Summer of Anne Tyler

This summer has been my Anne Tyler book phase. I’ve gone through book phases most of my life. I remember my Michael Crichton phase (a gorilla named Amy!) and I had a John Grisham phase (lawyers can be interesting). My Jane Austen phase was fun, but all too quickly I was through her books. I’ve noticed God brings me to the right books at the right time. I love Anne Tyler’s writing, and I would say “I can’t believe I’ve never read her books before this summer” except I do believe it. God does these things for a reason. I can learn a lot of writing craft from Ms. Tyler, and apparently now is the time for it.

More for my benefit than yours, I’m going to list the books I read and write a little something about each one. I would do my usual quote, but I don’t have the books anymore.

If Morning Ever Comes: Anne’s first book, and I adored it, even though it did not take place in Baltimore! A male hero in a houseful of females.

The Clock Winder: I didn’t immediately like Elizabeth, the heroine, or any of the characters for that matter, but I did stick with it and was satisfied with the ending. The locusts at the end are very memorable!

Celestial Navigation: One of my favorites! It’s about an eccentric artist. The structure of this book is something I’d like to try: each chapter is titled by a character’s name and goes deep into that person’s conscience. It shows off Anne’s great ability to get into her characters’ existence.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant: Another book I had to stick with because I didn’t immediately like the characters. The owner of the restaurant, Ezra, is the most likable character, but I did not like how he never came up on top. He’s the type of person to be walked all over by his family. Maybe that’s the point. I read an interview with Anne Tyler, and apparently Ezra is one of her favorite characters.

The Accidental Tourist: The bad morality of this book clashes with the great writing. I have mixed opinions.

Breathing Lessons: This is my favorite. It’s about a lot of things, but among them is the marriage of Ira and Maggie, a middle-aged couple going to a funeral of a friend’s husband. I know this sounds extreme, but I’ve decided Ira is my second-favorite male book character, right after Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre.

Ladder of Years: Another middle-aged mom, and this one is very sweet. She does something spontaneous and can’t get out of it. I like the way life happens to her, and the way the story continues though almost nothing can be easily ironed out at the end.

Back When We Were Grownups: Yet another middle-aged mom, this time a widow. An introvert who ended up being a party-planner! I like how this job (which came naturally with her marriage) changed her over time. The birthday party at the end with the old family video seemed like such a good way to finish the book. I would rate this as my second-favorite Anne Tyler book.

The Amateur Marriage: This book seemed more historical, following the beginning of the marriage, but it does end up in the present when the main characters are old. I didn’t really like this book because of the way it treats divorce and unfaithfulness, but again the writing itself is admirable.

Digging to America: The only one I couldn’t finish. I don’t know why.

Noah’s Compass: This time it’s about an older dad, widowed and divorced, and he meets someone much younger… Again, the morality isn’t the best, but I did feel sympathy for Liam.

The Beginner’s Goodbye: This is one of the more memorable ones for me. Aaron’s wife is killed in a freak accident, and he has difficulty dealing with his grief. I’d say this is the most touching story she has written (of the ones I’ve read, of course).

A Spool of Blue Thread: Well, this is the first one I read, and the way she writes from the very soul of her characters captured me. I don’t particularly care for the plot in this book, but plot isn’t everything. In fact, in Anne Tyler books, plot is minor. Character is key.

Vinegar Girl: Brand-new Anne Tyler book! It is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. Kate is a shrew all right, and she is tamed by the end. The real feat here is getting the reader to dislike Kate in the beginning and then slowly reel them into sympathizing with her. It might as well be The Taming of the Reader. I love the Russian hero, Pyotr! I’m glad Kate ends up loving him, too.

That’s all I read. I still have a few to go, but I’m taking a break. I have to concentrate on school for awhile. Does anyone else out there have a favorite Anne Tyler book or character?

The Country of Marriage

Sometimes our life reminds me
of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing
and in that opening a house,
an orchard and garden,
comfortable shades, and flowers
red and yellow in the sun, a pattern
made in the light for the light to return to.
The forest is mostly dark, its ways
to be made anew day after day, the dark
richer than the light and more blessed,
provided we stay brave
enough to keep on going in.

— from “The Country of Marriage” by Wendell Berry, 1971

“The forest is mostly dark…” I can’t agree enough. This quote is from stanza III of a longer poem in which the speaker writes about his life of love with his wife. Here I find beauty at the gentleness of married love. When is the last time I’ve read anything about gentleness and marriage? I don’t know. It might have been in a Christian marriage book, in a section written to the husband, telling him to be gentle with his wife. But does anyone assume marriage is gentle in itself? Passionate, confusing, difficult, long-suffering… but usually not gentle. In this part of the poem, I think we get several aspects: the gentle beauty, the blessings, the courage needed, and the sense of uncharted territory. Because every marriage is different, right? That’s why those marriage books just don’t work. They are good tries, but I think Wendell Berry is more honest than most Christian living authors. Here we find that the dark mysteries of marriage, rather than being the inconsistencies that pull people apart, are more blessed than the obvious, well-lit truths about marriage. I can say that my husband and I have dark, mysterious inconsistencies; we are creatures of opposites. I need to be brave enough to keep on going into that forest of marriage day after day.

Splickety Love (Again)

I am once again promoting the lovely romance magazine containing short stories (most of them one page only), Splickety Love. This month’s theme is Love on Location. My story, “Woodland Trap,” takes place in a Wisconsin woodland during the early settling days of this state. Follow the links below if you desire to learn more about Splickety Love.



Where individual DIGITAL issues of Splickety Love “Love on Location” can be purchased:

Where individual PRINT issues of Splickety Love “Love on Location” can be purchased:

If you wish to subscribe to 365 days of Love: 




Homeschooling Pippi

One of our read-alouds this summer was Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren, and we really enjoyed it. I got to thinking what it would be like to be Pippi’s mom, suddenly returned from the dead (not an angel after all!). Obviously, traditional school didn’t work for Pippi. She’s the perfect candidate for homeschooling. But which method to choose?

Mrs. Longstocking might try the Unit Study approach. Pippi could do a complete unit study of her trips at sea. She could make a lapbook of maps, animals she saw, pirates she met. She must include a drawing of the ship, all the various parts labeled, and she ought to fill in the points of a compass. Pippi’s mom could read her related books from the library, make her add and subtract fish, and memorize verses from the book of Jonah.

Well, how about the Montessori approach? Allow Pippi to explore her surroundings. Give her plenty of natural toys and tools. Wood is good. Start collections of acorns and pine cones. Get out her trunk and have her do a rubbing of the imprint on a bar of gold.

Perhaps Pippi would do well with the Charlotte Mason method. She’s already a natural narrator, but she must be trained to tell the truth. Take her for a nature walk, and instruct her to look for a minute, memorizing what she sees. Then have her close her eyes and tell you what she saw in detail. If she says anything ridiculous about robbers or parrots, she must be gently admonished. But try again the next day. Make her understand how truthful narration helps her remember important ideas.

Mrs. Longstocking might consider Classical education. But she would really have to get Pippi to sit still and attend to her lessons. A well-trained mind must be properly exercised every day.

The Brave Writer method is a more modern educational approach, designed to encourage Pippi and her mother. Since Pippi is still learning her letters, her mother can jot down those exciting stories for her. And then they can have a party! Invite the neighbors over! Celebrate!

Perhaps Delight-Directed education is the way to go. What does Pippi really love to do? Make a kitchen full of cookies? Great! Teach her fractions as she measures ingredients. Run off the local police? That’s the perfect opportunity to schedule a tour of the police station. Climb trees like her monkey? Compare and contrast her climbing abilities with those of Mr. Nilsson.

And then, of course, there’s Unschooling. Pippi is already doing a great job learning through life experience. Supply her with good books, take her along on errands, and find a local 4-H club for her to join.

So many choices! I’ve had fun thinking about being Pippi’s mom. As it happens, it’s just as tough to decide how my own children would best be educated. I see advantages and disadvantages to each of these methods. Charlotte Mason is what I’m officially doing, but I believe I’ll be borrowing from other approaches as well.

Portrait of Madame Hubbard

Portrait of Madame Hubbard, Berthe Morisot, 1874
Portrait of Madame Hubbard, Berthe Morisot, 1874

I’m hot, too. I’m glad I’m not supposed to wear so many clothes as Madame Hubbard does. I’m also glad Madame Hubbard is wearing clothes unlike the painting it reminds me of (“Olympia” by Manet, 1863). This painting is nicer to look at than “Olympia” and I’m glad Morisot stole the use of that strong diagonal across the canvas created by a stretched-out human figure. Pretty soon I’m going to stretch out, too. But not in a canvas.

The House in Illinois

The Baltimore Review has just released their summer issue, and they included one of my poems! I think The Baltimore Review sets their standards a bit higher than some of the other lit mags I’ve been published in, so this is a special one for me. The poem itself is about eleven years old. I think it’s time it was published!

Here’s the link to The Baltimore Review. My poem is called “The House in Illinois.” Find the picture of me to get to my poem!


Heartland is a beautiful new book of poetry, published by Anchor & Plume, written by LeighAnna Schesser, who lives in Kansas with her husband and young children. I love the depth of the imagery and the integrity of the author. Below are some lovely bits and pieces from her poems:

Of little wooden bridges, missing slats, tiptoeing across tiny rivers, and anthills, dusty and eroded in a drought, of dried-out footprints.

— from “Urgency”

The kind of afternoon that calls for old book pages;/ not for reading, for smelling, for feeling slightly raised/ print–for inexplicably desiring the prick and scratch/ of skittering down the scattering sides of haystacks.

— from “Memento Mori”

The river deepened and tickled the stones, and we hungered/ for the flavor of chilling air. Savor September, he told me./ The month of yellow may never come again.

— from my favorite poem in the book, “A Sip of September is Yellow”

Rosewater light at sunset moistens a sea of wheat./ Love makes us transparent, sky-weathered–

— from “On the Westward Expanse”

LeighAnna Schesser blogs here: