Book Review- The Stranger in the Woods The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

Book Review- The Stranger in the Woods The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit

I have just finished a very compelling biography written by Michael Finkel- The Stranger in the Woods- The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit. It is a fascinating account of the life of Chris Knight, a man who made the choice to leave his home town and family to live alone in the woods for almost thirty years. To survive he stole food from the cabins and camps within walking distance from his hidey hole in the forest. He never started a fire, for fear of being discovered and only traveled at night and often in the rain when he thought he would least likely be spotted.

Knight is described as a lover of books– he is well versed in the Tao Te Ching. He enjoys stories like Robinson Crusoe or war history books. He read whatever stolen books he could lay his hands on. He rigged up an antennae and listened to late night talk radio, classic rock and classical music. Oddly enough he enjoyed listening to Seinfeld and Everybody Loves Raymond. Because he was so elusive, he was dubbed the North Pond Hermit or sometimes the Hungry Man.


There are also many interesting tidbits in this book on the history of hermits.  In Europe during the Middle Ages the people who wanted to live away from society  were called anchorites- they were often bricked into tiny dark cells and were taken care of by the church. Pursuers are explained as people who escape human contact to write, philosophize or create art. Finkel peppers this story with some scientific explanations  as to why some people may be more prone to avoiding society- there are studies that prove genetics could be part of the factor. Low levels of oxytocin mixed with high quantities of the hormone vasopresin may cause a person to need less human interactions.

I felt the author was suggesting that people like Knight are not a total anomaly- every other country seems to have a place or name for these kinds of people. It was also interesting to read about the completely different reactions the local residents had about Knight. Some hated him, while others were more accepting. One  enterprising man tried to leave him a pen and paper to offer him food or anything else he required so that he wouldn’t have to steal. Although the word hermit in our culture has a bad connotation to it- after reading this book I have a new perspective on hermits. Now I will think of someone who may have an intellectual bent and a close commune with nature.

One of the best insights into Knights soul ( I think) is when Knight explains how he decided it was best not to have a pet, so he wouldn’t have to compete for food with it. Instead he reveals how he was very fond of a shelf mushroom that grew slowly along side his campsite.

This book is a gentle account of a man who knew that the only peace he could find for himself was to be left  completely alone in nature. A feat that seems close to impossible in our modern day world.

Click below for one of the many songs about Chris Knight

Want to understand Chris Knight better? Here is a link to The Tao Te Ching

Memoir- Born A Crime

Memoir- Born A Crime

Reading in my nubby bathrobe

Lucky for me I keep finding memoirs that are un -put -downable. This week I have thoroughly enjoyed the memoir Born A Crime –Stories From A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah.

I realize I have been limiting myself to women’s stories, so I was pleasantly surprised when I was completely drawn into this book. It is a story of a young man growing up in South Africa during the tail end of Apartheid- a tough subject that he manages to explain with small  humorous essays. He starts from the beginning when he is a small child and his mother is always chasing after him and once throws him out of a moving minibus. He is still running as a young man, to escape the rage of a violent stepfather.

I laughed and cried all the way through this book.  He explains how when they had a really tough patch in their lives their family had to eat Mopane worms that he explains are ” spiny, brightly coloured caterpillars the size of your finger—they have black spines that prick the roof of your mouth as you’re eating them.”

I enjoyed learning about all the eleven different languages in South Africa which he describes as the Tower of Babel. He also explains how difficult it was for him to live as a child who is half white and half black in a country where it is deemed illegal to  “have illicit carnal intercourse between Europeans and natives.” This was called the Immorality Act of 1927- thus the title of this book- Born a Crime. I had to wonder for a long time why Trevor’s mother would have chosen to have a child under such difficult circumstances, then I realize perhaps it was her small rebellion against a whole regime.

Trevor’s description of his mother was the most compelling part of this story for me. How going to church every Sunday was an escape for her- and no matter how Trevor tried to get out of going to church, his mother made it a non negotiable part of their lives.

The author explains how he was always hoping his mother would leave her abusive relationship. Later in life he realizes how it is not such a simple a thing to escape domestic violence, especially in a country where beating your wife is not considered a criminal offense. This part was frustrating for me to read, and I noted that this was a difficult point for the author to grapple with as well.

Trevor explains that although he grew up in a world of violence, it was his mother’s strong influence that he believes set him on a different path. I loved his mother from beginning to end. The author cleverly weaves his stories in with hers in a loving and honest way.

Men are what their mothers made them.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson



Book Review- The Wild Oats Project

Book Review- The Wild Oats Project

I really enjoy a good true story, especially if it is well written. And even sometimes if it is not! The little library on Gabriola Island is quite well-stocked in the biography section where I tend to hang out quite a bit. I remember hearing something positive about The Wild Oats Project so I took it home for the weekend. Wow! Can Robin Rinaldi write a story, and a very racy one at that. It is a very intimate and open account of one woman’s quest for passion in her life. Something that she feels is not in the marriage that she is in. It takes her on many adventures of the sensual kind. It is open and honest and doesn’t hide much, such as her  aching desire to have a baby and the resentment she feels when her husband gets a vasectomy. She delves into the violence in her childhood and how it has affected her. She does it in a fashion where she doesn’t come across as bitter but reflects on how it had an impact on the relationships in her life.

Rinaldi is a professional editor and you can certainly tell by the perfect prose in this little gem of a memoir. Outta the way Fifty Shades of Grey– this a real woman’s account of her quest for love and passion. Want an insiders take on orgasmic meditation and urban sex communes? Who doesn’t? After reading the last page, my thoughts were boy this would be a great book club selection. So much to discuss about women and their sexuality. All you book clubs out there take note-this book is from 2015 which means -no holds! I did also notice that there is a great discussion guide for this memoir.

After you finish reading this book, take a look at who it is dedicated to. You will get a tear in your eye, I guarantee it.

Click on the link below to find it in Goodreads.


The Monkey on Her Back

The Monkey on Her Back

Don’t you just love when you randomly choose a book off of the shelf and it’s a winner? My young daughter used to trail along behind me in our local library and pick out books for me just because she liked the cover, ” how bout this one mom?” she would say. And sometimes this method worked just as well as my method of reading the back cover or asking for someone’s recommendation. I just finished reading a great little book that I picked up just because there were monkeys on the cover. This is a memoir written by Sheri Speede titled Kindred Beings. I loved it almost as much as I enjoyed the Daily Coyote. Almost.

This is a true story about a woman Veterinarian who didn’t feel that her job was satisfying enough, so she decided to move to Africa to spend her time rescuing Chimpanzees from cruel imprisonment. The chimps were often chained up in front of hotels by themselves without any contact with other creatures for years.  She created a space where she gave local people jobs, gave these animals a place to recover and to live out the rest of their natural lives in peace and grace.

An aside that I found very interesting was the way the animal hierarchy worked.  For instance when there was a bad and unfair leader in charge of the troupe with violent and inconsistent tendencies, he was eventually taken down by the other chimpanzees in a sort of group coup. The fair and good male chimp leader, lead the group peacefully until his natural death. I could not help but think of human parallels all throughout this book.

The writing was swift and to the point and I hardly noticed when I reached the last pages. This book also had a middle packed with great photos. I could look at pictures of chimpanzees forever. I don’t know why I have this affliction but I think it is something about their similarities to us as humans; their expressive eyes, or the way they kiss each other gently on the lips.

This book is a must-read for anyone wondering if they aren’t living up to their true life’s calling. I just read Tony Robbins  book Awaken the Giant Within after reading a positive review on it from the blog Bug Bug Book Reviews. Sheri Speede must have read this book as a manual for creating her life. She had a clear goal that she worked towards with her bright blue eyes, her wild unruly hair and enthusiasm. She found her passion and carved out a life from it.

For all you people out there who want to change their lives for the better and need a little or big nudge— read these two books together on the same rainy weekend.

You’re whole life may veer off in an unexpected direction.

That’s all I got.

Click below for more information about Sheri Speede.


Blood, Bones & Butter a memoir that grabs you and won’t let go

Blood, Bones & Butter a memoir that grabs you and won’t let go

As most of you may know by now, I am memoir crazy.  Anything that is written about someone’s real life story I find irresistible.  This week I was lucky enough to find the memoir titled, Blood, Bones & Butter, The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton. Her writing style grabs you by the nose and won’t let go. I can still  hear her yelling in my ear all night, long after I have let the hard cover library book slip from my hands, only to wake up to the head of a chicken staring at me. I was reluctant to finish it, because then I would have to start a new memoir, and the next one may not be so good.

She starts her book off with explaining the beginnings of her life with a mother who cooked differently from most American families, a mother from a french background who would take her on excursions to get raw milk . I love how she explains this, the stink of the farm and the cow manure that lingered on her skin.

Although the author explains many things in great detail, I am still unclear as to why she hates her mother, she somehow dances around this subject. That is the one mystery that I was hoping would reveal itself. She doesn’t see her mother for twenty years, but she names her restaurant after the nickname her mother gives her-Prune. This chef is strong, no-nonsense and full of great stories. Each story reveals how the series of events in her life leads her to open up her own successful restaurant in New York City  and to raise her children in an unconventional marriage. The description of her near melt down with the family one day while she was hungry but was holding out for exceptional food was amusing and perfectly plotted out, right up to the moment when she sinks her teeth into giant deli sandwiches,washed down with a cold can of beer, while parked illegally at a bus stop. 

Snowed in this weekend? ( on Gabriola!)

I advise you to curl up with some stinky cheese and some good bread with this book to keep you warm. You can then fall asleep while you dream of meals that involve stuffed zucchini flowers while sitting wilting pleasantly on a rambling hot deck in Italy. 

Why Do Only the Good Die Young?

Why Do Only the Good Die Young?

from Penguin Random House

After reading and thoroughly enjoying Heather Havrilesky’s How to Be A Person In the World, it got me wondering existential questions such as why do only the good die young? Is it true, or only something Billy Joel was telling his girlfriend to pressure her into being bad? Do we tell ourselves little cliches to make ourselves feel better, or are these little nuggets of wisdom something that should be considered?

I found reading Ask Polly’s Guide Through the Paradoxes of Modern Life, really quite empowering- especially for women.

Warning: some swear words in this book, but in all the right places!

I may not have the same problems as many of the youngish answer seekers in this book, like troubles in a romantic relationship or with work, but I still found common threads of useful self-help tips embroiled in her hard-nosed wisdom. When life is getting me down I tend to reach for books to provide me with answers that I can’t easily solve myself; answers to questions such as why do liars and cheats sometimes win? Is there really a clear line between good and evil?

I think if Polly was answering my questions she would say, I am imagining her tone now-yes, sometimes life isn’t fair. Get over it. Some people are good and some are bad and if you think that you are one or the other that is really a matter of perspective. Even if you think you are completely angelic, haven’t you done something bad before in your life? Lied to your grandmother? ( No) Put your finger in the dessert before it was served, just for a little taste? (Yes) And although these can’t really be considered bad acts, I think what Polly would advise, is that there is no clear line between absolute good and evil. Sometimes bad people don’t get caught, sometimes innocent people get sent to jail- that is the hard realities of the messy world we live in. It is a world filled with ass grabbers and liars.

Is there any consolation for this?

Probably not. But to make yourself feel better I suggest that you go for a long walk in the fresh air. Spend some time with good friends or allow them to take you for a spa day! Bake a pie. Tell your family that you love them ( and mean it!)  even when they have carelessly left a crusty lasagne dish on the floor next to their balled up dirty socks.

These small things will make you feel better. And you may see that the world is filled with goodness again.


ps need more feel-good advice?

Try Xandria Ooi- She overfloweth with wise wise words.


You Can’t Read One Without The Other

You Can’t Read One Without The Other


With all this intense and dreary winter weather it is really a great time to nestle down under a warm blanket by the fire and catch up on your reading.  It is nice to read in the steaming hot bathtub ( not with a library book of course) or bundled up with a mug of tea in your car waiting in the ferry line up. But sometimes don’t you feel that you have read all the great novels already? Does every novel you pick up seem dull and passionless?

Here is my remedy. Get book ideas from other books.

Some books,  I find just beg you to run out and pick up another.

For instance, you can’t read- Reading Lolita in Tehran, without running out to your local library and picking up…Lolita by Nabokov. There are also many other book suggestions in this book.

You can’t read Truth and Beauty without putting a hold on Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face. You can’t not read Gogol’s The Overcoat after reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. And what about The Storied Life of AJ Fikry? It is filled with new reading ideas.

Here is a link to all of the great little nuggets of literary references from this sweet little novel. This list should keep you going for awhile.

Or how about After the Gingerbread Man you must run out to read the Stinky Cheese Man? Not sure if this is a good example., but I can’t think of what other books compel you to read more books… if any of you have any bright ideas let me know.

I always appreciate new book leads.

I would never have picked up The Daily Coyote without a recommendation from a dear reader of this blog- I feel a better person just for having read it. So thank you dear readers ( of this blog) and all readers in general. The Daily Coyote will also make you want to seek out the blog that gave her the material for her book.

This song will make you want to read even more books- My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors by Moxy Fruvous…