Thursday, March 27, 2008


Spring broke

I'm still here, more or less. I'm reading Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy by Simon Blackburn (Oxford 1999) - I picked up a copy of this and one of his other books at another local used bookshop for cheap, because I liked the covers and they did indeed look "Compelling" and they are published by Oxford, whose books I usually cannot resist. Erudition! Scholarship! Classy dust jackets! The introduction begins most thrillingly (p.1):

"This book is for people who want to think about the big themes: knowledge, reason, truth, mind, freedom, destiny, identity, God, goodness, justice. These are not the hidden preserve of specialists. They are things that men and women wonder about naturally, for they structure the ways we think about the world and our place in it. They are also themes about which thinkers have had things to say. In this book I try to introduce ways of thinking about the big themes. I also introduce some of the things thinkers have had to say about them. If readers have absorbed this book, then they should be on better terms with the big themes. And they should be able to read many otherwise baffling major thinkers with pleasure and reasonable understanding."

Sounds great! Yes! Bring it on, right? Well. I found out quickly that there are no apparent conclusions drawn here about these big themes, rather information for drawing our own conclusions via Descartes, Hume, Locke, et al, and their detractors and supporters. Arguments about the big themes. That, and reading sentences that involve logic equations (scary! worrisome! flashbacks to calculus!) made me put the book aside yesterday and pick up an old copy of Heidi instead. Which I'm now almost finished with, and which I feel as if I've gleaned a lot of practically useable philosophy from. The book makes me want to visit giant fir trees and mountain wildflower meadows in Switzerland and gaze with awe upon alpenglow and think about God and the great mysteries of the world. And have a Whitmanesque grandfather who loves me. Finishing reading Heidi will not, however, stop me from attempting another of Simon Blackburn's books, Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics (Oxford 2001) - the book bought in tandem with the aforementioned - it's short and upon brief inspection looks to be equation-free. And I'm interested in being good. Though perhaps that was my problem with his book Think - I want to actually think, not learn about how to think.

My days off: I did plant flower and vegetable seeds in little biodegradable peat pots and most of them are showing green sprouts already; the snow is nearly gone around the house and the daffodils and crocuses and some tulips are also showing their first green shoots; I've almost finished reading Tim Mackintosh-Smith's book Yemen; I worked on a few new paintings; I didn't make much money, being closed and all, but I didn't spend any either; and I realized I need to take a longer break from both blogging and shop-keeping. So I'll be on hiatus for a while as I figure things out. I'll be back, I swear. Famous last words...?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Spring break

I'm taking a break from both the blog and the shop for the next week - doing some spring cleaning of the physical and mental kinds to get rid of the cobwebs of winter for good. Before I head out, the news from here in a nutshell: I'm carrying The Divine Comedy around with me in my bookbag, but haven't started to read it yet; I'm also carrying around Yemen by Tim Mackintosh-Smith, and I have started to read it and it is simply terrific so far; word from the accountant is that I barely broke even last year - no surprise there; best Scrabble word over the weekend was roulades; I'm starting tomatoes and onions and a few flowers from seed this week, inside, in little biodegradable peat pots, then by May they should be big enough to put out in the garden, which is still covered with a foot of snow at the moment. But spring really is just around the corner. Be back early next week after it's official.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


I've been memed

Yesterday Jonathan tagged me for this bookish meme that's been making the rounds for a few years: take a look at page 123 of whatever books you're in the middle of at the moment, read down to the fifth sentence, then transcribe the next three sentences after that. Sure, I'll play along, since next to nothing's happening at the shop. I would talk more about the shop, really, if there was anything at all to talk about. Zip. Nada.

On my bedside table at home, and from the current stack at the shop:

1. The Hall of a Thousand Columns by Tim Mackintosh-Smith (Murray 2005), p.123:

"The horsemen rode past. Shaken, he emerged from his hiding place, wandered down into a wadi... and straight into the arms of about forty more rebels. This time there was no escape."

How's that for a cliff-hanger! Nice coincidence. Finished the book last night. Already pining for the next installment. Meanwhile, I've tracked down a copy of his book Yemen, to tide me over.

2. Self-Help by Lorrie Moore (Plume 1986), p.123:

"It (her college writing project) will be about monomania and the fish-eat-fish world of life insurance in Rochester, New York. The first line will be 'Call me Fishmeal,' and it will feature a menopausal suburban husband named Richard, who because he is so depressed all the time is called 'Mopey Dick' by his witty wife Elaine. Say to your roommate: 'Mopey Dick, get it?' Your roommate looks at you, her face blank as a large Kleenex."

Hey, a Melville reference! From the short story How to Become a Writer. I added an extra sentence at the end because that simile was good. I do love Lorrie Moore, but have to read her in snippets because her books are so fraught. Really, if I read one straight through I might have to pull down the shades and take to my bed for a week.

3. The Search for Form in Art and Architecture by Eliel Saarinen (Dover 1985), p.123:

"In his work, the author opens his soul. So does the philosopher. So does the composer. The more direct and honest the work, the deeper does one feel the inner drift that brought this work forth."

Again, added an extra sentence because I liked it so much. The word "his" I can live without. The only bad thing about reading great books from pre-1975 or so are those pesky exclusionary pronouns. Do men notice them? Women sure do, all the time. I think it was Anne Fadiman who said they were like doors slamming in her face, even in the work of authors she loved and respected, like E.B. White. Well, men were the ones being written for, for the most part. Still. Makes it tricky to navigate some otherwise fine writing.

4. Hampshire Days by W.H. Hudson (Duckworth 1928), p.123:

"In scores of works on our shelves, dating from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, the glow-worm is depicted giving out its light while crawling on the ground, and in many illustrations the male is introduced, and is shown flying down to its mate. They drew their figures not from life, but from specimens in a cabinet, only leaving out the pins. But the glow-worm is not perhaps a very well known creature."

Yet again, I'm cheating a bit - these are sentences five, six, and seven, because the eighth does not flow well with the others and I find I'm quite rigid about readability on this blog. I have a big collection of W.H. Hudson books, of which I've read nearly none, but I picked up this little hardcover at the friends-of-the-library booksale last weekend and I've been browsing in it. He's one of those authors whose work I want to own for some reason (who knows why), and I deeply loved his memoir of his South American childhood (Far Away and Long Ago), so I continue to amass his books and do plan to read them all someday, though many seem dry as dust.

By the way, who has "scores of works" depicting glow-worms (besides Hudson...)?

5. Cat Talk: What Your Cat is Trying to Tell You by Carole Wilbourn (Publisher's Choice 1991), p.123:

"It was best for Tara to progress slowly so her personality would become well integrated on a long-term basis. Tara had experienced a great deal of emotional and medical stress and it would take her a while to recover. (Paragraph break.) A female cat can sometimes become 'very' pregnant before her person gets the message."

Cat psychology. What can I say, it was fifty cents at the f-o-l sale. Ryan and I have been reading it for fun, because by this point we do know what Hodge is trying to tell us. He's a very vocal cat. When he requires assistance getting a stray catnip mouse unstuck from under the dresser, for instance, he makes a very particular kind of trill. We have come to know it well.

That's it - there are many other books in stacks, of course, waiting to be read, but none that I actually have bookmarks in right now. (Only five books going at once, what's the matter with me!) The whole point of a meme is to pass it along, so I'm tagging Rachel and Ian. In the case of the former I know it's slow in shops right now, so booksellers need something to do (they must be reading), and the latter, I feel, needs to be steered slowly but firmly away from his burgeoning reinterest in D & D. I'm hoping this may deflect him at least temporarily.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Mrreeow, or, Sketching a Moving Target

As I mentioned yesterday, life on the art front is slow right now. I've made a few decent paintings this winter, but mostly I've been reading about art instead of making it. On my days at home, however, I've started a new sketchbook and gotten back to some simple drawing. Mostly of my new favorite subject, Hodge the cat:

I don't have much time because he's either on the move, ready to pounce on the catnip mice we've strewn about, or he's napping, and I have maybe ten minutes until he stretches or shifts around in his sleep. I'm using colored pencil here, so the marks didn't scan so well, and like I said I was working quickly:

I used to belong to a figure drawing group, and I do really love to draw. I think anyone can learn to draw - really - it's a question of letting go of what you think something is supposed to look like, and instead looking closely at the shape that is actually in front of you. Sometimes I can do this, sometimes not, it's tough. I remember in a drawing class once having to sketch our own hands and feet - without being able to either look at the paper we were drawing on, or raise our charcoal or pencil from that paper as we drew. And we had to work fast. Result: we got ugly drawings, ones that may not look much like "real" hands and feet, but we did get drawings full of life and character, and always with a few good descriptive lines that told the truth about these particular shapes as they exist in space. (Read Betty Edwards's great book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain for more talk along these lines.) I do some quick underdrawing with a brush and a neutral-color paint when I begin a painting, to block out the composition, but other than that it's been a while since I held charcoal or pencil in hand, so it feels good to return to it. Also, I've never drawn animals before, and I'm finding that cat of ours to be so sketchable.

Now back to the books - I've already been to the post office this morning to mail a few Amazon sales out, and it's sunny today, so I'm hoping some customers will be out and about because they have spring fever as bad as I do. Reading: I'm almost finished with Tim Mackintosh-Smith, The Hall of a Thousand Columns. It's serious and scholarly one minute, and slapstick Monty Python the next. I love it.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Life's work?

The so-called storm over the weekend ended up being mostly rain in the middle of the night, so the snow piles are flat, and we weren't stuck at home after all. In fact we ventured out to a friends-of-the-library sale on Saturday morning - three cartons of books for $78 - hardcovers were two bucks but softcovers were only fifty cents. I thought I found a decent first in jacket of Maugham's The Razor's Edge, but no. Just an early printing in disguise.

From the sale loot, I took a few books home to look at and ended up reading two of them, one Saturday night and most of the other yesterday. Both written by authors with Maine connections. The first was a recent novel and I don't even know why I looked at it twice - it was truly dreadful. Sort of chick-lit, poorly written and unbelievable in plot and characterization. I wondered, as I often do, if I could have done any better. But here I sit, with no books published, and this author has a major publisher and a nice dust jacket designer (which explains why I read the book in the first place). The book will remain nameless. The second book, though, is Simple Living: One Couple's Search for a Better Life by Frank Levering and Wanda Urbanska (Blair 2003) and you know, despite some style quirks, it's pretty good. A married couple gives up life in the literary fast lane in L.A. and returns to the family orchard, to live and work and generally pare down to essentials. Move away from rampant consumerism, embrace the new frugality, and find in it a greater happiness, in the manner of Helen and Scott Nearing. They quote Ruskin at one point (p.88):

"'In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: They must be fit for it; they must not do too much of it; and they must have a sense of success in it."

That's as good a definition of life's work as I've ever read. The first two, both in books and art, I've got down. The last, not so much. Books: I'm waiting for my accountant to call me back today and frankly it doesn't look good for our heroine. Art: stalled out and the engine won't even turn over. It's been a long winter, this year.

Friday, March 07, 2008


Another storm on the way tomorrow

It's been warmer this week and we had rain, so the snow has melted somewhat, but we've got yet another storm on tap for tomorrow into Sunday. Lots of snow and ice predicted. Uggghh. Here's our house and driveway after one of last month's big ones, to give an idea of what Maine's like in the winter, for those who've never had the pleasure:

That big snow pile by the tree trunk is taller than I am. At least our driveway isn't very long, so we can scoop it out pretty quickly. The road we live on used to be a main road, but a few decades ago it was bypassed, and now the main road is a half a mile away. So the house is kinda close to the road, but it doesn't matter because no one ever drives on the road. There are four big old maples in the front yard, and a winter view of the water off down the hill. The house used to have an ell and a barn, but those are long gone - someday we'd like to rebuild the ell, out into the backyard. For now it still seems like we have a crazy amount of space, after two decades of apartment living and somehow making things fit into spaces plain old too small for them.

The book room (I can't write something and not mention books - it's terrible) is upstairs above that little side porch/kitchen door - the book room window faces north, and it's the only window in that room, so it's a good place for a lot of books. Extra insulation, not much light to fade dust jacket spines, lots of wall space, quiet. I'm so thankful we found this house, I still can't believe it. The woman who lived here before us spent a few years fixing it up, so all we had to do was get storm windows on the windows that didn't have them, and settle in. It's like a dream.

I'm helping dissipate cabin fever by continuing to plan out the garden. Just ordered seeds - vegetables and some flowers and herbs. We want food we can immediately eat (greens, corn, all kinds of fresh veg), and also food we can store well into next winter (potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, pumpkins, squash). It's getting bad, I'm browsing in gardening books today instead of WORKING. Dreaming of greenery. With more white on the way.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


Bookshops, they're everywhere

Stayed home yesterday because of the snow/sleet/ice/rain storm (in that order). Where is spring. Just wondering. Any time now would be fine. Before I left the shop on Tuesday evening I grabbed a newish novel to read, on a whim, feeling like I needed something contemporary and anonymous and unknown-to-me: Three Junes by Julia Glass (Anchor 2003). Actually, I grabbed it because I liked the cover and the blurbs looked good. As did the National Book Award Winner medallion on the front. A what-the-hell selection for me, because I knew the storm was on its way and I'd have a long stretch of time the next day to read and read and read.

Of course, the man who turns out to be the main character of the book owns a bookshop. I swear I had no idea. I liked him, an overly-self-conscious but aware-of-the-fact ex-pat Scottish gay man who runs a bookshop in the Village. I liked the interweaving story lines, the author's careful description and characterization. The only part I didn't like was that the book turned out to be, finally, about New Yorkers who love to live in New York, not my favorite theme in contemporary fiction (or tv or movies). New York is a great city. Lots of people live there. Lots of people live elsewhere. The latter do not necessarily always want to be entertained by stories about the former. I'll stop now, with that tepid generalization.

In retrospect the book really reminds me of Maupin's Tales of the City: lots of good characters - straight, gay, parents, children, in-laws, friends, lovers, ex-lovers, would-be lovers - and several interweaving plots, but with an east coast setting and more fully fleshed-out writing. If the author's next novel comes my way (The Whole World Over 2006), I'll read it, but I don't know if I'll actively seek it out. I started The Hall of a Thousand Columns last night after supper, it's wonderful! His next book I will pounce on.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


This week's reading

After Montaigne, I started and finished the artist John Sloan's published diaries: John Sloan's New York Scene 1906-1913 (Harper & Row 1965). Over six hundred pages that flew by, after I'd trained my brain to slow down and carefully parse during the Essays. Easy, thoughtful, enjoyable reading about Sloan and his artist friends, Robert Henri in particular. A long vivid look at what it was like to be a struggling painter in the city.

After Sloan, I went back to finish re-reading Tim Mackintosh-Smith's travel narrative Travels with a Tangerine, about tracking Ibn Battutah through the Muslim world - I finally bought volume two but felt I should re-read the first one seeing as how it's been several years since I read it the first time. The book's just as good as I remembered it, and now I'm ready to start volume two, The Hall of a Thousand Columns. Bonus: I discovered, by looking at Mackintosh-Smith's webpage, that he turned the books into a three-part BBC series that aired last month, and that the episodes are available for free online viewing here. If you have three hours to spare, they're very good. (The books are better - there's so much more to them.)

In Travels with a Tangerine, Mackintosh-Smith says (p.269) during a lonely moment in a faraway land, his only companion was " diary, mute tyrant of my evenings." I know how he feels.

Monday, March 03, 2008


Greening business and home

I'm not going to mention books this time - DOH! Too late... No, really - I've had a lot on my mind lately besides reading and the bookshop. For one I'm thinking more and more about ways to continue going green, by reducing, reusing, and recycling at work and at home. On the home front, since we've moved and now have curbside recycling, that last bit is the easiest part. We now put out glass and cardboard and paper and some types of plastic. But it's the first two parts that are the most important - if you don't ever have it in the first place, you don't have to worry about recycling it.

Reducing: I'm scrutinizing all purchases. What's it made of, who made it, how was it made, how far did it travel to get here, how much packaging does it have, is it necessary, is it beautiful, will it last, am I proud to have it living with us in our home? Do I want to dust it for the rest of my life? The only things we've bought for the house so far have been storm windows made by a local glass company, an antique match safe for the kitchen, and secondhand chairs for the dining table. (And a few made-in-China curtains from Target which I felt very guilty about but I just couldn't find anything decent I could afford elsewhere. And I don't have a sewing machine.)

Reusing is easier: secondhand furniture I love, used books of course, nice old dishes, garden tools from local yard sales, antiques from the shops that line the Maine coast - you know - nice old things that were well-made to begin with, hence have already lasted for decades, and will last for decades more. I didn't mention clothing because besides a few necessities, we really haven't bought anything this year at all. Neither Ryan nor I have to "dress up" for work, so we're discovering what it takes to actually wear out pieces of clothing. Besides, if I have money to spend, guess where it goes first. (B-o-o-k-s.)

The other area I splurge in is good food. I love to eat well and we're lucky to live near a great co-op, and the nearby supermarket also carries a lot of organic food, though not much local organic, so we pick and choose carefully. We've got our cloth shopping bags in hand and some light muslin bags for produce and bulk food. We try to buy only glass containers, but there's so much plastic around almost everything that I despair easily and often. Anyway, we've got a great compost pile started at home, and this year we're planning a vegetable garden, with edibles both for immediate eating and for winter storage. My sister Kate and her family successfully canned a huge amount of organic applesauce last fall, and this year we're going to help each other out canning whatever we can figure out how to can.

A lot of this comes naturally to me, so to speak. I grew up on a small farm in rural Maine - no running water (outhouse, hauled water by hand from a well), barn with goats and sheep and chickens, big gardens, lots of canning and food storage, house heated only by two woodstoves, VW microbus parked outside, parents not so much hippies as rather purposefully rusticating intellectuals. The works. We lived very close to the land, and with a lot of integrity, I now see. (House full of books...) But all of a sudden, it seems, it's been over twenty years since I've weeded a garden or taken the kitchen scraps out to a compost pile. Too long! I'm placing seed orders right now, and it feels like coming home.

And at the bookshop: I've been recycling cardboard, and not giving out bags unless people specifically ask for them (or if it's raining heavily - don't want the books to get wet). Most of the fixtures in the shop are secondhand, and oh yeah, so's my entire inventory.

What's next? Ryan's going to begin telecommuting from home next month, at least part-time, then eventually full-time. I don't know if I want to continue driving a half hour by myself to come into town to the shop (we commute together in our small fairly-fuel-efficient ten-year-old car), not to mention the rising price of gas - which could mean that on very slow days I pay more to get to work than I actually make at work - a ridiculous state of affairs. I may try to find a new home for the shop, closer to where we live. There are several towns within ten miles of us that could really use a good used bookshop. Like mine. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, a few blogs of greenish hue: I'm still reading No Impact Man, and I check in from time to time with Little Blog in the Big Woods, his friend Crunchy Chicken, and finally Sharon, queen of victory gardens.

Back to the books, next time.

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