Okay, so I’m not the New York Times. But, like one of Sandra Boynton’s cartoon cats once “said” in a cartoon: Everyone’s entitled to my opinion.

Seriously, some of the books I have enjoyed most have been those I read after a friend had recommended either the book or the author. Though we may never have met face-to-face, you might enjoy books I have found to be exciting, hilarious, moving, or simply memorable. Here’s a chance to get a taste of some of them.

 

The Art of Racing in the Rain
Written by Garth Stein
Reviewed by Dara Lyon Warner

Based on its title, this book may appear to be custom-built for auto racing fans. Not that the title is misleading — there are racing references throughout — but Garth Stein gives us so much more than a one-dimensional story! Like a wonderful, magical gift, where unwrapping one colorful layer leads to a layer of a different color, which leads to a layer with an intriguing design, and so on, The Art of Racing in the Rain takes us through tears, laughter, introspection, amazement, and triumph. Enzo Swift, who tells this story, shares his thoughts about a life well-lived; relating much of what he has learned during his lifetime, which is drawing to a close. His innate understanding of himself as a spiritual being — and his relationship to all other creatures as part of the universal spirit that enfolds us all — is profound. Enzo is ready to move on, to allow his spirit to roam free, and then to choose when to come back with a tongue that will enable him to use words (instead of only gestures), and opposable thumbs with which to enhance a whole new range of gestures.

Did I mention that Enzo is a dog?

We humans like to think that we teach the four-legged fur people who share our homes — unless they happen to be cats, who disdain the whole idea of being taught anything. With his quick mind, his wry, sometimes sardonic observations, and his gentle, open heart, Enzo has a lot to teach us. I am glad I’ve had the chance to meet him.

 

All on Account of You
Written by Elaine Luddy Klonicki
Reviewed by Dara Lyon Warner

If you’re looking for a heroic tale of grand war-time adventure…or lurid confessions of clandestine romance…this is not the book for you.

All on Account of You is the simply- and heartwarmingly-told story of two talented, intelligent, straightforward people who grew to love one another through mutual respect, shared spiritual and human values…and a young man’s persistence, communicated tenderly and with an open heart.

At a time when young women rarely left their home communities for reasons other than marriage, Angie Courtney was adventurous enough to move nearly 300 miles from hers to study clothing design. She had several suitors, with whom she enjoyed various outings. She liked some better than others, but one of them from her home town of Altoona, Pennsylvania — Bill Luddy — was not one she considered seriously…at first.

Bill had other ideas, though. He spent time with Angie whenever he could. When he couldn’t spend time with her, he wrote letters to her — even when he was in the same city! Bill’s letters spoke of his convictions about what marriage meant and about the faith he and Angie shared. They spoke of his regard for Angie and of the many things
he admired and respected about her. They spoke in plain words and the meaning behind them of his love, and of his continued hope that Angie would eventually relent and return that love. They sometimes included songs Bill had written for Angie, the book’s title being one of them.

Together, Bill and Angie traveled to different places as a result of his military duty assignments. The key word here is “together.” No matter where they resided or what their circumstances — celebratory or sorrowful — they lived through them together, for more than 50 years, until Bill’s death in 1996. One simple word, yet one so often forgotten by those whose idea of commitment is “for better or else.”

Elaine Luddy Klonicki, Bill and Angie’s youngest daughter, has compiled her mother’s written and spoken memories with her father’s letters, as well as other family correspondence and photographs, to create All on Account of You. In doing so, she has opened a window not only on her family’s personal history, but also on our history as a society. It is a work we can perhaps learn from, even while it touches our hearts.

 

Painting the Milkweeds
Written by Richard D. Courtney
Reviewed by Dara Lyon Warner

Over the course of a lifetime, there are people we meet face to face and people we meet  heart to heart.

For me, Dick Courtney was one of the latter.

I first became acquainted with Dick when his niece, Elaine Klonicki, needed some help to prepare his first book, Normandy to the Bulge, for re-release in 2007. Consequently, the Dick Courtney I first met was a teenager, growing up under fire — literally! — during World War II. Four of my uncles were also in that war; I am an Army veteran myself, and so appreciated Dick’s perspective on his own military service at more than one level.

Painting the Milkweeds introduced me to Dick Courtney the child of the early 1930s, when my parents were already young adults.  Some of the experiences he shares in this collection of reminiscences evoke memories of my own childhood, 20 years later. Told simply and straightforwardly, these stories drew me in, so that I could almost see Weamer’s store and the house on 19th Avenue in Altoona, though I have never been there. I found “Brother
Aloysius Gilmartin” and “Little Dicky Lost in the Woods” particularly delightful!

In between the young man and the little boy, I was privileged to learn a little about Dick Courtney the great-grandfather, through his letters. Until his death in 2009, Dick always spoke lovingly of his wife, Connie, as though she was his new bride; he clearly treasured her even more after decades together.  This Dick Courtney was a man who faced situations that would drop many in their tracks, and did so optimistically—with a sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye—focusing on what brought him joy rather than on what caused him pain. He did so courageously, even when the cancer that ultimately took his life first took his voice and then his mobility.

In Painting the Milkweeds, Dick set forth his life’s foundation:  values taught by example within a loving family, sharing a strong spiritual bond. Even to those of us whose formative experiences were different from his, Dick Courtney gave a remarkable gift.

Leave a Reply