Friday, April 22, 2016


change of season

Holy crackers it's a busy time.  My reading life occurs in fits and starts right now, around long days of painting and evenings of collapsing from tiredness after working outside all day.  A friend recently said to me, "Oh, I thought painting was just kind of..." and he made some relaxed, eyes-half-closed, slow-motion, arm-wavy movements.  I just looked at him.  And laughed a bit.  There is some of that, to be sure, but much more of it is like anything else.  You know, work.  Hard work!  Sometimes involving power tools (framing) and exercise (stretching canvases, lugging painting supplies to remote locations) and bookkeeping (self-employment tax, sales tax, paperwork about shows).  Even standing at an easel in my studio is sometimes difficult.  I mean, I painted a large painting recently, which took me three days - seven or eight hours each of the first two days and maybe five hours the third day.  Sustaining that level of close attention feels like doing yoga for that long might feel, or running a very slow marathon.  It's intense.  Sometimes I have to remind myself to breathe.

Does this sound like complaining?  I hope not.  Because painting is like food and water to me - I love it, it is so necessary to my well-being!  Kind of like reading, but not.  I think I'm trying to justify not having written here in a few weeks, even though I've wanted to.  Because I have read some splendid books, but my rate-of-reading has dwindled since spring truly arrived.  Wild horses couldn't keep me from painting outside on these first warm days of the year.  It has been both rocky and wonderful.  I am also getting ready for my upcoming solo painting show and that has been consuming.  I framed over seventy paintings.  And put together, with the help of a photographer and a designer, a small catalogue for my show.  My first venture into mass printing:  a small staple-bound booklet illustrating twenty-three paintings from my show, Postcards from Home.  500 copies.  They arrived this week from the printer, in two very heavy boxes.  I opened the boxes and there they were.  With my name on the front cover, and everything.  Like this:

Eeeek!  Most of these are destined for the gallery, to be sold during my show, and for some wonderful art lovers who have already purchased paintings from me, and also for friends and family and various other Persons of Interest.  During the past few days I've been mailing copies out, to all of the above (speaking of which, if anyone here would like to buy a copy, please email me for details - it's inexpensive and, being quite thin, won't take up much valuable bookshelf space, always a consideration).  More joyful work.  And more good news:  the painting on the cover has already sold, along with a few other paintings shown within.  And my show won't even open until June 3rd!  I just about cried, about all of that, to tell you the truth. 

I should be writing about this on my painting website blog, and I will soon, I'm sure, but I started writing here first because I really want to talk about books!  I meant to talk about books today, in fact, because I am reading the diaries of James Lees-Milne, I'm already well into volume three, and they are tremendous, and I do want to write about them at great length!  Not to mention a few other remarkable books that have come my way recently.  But the season beckons me, and spring is so fleeting, and so very sweet.  It's not a time for reading or writing the days away, tempting though those prospects always are.  Well, all I can say is that if we have a few rainy days in a row, I'll make the most of them, and meet you back here to talk books.  Until then...    

Saturday, April 02, 2016


all in a day's work

Lately I find myself with a welcome, renewed sense of optimism about the book business.  Not that optimism ever left me completely, I am too much of a romantic for that, but I will admit to wondering if, well, you know.  The book business - new and used both - doomed?  Over?  Obsolete...?  How I've hoped it wasn't so!  And, you know, it isn't - books have always been, are, and will continue to be simply awesome!  A perfect portable spiritual interface between like minds, or unlike minds, whatever your reading preferences happen to be.  I was reminded of this again yesterday - I spent time working in my booth in the antiques mall where my books await (and often find) new owners.  It was the first of the month so I was also there to receive a paycheck and a printout of books sold last month.  At this quiet time of year I was pleasantly surprised by both pieces of paper.  People are still buying interesting, useful, entertaining, meaningful books of all kinds. 

Me, too!  Optimism intact, I ventured forth this morning to a local friends-of-the-library sale.  I thought the sale started at 10 a.m.  It started at 9 a.m.  Ruh-roh.  However the friends were restocking the shelves when I ambled in at 9:59, so I still found some books to buy - general stock, nothing fancy or rare.  I don't think I've ever described in detail what I come home with from book sales, other than to say "good books" - so, today's the day.  Pictured below is my complete take-away from this morning's sale.  I spent $83 on 56 books, a mix of hardcover and softcover, new and old  Even after all these years of book hunting, sales like this still feel like outrageously good deals to me.  Will anyone ever buy them from me, in turn?  Not always, but often, yes.  Most heartening. 
House and garden first.  Some cookery - John Thorne! - and gardening, and a few art books:

Then five - five! - Alan Bennett books, and some literature and history:

Short stories, and the unclassifiable - Maira Kalman! Joseph Mitchell! - and poetry - Frost, Blake!

More fiction, literary biographies, nonfiction - Doris Grumbach!  Patrick O'Brian!

Some Penguin paperbacks - how I love them in orange, blue, black, and pale green.  More fiction, and essays, travel, and poetry - Frank O'Hara!  Patrick Leigh Fermor!

And the last two, because I like the covers - Pat Conroy's memoir, My Reading Life (Nan A. Talese 2010), which I myself am planning to read, whenever I can tear myself away from James Lees-Milne's diaries for any amount of time, and a Maine art book, Eric Hopkins: Waypoints (Farnsworth Art Museum 2003), which I love and already own a copy of, but not a signed copy, which this is.  It was my big purchase of the day, at $8.  I will keep the signed one and sell the unsigned.

There are a few other books I'll be keeping out of this long row - either to read and sell, or read and keep indefinitely.  The big Alan Bennett collection Untold Stories (Picador 2005) is a doorstop, the first 350-ish pages of which are entries from his diaries.  Cannot.  Wait.  (Will have to.  Already over-committed re Lees-Milne.)  Also looking forward to 33 Artists in 3 Acts by Sarah Thornton (Norton 2014; read her previous book Seven Days in the Art World, loved it), and Miss Jekyll: Portrait of a Great Gardener by Betty Massingham (David & Charles 1973) about the inimitable garden designer Gertrude Jekyll.  There are a few others I may hang on to for the next to-be-read pile - possibly All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (Scribner 2014; so many people have raved about this novel, and I do think his memoir Four Seasons in Rome is splendid, so I'll give it a look-see), but the rest of these books are about to be priced and put into my book booth.  By me.  Work I truly love. 

What a good week - I spent three days at the easel in my painting studio, and two days messing about with books.  We paid our income taxes a few weeks ago and the happy news is that both of my business ventures are going concerns.  I made money in the book business, which remains slow and steady, and made twice as much from the sales of my paintings as from the sales of my books.  A delightful trend.  May it continue into the coming year and beyond.  Optimism, again - I'm all for it.

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