In Pursuit of a Life Well Read

The love of learning,
The sequestered nooks, 
And all the sweet serenity
of books.
– H.W. Longfellow

My favorite summer pastime is reading on one of the porch sofas (or on the boat, with port-light windows open) until I fall asleep, a gentle breeze blowing, book on lap, glasses off-kilter: nap heaven.
I read what interests me and I love to find connections between books. ALL types of books. It happens that most devoted readers mix genres like a healthy book salad – to read only fiction, for example, is like eating only one color of food. So, for a balanced book diet*, try a colorful array of fiction, non-fiction, biography, classics, modern mystery, short story… and whatever else floats your boat.  Definitely throw in a salty beach read every now and then and for kids, a good graphic novel or two.

Do you gravitate towards hardcover or paperback? E-books? AudioBooks?

I prefer paper (hard cover/soft cover) books to any digital/screen version. The experience is just not the same: paper vs screen. I like to feel the pages, flip back to details or recall relationships earlier-mentioned. I write notes in the margins, underline passages and dog-ear pages. I love to read in bed at night without the glare of a screen or in the bathtub… the bottom of my books often swollen by an accidental dip in the bubbles.
Shel Silverstein’s poetry is near and dear to our Cortado-family hearts. Sometimes we all take a book after dinner and take turns reading our favorites out-loud. Poetry is a nice complement to just about anything.
Was never true love loved in vain,
For truest love is highest gain.
No art can make it: it must spring
Where elements are fostering.
So in heaven’s spot and hour
Springs the little native flower,
Downward root and upward eye,
Shapen by the earth and sky.
– George Eliot
Our small library in Newport is a happy collection of our favorite books and we keep a nice assortment on the boat, too.  Authors are grouped and placed near each-other, IF I think they would have been friends in real-life. Paperbacks do not mingle with hard-covers, unless by the same author. Best reads are on one wall, lesser-loved books on another. Language books, travel guides and photo albums are tucked behind the entry door. The over-stuffed library chairs are soft, comfortable and just barely big enough to fit mom and (teen/pre-teen) babe in one.
When traveling, we bring along a heavy suitcase of books. School books, yes, but also our “free reading” selections times four. I have lugged more heavy books on flights to wherever and if reducing weight was paramount, I would lose many other items before my books.
Browsing the isles in Chamblin’s Bookmine (Jacksonville, FL) is one of our all-time favorite places. It is all the more fun with boat-friends… (Hey, Totems!)
Thanks to an introduction a few years back, I occasionally listen to audiobooks via an App called Audible. Audiobooks are great for listening, where reading is difficult (cue walking to the beach, grocery or folding laundry). Some books I thoroughly enjoy listening to, as well as reading. I will listen while walking or cooking dinner, then re-read the same chapter(s) at night before bed. It is a powerful, double-whammy, prose-parfait that I could not love more.
“Our deeds still travel with us from afar,
And what we have been makes us what we are.”  – George Eliot
Book Combinations. When reading a book that I love, I also seek out other books on the subject to complement the original read.  For any interested mega-readers, below are some book combos or “Super Groups” that I suggest checking out;  each bringing complexity to the original subject. Some of the connections are unexpected, but so much fun either way. I will leave you to figure out how they matter to one another.
Here are a few of my Super-Groups:
1. on Hemingway’s early years:
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
The Sun Also Rises by E. Hemingway
A Moveable Feast by E. Hemingway
F Scott Fitzgerald Classic Works
2. on Africa/flying/love:
Out of Africa by Isak Denisen
Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
West With the Night by Beryl Markham (*my only copy is in CORTADO’s library)
The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber (short story) by Ernest Hemingway
Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de St. Exupery

“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind.”  –  from Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

3. on Truman Capote, Nell Harper Lee
Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
Answered Prayers by Truman Capote
Fifth Avenue, 5am by Sam Wasson
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
Other Voices, Other Rooms and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Party of the Century by Deborah Davis
 The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills …
Then add in, “Marella Agnelli, The Last Swan” (coffee table book by Rizzoli) and
“Sisters: The Lives and Times of the Fabulous Cushing Sisters” by David Grafton
(um, this is actually a Super-Duper Group).
4. on artist John Singer Sargent and the gilded age:
Strapless by Deborah Davis
Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt by Amanda McaKenzie Stuart
Glitter and the Gold by Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan
Hare With the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
Sergent’s Daughters by Erica Hirschler
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough
Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland
Gilded by Deborah Davis
5. on modern day art forgery and theft
Provenance by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo
The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
Priceless by Robert K. Whittman
* Also watch the Documentary film: “Rape of Europa”
6. on Cuba
Waiting for Snow in Havana by Carlos Eire
Ghost Heart by Cecelia Samartin
Finka Vigia: The Complete Short Stories by Ernest Hemingway
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway 
*Also watch the Documentary film: “Buena Vista Social Club”
7. Two beautiful books about friendship & Bel Canto, which is just beautiful.
Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
 + Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
8. Classic/modern combos not to be missed! and all curiously connected…
MiddleMarch by George Eliot
My Life in MiddleMarch by Rebecca Mead
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Proust was a Neuroscientist by Jonah Lehrer

We all know the benefits of reading and every (homeschool and other) teacher knows first hand how reading improves our students vocabulary, spelling and understanding of the world. Books crack open the secret code of life in every possible way. They show us paths to empathy and social grace. Books open our hearts and bare our souls through title after title, again and again.
One thing I am most grateful for, is time spent reading with the kids. They read independently and often – they have many books they love! But when we are able to read together and make connections between our book and others we have read, historic events or places we have traveled, the whole world opens up to us. There is so much to discuss and learn when we read together.
This coming school-year, our group reading is aimed at some great titles, including, “The Odyssey”, “Old Yeller” and “Treasure Island.”
The photo above shows our travel-school’s version of an elementary level “Super Group.” We will use each of these books when reading Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey. In addition to the original by Homer (the version I chose is translated by Albert Fagles), we will enjoy a graphic novel by Gareth Hinds and an abridged edition by Geraldine M. Caughrean. I will also use a teacher’s resource guide for activities, spelling, vocabulary lists and comprehension tests.
 Literature, is definitely, much more than its literary meaning, which defines it as ‘an acquaintance to letters’. It, in fact, lays the foundation of an enriched life; it adds ‘life’ to ‘living’.      
– Manali Oak

The lists above include some of my favorite books, but certainly not all. I have other literary power-groupings to share, so stay tuned for more!  From our family to yours, …. wishing you a soft chair, a cool, summer breeze and a good book to find you.

Happy reading,


• Note: The listed books above are not necessarily school recommendations (i.e.: not all are school age-appropriate); books are based on my personal reading.

• * The colorful food/book reference… I feel like I read this somewhere and I cannot find the original passage. It is so cleverly explained, though I cannot claim to have thought of it. If anyone knows who coined the literary reference to multi-colored foods, please let me know so I can properly credit them.
• Longfellow quote in the public domain, found on:
• Audible is a monthly subscription service ($14.95/mo) and can be installed on your phone.
• Some of the photos above (library, Silverstein books up-close) were taken by Maaike Berstrom (see
 •  Manila Oak is a writer on many interesting topics. Her work can be found on Buzzle, primarily.
•  Choosing what to read is always a tough call. Where would I be with out my Newport-based GLAM book group? We have been reading together for eight years! I love you all. 

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Niki Gerard says:

    You make me feel like running out and getting a crate full.How wonderful that you have passed your love of books and poetry to the children instead of buying them video games. My last week in Spetsai full of happy memories and the sadness of the finality of it all?

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lynne Rey says:

    Dear Niki, I regret we did not make it to Spetsai. We would have loved to have seen it, though have a beautiful picture of it in my mind. *Special note: When I see Marella Agnelli’s book, I think of you! We need to write YOUR Rizzoli coffee-table book. xxx


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