Tuesday, December 18, 2018
time is a bandit
On our travels out and about the other day we noticed a book sale sign at a local library of note. They don't usually have their sale room open right now so we stopped in for a look-see. I received a heads-up from a dealer-friend that I missed a great sale there a few weeks ago - someone donated a lot of art books and people were stacking them up like pancakes, to buy buy buy. I thought at the time, Oh well, probably for the best, enough books in the sea, and moved on. But there we were, going by on Saturday afternoon, so we stopped in, and except for one other couple, we were the only people at the sale at that time of day. I didn't expect to find much but quickly released those lackluster expectations when I started to look at the books themselves. On the shelves in the sale room: wonderful poetry books, literature, art, essays, biographies, and more. We bought a carton and two bags full of books for $85, more than usual because one book was $20, but it was a good one! Most everything else was just a dollar a book. Many of these books were from the collection of this person who donated her books en masse to the friends of the library. Oh the books. They are wonderful. I am selling some, and will keep many. Here are a few of each:
Montaigne! Baudelaire! Elizabeth Bishop! Adrienne Rich! Alan Bennett! Lovely fat hardcovers in decent condition! Many first editions! I could buy books like this all day long. Except for the Rose Macaulay book I think all of these belonged to that same owner. She wrote her name, the date, and her town or city of residence inside the front covers of some of these and many others. I saw books with her name from seven decades, and from at least five of the places she lived, the last two of which were here in Maine. It looks like, throughout her life, she bought wonderful books when they were first published, and kept them well. I hope she lived a long and happy life. I know she lived a rich and interesting one, with these books for company. And now, here are the books again, released back into the wild as it were. I will add my bookplates to a few and attempt to sell the rest to new owners, to help keep the book world slowly turning.
Looking at everything, I found myself cogitating over the passage of time and the knowledge that everything in its turn will eventually be dispersed. Our very own books. (Our very own selves!) Sigh. What to do about that, I do not know. Time is a bandit, we've been saying around here a lot lately. Everything seems to give me pause while simultaneously sending me to work, hard, to make life matter. Weeks and years tick by too quickly. Another birthday, another new year. I remember the turning of the millenium so clearly, and just like that, nearly two decades have come and gone. And a book I just read brought my even earlier years into clear focus this week so I am feeling more melancholy than usual. Apologies! Let's be of good cheer. How about I speak of that book another time, and simply say the following, for now. Thank you to the giver of these books. Thank you for your long life in books. May we all be so fortunate. I will continue to count my blessings like books on the shelf, one after the next, each so full of life and so real, now and always.
Thursday, December 06, 2018
Taking stock, today. Winter is here. The woodstove is humming - it's toasty inside and well below freezing outside. And as the song says, it's beginning to look at lot like Christmas. We have our advent calendars out, but no tree or wreaths yet, probably this weekend we'll get to it. So that is on approach. Also, my fiftieth year on the planet is drawing to a close. Just a short time until that day, and then the solstice comes right afterwards, and we will begin turning toward the light once again. How I love this time of year. Despite many outward worries, anxieties, and fears, I still feel a distinct measure of inward peace. With the leaves gone from the trees I can see to the far horizon, and I love what I see. Literally and metaphorically. A few new projects are in the works for January and beyond. Book-making among them. I'm working on a new little illustrated book - a tiny manifesto about nature and wildness - and am also returning to two other manuscripts to attempt to breathe some life into them. That plus framing my upcoming painting show will keep me steadily working while snow flies.
Of course I'll be reading, too, as ever. Can't work all the time. Some of my books-of-the-moment:
I just read three of these, I'm in the middle of reading four more (see the bookmarks?), and this one I've only yet glanced through:
It's a beautiful children's book, Silent Night: The Story of a Song by Hertha Pauli, illustrated by Fritz Kredel, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1943 in their series Borzoi Books for Younger Readers. This copy is a first edition in very good condition, in a good dust jacket with some chipping and a few small closed tears. A lovely gift inscription inside the front cover is dated December 25, 1943. The back flap of the dust jacket reads:
Awakens the patriot in me, reading that (she is never far from the surface these days, to be honest). The story begins with this perfect sentence (p.6):
"Far beyond the ocean, in a valley in the Austrian Alps, there is an age-old village."
I'll have to read the rest later - suffice it to say that the tale continues from there, relating the friendship between Father Mohr, the priest, and Franz Gruber, the schoolteacher, their creation of a song during the winter of 1818, and what happened to that song over the years. This is a happy addition to my small collection of Christmas books - it was for sale in a local antiques shop for a few dollars and now it's home.
Another wintery book I recently bought - A.Y. Jackson's autobiography A Painter's Country (Clark, Irwin, reprinted in 1967 with an additional chapter):
One of the famous Group of Seven painters in Canada, Jackson became a master at painting snow-covered landscapes and frozen lakes and seas. After studying art in Paris, fighting in World War I, and working as a war artist for several years, he returned to Canada, and traveled to the Arctic and Northwest Territories on painting trips throughout the rest of his long life. His autobiography is pragmatic and plain, a real pleasure to read, and takes into account the problems artists faced in a country which had not yet come to appreciate or support art and artists in particularly tangible ways:
"Painting in Canada has always been a precarious way of making a living." (p.148)
"It is remarkable that with such little encouragement Canadian artists have accomplished so much." (p.168)
He is full of fascinating details about his painter-friends and what they endured. Of course now the Group of Seven is revered and rightly so. Add me to the long list of landscape painters who thinks they are among the very best. On my short list of dream vacations is this: to travel slowly across Canada visiting museums and art collections along the way, to see their work in person. Something for the list of someday.
The other books I've shown above will have to wait for now, dusk is fast approaching and I've got chores to do. But I'll write again before the end of the month - not least because I'm looking forward to rediscovering the rest of my December books, soon. I will take them down off the high shelf they live on during the rest of the year. The Oxford Book of Carols will return to the piano, and our tiny, shabby old copy of Robert P. Tristram Coffin's Christmas in Maine will sit once again under the tree. Until next time. All is calm, all is bright.
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Life. It keeps right on happening. And somewhere along the way I lost the habit of writing here regularly. In my actual handwritten diary that is not the case, thank goodness. I continue to write, mostly about painting and reading. Books, what would we do without them! In this week of thankfulness I will say once more, thank god for books. And for the authors, editors, publishers, booksellers, and buyers, who keep the literary world turning. After putting bookplates into many of my books over the past six months, I realize yet again what an odd mishmash of them I have accumulated. Or not. Or both - like this one. For several years I owned a copy of Roger Deakin's book Wildwood (Free Press 2010), and there it sat on the shelf, unread. In one of my big sorts I decided I wasn't ever going to read it, so I priced it and put it out for sale. Then this summer I decided I did want to read it after all, and I combed my booth looking for it. It has a very distinctive cover, I know just what it looks like and even feels like in the hand. I couldn't find it, and thought I must have sold it. Then, last week when I was tending my book booth and picking up my check and list of sold books from last month, there it was, printed right at the top of the list! Arg! Sold, but where was it? I know my stock through and through. I mean, most of it I've been examining, handling, and moving from place to place for over two decades now. Wildwood, where were you? Now I have to buy another copy. If that is the least of my worries I am in good shape.
Book sales are steady, by the way. I am almost always pleasantly surprised by what sells - new books and the classics, both. Any time someone says to me that people don't buy real books anymore I want to brandish my sales lists in their faces. (Gently.)
I myself am certainly still buying books. I can't stay out of bookshops, new and secondhand. Online, too, though as usual that's nowhere near as much fun as the real thing. Some recent acquisitions:
Just finished the exemplary Ninth Street Women (Little, Brown 2018). A bit from painter Grace Hartigan, to help us carry on (p. 284):
"'In a painting, I try to make some logic out of the world that has been given to me in chaos.... The fact that I know I am doomed to failure - that doesn't deter me in the least.'"
I've been reading mostly art books lately, as the stack shows. Ninth Street Women is about five of the women of the abstract expressionist movement in New York during the 1940s and 50s - Hartigan, Mitchell, Krasner, Frankenthaler, and de Kooning. It ties together so many strands for me, about these women and their friends, lovers, and husbands, art-making during the war, and the artists and poets of the New York school, glimpsed here from a new direction. 900+ pages of social history and biography - does that sound dull? It isn't. It's a wild soap opera - the dramatic and often violent lives these artists led had me feeling especially thankful for my own quiet existence here in the country.
Speaking of the country. Snow is falling steadily here as we speak. And I'm looking at it in a new way, after reading the Andy Goldsworthy book about snow last night - Midsummer Snowballs (Abrams 2001). He constructs giant snowballs in winter in the mountains of Scotland - each weighing close to a ton - full of natural materials hidden in the snow, stores the snowballs in a deep-freeze, and sets them up as public sculpture in London, during the night of June 21, 2000. The snowballs proceed to melt and reveal their contents over several days. The public reacts in all kinds of ways. Goldsworthy describes the construction, placement, melting, and reactions in his diary entries, which illustrate the intensity of the artist's preoccupations as much as his sculpture does. A few examples:
"Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood. A snowball is simple, direct and familiar to most of us. I use this simplicity as a container for feelings and ideas that function on many levels." (p.31)
"My art is an attempt to reach beyond surface appearances. Nature does not stop or start at the boundary of a city. I want to see growth in wood, time in stone, nature in a city. I don't mean a city's parks, but the earth upon which it is built, the stone with which it is made, the rain that falls on both field and pavement, the people moving around its streets. I dislike the way that nature is perceived by some as peripheral to and separate from the city. I resent the way in which the countryside has been marginalised, considered as a pleasant and recreational backdrop to relaxing at the weekend or on holiday, while life in the city is somehow thought to be more real. In fact, life in the countryside is at times harsh, aggressive, powerful and destructive, as well as beautiful. Working there can be hard work, stressful and traumatic as well as deeply satisfying." (p.33)
Agreed. Nature is IT, not a side interest, or something to be paved over for good. Living and working out in it as I do, often outside for entire days of painting, not to mention growing up on a small farm in a very rural area of this very rural state, when my father and other relatives lived in New York City, well, all that was an education and continues to be. Another item for my gratitude list this Thanksgiving week.
And one more (too many to name here, am extremely grateful lately, so am limiting it to three today). The book room here at home is looking particularly good right now. Our primary repository for our books, it has become a place of great solace, what I'd always hoped for. Old friends are everywhere I look. I've cleaned up as I bookplated my way along each shelf and am feeling so happy about the state of my books. I walk into the room and feel welcome. Nothing admonishes me (well, okay, perhaps that set of Proust, but hey, I still have it on hand, just in case, so there's that). One end of the room is quite tidy, it pleases me to no end - some literature (fiction, belles lettres, diaries, letters), yes a mishmash as I said - all kinds of authors sitting there together, companionably and alphabetically:
There is even a bit of room on the shelves for new books. In the Cs and Ds. Which is good, since I'm thinking right now of books I don't have yet but want to read. Like this one - writer Tom Cox has a new book out of ghost stories set in the British countryside. His first book of fiction: Help the Witch (Unbound 2018). I haven't gotten a copy yet, but I am going to, soon, one way or another. Meanwhile I check in on his his twitter feed (it's so worth reading...) for gems like this:
"I know I buy far too many books but I like to think that lining my house with them wards off evil in some deeply important way."
He quotes other people once in a while, too:
"'People argue books are merely objects that take up space. This is true, but so are Prague & your kids & the Sistine Chapel.' - Joe Queenan."
So, with much to look forward to, and much gratitude, we head into the quiet season here. Winter: the snow, the reading, the painting, the diary writing. Life flows on. Thanks be.
Tuesday, September 25, 2018
long walks and those who love them
Summer blew through so quickly, it seems. I feel keyed up and have subsequently been trying to make the most of everything, during this intense time. It helps counterbalance my anxiety about... (fill in the blank). I took three island painting trips in three months, and also participated in a painting workshop far inland, to be with some un-island nature for a change. My studio is full of new paintings, destined for the future exhibits which I will be piecing together over the winter. Fall activities are in full swing, now. The chimney sweep is on approach. New caps for the chimneys, check. Furnace cleaning, check. Firewood delivery on its way for next year, check (this year's is already stacked and dry and ready to burn). Cat beds for Hodge are deployed strategically throughout the house, in sunny windows and near the woodstove, for maximum kitty comfort as the cold encroaches. I just put a layer of peat moss in the compost pile, to work its magic over the winter and spring. Will add a thick layer of dried leaves whenever they finish falling off the maples in the front yard, next month. I repotted the house plants and brought them indoors for the winter. The garden was a bust this year - we only had some flowers and herbs and lots of weeds, since I decided to let things go for a season. I'll clean everything up once the first hard frost does most of the work for me.
Indoors, I'm still putting bookplates into my books. And I haven't been reading much but what I have been reading has been splendid. Back in May I bought a copy of The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane (Viking 2012). I read it quickly, in thrall to the care he takes with his writing, and equally in thrall to the ideas he espouses, namely those relating to walking and pathways of all kinds. My intrepid stepfather walked 1200 miles on the Appalachian Trail this season (between April and August), and so around here we have been fairly obsessed with all things long-walk. I used to have a collection of books about very long walks and while some of that collection is no longer with me, I seem to have recently attracted more reading on the subject than I ever had in the first place. And Macfarlane's book is such a gem. Not least because he mentions many other authors and books I have loved for so long, and he then proceeds to take his place among them. A wonderful, rich, and wordy meander on tracks, paths, and traversable landscapes around Great Britain and elsewhere. This book is worthwhile for all that, and then too for its bibliography, which he begins by saying (p.395):
"Walking is among our most ancient of practices, and it has been undertaken for an irreducibly complex variety of causes and desires. The literature of walking and paths is extensive and wayward; this bibliography includes a selection of the books, essays and articles that I have read about these subjects, as well as those concerning the book's other broad preoccupations: archaeology, cartography, grief, joy, landscape, metaphor, navigation, orientation, pilgrimage, touch, tracking and toponymy, among others."
Thirteen pages of reading suggestions follow. He asterisks those he finds particularly interesting. I could read from this list for months. On it I find old friends and intriguing newcomers, both. One of the latter, well, I couldn't help but notice her, since throughout The Old Ways Macfarlane mentions her many times, in glowing terms. He even begins the book with an epigraph from one of her books. She is Nan Shepherd, and the book he goes on and on about is her quiet masterpiece The Living Mountain.
I can say masterpiece since I have now read it too. But I needed prompting to do so. And the universe obliged, as it often does. Here's what happened. I read Macfarlane's book, and paid attention, and took notes, as I always do when I read. I wrote down several of the instances when he gave Nan Shepherd's writing high praise. When he speaks of her, he places her in his paragraphs beside Gilbert White, and Lawrence Durrell, and Goethe. By the third or fourth time he mentions her, and quotes at length from her book, I am thinking, Okay, okay, OKAY. Get this book I have never heard of until now. I wrote the title down, to find a copy sometime soon. It's about her long walks in the Cairngorms in Scotland. Must find a copy. Then a month went by. And part of another. As they do. And I got busy, and I ignored my own note to self.
Now we come to the good part of this story. Remember I mentioned that this summer I took a painting workshop, inland? I didn't know the workshop teacher but he has a great reputation and I have loved his paintings for years, and I wanted to paint in the area where the workshop was being offered, so I signed up for his class. (Not having taken a class in 16? years or so, maybe more, eeek, nervous.) The class was the better part of five days. Early on the teacher and I were talking and I asked him what he was working on. He said that he'd been struggling with his painting over the previous winter but had made some small paintings based on a book he'd read. A book he'd in fact read five times in succession, it had made such an impression on him. Just a little thing, he said - pinching his fingers together - short, but so good. His wife would say to him, "Are you reading that book again...?" Yes, he was. Being a book person (he didn't know that about me, we'd never met), of course I asked him the big question. "What is that book?" And he said, "The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd." While looking at me, perhaps not expecting me to know or care about his answer. I looked at him. My mind became quite busy. I said, "...that book about the Cairngorms?" He looked at me. Perhaps suprised at what I had said. And said, "YES." I said, "I just read The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane, and he goes on and on about Nan Shepherd." He told me he's read everything Robert Macfarlane has published. I suggested also reading Macfarlane's exemplary twitter feed, and resolved to get my hands on a copy of The Living Mountain as soon as I possibly could.
And I did. Right after the workshop I ordered a copy, read it, read it again, and I'm still thinking about it, nearly two months later. I wanted to write about it here, long before now, but today is finally the day. Robert Macfarlane wrote a 30+ page introduction to the reprint (Canongate 2011; the book was originally published by Aberdeen University Press in 1977, after sitting unpublished, in manuscript form, for decades). I suggest skipping the introduction, as good as it is, and going straight into the book itself. Then go back and read the introduction for Macfarlane's care-full parsing of her prose. He has read the book a dozen times, and places it on equal footing with other great books published in the 1970s, namely Patrick Leigh Fermor's A Time of Gifts, Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia, John McPhee's Coming into the Country, and The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. The difference being of course that their books were written, published, and lauded, and her manuscript sat in a drawer, after one rejection from one publisher, for about thirty years, before she tried once more to get it into print. Macfarlane read it when a friend recommended it as "a lost classic" of nature writing. He says alongside J.A. Baker's The Peregrine, "... it is one of the two most remarkable twentieth-century British studies of a landscape that I know." (p.xiii) But here I am not taking my own advice, and reading from the introduction, not the text itself! And all this makes the book sound like some kind of best-thing-ever-written, when it is just over 100 pages, and isn't really even about anything, other than coming to know a place. There is no story - just description, and experience, and that slow knowing. About the whole place - the elements, plants, rocks, animals, birds, other people in the landscape. Weather, light. Colors. Water. The senses. The book does remind me of a series of paintings, made over a lifetime, about a place so beloved that descriptions of it never come close. The opening sentences give us a perfect taste of the whole (p.1):
"Summer on the high plateau can be delectable as honey; it can also be a roaring scourge. To those who love the place, both are good, since both are part of its essential nature. And it is to know its essential nature that I am seeking here. To know, that is, with the knowledge that is a process of living. This is not done easily nor in an hour. It is a tale too slow for the impatience of our age, not of immediate enough import for its desperate problems. Yet it has its own rare value. It is, for one thing, a corrective of glib assessment: one never quite knows the mountain, nor oneself in relation to it. However often I walk on them, these hills hold astonishment for me. There is no getting accustomed to them."
"The Cairngorm Mountains are a mass of granite thrust up through the schists and gneiss that form the lower surrounding hills, planed down by the ice cap, and split, shattered and scooped out by frost, glaciers and the strength of running water. Their physiognomy is in the geography books - so many square miles of area, so many lochs, so many summits of over 4000 feet - but this is a pallid simulacrum of their reality, which, like every reality that matters ultimately to human beings, is a reality of the mind."
OH, so good. And these are just the first two paragraphs! They make me want to write. And walk. Which I have been doing a lot of, this summer. For one of the things that has kept me away from writing here has been walking, not just reading about walking. Ryan and I have walked many short sections of the Appalachian Trail here in Maine over the last five months, in solidarity with my stepfather, and the trail has taken me places and shown me things I would never have experienced otherwise. Sometimes I bring my paints along, sometimes not. Sometimes I just look and that is more than enough for that day. I'll read more about it (and paint about it, and maybe write about it too) when winter truly comes and I'm indoors for the coldest days. In fact, I think reading books about long walks might be a good winter reading project this year. I've already got some of the books listed in Macfarlane's bibliography, and I see many others I'd like to track down. More on all that soon, after the fall chores are finished and I'm in for the duration. Until then, the leaves have barely started turning here and the outdoors is still calling. October, here it comes! Maine's finest season? (Well, I love all the others too.)
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
a cold day in july
Hey, friends. Long time no post. It's high summer around here and life has been overly full of wonderfulness. That is, whenever I am able to calm the nearly constant low-level (or high-level...) nausea induced by the news. Which news? All of the news. Pick a topic. Utterly revolting. As usual I feel like a dormouse, a tiny anonymous creature unwillingly caught up in some huge dire storm, and all I want to do is sleep and sleep until better days return. Unpossible, however. There is always good work to be done, so I do some of that whenever I can. Like write to our (Republican) senator again, urging her to do whatever she can to withstand and overturn All Things Tr*mp. (Can't bear to write his name, frankly.) It's hard not to feel insignificant, in the face of world events. Byron's famous words come to mind, as they often do this time of year:
"When one subtracts from life infancy (which is vegetation), sleep, eating and swilling, buttoning and unbuttoning - how much remains of downright existence? The summer of a dormouse."
Why do people in power not see this and act accordingly, I wonder. The only possible answers feel so tawdry and small - money, power, and the perceived importance thereof. Sigh. Yes, as I said, life is full of wonderful things and I do my best to live in that place, but it's chilly and foggy here on the coast of Maine this morning and I have been watching the news and I am not in the best mood. Maybe I shouldn't be writing. But when the sun returns I'll be back outside, far away from my computer, so here we are, right now. Let's make the best of it.
Shall we speak of books, while the Titanic steams cheerfully toward the iceberg? I read a novel recently, a huge contemporary novel by an award-winning author of many such. It looked promising. As its hundreds of pages turned slowly over I found myself caring about some of the characters, who were lovingly described by the writer throughout decades of their lives. There was so much good in this book. First and foremost a real sense of place and time. There was also so much I was not willing to suspend my disbelief for. I kept thinking, He would never say that, and She would never do that. Then, the ending of the novel contained a veritable cascade of deaths, of most of the problematic characters. Also not believable, and it felt like an easy short cut on the author's part, to finish a major literary work in that way. I don't know, though, who am I to say. Since I can't fathom what it would take to create an entire fictional world in such great detail, and people it, and see it through to some kind of denouement. Out of respect for the writer and some dormousy single-mindedness of my own I stuck it out to the end, reading it all, instead of setting the book aside. I also wanted to find out what happened to the one character I cared most about (she didn't die, but things she did still felt inexplicable to me - most unsatisfying).
I turned to nonfiction soon after that, with a distinct feeling of relief. I had to clear off the bedside table recently since the books there were merely languishing and had been for weeks and weeks. I tried Longfellow's diaries, from the Barbara Falk set. I tried a few other items of note but nothing was really clicking. I tore through Bill Browder's harrowing memoir Red Notice (Simon & Schuster 2015); gripping, but over too quickly and still very much an ongoing tale. Then during my quest to bookplate much of the contents of the book room I came across Alec Guinness's diaries again, and couldn't remember if I'd read the first one, last year after reading all that John le Carré (editorial comment: Spies, Russia, omg, it all happens irl not only in books...). Anyway, if I did read it, I just read it again with great pleasure: My Name Escapes Me: The Diary of a Retiring Actor (Viking 1996; with a preface by John le Carré, which I do remember reading last year). I immediately read his next and last volume, A Positively Final Appearance: A Journal 1996-98 (Viking 1999) and loved that too. A dry and honest look at life and aging. He often mentions the books he loves - "Montaigne is always a wonderful bed companion, particularly when you are feeling peevish and a bit low. The Essays would be my Desert Island book above all others." (My Name Escapes Me p.102). He speaks of friends and memories from his acting career. He admires Frances Partridge when he meets her, reads Patrick O'Brian novels and the diaries of James Lees-Milne, and one of his good friends is Alan Bennett.
Which led me to pick up a book I ordered in late 2016 and was so looking forward to reading, I mean I couldn't wait for it to be published, then the election happened and my heart for doing much of anything drained away. I set a lot of things aside and Alan Bennett was on the shelf, until now. I just took him back down and started Keeping on Keeping On (Faber & Faber 2016), and this really fits the bill - a big collection of his writings, the first 400+ pages of which are his recent diaries, catching me up since the last ones I read, in his Untold Stories (Picador 2005). I'm only a few pages in, but am feeling right at home already.
Anyway, the point to today's long ramble is this: yet again I find myself preferring The Book of Things That Actually Happened over The Novel in Which They Didn't. A wild generalization but I am sure that readers and friends have come to expect these from time to time, here.
Well, I have written myself out of the doldrums. When the fog lifts, as it soon must, I will be here, with echoes of Alec Guinness:
"Sat in the sun for half an hour, drinking in the light greenness of everything, ruminating and wandering idly in my thoughts." (ibid p. 171)
July. Oh glorious summer. Let's keep a weather eye out for those icebergs and enjoy it while we may.
Tuesday, June 05, 2018
my ex (libris)
Thin cold rain is falling outside and a fire in the woodstove is slowly warming up Hodge, the room, and myself, in that order. (Hodge is closest. He's no fool.) The days are ridiculously full lately but this is a good quiet afternoon to continue our talk about books and bookplates for a bit. And the weather outside suits my interior mood quite well: a bit down, to be honest. Like the barometer, and the rain. Because as I work my way slowly along all the shelves in the book room, I find myself wanting to break up with some of my books. Books I loved for years! The ones I am thinking of repel all attempts at linking our names inextricably forever, by accepting my bookplates into their pages. Their endpapers contain maps or elaborate illustrations right out to their edges. Other pages contain half-titles, bookplates from previous owners, designs, what-have-you. No place whatsoever to put a bookplate. And let's not even talk about subject matter or specific authors. Well, let's, just for a second. A few authors in particular seem to be quite clear that there is NO ROOM in our relationship for any kind of reciprocity, from a basic, polite, readerly friendship to anything more serious than that - with their books it's truly The Them Show, and that's all there is to it. Kind of reminds me of someone I once knew very well. Someone no longer in my life, who made very little room for me, long ago, when I didn't even know I needed room simply to exist.
But those were during the dark ages. The years B.R., as we call them around here (Before Ryan). I have oceans of room now, and I don't want to dwell on any exes. And I don't even want to name any names! Of old friends, or of those authors whose books I bought religiously when I was in my 20s and 30s and then slowly stopped buying in my 40s and now at 50 find myself eyeing askance, while thinking Do we really know each other any more? And Why did things change between us? It's too sad to contemplate for long - we want the books we love to always be the books we love! At least I do, I know I don't speak for anyone else. Right now I'm not exactly culling the shelves of these lost loves, but I am not putting my bookplates in them, that much is certain. And they may indeed go, in the near future, to make more room for...
...all the beloved books. Let's mention some of those. It is a joy to visit with them anew, in my current quest to add bookish ephemera to the continuum of such. I was thinking the other day about how much ephemera I seem to generate, in life. Scads of it! When I had my bookshop, a local letterpress printer made several different bookmarks for me, and the shop receipts, and business cards. The shop was listed (and my antiques mall booth is still listed) in the local antiquarian and used book guide. I used to work in collage, and had files and files full of old paper scraps and images all sorted by subject. I also used to do quite a bit of letterpress printing, and made broadsides, miniature books (both printed and blank), not-so-miniature books, in editions and as one-of-a-kind items. Then as a painter I had postcards printed for various shows and for my new business cards, and in the past few years my solo painting shows have existed not only up on the walls of the gallery but also in printed catalogues for those shows. And now I am offering a few books I made using Blurb, on my painting website. And of course, I am putting these glorious commissioned bookplates into my dearest books, one by one. I think I've bookplated (new verb I just invented) around a hundred and fifty art books so far, and possibly two hundred other books, in the subjects of poetry, travel, memoir, and literature.
Interestingly, the subject that seems to me to accept bookplateage (new noun I just invented) most readily is that of belles-lettres. The books I have in this catch-all genre feel perfect for the addition of bookplates inside their front or back covers. Because let's face it, bookplates can feel a bit belles-lettrish in general. Twee, even. As do little essay collections about this and that. They are a match made in heaven, in my book. (Sorry.) Authors not widely known, almost always out of print, often considered minor (hate that), who may have written for literary magazines long ago, then collected their journalism, essays, and occasional writings into tidy cloth hardcovers and given them titles like Lemon Verbena (by E.V. Lucas, Lippincott 1932) or Pleasures and Palaces (by Frances and Gertrude Warner, Houghton Mifflin 1933). I love these collections of essays, reviews, short unclassifiable pieces, almanac-style materials, daybooks. In fact in spending time with my books in this close way, I have come to the conclusion that this genre might be one of my favorite of all. I do love diaries, and collected letters, and memoirs, and art books in which the artist writes about life and work, but yes I do love these odd little collections of sweet nothings so very very much. I can hardly say why. I am trying! Like, Old Junk (by H.M. Tomlinson, Jonathan Cape 1925). And Personal Pleasures (by Rose Macaulay, I have a softcover reprint, I pine for a first edition: Victor Gollancz 1935). I think of Horace Walpole and his dislike of epic literature and his love of the bibelot instead, and feel sympathy with him once more, as I did so often when I was reading his letters. Sometimes I do not want some big narrative or an entire novel or biography. I just want a bit of good literature: interesting, well-written, short, intelligent, about the stuff of life.
These are books and authors I cannot envision ever breaking up with. They contain lifetimes of steady enjoyment. They make room for the reader. And I may even rearrange my bookshelves, quite soon, to make more room for them. I am thinking of splitting off contemporary fiction and novels into their own bookcases, and creating a new section only for belles-lettres. Right now they are scattered throughout literature, reference books, literary criticism, even in travel, and books-about-books (where Christopher Morley resides, and lord knows he published many collections that could well be classified as belles-lettres). I'd like to have at least a shelf or two of these books. I'd like to visit some used book shops and find more! My bookplates sure love them, and as I already said several times, so do I. It bears repeating.
Thursday, May 17, 2018
A bit of unfinished business, for posterity, or rather for us kindred book-lovers. A kind note arrived from the far side of the world, via the comments then with a clarifying follow-up, from long-time friend-in-books Antony, after he read my post from early May about the blue Leary's price mark in the Longfellow set I bought from bookseller Barbara Falk. Antony informs me that page 198 of Christopher Morley's book of essays Off the Deep End (Doubleday, Doran 1928) adds focus to the blurry picture. Thank you! Excellent! I went to find my own copy, which I have not read in many years, and turned to that page, and the essay Ex Libris Carissimis, and followed along:
"...Leary's old bookstore in Philadelphia, where I first learned something of the pleasures of book-hunting.... Compared to most of Leary's alumni I am a mere freshman; it is only a little over twenty years since I bought my first Leary book as a boy of sixteen. Mr. A. Edward Newton, at the celebration dinner given in the store, was bragging that it was forty-seven years since he made his first purchase there, a copy of White's Selborne, and there are many of Leary's bibliophiladelphians far more veteran than he. But for him, as for me and innumerable others, Leary lit the lamp.... Though the Caliph Newton's little copy of Selborne, when he showed it to me, did not seem a genuine Leary trove because it antedated the days of the little price-figure written in blue pencil with a slanting dash above it - Philip Warner's hand, I believe. That, for us of the later generations, is the sterling stigma of Leariana."
Bibliophiladelphians. I ask you. And now one of our bookstore clerks has a name, Philip Warner. Not just any clerk, however. He appears in passing in Morley's books - Plum Pudding and The Haunted Bookshop - and in the essay Gentles, Attend! (printed as a scarce broadside essay from 1920, relevant parts of which are available to read on the google machine for free if you don't happen to have a copy of Christopher Morley's Philadelphia hanging around, p.93). Morley informs us in that essay that Philip Warner of Leary's is:
"...a man of strict serenity, righteous heart and fluent mind, a man of logic, a man of pity and easy bowels. A man of whom it is said: "He is always out at lunch,(") and therefore a man placable by oyster stew or a dozen of doughnuts such as may be found at Johnson's Doughnut Shop, Chestnut Street, north side between 9th and 10th. This is the optimus maximus of booksellers. He will do as I bid him: I hold him to the hollow of my palm. An he do not comport himself with charity, I will make him the villain of a bookshop melodrama."
Echoes upon echoes from the old days. But not all that old, in truth. I remember Barbara Falk telling me she attended a lecture that Morley gave, when he was getting on in years and she was quite young. Then I met her, when I was young and she was 80-ish. Only a few degrees of separation! It's lovely (and the kind of melancholy I savor most) to contemplate these days gone by, as I continue to add bookplates into my books. As I work my way along, I am particularly enjoying the timeless vagaries of alphabetical order. In the poetry shelves, Patti Smith comes just after James Schuyler and Sir Philip Sidney and just before a gorgeous old set of Spenser's Faerie Queene (Oxford's Clarendon Press edition in dust jackets). I haven't begun the literature section yet and expect more of the same there - the new and the old and the middling, sitting companionably together. But Morley? Well. He has entire shelves all to himself.