Friday, January 05, 2018

 

a new leaf


A brand new year.  How shall we make it count, make it matter?  For my part, I am turning over a new leaf.  In general, with a particular bad habit I am currently breaking and reforming, and specifically with some new books.  I've always loved the word leaf as it pertains to books - a leaf meaning a book page.  It carries an echo of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and hints at living things.  At trees turning into book pages which are still alive, in more ways than one.

The mail is bringing me some lovely books, right now.  The first is a veritable bouquet:


Such pretty books!  I went a little crazy ordering reading material for myself last month - I received all these Ronald Blythe books from England around Christmastime and have already read them all!  And I have a few more on the way as we speak.  (Obviously buying books is not the bad habit to which I refer.)  Each volume collects his back-page column Word from Wormingford from the Church Times.  All are written in a stream of consciousness style that moves effortlessly from natural phenomena closely observed to his inner religious landscape to his literary doings, throughout each year.  They are diaristic essays with so much to recommend them, even if you are not a member of the Anglican Church and do not use a lectionary through the year, as Blythe is and does.  No matter.  His inner and outer life are one, seamless.  His prose carries us gladly along with him, whatever terrain he navigates, wherever he chooses to go.  He could be describing himself, here, in Under a Broad Sky (Canterbury Press 2013):

"...I hear that the essay is making a comeback.  Being a chronic essayist, I make more toast as a sign of approval.... All the best essayists give us a piece of their minds in brief, brilliant helpings."  (pp.72-73)

I do love reading books that follow the course of the year - diaries, almanacs, books about rural life and the seasons.  Blythe gives all that and more.  He helps bring even frozen January to life, vividly.  Again from Under a Broad Sky:

"Those of us who keep diaries will be keeping them with a vengeance at this moment.  January is the most diarized month."  (pp.14-15; he goes on to mention the diaries of Woolf, Boswell, Kilvert, and Pepys)

And from Stour Seasons (Canterbury Press 2016):

"Another year, and cause for meditation.  What better to sit in the new armchair and to watch the seagulls circling.  And to think.  Although this is a grand term for what is going on in my head at 6 a.m.  It is still dark, and it takes another hour before the bare fields and trees take shape.  Not a resolution in sight.  Instead, a kind of freedom.  Another year in which to do what I like - which is to work hard and idle hard.  You need to be gifted to do nothing."  (p.1)

Not convinced yet?  Back-cover review of an earlier volume, from the Daily Telegraph:

"...a wonderful meditation on our place in the landscape, the marks we leave on it and the different ways we relate to it, whether cultivating it, painting it, or merely walking across it."

And another from the Guardian:

"Blythe's observations of nature are as unforced as breathing, and his descriptions are precise, celebratory and unexpected."

Stour Seasons is my favorite of the bunch.  I wanted to (and often did) take notes from nearly every page.  In the Artist's Garden (Canterbury Press 2015) is a close second, not least for its lovely dust jacket.  And fair warning, the last volume, Forever Wormingford (Canterbury Press 2017) is an anthology assembled from the previous collections.  There might be one new essay in it, but all the rest are contained in earlier books.  I didn't know this when I ordered it and while at first I was disappointed, I quickly came to realize that I didn't want to take leave of Ronald Blythe and his world.  I didn't want to have to read any goodbyes from him or say them myself, in return.  I want to have him continue on, indefinitely, and in this last book, he does.  I am reminded of reading the final fragment of Patrick O'Brian's last book, 21 (Norton 2004).  The characters sail on forever.  There is no denouement.  Fine with me.

One more thing about reading any these books - if you choose to do so, it may end up costing you more than their mere purchase price.  It did me.  Because as I read through them I found I had to keep a running list of books he's reading, and order some of those for myself, too.  And now I have something like six of his recommendations on the way!  Books both old and new!  I am a total book glutton and do not plan on reforming any time soon!

And, another new leaf I must mention.  Let us celebrate, because our long-time book-friend Antony is in print, and when the mail arrived yesterday, just before the blizzard did too, I was reminded of this:

"Letters from foreign countries arrive in the afternoon."

One of my favorite opening lines in all of literature.  From The Station by Robert Byron, about his travels around Mount Athos (my copy Knopf 1949).  And it leapt to mind when I received a package wrapped in brown paper, all the way from Greece, containing a lovely note in Antony's new book:


Alas, I read no Greek, as he well knows.  However, I used to know some Russian, and can sound things out sometimes, in languages with a similarity to Cyrillic.  This doesn't help me much here, but, scanning the text, I find it doesn't need to.  Because there are still some familiar companions inside this book:


Our dear friend Christopher Morley.  And another - see him there, in the text:


Henry David Thoreau!  And, look, Anne Ridler!  With a note of encouragement:


And also making an appearance, the beloved Hodge, a very fine cat indeed:


Oh, I want to read more!  Looking into this book feels like standing on the edge of a glorious wide meadow, unable to identify all the flowers and insects and birds that call it home.  Frustrated by my own lack of knowledge, but still able to gaze and appreciate what it took for each leaf of grass to grow and blossom, for each winged creature to fly.  Congratulations, Antony!

All best wishes for this Happy New Year, besides.  2018, here we go, my goodness.  I feel old but not too old.  I am hard at work on various projects and the outgoing tide of the bad habit I am in the midst of leaving behind (No, I'm not telling) is lending me even more hope and energy than I can usually muster on my own, at this time of year.  And, if all these books represent any kind of portent whatsoever, for the new year, brighter days are ahead for us all.

Friday, December 22, 2017

 

comfort and joy


Today is one of those winter days during which a gray sky is warmed by the golden smudge of the sun radiating from behind the low cloud cover.  The solstice has just come and gone and here we are, turning to that light once again.  We walked down the street last night to the big old church and heard a concert of carols in the round, sung to us and our neighbors by candlelight.  Haunting and memorable.  New snow from this week and the promise (threat...?) of more on the way, and soon, has me gazing at the transformed landscape, and trying to paint it.  From safely inside the warm house.  I've also been reading because Santa stopped by early with a new Ronald Blythe book, Under a Broad Sky (Canterbury Press 2013).  I opened it right away, to this (p.1):

"It is a relief to find that one does not gain a mature vision of everything - that the first sight of snow, for example, will be as serviceable, wonder-wise, as that of all the snowfalls in one's life.  A six-inch snowfall establishes a presidency that takes our breath away, partly by its nerve, partly by its loveliness, bringing our ant movements to a halt, transforming everything from twig to a cathedral."

His observations of country life and literature are timeless and I recently ordered all of his remaining books of essays (those not already on my shelf, I should say), originally published as his back-page column for the Church Times.  I say his remaining books of essays because this year he ceased to write them.  He is 94.  He says, in a recent brief interview, “I live very much in the present. I wake up in the morning feeling ever so well, and feeling today is the big day.”  Lovely.  May we all be able to say the same.

Most days, I resolve to do just that.  When I can't work outside - too cold, too cold! paint freezes and so do I! - I gaze out the windows of my studio into the woods and find delight in the marks that nature makes.  In turn I try to describe them on canvas and in the pages of my diary, with marks of my own.  With varying levels of success and failure, as usual.  This week, on the easel, on a small canvas:


A little painting of almost nothing - just some marks like snowflakes.  A quiet reverie during this season of peace.  I am off to wrap presents for my nieces and nephews and extended family, but before I go, happy holidays, and tidings of comfort and joy, and a few more words about snow, for good measure.  From New and Selected Poems Volume One by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press 1992; pp.150-151):

     First Snow
 
     The snow
     began here
     this morning and all day
     continued, its white
     rhetoric everywhere
     calling us back to why, how,
     whence such beauty and what
     the meaning; such
     an oracular fever! flowing
     past windows, an energy it seemed
     would never ebb, never settle
     less than lovely! and only now,
     deep into night,
     it has finally ended.
     The silence
     is immense,
     and the heavens still hold
     a million candles; nowhere
     the familiar things:
     stars, the moon,
     the darkness we expect
     and nightly turn from.  Trees
     glitter like castles
     of ribbons, the broad fields
     smolder with light, a passing
     creekbed lies
     heaped with shining hills;
     and though the questions
     that have assailed us all day
     remain - not a single
     answer has been found -
     walking out now
     into the silence and the light
     under the trees,
     and through the fields,
     feels like one.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

 

make room


This month finds me preparing for many things.  Real winter, the solstice, another birthday (the big 5-0, which my biological father once said was the only birthday that really counts - What does that even mean??), Christmas, and then the turn of the year.  It's a dark time and the news leaves me feeling, daily, as if I've been slimed.  Repulsive development after repulsive development.  Whatever small victories that do come feel over shadowed by the general climate of doom.  Happy holidays to you too, right?  This liberal snowflake is determined not to melt away to nothing, however.  As usual I've been seeking the uplift, wherever I can find it.  My attention span remains at a low ebb, though, so my reading has been sporadic and gadflyish, since I can't seem to settle down often enough to read for hours and hours, the way I always have throughout my life.  One answer to this dilemma is the anthology.  I have a soft spot for anthologies and many, on many themes, can be found throughout my books.  I love how a compiler chooses and arranges snippets of literature and poetry around a theme.  I love contemporary and ancient choices, and I love the ways in which the selections in an anthology reflect and amplify the light of human understanding across time.  And when I don't have the wherewithal to settle in with a long book, for hours and days, an anthology helps me access what I love.  It reminds me of what I love, immediately, often when I need it most.

Two anthologies sit on my table this week, close to hand.  One old - A Winter Miscellany edited and compiled by Humbert Wolfe (Viking 1930) and one new - How Lovely the Ruins:  Inspirational Poems and Words for Difficult Times compiled by Annie Chagnot and Emi Ikkanda, with an introduction by Elizabeth Alexander (Spiegel & Grau 2017): 


The former is perfect for this time of year.  The jacket flap tells us it is "...a garland for the bleak season."  It also tells us that "This volume will be accused of being an anthology - but the imputation is hotly denied by the compilers.  It is, in fact, what three comparatively active minds have found to like and dislike in winter."  This statement notwithstanding, as far as I can make out, the book is certainly an anthology.  It contains commentary and original poetry (fair to middling, it must be said) by Humbert Wolfe, alongside selections from other authors, arranged into sections such as Countryman's Winter, Traveller's Winter, Reveller's and Fireside Winter, The Poet's Winter, God and Mary's Winter, etc.  Who is here?  Robert Louis Stevenson, Horace Walpole, Robert Burns, John Clare, Gilbert White, Emily Brontë, and many others, that's who, alongside known and anonymous writers of ancient and medieval times.  There is poetry, prose, and song.  Overall a charming book with some of its pages still uncut, even after all these years (I have a sharp letter-opener at the ready, in lieu of a paper knife).  And the theme - the winter months, snow, storms, night winds, revelry, sacredness - perfect to linger with, while also savoring The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater, which I am still in the thick of.

The latter is perfect for this political, historical moment.  I wouldn't ordinarily buy a book like this, new, at full price, but I was visiting a local bookshop with a friend last week and the cover really got me.  I held the book and hesitated, thinking, I don't need this.  (Haven't we all been there?  Standing in a bookshop, book in hand, questioning ourselves...?)  Then I opened it at random in a few places and what I read left me no doubt that This is exactly what I need.  The editors are upfront about the fact that they gleaned much of what appears in this book from poems and quotes that have been making the rounds on social media.  The jacket flap also says the book's selections celebrate "...our capacity for compassion, our patriotism, our right to protest, and our ability to persevere..."  Sections include Against Tyranny, The New Patriots, Gathering Strength, etc.  Included within are Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, Langston Hughes, Wendell Berry, Ralph Ellison, Naomi Shihab Nye, Jamaal May (the wonderful title of the book is from his poem There Are Birds Here), and many others.  At just under 200 pages, though, I found myself wishing for a lot more.  However, I don't mean to complain, since what there is, is pretty great.  Take this bit, a few lines from the poem Daily Bread by Ocean Vuong (p.111; read the whole poem here):

"...Listen,
 the year is gone.  I know
 nothing of my country.  I write things
 down.  I build a life & tear it apart
 & the sun keeps shining."           

Whew.  Gets me right where I live.  And there is a lot more shivery wonderfulness in this book, from Marcus Aurelius to Howard Zinn.  Both of these anthologies highlight for me the necessity of reading things we might not ordinarily read - because, as well as many old favorites, and some chestnuts even, the selections the authors choose help us readers encounter authors unfamiliar to us, and send us off in new directions with hope and intent.  They make room in our minds for new thought and consideration.  They open windows and doors and expand our world view.  I am keeping both books on the trunk that serves as our coffee table, in the living room, to pick up and read a few pages from, all winter long.

Speaking of the living room.  Another thing I seem to be up to lately is making room for new things, and new old things, in actuality, not just in mind.  A good harbinger for my next decade, I hope.  For one, we have recently adopted my mother's grand piano.  I had to empty out half of the living room for it, and rearrange the furniture, and now the piano and the Christmas tree we welcomed into our home last weekend are dancing cheek to cheek:   

 
I took piano lessons for a while, when I was young.  They never really stuck, sad to say, perhaps because I didn't love the music I was attempting to make, back then.  But something I read recently helped me in that regard, and when the issue of this piano came up (taking up a lot of space where it lived before, other family members didn't have room for it) I thought that perhaps I might try learning a few songs I've always loved.  I didn't expect to be making music with my own hands at this point in my life, but I guess I've been a late bloomer in most things, and so while this is a surprising development it is a welcome one.  Playing the notes of a few old songs feels like remembering a language I thought I had forgotten for good.  Opening up yet another anthology, The Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford University Press 1939), and playing - tentatively, yes, but still playing - The Holly and the Ivy, next to the tree, as snow falls and the evening light wanes - well, it is a quiet delight.  It is helping me make room for beauty, make room for joy, in large and small ways, every day.  In the coming months and years, if I am so lucky, I will work to carry that forward, no matter what.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

 

this quiet moment


Such a beautiful day today.  I am currently occupying that blessed space between cleaning the house and the commencement of holiday everything.  Yesterday I finished all the boring work (vacuuming, dusting, cleaning the bathrooms) and now have a bit of time before the fun work (linens! tableware! food! relatives!).  With so much to be thankful for.  I could kneel down and kiss the ground, or wrap my arms around a tree or a giant glacial erratic, as I have been known to do.  How I love this earth, and a quiet day like this, full of peaceful little nothings gently coming and going.  How I value solitude, as a necessary bookend to shore up other times full of people and talk and busyness, as wonderful as all that often is.  It is during solitude that I catch glimpses of the clarity and calm which help me weather the times of not-so-much.  My past two Thanksgivings were spent in and around hospitals, for days that felt like years, with relatives dying and not-dying, so this year, this ordinary/extraordinary quiet time is more appreciated than usual.  The moment when nothing much is happening, and it feels full and perfect just as it is.  Thanks be.

My stack of books has changed and grown a bit since last we spoke.  I am setting Nigel Slater aside for the moment, half-finished, so as not to leapfrog over Thanksgiving and on to the next holiday too quickly, before it's even happened.  It does sound like he agrees with me, though, about the necessity of solitude:

"Our lives cannot always be about other people, love them as we do.  We need some time for ourselves. "  (The Christmas Chronicles p.10)

That's all I've got for now.  I'm going to go sit in my studio and watch the afternoon light move slowly across the wall, and count my blessings.  Long live the quiet moment.  Happy Thanksgiving, dear friends.

Friday, November 10, 2017

 

safe harbors


Ryan and I went to a local library book sale on the spur of the moment last weekend.  I ended up with three big bags of books, I think 45 books in total, for $56.  That haul, plus a few visits to a favorite local bookshop and some unread books still hanging about from summer, has helped me build a lovely new to-be-read pile for the bedside table.  Here it is:


We have Edna O'Brien's memoir Country Girl (Little, Brown 2012), Sybille Bedford's memoir Quicksands (Counterpoint 2005), I Can't Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays by Elinor Lipman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2013, Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris (Little, Brown 2017), Sherman Alexie's memoir You Don't Have to Say You Love Me (Little, Brown 2017; and omg I must mention this incredible poem by him - if you haven't read it please do so now), Devotion by Patti Smith (from the Why I Write series, Yale University Press 2017), Old Sussex and Her Diarists by Arthur J. Rees (John Lane, The Bodley Head 1929), The Diary of a Country Parson by the Reverend James Woodforde, selected by David Hughes (The Folio Society 1992, from the 1769-81 diary transcripts), and The Christmas Chronicles: Notes, stories & 100 essential recipes for midwinter by Nigel Slater (Fourth Estate 2017).  With this great stash, I can't help but feel that Christmas has arrived early.  And I'm not even going to mention the books I bought yesterday, which are sitting just off stage right as we speak (will save those for another day).

This stack highlights my long-term, continuing infatuation with 1) nonfiction written by novelists, and 2) other people's diaries.  Several of each appear here, and I am already making inroads, as you can see from the bookmarks.  I meant to start them all immediately, but dropped everything else in favor of Nigel Slater, who arrived in my mailbox last week.  I'm trying to go slowly and savor his writing, but am already 250 pages in - over halfway through, arg!  It's such a beautiful, gentle book and a few of my notes from it might help explain why I want it to go on and on:

"Winter feels like a renewal, at least it does to me.  I long for that ice-bright light.... I am never happier than when there is frost on the roof and a fire in the hearth.... the innate crispness of the season appeals to me, like newly fallen snow, frosted hedges, the first fresh pages of a new diary."  (p.1)

He loves winter; he is a homebody even when he travels; he makes lists and keeps diaries.  He is a champion noticer of small beauties.  He has weathered many storms to come to the place he is now.  And through cooking and writing he generously invites us to share his world.  Like this: 

"'Come in.'  Two short words, heavy with meaning.  Step out of the big, bad, wet world and into my home.  You'll be safe here, toasty and well fed.  'Come in.' They are two of the loveliest words to say and to hear.... There is almost nothing I enjoy more than welcoming visitors into my home.  (Full disclosure, I quite like it when they go too.)  But in between 'in' and 'out' I want them to feel wanted, comfortable (cosy even) and happy.  Yes, warm, even in my rather chilly house, but also fed, watered and generally made to feel that all is well with the world.  And yes, I know that the world is a shitstorm at the moment, but we all need a safe harbour."  (p.9)

Amen (while trying to overlook the distressing lack of Oxford commas in that passage).  I've been feeling the same way and will treasure a safe harbor wherever I find it these days.  Not least in books.  Although, to extend the watery metaphor, the tide feels like it's turning, finally, here in our beleaguered country.  Wow, it felt so good to vote this week.  I want to do it again!  Soon!  But it's going to be another year...!  The wheels of justice are turning, but lord, so slooooowly.  We must keep working and moving forward, and finding comfort - and giving it too - wherever we can.  And remember those safe harbors.

A progress report about one such:  one of my bookplates (please see previous post if you missed my bookplate news) is going to feature a hedgehog.  I mentioned this to a dear friend of mine who has collected bookplates for decades, and he told me that one of the earliest known printed bookplates (Germany, circa 1450) also features a hedgehog, in both image and word, because the book owner's name and motto are a pun on the German word for hedgehog.  How happy this makes me!  I am looking forward (with great glee) to spending winter days tipping diminutive hedgehogs into many of my books.  I hope they will feel at home.  I've never seen a hedgehog in real life, even though people here in Maine can keep them as indoor pets, apparently.  The fabled Maine winter may be too harsh for them, I don't know.  And winter is certainly on its way.  Yesterday morning I had to make a long drive inland, to the westward, and all along the edges of the fields and farmland long blue shadows were full of thick frost, everywhere the sun hadn't yet touched the earth.  A gorgeous scene of blue and gold, unfolding for mile after mile.  And today, the first snowflakes of the year were flying, early this morning, just after sunrise.  I feel ready, and even content. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

 

legacies


Hello there.  I've been meaning to write here for a while and today is finally the day.  The rain is bucketing down outside for the first time in ages.  A good day to be indoors.  It's been a remarkably warm and golden fall around here and I have been out painting and watching the season change.  This annual transformation of the landscape I know and love never gets old.  I feel like I don't have much to say at the moment but will see what arises as I sit here staring into space.  A long ramble, I'm sure.  Please forgive me in advance.

What's happening?  Simply take it as a given that I am appalled and terrified by the news, every damn day.  And I'm not going to let fear sublet any more space in my head and heart than is absolutely necessary.  So, books, let's start there.  I've been reading again, first and foremost the new novels by John le Carré (A Legacy of Spies, Viking 2017) and Mark Helprin (Paris in the Present Tense, Overlook 2017).  I bought both immediately upon publication and read them so quickly that re-reading may be in order, soon, to do them justice.  I can't say I loved either book unequivocally, they were too difficult for any kind of blanket acceptance or praise.  Difficult in theme and tone, I suppose.  By that I mean that both novels focus on a central character - an anti-hero, an older man being called to account for his actions past and present, actions in a morally gray area.  Helprin and le Carré write with totally different styles but both deal with big, relevant themes - morality, honor, secrecy, loyalty, legacy.

In the case of the le Carré novel, I found it a delight to revisit the past actions of the main character and his circle, all known to me from previous novels.  The trope (Is that the right word?  I wonder, and I think not.  Maybe simply plot.)  le Carré uses is that the main character, Peter Guillam, is delving into his own past, under duress, in a secret archive, at the behest of government lawyers, to trace his own actions through a series of terrible Cold War events, as first described in The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (I have a decent copy of the first U.S. edition in dust jacket, Coward-McCann 1964).  As A Legacy of Spies unfolds, we read over the shoulder of Peter Guillam as he pulls his own reports from decades ago from this archive, and stares his past self in the face, as it were.  At the same time that current events are threatening to end his life, he meets many of his old compatriots and enemies once again on paper as well as in real time.  This is not a long novel, but is so suspenseful that I'm frankly glad it wasn't.

In Mark Helprin's book, the main character is Jules Lacour, a cellist and widower living in Paris, who becomes entangled in not one but two ethical dilemmas of life-changing proportions and who, with the help of the fates and the snail-like pace of French bureaucracy, manages to see them through on his own terms.  I know I'm falling into the trap of putting words in an author's mouth, when the author has merely put those words in the mouth of a fictional character to create that character, but I can't help it - Jules Lacour seems to be Mark Helprin, to me.  Making a stand for art, for love, for things that matter most in life, even when those things are technically outside the law, and morally ambiguous, to say the least.  One reason I think this way:  in the novel Lacour speaks of a friend, who is a photographer.  He says:

"'He stuck with that art because, even though it was as defeated as if a tank had rolled over it, it was beautiful, it was better, he loved it, and he was loyal to what he loved.... He continues to suffer.  But loyalty is like magic.  It makes suffering immaterial.'"  (p.136)

I read this and immediately thought, Helprin is loyal to the art of writing, and the way he thinks writing should be; he remains loyal to art with a capital A.  This novel is his statement.  And, as in his other books, here he once again touches upon the themes he loves above all else.  Lacour is a man on a mission, and because in Helprin's other magnificent novels (A Soldier of the Great War, Memoir from Antproof Case, etc) his heroes are also all men on missions, cumulatively that makes me think that Helprin himself is too.  Which is as it should be.  And oh, have I mentioned what beautiful prose he writes?  I should have said that first of all, since it is one of the greatest pleasures of reading his books, above and beyond any plot or storyline or character.  His sentences are often gem-like in their clarity:

"As he aged, everything was eroded away but love and conscience, which were left sparkling and untouched in the stream."  (p.385)

I could read them all day long.  In fact I have, on many days, over many years.  And I hope I will again, if he publishes more books.

Unlike the le Carré novel, I did want the Helprin novel to be longer.  Throughout.  It is much shorter than his other novels.  And there are wonderful sidelight characters - scoundrels, heroes, and inbetweens, all worthy of more pages - who I wanted to know much more about.  A larger-than-life businessman, a wicked friend, a pair of bumbling yet charming police officers, a victim of a hate crime, a daughter, a grandchild, a son-in-law, a reviled insurance salesman, a potential love interest, and many more.  This was a short novel by Helprin standards and yet he packs everything in that's necessary, and then some (including, to be honest, a few scenes I could have done without, but that's not my focus today, or really any day).  His language is as lush and gorgeous as ever, and the whole book is an elegy - a lament and a paean.  And the ending... well.  The ending.  I won't spoil the book for anyone else who might be reading it.  I'll just say that until the last page, I was unsure about what would happen, and even more unsure about what I wanted to have happen, as a reader.  Like the le Carré novel, it is a cliffhanger until the very end.  And like the le Carré novel again, it is ultimately about growing old and the reckoning one makes with oneself and the world as the inevitable end approaches. 

Oh, such gloom and doom!  Which suits my current mood in every possible way!  In only slightly brighter news, the just-published Nigel Slater book (The Christmas Chronicles, Fourth Estate 2017, see previous post) is on approach and will in fact be in my mailbox any day now, and I'm looking forward to its gentle brightness as the days darken toward winter.  He has a lovely downbeat melancholy paired with a certain kind of stalwart cheerfulness that matches how I feel in December.  All that and recipes too, I can't wait. 

And, even though this is becoming a longer ramble than I originally intended, I must say one more thing.  Since we are already speaking of winter.  And aging.  I have a birthday coming up in December - it's a decade-change, a biggie for me, the big five-oh! - and I've been thinking a lot lately about what I hope to work on and even accomplish over the next ten years (if I am so lucky).  I have too many ideas and plans to get into here and now, but I will say that I am taking active steps toward some things I have always dreamed about but never done.  One specific item I will mention, which I am very excited about.  It seems frivolous, like there might be no good reason for actually doing this thing, but you know what, that is the very thought that has stopped me in the past, and those days are done.  So here it is.  A small thing, that means a lot to me.  I will even write it out in bold.  I have always wanted my own bookplate.  The idea of a bookplate has been with me since I was little.  And I have finally acted on that idea.  I recently commissioned not one but two - two! - bookplates from a wonderful artist-engraver who specializes in making them, by hand, with boxwood blocks and an antique printing press.  We are currently in design talks, and he is sketching, before the engraving and printing begins.  Pursuing this long-time dream feels so wonderful.  I have been very fortunate with sales of my paintings this year and turning right around to pay another artist for his work feels just right to me.  One bookplate will be for my art books and the other bookplate for all the rest, including the books-about-books that remain with me, the ones I began this blog talking about, so many years ago.  I plan on tipping in the bookplates by one corner, or even leaving them loose inside the front covers of my books, since I've never been one to mark up a rare book, or even a run-of-the-mill used book.  I will write about this in more detail as events warrant doing so.  For now, I suppose I will say that I too am thinking about legacy - as we age, what are the traces of things we leave behind?  Books and their attendant ephemera, marginalia, addenda, and paraphernalia have always been among my greatest loves, and now I am honoring that love by adding to the continuum.  Some books on a shelf?  And paintings on a wall?  A fine legacy, I hope.       

Monday, August 14, 2017

 

my middle name is...


Another forthcoming book.  Another long wait.  And again, it looks to be well worth it:


Photo from his twitter feed.  More information on his website.  As is this quote:

"I have always loved the winter months, with their crisp mornings, candlelight and promise of snow. The Christmas Chronicles is the story of my adoration of the cold months, my fondness for the winter landscape with its pale blue skies and bare trees;...   A stir-up of diary, memoir and cook book, here are stories of Bonfire Night and Halloween, of Christmases past and present, trips to the best Christmas Markets, shopping for decorations and how to choose The Tree....  This is my celebration of the cold months from late autumn to well into the New Year, a day by day story of the winter solstice and its pleasures. I have never enjoyed writing a book more than this."

Nigel Slater.  The Christmas Chronicles.  450 pages.  Due to be published by Fourth Estate on October 19th, 2017.  I won't wait to ask Santa for a copy.  Where books are concerned I am usually my own Santa.  And why not, since (as I've mentioned before) my middle name is literally...

Noël.

I love winter, and solstice-time with its attendant metaphorical possibilities, and just seeing this book cover brings me feelings of peace and contentment.  Much-needed during yet another dark hour for our country.  (Or, I should say, during a continuing time of darkness, since it doesn't ever let up.)  I'll take a little light right now, wherever I find it, and simply knowing that artists and writers all around the world are carrying on their good work, despite all, lifts my heart and bolsters my own courage.  That's all I've got today - shine on.  

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