Dixie Darr

Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

At Leisure

In Books, Learning, work on May 19, 2017 at 1:42 pm

I didn’t want to retire. I even wrote a book about it, although it never got published – Don’t Die Wondering: A Guide to a Non-retiring Life. I suppose I could publish it now on Kindle, but I’d have to update it first, and I’m not interested in doing that, especially since I’m no longer working myself.

When I lost my last job, it wasn’t a surprise, but it wasn’t my choice either. I worked at home on my own schedule editing student papers and doing as much or as little as I wanted. Editing let me be hypercritical (a superpower of mine) without ever having to deal with actual people. I’m not what you’d call a people person.

The university decided that editors had to teach as well, and I was through with teaching. So that was that.

I was retired.

I don’t like the word because it makes me feel useless and irrelevant. Apparently plenty of other people my age agree. AARP uses only initials now to avoid calling its members “retired people.” Dozens of books have been written (and published!) to redefine our so-called Golden Years. They use words such as rewired, retread (there’s a lovely image) refired, reinvented, renewed, recycled, second act, and second wind.

It’s just a word, people tell me, but words matter. I just tell people to say I’m no longer working or better, I’m “at leisure.”

At first I was mostly bored. I went to museums, concerts, and plays, but at best, I was just filling time. At worst, I was killing time. I’m reminded of the saying, “I wasted time and now time is wasting me.”

It took four years for me to start feeling comfortable not working. I’ve found that Parkinson’s Law works just as well now as when I had a job. Leisure expands to fit the time available.

I suppose I could find a part-time job or volunteer, but all I really want to do is read and write and see my friends at church or the gym or for occasional lunches. This isn’t what I envisioned as a non-retiring life, but it suits me fine. For now.

One Thing Leads to Another

In Books, creativity, Learning, Learning Tools, writing on May 18, 2017 at 11:59 am








I’ve taken a circuitous route through life, with eccentric interests, oddball jobs, and curious relationships. The organizing principle is lifelong learning, so I suppose it wasn’t surprising that I chose to earn a master’s degree in Adult Education.

Two books by Ron Gross, The Lifelong Learner and The Independent Scholar’s Handbook, had captivated my imagination because I wanted to learn everything, and I preferred to do it on my own. While working on my thesis, I found another book that encapsulated everything I wanted in life. The Adult’s Learning Projects by Allen Tough describes the deliberate efforts to learn undertaken by adults of all ages.

He found that an astounding 98% of adults participate in an average of eight learning projects per year. Those he called High Learners spent 2,000 hours per year in 15-20 learning projects.

I have found that one interest inevitably leads me to a number of related mini projects. In fact, the independent scholars’ motto is “One thing leads to another.”

Here’s a personal example.

A couple of years ago, I decided to write a cozy mystery. Although I had never before been interested in writing fiction, I certainly read enough of it.

I started making notes and decided I needed to learn about writing fiction, which led to reading dozens of books (my preferred learning method) on the topic.

I learned to use Scrivener software for writers.

My story was set in the imaginary town of Mayhem Gulch, located in Clear Creek County, near Empire and Idaho Springs. Yes, I know Mayhem Gulch is a trail head in Jefferson County. Work with me, people; this is fiction. Anyway, that meant I had to learn about that part of the world. More books and a few trips to the mountains. Now I have a Facebook friend who lives there and has agreed to answer some of my questions.

My plan is for a series of Tiny House Mysteries leading to an online study of tiny houses and the people who live in them.

Since I want to draw the book cover, I need to learn how to draw and how to design book covers. I also want to draw a map of my fictional town.

Finally, I will have to acquire knowledge of indie publishing.

Unfortunately, all these side paths have distracted me from the original goal of writing the book. And I haven’t even mentioned the things I want to learn that don’t have anything to do with the book. You probably won’t be surprised that I’m now reading about how to juggle many projects.

It’s always something.

A Mystery to Me

In Books, Uncategorized on May 5, 2017 at 9:53 am

As a kid, I read all the Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books I could get my hands on and later discovered Agatha Christie. Then I abandoned mysteries. In my twenties, I was all about science fiction, reading Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, and Frank Herbert’s Dune series. A friend told me he thought I’d like Larry McMurtry’s All My Friends are Going to be Strangers. He was right; I read every McMurtry book that came out through the exquisite Lonesome Dove and several beyond that, although there was no matching that one.

Edging toward thirty, I turned to nonfiction, reading all kinds of books about philosophy and writing and finding your calling and nature.

Somehow I found my way to Louis L’Amour. I started with Riders of the Purple Sage (because purple) and then ran his entire collection of westerns. When I read his autobiography The Education of a Wandering Man, I adopted his habit of making a list of every book I read, which I continue to this day.

In the mid 1980s a friend told me about Tony Hillerman. I became a devoted Hillerman fan and through him, a fanatic reader of mysteries. I love finding new mystery writers and tend to read every book they write. Here’s a list of my favorite mystery authors with some commentary.

Tony Hillerman – when he passed away in 2008, I mourned as well the loss of his characters, Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, so I was thrilled to learn that Hillerman’s daughter Anne intended to carry on the series. Her first book, Spider Woman’s Daughter, was terrific, but I was very disappointed in Rock With Wings. I’m cautiously optimistic about the just-released Song of the Lion. I’m #53 on the holds list, so it could be a while. I especially enjoy her emphasis on Chee’s wife, Officer Bernadette Manuelito.

Sue Grafton – I was browsing in the mystery section of Woodbury Library in 1991, before the days when every library (and every other entity in the universe) had a web site, and I found H is for Homicide. After reading that, I started over at A is for Alibi and have read every book since, three times so far. I’m looking forward to Y is for Yesterday coming out in August but also already dreading that Z is only a year or two away. Nobody even begins to fill her shoes.

Margaret Coel—the Wind River series appealed to me because it was set in Wyoming and gave me a chance to learn about the Arapaho living on the reservation there. That Coel lives in Boulder is a plus. I met her at a Colorado Authors League lunch once and turned all fan girl. I was sorry to learn that she is ending the series after Winter’s Child, the latest book.

Here in no particular order are some other mystery series authors whose books I look forward to every year.

Sara Pretsky

Marcia Muller

J A Jance

C J Box

Dana Stabenow

Craig Johnson

Nevada Barr

Julie Smith

Susan Wittig Albert

Lisa Lutz

I’m always on the lookout for new authors if you’d like to make a recommendation.

Another Genesis

In Books, Learning on April 19, 2017 at 12:34 pm


Take a human cell, measured in micrometers. To metrically challenged Americans like me, that’s one millionth of a meter, less than one tenth the width of a human hair. Yet, laid end-to-end, if such a thing were possible, the cells of Henrietta Lacks would circle the globe at least three times.

Henrietta Lacks was a poor African American tobacco farmer who died of cervical cancer in 1951 at age 31. Her cells – taken without her knowledge — did what no previous cells had ever done. They continued to live and reproduce outside her body. Nobody knows why, but they became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, and more. They even went up into space, so scientists could see what would happen to cells in zero gravity.

A book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, came out in 2011. I was slow getting to it, because frankly a book about medical research didn’t really appeal to me. It is about medical research, but it is also about a daughter’s search for a mother she never knew and about the dark history of experimentation on African Americans, the birth of bioethics, and the legal battles over whether we control the stuff we’re made of. A fascinating story.

Now it’s an HBO movie starring the always notable Oprah Winfrey and starting Saturday. You can read about the science in the Smithsonian magazine or listen to a podcast at RadioLab.

It’s a story about the power of microscopic cells but also about the ideas those cells enabled. Here’s the thing about ideas: they’re even smaller than cells, taking up no space at all, and they can conquer the world.

Favorite Fiction Books

In Books, Uncategorized on April 18, 2017 at 10:49 am


In no particular order. There could be dozens more on this list. These are the ones that come to mind and that I return to over and over.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – first read as a high school sophomore. Thank you, Miss Jacobs. Also a great movie, and the audio book read by Sissy Spacek is outstanding.

Milagro Beanfield War by John Nichols – full of subtle humor. Also one of my favorite movies.

Violet Clay by Gail Godwin

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – the six-part BBC series with Colin Firth is the definitive film adaptation.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos

Pocketful of Names by Joe Coomey

Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster

People of the Book by Geraldine BrooksI couldn’t resist a book with this title. Luckily the story lived up to the title.


What’s on your list?

A Work in Progress

In Books, Learning on April 17, 2017 at 6:59 pm

Since you asked, and even if you didn’t, here’s my list of all-time favorite nonfiction books. Subject to change without notice.
Working by Studs Terkel
A Different Woman by Jane Howard
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
A Place of My Own by Michael Pollan
The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
No High Adobe series by Dorothy Pillsbury
Mastery by George Leonard
Home by Witold Rybczynski
Little House on a Small Planet by Shay Salomon
Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

A Fine Mess

In Books, Lent - Season of Change on April 15, 2017 at 4:06 pm

Lent—Season of Change, the Final Day

Sooner or later, if you check books or other materials out of the library, you’ll be faced with fines. Here are a few tips to avoid them.

Keep library books in one place so you don’t lose them and have to pay the replacement fee.

Carry library books in a separate bag, not one that also contains your take-out lunch. I put them in the same bag once and the sauce leaked out of the take-out container all over the book. Oy.

Download Kindle or audio books. They disappear automatically when the check-out period ends.

Use the due date slip as a bookmark or obsessively mark due dates on your calendar. I can’t seem to do this myself, but I hear it works for other people.

Find a library that sends an email reminder about upcoming due dates. Both my libraries do this, but I still found myself accumulating fines.

Bonus – find a library that will automatically renew any books eligible for renewal. Denver Public Library does this and it’s a wonderful service.

Set reminders on your phone or other electronic devices. Enter weekly reminders that will prompt you to return library materials.

If you check out a lot of books (guilty) and can’t seem to check the website for due dates every single day, choose one day a week (e.g. Saturday) and only check out books on that day. You can go to the library for other things, of course, but only check out books on your designated day. Then every Saturday, check the website to see what’s due on that day. I haven’t had to pay a fine since I started doing this.

Join Friends of the Library or volunteer and you may get amnesty on fines. Ask the librarian about any other amnesty programs.

If all else fails, you can probably find an app that will help. I wouldn’t know. I only use my phone for the occasional (and I mean occasional) text or call and to listen to audio books.

You really need to return books when they’re due and pay your fines. It all helps the library.


In Books, creativity, Learning, Lent - Season of Change on April 14, 2017 at 3:43 pm

thinker1Lent—Season of Change, Day 39

Some people just can’t leave well enough alone. They take a perfectly fine book and turn it into something else – a sculpture, a journal, a scrapbook. Part bookbinding, part bibliovandalism, part mixed-media collage, and part scrapbooking, the craft of altered books is becoming increasingly popular,” according to Makezine.

The International Society of Altered Book Artists, defines it as “any book, old or new, that has been recycled by creative means into a work of art. They can be … rebound, painted, cut, burned, folded, added to, collaged in, gold-leafed, rubber stamped, drilled, or otherwise adorned…”

The sculpture pictured, which is in the Arvada Public Library, uses folded and rolled newspapers to create a poor man’s version of The Thinker.

Altered books serve as a metaphor for the transformation of libraries themselves. A library containing only books may exist somewhere, but most modern libraries have grown far beyond a simple repository for books. People who try to defund libraries and insist they are obsolete are clearly people who have never set foot in one. 

A recent report from the Center for an Urban Future highlighted the benefits to immigrants, seniors, individuals searching for work, public school students and aspiring entrepreneurs. Not surprisingly, libraries across the country are experiencing a surge in popularity. Maria Popova, the brilliant and tireless creator of BrainPickings calls libraries “those most democratic cultural temples of wisdom where we come to commune with humanity’s most luminous minds; where the rewards are innumerable and destiny-changing, and the only price of admission is willingness.”

The cofounders of The Library as Incubator project promote using the library as “a sandbox for creativity, a productivity booster for your work, and as source of immense nourishment for the life of the mind.”

Is it any wonder that the theme for National Library Week is “Libraries Transform”?

The Live-in Library

In Auntie Flat, Books, Home, Lent - Season of Change on April 13, 2017 at 12:33 pm

Warren_Branch_LibraryLent—Season of Change, Day 38

I describe my decorating style as “demented cowgirl librarian.” When I moved to my condo, I got rid of the three pairs of red cowgirl boots on the mantel and the three red cowboy hats above the entry and several boxes of books. The books have crept back in with stacks of them threatening to topple over on most horizontal surfaces, and I have several pictures of cowgirls, too. The demented part just indicates that my home is not exactly normal.

It’s my reading, writing and listening studio, a paean to the written word. Still a home library is not the same as a library home.

I have always wanted to live in a library. This is as close as I get. Thirty years ago when searching for a home, a realtor showed me the former library in Elyria. Sold in 1952, the previous owner had gutted it. The small Carnegie library would have been much too large a home for me and also much too expensive to buy and remodel.

The former Henry White Warren Library, located at 3554 High Street, pictured here, opened in 1913 and was Denver’s first branch library. The building was sold by the City and County of Denver and now houses residential lofts, also much too big for me and not on the market anyway.

While a former library may retain some ambiance of a library, what would it be like to live in a working library?

In NYC during much of the 20th century, many public libraries featured caretaker apartments. Ronald Clark grew up in the Washington Heights branch of the NYPL and benefited from having the run of the library after hours. Living in the library gave him a desire for knowledge and led him to became the first person in his family to graduate high school and go on to college.

Maya Angelou spoke at The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture about what libraries mean to her. “Each time I’d go to the library I felt safe. No bad thing can happen to you in the library.” Sounds like home to me.

Man of Steel

In Books, Lent - Season of Change, Uncategorized on April 12, 2017 at 4:37 pm

smileyLent – Season of Change, Day 37

Andrew Carnegie is my kind of Superhero. A Scottish-American born in 1835 in Scotland, he emigrated to the United States in 1848 and led the U.S. steel industry to became one of the richest Americans ever worth $374 billion in today’s equivalent. I couldn’t care less about that.

What I do admire is that he spent the last 30 years of his life giving away 90% of his fortune and suggesting that other rich people to use their wealth for the benefit of society, kind of like the Bill Gates and Warren Buffett of the 1900s. He used much of his money to build 2,509 libraries including some 1,689 were built in the United States, 660 in the United Kingdom and Ireland, 125 in Canada, and others in Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Serbia, Belgium, France, the Caribbean, Mauritius, Malaysia and Fiji.

When the last grant was made in 1919, there were 3,500 libraries in the United States, nearly half of them built with construction grants from Carnegie. As I said, my kind of guy.

Colorado boasts 35 Carnegie public libraries plus one at the University of Denver. Thirty of these buildings are still standing, and 18 still operate as libraries. Denver has nine, five of which are still used as libraries including Smiley where I pick up and return books every Saturday and Woodbury, the branch I frequented for the 33 years I lived in North Denver.

Smiley was built in 1918. It’s a sweet little library in Berkeley Park at 46th and Utica that gives me access to books from libraries all over the country. It’s on the Doors Open Denver event April 29-30 and my friend Bill will be leading tours there on Saturday, April 29. Stop by and say, “Hi.” (Hi, Bill.)