Friday, March 26, 2010


What not to talk about

I was looking at some of my old posts recently, and realized I've just got to resist the urge to talk about the weather. Boring stuff! Who cares! Note to self: do not talk about the weather, or food, or life complaints. Unless book-related. Or art-related. (For example, I like to paint food. And read about it.) Everyone eats, everyone experiences the weather, everyone has troubles. We all know this. We don't need to talk about it all the time. In fact, it can be a relief not to.

So instead of mentioning the snow on the ground this morning - oop - I will say instead that I would be writing a lovely review of this great new book-about-books sitting on top of the to-be-read pile on my bedside table, except I haven't read it yet. It looks amazing. But I can't pick it up and start reading it because I can't seem to put down The Andy Warhol Diaries (Warner 1989). I can't seem to finish them, either - what a massive book - 800+ pages of densely-packed social gossip that gets better and better the longer I read. I found my copy again in the boxes I sorted out earlier in the week. I read this book when it was published, but haven't since then, and what I don't remember the first time around was the déjà vu I'm experiencing as I go along. The events he mentions happening are things I remember happening. I'm up to 1983 in the book, when I was a teenager. He was in his 50s by then, and was an active participant in a particular social arena, one involving bucketloads of money and power. And, like a Forrest Gump-type observer, he saw a lot of important world events unfold before him. All that is interspersed with candid gossip about movies and tv and artists and celebrities and society folk. And sex and drugs and rock and roll. Which makes interesting reading, but what really gets me and keeps me turning pages into the night is all the other stuff, the personal things. He's alone and weeping on Easter, and again on Christmas. He's working on Thanksgiving. His skin is always broken out. He goes to church a lot. He's suffering from unrequited love. He's afraid his art is no good any more. He's worried about his health. He's worried about his reputation. He gets a death threat. I mean, I can't put it down - I'm not going to get anything else done until I finish this book!

I know I mentioned this vis-à-vis the Samuel Pepys Diary, but it bears repeating. I think the oddest thing about reading diaries, or any memoir in which we know the ending, is the sense that the writer does not know what we, the readers, know. Hindsight again. For me today, it's 1983 in this particular diary, page 481, and Andy Warhol doesn't know he will only live another four years. I remember the week he died - my freshman year of college. I worked in a dining hall and took home an empty industrial-size can of Campbell's Soup to keep my paintbrushes in. An arty friend of mine walked around clutching a copy of his Interview magazine. I think I still have my copy of the memorial issue, I can picture the cover photo of him. It's so strange to read a contemporary diary such as this, containing all the cultural references I understand, yet at the same time dishing the dirt (exquisitely) about a world I never knew. Very different than reading Pepys. Yet compelling to me for exactly the same reasons. I don't know where I'm going with this. I feel like I'm repeating myself, so I'll stop there.

This wasn't even what I intended to write about today. What I really wanted to mention (not the weather, not what I'm about to have for lunch, not my worries) was this website I've been reading lately, Five Books, "The best five books on everything," a subsidiary of The Browser news magazine. I really like their manatee logo. I love manatees. The interviews and articles are good, too.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Spring makeover?

Forget spring cleaning, I need a makeover more than the house does. In winter, things kind of get let go somehow. I wear the same wool sweaters in rotation, and by the time the weather is warm enough to stop wearing them (not quite yet), I want to burn them in the woodstove. Same goes for the long-sleeved t-shirts I wear under the sweaters, mostly old road race t-shirts of Ryan's. And the sagging turtlenecks. And then there's my hair. Without my knowledge it seems to have evolved into a style called stay-out-of-my-face-while-I-paint. Which involves bobby pins. My closet also needs a thorough overhaul. Glancing at it, I immediately consider taking half of its contents to the local consignment shop. Somewhere in the past I vaguely remember wearing pretty dresses and skirts and flip-flops and linen shirts and sunhats and bright colors. When was that? Oh, right, summer. What else - my yoga practice has been languishing of late, and I've been walking but not running (need new running shoes, have been putting off buying them), so the five pounds I gained over the holidays is still with me, lurking in the usual places.

That about covers it. Ugh. The short list for April - haircut by someone other than myself, new running shoes, get back to the yoga mat, find something pretty to wear. Replace the bedroom curtains, paint the bathroom. I feel better already! On the bright side, I did roll up my sleeves and sort through about thirty boxes of stuff a few days ago - old shop things, books (many many books) - and found a lot to discard, donate, consolidate, and price and take away to my book booth at the antiques mall. And of course read. It was like taking a trip to a fabulous bookshop and coming home with stacks and stacks of great books to read. Without leaving the house - a neat trick. I suspect that when I rearrange the book room I will experience a similar epiphany. I'm actually about to start reading a book about a woman who swears off new book acquisitions for a year, just so she can read the books she already has at home and has always meant to read or re-read. I should have written this book! Details and full report to follow.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Another Friday night

And here I sit picking price stickers off the heap of books I bought at Goodwill today. The stickers are the kind that come apart as soon as you pull up one little corner. So you have to pick off ten little sticker bits instead of one big sticker. Almost all the books at this particular Goodwill are 99 cents each, and if I ruled the world they would not have stickers on them at all, there would simply be a sign stating that all the books are 99 cents each, thereby saving sticker-picking customers all kinds of irritation. Not to mention the time it takes to put price stickers on them all in the first place. Like I said, if I ruled the world. Unfortunately I don't, so here I sit pick pick pick.

The books are worth it, though: Don Marquis, Edward O. Wilson, Bashō, Julian Barnes, Marilynne Robinson, a history of avant-garde art, a coffee table book about diner cars, et al. And I do love sprucing up books for new ownership, or for inclusion in my own collection. De-stickered, dusted and wiped down, renewed - welcome home, books. You will be loved.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Around the farm

I'm still recovering from reading the William Targ book - such verve and urbanity has me feeling like a country mouse - oh, wait, I am a country mouse! And I love it! But that doesn't mean I don't like peeking into worlds other than my own. For example, while googling around to see what Targ was up to during the twenty-five years he lived after publishing his memoir, I found this great page of candid photographs by Bill Yoscary, who took the pictures at Gotham Book Mart events. There are several in there of Roslyn and Bill Targ and lots of schmoozing authors and artists and book people, such as Joe Brainard, Marianne Moore, John Ashbery, Lawrence Durrell, Andy Warhol and some Superstars, and Frances Steloff. Sure would like to hear what they were all talking about.

Thankfully I can divine some of the talk from the books these people left in their wakes. I've been slowly unpacking the remaining boxes of my shop stuff, and came across a perennial favorite of mine, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (Harcourt 1977). I bought this book at the Museum of Modern Art gift shop when I saw the Warhol retrospective there in 1989, when I thought I was a city mouse and, as an art student, when Warhol was my hero. Reading through it, you know, it is still a great little memoir, the artist in his own words. Same vintage as the Targ memoir, same gossipy smart city-insider flavor. Books books books, I can't get enough of them!

I have been putting them aside from time to time, though, and as this blog has been image-free for too long (and in the spirit of this oddly-early spring) here are a few pictures I took two days ago around "the farm," as we affectionately call our slightly-less-than-an-acre of land. The crocuses by the stone wall are now fully open and very cheerful:

When I removed dead leaves from the herb bed, I found the thyme sending out greenery:

And even the chives are getting into the act - I'll be able to clip some soon, for an omelette. I ate one and it was very tender and fresh and sweetly oniony, the taste of pure green:

The little round bed on the side of the lawn has another thyme shrub getting green, and some daffodil shoots are coming up, too, at the back of it:

And finally, since we Mainers always try to stay one step ahead of the weather, here's the backyard woodpile, all ready for next winter. When we bought wood last year we bought twice as much as we needed, so this pile has an extra year to get really good and dry. Around here, this says security, more than anything:

In the Warhol book, he says, "I'm a city boy. In the big cities they've set it up so you can go to a park and be in a miniature countryside, but in the countryside they don't have any patches of big city, so I get very homesick." (p.154) I love going away, but whenever I am away, I can't wait to get back home, back to the coast of Maine, back to the farm.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


To recommend or not to recommend...

...that is the question. This last week I've been reading, among other things, Indecent Pleasures: The life and colorful times of WILLIAM TARG (Macmillan 1975). Bookman Extraordinaire. Finished it yesterday. What to say about a book which frequently touches upon, rather too intimately, topics such as proctology and porn, while simultaneously providing some of the most fascinating reminiscences ever written about the book business. Targ did it all, from teenage office boy at Macmillan Chicago to bookshop owner to letterpress printer and fine press publisher to editor at World to editor in chief at Putnam to bon vivant husband of glam literary agent Roslyn Targ. He lived to be 92, and what a life it was!

His rambling memoir gossips about his dealings with everyone you can name in the book world circa 1930 through the 70s. I mean everyone: publishers, authors, editors, agents, typographers, booksellers, reviewers, salespeople, collectors. Many familiar to me - I loved the small sections on Ben Abramson, Bruce Rogers, Christopher Morley, Bennett Cerf, Lawrence Clark Powell, Frances Steloff, Edward Gorey. Also blockbusters such as Mario Puzo (Targ ushered The Godfather into print). And so many completely unfamiliar to me - but no longer, thanks to Targ.

While at World, he published the classic biography Rosenbach, and Pi (the lovely Bruce Rogers miscellany), and the facsimile reprint of the Kelmscott Chaucer. For those three things alone, I love him forever. But also for descriptions such as this, from his memoir:

"A bleak and cold Saturday morning in February 1973 in Paris. Sitting in the lobby of the Hotel Montalembert, I was awaiting the arrival of the Most Important Living Writer in the World. (My characterization.) The prospect was dizzying, almost beyond my endurance." (p.113)

He was waiting to meet Samuel Beckett.

Another bit of fine writing, describing a visit to Oxford University Press:

"In comparatively freezing temperatures I saw men at work, printing the Bible. The famous Oxford India paper was floating out of the press' rollers, and holding one of the sheets in both my arms I marvelled at the beautiful wet, black ink impressed like a lover's kiss on the snowy paper, so featherlight." (p.398)

Talk about book-love! Passages like those kept me reading through the sprawl and rant of his wildly opinionated soundings-off on all topics imaginable: feminism, race, politics, food, religion, cosmology, carnality. And books course through it all like an inundating river. It sounds like he read just about as much as is humanly possible for one person to read in a lifetime. Early on he says:

"I've never really regretted being a high school dropout. The rigors and regimentation of school interfered with my indiscriminate reading..." (p.24)

When we quiet introverts read about someone like this - one of the great striders through life - rife with such worldly and lushly hedonistic experiences - it is not without a pang of envy. So naturally, in the spirit of encouragement, he provides us with the perfect bit of advice on that very subject:

"Envy leads to nothing. What matters is to make a decision, decide what you want, then try your damnedest to let it happen." (p.329)

Much of this memoir is in fact advice, some of the bookish kind - how to acquire manuscripts, how to be an editor, how to deal with authors you are editing, how to navigate the book world - some not, but all fascinating, albeit with more than a touch of bombast. He closes the book with a few more pieces of general advice, to those seeking to live fully. One I repeat here:

"Try not to miss anything worth experiencing." (p.412, italics his)

The other, on the last page (p.413), is even better, but contains the classic cuss word I can't bring myself to repeat here. (Targ would not approve of that, but as I've said before, this is a family show.) Like the rest of the book, it's worth reading. So go find a copy yourself. I'd recommend it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


A week of firsts

This past week was so beautiful here in Maine - sunny skies, warm weather, general luminosity - and it gradually became the week of spring firsts for us. The first picnic lunch at the harbor, first walk around the state park loop road (the snow finally melted), first open crocus, first library book sale when it wasn't too cold to wait outside beforehand (not that a little cold weather would have stopped us, but still), first new entry written in the garden journal, first long walks with no hat and mittens, first time in bare feet (very briefly!), first raking out of the remainder of last year's dead-leaf windrows. All-around satisfying stuff.

At the library sale I picked up a few books by William James, and so this week also found me reading his words for the first time. One book, a nice little hardcover with the irresistible title On Vital Reserves (Henry Holt, a reprint from 1922), contains the essay The Gospel of Relaxation. He says that "...the sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if our spontaneous cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully, to look round cheerfully, and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there. If such conduct does not make you soon feel cheerful, nothing else on that occasion can. So to feel brave, act as if we were brave, use all our will to that end, and a courage-fit will very likely replace the fit of fear." (pp.45-46) To paraphrase, use your will to regulate your actions, which shall in turn regulate your emotions. Couldn't we all use a courage-fit, from time to time?

He goes on to recommend that over-busy and stressed-out and generally worried Americans need to "Unclamp, in a word, your intellectual and practical machinery, and let it run free; and the service it will do you will be twice as good." (p.70) Even if I don't agree with all of it, a lovely little screed about letting go - letting go of one's worries and cares and preoccupations with outcome. On the last page of the essay, he worries that someone hearing these words "...may be making an undying resolve to become strenuously relaxed, cost what it will..." (p.78), which made me smile, hitting as close to home as that does.

Well, worries aside for the moment, and strenuous relaxation at the fore, I'm glad to say that this week helped refill my own vital reserves. I wish the same for you, dear reader - I can't say happy spring yet, but soon - all the signs are right in front of us. Bon courage!

Monday, March 08, 2010


The book room

I have the spring cleaning heebie-jeebies today. I started with the overrun bookcase in the dining room (gardening, cookery, field guides), where I found books I forgot I owned. Overall I didn't get far and am in fact feeling quite grumpy over the state of our house. Our beautiful, well-proportioned old house, which, when we moved in over two years ago, we had set up just about how we wanted it. Then I closed the bookshop and brought everything home. And we started a renovation project last year (the attic), which displaced stuff and generally made a mess. A year later, the attic remains unfinished until I accrue such funds as will be necessary to finish it off - it still needs walls and floors, and lights, and a heating duct.

Fast-forward to now. The stuff from the bookshop is winnowed down to the things I just don't know what to do with. Boxes of stuff - credit card machines, old shop receipts, files, gew-gaws. And extra bookcases and furniture. And the contents of my old art studio, which was in the back room of the bookshop. All this stuff is taking up space upstairs in our spare room, and more importantly, in the book room, where, to my great discontent, sit rafts of paintings with dust covers over them and boxes and stacks of everything you can imagine, piled in front of the bookcases. Which means I cannot even get to many of my own books. This in no way pleases me. To think that the things I love best in my own home, the things I truly value, what I spend almost all my time working on somehow - books and paintings - are more or less a freaking shambles. So distressing to my generally tidy spring-cleaning self.

Well, the good news is that this is a temporary state of affairs. (Even if temporary means two years.) We've almost made it through winter and "the heating season" as it's known in these parts, and I am slowly but surely accruing funds earmarked for the completion of the attic renovation. This summer should see it through. Then I can tuck away, in newly-constructed storage under the eaves, the ghosts of my bookshop, and, in built-in painting racks, keep the unsold artwork. THEN, I will reconstruct what I originally dreamed of when we bought this great old place - a book room, lined with shelves, filled with all of my dear friends, with nothing else in the room except for a comfortable reading chair, a place to rest my feet, a decent lamp, and a small stand to have reading glasses handy (I'm going to need them soon), and perhaps a coaster for a teacup. Maybe - maybe - a soft place for the cat to sit. He can't have my chair. Well, at least not all the time. Days like today, when the book room is still a distant dream, I look around longingly for that reading chair. This might be it, if I ever could ever aspire to such a thing. The matching ottoman, too, of course. Since we're dreaming.

Monday, March 01, 2010


My life is an open book

Before beginning to read the Pepys Diary, I was, I vaguely recall, busy swooning over Lord Peter Wimsey. So coming full circle, I recently returned to reading Dorothy L. Sayers, and found myself wondering yet again how I can love someone who isn't even real. I mean, he's a fictional character, a flawed ideal, so very upper-crusty and bookish. Oh, wait, perhaps that explains it. I came across these words of Wimsey's, in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club:

"'Books... are like lobster-shells. We surround ourselves with 'em, and then we grow out of 'em and leave 'em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development.'"

I read that and thought, Oh, how lovely and how true - I have a house full of earlier stages of development, as well as stages yet to be evolved into - and made a note of the passage, and said to myself I must put that on my blog. Then with a sad pang I realized that I already have (see archive, May, 2006). Great, I'm repeating myself. Which is a worry of mine, now that I seem to have written in depth about every possible item of interest issuing forth from Planet Sarah. If anyone would like to know anything, for god's sake please ask. News here is thin on the ground. I may have to start turning to fiction myself.

But back to Sayers. Wimsey is a rare book collector and I must mention two stories in her collection Lord Peter (Harper 1972), because their plots hinge upon rare books: The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention features a Nuremberg Chronicle as a plot device, and The Learned Adventure of the Dragon's Head features an antiquarian bookseller named Mr. Ffolliott (ooh, three double consonants in one name!). The former also contains a great description of a fine library ruined by wilful neglect (p.118). And the latter has Wimsey blithely explaining to his young nephew "...that book-collecting could be a perfectly manly pursuit. Girls, he said, practically never took it up, because it meant so much learning about dates and type-faces and other technicalities which called for a masculine brain." (p.170)

This from one of the first women to receive a degree from Oxford - how she must have enjoyed writing this bit of satire. One of the great pleasures in her writing is how her characters develop from the sketchiest of caricatures in her early novels to full-fledged studies in her later ones. I could wish for more Lord Peter stories, but who am I to begrudge her abandonment of pot-boilers so she could translate The Divine Comedy instead. Rock on, sister.

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