Friday, October 21, 2016

Griffin and Sabine, Sabine's Notebook, and The Golden Mean by Nick Bantock

The Griffin and Sabine books are my latest reading project. I call it a project because I plan to read one book right after the other. And then read them again.

These books hold much more than a story though. They are a feast for my senses. They have everything I love: handwritten letters, postcards, stamps, colorful, albeit sometimes strange, illustrations. There is so much creativity on these pages written and embellished by Nick Bantock that I am dazzled. 

I have read through the first book of correspondence between Griffin, a London postcard artist, and Sabine, a woman living on a South Pacific island with her own artful style. What fun it is to actually open an envelope and read a letter written by one or the other.

How these two came into each other's worlds you will just have to find out for yourself. I wouldn't dare spoil the surprise. 

I was working in an independent bookstore in 1991 when the first of these books came out. It was terribly popular and caught my eye but for some reason, although I loved the look of its gorgeous pages, I just never took the time to give it more than a cursory glance.

Now is my chance. 

After these three, there is also The Morning Star Trilogy that continues the story of these artistic correspondents. And just this year, a seventh book, The Pharos Gate, has been published. You can see what I mean about this being a project!

Here are a few close-ups of the delights contained in this world of Griffin and Sabine:

A stamp in bloom

A handwritten letter - in fountain pen, no less - from Sabine

A closeup of one of the fanciful postcard drawings

Even the end papers are intriguing

And a Postscript:

Oddly, this envelope (not part of the book)
 with its handwritten message
was tucked into the pages of Griffin and Sabine
This on the heels of my post about finding
strange things in books!

Have you already been enchanted by Griffin and Sabine or will you be adding these works of art to your reading list?

Friday, October 14, 2016

In Which I Take Stock of My Reading Pile

As so often happens when I can't quite settle on one book to read, I find that I end up reading way too many at the same time and still check titles out from the library.

Here is a sampling of a few that are crowding my tabletops right now.

Beside my reading chair:

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith - This is the book I pick up at two in the morning when I wander down my hallway to the living room knowing sleep has deserted me for a while. It is the modern retelling of the Jane Austen classic. I am sort of familiar with the basic premise. (I saw the movie.) Anyway, I love AMS and being in his company in the middle of the night is soothing.

(If you haven't read my account of meeting Mr. McCall Smith, you can do so here.)

Plum Pie by P.G. Wodehouse - This is a collection of short stories or it may be selections from a few of his books, but in any case, I am always happy to be in Mr. W's world. This is also a good one to pick up in the case of insomnia. In between the stories, he writes short (undated) commentaries on what is going on in the news of the day under the title Our Man in America. One is an item from a small town in North Carolina about the theft of 25 church pews and the pulpit. He wonders how the thieves plan to fence these hot pews. In another, he bemoans the discontinuation of the autumn Woolly Bear Hunt in which specimens of the caterpillar of that name were collected and examined in an effort to predict the mildness or severity of the coming winter. 

When Books Went to War by Molly Guptill Manning - Although I don't belong to a book club, a friend's group is reading this and he thought I would be interested in it. I am, but I have barely read past the introduction. It has to do with the free books sent to American troops during World War II. There were 120 million small paperback books - known as Armed Services Editions - printed for the reading enjoyment of soldiers and sailors. I wrote about a similar book, As You Were that was edited by Alexander Woollcott. It was one of my best used book discoveries ever! (You can read about that here.) My friend has invited me to attend the club's meeting and bring my vintage find. A sort of Show and Tell.

Beside my bed:

Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart - I remember reading Mary Stewart's suspenseful books in high school. Her novels seem to be making a comeback. This was her first and has all the characteristics that I remember: a young woman in a perilous situation not of her making, terrific place descriptions, and excellent prose. I have to remind myself to slow down and enjoy her sensory details - the song of the cicadas of an evening, the aroma of a morning cup of coffee, the glint of light on the river - and not rush along to find out what happens next. 

Image result for three men in a boat kindle cover

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome - This is my second reading of this classic comic novel. It's difficult to describe the events and meanderings that go on here but basically three fellows take off on a holiday in a boat up the River Thames. There is also a dog. You will just have to read it to get the full effect of this wonderful adventure published in 1889. It is as fresh and lively as ever.

Anything interesting on your reading tables? Are you enjoying one book or, like me, many? 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Finding Harmony in New Harmony

A sketch of my cottage at New Harmony.

As fall arrives, I find I am wanting time alone to reflect and come into myself. Sometimes that means hunkering down at home and other times I long to be somewhere else. I have a friend who calls me The Queen of Retreats. One of my favorite places to go to 'get away' is New Harmony, Indiana.

I have been visiting New Harmony for many years and have often stayed at the inn there. In case you don't know it, New Harmony is located about two hours west of Louisville just off Interstate 64. It was founded in 1814 as a Utopian community and has quite a lively arts scene along with historic buildings, gardens, outdoor sculptures, and two labyrinths. It lies on the Wabash River, has a small smattering of shops and galleries along its main street, and sports a population of about 900.

In the spring of 2014 I had a chance to spend a week in a little cottage there. I shared a few photos (here) of my time then, but thought I would revisit that retreat in a little more depth. To prime the pump, so to speak.

What was I looking for during that week-long retreat?

First a bit of peace and quiet away from my daily routine without the distractions of deadlines, household chores and errands, and a never-ending To Do List. Second, I wanted to spend time with my sketchbook and watercolors and knew that there were plenty of artful spots in the small town to explore. Third, I wanted a place that held a bit of historic interest.

This is what I found:

Art is everywhere.

Peace and Quiet
There is plenty of this in New Harmony. Even the town's name offers up the idea of solitude and serenity. My cottage, the 1840's Guest House, was across from the town's Roofless Church at the corner of North Street and West Street. It consisted of a living room with a fireplace, a desk and bookshelves tucked into a hallway, an adequate kitchen, a bedroom with a comfortable four-poster bed and a fragrant lilac bush blooming outside its window, and the smallest bathroom I have ever seen. The best part was that it had a screened-in porch on the side that overlooked gardens and a small gazebo. There were no other houses in view. I spent every morning and evening sitting on the porch watching the wasps trying to get in to make my acquaintance. A few were successful, but I shooed them away. Here is where I did a bit sketching, reading, staring into space. Every morning I walked the two short, shady blocks to the New Harmony Inn for a breakfast of fruit, cereal, and muffin, but other than that, I ate my meals at the small table on the porch and thought I would be quite content to spend the rest of my days there.

The parabola dome of the Roofless Church.

Time with Sketchbook
New Harmony is home to visual artists of all stripes: potters, watercolorists, sculptors, weavers. There are two art galleries in the town and many impressive outdoor sculptures and gardens that just beg to be sketched, photographed, contemplated. My cottage was filled with a nice selection of art all painted or created by local artists. I carried my sketchbook with me and came away after a week with many renderings of places and people that I encountered.

A fountain garden for reflection.

Historic Interest
I admit to a curiosity about the past and how people lived. New Harmony has a great deal to satisfy that curiosity. There are restored nineteenth century buildings - a potter's shop, log cabins and barns, an opera house, the old granary which is now a museum and meeting space, and the Working Men's Institute, an imposing brick building built in the late 1800s that houses the town's library. I spent a few hours here one morning looking through flower and garden books trying to identify the plants and posies blooming in the cottage's garden. I was fortunate that during my stay the annual Heritage Artisan Days were held and the streets were filled with well-behaved school children visiting from all over the state. The fair featured booths with artisans demonstrating crafts such as tin punching, paper marbling, glazing of redware pottery, wood carving, and that wonderful paper-cutting craft done with tiny, tiny scissors, Scherenschnitte.

One day I rented a golf cart – the preferred mode of transportation – and toured the town at a stately speed of maybe five miles per hour enjoying the architecture, the scents of flower gardens, and the friendly waves from pedestrians. I found my way down to the banks of the Wabash River and spent more than a couple of reflective moments there.

Another piece of outdoor art.

I loved my time on this community-centered retreat. It was a wonderful week full of many quiet adventures.

I have already started thinking about when I can return. I did spend one night there last October but one night is not enough time to shake off the dust of big city life.

Next month I will be heading to the Abbey of Gethsemani for my annual Thanksgiving week retreat. You can read about last year's time away here.

What are you planning to do to quiet yourself and welcome in fall and winter? Any books on your list that you have been saving for the long nights to come?

Friday, September 30, 2016

Best.State.Ever. by Dave Barry

Image result for best state ever dave barry

Reading Dave Barry's Best. State. Ever. - A Florida Man Defends His Homeland is a great way to visit the The Sunshine State without actually having to go there and be subjected to relentless sun, sand, and big bugs - unless, of course, that is your thing.

Mr. Barry, who is always hilarious, decides to tour his adopted state (he has lived in Florida for 30 years) and write about its many attractions - from a spiritualist community to a shooting range. No Disney World fantasies here. These are homegrown, albeit strange, places that he visits in an effort to highlight a few of Florida's charms.

So we are treated to the wonders of Weeki Wachee Springs, home of the underwater theater featuring mermaids performing aquatic ballets. It is a place, a little north of Tampa, where the fifties never ended, he notes, and makes for a pleasant, low-key outing. There is a Wilderness Cruise where one sees actual animals and fish and not the animatronic ones encountered on Disney's Jungle Cruise.

This is also where he comes across, to his delight, the classic Mold-A-Matic (which he adopts as the icon for his tourist site rating system), a machine that spits out a freshly baked plastic souvenir related to whatever attraction one is visiting: in this case a mermaid.

He makes other trips to livelier places: LIV, a nightclub in the Fountainbleau Hotel on Miami Beach where the young hip crowd dances till dawn, and The Villages where many of the residents of this popular retirement community also spend the evening dancing (although they are usually home in bed way before dawn).

In all, he checks out eight tourist spots including Key West where he and a friend spend a day and evening bar hopping which leads to the inevitable morning hangover. 

He writes a fractured history of the state and includes photos of many of the sites which add even more pleasure to this literary journey. 

If you are a native of Florida or are one of its many Snowbirds you might either be highly amused at Mr. Barry's take on the state or highly offended. I for one have never seen the attraction, but then I don't take to heat and humidity. I noticed that he made his tour during the winter months so as to avoid that double dose of discomfort.

Anyway, Mr. Barry is in good form here. He offered me a tropical trip that put me in the mood to reread Carol Ryrie Brink's The Pink Motel (here).

For my own Best. State. Ever. I would definitely have to include Mammoth Cave National Park (although I have only been there once and cave crickets scare me...they jump so high and so quickly!), and My Old Kentucky Home in Bardstown that was the inspiration for Stephen Foster's famous song. If you have ever been to the Kentucky Derby or watched the race on television, you can't help but get chills when all in attendance stand and sing this anthem.

What places from your city/state/country would be on your list?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Women Who Read are Dangerous by Stefan Bollmann

Vittorio Matteo Corcos

Women Who Read are Dangerous is such a beautiful book that I wanted to share a bit of its gorgeousness with you.

The premise here is simple: reproduce paintings, sketches, and a photograph or two of women enjoying the company of a book. As I sat paging through these images I tried to imagine someone sketching me thereby including myself in the circle of dangerous women! 

Many of the artists and images were familiar to me but quite a few were not.  Each painting is accompanied by a brief commentary enlightening the reader as to the subject or the artist or putting the painting in historical context.

Here one will find women old and young, servants and saints, mothers and movie queens. You will see them reading in the bed, in the garden, in the boudoir, on the chaise lounge, in the library, or alone in a hotel room. Wherever dangerous women seek a quiet moment with a book.

Here are just a few that I was not familiar with: 

I love the boldness of this one.
Woman Reading
Erich Heckel

The color of her dress caught my eye here.

Details of
Madame de Pompadour1756
Francois Boucher

Who is that reflected in the glass of the cabinet door?
Karin Reading
Carl Larsson

I pretty much love anything by Matisse.
The Three Sisters
Henri Matisse

This woman has such a pleasant yet intent look.
Young Woman with Book
Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Deineka

The publishing information for this book is complicated. It was first published in German by Elisabeth Sandmann Verlag in 2005, then in English by Merrell Publishers, London, in 2006 and 2008. This American edition with a forward by Karen Joy Fowler was published in 2016 by Abbeville Press.

To further complicate things, Merrell's title was Reading Women and it is apparently exactly the same book as this one. You might also search for the book under that title.

By my count there are over sixty images to enjoy. I have most likely broken all sorts of copyright laws in reproducing these here, and I apologize for that, but I wanted you to see a small sampling of the visual treasures the book contains.

Kick back with Woman Who Read are Dangerous and enjoy the arrival of autumn.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Passed and Present by Allison Gilbert

I don't know about yours, but my mother saved everything. As did her mother. Both my parents and their parents are now deceased and I have inherited all the papers and photos, greeting cards and letters, books, china and silver, jewelry, scrapbooks, family recipes (and I am not a cook!), personal documents, and a plethora of other mementos.

When Mom died in 2009, in my grief I tried as best I could to sort and cull what was left behind. Although some of the items found their way to my brother's house, many of the objects ended up just being closed up in boxes. They continue to sit in a closet waiting for me to revisit them. 

The task of looking through them again, knowing the decisions that have to be made, seems overwhelming still. What to keep? What to throw away?

But help is at hand from a book I discovered the other day at the library: Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive by Allison Gilbert. She writes of her own search for meaningful ways to honor her deceased parents. Instead of just relegating memories of those passed to a special occasion or holiday, she wanted ways to keep their memories with her all through the year.

So she consulted with jewelers, artists, scrapbookers, quilters, techie folks, photographers, upcyclers, and even a Hollywood prop artist. The result is a book full of what she calls Forget Me Nots - creative ways to commemorate those who have passed. 

Her 85 Forget Me Nots are broken into five sections: Repurpose with Purpose; Use Technology; Not Just Holidays; Monthly Guide; and Places to Go.

Here are just a few of her suggestions:

Fashion your father's neckties into a quilt or wall hanging

Make a Memory Magnet using a family photo for the fridge

Volunteer your time to organizations or causes that support your loved one's interests or passions

Create a piece of jewelry that incorporates your loved one's signature

Make a playlist of your loved one's favorite songs (My mom and I both loved Frank Sinatra!)

Many of Ms. Gilbert's suggestions are easy to integrate into your days. On the other hand, you might have to rely on the help of others - a tech person, artist, or even a historian - to assist you in your plans. She includes contact information for helpful sources.

This is a useful guide that deserves a permanent place on one's bookshelf. At times, a suggestion may not make sense to you or may not be one that you can bear to contemplate, so having these Forget Me Nots close at hand could prove useful at a later date.

Already her thoughts have prompted my own Forget Me Not. My high school class has planned various activities for this weekend in celebration of our I'll-Never-Tell-How-Many-Years reunion. Yesterday, a group of us met at the high school, ate lunch in the cafeteria alongside current students, and took a nostalgic tour of the building. Before I went, I dug out my class ring and slipped it on my finger. As my mother graduated from the same high school, I also wore her class ring. It was a way to have her with me and share the experience. 

Have you come up with any ideas to keep and incorporate into daily life the memories of family and friends who have passed away? I would love to hear your suggestions.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Bits and Bobs Left Behind

Things left behind in used books can be irritating or entertaining. Reader notes scribbled in the margins and underlined passages often contribute to the 'irritating' label in my opinion. 

On the other hand, in the entertaining realm are the bits and bobs and other ephemera abandoned by previous readers. Items I have found include credit card receipts, business cards, actual bookmarks (always welcome), newspaper articles, dried flowers, and in the following case, quite a surprise.

To wit:

At the Locust Grove Used Book Sale in March 2015, I paid a hefty one dollar for a paperback edition of P.G.Wodehouse's The Cat-NappersThis is a tale of Bertie Wooster's attempt to get away from London for a quiet visit to the country but, because this is Wodehouse, his stay becomes just the opposite. It is the last novel featuring Jeeves and Wooster - one character with the brains and one with an uncanny way of getting caught up in delightful dilemmas.

Anyway, during a recent bout with insomnia, I pulled The Cat-Nappers from a stack on the bookshelf - you can see right away how far behind I am with my TBR pile - and settled in to immerse myself in the wonderful world of Bertie Wooster and his faithful valet. Nothing like a little laughter to raise one's spirits at 3 o'clock in the morning. Before I opened to the first page, I casually flipped through the book and a small piece of paper fell into my lap. 

It was the stub from an United Airline boarding pass. When I read the name of the person on the ticket I discovered it was someone I knew. I was not close friends with this woman but we had met quite a few times and had several mutual acquaintances. She was from a prominent family in Louisville and contributed much to the community. She died in late 2013. I guess that is how her book came to be in the used book sale a year and a half later.

I studied the stub further. Her flight was from Chicago/O'Hare to Louisville and the date of the flight was March 27 - my birthday! Although there was no year noted, I did some investigating and discovered that the United logo printed on the stub was in use from 1974-1993. 

Her seat was in the non-smoking section and more detective work revealed that the airlines went totally non-smoking on short flights in 1990. This narrowed even further the possible year of her flight. As the edition of The Cat-Nappers in hand had a publication date of 1975, I could only deduce that the flight took place between then and 1990.

Sherlock Holmes has nothing on me.

Of course, all this is just an amusing - to me - anecdote of what surprises books can hold in addition to the stories printed in their pages.

Have you discovered any interesting items between the pages of your books? Or perhaps you have inadvertently left something of your own behind for the next owner to discover. Please, do tell.