Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Life. It keeps right on happening. And somewhere along the way I lost the habit of writing here regularly. In my actual handwritten diary that is not the case, thank goodness. I continue to write, mostly about painting and reading. Books, what would we do without them! In this week of thankfulness I will say once more, thank god for books. And for the authors, editors, publishers, booksellers, and buyers, who keep the literary world turning. After putting bookplates into many of my books over the past six months, I realize yet again what an odd mishmash of them I have accumulated. Or not. Or both - like this one. For several years I owned a copy of Roger Deakin's book Wildwood (Free Press 2010), and there it sat on the shelf, unread. In one of my big sorts I decided I wasn't ever going to read it, so I priced it and put it out for sale. Then this summer I decided I did want to read it after all, and I combed my booth looking for it. It has a very distinctive cover, I know just what it looks like and even feels like in the hand. I couldn't find it, and thought I must have sold it. Then, last week when I was tending my book booth and picking up my check and list of sold books from last month, there it was, printed right at the top of the list! Arg! Sold, but where was it? I know my stock through and through. I mean, most of it I've been examining, handling, and moving from place to place for over two decades now. Wildwood, where were you? Now I have to buy another copy. If that is the least of my worries I am in good shape.
Book sales are steady, by the way. I am almost always pleasantly surprised by what sells - new books and the classics, both. Any time someone says to me that people don't buy real books anymore I want to brandish my sales lists in their faces. (Gently.)
I myself am certainly still buying books. I can't stay out of bookshops, new and secondhand. Online, too, though as usual that's nowhere near as much fun as the real thing. Some recent acquisitions:
Just finished the exemplary Ninth Street Women (Little, Brown 2018). A bit from painter Grace Hartigan, to help us carry on (p. 284):
"'In a painting, I try to make some logic out of the world that has been given to me in chaos.... The fact that I know I am doomed to failure - that doesn't deter me in the least.'"
I've been reading mostly art books lately, as the stack shows. Ninth Street Women is about five of the women of the abstract expressionist movement in New York during the 1940s and 50s - Hartigan, Mitchell, Krasner, Frankenthaler, and de Kooning. It ties together so many strands for me, about these women and their friends, lovers, and husbands, art-making during the war, and the artists and poets of the New York school, glimpsed here from a new direction. 900+ pages of social history and biography - does that sound dull? It isn't. It's a wild soap opera - the dramatic and often violent lives these artists led had me feeling especially thankful for my own quiet existence here in the country.
Speaking of the country. Snow is falling steadily here as we speak. And I'm looking at it in a new way, after reading the Andy Goldsworthy book about snow last night - Midsummer Snowballs (Abrams 2001). He constructs giant snowballs in winter in the mountains of Scotland - each weighing close to a ton - full of natural materials hidden in the snow, stores the snowballs in a deep-freeze, and sets them up as public sculpture in London, during the night of June 21, 2000. The snowballs proceed to melt and reveal their contents over several days. The public reacts in all kinds of ways. Goldsworthy describes the construction, placement, melting, and reactions in his diary entries, which illustrate the intensity of the artist's preoccupations as much as his sculpture does. A few examples:
"Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood. A snowball is simple, direct and familiar to most of us. I use this simplicity as a container for feelings and ideas that function on many levels." (p.31)
"My art is an attempt to reach beyond surface appearances. Nature does not stop or start at the boundary of a city. I want to see growth in wood, time in stone, nature in a city. I don't mean a city's parks, but the earth upon which it is built, the stone with which it is made, the rain that falls on both field and pavement, the people moving around its streets. I dislike the way that nature is perceived by some as peripheral to and separate from the city. I resent the way in which the countryside has been marginalised, considered as a pleasant and recreational backdrop to relaxing at the weekend or on holiday, while life in the city is somehow thought to be more real. In fact, life in the countryside is at times harsh, aggressive, powerful and destructive, as well as beautiful. Working there can be hard work, stressful and traumatic as well as deeply satisfying." (p.33)
Agreed. Nature is IT, not a side interest, or something to be paved over for good. Living and working out in it as I do, often outside for entire days of painting, not to mention growing up on a small farm in a very rural area of this very rural state, when my father and other relatives lived in New York City, well, all that was an education and continues to be. Another item for my gratitude list this Thanksgiving week.
And one more (too many to name here, am extremely grateful lately, so am limiting it to three today). The book room here at home is looking particularly good right now. Our primary repository for our books, it has become a place of great solace, what I'd always hoped for. Old friends are everywhere I look. I've cleaned up as I bookplated my way along each shelf and am feeling so happy about the state of my books. I walk into the room and feel welcome. Nothing admonishes me (well, okay, perhaps that set of Proust, but hey, I still have it on hand, just in case, so there's that). One end of the room is quite tidy, it pleases me to no end - some literature (fiction, belles lettres, diaries, letters), yes a mishmash as I said - all kinds of authors sitting there together, companionably and alphabetically:
There is even a bit of room on the shelves for new books. In the Cs and Ds. Which is good, since I'm thinking right now of books I don't have yet but want to read. Like this one - writer Tom Cox has a new book out of ghost stories set in the British countryside. His first book of fiction: Help the Witch (Unbound 2018). I haven't gotten a copy yet, but I am going to, soon, one way or another. Meanwhile I check in on his his twitter feed (it's so worth reading...) for gems like this:
"I know I buy far too many books but I like to think that lining my house with them wards off evil in some deeply important way."
He quotes other people once in a while, too:
"'People argue books are merely objects that take up space. This is true, but so are Prague & your kids & the Sistine Chapel.' - Joe Queenan."
So, with much to look forward to, and much gratitude, we head into the quiet season here. Winter: the snow, the reading, the painting, the diary writing. Life flows on. Thanks be.