Somewhere Towards the End

Diana Athill


What is it like to grow old? Locked as we are into our ghettos of age, we seldom come into close contact with the elderly, and few of the are as articulate as Diana Athill. She shows how growing old can be a challenge and a reward in itself. Scrupulously honest about her past life as an active woman, a loving partner, and an outstanding editor and writer, she is equally as honest about her present weakness and sense of loss. Still writing at age 101, she has am attitude of ‘enjoy yourself as much as you can without doing any damage to other people.’

A rare treasure of a book and a writer.


The Memory Palace

Mira Bartok


I love reading memoirs, even when it’s difficult. The one is more difficult than most. Mira and her sister are raised by a mother suffering from mental illness. Obsessed with the idea that Nazis are after the girls, she constantly monitors their every action. Her actions become so intrusive, that their jobs are threatened, and the girls are forced to change their names and move to where their mother can’t find them.

Later in life they decide to try to reach out to their mother and attempt a reconciliation. They find her dying in a homeless women’s shelter. In trying to help her, they find a set of keys that opens a storage unit.  In opening it, they find the things that their mother kept over the years.

This is a heartbreaking story of love, loss, and the ties that bind mother and daughters through the years.

Coming into the End Zone

Doris Grumbach


As I enter my seventies, I find myself looking for a guide on how to do it. So far, I’ve read May Sarton’s journals, and they helped a bit. She mentions Doris Grumback, so I tried hers, and I found it much more helpful. For one thing, Grumbach doesn’t seem so self-absorbed. She is still engaged, still traveling, still involved in other people’s lives.

I particularly enjoyed her descriptions of her travels and the acknowledgement that it is probably for the last time. My travelling days have also come to an end, and I enjoy looking back at my trips and the good memories they hold. Fortunately, I never took a camera, so my memories are not limited to the size of a view-finder. I also don’t have piles of photographs to dispose of.

Grumbach offers a good example of aging gracefully. I’d love to share a cup of coffee with her.


Coming Clean

Kimberly Rae Miller


This is a sad story of a young women trying to escape from the consequences of hoarding. Both her parents are hoarders, and they constantly turn to their daughter to help them get out from under. Because she loves them and doesn’t know what else to do, she does. Time after time, she cleans up their apartment or house so they can sell it and move into new surroundings, just to do it over and over again.

I realize that coping with someone else’s mental illness is difficult if not impossible, and I felt sorry for the young women asked to bear the unfair burden of caring for her parents.

At Eighty-Two

May Sarton


This, the last of Sarton’s journal before her death, chronicles many failings that come with end of life. She talks about the weather, her frustrations with being unable to garden, her lack of patience with herself and friends. Throughout it all, she never loses the honesty that I have come to love.

It’s not an easy book to read. Unable to write, she has dictated her journal and had it transcribed. She is obsessed with the weather, her health problems and her cat, topics that have little appeal to me, yet I couldn’t stop reading. As I approach her age, more rapidly than I like, I wonder if that is what I will be like?

The Maid’s Tale

Rose Plummer and Tom Quinn


When we think of life with servants, we usually think about those they served. In this book, the memories of a maid, show us what life was like below stairs. It was a life of unending toil and grinding work from rising in the wee  hours, until they turned in at night. The life of the servants was strictly regimented, with very little time to themselves. It was pretty grim until after WWI, when factory jobs opened up as an alternative. Then servants became scarce and life lightened up a bit.

It wasn’t nearly as fun as we think.


A Book of Bees: And How to Keep Them

Sue Hubbell



My grandfather kept bees on his property in Nevada. When we went to visit, I would spend hours lying in the grass by the hives just watching the bees. I was too young to be afraid, and no one knew what I was doing, so there were no warnings. It was a remarkable time of freedom for a young child. When my mother expressed worry if I had been gone so long, my grandfather told her not to worry. His dog Queenie, my constant companion, would keep me safe. And so she did.

I have always been fascinated by bees. I have never lived in a place that would accommodate keeping them, so it was always an unrequited love. I have read so many books about bees, fiction and non-fiction over the years that I feel I know them. I will pick up any book with bees in the title, and I have learned much about them. Ms Hubbell’s book is the latest in a long series.

Keeping and maintaining more than 300 hives is far beyond anything I had imagined. It is a full-time, year-round occupation with periods of intent activity. She describes her year from the high of a honey flow to the relative down-time of winter. Each season brings its own work to fill the hours. There is no vacation for a large bee-keeping/honey producer.

If you are at all interested in keeping bees, this book is full of valuable, if dated, information.

All Things Wise and Wonderful

James Herriot

All Things Wise and Wonderful  (All Creatures Great and Small, #3)

This entertaining story carries on where the other books left off. It is mostly his account of his experiences in the RAF during WWII. Many things that happen to him during basic training and learning to be a pilot remind him of his experiences as a county vet, so we get a double set of memories.

Each chapter tells a bit of his experience during training and a look back at some memorable animal or character, all entertaining. If you liked Herriot’s other books, this will appeal to you as well.

Call the Midwife: Shadows of the Workhouse

Jennifer Worth

Unlike the other two Call the Midwife books that I have read, this book tells the life stories of two characters that the author encountered working at Nonnatus House. The first, Jane, is a quiet, fearful young women. She fears her own shadow, and cannot be trusted with any responsibility due to her fear of making a mistake. The other character, Mr Collett, a soldier who fought in the Boer war, begins as a client needing a nurse, and becomes a true friend to the author.

Jane’s story is the story of the workhouse, a horrible institution that punishes people for being poor. Starting out life as bubbly, charming, intelligent little girl, Jane’s spirit is completely broken by the inhumanity of the workhouse system.

The soldier, Mr. Collett starts out as a patient, but moves into the category of friend as his wounds heal. His life story is gradually revealed as her visits become more social than professional.

Both stories reveal the humanity of the people who came into contact with the sisters and nurses of Nonnatus House, until changing economic times forced the end of the East End and the need for the services of Nonnatus House.

Call the Midwife: Farewell to the East End

Jennifer Worth


Similar to the first Call the Midwife book, this book is filled with adventures of the Nonnatus midwives. It puts the focus on Sister Monica Jean, who is accused of shoplifting, the ungainly and clumsy Chummy, and Megan’mave, two foulmouthed identical twins who share a husband between them. Along with the usual cast of characters, the real heroes of her book are the people of the East End. Somehow they manage to forge a community along the docks, in spite of economic stresses. Moving among them, the sisters and midwives do what they can to ease their troubles for a bit.