Thursday, June 04, 2020
home and away
What a week. I've gotten a clean bill of health from my doctor and am feeling relieved about that, but am deeply disheartened at the same time, about the state this country is in. When I think it can't get worse, it gets much much worse, immediately. There's no escape, no getting away. The only thing I seem to be able to do is watch what's happening, recognize it for what it is, and then keep working on making room for good things in the future. I try to keep faith, in small ways each day, and add to the good, somehow.
So I'm here today, with that in mind. I'm clearing off my work table. Among other things, I want to reshelve some books, to make room for the new ones that are currently on approach. I sold some paintings and received a big paycheck, and just went a little nuts ordering books from one of the nearest independent booksellers' shops, a local favorite of mine and many others, Left Bank Books. I'm going to want to have some good new reading material close to hand when I finish up Virginia Woolf's Diary. I have two hundred pages or so left to read in Volume Five, the final volume, so it will be neck in neck to see if the new books arrive before I turn that last page. This seems like a frivolous topic at this terrible time, but here we are anyway.
First on my stack are these Vita Sackville-West items:
They make me happy whenever I pick them up and browse their pages. The first is Some Flowers (Abrams 1993). Vita Sackville-West's 1937 text about her favorite flowers is accompanied by Graham Rust's illustations, one of the best of which is on the front cover, showing the antique striped rose, Rosa Mundi. The second is a lovely little tourist item printed by J. Salmon at Sevenoaks in 1910, a guidebook to Knole, home of the Sackvilles since 1603, now managed by the National Trust. I say home, but the house is the size of a village, truly (it has 365 rooms, I think?). Thomas at Hogglestock took some lovely photographs during his visit to Knole around this time last year. No author for the guidebook is listed, but in the publisher's ad inside both covers, the larger edition, an actual history book, is said to be written by the Right Hon, Lord Sackville (Vita's father, since she still would have been a teenager when this was published). The contents of this thin and most likely excerpted version aren't exactly enthralling, but the soft polished covers and overall feel of it are redolent of a certain age of travel and ease. Here's the title page:
It's merely a bibelot, something I bought on a whim, because I loved it when I saw it. And I still do. This next book I actively sought out, however, after reading Passenger to Teheran by Vita Sackville-West (my copy is the Moyer Bell illustrated reprint from 1991). Once I'd read that, you see, I wanted to read her then much scarcer follow-up. I found a copy locally, and phew I paid for it, but not as much as I thought I might have to at the time. An antiquarian bookseller friend had this copy on his shelf. It's a little battered, but a first U.S. edition:
Twelve Days by Vita Sackville-West (Doubleday 1928); blue paper labels on front cover and spine, hot orange cloth covers. A peek inside:
It's a bit foxed but not bad. Oh this is a wonderful book. She chronicles her travels in the Bakhtiari Mountains in Persia, with copious photographs to boot. It cost me a hundred bucks and I have zero regrets about purchasing it. I bought it when I still had my shop, but even then it was something I considered a real treat, just for myself. Now it has my bookplate it it, for all time.
As does my final book of the day, and almost the last one out of this stack I'm trying to reshelve. I know I've mentioned this before, but it's more than good enough to rise to the top again:
I have such a soft spot for anthologies in general but this one really takes the cake. Another World Than This... compiled by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson (Michael Joseph 1945). I think of them putting this together as their ideal commonplace book, during the war years. The war is ending and the aftermath of it is nearly upon them. This gorgeous book of literary oddments is arranged in months like an almanac, and contains quotations and translations from throughout time and literature. It also feels like a stand being taken, on the side of a certain kind of civilization. It well may be the perfect bedside book, for glancing into for fifteen or twenty mintues each night. I treasure it, and the bookmark I found inside it later - this old thin air mail envelope from the Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor, Maine. I was born in nearby Bar Harbor and the little unused envelope feels like a love letter from the past.
I've got one more photograph to share. It's lilac time here in Maine. One of my favorite fragrances of all time is lilacs wet with rain. The bees are happy in our white ones right now, here at home. Peace, friends - peace, beauty, justice, equality - a beautiful world for us all: