Monday, August 31, 2009


A little light reading - is there such a thing?

The pleasures of belles lettres should never be underestimated. I took a chance on a little book of essays over the weekend, after a browse at a local book barn. Read the first half of it last night and the second half over lunch today, in spite of never having heard of either the book or the authors. Now I find myself charmed and delighted to find like minds, two sisters, Frances and Gertrude Warner, and their book of light essays Pleasures and Palaces (Houghton Mifflin 1933). Many of the essays appeared in The Atlantic Monthly and House Beautiful, and at their best they have a tone similar to Louise Andrews Kent's fine Mrs. Appleyard books, which I have read and re-read and re-read again with so much pleasure. The Warners write essays entitled "Household Scenes and How To Make Them," "The Good Use of Worry," "Dabbling" ("...there are many things that are worth doing rather badly." p.18), "Delving" ("...a dabbler who suddenly goes on a delving rampage is attractive. He sets about it with the zeal of a professional and the zest of an amateur, and he sometimes accomplishes a surprising amount of work." p.25), and the like. In the essay on picnics, the authors endear me to them even more by mentioning Christopher Morley. He packed three donuts per adult, apparently, on his picnics.

The book ends with an essay about palaces - those of our own building, both in physical reality and in one's internal architecture. A perfect description of a fine library in a beautiful house by the sea is followed by a description of persons of like mind, who find their finery outside, in nature (p.167):

" matter how besieged they may be, they are always able, with half a day of sunshine and high wind, to air out and renovate their whole soul's edifice, filling it with freshness and the clear beauty of a new season - ..."

Lovely. A book of quiet pleasures. In my reading life it came hard on the heels of Nicholson Baker's new novel, The Anthologist (Simon & Schuster 2009) - barely a novel, barely a plot, nonetheless a beautiful paean to poetry and poets. I read it in one sitting. He mentions Christopher Morley, too, oddly enough (pp.14-15). And his poet-narrator reveres Mary Oliver, as I do. He even mentions a folk singer I love, Slaid Cleaves. So all in all, Baker had me in the palm of his hand from the get-go. I finished reading it, and thought, Okay, someone else I know must read this book immediately so we can talk about it. I really loved it. Baker captures how us literary obsessives think. Books, books, books. Authors, authors, authors. Our own internal digressions. And occasionally real life, a major event in real life, gets a plain unadorned sentence wedged into our cluttered and busy minds.

But, for the next few days I am taking a page from the sisters Warner, and getting outside into the sunshine. To renovate my edifice. I'm off to an island for a short painting trip, and *gasp* I'm not taking any books...

Ahhh, now I'm hungry for another book I can't find. I have fallen in love with the familiar essay recently, and have always been so interested in houses and who lives in them. Have you read Christopher Alexander?
Slaid Cleaves and Christopher Morley in the same blog post! That may be a first. I caught a Slaid Cleaves show in Houston some years back and spoke with him between sets. His grandmother was (is) a friend of my cousin in the Bremen/Muscongus area. Nice guy, great singer/songwriter. Thanks for the post--think I need to read the Anthologist now.
and now I'm going to have to go a put Slaid Cleaves on the shop stereo...
Hi Snap - I found out that Gertrude Warner wrote the Boxcar Children series, which I never read as a child. I've always heard they were good... But I haven't read Christopher Alexander. Must be the author of "A Pattern Language" - a book I've had but never read...?

I know, Chuck - I was flabbergasted to find the references in quick succession in the novel! I've seen Slaid Cleaves maybe five times, here in Maine, he's great. A bit melancholy, but we like that, don't we.

Jonanthan, I like "Broke Down" and "Wishbones." Heck, I like it all.
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