Old Fashioned Girls Book Club!

I very much enjoy reading the Old Fashioned Girls blog — it’s a great mix of bookishness, a view into their travels, yummy things to eat, stylishness, and other delights to come! When they announced their new book club, I jumped right on it. I always am intrigued by the books they mention on their blog, and knew I’d enjoy their taste in club selections.

September’s selection is My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier. We convene mid month to discuss to the half way mark, and then discuss the whole book at the end of the month. It’s not too late to join if you’re interested — the club officially opened yesterday. If you’d like to see the future selections, they’re listed through November.

Joining a book club at the start of September seems a joyfully appropriate nudge into fall, my favorite season. Happy reading!

A Musing: At Large and At Small

Anne Fadiman, where have you been all my life?

I picked up At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays at the library, after reading a blog post by Thinking in Fragments about blogging and the familiar essay. I am so, so glad I did — I feel like I found not only my new favorite nonfiction writer but a new-to-me genre that I’m eager to read in and perhaps even try my hand at.

The essays range on such diverse subjects as Coffee, Charles Lamb, Mail, Ice Cream, and the Culture Wars, amongst others. They are compelling, exquisitely written, funny, perceptive . . . but the first essay in the collection, Collecting Nature, made my hair stand on end and gave me goosebumps as I read each of the 22 pages. Thank god it wasn’t any longer or I might have expired from overstimulation! Every word is perfectly chosen, every sentence masterfully crafted, each paragraph brutally, beautifully honest, and the whole shimmers. The essay magnifies so much of life, the world, the funny things people are and have always been, do and have always done that I’m left dazzled and blinking. It is, as the preface states regarding familiar essays — a balance of heart and brain, about the author and about the world. I would add that the ones that get you are ultimately about yourself, too. Collecting Nature? Guilty as charged.

I adore the bookishness of the essays — references to other books abound — literature, science, biography — Fadiman reads both widely and deeply. Thankfully, she has given us the gift of a Sources section — her favorite books about the subjects she writes on, and on the familiar essay. So much good stuff here — and so inspiring. The moment I finished the book I picked up Our Mutual Friend by Dickens (yay — she’s a Dickens fanatic too!) — I hadn’t yet read it and I need to know about Mr. Wegg and his Leg, which he goes to collect from Mr. Venus, “Preserver of Animals and Birds, Articulator of human bones.” !!!!

Of course this little collector couldn’t let the library copy out of her sight before she procured her own copy of this book and Fadiman’s other book of essays, Ex Libris. A book of essays on the love of books and words? I repeat, Anne Fadiman, where have you been all my life!

A Musing: All Souls Trilogy

Yes reader, I read them all. Again.

After finishing The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness, I wanted to stay in the world she created a little longer. I decided to re-read the trilogy: A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life. It was a grand summer vacation in a place very much worth visiting.

What do I love about these books? They are full of little details. I loved knowing what wines the characters are drinking, what each creature smells like (I was so intrigued by Matthew smelling like clove pinks I started growing them in my garden), every particular about their homes and clothing, what they’re reading, what art they are surrounded with, what they like to eat (Diana is a toast  AND tea fanatic like I am!),  what they listen to. Harkness is a trained historian, and I enjoyed both the sense of history and the playfulness with history she weaves into the books — I totally loved how she portrayed the toothachey, cranky Elizabeth I, for example! I loved her respectful and powerful portrayal of magic and the supernatural. I loved how bookish the books are — palimpsests, traveling all over the world and back in time to look for a book, libraries, universities — ah!

The thing that I loved most, though, is the message of the trilogy: your family are not necessarily related to you, and they are the most important thing in the world.  Loyalty, bravery, intelligence, and strength are to be cultivated. It’s not only ok to be different, but often your difference is your finest quality – never hide it.

And love. Don’t forget to love, no matter how heartbreaking it can be.

Thank you, Deborah Harkness, for a wonderful summer vacation.

Local Library Love

 

I have been so busy taking out books from academic libraries that I hadn’t visited my local library in (I am so embarrased to say) two years! I started visiting again this summer, and boy have things changed in two years!

The most wonderfully surprising thing was that you can now check out museum passes! Isn’t that neat? Visions of visiting the Morris Arboretum and Grounds for Sculpture as soon as the weather gets a little more bearable are dancing in my head! The other cool thing is that they have an independent film streaming service called IndieFlix. Not only can you watch all kinds of off the beaten path films, but if you’re a filmmaker, you can even submit your own films for others to view. They have also expanded their eBooks and have two services to choose from.

The schedule for happenings is jam packed: I can hang out and paint in an adult art class on Sundays, go to the local Shakespeare meeting once a month, organize against genetically modified food, join a creative writing or poetry writing group, or even a film screening and discussion! The stuff they have for teens and kids is incredible — everything from zombie apocalypse groups to wee story time. They are even having a dance to raise extra funds in November. I may never attend any of these events as a hermit introvert ;) but I’m so glad to know that they are offered.

Of course, all of the everyday magic that has always existed at the library is still there — I struggle home every time I visit with an armful of books. My latest trip has me learning about the familiar essay, reading what Harold Bloom thinks are the best poems ever written, baking whole grain bread, and getting to know Emily Dickinson better.  I never leave the Friends of the Library sale table without getting some book I’ve been wanting for fifty cents. The staff always have a smile, offers of help, and a bit of bookish chit-chat for me.

I can’t help but clutch my heart, get a little misty, and marvel about how democratic and uplifting this all is. Freedom, knowledge, world-opening, and doing it yourself goodness — all of the things I hold most dear — are happening every hour of every day  through my local library. What a great example of a vital community resource done right. My tiny white plastic card that doesn’t involve money is the most valuable thing in my wallet.

To Be of Use

Marge Piercy

As I sat knitting hand towels to be used next to my sinks for drying dishes and hands and countertops, I thought of this poem I love very much by Marge Piercy. I encountered it for the first time over 20 years ago. The words resonate more and more as the years go on and I collect experiences, interact with others, and do my own work in the world.

I want to share it with you.

To be of use
by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

“To be of use” by Marge Piercy © 1973, 1982.
From CIRCLES ON THE WATER © 1982 by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. and Middlemarsh, Inc.

The Book of Life, and Then Some

I am on my summer vacation, in France, England, and upstate New York amongst other places. No, I haven’t left my house! I am immersed in Deborah Harkness World.

Her latest, The Book of Life, was released on July 15th (my birthday! Thanks!! This used to happen with the Harry Potter books and films too. Magical!). I grabbed it and started reading it immediately, eating, breathing, sleeping Diana, Matthew, and the rest of the witches, vampires, and daemons I have come to know and love (or hate!) in this series. I loved the book. It was wonderful, heartrending, enriching, funny — I didn’t want it to end. Luckily, there was a way to make it not end: I could read the entire, glorious, each book almost 600 pages trilogy again, one after the other.

I’m almost done  my re-reading of the first book, A Discovery of Witches, and all I will say is Best. Vacation. Ever. It feels like such an indulgence to do this (especially when my partner in reading is a glass of wine!), but I am enjoying every minute of it.

I’ll write more about these books after I’m back from vacation ;)

The Earth Laughs in Flowers

Emerson

I was perusing Pinterest and came across this cross stitch design. It’s awfully pretty. The design makes you think the Earth is putting out flowers in joy, metaphorically, like humans laugh. But I can’t help but think that the designer didn’t read the Emerson poem that contains these words because the meaning of the poem is anything but. I’ll share the poem it its entirety below, but here is part of the poem that contains the quote:

Where are these men? Asleep beneath their grounds:
And strangers, fond as they, their furrows plough.
Earth laughs in flowers, to see her boastful boys
Earth-proud, proud of the earth which is not theirs;
Who steer the plough, but cannot steer their feet
Clear of the grave.

Perhaps if the design also included some memento mori-esque skulls, a burning candle, and/or an hour glass along with the flowers, it would evoke the poem’s message. It’s about how humans think we own the earth, but we don’t — we die. As the Earth song sings — How am I theirs/If they cannot hold me/But I hold them?

I do not want to single out this maker – do a google images search on this quote and your head will spin when you see field of happy flowers after field of happy flowers illustrating this quote.

As I implored with my Hamlet, To Thine Own Self Be True post, read. Please read. If you see a quote that interests you, look it up. Read the poem, play, essay, speech, or other source it comes from. Then, and only then decide if you want to paint it on your wall, embroider it on a sampler, or, dear me, tattoo it on your body. Honor its meaning, and not what you might think the five word excerpt means out of context.

Speaking of context, here is Emerson’s Hamatreya. It’s amazing and moving and so, so much more than a photograph of a field of flowers with a tired script font overlay.

Hamatreya

BY RALPH WALDO EMERSON

Bulkeley, Hunt, Willard, Hosmer, Meriam, Flint,
Possessed the land which rendered to their toil
Hay, corn, roots, hemp, flax, apples, wool, and wood.
Each of these landlords walked amidst his farm,
Saying, “’Tis mine, my children’s and my name’s.
How sweet the west wind sounds in my own trees!
How graceful climb those shadows on my hill!
I fancy these pure waters and the flags
Know me, as does my dog: we sympathize;
And, I affirm, my actions smack of the soil.”

Where are these men? Asleep beneath their grounds:
And strangers, fond as they, their furrows plough.
Earth laughs in flowers, to see her boastful boys
Earth-proud, proud of the earth which is not theirs;
Who steer the plough, but cannot steer their feet
Clear of the grave.
They added ridge to valley, brook to pond,
And sighed for all that bounded their domain;
“This suits me for a pasture; that’s my park;
We must have clay, lime, gravel, granite-ledge,
And misty lowland, where to go for peat.
The land is well,—lies fairly to the south.
’Tis good, when you have crossed the sea and back,
To find the sitfast acres where you left them.”

Ah! the hot owner sees not Death, who adds
Him to his land, a lump of mould the more.
Hear what the Earth say:—

EARTH-SONG

“Mine and yours;
Mine, not yours.
Earth endures;
Stars abide—
Shine down in the old sea;
Old are the shores;
But where are old men?
I who have seen much,
Such have I never seen.

“The lawyer’s deed
Ran sure,
In tail,
To them and to their heirs
Who shall succeed,
Without fail,
Forevermore.

“Here is the land,
Shaggy with wood,
With its old valley,
Mound and flood.
But the heritors?—
Fled like the flood’s foam.
The lawyer and the laws,
And the kingdom,
Clean swept herefrom.

“They called me theirs,
Who so controlled me;
Yet every one
Wished to stay, and is gone,
How am I theirs,
If they cannot hold me,
But I hold them?”

When I heard the Earth-song
I was no longer brave;
My avarice cooled
Like lust in the chill of the grave.