Monday, December 24, 2012


one more book in your stocking

Santa visits in many guises.  I often think of good-hearted writers as being very Santa-like, this time of year.  Giving us readers gifts large and small, which resonate all year 'round, and generally bolstering up our sense of goodness.  Here are two such.

On this last day of advent, a bit of Ronald Blythe, from Borderland (Black Dog Books 2005, p.410):

"The thing about snow is that it is not very interesting except at the local level, when it is enthralling."

So very true!  We have a dusting here, just a bit of snow leftover from the weekend, caught in the hummocky dry grass and blue shadows at the edges of the woods.  None on the roads, so traveling tomorrow will be dry and safe for everyone, we hope.  We will be on the move ourselves, with gifts, pie, and more gifts, to two family households.  But before I go, one more book for you, containing a short essay by Robert P. Tristram Coffin, another fine Santa of a man.  Christmas in Maine (Doubleday, Doran 1941).  Our copy is shabby and worn and loved all the more for it.  It holds the ghost of Christmas past - his childhood holiday remembered on a saltwater farm down the coast from here, with parents, aunts, uncles, packs of cousins, glorious food, presents both homemade and boughten, and after everything else, stories told long into the night.

They are so haunting that " will hug your knees and hear the wind outside going its rounds among the snowy pines, and you will listen on till the story you are hearing becomes a part of the old winds of the world and the motion of the bright stars."

Keep warm and cozy, with the ones you love, this Christmas.  Talk with you again, on the other side.  

Friday, December 21, 2012


around the house

Here are a few little images from around our house today, to mark the solstice.  My camera is not so good, or rather I am not so good at figuring out how to use it, but I am getting in the spirit anyway.

Oh look, a book under the Christmas tree.  I don't know how anyone can read the end of A Child's Christmas in Wales without blinking back a few tears.  But then, I tend to weep over individual fallen leaves and mild frosts, so maybe it's just me.  ;O)

What else is under the tree.  My mother's old Rudolph, a sawdust-stuffed animal, from the late 1940s? I think.  Alongside Miracle on 34th Street (hey, another book, how about that), and some crinkly tissue paper for the cat, in an old garden trug good for hauling gifts around when it can't be put to use outside.  (And, upper right-hand corner - a basket of tubes of watercolors.)

A few holiday cards,  and the advent calendar we use over and over.  Love the happy little snowman.

Oh, winter.  Snowflakes have been flying around here all week, and more are on the way.  It's fine to look outside and see the cold gray light, the leafless apple tree, and the good bones of all the maple trees...

...and then turn back inside and warm up by the fire.  Our little pot-belly woodstove is a refurbished antique that was once used by the Boston and Maine Railroad.  It heats the dining room of our house, where we hang out most this time of year.  Hodge has a wee braided rug to nap on, next to it. 

Our home decorating style, if we presume to have such a thing, is something I could refer to as "Maine Antique Shop" - good old local stuff made of wood, metal, pottery, and fabric.  (And paper = books.)  All close to home.  On our old dining table, another pot-belly stove, another wee snowman.  An old tin measuring cup full of organic peppermint candy canes.  The decoy was made in a town in Washington County near where I grew up.  The man who made it put his name and the town on the bottom of the decoy.  He's a little rough around the edges but I love him all the more for it.  He has lived, obviously.

 Don't forget to put out your stockings, on Christmas Eve.  Three, in this house.  (Meowy Catmas, as we like to say, especially if Hodge is within earshot.)

This week I've been sitting in the living room in the evenings, just looking at the lights on the tree and meditating about everything.  Feeling peaceful and quietly worn out, after a year of much work and big doings, many gains and some difficult losses.  Of course I don't just meditate, I read a bit, too.  A stack of favorite books is on the trunk we use for a tea table.  Christmas Poems, I remember showing this book, here, six years ago! (Search for it, back in December 2006!)  That's like fifty, in blog years...  Well, still own the book, still love its cover.  Under it is an old copy of The Oxford Book of Carols and a Carl Larsson picture book, to help reassure shaky adults and reawaken childhood dreams, holiday or otherwise.

I have one more book to share but will save it for a day or two longer.  Best solstice wishes to all.   

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


return of the light

Happy winter solstice everyone, it's coming up very soon, and the world will turn toward the light once again.  And happy birthday to me, today.  Here I sit at age 45 with more gray hair than ever before and a lap full of blessings I will count like early valentines.  Twenty sweet years with Ryan.  Our loving peaceful home.  An animal companion who reminds me how to live in the moment, dear Hodge.  Two businesses that are more than just businesses, they are vocations, and I love them for it - painting, bookselling.  Little gardens sleeping under coverlets of fresh snow.  A new nephew on the way, soon.  A niece about to set out on a great adventure.  I want to celebrate all of this and so much more.  The difficult things, the dark things, people and situations I wish were so different, I hold in my heart too, and try to surround them with light.

In our home we celebrate Christmas, this is how I was raised, and as I've mentioned before, my middle name is Noël, so this time of year means a lot to me.  But my family encompasses a broad range of belief systems.  We count among our numbers a pagan, a few mystics, a faerie, a Catholic, many Episcopalians, a few Congregationalists, a pantheist (that would be me), and more.  All that is to say, there is room here for all, whatever you celebrate, or even if you don't celebrate.  Here is a chickadee nesting among the holiday lights and winter reading, in our living room, just for good cheer:   

The little tiny book by the lantern is George Washington's Rules of Civility.  I keep it handy in case of company.  "As written by Washington during childhood into his 1745 notebook," it contains a numbered list of such helpful reminders as "48th Wherein you reprove Another be unblameable yourself"; "65th Speak not injurious Words neither in Jest nor Earnest, Scoff at none although they give Occasion"; "79th Be not apt to relate News if you know not the truth thereof"; and my very favorite, last on his list and so very important, this time of year and always, "110th Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire called Conscience."  The sparks in the woodstove remind me of this, daily.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012



Like so many, I am still feeling shaken by recent events, and am trying to regain my equilibrium.  Writing letters to my congresspeople and senators and president helped.  Decorating the house for Christmas also helped, doing so always feels like inviting more love in, to me.  Some quiet reading helped, too.  I returned to Byron, and beauty.  From Canto the Fourteenth, stanza VIII, of Don Juan:

"You know, or don't know, that great Bacon saith,
     'Fling up a straw, 't will show the way the wind blows;'
And such a straw, borne on by human breath,
     Is Poesy, according as the Mind glows;
A paper kite which flies 'twixt Life and Death,
     A shadow which the onward Soul behind throws:
And mine's a bubble, not blown up for praise,
But just to play with, as an infant plays."

Sunday, December 16, 2012



I have been trying to write about the terrible events in Connecticut and I find I can't do it.  All I can come up with sounds fragmented and incoherent, if not irrelevant.  In truth, I am just so sad. 

Two links I would like to pass along as food for thought, and seeds for action.  The first is from an antiquarian bookseller I have met several times and always regarded as a gentle soul, Greg Gibson.  Here is his editorial yesterday in The New York Times.  The second is from Susan Branch's blog, her post today, and sums up how I feel about violence and tragedy - take it in when you must, know that it happened, and then, she says, fight for the innocence that still lives inside us.  I would add to that, let compassion fill us and spur us to healing and meaningful action.  

Peace, everyone.

Sunday, December 09, 2012


little drab nothings

A lovely quiet weekend close to home.  I don't think it's possible for me to be any more of a homebody than I already am.  Sometimes there is nothing better than staying in and working on what needs to be worked on.  Speaking of which,  I am still working on my little watercolor-illustrated book-to-be.  It's about a day on the coast of Maine, and what the ocean takes away and brings in, with the tides.  Literally and metaphorically.  Paradise lost and regained.  The beautiful jumble on the beach.  Like this mussel shell.

I love painting bits of beach stuff - shells, driftwood, sea glass, broken bits of china, stones - a rock with little fossils in it of ancient shells - all this intricate minutiae, alongside the miles-long landscapes I also love to paint.  Big skies, stretches of beach, meadows by the sea.  It's all so good.  I wonder if I will be able to turn these pictures into any kind of an interesting narrative, or not.  I'm trying not to worry about that right now, and instead am just working on one page at a time, or rather one little painting at a time, and letting them pile up for a while.  Then I'll put them together and see what, if anything, I have.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Painting and writing, painting and writing.  This fall I became very interested in the work of Emily Carr.  I bought a lovely huge monograph of her paintings after eyeing it in a local bookshop for nearly two years (it was teetering on the edge of too expensive for buying only for myself).  Ryan is such a help at times like this.  He stands next to me and reads my mind and says, "Buy it, BUY IT!"  He is a pearl beyond price, do I need to say it?  Looking at her paintings and reading selections from her journals throughout helped me reconcile in some strange way my conflicted feelings about my twin passions, books and art.  Emily Carr kept journals, wrote several memoirs, and was an incredible painter, all at the same time.  She simply did what she had to do and didn't pigeonhole herself for any reason.  I just read her brief memoir Klee Wyck (Douglas & McIntyre reprint 2004) for the first time, and cannot recommend it highly enough.  It is comprised of short chapters, each describing in straightforward ice-clear prose an episode relating to her time living and painting among the First Nations people of the west coast of Canada.  Actually I shouldn't say this memoir is about her painting at all, for she hardly mentions it.  Yet it is the reason she is there in the first place and her hints about it are tantalizing.  A perfect little book about extraordinary people, a few special places, animals, her experiences in nature, what she witnessed.  I have her published journal, Hundreds and Thousands, on order right now and cannot wait to read it.  Her writing is so wonderful, just as wonderful and original and strong as her painting style.  She didn't want anyone else to tell her story for her, so she told it herself, in many ways, exactly as she saw fit:

"Nobody could write my hodge-podge life but me. Biographers can only write up big, important people who have done great deeds to which the public can attach dates. I could not be bothered with collaborators, nor would they be bothered with the little drab nothings that have made up my life."

The little drab nothings.  A bit of broken china on an empty beach, a small gray stone, one mussel shell, one quick sketch, a random page in a diary, from years' worth of such pages.  Their effect is cumulative, and, I have come to believe, worthy.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012


recent thrift shop finds

Yesterday I was out doing some errands and a bit of local gift-shopping, and on my way home I stopped at Goodwill to check out the books.  I go in (for clothes and books) from time to time and always come away with something, for not much money.  I even got the Goodwill discount card so I receive ten percent off at the checkout.  So, yesterday, I looked over several thousand completely dreadful books, I mean books that I would never in a million years ever have had on the shelves in my shop, and still wouldn't now, at any price.  But amidst the dross I found ten lovely books to bring home with me.  After my discount, and with sales tax, I paid $15.98 for them  Such a deal.  Here they are:

The English Flower Garden by William Robinson.  A 1984 hardcover reprint, in jacket, of this classic gardening book.  For resale in my book booth. Original retail price was $35.

The Rothschild Gardens: A Family Tribute to Nature by Miriam Rothschild et al.  Abbeville, 2004, softcover reprint.  Sumptuous color photographs throughout, of gardens from Rothschild estates worldwide.  This is a read-then-sell book, for me.  Original price $29.95.

Memoirs of the Life of John Constable edited by C.R. Leslie.  Cornell softcover reprint in fine shape.  I already own this but now I have a spare copy to pass along to a deserving landscape-painter friend.   Old price sticker on the back cover, for $14.95.

The Complete Poems 1927-1979, Elizabeth Bishop.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux (their books are so wonderful) softcover reprint.  Love her poems, already have a copy, so this is for my book booth.  Where I may already have another copy, but who am I to not buy Elizabeth Bishop at Goodwill when I see her there.  Besides, it was half-price day for red stickers, and she had a red sticker.  Price on back cover of $15.00.

The Lost Heart of Asia by Colin Thubron.  Harper 1994, fine hardcover first U.S. edition in jacket.  I just got rid of half of the travel narratives in my own collection, and here I am adding something.  (For the record, I did not get rid of my other Colin Thubron books, however.)  Central Asia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Mongolia and all the -stans.  Wavered, Do I really need this, I mean it was priced at almost three whole dollars, then I just gave in and bought it.  Originally priced at $23.00.

The Life and Times of Cody's Books, a Berkeley bookstore, 1956-1977 by Pat and Fred Cody.  Chronicle softcover.  Always wanted to read this, did not own a copy, until now.  "...there are still people who are so badly adjusted to reality that they insist on either writing books or selling them..." - Fred Cody.  A keeper, to add to my shelves of bookshop memoirs.  Cover price $11.95.

What's Cooking at Moody's Diner by Nancy Moody Genthner.  Dancing Bear Books softcover edition of this classic cookbook from a famous Maine diner, which is still open and thriving.  For my book booth.  I have sold many copies of this over the years.  New price was $8.95.  I paid less than a dollar for it, and will probably price it at $6.

The London Ritz Book of Afternoon Tea: The Art & Pleasures of Taking Tea by Helen Simpson.  Arbor House hardcover reprint in jacket.  I may sell this in my booth, or more likely save it to give to my friend Vicky who also sells books, at her shop Front Porch Books, as well as fair trade tea, pottery teapots, handmade tea cosies, and other books about tea.  She might like a little gift.  Jacket flap price $10.00.

Then, the two final books, and my personal favorites of the bunch (sorry, Colin).  First, Fine Preserving: M.F.K. Fisher's Annotated Edition of Catherine Plagemann's Cookbook.  Aris Books softcover, 1986.  M.F.K. Fisher's introduction says that she was having dinner with a group of friends one night and the talk around the table was about "forgotten little masterpieces."  When Fisher's turn came to speak, she immediately mentioned Plagemann's preserving book.  A publisher was one of the guests at the dinner table, and later, when he couldn't find a copy himself, Fisher lent him her own, with her margin notes.  He printed it all in this edition.  I started reading it last night and it is wonderful.  My husband Ryan makes jam, and we already do some other kinds of canning from time to time, so there are many recipes here we could try.  The book itself is fine, then Fisher's annotations are printed in the margins in red, and once in a while her own family versions of some of the recipes are included, with variations or suggestions, as well as criticism and praise.  Such a lovely book, I had never seen it before and am so happy to have it.  Original price was $9.95.  I paid less than a dollar. A keeper.

Lastly, my other favorite find, another cookery book, Little Dinners by Susan Branch.  Diminutive hardcover from Cedco, published in 2000.  Totally charming, I mean off the charts.  32 tiny pages of delight, with simple recipes meant to feed one or two, and illustrations throughout by the author.  Whose addictive blog I have been reading for quite some time.  I see via Google that this book was once part of a gift box set, and thus came in a matching decorated box with a fridge magnet.  I don't know what the set originally cost, probably not much, but because of the massive popularity of her blog, this turns out to be the only book I found on my Goodwill visit that has any significant resale value.  Too bad, since I am going to keep it for myself!  I paid less than a dollar, so I can afford to.  This copy will live on a special shelf in the book room where I keep books both written and illustrated by their authors.  I have several more Susan Branch books there, sitting companionably alongside books by the often-aforementioned Vivian Swift, and Sara Midda, Maira Kalman, and a few others.  Points to Susan Branch for quoting Helen Nearing on the back cover of Little Dinners:  "If a recipe cannot be written on the face of a 3 x 5 card, off with its head."  And inside, Julia Child:  "Remember, you're all alone in the kitchen and no one can see you."

Now, I know the rest of these books are available for pennies, used, on Amazon.  And I know, because I have seen them in situ, that many people with ISBN scanners or resale apps regularly troll this particular Goodwill looking for deals.  I also know that Goodwill itself does the same, before the books ever hit the sales floor.  And yet I still keep checking in, hoping for something good.  This time, yes.  Book hunting isn't as good as it was in the good old days, but you know, it's still pretty damn good.   

Monday, December 03, 2012


revisiting Byron and Blythe

One of the many pleasures of reading widely across several centuries is discovering what one's literary heroes thought of one's other literary heroes.  For example, Lord Byron on Samuel Johnson.

January 9th, 1821 (from his Ravenna Journal):

"Dined.  Read Johnson's 'Vanity of Human Wishes,' - all the examples and mode of giving them sublime, ....'tis a grand poem - and so true!"

Byron says elsewhere that if Johnson was writing during his own time, he himself would never have ventured to publish a single thing.  He considered Johnson's intellectual (and moral?) capabilities so far above any of his own, or for that matter above those of any other writer then living.  Praise indeed.  Byron also mentions somewhere in his letters that he intends Don Juan to be akin to Montaigne's Essays, but of course all his own at the same time.  I've taken so many notes from the letters that I can't find my citations, forgive me!

Another example, from my weekend reading, during which I took my own advice and re-read some Ronald Blythe.  I found that Blythe and Byron are not far apart at all (conjecture from my previous blog post, see below), and I need not have worried that I was changing the subject by bringing up Ronald Blythe while writing about Byron.  Because I picked up Blythe's lovely collection of essays A Year at Bottengoms Farm (Canterbury Press 2006) and promptly read the following, in the middle of a lovely paragraph about owls and their talk (p.17):

"Byron thought there was only one thing sadder than owl songs.  It was the phrase, 'I told you so.'"

I smiled to see Byron mentioned with familiarity, by Blythe.  And then, the very next book I picked up, edited by Blythe, was The Pleasures of Diaries: Four Centuries of Private Writing (Pantheon 1989).  I spent two hours browsing slowly through this treasure trove of a book, before coming to a section I had forgotten was even there at all - the chapter entitled The Diarist en route contains Blythe's introduction to some excerpts from Byron's journals.  Over several pages we may read Blythe's summation of Byron's comet-like trajectory across the landscapes (both societal and literal) of his time.  There is high praise here, and my heart warms to it gratefully (pp.312-314):

Byron's journal has, Blythe says, "bite, glorious colour and the sinewy energy only to be found in a narrator of the first rank.  He is reckless, audacious and tender all at once, and often wildly humorous.  Idealism gleams beneath the sophistry.... His short life... was turbulent and restless, fame and infamy tumbling over each other, the poetry itself a river-flood, his politics advanced and urgent.... Besides their unrivalled confession of emotion and descriptions of action, Byron's journals have a grand worldliness.  They are fiercely anti-cant and they move with dramatic swiftness through various phases of freedom - freedom from a wife who wanted to cage him, from sexual restrictions, from Regency Britain and its reaction, for la dolce vita in Italy and, finally, freedom to fight for the liberation of Greece from the Turks.  Byron's journals echo with the sound of shackles being broken.  They are glittering and poignant."

Apparently Pantheon's house style did not include the use of the Oxford comma (ahem) but otherwise, holy mackerel what a passage!  He sums up the situation better than I ever could, and I find myself sinking back into that wonderful state in which, as you read along, you feel cared for by an author who can afford to be, and chooses to be, this generous with others.  Such a trustworthy author is to be treasured, and I certainly do just that.  I don't even own his new collection of essays yet, At the Yeoman's House (Enitharmon Press 2012), which the TLS review called "...gentle but not soft, both tough-minded and charitable."  But I will own this book soon, and will keep it long, beside his others.  In the memoirs and autobiography section, in the book room and across the hall from the big bookcase full of sets where Byron and Samuel Johnson keep company.  Oh how I love owning books!

I meant this to be a short post, and now look.  My enthusiasm overflows, as usual...

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