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“She wondered if she would ever again be able to have a normal conversation and what topics she might be able to discuss with ease and interest. At the moment the only topic she could discuss was herself. And everyone, she felt, had heard enough about her. They believed it was time that she stop brooding and think of other things. But there were no other things. There was only what had happened. It was as though she lived underwater and had given up on the struggle to swim towards air. It would be too much. Being released into the world of others seemed impossible; it was something she did not even want. How could she explain this to anyone who sought to know how she was or asked if she was getting over what happened?”
— Colm Tóibín, Norma Webster

+ + +

Norma Webster is quite possibly one of the most riveting character studies I have ever read.

Set in a small town in southeast Ireland during the late 1960s/early 1970s, this is a study of Nora, a widow in her forties struggling to come to terms with the loss of her husband while shouldering the upbringing of her four children.

Left without an income, Nora must find employment after years as a homemaker. Nora wants to hide and she needs to mourn but feels she can’t because of the probing eyes of the small village she lives in. The book is a study of a strong and intelligent woman trying to pick up the pieces and rebuild her life on her own terms. Tóibín does an impressive job of portraying Nora as a real flesh and blood person and we, the reader, are privy to her inner thoughts and the inner journey she undertakes toward self-acceptance and healing.

  • Excellent review. I will be adding this to my “to-read” list. Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Sounds excellent and just up my street…on my list to purchase! Have a great weekend, Amanda : )ReplyCancel

  • Wow- I am going to hunt this one down…ReplyCancel

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“But thinking of her life was another thing. Lying there in that room in that house in that quiet town she could choose what her life had been. The others were there. The world was there, evening and morning. No matter what anybody thought, no matter if she only tagged after them because they let her. That sweet nowhere. If the world had a soul, that was it. All of them wandering through it, never knowing anything different or wanting anything more.”

—Marilynne Robinson, Lila

+ + +

Set in the same fictionalized town as Home and Gilead and populated by the same characters, Lila tells the story of how the Reverend John Ames came to marry his quiet, uneducated, and hard-edged wife. The novel is epic, not in terms of its plot but in the wide net it casts around biblical characters (Ruth, Job, Hosea) and themes (baptism, creation, doubt, exile, prodigals,  regeneration, sanctification,  wanderings both literal and spiritual).

This is the story of an old man made young by the love of a woman caught off guard by grace, a story that filled me with a mixture of beauty and dread from the first page to the last.

PS: The New York Times had a great interview with Marilynne Robinson which I discuss briefly here. Read the entire NYT interview here.

  • This one is on my list too. I do enjoy her writing.ReplyCancel

  • I reread Gilead and read Home for the first time in preparation for this book. Eagerly awaiting the day I can get my hands on a copy!ReplyCancel

  • Leslie

    London Review of Books just did an amazing review of Lila as well. Worth a look. Can’t wait to read this one.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Thanks for letting me know, Leslie! I’ll definitely give the review a read :)ReplyCancel

  • I read both of the other novels and can’t wait for this one! THanks for the link to the interview!ReplyCancel

  • Oh, my goodness, I just read _Lila_ this week and was just bowled over. The quiet beauty of it . . . the ache and the beauty and the way they can’t be separated at all, the way the beautiful thing between Lila and Ames could never have existed without everything that preceded . . . it’s a story that sinks into you, isn’t it?ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Cindy, It does sink in and it sticks with you too. I find myself still thinking of it, of her, of him.ReplyCancel

  • I’m desperate to read this – Home and Gilead both took my breath away with the skill of their writing, and their mood has stuck with me. Really I think I need to dig them both out and re-read before I let myself buy Lila, much as I want it now, and then I need to set aside some quiet time so I can read it properly, not just in snatched pages between child-emergencies.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      Helen, I live and read in snippets between child emergencies…I definitely understand your predicament.ReplyCancel

  • I need to put my knitting aside and read more than just before bed, I am getting woefully behind and you just get adding to my stack of books. ;)ReplyCancel

  • I think this is going on my list! Thank you.
    Hope you are doing well after the arrival of your sweet girl – and that your little guy is healing up nicely. You’ve been on my mind. xoReplyCancel

    • admin

      Thank you, Bella! We’re all good over here. Wishing you & yours a happy weekend. xoReplyCancel

  • I spent the last half hour getting caught up on your blogs, requesting 4 or 5 mentioned titles from the library, looking at your beautiful knitting on Ravelry…what a lovely way to wake up this morning! Thank you for sharing…ReplyCancel

the habit of being_daybook


During the question-and-answer period, I was asked where I thought art came from, from what part of the mind. […] Art comes, if we are blessed with what Jack Tworkov called a “little touch of grace,” into the highest part of the mind, that with which we can know the presence of God. But we have to pay attention to that area in order to notice the grace, or even perhaps to attract it.

— Anne Truitt, Daybook


I’m also talking about Daybook in relation to the work of writing over here today.

  • I just ordered Daybook, thank you once again dear Amanda.
    Have a beautiful weekend.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      I hope you love it as much as I did, Tracey!ReplyCancel

  • sounds like a worthy book to read, thanks! I’ve been thinking for days on your short very well worded recent book reviews. You are a treasure to us. God continue to bless you in all these things, family, friends, reading, writing, etc!ReplyCancel

  • Daybook has been the guiding light of my year. Anne Truitt’s discipline and obsession, and her commitment to using every minute she possibly could to work have echoed through my thoughts again and again. But, most of all, I think of that steely core of belief that allowed her to invest in herself and her work. So lovely to see Daybook on your table too — I’ll be hopping right over to read your thoughts on how it relates to the work of writing…ReplyCancel

the habit of being_field notes1


I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the leisurely pace of the last few weeks. I’ve had time to catch up on snail mail correspondence with friends old and new. I still haven’t tackled the backlog of New Yorkers though. One day…


the habit of being_field notes2


We finished up our Father Brown read aloud and read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (and other stories) in the spirit of reading something a bit spooky for Halloween. The Red Bean, our resident tea drinker and Anglophile, found the two Tea Shop Girls books at the library and loved them so much she insisted I read them. Using one of the recipes from second book, The Secret Ingredient, she actually got up and made scones two mornings last week. The first time was a learning experience with the kneading of the dough but the second time she was much more confident and actually modified the recipe making cinnamon and cardamom scones with a vanilla glaze. I could definitely get used to this.


the habit of being_field notes3


Finding my rhythm in the kitchen with the Camellia in the wrap. Kefir making has resumed, kombucha brewing, steel cut oats are set to soak overnight for the morning’s oatmeal. And squash season is upon us so I’m in my happy place—three cheers for domestic bliss!

What is making you happy this week?

  • i attempted making kefir and failed horribly. are you using a metal strainer? in my research, i read that metal weakens the grains so everything i used was plastic or glass. what is your secret??

    we are back from a very long weekend visiting dw’s family in KY. the week will be spent cleaning, laundrying and the weekend will be rewards with baked breads and cookies. i’m looking fwd to the weekend, very much.ReplyCancel

    • admin

      lan, i am indeed using a metal strainer and my grains have been fermenting milk for years now ;-)

      my first thought is what sort of milk are you using? ultra-pasteurized? i use raw milk or when i’m too busy to get to the farm and buy it, i buy a local organic milk that is slightly pasteurized and non-homogenized. friends that i have given grains to didn’t have much success with ultra-pasteurized. second and third thoughts: are you using enough grain? is your kitchen too cold?ReplyCancel

      • we only buy organic milk. my first time i did use ultra pasteurized, and then scaled back to pasteurized. purchasing raw milk is illegal in MD :( and i can’t find a source in PA, that i trust, and that isn’t so far that the cost of travelling to/from to buy would be worth all the effort and $.

        admittedly, we started around time that we were travelling and it interrupted fermenting time etc. i’m half tempted to start again but i’m not sure.

        also, i bought my grains from Cultures for Health, and whatever amount of grains they gave me is what i used.ReplyCancel

        • admin

          it’s illegal here too but i take issue with the government telling me what i can/can’t put into my body so i consider every gallon i purchase to be a protest ;-)

          try again if you like it or like the health benefits! i will happily send you grains if you want.ReplyCancel

  • I could get used to scones like that too!

    I’m happy to be making soup twice this week: tomato basil and lemon chicken bowtie. Yum. Along with some good bread.ReplyCancel

  • This week I am grateful for finding my center again ;-)ReplyCancel

  • I am slowly finding my happy place after a not so good start of the week last week. onward and upward! I’m looking forward to seeing my daughter and son in law to be over the weekend :)ReplyCancel

  • I’m happy for a friend who has volunteered to help me clear the weeds that returned with the rain. I’m happy that the gray, damp clouds aren’t weighing me down. I’m happy for you in your kitchen with your new baby, finding rhythm and routine.ReplyCancel

  • looks like the last two were what I call ‘fun’ reading! and the scones, yum! Red Bean is doing well with this!! Glad for the goodness in your life!ReplyCancel

  • So good to hear all is well! This week cold temperatures are making me happy! Wearing boots and vest to walk the dog.ReplyCancel

  • Love a good scone, and with tea, just so English! Red Bean has great taste…hee, hee! Good to hear all is well with you.

    Things making me happy this week are cosy evenings with my two favourite people, early morning frost and creating!

    Happy Thursday!

    Jane xReplyCancel

  • Felicia Jones

    I love the read aloud selection. I do so miss those days. Is that the same Father Brown, the crime-solving priest, who has a series on PBS?ReplyCancel

    • admin

      The same, Felicia! Chesterton wrote the stories and there is a version for children that we read aloud — I found it quite charming and the kids enjoyed it too!ReplyCancel

the habit of being_late october books


I feel as if I must make an excuse for the amount of books I’ve read in the last month. Maybe the fact I’m nursing a wee babe and just emerging from the baby moon will suffice. Maybe the fact I’m writing about three absolutely amazing and perfect books that you should read will make me seem a little less crazy.


“So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?”
― Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See was absolutely beautiful and stunning. It is the story of a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France. I loved the world of Marie-Laure and the relationship she shared with her father.

“Whenever he remembered this moment, it lasted forever: a flash of complete separateness as Lydia disappeared beneath the surface. Crouched on the dock, he had a glimpse of the future: without her, he would be completely alone. In the instant after, he knew it would change nothing. He could feel the ground still tipping beneath him. Even without Lydia, the world would not level. He and his parents and their lives would spin into the space where she had been. They would be sucked into the vacuum she left behind.”
― Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You is the story of a mixed-race family in middle America and facing a tragedy. This is Celeste Ng’s debut novel and it is exquisite, a marvel of a debut. This is a deeply felt, original take on the family dealing with a missing child story.

“In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.”
― John Edward Williams, Stoner

I’m embarrassed to admit that Stoner has been sitting on my shelf for two years now and was constantly being passed by in favor of this or that. Stoner is the story of a man of no particular esteem, a university professor who, after 38 years of teaching at the university rose no higher than the lowly rank of Assistant Professor. Neither Stoner’s wife, nor his colleagues, nor his students think much of him. Yet the degree to which John Williams succeeds in bringing the reader to identify with this unlikely protagonist is nothing short of a triumph. The final pages are unforgettable.

  • what a lovely explication of these three books! thanks! I think it is good to read and so nice that you are able to! God keep you as you continue to adjust to this new little one with your older children, etc!ReplyCancel

  • Reading and while cuddling your newborn sounds a blissful way to pass the time. Stoner sounds intriguing definitely going on the ever growing list.ReplyCancel

  • I have had the first two books waiting in wings for their turn on my nightstand and will make sure Stoner is added to the list. You haven’t failed me yet Amanda with your picks, keep them coming :)ReplyCancel

  • All the light we cannot see is a beautiful phrase/title for one thing. I’m interested in it just for that reason alone!ReplyCancel

    • admin

      The story was just as lovely as the title, Danielle!ReplyCancel

  • Stoner will remain one of my favorite books of all times!!!
    You should never feel bad about reading a lot. The opposite holds true though ;-)ReplyCancel