Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

The Day the World Came to Town

Jim Defede

Nonfiction 2002 | 244 pages


This is a fascinating and inspiring story that I certainly missed, and perhaps you did, too. On 9/11, thirty-eight jetliners bound for the United States (commercial, military, and private) were forced to land at Gander International Airport in Newfoundland, Canada.  6595 passengers and crew and a dozen animals descended on this town with a population of 10,000.  This is the inspiring story of how the people (the heroes) of Gander cared for stranded passengers with gestures of friendship and acts of kindness and goodwill.

The unintentional visitors were housed in schools, the VA Hall, the Salvation Army, churches, and townsfolk's homes.  The town rose to the occasion, taking the sheets off their beds and the towels and sheets from their linen closet to these locales.  The people of Gander cooked for them, provided showers, medicine, toys, access to phones, beer and most of all, listening ears and hearts filled with compassion. Local businesses such as WalMart and Canadian Tire donated camping equipment and as many clean clothes as they could scrounge up.

It is a hopeful record of the best of humanity ... generous, thoughtful, and deeply caring.  Gander embraced all these strangers for four or five or six days, dropped everything else they were doing, and made these temporary refugees very welcome.

This isn't a long book, and is certainly an easy read.  Frankly, I think we all could benefit from reading this book, and regaining a modicum of hope in our world and caring for our co-inhabitants on Planet Earth.

September 2023


The Old Woman with the Knife

Gu Byeong-Mo

Fiction 2013, 280 pages

This is a story of an organization that provides contract killing services for clients.  The killers, who receive assignments and work on their own, have names like Hornclaw and Bullfight.  Reading about their killings and their relationships with each other seems to have no redeeming value.  Besides, I find the book poorly written.  120 pages in, I am moving on to some other read.

Keep looking elsewhere for your end-of-summer novel!  That is what I am going to do.

September 2023



How We Live is How We Die

Pema Chödrön

Nonfiction 2022 | 221 pages


This is one of the more engaging, interesting, inspiring, and provocative books on my recent spiritual quest.  Thank you for the recommendation, my friend.

Chödrön talks about death from a Buddhist perspective, but you need not be Buddhist to gain insight and wisdom from How We Live is How We Die.  As with many (all?) spiritual writings, I think you will take what you are ready to take from Chödrön's writing.  A few concepts and teachings that particularly resonated with me, I include below.

One specific teaching that I especially appreciate is “using our emotions as the path to awakening." She speaks to the five "kleshas" or negative emotions (craving, aggression, ignorance, jealousy, and pride), and how, when we are able to 1) refrain from reacting and 2) adopt a positive view of these emotions, and 3) use these emotions as the path to awakening, we can gain the wisdom that each of these emotions teaches us.  If we build these habits as we live, we will be able to face death with curiosity and learning, and not fear.  Whatever klesha consumes us most frequently and most powerfully is the one we can gain the most wisdom from.

I also found quite fascinating the "stages of dissolution " or the changes our bodies and minds experience as we journey near to death: earth into water (body feels heavy, sight disappears), water into fire (feel thirsty, hearing goes), fire into air (feel cold, smell goes), air into consciousness (hard to breathe, taste goes), consciousness into space (respiration ceases, touch goes).

What you take with you into death are your "propensities."  Your propensities follow you into the death process.  For example, if you have a propensity for anger, you are likely to be angry as you die.  But we can change our propensities now.

There are some concepts Chödrön presents that I have heard too many times, or that simply do not resonate with me.  I will be curious to hear what resonates with you, if you take me up on this recommended and satisfying read.

September 2023


The Interestings

Meg Wolitzer

Fiction 2013, 468 pages

You know what?  The Interestings is not very interesting.  The story line doesn't amount to much.  The characters are awkward and stilted.  Their depth is missing.  The timeline shifts around inexplicably and leaves the reader feeling un-grounded.  I keep falling asleep reading this book; there is no tension. I am on page 135, but am deciding to call it quits.  I see that many people on Goodreads seem to agree with me.

Keep looking elsewhere for your end-of-summer novel!  That is what I am going to do.

September 2023



Rough Sleepers

Tracy Kidder

Nonfiction 2023 | 320 pages


I enjoy Tracy Kidder and his way of presenting reality.  I read House and Soul of a New Machine prior to Rough Sleepers. I expected Rough Sleepers to be about the state of homelessness in general, but instead, Kidder takes us on in-depth tour of homelessness in Boston, following the story of Dr. Jim O’Connell, a man who conceived of and made real actions to create a community of care for a city’s unhoused population, including those who sleep on the streets — the “rough sleepers.” Kidder spends five years following Dr. Jim and his dedicated colleagues as they serve thousands of homeless patients, both at Mass General Hospital and in a van the travels every Thursday night to find homeless people on the streets of Boston who need medical attention.

We also follow Tony Columbo, one of the homeless clients/patients of Dr. Jim, and the roller-coaster ride of homelessness.  We see the system through his eyes; someone who has spent three (or more?) decades on the streets.

I learned a great deal about homelessness from reading this non-fiction, which reads like a novel.  It is easy to absorb the story he tells, though it is often sad, and you may pull your hair out as your read about the challenges of the homeless seeking shelter beds, finding vouchers for studio apartments, staying safe and warm, and addressing the many medical issues that plague the “rough sleepers,” caused by drugs and alcohol addiction, mental illness, physical challenges, and the cold and violence of living on the streets.

I really appreciated this quote from page 349 in the Large Print edition, “At a gala to raise money, in 2018, Jim tells the audience, ‘I like to think of this problem of homelessness as a prism held up to society, and what we see refracted are the weaknesses in our health care system, our public health system, our housing system, but especially in our welfare system, our educational system, and our legal system --- and our corrections system.  If we are going to fix this problem, we have to address the weaknesses of all those sectors.’"

This bleak assessment helps us to see why solutions are so complex and elusive. Rough Sleepers helped me to understand why our myriad of quick-fix solutions don’t work.

I heartily recommend this book.  It will shed a humane light on the challenges of homelessness for you, without being overly solicitous or sappy.

August 2023

The Thursday Murder Club

Richard Osman

Fiction 2020 | 355 pages


Four septuagenarians in the retirement community of Cooper’s Chase in Kent England, meet every Thursday afternoon over bottles of wine to discuss and attempt to solve cold case files, until they are faced with two actual present-day murders and one mysterious skeleton.  Joyce, Elizabeth, Red Ron Ritchie and Ibrahim each bring his or her own skills and experience to the group.  The mystery ensues as they attempt to discover the murderer(s), occasionally informing the police of their efforts!

The characters are dedicated sleuths, and yet, Osman's writing is quite fun.  He develops his characters well; each has a unique and interesting personality.  The story brings to mind Louise Penny's Armand Gamache series.

While sitting on the podiatrist's office, another woman in the waiting room said to me, "Oh, you are reading The Thursday Murder Club!"  She read it, enjoyed it, and then told me there are four more in a series.  As an aside, I do appreciate the dying craft of people reading books they hold in their hands ... it often leads to meaningful literary conversation!

This is fun, light reading for the dog days (or the smoky days, depending upon where you live).  No hidden or important messages ... just pure entertainment.  Recommended by NPR. I have just requested the second book in the series, The Man Who Died Twice, from the library.  I recommend The Thursday Murder Club for your enjoyment.

August 2023

All the Missing Girls

Megan Miranda

Fiction 2016/ 371 pages


Corrine Preston goes missing ten years ago from a small town of Cooley Ridge in North Carolina.  When our narrator, Nicolette Farrell, returns home from her life in Philadelphia to help her brother Daniel cope with the needs of their aging father, another young woman, Annaliese Carter also goes missing.  What and who connects these two missing girls?  Is it Daniel?  Is it Nic’s high school boyfriend Tyler?  And what do Jason and Nic have to do with it? And what about Nic’s father, Patrick, who has dementia?

The author, Megan Miranda, tells the story backwards, day by day for 15 days, which is an interesting methodology.  It works!  It is helpful to simply trust the author, that you are reading information in the right order.

If someone else has read this, I would love to chat with you.  I am a bit confused ... about the ring (rings?) and the pregnancy test, and the burying of Corrine …

This is a fun mystery (even if I am a bit confused!)  I read it camping, and it was great for sitting by the motorhome.

August 2023


Cemetery Dance

Douglas Preston & Lincoln Childs

Fiction 2009 | 448 pages


“It takes a certain amount of guts to start a novel by killing off a popular recurring character, but no one has ever accused this writing team of lacking guts.” From David Pitt

Pendergast, the FBI special agent who frequently takes on personal assignments on a freelance basis, teams up with New York police lieutenant Vincent D’Agosta to solve a crime that has ties to the supernatural. Apparently these two characters are regulars in the Preston/Childs books.

In the opening pages, a murder is committed by a man who, 10 days earlier, was pronounced dead and then buried. But the eyewitness is sure it’s the same man, and footage from a security camera appears to confirm it. How does a dead man commit murder? And why this particular victim?

I cannot fault the writing of these two prolific and successful writers.  It is a sharp, fast-paced, hard core murder mystery.  However, I had great difficulty in finishing this novel because of the subject matter:  Vodoo, reanimated dead people, animal sacrifice.  I found the content rather repulsive, though again, the mystery itself is exquisite.

As such, I slogged my way through to the end, but find I cannot recommend it.

August 2023



Fully Awake and Truly Alive

Rev. Jane E. Vennard

Nonfiction 2013 | 176 pages


Regular readers of the Dusty Shelves blog know that I have been exploring spiritual texts for a while now, often with disappointment.  Fully Awake and Truly Alive is the first of many books that I can unequivocally say I enjoyed and found within its pages significant value. It is a book about spiritual practices ... creating actions you can take, perspectives you can hold, thoughts you can align.  The author, calling upon and gently integrating Christianity, Buddhism, the Koran, the Veda, Torah teachings, and a wide range of spiritual tomes and teachers, presents eight practices that you can engage in right now.  Chapters include practices such as silence, rest, community, and service.

Kathy and Leslie and I read this book together, and all three of us liked it and found actions to honor and include in our lives right now.  This is a great book, if you are on a spiritual path.

August 2023

The Marriage Portrait

Maggie O'Farrell

Fiction 2022 | 352 pages


A spectacular and delightful book!  Lucrezia de'Medici, at the untenable age of 13, is married off to the Duke of Ferrara, Alfonzo.  The setting is Florence Italy, in the 1550s.  While this sounds as though it might be tepid and boring, it is neither!  This delicious, rich, textured novel, based on historical fact, is a page-turner.  I read it in two days camping (and yes, I also kayaked and hiked.)

The dashing Duke Alfonzo is intimate and caring to Lucrezia one minute, and brutally cruel the next. He has a personality that is either sociopathic, or he has dissociative identity disorder.  Lucrezia, who, in her soul, is independent, creative, and not easily controlled, sits for a court artist during the first year of your marriage, who paints her portrait according to the desires of her husband.  Hence, the marriage portrait.  She attempts to learn the role of a very young Duchess, which is challenging and seriously rubs against her own personality and values. There is vivid description of the servants who serve her, and how they endear themselves to her.

Life in court is described with detail and pizazz, but it is not the center of this novel. The center is Lucrezia and her personality. The 1550’s was not a good time to be a woman – there are not many options open to women.  O’Farrell’s depiction of Lucrezia is deep and detailed.  You gain a great sense of life in Renaissance Florence, and the difficult prescribed roles played by both women and men, as well as Lucrezia herself.

I definitely recommend this book as an engaging read.

July 2023