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Little Things

I bought a fountain pen. I realize some of you might not find this fact as absolutely thrilling as I do but I am telling you about it anyway. I have wanted a fountain pen for ages but they seemed fiddly and expensive. Plus, I already have a notebook addiction, do I really need to add a pen addiction to that? Well, it seems I do. I found one online that was downright cheap ($11.00) and got rave reviews. It showed up in the mail the other day and I have never before been so happy to make grocery shopping lists. I have made my entire family admire it and have forced at least one of them to write with it. It came with an ink cartridge, which I am using, but it also included a refillable ink bladder which means I can buy different colors of ink and fill it myself. Just think of it. If that doesn't thrill you then this is probably not the blog you should be reading. The reasonable side of me knows that a fountain pen won't suddenly make my handwriting easy to read or the words I write suddenly more poetic but I am ignoring that side of me in favor of a lovely daydream that includes my fountain pen, a coffee shop, a new notebook, and the start of the next great American novel.

I have only just started A Peculiar Treasure by Edna Ferber. It is her autobiography and, going by the few pages I have read, it will be fascinating. She writes just as if she is sitting in the room talking to you. It covers her life as a child in small-town America and then her career as a journalist in Chicago. It is full of photos which I think no biography should be without. I read most of Ferber's books when I was a teenager and have been slowly re-reading them in recent years. I read Saratoga Trunk last year and it was just as good as I remembered. I think I will have to look for a copy of Show Boat and read that next. I just looked up Ferber's books on Wikipedia and found out that she won the Pulitzer Prize for So Big.  I knew that Show Boat was made into a wildly successful musical but I didn't know that Cimarron won the Academy Award for best picture in 1931. Giant and Ice Palace were also made into movies. There is also a second volume of her autobiography called A Kind of Magic.

I, of course, have bought a few books recently. No, this is not all of them. This is just all I am admitting to at the moment. The Jane Gardam is because I listened to a Backlisted podcast about it. I have read a couple of other books by Gardam and have loved them both. Exposure was purchased because of a review I read somewhere so if you have reviewed it on your blog recently then thank you for the recommendation. It has London, the 1960s, spies, missing files, and lots of adventure and suspicion. It should be a lot of fun. Then there are two books about Jane Austen because I can never have enough books about Austen and her novels. Finally, I bought a volume of the broadcasts of Edward Murrow. I recently read Citizens of London which discusses how America came to build an alliance with Great Britain during WWII. It concentrated on three men, one of whom was Edward Murrow, the head of CBS News in Europe. He became the voice of the war for many Americans and I am very interested in reading the broadcasts that were referenced in Citizens of London.

So, there you have it; a few books and a fountain pen. What else could I need? Well, maybe a full skirt with lovely, deep pockets. I found one of those this week as well--on the clearance rack. If that doesn't make you envious I don't know what will.

For the Love of a Library

We would walk to the library, lugging bags full of books. It wasn't far, under a mile, but when I was small and the books were heavy it felt like forever. It was a walk we took in all kinds of weather because we were a family that believed in regular trips to the library. We were each responsible for carrying the books we checked out and since I always checked out the most that were allowed (eight books which I never thought was enough) it is not surprising that my bag was heavy. We would walk down our street, right on Main Street, past the pizza place, Lift-the-Latch Gift Shop, and Fairway. I'm not sure what you would call Fairway. Maybe it was the equivalent of a five-and-dime though I am not old enough for it to be a true five-and-dime. It was the heady source of many of my childhood purchases. My allowance went far in there; Slinkies, doll's baby bottles filled with fake orange juice, jump ropes, Chinese jump ropes when those were the fad in fifth grade. On we would walk, past the park next to the library, the fountain with the dancing bears, and up the steps into the children's room.

The librarians were kind but very firm. They had the books arranged by grade and if you ventured into the wrong section they would come and question you. I found this very frustrating because I always read way above grade level and yearned after the books in the section for older kids. Finally, I got approval to use that section early and then, and this was a huge concession, to check out books from the adult section before I was in sixth grade. The freedom! The books! All the Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse I wanted!

Library cards still had the little metal tab that slid onto them and the card in the book was stamped by being inserted into a machine. I can still remember the sound it made. If you needed to find a book you looked it up in a card catalogue. I always got sidetracked when I was looking a book up. I would stumble across so many other interesting books and would end up just browsing the card catalogue. I understand the convenience of computers but oh, I miss the card catalogue.

I visited the Mary Cheney Library a week or so ago and I am happy to say that it hasn't changed much. You walk in and it still smells of old books and old building. It is how I think all libraries should smell. The old metal shelves are still there and the banisters are just a little more worn. The reference room is full of computers now which, I suppose, is necessary. But I swear the chairs and tables in the children's room are the same ones I sat at so long ago.

What made me happiest though was to see that so many old books remain on the shelves. There are books that I remember from my childhood. I pulled a copy of Jack and Jill by Louisa May Alcott off the shelf and I think it is the same one I checked out years ago.  And while I saw a lot of new releases I also saw a lot of books from decades gone by. Too many libraries cull the books that aren't taken out often and thus deprive the reading public of amazing discoveries. I am sure there is a reason, probably to do with shelf space and budget, but I think a library should have a huge variety of books. It shouldn't just be mainly books published in the last ten years. The sign on the bookshelf in the photo above encourages library patrons to ask for any book they can't find. The librarians will be happy to check in the thousands of books they have in the basement. "Thousands of books." Those words just gave me a shiver of joy.

These photos aren't the greatest. I snapped them on my phone when I stopped in at the library after an appointment. But they make me happy because that library of my childhood is still there. They may have added some modern touches and changed things around a bit but the essentials are the same. I walked in and took a deep breath of that old book smell and for a moment I was eight-year-old Jenny again ready to cart home a huge bag of books.

I wish this still was my local library but at least I know it is still the way I remember. Maybe there is another eight-year-old Jenny who is convinced she can read anything and who can never have enough books. I like to think so.

Mary Cheney Library
586 Main Street
Manchester, CT 06040

Book Review//Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner

Moonfleet is an old-fashioned adventure novel. It is the kind of book you picture a child of yesteryear devouring while sitting on the branch of a tree eating candy out of a brown paper bag, possibly falling out of the tree at the most exciting moments. Moonfleet was originally published in 1898 and apparently remained popular for many years. I never heard of it until I stumbled on a free Kindle copy ages ago. I put it on my Classics Club list and thought I would get around to it eventually. Which I did. It just took a while.

John Trenchard is an orphan who lives in the village of Moonfleet near the sea in the south of England. There is a legend in the village that tells of Colonel John "Blackbeard" Mahone who stole a diamond from King Charles I and took the knowledge of its location to his death. John gets locked in the crypt, finds the key to the treasure, gets involved with smugglers, has to escape and go into hiding, finds the treasure, loses the treasure, is imprisoned, escapes, is shipwrecked, and finally ends up back in the village of Moonfleet. Believe it or not, I left out a few adventures.

This is basically a rollicking tale of adventure and derring-do that reads like a movie playing in your head. I spent the whole time I was reading it thinking that it really should be made into a movie but I am not the first to think that. A movie was released in 1955 though many plot elements were changed. There was also a radio drama done by the BBC in 1963 and a BBC TV adaptation in 1964. There was another mini-series in 1984. So, it looks like the whole world knew about this book except for me.

Read it. It is a perfect escape into a world where adventure awaits around every corner and the escapades and trials you face somehow always bring you home, happy and ready to marry the love you left behind. Who doesn't need an escape like that occasionally?