Saturday, March 02, 2019



Ice and snow are still covering the crocuses around here, but I know the bulbs are under there and will awaken soon.  They must be thinking things over, surely.  The turning of the month is a big one - March always feels so close to spring.  Spring!  I can't wait.  It's been so cold for so long.  We bundled up and attended the same local library book sale this morning that we often attend, since the friends-of-the-library group holds it on the first Saturday of each month, all winter.  If the roads are dry and we have cabin fever, we go.  Today's haul consisted of two bags of books for $50.  From that, I have a small stack here beside me to keep for a while.  A Mary Wesley novel I haven't read yet, a softcover reprint of Golden Earth: Travels in Burma by Norman Lewis, a reprint of W.H. Auden's commonplace book A Certain World (Viking 1970), Annie Leibovitz's memoir At Work (Random House 2008), a fluffy contemporary novel about a bookseller (can't resist, will report back if any good), and an 800-page diary I'd never heard of, Field Marshall Lord Alanbrooke's War Diaries 1939-1945 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2001), which looks like a fascinating slog, just what I like.  For now, I'll keep it on the shelf near the war diaries of James Lees-Milne and Frances Partridge.

Because even though I am buying books to read, I'm barely reading a thing right now.  (Writing, I am still writing!)  But diaries are on my mind.  Written in one of my own, somewhere, years ago, is a quote from Wendell Berry, which goes something like this:  "From my various ancestors I inherited both great wealth and great poverty.  It has taken me years to figure out which is which."  But can I find this quote?  No, I cannot.  Not in an old diary, or in the Wendell Berry books on my shelves here at home.  The google machine is also unhelpful in this regard, but I am quite sure Wendell Berry said it, and so I paraphrase him here, regarding an inheritance I recently received.  I am a stepchild, and my step-grandfather died a few cold Januaries ago.  I have good memories of him, and even more of my step-grandmother, who was the only real grandmother I ever knew when I was a child.  But they were complicated people, as people are, and when I think of them now, the quote comes to mind.

All that is to say, my stepfather stopped by the other day with a gift for me, from his father's house.  He and my aunts and uncle are cleaning out the house, to offer it for sale.  Bittersweet doesn't cover it but will have to stand in as shorthand.  The gift came in four heavy boxes.  Here is the first box:     

Huge glorious hardcovers in their jackets.  All twenty volumes of the OED, Second Edition.  With a gift inscription from nearly twenty years ago.  It was an 80th birthday present to my step-grandfather, and I remember seeing it on his shelves, and yearning, more than just a little, to have my own set.  And now here it is, come to stay.  My grandparents gave me other gifts, throughout my life, but this last one feels so special.

As I struggle to find the right words to finish (or at least come to a good resting place with) the book I am attempting to write, the OED, this compenium of the best of our language, sits like an anchor to windward.  An apt simile, since my grandparents were sailors.  I am now pondering the booklover's eternal dilemma.  I speak of course of shelf space.  Ryan and I have been talking about building a new bookcase to house the set.

Book update - this week I finished editing the third draft of my island painting book.  It comes into ever-clearer focus.  I still have much to do but can see real progress and even glimpse an endpoint.  It's twelve chapters now, and almost 100,000 words, many of which need to be cut, but are satisfying to contemplate in their mass.  Words.  WORDS.  Our stories, our language.  What a gift it is.           

Much as I love my own set of the OED, I can understand treasuring it even more for the family connection! Owning it is a treat for word people. Great idea to build a bookcase to house it.
I bought a copy of the two-volume set with magnifying glass, many years ago (cheap), and I remember seeing a huge old hardcover set with dust jackets in a bookshop on Cape Cod, also many years ago (couldn't afford it but oh I did so want it). Yes, a pine bookshelf, like the shelving we built for my shop, except deeper, since thhe volumes are so big. Thanks for checking in, ccr.
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