Maggie Nystrom: Sitting Out A Soggy Spring, Reading In The Rain – April 11, 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

During one of the many rainstorms we have had this month someone turned in The Right Attitude to Rain by Alexander McCall Smith. The title spoke to me, as nothing I did was going to stop the rain. Maybe I could change my attitude. Of course, this title was not about changing attitudes, but was one of McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie mysteries. The series is set in Edinburgh, Scotland, a city where it often rains. Isabel is a philosopher and finds each mystery a wonderful chance to see how applied ethics work. In this third book of the series Isabel finds much to philosophize on, from guests from Texas to her own budding romance with a younger man.

We have many good children’s books with rain as the theme, such as James Stevenson’s We Hate Rain! In this fun book Mary Ann and Louie complain to their grandfather because it has rained for two days straight. Well, as always, Grandpa has stories of even worse rains, back when he was a boy. The story is interesting and the drawings by Stevenson are fun. As Louie and Mary Ann picture the story in their minds, Grandpa as a little boy still has his mustache.

However, I started to wonder how many adult novels had rain-related themes or titles. Fortunately, the online catalog for the Humboldt County Library has several different ways we can look things up, just for cases like this. First I looked up the subject “Rain and Rainfall” with the subdivision “Fiction,” but none of the books were in Arcata. So I tried doing a keyword search for “rain,” but limited the search to items that are here in Arcata. Several of the books looked like fun, so I went looking on the shelves.

Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson sounded interesting. This turns out to be an end-of-the world science fiction novel about catastrophic climate changes brought on by global warming. The protagonists, Anna and Charlie Quibler, are a happily married couple trying to save some sort of world for their children. He is trying to make political changes while she works with the National Science Foundation. A timely read, if not one you would choose for fun.

Rain falls gently in Rosamunde Pilcher’s short story collection Flowers in the Rain and Other Stories. The title story takes place in the Highlands where the wet daffodils and other flowers mentioned help bring the background to life. While the stories are about people, the landscape and weather are a part of the action.

I was surprised to find Teresa of Avila’s autobiography The Book of My Life in the list. When you do a keyword search, every one of the lines in a record are searched. One of the chapters has the title Divine Rain, being about the special tears that fall when praying. Teresa is one of the giants of western spiritualism. I found reading her own account of how she became a nun and her spiritual growth fascinating. Practical, poetic, ecstatic and down to earth, St. Teresa fascinated the people of her own time and of every age since. This new translation by Mirabai Starr is in crisp, contemporary language. This suits St. Teresa, I think, as when she wrote she was using crisp, contemporary language of her time.

One of the most fascinating mushroom guides I have ever seen is All That the Rain Promises and More: a Hip Pocket Guide to Western Mushrooms by David Arora. The book has everything you would expect from a mushroom identification guide–clear identification, good illustrations, notes on the habitats and the seasonality for individual species. There is much more as Arora and his friends share their exuberant joy in the hunt for mushrooms, as well as haiku and quotes to reveal the history and lore of fungi.

After having so much luck with the word rain, I tried doing some other keyword searches. Sunshine did not find any adult books, but wind brought me Tony Hillerman’s The Wailing Wind. Sergeant Jim Chee lures his old boss, Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, out of retirement with news of a murder that reaches back to an unsolved mystery which has long haunted both Chee and Leaphorn. Hillerman invented the Native American mystery. While there are many good writers in that field now, no one does it better.

Wind also brought up the DVD Inherit the Wind, the classic movie about a teacher who is  brought to trial for teaching Darwinism. Spencer Tracy and Fredric March go toe-to-toe as the opposing lawyers, while Gene Kelly has a rare dramatic role as a cynical reporter. This is a powerful film about justice, ideals and freedom of expression.

Today while I am writing this column we are having lots of rain and wind. I hope that by the time you read this the spring rains will have gone and the sun will have come out.

Maggie Nystrom is the branch librarian at the Arcata Library, 500 Seventh Street, (707) 822-5954.


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