Thursday, July 28, 2011

Books in the vault - and on the walls, and the floor, and ...

I love checking out quirky independent bookstores when I travel and this past weekend's trip to upstate NY was no exception. The treat this time was Lyrical Ballad Bookstore in Saratoga, NY. The store unfolds across various rooms - turn a corner, and there's another hidden nook holding a different category of books. The main room is rimmed with tall bookcases that are themselves topped in dozens and dozens of bookends, haphazardly displayed and apparently designed to tempt book lovers into thinking they're for sale (they're not).

The store used to be a bank, and you can still see the old bank vault door. (Yes, it's locked! I wonder if the books behind it are special ...) The store has a lot of first editions, also some neat old prints and of course shelves upon shelves of random treasures. I bought an old copy of Walter Scott's Ivanhoe and a 1915 Arm & Hammer Baking Soda bird trading card (like one of these but without the frame).

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A taste of Wharton society

Edith Wharton, the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, spent ten crucial years of her life in Lenox, MA at her custom-built estate, The Mount. Wharton designed the house as both a congenial home for guests (like Henry James) and a retreat for herself. She wrote some of her most important books there, including Ethan Frome and House of Mirth.

Before traveling to Albany this weekend for my pilgrimage to Lenox, I read some of Wharton's classics. I re-read Ethan Frome this winter and was thrilled to rediscover how cold and stark the story is. A great winter read. Then I read House of Mirth and Age of Innocence just before traveling, and they were both beautiful experiences (man, could that woman write) and wonderful introductions to Wharton's life in upper society New York. Given all the frivolous class preoccupations that she skewers in both novels, it's easy to see how Wharton treasured her time at The Mount, away from the brass materialism and snobbish distinctions of Fifth Avenue society.

Wharton did all of her writing in bed (posed pictures at her desk notwithstanding), and obviously made the most of her life of leisure. But she was also a divorcee in Paris when the Great War broke out, and she worked tirelessly to promote relief efforts and to publicize the civilian cost of the war.

Right: Wharton's bedroom

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What you do while you're waiting

In Venezuela the other day, a reporter recorded 117 people standing in line outside a government building. Waiting. Like so many Venezuelans they were starting (or spending) their day waiting in a line. This line was to use the only working elevator in that building. There were, of course, other lines after reaching the correct floor.

This NYT article about waiting in Venezuela mentioned what the people were doing as they waited. Waiting is interesting - it's an inescapable part of life, even with all our hustle bustle. I wait for the bus in the morning, wait in line at the cafeteria, wait for the water to boil so I can make pasta.

How do we spend all that time waiting? Stephen King says he keeps a book on him always, so whenever he's slogging through a line, at the grocery store or waiting to pick up his kids from school, he can pull out his book and read a few lines. I've tried to adopt that habit, and having a book in my purse certainly makes me a lot more patient when the bus is running late or when my lunch appointment gets lost. I don't have a smart phone (nor do I want one) so I can't check the internet, but that's often what my husband does when he waits.

Some people seem to do nothing while they wait. No books, no newspaper. Part of me thinks that seems like a horrible waste of time. But part of me thinks that maybe my imagination could stand to be let loose a bit when I wait, or that I could work on "being present," as they say.

How do you wait? Is that a good place for writing?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Doodle Stitching

Inspired partly by Rowena's amazing sewing skills and partly by distant memories of sewing/cross stitch/etc. when I was in high school, I decided to try some embroidery. I'd previously bought embroidered gifts for friends having babies, but with one of my best friends due to have her first, it seemed time to up the ante. I bought Doodle Stitching, by Aimee Ray (such pretty stuff she does!). With Aimee's help I learned a few basic stitches, got inspired, and set off!

The photos here capture the results. (For those unfamiliar with baby gear, these are burp cloths.) I'm pretty excited to have picked up a new hobby! Not that I needed one, what with the writing and the cooking and the gaming and the friends and, oh right, a baby on the way ... :)

So this is a different sort of book review than my usual, but if you're interested in getting a little artsy-crafty, I definitely recommend Aimee's book.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Season's Bounty

I love the Farmer's Market at this time of year. We joined a CSA this year to help ease our shopping trips, but I still can't resist the lure. I slogged through the thick-as-butter humidity this morning to make it out to the market and was amply rewarded. Check out the beautiful flowers I bought!

I also snagged some sour cherries, one of my favorite seasonal treats. I think this may have been the last week to get them in our part of our woods, so I'm grateful I made the hike. I made a cherry pie filling with them today - just added rum, vanilla, and sugar. (My theory is that every cooked fruit dish is improved by some sort of alcohol - rum, brandy, or vodka, usually.) I'm going to have to really exercise restraint to avoid eating these for a week so they can survive until next weekend, when I'll plop them into the pie crust I made ages ago and just need to bake.

Have fun enjoying your summer bounty! I'll be tucking into a homemade zucchini bread shortly - fuel for the work I'm doing on my current manuscript-in-progress.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Summer reading on Parade

I'm glad the world has the capability to surprise me, especially in pleasant ways. I'll admit to being a bit of a snob sometimes, and I usually ignore the Parade Magazine that comes with my Sunday paper inserts. ("Did Amanda Bynes really quit acting?" asks a reader on the first page. Me - who's Amanda Bynes?) But this week the cover caught my attention. Summer Reading, it promised. I wondered what Parade, which I assume is popular since it's been around for ages and still has columns by Marliyn vos Savant, would recommend to readers. What popular, commercial fiction would top their lists?

Well. I shouldn't jump to conclusions, now should I. Turns out their fiction list looked to me to be all literary, and it included a number of books I'd already added to my wishlist. Check it out for yourself. Fun to be pleasantly surprised! Fun to be reminded that there are lots of great readers out there.

(Also, the essay by Pat Conroy is charming and worth reading.)

It's been a long time since I had a long, relaxing summer vacation, so I tend to forget that summer reading can, for some lucky folks, have a special feel from the rest of the year. But I have a few short vacations coming up and I hope to make at least one of them a sitting-on-your-bum, watching-the-world-go-by sort of get-away. I haven't yet decided what books I'll take, but it will be fun to do so! Anyone else there have a special summer reading list?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Stolen Child, by Keith Donohue

I'm trying to get back into the normal flow of life, now, a few weeks after my father-in-law's passing. Reading, as usual, is a great balm and balancing force for me. Fortunately, the book I first picked up off my to-be-read pile was Keith Donohue's enchanting The Stolen Child.

In Donohue's debut work, he takes a fresh look at an old fairytale by following two sides of the same changeling swap. The chapters are written alternately by the boy who was taken from his family and the changeling boy who becomes human in his place. There's magic and creativity, and at first the book draws you along as you learn the fabulous world of the changelings and the lore that structures their lives. But then the story becomes deeper, a more profound examination of the universal search for self-confidence and authenticity. The two boys, in this story, continue to be fascinated with each other, building tension as the story progresses. No spoilers here, so I'll just say it's a fun read.

He's got a new book out that I'll have to pick up - Centuries of June. Happily, I suppose, the TBR pile never seems to diminish. That's the sort of comfort I'll take.

Princess Nijma

Princess Nijma