Sunday, July 26, 2020


summer reading?

A midsummer update.  July has nearly passed, Virginia Woolf's Diary remains unfinished, and around here we've been getting up in the night to comet-watch.  Our rural Maine county has zero active known cases of the virus, and yet we continue to move carefully through our days, and try not to to feel overly judgy about the out-of-state licence plates we see daily, from people vacationing in our "safe" state.  Someone in the town where Ryan works has seen cars from 38 other states so far this summer.  I can't dwell on it, since there's nothing to be done, except do what we can do ourselves, and continue to take precautions.

Book sales are at a near stand-still, however paintings are selling like proverbial hotcakes, perhaps to some of these very visitors.  Each time I receive a paycheck from one of the galleries I turn around and buy a book or three to celebrate.  Ordering a few books here and there is a lovely way to have something definite to look forward to.  Even if the book is something I can't read, like this recent arrival:

It's a catalogue, in French, of an exhibit at the Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne, Switzerland: Peinture. Alex Katz & Félix Vallotton, with essays by Bernard Fibicher et al (5 Continents 2013).  I just wanted to see the color plates, but it was a pleasant surprise to discover that some of the quotes and side notes in the text are in English.  So I can sort of read the book.  But the pictures are more than enough.  I don't love everything by either of these two painters, but what work of theirs I do happen to love, I really love.  The Katz painting on the front cover is one of my all-time favorites of his, Lake Light from 1992.  And the Vallotton painting on the back cover was new to me, but what a wow, Coucher de soleil, brume jaune et gris from 1913:

Katz is in his early 90s and has spent summers in Maine since the 1950s, in an old house about half an hour from here.  Some of his Maine paintings are sublime.  And some of his work is nails-on-chalkboard to me, which is irritating yet fascinating.  I've had a love-hate relationship with his work since I was an undergraduate art student, and his paintings continue to draw my attention, for one reason or another.  So this nearly-unreadable book is a real treat.  I have many other books about him, but none quite like this.

As far as books in English go, a few massive (500-600+ page) softcovers are in mid-read:

Tell Me Something Good: Artist Interviews from The Brooklyn Rail edited by Phong Bui et al (David Zwirner Books 2017) is just what it says, and also a lush look at some working artists of today, across disciplines and styles.  I bought this copy last fall, along with another Zwirner anthology, What It Means to Write About Art: Interviews with art critics, by Jarrett Earnest (2018).  I read the latter right away, albeit slowly, and have finally gotten around to Tell Me Something Good.  Each interview is several pages long and I've been reading one or two each night, for days.  A few I'd read in The Brooklyn Rail online already, but most are new to me.  They reinforce the notion that art is an occupation, I won't say one worthy of being pursued, but it is pursued, by many, in many forms.  This alone is heartening news.  I love to read about how other people get their work done, and why they make it in the first place.

The second book, Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Writing from New England, edited by Siobhan Senier (University of Nebraska Press 2014) is more evening reading.  This region called Maine is the homeland and territory of four groups: Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Mi'kmaq (or Micmac).  Together they comprise the Wabanaki, which translates as People of the Dawn.  Maine is Dawnland, and has been since the glaciers receded over ten thousand years ago.  I wish I had learned this in school, but in recent years I've been making up for not doing so, and after many years of searching and buying, Ryan and I have a decent book collection about the known history of pre-European-contact times in the region.  This recent anthology gathers historical statements, literature, and poetry from each of the groups, and those from other areas of New England, and it's been illuminating to read across the centuries and up to now.  So much is truly haunting.  A section about Sopiel Soctomah, Passamaquoddy, seems like a harbinger (p.163), even though that's wishful thinking on my part, I know.  The brief introduction tells us he lived from 1755 to 1820, and he was a scout for the Maine Militia during the American Revolution, as well as a wampum reader.  His son Sopiel Selmore carried on the tradition, and read this in 1805: 

"The first string of wampum beads were read, 'We sent you this to open your eyes.'  The second string is read, 'That you may see a great way.'  Then the third string is read, 'That your ears may be opened to hear and fix your hearts that you may have a right understanding to what I am going to tell you.'"

Seems like a good way to move forward, with eyes and ears and hearts open, as we investigate how to repair ancient wrongs, and proceed as a world, together.  I say we even though all I seem to be able to do is investigate what's in my own heart.  Whenever I do, I believe that justice and truth and goodness will prevail.  The hopeful optimist in me lives still, even as I plan on wearing a mask to pick up my next order outside the local bookshop, instead of going in.  Better days are ahead, surely.

August may be quiet around here, as I get back to work on my book.  But I'll share something, even if it's just a picture of my new to-be-read stack, for the dog days ahead.  Best wishes and be well, friends.

Better days ahead. Thanks for the post.

We've been hiding out at our lake house in New Hampshire, going back for a couple days every three weeks. We took the plunge and are having half of the basement finished; this will increase our useful living space dramatically. We also, after having this place for nearly eight years, finally put up a mailbox and will forward our mail.

I recently ordered several books from the Harvard Book Store and got them in the mail. I've been interspersing them with some rereads, which I seldom do.

After lots of thought on both sides, our son and daughter-in-law and granddaughters will fly out for a week's visit in August (from Madison, WI). It's been forever since we saw them, a week or so before Covid-19 became a real thing.

Fascinating Dawnland project.

Stay safe.


Thanks for writing in, Dan. Great that you ordered from your semi-local shop, that's such a good bookstore. I'm ordering new books from our local here, so the shop gets some money, and the authors do too. I finished the four Dorothy L. Sayers books last week and am now revisiting a few other beloved authors, interspersed with my new books. More on the way, this week and next.

A lake in New Hampshire sure sounds good, stay cool! I swam in Lake Onawa in northwestern Maine last weekend, and this weekend finally got in the ocean too. Today is way too hot. We call it flat cat weather. Hodge and I are moving slowly, if at all (and Ryan has to be in his office most of this week, with no a/c, ugh, just a fan). Enjoy your renovations, and family visit, I know you'll take good care.
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