July 13, 2017

A Book Review And More

A Book Review And More
By John R. Greenwood

Since I began this blog I've written several pieces about favorite books and authors and how I've been inspired and energized by them. 

Today I'd like to share a story about a special book and its author. The story encapsulates all the positive connections I've made since I began sharing my work publicly. The book is titled, "Mark On Paper." The author's name is Elana Mark. In Elana's words the book is,"A Memoir in Poems, Prose, Pencil & Painting. In my words the book is a gift. A gift is something given to someone without expectation of anything in return. I had the honor of reading this memoir as a manuscript before it was published in book form. I knew by the first few pages that what I was reading was something precious and real. The author is not a distant figure living in New York City or San Francisco, Chicago, or London. Elana lives in nearby Cambridge, NY and even though we've only met once for a short visit, I feel comfortable and honored calling her a friend. The reason I call this book a gift is because I feel the author shared her story and bared her soul, not for monetary wealth but for another more important reason; she wanted to free herself of, and at the same time embrace her past. She isn't trying to right any wrongs or add glamor to the everyday. I believe she shares her story to solidify her belief that life is full of goodness and that in order to enjoy its full potential you must experience soggy days and shivering nights. She found strength and love in the form of a son with his own individuality. She took the bond they shared and magnified it one-thousand fold into a love of herself and everyone who so much as crossed her path.

How do I know all this from one short impromptu visit? 

A poster Elana had displayed in her home
I know it because goodness and compassion emanate from her like an August sunrise. I witnessed it first hand the day I pulled up in front of her home/gallery/studio. In the fall of 2015 my wife and I had been visiting various artists on the Cambridge Valley Fine Art TourWe got a late start and had to call it a day before getting to Elana's home/gallery. You see, Elana is not only a wonderful author, but she is an extraordinary artist who peaked my interest with her beautiful online paintings of weathered barns and paint peeling farmhouses. There were several I'd seen online that I couldn't wait to see in person. It took until the following summer before I'd be back in the area with enough free time to make a cold call to her back door. I parked on the street and approached the house with some reservation. I was a complete stranger at this point and I didn't want to frighten or intrude on anyone. At first I knocked quietly. I could hear someone inside because the screen door was open. I knocked again. A women suddenly appeared in the kitchen. She said hello and came over to the door. I gave her my name and as simply and as politely as I could I explained why I was standing at her back door. I must have appeared harmless because she welcomed me in without any visible hesitation. I knew at that moment that I'd done the right thing by not driving by the house and waiting for, "another day." Within minutes we were sharing stories, experiences, and mutual acquaintances. Elana gladly gave me a tour of her home and all her paintings. She had them beautifully displayed throughout. Like a basket of fresh puppies; with each wall I found a new favorite I wanted to take home. After we'd shared several minutes of conversation a younger man came down the stairs and stood in the doorway. He gave me a quick once over, and said something about his television. Without skipping a beat Elana introduced her son Jeffery to me. He politely said hello, repeated some directions to his mother and headed back up the stairs. I assessed Jeffery's individuality without the need for explanation. When you read Elana's book, you will understand just how special and dear Jeffery is to his mother and in all honesty, to the world. I will never forget our meeting and I will forever embrace the connection he enjoys with his loving mother.  
After we each shared bits and pieces of our personal and professional backgrounds we agreed that we would try to stay in contact via Facebook and email. I assured Elana that I was interested in buying one of her paintings but I needed to be sure of which one and that I would be in touch. As I prepared to leave, Elana said she had something she wanted to share. She ran upstairs and returned with a manuscript of a book. I had briefly described my blog Raining Iguanas and my love of writing and memoir. She handed her manuscript to me and said, "I'd like you to read this, I'm in the process of getting it published and I thought you might like to read it." I was stunned to think after one short visit someone felt that comfortable with me that they would share something so precious and personal. I could not wait to get home and begin reading it. When I did get home it only took a few pages to know what a true gift that manuscript and that day had become.  

Jump ahead a few months and I see a painting on Elana's Facebook page that I recognize immediately. It was a side view of Bedlam Farm and I knew I had to have it. I made it clear in the FB comments it that I was interested. A few days later we struck a deal. I know you won't believe me but it's true, I've been so busy that I have yet to pick up my treasure. In fact  Elana's book came out, I had it delivered and read, and I have still not made the 45 minute trip to get my painting. I think subconsciously I've been stalling to prolong the enjoyment of another visit. 

That was the, "and more" part of the story. 

Now my review of Elana'a memoir. 

If you enjoy memoir, artistry, poetry, prose, inspirational and emotional writing from deep within a kind hearted soul, you will savor this personal collection of tears, laughter, and goodness. Elana's story leaves nothing behind. She puts everything on the table in front of you allowing you think about how you might handle the same peaks and valleys. It has visual pieces of the authors dreams and nightmares intertwined within it. Using her own drawings throughout the book added depth and texture to her words. For me it was like adding flowers to the dining room table. The meal simply tasted better with them there. Her personality and compassion are vivid and energetic. She is the type of person you want rooting for you and your cause. Her honesty and clarity about her son Jeffery were inspirational and admirable. My belief is that Elana's view of the world parallel the feelings she has for her son. We all have a glitch, and that's what makes this planet such an interesting place. It's up to all of us to nourish each other's differences, not to try to mold them into something common and predictable. Reading "Mark On Paper," you will see that the author sorted that out at a very early age. Elana appears to have made optimism and acceptance her mantra. I don't think you could read her book and derive anything but. 

I wish everyone would read this book. The world might improve its attitude toward each other by a few percentage points. I didn't share any particulars of the book because I think they are best experienced for the first time by the reader but there is one small vignette that envelopes the tone of Elana's book. It's about Jeffery and it makes me smile just thinking about it. 

Here is an excerpt from the book:

Training Wheels
It's Saturday. I am putting the training wheels on Jeffery's new bike. He has just realized what I am doing. He does not want the training wheels. "Big bike!," he says. He isn't happy at all about those little wheels. He tries to take them away. Finally I give up. I put the wheels in the back of the car. His dad puts the bikes on the bike rack and we drive to the local school parking lot. I figure that when he finds out how hard it is to balance, he will let us put the wheels on the bike.

We arrive at the parking lot and take Jeffery's bike off the rack. While we are taking our bikes off the rack, Jeffery jumps on his bike and takes off full speed across the parking lot. I can't believe it! Some things are so difficult for Jeffery to learn. I wasn't expecting this! I sit right down on the ground and cry. Seeing me, Jeffery pedals back as fast as he can. His dad has to grab the bike. Jeffery doesn't yet know how to stop! He jumps off and runs to me.

Then he puts his arms around me and says,"Don't cry, Mommy. You can learn how, too."  

This book is real. The emotion in it is real. The people in it are real. I find myself looking at others differently after reading Elana's story. I see more when I look at strangers. I listen closer too. Everyone carries baggage whether they're leaving for Europe or going to the market. It's important for us as humans to take the time to understand how fragile our existence is and to be more accepting of the stranger in line in front of us. We are all out there searching for the same things in life. Mostly we want to be loved and appreciated by someone. To get there you must share of yourself. 

This book does that.

Like I said at the beginning, it's a gift...

This sign on the mantel of Elana's fireplace says it best.
Thank you for reminding us! 


  1. What a beautiful way to start this day. I am uplifted by your experience, John, having made such a special connection with Elana Mark. Aren't you glad you followed that little nudging voice that brought you to her back door? I have just ordered a copy on Amazon and look forward to savoring her stories and wisdom. Thank you!!

  2. I too ordered Elana's book based on your story of meeting her and your review of her memoir. It arrived the other day and I just finished reading it. I loved it. So many emotions
    as I went from entry to entry, story to story. I loved everything about it. Her illustrations,
    poems, quotes...one I love especially is near the end and speaks to being grateful for
    what we still have even if we feel not totally whole, for whatever reason. "You are still there. Nothing that you have lost is as important as what you still have. Please don't waste your days. Play with me. Laugh with me. Be my friend." So brilliant. Thanks for highlighting
    this wonderful artist and writer. Indeed a gift. THANK YOU!

    1. I can't wait to share this with Elana. She will be grateful beyond words for your comments.

  3. I'm in! I haven't visited for a while and it's late... but I will be back tomorrow to back track and read up on your blog. And I'm definitely getting this book!