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...

Sunday, August 16, 2009


Harvest days

Late summer in Maine is so often about fruition. We're in the middle of a hot stretch of weather and the landscape is responding with abundance and literally, fruit, everywhere we look. Ryan and I have been foraging and canning off and on over the past weeks. He's turned into a master jam-maker, a development I somehow never envisioned in our evolving relationship. Must be all this country living. Our garden is growing in fits and starts - the dill is taller than the corn, for example. The pumpkins are finally flowering like crazy but it might be too late for them to develop actual pumpkins before frost comes, I just don't know. The tomatoes are leggy and green, also. I'm lucky to get enough for two servings every two or three days. Last year at this time we were giving away extra quarts, after eating all we could. The flowers are very happy, though. Witness the response of the sweet peas to all the rain in June and July, and now finally, some truly hot sun:

They're taller than I am. Soon I'll have to interleave some dead branches in the top of the snow fence, so they can keep on climbing. One of my favorite flowers, for their silkiness, color, hardy delicacy, and heady scent.

Back to the fruit, though - this year we've raked blueberries, foraged for raspberries and the very first of the blackberries, and just lately, for cranberries - something I've never seen out there for the picking, until we found a little spot way downeast. Here's Ryan out filling his canning jar, in the wild:

Yesterday we were in this very spot for a second visit, and handpicked three quarts in about two hours, between hiking to and fro, and taking a break to jump in the ocean as the tide was rising and filling the cove we were next to with that delicious bone-chilling open-ocean coldness. Lovely on a ninety-degree day. I was still cold even after a long hike back to the car.

Earlier in the day we both worked at the Machias Blueberry Festival - Ryan timing the early-morning road race, and me picking books at the library book sale, conveniently located right next to the road race course. I gleaned three boxes of books for twenty-five dollars, including a lovely little book from the 1850s on the cultivation of cranberries. (Is there such a thing as coincidence? Me, I think not.) I also found an early Mark Twain item, a Willy Pogany first edition, a huge self-published book on collecting railroad uniform buttons (so obsessive, so great...), and a stack of other interesting things. August, a good harvest month indeed.

Monday, August 03, 2009


Clearly, I am full of it

After writing that last blog post, feeling quite sorry for myself (My days as a bookseller are all but over... back of the hand to forehead, fade to black...), what do I do next? I get right up the next morning and, in the course of delivering three paintings for a group exhibit, find myself accidentally attending three book sales in quick succession. That may just be a record, for me. One, American Legion sale. Two, Unitarian church sale. Three, local library sale. At the first, books were one dollar per bag. The quality of available books reflected that price, but I managed to fill a bag anyway (Oxford Companion to the Mind, a nice hardcover Miss Read omnibus, a book about altered books, a few decent children's titles). The second sale was the best of the three - just good solid stuff everywhere I looked. I bought two cartons, hardcovers were a dollar and paperbacks fifty cents. Best book - Ryan found it, I must say - a very nice first edition in jacket of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Third sale, I bought two more cartons of books. Then I dropped off my paintings at the exhibit and waltzed off to enjoy the beautiful summer afternoon, feeling like a million bucks. Thus I continue my double life.

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