behind glass that runs a creepy finger over a deck of cards and spits out your future for a dollar at a local beach shop. She told my sister to watch her mouth – hah, hah!
While reading it, I felt like she was still here with me, a crazy madcap adventure on creased, weathered pages, like many of which we have shared, some that were life-changing – the power of the printed word. I xeroxed the vintage cover of Station Wagon in Spain and wrapped a bag of Mexican hot cocoa with the copied page (you’d have to read it….) as part of a Christmas gift.
A good book is a wonderful journey – what are you reading this summer?