Favorite books of 2013: a top 10 list

BooksHappy last day of the year! Most people reflect on their year, and while I do too, I also like to review the books I’ve read. It’s hard to decide on my favorites, but here are a few that I particularly enjoyed:

Gone with the wind / by Margaret Mitchell.

Several years ago I picked up a copy of “Scarlett” a sequel written Alexandra Ripley over 50 years after the classic by Margaret Mitchell. Before I could read the sequel, however, I decided that I really needed to read “Gone with the wind.” Given the length I knew I would want to own a copy, instead of renewing it from a library over and over again. I found a copy at a used book shop in Rockland on my birthday, and this fall I plunged in. Despite the length (over 800 pages), it was a really good read, with humor and passion. I always think that one can learn a bit of history from reading fiction, and this is a good case in point, if you want the perspective of the South after losing the Civil War, and how it affected the people, no matter who you were before the war. In this anniversary year of the Civil War, with all sorts of events going on, this is my kind of Civil War reading.

Good poems / selected and introduced by Garrison Keillor.

I’m not usually a serious poetry reader, but I have enjoyed a variety of poetry books this past year, such as ones I’ve written about in this blog. This is a wonderful anthology of poems – I read one every night. First I read through the poem, then I read the biographical note about the poet, and then re-read the poem. Great stuff.

Pub theology: beer, conversation, and God / by Bryan Berghoef.

Pubs and coffee shops are an excellent place for folks to gather to talk about God and religion in a less intimidating and casual atmosphere. I liked this book so much that I e-mailed the author afterwards and received a very nice note from him. Bryan and his wife, also an author, lead a faith community in Washington D.C.

White dog fell from the sky / by Eleanor Lincoln Morse.

Morse, a Peaks Island author, has written novels that take place in various places such as Poland, Vinalhaven, and now Botswana. The characters, including a white dog, are unforgettable, and the writing mesmerizing.

Daphne du Maurier at home / by Hilary Macaskill.

My friend Jane, in England, is a du Maurier scholar and gave us a wonderful tour of Cornwall’s du Maurier sites several years ago (see earlier blog), and continues to update my Daphne du Maurier library, including this latest addition. Great escapism into Daphne’s world, including gorgeous Fowey, Cornwall.

Language of flowers: a novel / by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

The setting (San Francisco Bay Area), the characters (including flower sellers and foster care parents), the story (including young love and finding home), and mostly the writing really drew me into this novel.

Celtic prayers from Iona / by J. Philip Newell.

This slim volume contains beautiful prayers and liturgy from the Iona Abbey on the island of Iona in Scotland, a pilgrimage site. I read some of these prayers at night before I go to bed, to put me in a higher plane and erase the cares of the world away.

People of the book : a novel / by Geraldine Brooks.

Geraldine Brooks is turning into one of my favorite authors. I loved Caleb’s Crossing, and this is another lyrical book, written about a Haggadah throughout the ages, up to modern day Australian conservator, Hanna’s voice, as she restores this mysterious codex.

The dog who wouldn’t be / by Farley Mowat.

Farley Mowat is one of our most loved authors – we have many of his books. This very funny story is about Farley’s childhood in Canada, and the family’s pet dog, Mutt, the hero of this story.

Help, Thanks, Wow : the three essential prayers / by Anne Lamott.

Another writer I am drawn to, Anne Lamott, writes of religious topics on a human scale. This one is a short and accessible book about the three prayers that help us get through this messy world of ours.

What have been some of your favorite books this past year? We’d love to hear from you! In the meantime, Happy New Year to everyone, especially those fans of the Long Island Community Library! 

MHS Book Group: Making Sense of the American Civil War

For all you Civil War buffs, here’s a great reading group to join in the new year!

MHS Book Group: Making Sense of the American Civil War

Tuesday, January 21 – Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Presented in partnership with Maine Humanities Council

Facilitator: Candace Kanes, MHS Historian and Maine Memory Network Curator

Join us this January through May for our fifth annual MHS reading group–a great opportunity to engage in discussions about history and connect with members of the MHS community.

Created and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of its We the People initiative, “Making Sense of the Civil War” is a Maine Humanities Council “Let’s Talk About It” program designed as a succession of five conversations exploring different facets of the Civil War experience. Each session will explore a different topic informed by reading the words written or spoken by powerful voices from the past and present.

Books will be provided on loan by Maine Humanities Council and include March by Geraldine Brooks, Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam by James McPherson, and America’s War, an anthology published by the NEH expressly for this series. There is no charge for this year’s group.

WHEN: Tuesdays 1/21, 2/18, 3/18, 4/15, 5/20 @ 6:30PM
WHERE: MHS Lecture Hall
BOOKS: On loan from Maine Humanities Council
REGISTRATION DEADLINE: Friday, January 10. Registration is required; space is limited and the group has traditionally filled up fast. To sign up, Download the Flyer, call 774-1822, or email info@mainehistory.org with “book group” in the subject heading.

Winter Harbor

Pemaquid LighthouseI tend to gravitate towards books written in the 1940s and 1950s, such as Daphne Du Maurier’s books, and the Bennett Island Trilogy by Maine author Elisabeth Ogilvie. I recently read another book from this period, a non-fiction book by another Maine author, Bernice “Bunny” Richmond: “Winter Harbor.” This book has been on my bookshelf at home for many years before we bought the house in 1996, as evidenced by the silverfish eaten cover. Published in 1943 the book tells the tale of Bernice and her husband Reg buying a lighthouse from the U.S. government, and then enjoying their summers on the island where it is located, Mark Island. Bunny starts the book:

“Reg and I are little people. No one ever heard of us, we have no names, we have no wealth, yet something wonderful, exciting and full of adventure happened to us.” Reg inherited $1500 and said to his wife, “Well, Bunny, what would you like to do with fifteen hundred dollars?” Her answer? “I want a lighthouse on the Maine coast.”

Throughout the book you can feel Bunny’s complete joy of exploring Mark Island, where the lighthouse is located, near Schoodic Peninsula down east. So, if you’ve ever dreamt of living in a lighthouse, this is the book for you! (and you can find the book in our very own island library)

[Photo not of Winter Harbor Lighthouse, but of Pemaquid Lighthouse]

World religions reading list

BenedictionsAt this time of year, when we celebrate Hanukah and Christmas, it may be a time to remember how various religions celebrate their holidays. It brings to mind a reading list about world religions that we circulated at the Long Island Community Library a few years ago, when several of us did a study at the Evergreen United Methodist Church. The readings on this list came from not only our study group, but community members.


Hirsi Ali, Ayaan. Infidel / Ayaan Hirsi Ali. New York : Free Press, 2007.

In this profoundly affecting memoir from the internationally renowned author of The Caged Virgin, Ayaan Hirsi Ali tells her astonishing life story, from her traditional Muslim childhood in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, and Kenya, to her intellectual awakening and activism in the Netherlands, and her current life under armed guard in the West.

Mahoney, Rosemary. The singular pilgrim: travels on sacred ground / Rosemary Mahoney. Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

The intrepid Rosemary Mahoney undertakes six extraordinary journeys: visiting an Anglican shrine to Saint Mary in Walsingham, England; walking the five-hundred-mile Camino de Santiago in northern Spain; braving the icy bathwater at Lourdes; rowing alone across the Sea of Galilee to spend a night camped below the Golan Heights; viewing Varanasi, India’s holiest city, from a rubber raft on the Ganges; soldiering barefoot through the three-day penitential Catholic pilgrimage on Ireland’s Station Island.

Coffin, Jaed. A chant to soothe wild elephants : a memoir / Jaed Coffin. Cambridge, Mass. : Da Capo, 2008.

This memoir, by Maine resident Jaed Coffin, is about his experience as a young Buddhist monk in Thailand.

Idliby, Ranya. The faith club : a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew– three  women search for understanding / Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, Priscilla Warner.

Traces how three American women of different faiths worked together to understand one another while identifying the connections between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam,  during which they openly discussed the issues that divided them.

Siljander, Mark. A deadly misunderstanding : a congressman’s quest to bridge the Muslim-Christian divide / Mark D. Siljander ; with John David Mann ; foreword by Ban Ki-moon. New York : HarperOne, 2008.

“A book of enormous courage and spiritual power … essential reading for every Christian, Muslim and Jew of good will around the world. – The Washington Times




Aboulela, Leila. The translator / Leila Aboulela. New York : Grove Press, 2006.

The Translator is a beautifully written story about a young Sudanese widow living in Scotland and her sprouting relationship with Islamic scholar Rae Isle.

Jiji, Jessica. Sweet dates in Basra / Jessica Jiji. New York : Avon, 2010.

After two Iraqi families, one Jewish and one Muslim, break through a wall in the 1930s to accommodate a shared water pipe, a Jewish boy falls in love with an Arab maid, whose mother is determined to preserve her daughter’s honor in a land where the loss of it can be punishable by death.

Potok, Chaim. The Chosen : a novel / Chaim Potok. New York : Simon and Schuster, 1967. A novel about a Jewish family living in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn in the 1940’s.

Said, Kurban. Ali and Nino : a love story / Kurban Said. New York : Anchor Books, 2000.

A love story of two childhood friends, a Muslim warrior and a Christian girl, during the Russian Revolution. Set on the Caspian Sea, the novel symbolizes the clash of cultures between East and West. It was first published in German in 1937.

Happy holidays to everyone, no matter how you celebrate!