Thursday, May 31, 2012

Author Event Recap: Paula McLain

Paula McLain spoke at Ashton Place in Willowsprings, IL on Thursday May 3, 2012 at 7pm. Her talk was the grand finale of The Big Read which chose her novel, The Paris Wife, as its community read for 2012.

The Paris Wife is McLain's fifth book and her first bestseller. She started her talk by telling the audience a bit about her life. She was abandoned by both of her parents as a child in the 1970s and grew up in foster care. When friends found out about her story they told her she should write a memoir. She had no idea how to write a memoir and so just started with any memory that would come to mind. She'd write a scene about that memory, print it, and put it away. She got an agent with that first effort. The memoir didn't sell very well, however, and she lost her agent, her editor, and her publisher. McLain's next book was a novel and she acquired another agent, editor, and publisher. That book also "failed" and again she lost her publisher.

Then McLain read Ernest Hemingway's memoir, A Moveable Feast. She started thinking about writing a book set in 1920s Paris. She thought about Hemingway and how he was good at exposing other people, putting the spotlight on them. She wanted to know more about this love he had for Hadley and who Hadley was and what the "real deal" was.
The crowd.

She went to the library to find out. And here McLain added a sidebar that got her a big round of applause: she talked about how important libraries have been to her life. She moved around a lot as a child and instead of attempting to make friends with the other children at each new school, she'd befriend the local librarian and read everything they recommended. Libraries and librarians, she said, saved her life.

McLain started her research by reading the two biographies available on Hadley* and some of the many available on Hemingway. Then she went to Boston and read their love letters. Hemingway was a pack rat who saved EVERYTHING. McLain read the audience a few lines of one of Hadley's letters in which she lovingly referred to Hemingway's "big square head." In these love letters McLain found the young man that Hemingway was before he created the persona that was to become the macho, hard-drinking, big game hunting, Great American Writer.

Hadley encouraged Hemingway's early writing in vital ways at a time when he needed one person to believe that he could do it. A gnawing curiosity about Hadley is what started McLain on the path of writing this novel. She was so taken with Hadley that she quit her job to write it. Much of the writing was done at a Starbucks in Cleveland and said she had more fun writing this book than writers should be allowed to have.

McLain ended up falling in love with Hadley. Yes, she wanted to pick her up and shake her at times (if you've read The Paris Wife, you know why), but mostly she tried to take Hadley as she found her, in her context, and not judge.

The Frugal Muse sold books at the event.
Everyone has probably heard a version of how authors show up for their book signings and find only one or two people in attendance (if they're lucky) and usually its the author's mom and significant other, right? Well, McLain's first event for The Paris Wife was in St. Louis, Hadley's hometown. McLain was more than surprised to find a standing room only crowd, particularly since the book had just been released.

How could a standing room only event get even better? Hadley's nephew was in the audience. McLain read the scene where Hadley is at the World's Fair enjoying a new invention: a strawberry ice cream cone. When McLain finished reading the nephew stood up and said that Hadley would have loved the scene (and presumably the novel, too).

During the Q&A session several things came up:
  • The movie "Midnight In Paris" which depicts Hemingway as not married. Not much to say about that.
  • Pauline--Hemingway's second wife, Hadley's friend. McLain says that Pauline was a shrewd woman and felt that she should be the one to usher Hemingway into the new phase of his career.
  • Yes, McLain eventually did listen to the Hadley tapes. [For a sample visit The Hemingway Project. This link will take you to a clip about what Hadley did after she and Ernest split.]
  • Someone asked why she wrote a novel rather than a biography or a non-fiction narrative of some kind after all the research that she did. McLain said because she wants to tell stories.
  • McLain didn't have and didn't want permission to quote from Hadley's letters. She made things up. She'd take some small thing and make it bigger. Like the diving scene when Pauline, already in the water with Hemingway, is trying to teach Hadley how to dive in. What would it cost her to dive in, McLain wondered. This became a crucial scene in the novel, a turning point for Hadley's character. All that Hadley had told Carlos Baker (Hemingway's authorized biographer) was that Pauline once tried to give her diving lessons and that it didn't go well. McLain took that one sentence and wrote a solid scene. As a reader I was relieved by the choice Hadley made.
  • What's been great about the popularity of the novel, McLain said, is that she's had people come to her book signings who knew Hemingway or Bumby, his and Hadley's son. In fact, at her signing in Chicago last year when McLain talked about Ernest and Hadley's awful first apartment in Chicago, a man stood up and said, "I own that building!" He gave McLain a tour of the building (1239 North Dearborn St., see picture here) and it's still awful, she said, but she also felt a shiver when she put her hand on the railing that Hadley and Ernest had touched as they walked up the stairs.

Resource Guide listing participating libraries and the people who made it happen.
To learn more about Paula McLain and her thoughts on Hadley and Ernest, visit her author page at Random House.

*The two biographies of Hadley are:
  • Hadley: The First Mrs. Hemingway (1973) by Alice Hunt Sokoloff
  • Hadley: A Life of Hadley Richardson Hemingway (1992) by Gioia Diliberto. Reprinted as Paris Without End: The True Story of Hemingway's First Wife (2011)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife was the last big book that we ran out of at Borders. Or at least that's how I remember it. My store got regular replenishment of it in for a while after its initial release in February 2011 and I had plans to buy a copy. I'm a Hemingway fan and read Hadley by Gioia Diliberto years ago.* I knew my Mom would like to read it, as well. However, I didn't get around to buying it and then the publisher's stopped sending books to Borders. But then I saw it at Costco and purchased it there (gasp!). I gave the book to my Mom to read first and she thought it was "just okay." After hearing her unenthusiastic response I let the book fall down toward the end of my to-be-read list.

When The Paris Wife was chosen by a group of west suburban Chicago libraries for their annual community reading program and I saw that Paula McLain would be coming to town for an event, the book started creeping toward the top of my to-be-read list. I enjoyed reading it more than my Mom did. My sister has the book now, so we'll see how her opinion tips the family scale.

What I liked about The Paris Wife, beyond the historic literary tourism, is how it shows Hadley coming into her own. Eventually. It seems to me that although she's clearly in love with Hemingway, she's also pretty depressed during her early years with him. Her father commits suicide, her sister dies after being burned in a fire, and then she nurses her mother who also dies. Months later she marries Hemingway, having known him for less than a year, and then mainly through letters (how romantic!). It's little wonder she latched on to him and held on and put up with his ever-increasing bullshit.

I wouldn't be surprised if she was clinically depressed. Then some pretty major, rather passive-aggressive things happen on her part. It's also made pretty clear that part of Hadley's "problem" is that she has no passion of her own. She starts to reclaim a passion and then the bottom falls out: Hadley finds out about the affair her husband has been having with one of her friends, of course, and--even better--he wants to keep on loving both of them.

Hadley and her man, 1922
We are, however, seeing Hemingway through Hadley's eyes or at least how McLain understands their relationship. The Hemingway of The Paris Wife is initially a charming young fellow (he's only in his early 20s at the beginning) and by the end he's betrayed not only friends and mentors, but Hadley and it seems even himself. Hemingway morphs into the type of Parisian cafe writer that he earlier despised, writes a distasteful satire of his mentor Sherwood Anderson's latest novel, and publishes it against the advice of everyone. Everyone, that is, except the woman he's having the affair with who thinks she's the one to take the talented young man to the next level of his career.

Gertrude Stein was one of Hemingway's mentors and she eventually calls him a "careerist." This novel struck me as a cautionary tale of what can happen to a person when success starts rolling their way if they’re not grounded. How it’s important to keep those you trusted before you were famous close to you. How you can fool yourself into thinking new things and new people aren't just good for you, but that they're better for you than those that supported you on your way up.

It's a painful tale with a happy ending, for Hadley, anyway. If you've read The Sun Also Rises, The Garden of Eden, and/or A Moveable Feast you'll have an idea of what to expect. It is in A Moveable Feast, Hemingway's memoir of his time in Paris, where he famously writes of Hadley: "I wished I had died before I loved anyone but her." Even if you've never read a Hemingway novel in your life, that line alone may stir you enough to pick up The Paris Wife.

The Paris Wife
Paula McLain
Random House, February 22, 2011
Recommend to folks who like: Hemingway, love stories, Paris in the 1920s, reading about writers' lives.
Source: bought it

*Hadley was published in 1992 by Ticknor & Fields. A new edition was released in 2011as Paris Without End: The True Story of Hemingway's Wife by HarperCollins.

For Thursday: A recap of Paul McLain's talk for The Big Read.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Library: Timothy B. Blackstone Memorial Library, Chicago, IL

Timothy B. Blackstone Memorial Library
(aka Blackstone Branch Library)
4904 South Lake Park Avenue
Chicago, IL 60615
(312) 747-0511

Architect: Solon S. Beman
Cost: $250,000
Square feet: 13, 794
Dedication: January 8, 1904

Last May I stumbled upon the James Blackstone Memorial Library in Branford, CT. It's a stunning library and if you'd like to check out my post on that library, please click here.

While doing research on early Chicago area libraries my curiosity was piqued when I found out that the first branch of the city library is named after another Blackstone. Timothy B. Blackstone (1829-1900) built the James Blackstone Memorial Library in Brandford as tribute to his father, James Blackstone (1793-1886). That library opened its doors to the public on June 17, 1896.

Following Timothy's death in 1900, his wife, Isabella Farnsworth Norton, fulfilled her husband's wishes and built a memorial library in his honor. Prior to his death Mr. Blackstone had purchased the tract of land for the building. Construction began in June 1902 and was finished in January 1904.

Beman also designed the Blackstone Memorial Library in Branford, CT. Both are based upon the Erechtheum.
Carved ornamental detail that flanks the bench just to the left of the front entrance.
Column and ornamental detail.
Plaque from the 100 year celebration, inlaid in sidewalk out front.
Detail of plaque: contemporary and classic writers.
Outer doors are bronze plated with a solid copper core and weight approximately 800 pounds each.
Inner doors are brass and weight 150 pounds each.
Original tile mosaic in foyer.
Light fixture in the foyer.
When you step into the library, you stand under this colorful dome. The four murals painted by Oliver Dennett Grover are a sight to behold.
Another view. The murals were restored in 2009. Each measures 14 by 9 feet.
LITERATURE: In this mural, the central figure has a scroll and pen in hand surrounded by the figures of an old man holing a book, representing history; a woman playing a lute, representing poetry; a woman holding a mask, representing drama, and a woman casting flowers representing fiction. The woman, as described by Grover is "a girl of present day type scattering the poesies of human thought" (Description from library pamphlet).
ART: The central figure in this mural holds a mirro and is surrounded by women depicted as a painter, a sculptor, an architect, and a harpist to represent the four branches of the Fine Arts (Description from library pamphlet).
SCIENCE: The woman at the center of this panel holds a lamp, symbolizing Science. She is encircled by a man with a beaker, representing chemistry; a woman with a telescope, representing astronomy; a woman with a miner's hammer, representing geology, and a woman feeding a peacock, representing zoology (Description from library pamphlet).
LABOR: Labor is symbolized by a woman holding a mason's trowel accompanied by a miner, farmer, weaver, and the figure of a woman carrying a steam locomotive (Description from library pamphlet).
A view from the rotunda of the entrance.
Looking from the rotunda to the stacks, which are to left (south) when you walk in. To the right (north) is the main reading room and straight ahead (west) is a smaller reading room that was originally intended for children.
Majestic light.
Original mosaic mandala.
Circulation desk to the right, librarian's office to the left, stacks straight a head.
Bronze medallion of Mr. Blackstone.
Up on the second floor of the stacks. Notice the glass floor. Have you ever seen such a floor in a library?
Floor and railing detail.
Ceiling shot and additional light source.
Detail of the stained glass panels in the ceiling.
Bookcase and light fixture detail.
Some well-used Cather on the shelf.
Looking down from the second floor at circulation. In the distance you can see the main reading room.
Back on the ground floor. This is the most awesome water fountain I've seen in a library or just about anywhere else for that matter. It's just outside the librarian's office door.
Frontal view.
Not a face to be messed with. If the librarian didn't keep kids from horsing around the water fountain, this face may have.
The stacks on the ground floor aren't as well-lit, but it just makes the lighting and glass floor that much more dramatic.
The Children's Room, a WPA project, was added in 1939. It's 96 by 35 feet. You get to this room by walking through the stacks and down a short hallway.
Another view of the children's room.
When you walk into the library and take a right, you enter the main reading room which is 30 by 45 feet. This room now has some computers it it, but retains its white plaster walls with warm dark bookcases and mahogany wainscoting. During the two recent visits that I made, the room was full of people working, so I wasn't able to take pictures that respect people's privacy. However, this beautiful old globe caught my eye and I can't help but wonder how many hands have spun it over the decades.
Back of the library.
If you live in Chicago, I encourage you to take a couple hours and visit this historic and unique library. If you're a tourist, the library is just minutes from The Museum of Science & Industry and President Obama's neighborhood.

Monday, May 21, 2012

One of Ours: Thoughts & Comments

J.P. Cather sits directly behind the (source, Cather Archives)
Hello again, Cather fans! For those of you who haven't yet read One of Ours, you might like to check out the intro post on this novel here.

My Thoughts
One of Ours has been my favorite Cather novel for some time now. I feel an affinity with Claude and admire how compassionately Cather details his feelings of discontentment, how she takes her time to show what it's like to feel like you don't fit in one's community, family, or even in one's own skin.

I don't know of another novel that so painstakingly and patiently presents the pain of a young person's struggle to find a place where he belongs and a sense of purpose. I was thinking that usually such characters end up becoming rebels without a cause. But Claude is certainly no rebel. He isn't strong enough or knowledgeable enough to break free of his family or community until the US enters the war. The war is raging for three years by the time the US enters and by then Claude has the familial and social backing to leave. He finds freedom in the military, as many young people still do today. Had Claude stayed in Frankfort, it's pretty clear he would have ended up one of the walking dead that Gladys describes. Or, perhaps he would have eventually committed suicide like his mother fears he would have had he come home from the war. He was already becoming disillusioned and had he not joined the military it's clear that life in Frankfort would have crushed his soul.

This is the first time I've read the novel since I started reading more about World War I. Several years ago a friend and I had our own WWI study group that grew out of our mutual appreciation for All Quiet on the Western Front. The first time I read One of Ours I had no reference point for the Claude's war experience other than having felt that sense of general excitement and sense of purpose that my own military service had given me back in the 80s. From talking with combat veterans, current service members, and reading military fiction and nonfiction, I know the excitement and sense of purpose is even more profound during a time of war. The reading I've done about WWI had made One of Ours seem even more realistic and "true" what the experience may have been like for some. But this is the only novel that I know of that details why the war could be so exciting and liberating. 

Wrist watch at Cantigny
I recently visited Cantigny Park, the estate of Robert McCormick, in Wheaton, IL. My family used to visit the park, mainly for the gardens, but we always visited the First Division Museum, too. Back then (60s/70s) they had a small walk-through trench to give people a sense of what trench warfare was like (McCormick served in WWI). The museum and its WWI exhibit has grown tremendously since then, and it was a somber experience to walk through it with Claude on my mind. The WWI exhibit features the town of Cantingy, which makes it an even more poignant experience as Cather's cousin, J.P. Cather, upon whom Claude is loosely based, died in the Battle of Cantigny.

There are numerous artifacts on display throughout the exhibit. The one that most captivated me was a wrist watch. The placard (see below) accompanying the wrist watch affirms, in part, what Claude thought about his own use of wrist watch:
"He began to see that the wrist watch, which he had hitherto despised as effeminate and had carried in his pocket, might be a very useful article."
Claude realizes this on the troop ship as its headed to France and he's caring for men sick with influenza, particularly for Fanning as he's charged with feeding him a raw egg in orange juice every two hours. The wrist watch is mentioned again later in the novel, during Claude's final battle, just moments before he's hit:
"The Colonel's twenty minutes must be almost up, he thought. He couldn't take his eyes from the front line long enough to look at his wrist watch."
The placard at the museum reads:
Prior to WWI, men kept their watches in vest or trouser pockets. Wristwatches were considered a woman's accessory. During the war, however, the wristwatch gained favor with soldiers when the ability to read time with a quick glance became critical in battle. At a time when combat employed new rapid-fire weapons at a speed and ferocity unprecedented in human history, for men in the trenches the wristwatch replaced the pocket watch as the symbol of competence and efficiency.
As Claude's experience shows, combat is sometimes too fast and furious for even a glance at one's wrist watch.
Wrist watch at the First Division Museum Cantigny.
Questions & Things I've Been Pondering
  • I felt a strong connection between Claude and Paul from Cather's 1905 short story, "Paul's Case" during this reading. I'm also thinking of Claude's case as the exact opposite of Thea Kronborg's story.
  • Thinking of Thea makes me realize how important mentors are and how different Claude's life could have been had he found one earlier. Claude mentions that back in his days at Lincoln he was "hunting for some one whom he could admire without reservations; some one he could envy, emulate, wish to be. Now he believed that even then he must have had some faint image of a man like Gerhardt in his mind." I found myself wanting to whisper into young Claude's ear that it gets better!
  • With the It Gets Better Project's slogan ringing in my ears, I'm wondering now if part of Claude's feeling like he never fit in anywhere was because he's gay. In prior readings that thought never crossed my mind, but it seems to make so much sense. I'm aware that there's a vibrant body of Queer scholarship on Cather's writing. Perhaps it's time to check out books like Marilee Lindemann's Willa Cather: Queering America. Does anyone have recommendations on where to begin with this line of inquiry?
  • When I started this reading challenge I told myself the point was not to get all academic and/or researchy, but to simply enjoy reading Cather's novels. I am sorely tempted, however, to delve into some of the scholarship out there on One of Ours. Two books in particular are calling to me: Steven Trout's Memorial Fictions: Willa Cather and the First World War and a collection of essays edited by Trout, Cather Studies, Volume 6: History, Memory, and War
  • As other readers have noted, trees are often important to the characters in Cather's stories. I couldn't help noticing how in this novel they are symbols of safety and also represent the destructive forces of war and the obsession with outward symbols of prosperity that repel Claude. Important conversations and scenes of feeling often happen under trees. There are scenes with Ernest, Mr. Royce, and Gerhardt, to name a few. Here are just several of the many quotes that I marked:
    --While married to Enid: "The timber claim was his refuge. In the open, grassy spots, shut in by the bushy walls of yellowing ash trees, he felt unmarried and free; free to smoke as much as he liked, and to read and dream."
    --The first line of Book 5: "AT noon that day Claude found himself in a street of little shops, hot and perspiring, utterly confused and turned about. Truck drivers and boys on bell-less bicycles shouted at him indignantly, furiously. He got under the shade of a young plane tree and stood close to the trunk, as if it might protect him."
    --As Company B marches through France: "Pear trees, trained like vines against the wall, did not astonish them half so much as the sight of the familiar cottonwood, growing everywhere. Claude thought he had never before realized how beautiful this tree could be. In verdant little valleys, along the clear rivers, the cottonwoods waved and rustled; and on the little islands, of which there were so many in these rivers, they stood in pointed masses, seemed to grip deep into the soil and to rest easy, as if they had been there for ever and would be there for ever more. At home, all about Frankfort, the farmers were cutting down their cottonwoods because they were "common," planting maples and ash trees to struggle along in their stead. Never mind; the cottonwoods were good enough for France, and they were good enough for him! He felt they were a real bond between him and this people."
    --Mademoiselle de Courcy says to Claude: "It is our trees that are worst," she went on sadly. "You have seen our poor trees? It makes one ashamed for this beautiful part of France. Our people are more sorry for them than to lose their cattle and horses." 
    --About Louis, Claude thinks: "How much it must mean to a man to love his country like this . . . to love its trees and flowers; to nurse it when it was sick, and tend its hurts with one arm."
    --During leave, after his first battle Claude thinks: "Perfect bliss, Claude reflected, as the chill of the sheets grew warm around his body, and he sniffed in the pillow the old smell of lavender. To be so warm, so dry, so clean, so beloved! The journey down, reviewed from here, seemed beautiful. As soon as they had got out of the region of martyred trees, they found the land of France turning gold. All along the river valleys the poplars and cottonwoods had changed from green to yellow,—evenly coloured, looking like candle-flames in the mist and rain. Across the fields, along the horizon they ran, like torches passed from hand to hand, and all the willows by the little streams had become silver. The vineyards were green still, thickly spotted with curly, blood-red branches. It all flashed back beside his pillow in the dark: this beautiful land, this beautiful people, this beautiful omelette; gold poplars, blue-green vineyards, wet, scarlet vine-leaves, rain dripping into the court, fragrant darkness . . . sleep, stronger than all."
    --Even the memory's of veterans will include trees: "WHEN the survivors of Company B are old men, and are telling over their good days, they will say to each other, "Oh, that week we spent at Beaufort!" They will close their eyes and see a little village on a low ridge, lost in the forest, overgrown with oak and chestnut and black walnut . . . buried in autumn colour, the streets drifted deep in autumn leaves, great branches interlacing over the roofs of the houses, wells of cool water that tastes of moss and tree roots."
Share Your Thoughts!
What do you think of One of Ours? Were you obsessed with any one thing about the book? Did you prefer the Nebraska sections to the France sections or vice versa? Whether this was your first reading or your fifth, I look forward to hearing your thoughts about One of Ours, even if it's just a sentence.

Please leave your comments below, however long or short (or leave a link to your blog post, Goodreads review, etc.). This is an open forum, so please feel free to reply to one another.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books

Unpacking My Library is a collection of interviews on the bookish habits of thirteen contemporary writers, accompanied by pictures of their libraries. It's a small book, perfect gift size, about 5 3/4 inches high by 8 inches in wide, and 201 pages.

In her introduction Price writes that as a teenaged babysitter, when the parents left the house she went straight for the books—snooping in various places people keep/hide books before eventually making it to the official living room shelves. She offers a brief history of the bookshelf and attitudes towards books and collecting, but doesn't mention why these particular writers were chosen. If you’re that much of a book geek that when you visit someone's house your eyes keep straying past your host to their books, you’ll probably enjoy looking through this book.

I saw the book mentioned online somewhere and requested it via inter-library loan. When the book arrived from a nearby library, the last patron's library card was forgotten within it's pages. A good omen. I read this book on a gorgeous spring afternoon, lying on a quilt in the yard with occasional  catch breaks initiated by Lola. It was a delightful way to pass an afternoon, particularly since my own recent book collection reorganization has brought to the forefront of my mind what my books mean to me and how I think about them in relation to one another.

The authors included are an interesting mix: 
  • Lola demanding a catch break.
    Alison Bechdel
  • Stephen Carter
  • Junot Diaz
  • Rebecca Goldstein & Steven Pinker
  • Lev Grossman & Sophie Gee
  • Jonathan Lethem
  • Claire Messud & James Wood
  • Philip Pullman
  • Gary Shteyngart
  • Edmund White
Each writer answered some questions posed by Price about their books such as acquisition habits, organization, how they treat their books when reading, and whether or not they loan books. Most of the writers do underline, dog ear, and write marginalia. Some are pack rats who hold onto just about every book they read, whereas others let books come and go, keeping a core of beloved books.

I enjoyed reading each writer's response to Price's questions as well as the pictures of their bookshelves and books. It was neat to see book I've read, various editions of well-loved books, and hearing about some that were new to me. I was curious about how everyone organized their books Even those who don't organize their entire collection have some books that are grouped together. Each writer also lists ten favorite or influential books.

Below are some of the quotes from various writers that spoke to me:
Bechdel: “I do lend my books, but I have to be a bit selective because my marginalia are so incriminating.” (12)

Carter on Mannheim’s Ideology and Utopia: “To this day, I have yet to encounter a better statement of the many ways in which ideological commitment puts at risk the entire project of the Enlightenment—and therefore of liberal democracy” (29).

Price asks Pinker about this quote of his: “To encourage intellectual depth, don’t rail at Power-Point or Google. It’s not as if habits of deep reflection, thorough research, and rigorous reasoning ever came naturally to people. They must be acquired in special institutions, which we call universities, and maintained with constant upkeep, which we call analysis, criticism, and debate. They are not granted by propping a heavy encyclopedia on your lap, nor are they taken away be efficient access to information on the Internet.” Pinker flips between reading “a single book in iPhone, iPad, and paper incarnations, depending on where I am at the time” (72).

Pinker is unsentimental about books and refers to himself as someone “who loves technology and does not fetishize the physical medium of books” (73).

In contrast to Pinker is Lev Grossman who, although he doesn’t have his original childhood books says, “since I left college, books have been the one thing, the one class of object, that I’ve assiduously hung on to, through literally dozens and dozens of apartments. The idea of needing a book and not having it immediately to hand is strangely horrifying to me” (87).

Lethem: “People sometimes act as though owning books you haven’t read constitutes a charade or pretense, but for me, there’s a lovely mystery and pregnancy about a book that hasn’t given itself over to you yet—sometimes I’m the most inspired by imagining what the contents of an unread book might be” (113).

Lethem: “My books are always organized, arranged, and always being rearranged, too—a constant process” (114).

Lethem: “I hate lending, or borrowing—if you want me to read a book, tell me about it, or buy me a copy outright. Your loaned edition sits in my house like a real grievance. And in lieu of lending books, I buy extra copies of those I want to give away, which gives me the added pleasure of buying books I love again and again.” (115).

Messud: “Owning books has been only intermittently of importance to me. At one time, collecting books that were my own, feeling I had my own intellectual and literary trajectory visible before me, seemed necessary and meaningful. But now, in midlife, I feel that my tendency to acquire books is rather like someone smoking two packs a day: it’s a terrible vice that I wish I could shuck. I love my books, and with all their dog-ears and underlinings they are irreplaceable; but I sometimes wish they’d just vanish. To be weighed down by things—books, furniture—seems somehow terrible to me. It’s important to be ready to move on” (130).

Wood tells this story: “A few years before his death, Frank Kermode was moving house and had some boxes of his most precious books out on the street, ready for the movers. Alas, the garbage men came by and mistakenly took them away, and compacted them. In a stroke, he lost all of his first editions and most prized dedication copies; he was left with only his cheapest paperbacks, and his collection of literary theory. There’s a parable lurking there” (136-37).

Pullman: “I still have that set of once highly celebrated Alexandria Quartet. Reading it now, it’s hard to see why it went out of literary fashion; but it’s not hard, either, to see why it was the perfect reading for the sort of teenager I once was. I don’t believe in dissing books I used to love, and I always suspect the moral judgment of people who sneer at the taste of the reader they used to be: ‘I know thee not, old book’” (152).

While this isn't a book I'd buy for myself, I'd have considered it a charming gift had it come into my life in that manner. I think it's safe to say that most book lovers would enjoy reading and/or flipping through this book. It would make a great gift for a bibliophile whose reading tastes are unknown.

Edited by Leah Price
Yale UP, 2011
Source: library

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Catching Up

Paula McLain
Normally I don't write catch-all types of posts, but it's been two weeks since I've posted anything. I wouldn't say I'm feeling guilty about that, but I have felt as if something was missing. Anyway, I've been busy doing bookish things, such as:

1. Attending Paula McLain's talk on The Paris Wife on May 3rd in Willowbrook, IL. It was the grand finale event for The Big Read hosted by ten libraries in the western suburbs of Chicago. I'm working on an author event recap of her talk that I'll post soon, but in the meantime here's a newspaper article on the event.

2. Attending the book release event for Dogface Charlie at the First Division Museum at Cantigny in Wheaton, IL on May 5th. This event took place during Charlie Company's annual reunion for those who served in Vietnam during 1967-68. You can visit the museum online here for some details and I'm also planning a post about this event and the book.

3. Reading Patrick Rothfuss's 700+ page novel The Name of the Wind in about four days. It was a reading frenzy. I read every spare minute between work and sleep. Only critical chores were performed and a few games of Words with Friends were played on Facebook. I may read a lot, but contrary to popular belief, I'm not a fast reader. However, I felt obligated to finish this novel in time for book group, which was May 9th, as I was the one who proposed the novel. My friend Roxanne in Nebraska loaned me her copy when I was out there last year and I felt it was high time I got to reading it. I finished it with two hours to spare and then, wouldn't you know, no one was able to make book group that night. So it goes. Still, it gave me a great sense of accomplishment to have finished it such a short time. When I started re-reading Willa Cather's One of Ours, this month's Cather Challenge, I had to remind myself to slow down and enjoy the writing rather than barrel through the story.

4. Organizing my bookshelves and weeding out 112 books. Last year I was working three jobs and my home office and book shelves showed it--the place looked like a cyclone hit it and my books were all out of sorts. So last weekend I decided it was time to get organized so that I could actually find a book when I was looking for it and also do a bit of weeding to make room for the new. I currently have four Ikea Billy bookshelves in my office and for the last year I'd been sticking books on the shelves willy-nilly, wherever there was a space. There were also stacks on my desk, the filing cabinet, and several growing on the floor. The fire marshal would not have been pleased.

My next post will be all about this book organization endeavor, complete with before and after pictures (well, perhaps just the after pictures). Stay tuned!
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