Monday, November 30, 2009


The immediacy of diaries

I count myself fortunate in having on hand most of the hardcover volumes of the definitive University of California edition of the Diary of Samuel Pepys. (I still need to buy or borrow VII and VIII.) The principal editors, Robert Latham and William Matthews, wrote an erudite and moving series of introductions in Volume I, about the context of the diary: the man behind it, the complex history of the times, and the diary as a work of literature. Reading these fascinating introductions consumed most of yesterday evening (my knowledge of English history during this turbulent period is mighty shaky and needs significant shoring up), but I did also manage to sally forth into the beginning of the diary itself. And was immediately reminded why I love reading diaries so much. They illustrate an eternal and immediate present. They are only about the day-to-day, whatever that entails for a particular person. They do not differentiate between the mundane and the important. All is important, all is literally noteworthy, to the diarist, in a free-floating now. The editors sum up:

Robert Latham: "...the origins of so deeply personal a document must themselves be personal.... The diary is a by-product of his energetic pursuit of happiness.... He was by nature a man of system, and one to whom the keeping of records was necessary to the art of living." (p.xxviii)

William Matthews: "Diaries are not novels; they are bound to reality, with its deplorable habit of providing excellent story situations and no artistically satisfactory ends." (p.cxi)

There is a beginning here, of sorts - on page one we are pitched headlong into the scenes of a grown man's daily life. In the first twenty-five pages of the Diary, Pepys checks in at the office, records his penury, eats a sack-posset and a turkey pie, hears news of a fatal duel, visits a friend with "swine-pox," plays cards, takes physic for his cold, gossips with friends about Parliamentary politics, hears some sermons, finds out his wife is not pregnant after all, mentions the burial of a young bookseller. January 1660, London, come to life. It could almost be now. Except it isn't - instead it is now, then. Books can be such mysterious time machines. One reason why we read on, I suppose.

Despite the gray rainy scene out my window this morning, I am filled with optimism for this winter reading project.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


4 years 480 posts and counting

On November 30 in 2005 I began this little book blog. At the time I was ensconced in my bookshop five or six days a week, reading the evenings away, and painting on days off (or before opening or after closing the shop). A full-time bookseller, a part-time painter. I thought things would continue in this manner for several decades, at least. Lo these few years later the bookshop lives only in memory, and I've become a full-time painter, part-time bookseller. But what about the reading? The first winter I wrote here, I was in the middle of the complete Diary of Pepys. And I never finished it. I made it about halfway through before veering off onto other reading pathways. Now, I hate leaving things unfinished. So this winter, starting today, I am going to begin again, and read it all. I'm hoping this public declaration of intent will bolster my resolve. I could read it online, but I do prefer the traditional codex form, as you might have guessed. Time to go dust off my hardcover set.

Friday, November 27, 2009


Days of gratitude

Practicing thankfulness and gratitude keeps me focused on the positive, no matter what else is going on in life. We celebrated the holiday at home yesterday by cooking in the morning and decorating our harvest table with a big bouquet of sage, one of the only things still green out in the garden, and a few small pumpkins. Then met up with my parents and aunt and went over to my younger sister's house for a family gathering and some incredibly bountiful good food. (They set up a separate table just for the pies...) We brought two dozen biscuits (Ryan's grandmother's recipe), creamed leeks and pearl onions, a blackberry crisp, and potatoes from the garden, with butter and cream for mashed potatoes. Thirteen people present, many more not present but in my thoughts nonetheless. We drove home after dark through thick fog, with a heaping plate of leftovers and some quiet talk about the strength and meaning of family traditions. Feeling replete today, and grateful. Not planning on going shopping. Everything we need is already here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


Big cat little bookcase

When Hodge gets restless his favorite thing to do is see how high he can climb in whatever room he happens to be in. In the living room stands my favorite bookcase, purchased from a local antiques dealer who bought it at the auction of a Bar Harbor summer estate. I love the bookcase itself, and then found out the house it came out of is just down the road from the house my parents built when they moved to Bar Harbor. So, a piece of home. And Hodge has figured out how to scale it. He launches himself from the arm of the couch, then scrambles up the last shelf. I will have to remove the fine bindings so they aren't damaged. Or move the couch.

Here he's wondering if he can climb any higher in this room (the wide ledge of crown molding up over the windows tempts him every time, though he hasn't managed to get there yet):

I think he's after the little Beatrix Potter figurine on the shelf just below him. A gift from my older sister. Lady Mouse, from The Tailor of Gloucester, one of my favorite children's books of all time (no more twist). She's going to have to find a new home too. Because obviously the cat will not be stopped from his adventuring.

We have to lift him down. Slaves, we are absolute slaves to this wonderful cat. Sometimes I am shocked to recall that he can't read. Yet.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


Out standing in my field

When last I wrote, snow was flying, but that didn't stick and in fact the weather has been beautiful, and I've been standing in various fields and on various beaches painting while the painting is good. And already thinking about next year's garden, with the arrival of the 2010 Fedco catalogue. Which, besides being the great seed and garden resource, contains amusingly doctored clip art (and original art) and highly enlightening reading material. This year's catalogue quotes Goethe throughout. From the section on soil amendments:

"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words."

At the dining table, I just wrestled some stretcher bars into square, to get ready to stretch canvases, and now I'm reading Goethe in a Maine seed catalogue, and Ryan's writing code. Hodge The Cat is prostrate before the woodstove. A typical Saturday night around the homestead.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


What sustains us

The snow is coming down this morning, in Maine. And in the garden I left the carrots in the ground a day too long, because instead of working yesterday when it was sunny and beautiful outside, I headed down the coast to paint and didn't get home until just after dark. Which is mighty early right now. (I found out I can paint outside when it's only 40 degrees. Good to know.) So today after breakfast I bit the bullet and hurried outside in my pyjamas and gardening boots and coat, hat, and gloves, and dug up the rest of the carrots. It (I, that is) wasn't pretty, but such is life when one works at home. As with potatoes, digging carrots is a satisfying job. They have a great scent and the fresh green tops were good to see as the snow flew around my trowel.

It amazes me to consider a handful of seeds in my palm, and what eventually becomes of them:

Shown here during their bath. I snipped the tops off and put them on the compost pile, gave the carrots a quick rinse and pat dry, and loaded up the crisper drawers in the fridge. I've started making a stew every week, my usual pattern as colder weather approaches. This week's version has chicken, barley, potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, stock. Delicious. Even better knowing I grew some of it myself.

One of the books we found at last weekend's library sale is a lovely little reprint of John Evelyn's discourse about gardening and garden vegetables and plants, his Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets, originally published in London in 1699, here reprinted by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in 1937. (Sallets = salads.) It is, according to its introduction, "... a book of directions for gardening and cooking... written in a discoursive style and with a leisureliness and in a rhythm suited to the slow pace of a horse trotting through the winding lanes of the English countryside." I've never read Evelyn's famous diary, so this will serve as a good introduction to the workings of his mind. Before I attempt the entire diary. Since I don't yet have a copy, I'm not putting any pressure on myself to do so - as with many great books, it is enough to know it waits for me, someday.

Until then, I putter. And take to heart Evelyn's words from his dedication to this book: " much might I say of Gardens and Rural Employments, preferrable to the Pomp and Grandeur of other Secular Business..." He describes an interesting recipe for Pudding of Carrot (p.141) which calls for grated carrots, bread crumbs, cream, butter, eggs, sugar, salt, and nutmeg, beaten together and then baked in a quick oven. Hmm. Here I am with many carrots on my hands and cooking on the brain, after seeing the film Julie & Julia, and reading the book afterwards. But I can't see myself cooking my way through Evelyn's Acetaria. Gardening through it, perhaps...?

Sunday, November 01, 2009


As my Whimsy takes me

I went to a small library book sale yesterday and came away with three cartons of books ($82), and now have minor mountain of new reading, and even some books to sell, including a signed John Updike first edition - the best of the lot, moneywise (paid $1). But, these concerns are overridden, and all books superceded, since I stopped in at a favorite secondhand book shop this morning in pursuit of more Dorothy L. Sayers, and emerged with a softcover reprint of all the Lord Peter short stories and a tatty copy of Busman's Honeymoon. My dilemma: until Busman's Honeymoon is finished, I will get precisely nothing else accomplished. And it's already late in the day, today, if I want to sleep well tonight. So I feel I must put off starting it until tomorrow, when I can devote the majority of the day to its reading. Such sloth! Perhaps I should plan particularly unpleasant jobs on either side of all that pleasure. Turning over the compost pile, or doing the final weeding in the garden, say, or handwashing heavy sweaters. This Yankee work ethic is a rather dubious inheritance, when all is said and done. When I long for insouciance. Maybe I should read back-issues of The Idler, next? Or more Sayers - at one point in Strong Poison, Peter looks around his library of fine first editions (he is a book-collector, you see, another reason to love him) and wonders what good they are, in real life. And then quickly comes to his senses. Let us follow suit.

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